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PowerPlayer: Community Activist Chris Horton

Monday, February 25, 2013


Chris Horton and the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team

Chris Horton has been a farm-worker, a steel worker, packing house worker, machine tool setter-operator and precision inspector. He worked his way up to non-degreed manufacturing engineer then went back to school to study physics. He's been a medical physicist and a college and high school physics and math teacher.

Along the way, Horton was active in his unions, and he helped lead a seven-week strike in Holyoke by 550 machinists.

Now retired on Social Security, Horton's passion is organizing people to come together and resist the attacks of the bankers who he says are destroying Americans' jobs, economy and their homes.

From your involvement with the Worcester Unemployment Action Group and other non-profits and community organizations, what are three things you've learned about Worcester and its residents that most people don't know?

1. The apathetic majority that doesn't participate in city politics is not apathetic at all, if by that we mean not caring or not paying attention. In District 4, for example, typically 15 percent of adults vote. Most knew what had happened with the pools issue, where perhaps 1,000 had turned out, over 500 had spoken for restoring all the neighborhood pools, and most of the City Councilors had lined up behind this. They knew how the City Manager, in a demonstration of power, rammed through his own one-pool proposal anyway. They concluded that their voices and their votes didn't matter so they stayed home. Apathy is something a little bit different than a refusal to play a cameo role on Election Day in a rigged game. Hopefully Sarai Rivera's leadership in the district will help change this.

2. I've heard many people speak of Worcester as an unfriendly place for strangers. I have found it to be the opposite. When I landed in Worcester seven years ago, out of luck and out of options, I found communities that opened their arms to me and welcomed me in. No place I have lived has felt more like home.

3. The number of people in Worcester who volunteer to help others is phenomenal. But as the social services network continues to be shredded by cutbacks and power grabbers, the lack of an organized response is revealing of how little they form a self-aware community. They all share a kind of blanket trust and faith in the good will of others that is leaving us helpless in the face of an outside world gone mad.

What are the biggest issues facing the Worcester community in 2013?

Like most of America, Worcester is sliding into the next great financial crisis woefully unprepared. The city's programs, rather than being expanded in the face of the Great Recession, have been contracting. Ordinary people who have survived the unemployment and foreclosure crises of the last four years face the next crisis with far fewer resources. Tens of thousands are eking out a living in low-paid and part-time work. Thousands more have dropped out of the labor market. Then there are the hidden homeless, sleeping on couches or in relatives' attics and back porches.

We must learn to come together and act together to stop the foreclosures and evictions and demand that Washington and Beacon Hill come through on job creation. And perhaps we should be talking together about reopening the old mills and putting ourselves back to work. We must resist all efforts to turn our anger and despair into attacks on each other, but remember each other as brothers and sisters, all in the same boat together. We can be proud that the riots so many have predicted and feared have not happened. We must not let them begin.

Take us through a day in your life.

On a good day, I am up at 5:30 at my computer working on correspondence or a flyer for the day. At 8:00, I meet another volunteer outside Workforce Central, where we talk to people on the unemployment lines who are arriving for seminars. At 9:00, I check in with our folks at St. John's Church. We may head out to distribute flyers and talk with people at the food pantries. We may show up at a demonstration, picket line or meeting during the day. Usually I head home to write and make phone calls and then often there's another meeting in the evening.

What are the challenges?

On a daily basis, we face the challenge of lack of money and resources. I face the challenge of tiring more easily now that I'm nearly 70. And then there is the daily challenge to keep our faith that - because what we are doing is needed, because it must work - it will.

Tell us something nobody knows about you.

Lots of people know me as an organizer, campaigner and political writer. Not many know that I am co-developer of a radically different approach to math teaching, which has produced miracles in the Arizona and Texas classrooms where it has been piloted. Cognitive Instruction in Mathematics Modeling (CIMM) - the brain child of Dr. Rob MacDuff of Vancouver, BC - takes students through an inquiry into what is a quantity, what is a number, and how can we think about things that involve them. I have had students from 4th grade through graduate school equally fascinated by it. But I haven't had any takers locally to pilot it in a Worcester school.

Quick Hitters

Role Models: Grace Ross for her unstoppability, her ability to reach out to and connect with people of all walks of life and all persuasions and her ability to think coolly and strategically in the din of battle. Craig Van Batenburg of the Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC) for his truthfulness, loyalty, unfailing good humor, and modeling of how to be a man, how to be the rock that his wife, his adopted sons, his friends, customers and fellow automotive trainers can lean on. Jesus for the example he set of acting from pure love, reaching out and drawing everyone together with no exceptions, and fearlessly speaking truth to the rich and powerful.

Favorite Restaurant: The Pickle Barrel, it's like a big family tying the whole neighborhood together. Runners Up: Gold Star Restaurant, Harvest Moon 2

Best Place to People Watch: The Pickle Barrel, Gold Star Restaurant and City Hall.

Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill

Advice for the Next Chris Horton: Don't try to be Chris Horton. 


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