"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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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Activism: Then and Now (event at USF)

I was delighted to work with Victor Valle, a student at the University of San Francisco, in putting on this event.  I met Victor when I went to  Marilyn DeLaure's Rhetoric of Social Movement's class.  Marilyn was, briefly, a board member of the SF Freedom School.  She invites community groups to present options for community service during the first weeks of her course (as part of the community service requirement of her course).  After I presented, Victor contacted me to ask if he could work with "the SF Freedom School" to put on a panel that would include current day activists and a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement.  I suggested several current day activists of which two were able to participate -- Shanell Williams and Javier Reyes.  I ask Phil Hutchings, a former field secretary and program director of SNCC, veteran of the Venceramos Brigade and, currently, a senior organizer for Causa Justa/Just Cause and the Black Alliance for Immigration Reform.
presented to Professor

On November 14th, at the University Center at USF, around 30 people attended the event.  Victor had arranged for food to be served and moderated the panel.  Phil, Shanell and Javier took turns presenting.
    Victor moderated the presentations in such a way that he encouraged a spirited interaction among the panelists as they responded to each other's presentations. The questions from the audience also provoked discussion among the panelists.


    Phil, as part of his presentation, read the last three paragraphs from Julian Bond's essay, SNCC: What We Accomplished, published by Monthly Review in 2000.

    Throughout its brief history, SNCC insisted on group-centered leadership and community-based politics. It made clear the connection between economic power and racial oppression. It refused to define racism as a solely southern phenomenon, to describe racial inequality as caused by irrational prejudice alone, or to limit its struggle solely to guaranteeing legal equality. It challenged U.S. imperialism while mainstream civil rights organizations were silent or curried favor with President Lyndon Johnson, condemning SNCC’s linkage of domestic and international poverty and racism with overseas adventurism. SNCC refused to apply political tests to its membership or supporters, opposing the red-baiting that other organizations and leaders endorsed or condoned. And it created an atmosphere of expectation and anticipation among the people with whom it worked, trusting them to make decisions about their own lives. Thus SNCC widened the definition of politics beyond campaigns and elections; for SNCC, politics encompassed not only electoral races, but also organizing political parties, labor unions, producer cooperatives, and alternative schools.

    SNCC initially sought to transform southern politics by organizing and enfranchising blacks. One proof of its success was the increase in black elected officials in the southern states from seventy-two in 1965 to 388 in 1968. But SNCC also sought to amplify the ends of political participation by enlarging the issues of political debate to include the economic and foreign-policy concerns of American blacks. SNCC’s articulation and advocacy of Black Power redefined the relationship between black Americans and white power. No longer would political equity be considered a privilege; it had become a right.

    A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.

    They did then and can do so again.

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