"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.
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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.

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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?