COPA organizes regular people to be leaders on behalf of community well-being.
By Celia Jimenez
Members of the nonprofit Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) are farmworkers, faith leaders and others in our neighborhoods. And COPA is about organizing these people to gain a voice, through an organized network of nearly 30 local organizations including churches, school districts, nonprofits, unions and more in the tri-county area.
“We discover what’s going on in people’s communities, then we rally and organize people to go make a difference and make something happen,” says Scott Taylor, a volunteer leader with COPA. “We’re trying to figure out where we can make an impact.”
That advocacy work has some tangible results. During Covid-19, COPA members were instrumental in advocating for community health workers, an idea that became Monterey County’s VIDA Program, with a staff administering rapid testing, signing people up for vaccinations and providing information about the pandemic.
COPA’s influence goes back further, to keeping the Steinbeck Library in Salinas open 20 years ago despite budget cuts, and successfully lobbying the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to create Esperanza Care, a health insurance plan for undocumented residents who are not covered by other subsidized health plans, in 2015.
Taylor says COPA is not only about improving residents’ well-being, but about creating leaders. Marisela Acevedo of King City is a member of both Mujeres en Acción and COPA, and says she has changed since becoming active, going from being shy to co-leading meetings. “COPA listened to me,” Acevedo says. “They asked for my opinion, and I could say what I was thinking.”
Unity Monterey Bay has been a COPA member since 2015. Vicky Elder, senior minister at Unity, says she has seen congregation members change for the better. “They feel like they’re empowered and that they have something to offer and that they can make a difference,” Elder says.
Elder, who has a degree in political science, adds that she learned more about how democracy works, enabling her to engage in a meaningful way. “It inspires me to keep going, rather than feeling like you’re talking and nothing’s changing,” she says.