Community activist and COPS President
Beatrice Gallego has spent her life advocating for the communities that San Antonio city leaders often neglect. As a parent volunteer, a devoted parishioner at St. James Catholic church, and the second President of the Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Gallego has fought for Westside neighborhoods to get the resources they deserve.
Beatrice was born in San Antonio on October 21, 1934. Her parents were Andres Saldívar and Josefa Cuellar. She was the youngest of seven children. As a child she wanted to be a nun, but that changed when she met her future husband. On August 28, 1955 she married Gilbert Gallego, a hardware salesman. They live in the Palm Heights neighborhood at 902 W. Winnipeg and raised three children. Beatrice became active in her community very early, serving as a PTA leader, a Head Start volunteer and working at the St. James Catholic church on Theo Avenue.
In 1974, an organization that would eventually be named the Citizens Organized for Public Service (COPS) began to form in San Antonio, led by community organizer Ernesto Cortes, a Westside native who had been trained at Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago, and Father Edmundo Rodriguez of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. Cortes was looking for natural community leaders, and he heard about Gallego. He had to make seventeen phone calls before Gallego would meet with him. She was concerned that he would approach her like other civil rights activists, and she wasn’t interested in another march or rally. The idea of radicalism and socialism appalled her. Home was her first priority, her three children and husband. She worked with senior citizens and Catholic women’s groups. However, at the urging of a priest, Gallego agreed to meet Cortes, and he asked about the problems with her neighborhood, what mattered to her. COPS organized around these concerns: poor drainage, high utility bills, fixing potholes and creating sidewalks for children walking to school. These issues resonated with her, after years of watching her street get flooded every time there were heavy rains. She was still skeptical of the organization, though, until she witnessed a meeting they arranged at city hall in 1974. COPs organizers had been trying to arrange a meeting with City Manager Sam Granata, to discuss problems with drainage, but so far he had refused. So they took their plea to city hall, filling the city council chambers with five hundred people. The council took one look and ordered Granata to meet with them.
Five days before the meeting, the rains began again, flooding Westside and Southside streets, forcing families from their homes and a major bridge over Mayberry ditch collapsed. So when Granata arrived at Kennedy High School on August 12, he was greeted with seven hundred angry Westside and Southside residents. COPS researchers confronted Granata with evidence of long histories of drainage projects that had been authorized by the council but never funded or implemented, and they demanded to know why. Gallego was impressed that COPS knew more than the city manager, and she herself became angry. When Granata defended the city’s inaction with the explanation that “if you want something, you have to ask for it,” Gallego knew she had to act, and so she began to work with COPS to create change.
COPS was formally organized that same month, after successfully pressuring the city to approve a $47 million dollar bond package that included fifteen drainage projects. Gallego became one of the most active members. Along with Father Daniel Hennessy, she founded a COPS chapter at St. James parish. The St. James COPS chapter had many accomplishments, including increasing city code compliance with abandoned homes, cleaning creeks, vacant lots. Gallego attended the IAF training in Chicago, learning how to organize effective meetings, create agendas and resolve issues. In 1975 she served as COPS Executive Vice President. In that year she successfully advocated for a pedestrian bridge to be built over Frio City Road to protect children walking to school. In 1977 she became the second president of COPS, and led several successful efforts. She and Father Benavides led the fight to force the city water board to spend $12 million to replace substandard water mains. The Nogalitos storm drainage project was also completed that year. Gallego was particularly active in protecting the Edwards Aquifer, opposing development projects, and working with environmental organizations to pressure the city to enact a building moratorium over the aquifer’s recharge zone. They also successfully advocated for single member city council districts that year, a change which transformed city politics.