[sixties-l] Jim Drake, 63, an Organizer of Workers and a 60's Boycott, Dies

From: radtimes (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Sep 10 2001 - 15:33:31 EDT

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    September 9, 2001

    Jim Drake, 63, an Organizer of Workers and a 60's Boycott, Dies


    Jim Drake, who helped conceive the grape boycott of the 1960's and went on
    to organize workers and citizens in Mississippi, South Texas, the Bronx and
    Boston, died on Monday at a hospital in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 63 and
    lived in Manhattan and Spencertown, N.Y.

    The cause was lung cancer, said his wife, Miriam Rabban.

    Mr. Drake, an ordained United Church of Christ minister who never held his
    own pulpit, was often seen as a traveling troublemaker by many of the
    people he visited. "You're a tacit insult," said Edward T. Chambers,
    executive director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which trains and
    dispatches people like Mr. Drake to fight local power structures.

    Mr. Chambers, who hired Mr. Drake in 1983, said the arrival of one of his
    organizers is to ask the question: "Why are things here so bad?"

    It was a difficult role Mr. Drake played on many stages, from staring down
    the shotguns of California growers to putting out the chairs at community
    meetings in the Bronx.

    The Rev. John Grange, pastor of St. Jerome Church in the Bronx's Mott Haven
    section, said that in addition to leading the fight for 800 new housing
    units and a new high school, Mr. Drake hounded the transit agency to put
    new lights in a subway station.

    "He came to pull us together so we could do well together," Father Grange
    said. "He made us into better people than we are."

    He did it largely in the background. Many liken Mr. Drake to Fred Ross, a
    colleague of Saul Alinsky, the famous organizer. Mr. Alinsky dispatched Mr.
    Ross to teach Cesar Chavez the basics of organizing a labor unit. Mr. Drake
    was soon one of Mr. Chavez's principal aides.

    "Jim was one of those important invisible people," said John Moyer, a
    retired United Church of Christ minister who persuaded his church to
    finance much of Mr. Drake's early work. "They get a lot of things done by
    letting other people get the credit for it."

    James Lynn Drake was born in Jefferson, Ohio, in 1937. He spent most of his
    first 10 years in Oklahoma and then moved to California, where his father
    taught school and his mother managed the school cafeteria. He graduated
    from Occidental College, where he majored in philosophy, and Union
    Theological Seminary.

    Just as he was about to accept a position as a pastor for the National Park
    Service, he was offered a job by Wayne Hartmire, a minister who was
    director of the California Migrant Ministry. The ministry had decided to
    join Mr. Chavez's new effort to organize agricultural workers. Mr. Hartmire
    noted that Mr. Drake had little interest in such quotidian clerical chores
    as preaching.

    "Jim was not a big talker," he said. "He was believing and doing. He had
    this certainty about the rightness of the cause."

    This was clear when he dressed down some ministers for what he regarded as
    timidity toward the growers. "All we're talking about is that some of you
    guys are going to lose your jobs," he said. "Two thousand farm workers have
    already lost theirs."

    For his first three months, Mr. Drake was assigned to follow Mr. Chavez
    around to learn about organizing. He stayed for 16 years, working in high
    positions for the United Farm Workers in California, Texas and Arizona,
    even as he remained on the ministry's payroll.

    In 1965, as grape pickers in Delano, Calif., struck a vineyard owned by
    Schenley Distillers, Mr. Drake helped the United Farm Workers organize a
    national boycott of the company's liquor. The company settled in March 1966.

    Mr. Drake went on to be the union's lead organizer, and coordinated the
    national boycott of table grapes that resulted in union contracts for the
    industry in July 1970. He came to New York to oversee the boycott in 1969
    and 1970.

    In 1978, he left the farm worker ministry and union to organize woodcutters
    in Mississippi. He united these independent contractors, who owned their
    own trucks and saws, into the Mississippi Pulpwood Cutters Association. He
    helped them create a cooperative enabling them to buy saws at far less than
    the 200 percent markup at stores, and form a credit union, giving them
    access to credit for the first time.

    The association also won uniform state standards in measuring lumber,
    ending widespread cheating, said Perry Perkins, who worked with Mr. Drake
    in Mississippi and is now an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation.

    Mr. Chambers, who is Mr. Alinsky's successor, said he heard about Mr.
    Drake's success and flew to Mississippi to meet him in 1981. He recognized
    the qualities of a successful organizer: intelligence, anger and imagination.

    Mr. Chambers pointed out that Mr. Drake could do better than the $52 a
    month he was paying himself ^ $2 more than he paid others in the
    organization. The result was that Mr. Drake found himself in South Texas,
    where he formed the Valley Interfaith Organization, which persuaded the
    state to provide water and plumbing in the shantytowns known as "colonias."

    In 1987, Mr. Drake was assigned to the South Bronx, where he organized
    South Bronx Churches, a coalition of more than 40 churches that joined
    forces to build 800 housing units and persuade the city to build a new high
    school, the Bronx Leadership Academy.

    He then moved on to Boston, while staying active in New York. In Boston, he
    helped form a regional coalition of 100 religious and community
    organizations. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization has raised $5
    million in private money to build housing similar to that in the Bronx, and
    it is now lobbying local and state governments to match that amount.

    His ambition in Boston was to give people a way, as well as a reason, to
    become involved in their city's civic life. "We are trying to interest the
    thousands and thousands of people who have dropped out and are no longer
    engaged in that quadrennial event that is not even politics any longer, but
    where the person with the most money wins," he said in an interview with
    The Boston Globe.

    "We are trying to get back to a more human element in politics," he said.

    In addition to his wife, Mr. Drake is survived by his sons Tom, of Moscow,
    Idaho; Matt, of Chatham, N.Y.; and Christopher, of New Brunswick, N.J.; a
    daughter, Amalia, of Baltimore; a brother, Dale, of Evansville, Ind.; a
    sister, Ramona Kramer of Placerville, Calif., and two grandchildren.

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