Jan 30 • 1HR 10M

Ernesto Cortes – The Organizer Mindset

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Weekly conversations on race, inequality, and more, with Glenn Loury. Bi-weekly appearances by John McWhorter.
Episode details

My guest this week is Ernesto Cortes, an organizer and senior advisor with the Industrial Areas Foundation. Ernie has worked for decades with poor and working-class people in the Southwest, helping them agitate for public services and funding. He’s been recognized for this work by a long list of venerable institutions, including the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded him a “genius grant.” Along the way, as you’ll hear in this conversation, Ernie has developed a lot of ideas about power, community, and belief, and he’s not shy about talking about them.

We begin with some clips of Ernie laying out his theories of organizing, politics, and power. He explains how some of these theories work in practice by way of his experience helping migrant communities in the Rio Grande Valley get adequate running water and sewage. While Ernie identifies as a progressive, he also notes that effective organizing requires working with whoever is in office and willing to listen seriously to the concerns of the community. But he also has some ideas about the market, and we get into a lively debate about the efficiency and efficacy of markets. I ask Ernie what he thinks of Michael Sandel’s critique of meritocracy, and the conversation takes a turn toward religious thought and ethics. Near the end of our conversation, I press Ernie to consider how the rise of identitarianism affects the work of organizing.

We had some audio issues, for which I apologize, but I think the lively conversation comes through clearly. I hope you’ll find it as invigorating as I do.

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0:00 Ernie’s work as an organizer

5:45 Tension, polarization, and reconciliation

12:49 The drama of organizing

18:21 The definition of power

27:52 Ernesto’s work getting running water and sewers to border communities

31:26 Market activity vs. market ideology

41:31 What’s wrong with meritocracy?

56:12 Does identitarianism stand in the way of reconciliation?

Recorded January 19, 2023

Links and Readings

Industrial Areas Foundation

Glenn’s recent debate with Richard Wolff

Arthur Okun’s book, Equality and Efficiency: A Big Tradeoff

Daniel Bell’s book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

John Kenneth Galbraith’s book, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power

Michael Sandel’s book, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?

Michael Sandel’s book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

Michael Sandel’s TGS appearance

Franz Fanon’s book, Black Skin, White Masks