Manuel Román officially began his organizing career with the United Farm Workers in 1998, although he tagged along with his father to Teamsters union meetings since he was a chamaco. Currently, Manuel organizes with Teamsters Local 396. I wouldn’t cheapen Manuel’s trajectory by calling it destiny. Knowing Manuel, he would simply call it history. Speaking with Manuel involves pit stops through various points in a timeline that span a 23-year organizing career. At one point, Manuel is driving Dolores Huerta from Watsonville to Oxnard and then at another point, he’s in Chicago at the center of the 1997 UPS strike. These detours are not random ramblings. Manuel is laser-focused, getting us somewhere specific. In many ways, he’s still that young UFW organizer driving us forward.
The destination for Manuel is organizing school. He speaks of the need to have a formal training center dedicated to producing the next generation of militant Latinos in the labor movement. Manuel wants to help build this training center and listening to him speak his motivations are obvious. He simply can’t help himself. This interview is evidence of that. Manuel explores why relationship building is essential to movements, the difference between an organizer and an activist, and the definition of a leader. He dives deep into why it’s difficult for organizers to not take the campaign home with them. He wonders how much an organizer can or should take on? Where should an organizer draw the line? These are not the kind of questions organizers asked themselves 10 years ago when I was in the movement. Here’s hoping that organizing school becomes a reality. Here’s hoping that the next generation of leaders find answers to these questions.
Arturo “Tootie” Alvarez is based in Chicago. He trucks. He writes. Not at the same time. Twitter @TootieAlvarez.