"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
View Kathy Emery, PhD's LinkedIn profileView Kathy Emery, PhD's profile

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

World War II Veterans

The New York Times/Bay Citizen reported (12/23) on the story of Carl E. Clark, a black WW II Veteran who is, today, being considered for a Medal of Honor for his heroic and successful act of putting out a fire on his ship in 1945.  The reporter noted that Clark "is one of an estimated one million black World War II veterans whose accomplishments were routinely ignored by the military."

This made me think of another area in which black WW II veterans are routinely ignored -- by historians and popular culture.   Danny Glover made a film, Freedom Song, which attempts to rectify our collective amnesia. [You can borrow this film, in its entirety or a 30 minute excerpted version from the Freedom school library]. This superb docu-drama illustrates the important role Southern World War II veterans played when they returned home.  After fighting to defend democracy against fascism abroad, especially in Europe, black veterans returned home with a renewed sense of purpose, confidence and abilities to fight for democracy at home. Amzie Moore was one of many....

When Moore returned to Mississippi [1945], he discovered a climate of increased repression. News photographs of German women sitting on the laps of African American soldiers had angered white Mississippians. “For at least six to eight months, at least one Negro each week was killed.” In 1950, Moore, Dr. T. R. M. Howard, and a group of black Mississippians founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The purpose of the council was to encourage “first-class citizenship” —voting, office holding, and property owning. The organization, whose rallies were attended by thousands, began a campaign which included encouraging boycotts of service stations where blacks couldn’t use the restrooms and political pressure on the state to equalize public facilities. After the Brown decision [1955] and the formation of the White Citizens Councils, Moore sensed a movement to drive blacks from the Delta, because the whites sensed that otherwise blacks “might dominate them politically, and . . . that,” according to Moore, “is really the beginning of our trouble.”

In l955, Moore was elected President of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, a group of eighty-seven members. Moore, with the support of Medgar Evers, soon expanded the branch to include 564 members, but soon violence against blacks in the Delta escalated. The murders of Dr. George W. Lee and Emmett Till, followed by Dr. T.R.M. Howard’s decision to leave the state, thwarted efforts to enforce the political gains promised by Brown. Moore noted a “great exodus of leaders from the state due to the pressure that was being brought on by white organizations bent and bound on maintaining slavery.” In 1956, the fourteen blacks who attempted to vote in the East Cleveland precinct were greeted at the ballot box by a man armed with a .38 Smith and Wesson, who ordered them to place their ballots in a brown envelope. Moore went to the telephone to inform the Justice Department that the group had been prevented from voting. Moore continued to carry on his isolated battle to enfranchise blacks, printing up copies of the Constitution and opening citizenship schools. His ability to build connections outside of the state offered him not only personal friendships with activists like Ella Baker, but economic support from Baker’s organization In Friendship.

In l960, frustrated by the bureaucracy of the NAACP, Moore attended a meeting of SNCC in Atlanta, Georgia, and invited Bob Moses and the voter registration drive to Mississippi. Moses’ first impression of Moore is that he was a man “who lives like a brick wall in a brick house, dug into this country like a tree beside the water.” Moore often accompanied Moses on his early trips to encourage voter registration among rural blacks, sharing with Moses his connections throughout the state. Once the SNCC workers arrived in Mississippi, Moore’s home served as an improvised Freedom House. Moore recalled that he “used to have sleeping in my house six and eight and ten, twelve, who had come. I bought a lots of cheese, and always we’d eat cheese and peaches, and sometimes we would get spaghetti and ground chuck or ground beef and make a huge tub of meatballs and spaghetti to fill everybody up.”  Moore agreed with Bob Moses about the difficulties voter registration was facing.
  • Because of “Hitlerism” tactics that are employed by whites in the Delta, it is extremely difficult to go into a community and start registering people.
  • First, they must lose all the fear that now grips the hearts and minds of 99 percent of the Negro people.
  • Secondly, they must regain their self-respect and self-reliance. This can be done by teaching them the philosophy of non-violence.
  • Thirdly, they must be taught how to endure suffering because if there are any changes in the immediate future, there will undoubtedly be a lot of suffering among the people who attempt to exercise their constitutional rights.
  • These things must be taught before a voter registration program in the Delta can be successful
Moses termed Amzie Moore his “father in the movement.” To Moses, Moore “was what I like to think an organizer should be—working behind the scenes, helping to set up things. . . . He didn’t have a formal education; he still had his common roots, which didn’t have that sort of institutional stamp a university can put on you. On the other hand, he had a very special analytical and well-read mind. So he could talk to the people and he could talk to the powerful.”

-------From Chapter Five in Lessons from Freedom Summer

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Social Movement Forum at USF

December 2, 2010
Thanks to Alicia Maldonado, James Bautista, Marilyn DeLaure and the Communication Studies department at USF for organizing and hosting an inspiring event earlier this month.  And special thanks to Max Perez (former Immokalee organizer and now SF resident) and Mike Miller (whose resume is impossible to identify briefly) for being panelists.  Mike and Max wonderfully complimented each other -- Max giving a history of how the Immokalee workers managed to take down TACO BELL and Mike putting Max's story in the context of why it is so hard to organize today.

Highlights for me:
Max: In order to increase wages and conditions, they went on three failed strikes against the growers.  They didn't have enough resources for a sustained strike.  So, they brainstormed alternative strategy.  They realized that the corporations that bought the tomatoes that they picked were extremely defensive about their brand.  That allowed them to go after Taco Bell (first) with the demand that the company pay an extra "penny a pound" for tomatoes from the growers (the middle men) and that they would insure that penny made it down the chain to the pickers themselves, as well as insisting on the ability of the workers to take bathroom and water breaks during the hot work days.  They were able to threaten the "good name" of the Taco Bell brand with an obvious-to-all reasonable request by enlisting students on college campuses, who did much to get out the word.
Mike:  Explained, through a short fable, how many nonprofits have unwittingly been co-opted --  he calls this, "The Plague of Nonprofits."  From a draft of an upcoming article he will publish:
The step-by-step process of building power—get people together; win something small; use the victory to train leaders and create confidence in the efficacy of collective action; reflect on the meaning of what was collectively done from the perspective of basic democratic principles and the social and economic justice teachings of the world’s great religious traditions; use the victory to recruit skeptics (either individuals or organizations) who now see that this organization might know what it’s doing; take on a more recalcitrant target because now you have more people power to negotiate, boycott, disrupt, get-out-the-vote or otherwise affect institutional power—all this is necessarily abandoned by organizations that are focused now on the competent design of programs.  Instead of looking at the different self-interests of those with institutional power, self-interests that have to be adversely affected if change is to come about, the focus becomes one of convincing decision-makers “on the merits” of the case. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Berekely Public School Desegregation 1968

The Berkeley Public Library has a digital pictures archive of stories by teachers who taught in the Berkeley Schools  in 1968. 
Three of them are on Youtube
Coming of Age in the Civil Rights Era: Experiencing Berkeley Public School Desegregation 1964-68, a grant supported by the California State Library of the Berkeley Public Library working with the Center for Digital Storytelling, to share and record first-hand experiences of the voluntary desegregation / integration of the Berkeley Public Schools.
Workshops for Teachers
January 13-15
March 17-19
March 23-25 (Wednesday-Friday, part of a FIT workshop March 21-25)
May 26-28
July 14-16
September 22-24
October 27-29
November 2-4 (Wednesday-Friday, part of a FIT workshop October 31-November 4)
December 9-11(Friday-Sunday)

Please click here to register for a workshop.
Please email for more information and future workshop dates in Berkeley

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Something to Ponder on election day!

Freedom is a Constant Struggle. The Southern Freedom Movement fought hard to eliminate obstacles to voting: literacy tests, poll taxes, threats of violence and death, grandfather result being the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Voting Act.  Today a new obstacle: differential punishments and police harrassment.

America’s Millions of Disenfranchised, Largely Black Voters from Colorlines 
It’s Election Day, which means millions of voters are headed to the polls. But there’s a sizable number of people who aren’t permitted to cast ballots because they’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system. An estimated 5.3 million Americans have currently or permanently lost their right to vote because of felony convictions—.... At least four million of those people have completed their sentences or are on probation or parole, according to NPR.  Read More

The Shame of New York   By Bob Herbert NYT
Published: October 29, 2010
The whole notion of the rule of law, critical to a democracy, is sabotaged when the guardians of the law — in this case the officers of the New York City Police Department — are permitted to violate the law with impunity.  Read More

Friday, October 29, 2010

Students! Apply now for 2011 Student Freedom Ride

2011 Student Freedom Ride
American Experience Invites College Students to “Get on the Bus.”  Be one of 40 college students to join original Freedom Ridersin retracing the 1961 Rides.
May 6-16, 2011: Washington, DC to Jackson, MS

JOIN students from across the country in retracing the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides. Accepted students will participate at no cost to them. All transportation, hotel and food expenses are covered by American Experience.
PARTICIPATE in an intergenerational conversation about civic engagement.  What does it mean today? What has changed since 1961?  What inspires young people to “get on the bus”?
SHARE the journey.  Through live blogging, Twitter, and Facebook, the students on the bus will be able to share their experiences and, in a sense, bring others along on their journey.
Application period is open!
Application deadline: January 17, 2011
Decisions announced: February 2011

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Southern Strategy: Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and today's GOP

 In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July...and then made sure the credentials committee in August did not seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party instead of the all white MS Democratic Party....  because he was afraid he would lose the South to Goldwater in November.  He lost it anyway, giving rise to the Republicans' Southern Strategy during the next 50 years.

Rachel Maddow has a terrific 15 minute explanation of how the Republicans' Southern Strategy, while acknowledged  by GOP leaders in the recent past, has found new momentum today, without creating any "Macaca Moments!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Angela Davis and Yuri Kochiyama

From Colorlines  VIDEO

Grab your popcorn, there’s a new documentary out that looks like required viewing. Mountains that Take Wing: Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama: A Conversation on Life, Struggles and Liberation is making the rounds on the university and festival circuit, and is not to be missed.  The film captures conversations between the two activists and icons spanning a decade as they talk social change and political struggle, theory and activism and art. The film is a unique opportunity to eavesdrop on two women who’ve been at the center of civil rights, prison abolition and global liberation struggles as they reflect on their lives and the work ahead. A rare and exciting snapshot of living history.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

RE: the black musical tradition and its importance

 This is a video about a string band, the Chocolate Drops, who are keeping the knowledge of a black musician alive, and they explain why that is important near the end of the video.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Did Integration Hurt Black Neighborhoods

Colorlines reports on Eugene Robinson's new book

see also

Many of the Civil Rights veterans during their guest speaking gigs at the SFFS summer program argued that the Southern Freedom Movement was not about integration but against segregation--an interesting distinction to ponder.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Women and SNCC-- new book

Book Reading and Celebration of "Hands on the Freedom Plow"

Come Join the Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement at USF on Saturday November 6th when they will host a coming-out book party for the long  awaited "Hands on the Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC."

Every aspect of SNCC's history is represented in this anthology of the  writings of 52 of the SNCC women who worked on the front lines of the  Southern Freedom Struggle. They are northern and southern, young and  old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina; and their stories are  powerful testimonies to the intensity of the struggle for social change.

For more information about "Hands on the Freedom Plow"

Please pick up a copy of this book at your favorite independent  bookstore, and ask them to stock it. You will not be able to purchase it  at this event, but you will be able to have yours signed by the four  contributors who live in the Bay Area and by special guest Faith  Holsaert, one of the six editors, all SNCC women, who have labored for  15 years to get this book published.

Join us in celebration.

November 6, 2010
1pm to 5pm
University of San Francisco (USF)
Lone Mountain campus, Room: LM 100

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Book: Freedom Summer

 Order from Teaching for Change website
A majestic history of the summer of '64, which forever changed race relations in America
In the summer of 1964, with the civil rights movement stalled, seven hundred college students descended on Mississippi to register black voters, teach in Freedom Schools, and live in sharecroppers' shacks. But by the time their first night in the state had ended, three volunteers were dead, black churches had burned, and America had a new definition of freedom.

This remarkable chapter in American history, the basis for the controversial film Mississippi Burning, is now the subject of Bruce Watson's thoughtful and riveting historical narrative. Using in- depth interviews with participants and residents, Watson brilliantly captures the tottering legacy of Jim Crow in Mississippi and the chaos that brought such national figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and Pete Seeger to the state. Freedom Summer presents finely rendered portraits of the courageous black citizens-and Northern volunteers-who refused to be intimidated in their struggle for justice, and the white Mississippians who would kill to protect a dying way of life. Few books have provided such an intimate look at race relations during the deadliest days of the Civil Rights movement, and Freedom Summer will appeal to readers of Taylor Branch and Doug Blackmon.

FBI informer?

That photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery, Ala.? He took it. The well-known image of black sanitation workers carrying “I Am a Man” signs in Memphis? His. He was the only photojournalist to document the entire trial in the murder of Emmett Till, and he was there in Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel, Dr. King’s room, on the night he was assassinated.

But now an unsettling asterisk must be added to the legacy of Ernest C. Withers, one of the most celebrated photographers of the civil rights era: He was a paid F.B.I. informer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tea Party and Malcom X?


See article on Colorlines:
It’s no wonder Glenn Beck banned signs from his now-infamous march on Washington a couple weeks ago. Tea Partiers are notoriously bad at them. Take Sunday’s 9/11 Tea Party Rally in D.C., for instance. Not only was it held the day after the anniversary, but then there’s the gem of the above photo: a white man in a Desert Storm veterans cap holding a sign that’s referencing Malcolm X’s iconic 1964 speech on black civic engagement.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Erika Huggins at MoAD Sept 25th

[SF Freedom School focuses on the Southern Freedom Movement. This is a related issue....I suggest an excellent book that helps put the Black Panther movement in perspective...Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity, Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar]

Silver Anniversary Speaker Series Talk:
Ericka Huggins in Conversation with Ronald K. Porter

Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD)
685 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA
Saturday, September 25th
2:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Cost: $10, GLBTHS Members: $5

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Historical Society of Northern California is holding a series of important conversations across generations. As the first event in our Silver Anniversary Speakers Series, they are proud to present activist, educator, former political prisoner and leader of the Black Panther Party, Ericka Huggins, in conversation with UC-Berkeley doctoral student, Ronald K. Porter. Ericka and Ronald will discuss perspectives on queer history, the Black Panther Party's relationship with the Gay Liberation Movement, sustaining activism, and promoting social justice.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

police brutality

The police were part of the structure supporting jim crow in the South that the southern freedom movement had to contend with.

The current Urban Freedom Movement (which is hopefully in its nascent stages after Sean Bell and Oscar Grant) has to figure out how to contend with "police brutality."

exhibit A: No Hate Crime Charges for Seattle's PD's beating caught on Camera

Friday, September 3, 2010

Re: NYC and the "mosque" controversy

Shame on America, Jews & the ADL

by Rabbi Bruce Warshal

To begin, the mosque controversy does not involve a mosque. It is planned as
a 13-story community center encompassing a swimming pool, 500-seat performing
arts center, gym, culinary school, restaurant and, yes, a prayer space for
Muslims, which already exists in the current building. A formal mosque would
forbid eating or the playing of music on the premises. I guess that we are
now at the point in America where Jews can have our JCC’s and Christians their
YMCA’s, but Muslims are not wanted.

There is also the controversy over the proposed name, Cordoba House. The
hate-mongers have described this as a reference to Muslim designs to attack
western culture, hearkening back to the Muslim-Christian wars of domination in
medieval Spain. The name was chosen for precisely the opposite reason. In
the tenth century Cordoba was the center of the most liberal and sophisticated
Caliphate in the Islamic world. All religions were not merely tolerated but

The caliph, Abd al-Rahman III, had a Jew as his foreign minister and a Greek
bishop in his diplomatic corps. He also had a library of 400,000 volumes at a
time when the largest library in Christian Europe numbered merely 400
manuscripts. There were also 70 other smaller libraries in Cordoba. The very
reference to Cordoba reflects the sophistication and liberality of the Muslims
behind this project. They have changed the name of the center to the address
of the building, Park 51, to deflect criticism. This was unfortunate, since
nothing will quiet a hate-monger.

Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam behind the proposed community center, has been
attacked as an Islamic terrorist, even though he is a practitioner of Sufi
Islam, which reaches out to all other religions as manifestations of the
Divine. My God, the conservative Bush administration utilized Rauf as part of
an outreach to the Muslim world. You can bet your life that he was thoroughly
vetted by our government. He is currently being used by the Clinton State
Department as well in the same capacity. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek and CNN
succinctly put it, “His vision of Islam is bin Laden’s nightmare.”

And what is Rauf’s sin? He will build a Muslim community center two blocks
away from Ground Zero, variously described as a “hallowed battlefield,” “holy
ground,” and a “war memorial.” Even President Obama in his defense of
religious freedom commented that, “Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.” I
beg to differ.

If Ground Zero is holy ground, then the railroad station in Madrid, the
Underground in London, the federal building in Oklahoma City, the Pentagon
(where there is presently a prayer space for Muslims – yes, patriotic,
religious Muslim Americans work at the Pentagon) and every other physical
location that has been the object of terrorism is holy ground. If Ground Zero
is holy space why plan for it to be developed with office buildings (in which
the object will be to amass money – obviously a holy pursuit), a shopping
center (in which consumer goods will be peddled to continue to gorge the
American appetite for material possessions), and with a theater for modern
dance (a project to which I personally look forward as a devotee of the Joyce,
the modern dance Mecca of New York)? I’m sorry, but someone has to tell
America that this designation of holy space is merely part of a mass hysteria
that really scares me.

The question which must be asked is why this hysteria? The impetus comes from
a triumvirate of right-wing Christians, Jews and politicians. Fundamentalist
Christians are still fighting the crusades, still vying to convert the world
to their truths. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, to the
distress of these Christian proselytizers. What better way to win this battle
than to brand all Muslims as terrorists?

Right-wing Jews think that they are doing Israel a favor by painting Islam as
a terrorist religion thereby proving that Israel need not negotiate with the
Palestinians. The idea is to project the concept that we are civilized and
they are not. This theme is picked up in the right-wing press of Israel.
Commenting on the New York proposed “mosque,” a columnist in the Jerusalem
Post declares that “Islamism is a modern political tendency which arose in a
spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930’s and
‘40’s.” Ground Zero isn’t Israel’s “holy ground.” Why would he be involved
with this discussion? Simply because right-wing Jews in Israel as well as the
United States believe that demonizing the religion of 1.3 billion people is
good for Israel. God help us.

Right-wing politicians join the fray. On Fox News Newt Gingrich compares a
mosque at Ground Zero to Nazis protesting at the United States Holocaust
Memorial. The Democrats are cowed by the American outpouring of hate and
even Harry Reid voices disapproval of the Park 51 site. It’s a perfect storm
of hate.

Periodically we go through this in America. The anti-Catholic No-Nothing
party ran ex-President Millard Fillmore in the presidential election of 1856
and garnered 27 percent of the votes. We deported over 10,000 people during
the First World War because they opposed our entry into that war and we
incarcerated loyal Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Now during
this “war on terror” I shudder to think where we are headed.

The tool used in this hate campaign is the concept of collective guilt. Based
on that, all Jews are traitors since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg sold out this
country. All Christians are terrorists since Timothy McVeigh attacked the
federal building in Oklahoma City. Neither are all Muslims traitors nor
terrorists. Islam is not monolithic. Its forms are as varied as Judaism or
Christianity. I do not practice Judaism the same as a Satmar Hasidic Jew. A
Catholic does not practice Christianity the same as a Jehovah Witness. Imam
Rauf does not share the same Islamic beliefs as bin Laden.

Of all people Jews should beware of collective guilt since we have suffered
from it for millennia. Yet the organization that started this hysteria is
headed by a right-wing Jewish supporter of Israel by the name of Pam Geller.
She is quoted in the mainstream media (including the Jewish Journal) as if she
is a legitimate political voice. Yet on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, she has
declared that “Obama is the illegitimate son of Malcom X.” She has written
that we have “an American-hater for president.” She has proposed that devout
Muslims should be prohibited from military service. She asks, “Would Patton
have recruited Nazis into his army?” To all of the rabbis quoted in the
Jewish Journal urging that the “mosque” be moved, know who is pulling your

Finally, to the role of the Anti-Defamation League and its director, Abe
Foxman. The world was literally “shocked,” that’s the word used by the
Associated Press, by ADL’s call for the mosque to be moved. Fareed Zakaria
called it a “bizarre decision.” Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said,
“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational.”
Referring to loved ones of the September 11 victims, he continued: “Their
anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational
or bigoted.”

How dare Foxman use the Holocaust to justify prejudice. He does blasphemy to
the memory of Jews and other oppressed minorities whose lives were sacrificed
on the altar of bigotry. Zakaria responds: “Does Foxman believe that bigotry
is OK if people think they’re victims? Does the anguish of Palestinians,
then, entitle them to be anti-Semitic?”

Five years ago the ADL honored Zakaria with the Hubert H. Humphrey First
Amendment Freedoms Prize. Incensed over ADL’s succumbing to bigotry, he has
returned the award with the $10,000 honorarium that came with it.

The last word was recently written by Daniel Luban, a doctoral student at the
University of Chicago, in Tablet Magazine: “While activists like Pam Geller
have led the anti-mosque campaign and the broader demonization of Muslims that
has accompanied it, leaders like Abe Foxman have acquiesced in it. In doing
so they risk providing an ugly and ironic illustration of the extent of Jewish
assimilation in 21st-century America. We know that Jews can grow up to be
senators and Supreme Court justices. Let’s not also discover that they can
grow up to incite a pogrom.”

Rabbi Bruce Warshal:

Some Good News

Domestic Workers Lead the Way to 21st Century worker rights

This week, just in time for Labor Day weekend, New York Gov. David Paterson signed into law the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The new law, which takes effect in November, is a massive and unprecedented win for the new labor movement--and it is a model for the way organizers and lawmakers alike must begin to think about workers' rights in the 21st century economy.

The New York law requires overtime pay for nannies, housekeepers and home health aides, guarantees them weekly time off and subjects employers to state law for minimum-wage violations and sexual harassment. These are all basic rights that traditional, full-time employees have long enjoyed, but that a broad swath of workers who are not protected by labor laws have never seen


The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County for not cooperating with an investigation into whether his department was systematically violating the rights of Hispanics.

Obama administration officials called the suit the first time in 30 years that the federal government had to sue to compel a law enforcement agency to cooperate with an investigation concerning Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Last Word

On the last day of our Summer Program (August 14), at the end of the day, we asked everyone to think of a word that summarized their experience/understanding/feeling that day, or from all of the days/time they had spend at SFFS this summer. Below are some examples of what was drawn. More to come.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lessons learned...a great gift from the SFFS

Oh, SFFS you have been so good to me! I feel like my feet are more firmly planted on the ground as I have gotten to know my folks a little better…to know a little more about those whose shoulders I am standing on. It has been amazing to journey through stories, films, books, and discussions about a few precious decades that have come to shape my life for the better. In school, I heard time and time again the stories of Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Rosa Parks. Though the stories of those warriors are paramount to the legacy of freedom fighting, so are the stories are Fannie Lou Hamer, Herbert Lee, Ella Baker, the cooks who helped to provide a source of sustenance to SNCC staff, the hosts of families that opened their doors to give shelter, the woman/man that walked up to that counter to register to vote. So through this experience of relearning my people’s history, I have come to realize that I am standing on the shoulders of thousands; some who gave their lives, others who were a bridge for many to walk over, and many more who are still alive today to remind us not to take the little things for granted.

It was great to have the last Freedom School session filled with so many amazing people. It was perfect to close out with so much great energy. I really loved that there was such a blend of young folks, elders, and all those in between. A couple of things that I feel more grounded in is 1.) the importance of reaching out to all types of folks, everyone has a gift and could make a contribution, and it shouldn’t matter the type of educational background they have, how much organizing experience they have…we need all the help and love that we can get to make change. 2.) Commitment, I plan to stay in this for as long as I am alive, and I trust that there will be a community of energetic and passionate folks that will pick up the torch. 3.) There may be times when I don’t feel or see that the work I’m doing is making a change, but to know and trust that it is having an impact. 4.) I was also reminded of how important it is to just have fun.

These lessons and so many others will be a source of light for me as I journey to effect change wherever I am. I just want to give a humble thank you to everyone who took time out from their Saturday to participate…this has helped to shape me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Much love everyone!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scarred Justice (Aug. 7)

Here are some reflections from the Chalk Talk following the screening of excerpts following the Orangeburg Massacre:

*Reflections on Greensburg, SC--I'm surprised this episode in the Civil Rights Movement isn't as well known or publicized by mass communications and media. I like the emphasis on what black power is; that it is about organizing and not about violence. It is about Democracy... and people still live in fear.

*I found the violent outbreaks to be very shocking. How police can open fire on civilians is hard to watch; cops hurt the very people they are sworn to serve. This era seemed like a time of chaos; Governor McNair did not seem to know how to react to the restless passion of political activists.

1.) "Too many" officers for such "a small group" of KIDS---sad
2.) Black kids "Did not" matter...had it happened to "White kids" at Kent State
3.) It surprised me that the "Black Panther" movement "Did not" do more of an outcry and considering Cleveland Sellers and Stokeley were friends.
4.) What was Dr. King's response to this??? and the SCLC
5.)How many students were there that night?

*How the plot has not changed
*Non-violent protest cops arrive in full force and armed beat and shoot pushing the crowd to react by attack students
*the media rewrites whole story blaming protesters--armed shot cops (no mention of the tanks)
*Change selected students perhaps discouraging one
*The recent Oscar Grant protests are another case of this. How could anyone believe the media version.
*In 1991 (I think) Bush I bombed Iraq the SFPD blamed all the antiwar protests in the Bay Area. They actually pressed charges until finally someone laughed at them enough that they dropped the charges. The ability to demonize someone beyond logic by the state/enforced by the cops is endless and repeating.

*So many thoughts...
*Injustice that situation of segregation existed
*That situation escalated to point of students being gunned down by police and that this could and does happen in U.S.
*Where was nonviolent training for both police and students throughout
*The injustice and manipulation of charges against Cleveland Sellers
*The parallels to what was going on about this time with the American Indian Movement and the incarceration of Leonard Pelter who is in prison to this day for unproven charges against him

*Federal troops called to bring "peace to the city"
*Controlling access to the media
*Failure of the justice system
*Has there been a resolution of this case?

Freedom Rides

Here are some of the posts from our Chalk Talk following the showing of the Eyes on the Prize coverage of the Freedom Rides:

* It struck me how incredibly brave the Freedom Riders were
* How disciplined were the sit-in participants to stay with non-violence
* The highs and lows of being in prison for something people believed in
* The determination of MFDP--they did not compromise, "We didn't come all this way for two seats when we're all tired."

*The expansiveness of the freedom summer---how it encompassed so much from the trainings, to voting, the youth schooling, the MFDP

*What it may have done for racial injustice--solidarity work (youth organizing, organizing tactics, strategizing)

* It is "first amazing" to me "the enduring perseverance, with "the commitment" of "steadfast belief," in its reform to the Constitutin and the Bill of Rights "That" All Men are Created Equal under the law

*Important to realize that even with legislation and Supreme Court ruling, the legal system did and still does function in a way that allows for disregard of laws on the local level.

*Interesting demonstration of the "mob" mentality. During the exercise in which they practiced facing mobs, it was illustrated how it carried away and violent mobs can get.

*The necessity of direct action accompanied by broader community engagement and organizing.

*The need to realize there is a problem, organize around it, and energize the movement.

Just the variety of rationalization for blatant injustice/illegal discrimination

The use of "states rights' to justify injustice

Bobby Kennedy's compromise

The radicalization of Parchman--prison stay, in this case facing on incubation for justice action

*How do you make a film like this relevant to contemporary times---appealing to youth, new immigrants

*Wake them up, not enough people to tell them to wake up

*More than anything, I suppose this film reinforced existing convictions of mine.

Two things stuck out:
1.) The fact that state power had to be change instead of simply being ignored, while at the same time, creating Democratic spaces like the Freedom Schools to build community.

2.) The complicity of many Northern Democrats in upholding Jim Crow, preferring to simply go along to get along; thereby reinforcing MLK's conviction that moderates were greater enemies to the cause of freedom than the KKK as the former preferred a negative peace (absence of tension) to a positive peace (presence of justice).

Need to research have clear-er timeline of Supreme Court decisions and then the actual date of enforcement of laws

How to use history, ideas, work, strategies of these students to encourage kids today to participate in social and environmental justice

*The level of violence then--firebombed buses with people inside, churches etc.
*Compare to the property damage in Oakland at Oscar Grant marches: Burning dumpsters is called violence

*Also accusations of "outside agitators" in both cases--"communists" or "anarchists"

*Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reflections on the student strike in Farmville, VA

On July 24th, we saw excerpts from With All Deliberate Speed. The movie describes the history of two of the five cases that were bundled together to form the 1954 BROWN decision, overturning the constitutionality of segregation of public schools. The movie also went into contemporary classrooms in Farmville, VA and Clarendon County (Briggs case) to see what effects these cases have had.

The excerpts watched Saturday morning at SFFS focused on the Farmville case. This case originated with a student strike organized by 16 year old Barbara Johns in 1951. Barbara and her classmates wanted a new school. The NAACP was persuaded by Johns to consider adopting their case as part of the five cases they were looking for to overturn Plessy v Ferguson.

Here are some reflections by SFFS participants after watching the film:

Barbara was really not very well known at school, she had a hidden fire--when the need for justice became unbearable, that fire had already been kindled in her heart and mind. She was ready to act.

Fear: touching the Bible
Ignorance: Imposed v. conditioned
Outcome: Better than desired goal
Perpetuating bad behavior: It only takes a few bad people to make things bad and only a few good people to make things right.

I didn't realize how unequal the schools were for black students. It was also striking how blatant the superintendent of schools was about not caring about the unequal facilities. It was amazing he told the black students he did not care if they received an education!

Is everybody prejudiced? Are there degrees of prejudice...depending on their access to power?
Barbara Johns put in strategic effort for her vision of having better schools.

The thoughtfulness of the students at Moton to do the strike as peers without the help of teachers and faculty shows insight into the resistance of their opponents. The youth inspire me to see how underutilized our youth are today.

In a social movement, there seems to be a tension between a desire for practical gains and a desire for idealistic gains among two groups of people:
1. practical gains = a better school environment with quality water, food, no cracked paint
2. Idealistic gain = integration of racial groups.
---Tension = does it hinder effective mobilization among groups; does it even exist; how do you resolve such a tension?
I see this tension playing out in communities today. Let's integrate the neighborhoods by mobilizing poor people (Ideal). However, poor people don't prioritize integration as much as they care about better living conditions.

It was mostly the girls.
They seem to have a strong sense of entitlement, to deserving a good education in a well equipped school. The parents apparently had agreed to risk being jailed for the kid's acts though that wasn't explicitly shown.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Maddow: :Be afraid of black people" as a time honored tactic

Rachel Maddow explains that the right-wing tactic of characterizing black people -- like, say, former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod -- as being racist against white people is nothing new in this country.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the econom

In fact, as Maddow documented, "the political strategy of terrifying white people about the threat posed by black people" goes back to the 1960s, with the campaign of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, and the "Southern Strategy" that was a part of Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Maddow continued that now, "making white people feel like they are victims of black people" is one of the "Fox News agenda items" designed to fear-monger about race.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spiritual Pilgrimate in Mississippi

Thought this blog posting re efforts of Mississippians to ensure that the next generation remembers who Emmett Till and Fannie Lou Hamer were might be of interest. note the call for homeschooling in the comment to the post.

Mississippi will also require every student in public schools to study civil rights history in every grade.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reflections on the Nashville Sit Ins (movie)

Last Saturday, we watched "When We Were Warriors" - a 30 minute documentary on the Nashville Sit Ins. Below are some of the reflections participants wrote on large post-its after watching the movie. (for a "chalk talk")

Satyagraha: I had only been involved in nonviolence as "do not defend yourself," which I was not impressed by. But several years ago I heard Vandana Shiva speak and define it as "the social duty to disobey unjust laws." That totally resonated for me, and I could see it as a wave/a swarm of small acts all moving together towards change.

If "nonviolence profoundly changed the 20th century all over the world," what will be the change factor in the 21st century?

As cuts to education and social services continue in CA, the lessons detailed in the documentary reveal the short sightedness of activists and "direct actionists," today, as they aim to occupy buildings without creating more extensive networks of activists beforehand. So as activists in the South arranged dramatizing events, recruited more students, trained each other and strategized further, their philosophy of nonviolence guided their practice and strengthened their morale as they continued organizing. They were able to seize key moments because of their savvy and sophisticated organizing.

Primarily it is important to remember one thing: the only way the movement in Nashville was able to obtain its goals was with a strategy grounded in clear course of action (discipline, organization, rules of engagement) and emphasis on gaining community support. Revolutionary phrase-mongering and impatience had no place. While some would point to the relative speed with which their demands were realized, one must remember that the success of the movement was due in large part to the fact that organizers met people where they were, not where they wanted them to be. In my own role in the student anti-cuts movement, it is of the utmost importance that we remember those lessons, lest we be marginalized in any future action.

In the 1960s, the Nashville students' objective was to desegregate Nashville. By using nonviolence they managed to unify the black community and gain support for a boycott of the stores that were segregated. The boycott pressured the store-owners and the white community to engage with their concerns. The fact that they were nonviolent, innocent, well-dressed students gained them the sympathy of the media. American and the world were now watching. With all the issues we are confronted with today, what could be our objective that would unify the most people? Could it be economic equality? Environmental justice? Using nonviolent means, what could be our strategy and tactics? What action could we plan with a common purpose that would give us the momentum to perhaps carry-out a form of economic boycott to draw attention to our issue?

It saddens me that these lessons of organization and foresight are often left out of the teaching of the civil rights movement. Students today see these momentous acts but cannot conceive as to how to replicate them in order to address their own struggles. They want to make changes but only see the curriculum of single great leaders and huge actions. but do not see the smaller actions carried out by a myriad of everyday people who are the body, the life force of such movements. On another note, I am impressed at the depth of the nonviolent training and unification in action and purpose that took place. Acting out the hate of the detractors and preparing their actions against it engendered their unity of actions and wisdom necessary for success.

I was deeply impressed by the personal determination, and community solidarity of the participants who with their tactics and leadership could overcome the fear and the threat of backlash and violence against them. Obviously, it took great leadership but I bet that leadership entered all of the activists hearts as they felt they were on a shared mission withe the "rights" of our nation, however ill applied in the past, supporting the foundation for their movement. Responsibility for rectification could finally be shifted to the white side because of the moral and economic weight had finally shifted to the oppressed as opposed to the blind defense of the tradition and status that maintained the white stance.

What made it possible for hundreds of thousands to participate?
How is our current movement different from the movement of the lunch counter sit-ins?
What issue today could unify and mobilize as many people as segregation did? And what if our issues are more complicated or controversial or less universal?
Surprise was an important element in the lunch counter movement. They surprised the police by not fighting back when they were beaten. They surprised the police when they had hundreds of replacements waiting to take lunch counter seats as students were taken to jail. How do we surprise our adversaries today in the tactics that we use?

It was powerful to see the many people marching in the beginning of the film--India and other places--these images foreshadowed the students march to the city mayor's building in Nashville at the end of this film. I want to learn more about the long term planning, strategies etc used. This is almost completely left out of K-12 history textbooks.

Nonviolence is both a challenge and a power.
Importance of patience and planning, dramatizing wrongs
importance of building a community
Hold sacred the Beloved Community
How do we break through the attitude of acceptance that violence is the norm?
Keep on keepin' on to create a culture of peace.

Interesting how outside influences (Lawson bringing ideas from India/Gandhi) could make possible changes in how they fight was "fought" -- what if he hadn't been there?
I'm taken with the concept of internal discipline--especially the way people were prepared AND, for example, the way they negotiated with stores after stores agreed to integrate.
Rhythm to confrontation and knowing valued of changing tactics when needed.
How can we think about the 'whole community' concept---Lawson says it's crucial. How many people in Bay Area see themselves as part of a community intent on achieving equity?

The film led me to wonder about the extent to which nonviolence as a tactic may still be useful. It also led me to wonder whether people like myself have it in us to summon the courage and strenth to continue the Civil Rights movement in new ways. For example could we use nonviolence to protest unemployment or foreclosure or homelessness?

Anticipation, training, and preparation of nonviolence in response to attacks from enemies was brilliant. The best arguments are those that anticipate and counter their opponents best point and to see that tactic in action and dramatized is very interesting. Some goals of these demonstrations was to change attitudes and laws toward segregation. Today that we have laws "protecting" some oppressed classes (women, queer folks, low income) I wonder how some of these tactics can be used in the present to change attitudes.

The movie was very clear in portraying the sequence of the movement. (though I would also like to see the training manual used by Lawson, is it available?) Something very obvious now is how cell phones and technology would/do make some differences. (both for better and worse -- TV has become a sophisticated propaganda machine. Surveillance cameras, wiretaps. Plus the social "progress" in our country to unashamed torture, etc.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Non-violent resistance: Old School and New School Strategies

I felt so charged from last Saturdays Freedom School session. While in school, I heard a lot from folks in African-American Studies around non-violent resistance. But many of my professors seemed to be more aligned with the black nationalists and really pumped up the work from the BPP and folks like Kwame Toure or Robert F. Williams. The first couple of thoughts that come up for me when I think of non-violent resistance are mostly Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they peacefully resisted against their struggles. Honestly, I thought of them as more passive. I’ve never really thought of the strategies of non-violent resistance as anything more than meek and peaceful protest. Now I feel like I’m a non-violent resistance convert. A new picture has been planted in my mind from this past Saturday. Between the video about the Nashville sit-ins of 1960 and the personal account of Jean Wiley, I felt something that I had never felt before…power. It was so empowering to see and hear about the ways in which the concept of non-violent resistance went from small workshops, to real folks applying it via sit-ins, to community participation, all the way to real outcome and change.
I have so much respect and admiration for the way that folks were able to strategize in a way that it drew national attention and community participation. I feel like that is one of my biggest personal frustrations, when I am completely outraged and frustrated by what seems like blatant ____________ (racism, bigotry, homophobia, whatever), and wanna do something, but know that it would take more than just me, but people, and lots of them to 1.) feel like there is a problem 2.) feel like something should be done about it and 3.) ACT! I really appreciate that this was a movement that as Ms. Wiley stated, “anyone could join.” I also absolutely love the fact that there was a clear vision about the strategies to be used and that there was firmness about it. The fact that there was a clear message and sense of discipline around the non-violent strategy is definitely something that should be spread around to folks who are doing a lot of the same work and organizing but never get on the same page together as more collective and unified in their strategies. Another piece that I really appreciate about the idea that “anyone could join” is that it breaks down something that I thing happens today where there are lead/key organizers and organizations that you have to know about or fight to access in order to be considered a part of “the movement.” It feels to me like a lot of the organizing today is more exclusive. I feel like you have to look and talk a certain way to be a part of the so-called movement and you are sized up by what organizations you are connected to or know about, the marches you’ve attended, and your ability to use the words “imperialism” and “capitalism” in the same sentence. The point that I’m trying to make before I go too far on my cynical tirade is that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of space for the people, everyday people. I really think that engendering the strategies of the 1960’s and non-violent resistance could do a whole lot to reshape the potential and impact of movements today.

I also just wanted to shout-out some of the jewels that I got from Ms. Jean Wiley:
*Duties of activists: read, ask, debate, listen, and LISTEN
*Regardless of who you are (doctor, lawyer, minister, garbage man/woman), you become a leader by acting.
*Don’t stop! Keep pushing…keep moving and send more (when needed) to break down resistance
*Movement was called Southern Freedom Movement by organizers not Civil Rights Movement

A really great question that Ms. Wiley opened with that still has me thinking is “What would you like to be on the agenda for a founding meeting of today?” I think that this is a brilliant question that we should all be asking ourselves. I also feel like there should be a collective and unified agenda so that we can really move forward together.

Finally, I want to pay respect to those like Sammy Young and George Bess who were mentioned this Saturday and to all of the warriors who lost their lives in their fight for liberation and justice.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book Reccomendation

I had a chance to hear author Marilyn Nelson a couple years ago @ Reading the World Conference @ USF. She has written several books including Carver: a life in poems and Fortune's Bones

A Wreath for Emmett Till
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary.–Cris Riedel, Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School, Dansville, NY

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Need for Community

One of the arguments made by several Civil Rights veterans, and made by Wazir on Saturday and Freedom Song, is that movements are built on the foundations of community (in addition to other things like "infrastructure").

Freedom Song: In Quinlan (McComb), T-Bone (Amzie Moore, Aaron Henry) nurtured a community of young activists on his front porch/barbershop. When Daniel Wall (Bob Moses) arrived in town, T-Bone was able to introduce him to all the people he knew and get donations from them to support the work of Wall. When T-Bone stopped Owen from unilaterally desegregating the white-only bus station waiting room, he told Owen to come to church the next sunday (to meet Daniel Wall), "get a hair-cut" (i.e., start attending meetings of the NAACP youth chapter), and then paid for Owen's glass of milk. When Owen muttered that T Bone wasn't his father, the cafe owner/worker, when taking the payment for the milk, remarked to Owen, "we all's your family."

Wazir: "...the elements of a community were built before I was born: people having things in common, having to survive together, people seeing the need to help each other, people seeing the need to address together what is out of sync in the community. It is possible to build community, but it is hard work. it takes that same effort of knocking doors, of like minds get together, no expecting hordes at first, accepting each other's differences, and supporting each other. Start small, experimental. sure create some kind of infrastructure so it can be built upon by those who come after you....[and anticipate people wanting to destroy it, like they did SNCC]"

Emmett Till versus Oscar Grant

At the recent SF Freedom School session, we had a very involved and interesting discussion that revolved around comparing the events and organizing surrounding the murder of Emmett Till (1955 in MS) and Oscar Grant (2009 in Oakland). As with most discussions of events that are very emotional and complex, we were only beginning to scratch the surface when we had to stop.

I am hoping we can use the blog to keep the conversation going.... Face to face is superior to blogs, but blogs have their place too.

Here are the notes from the  easel pad....where do we go from here?

news media focus:
  • ET = national/intl news on miscarriage of justice; local MS papers criticizing outside attention;
  • OG = media focused on "violence" of protests
Picture is work a thousand words:
  • ET = Jet Magazine (galvanizes black national community)
  • OG = cell phone videos (undermines white denial of cops' culpability)

jury deliberation:

  • ET = 67 minutes;
  • OG = 9 hours
defense argument:
  • ET = body was not Till's;
  • OG = Did Mehserle intend to kill Grant?
role of federal govt:
  • ET = refused to intervene;
  • OG = plans to file civil suit after criminal verdict
goal of organizing around murder:
  • ET = Bryant and Milam convicted of murder and kidnapping;
  • OG = disband/disarm BART police, civilian oversight of police; jail all cops involved, media stop demonizing Grant, jobs and education for minority youth, free all political prisoners, drop charges against SF 8, end gang injunctions, revise police bill of rights, end 3 strikes, review hiring and training practices of police, money to oscar grant's family, drop charges against those arrested in protest, federal government intervene to protect the civil rights of Grant family and Oakland community
immediate result of trail:
  • ET = Bryant and Milam acquitted, get paid to tell their story to LIFE magazine;
  • O.G. = Mehserle convicted of manslaughter.
other effects or lack thereof:
  • ET = In Friendship formed in response to Till's murder to raise money for civil rights activities, positioned to be able to support Montgomery Bus Boycott 100 days after murder; contributions to existing civil rights organizations (NAACP, FOR, CORE and local independents) rise dramatically; American Jewish Committee begins lobbying Congress to bolster existing Civil Rights legislation; black MS sharecroppers boycott Bryant's store and put him out of business; a generation of activists (e.g., John Lewis) are shaken out of their paralysis by the Till case to look for ways to make change, when they get to college, they discover workshops on nonviolent direct action being taught by employees of SCLC and FOR.
  • O.G. = Pirone and Doemenici are fired; BART police lose Tasers until they are retrained; legislation is pending in CA House for civilian oversight of Oakland cops; nonprofits work with city officials to find ways for youth to vent their feelings in a nonviolent way; anarchists continue to exploit peaceful protests to provoke police violence; initial groups creating coalitions like CAPE unable to sustain their activity beyond a few months; direct action not coordinated and sustained over time; not part of a national movement against institutional racism (such as police brutality).
Lessons???? drawn re: organizing from comparing two events in their contexts?
  • Make sure you share what's happened
  • work is never over (e.g., protests forced arrest of Mehserle and firing of Pirone and Doemenici, but after verdict, more organizing to ensure that civilian oversight happens and it has teeth, actually effects police training and behavior)
  • empowerment comes from being part of a group (need to get over our fears of speaking up today)
  • don't count on the media to support your cause
  • racism is institutional
  • One cannot look to the legal system for "justice" (decisions can be used to organize for institutional and paradigm changes)
  • To what degree are social justice organizations today working together?
  • What role did JET magazine play in successfully getting the word out about what actually happened to Emmett Till? What are the counterparts to JET today, are they as successful in gaining support for organizing against police executions today as JET was as successful in helping people organize against institutional lynching and terrorism in 1955?

Monday, April 12, 2010

new 2010 curriculum - student activism

The SFFS curriculum committee met last night and agreed on a new curriculum for the 2010 summer (July and August). We are going to focus on the history of student activism during the civil rights movement. I am excited about this