Monday, December 26, 2005

I Believe Only in the Power of the People

"I Believe Only In The Power Of The People"

By Evo Morales December 22, 2005

Thank you for the invitation to this great meeting of
intellectuals "In Defense of Humanity." Thank you for
your applause for the Bolivian people, who have
mobilized in these recent days of struggle, drawing on
our consciousness and our regarding how to reclaim our
natural resources.

What happened these past days in Bolivia was a great
revolt by those who have been oppressed for more than
500 years. The will of the people was imposed this
September and October, and has begun to overcome the
empire's cannons. We have lived for so many years
through the confrontation of two cultures: the culture
of life represented by the indigenous people, and the
culture of death represented by West. When we the
indigenous people _ together with the workers and even
the businessmen of our country _ fight for life and
justice, the State responds with its "democratic rule
of law."

What does the "rule of law" mean for indigenous people?
For the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the "rule
of law" means the targeted assassinations and
collective massacres that we have endured. Not just
this September and October, but for many years, in
which they have tried to impose policies of hunger and
poverty on the Bolivian people.

Above all, the "rule of law" means the accusations that
we, the Quechuas, Aymaras and Guaranties of Bolivia
keep hearing from our governments: that we are narcos,
that we are anarchists. This uprising of the Bolivian
people has been not only about gas and hydrocarbons,
but an intersection of many issues: discrimination,
marginalization , and most importantly, the failure of

The cause of all these acts of bloodshed, and for the
uprising of the Bolivian people, has a name:
neoliberalism. With courage and defiance, we brought
down Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada _ the symbol of
neoliberalism in our country _ on October 17, the
Bolivians' day of dignity and identity. We began to
bring down the symbol of corruption and the political

And I want to tell you, companeras and companeros, how
we have built the consciousness of the Bolivian people
from the bottom up. How quickly the Bolivian people
have reacted, have said _ as Subcomandate Marcos says
!ya basta!, enough policies of hunger and misery.

For us, October 17th is the beginning of a new phase of
construction. Most importantly, we face the task of
ending selfishness and individualism, and creating from
the rural campesino and indigenous communities to the
urban slums _ other forms of living, based on
solidarity and mutual aid. We must think about how to
redistribute the wealth that is concentrated among few
hands. This is the great task we Bolivian people face
after this great uprising.

It has been very important to organize and mobilize
ourselves in a way based on transparency, honesty, and
control over our own organizations. And it has been
important not only to organize but also to unite. Here
we are now, united intellectuals in defense of humanity
_ I think we must have not only unity among the social
movements, but also that we must coordinate with the
intellectual movements. Every gathering, every event of
this nature for we labor leaders who come from the
social struggle, is a great lesson that allows us to
exchange experiences and to keep strengthening our
people and our grassroots organizations.

Thus, in Bolivia, our social movements, our
intellectuals, our workers _ even those political
parties which support the popular struggle _joined
together to drive out Gonzalo Sanchez Lozada. Sadly, we
paid the price with many of our lives, because the
empire's arrogance and tyranny continue humiliating the
Bolivian people.

It must be said, companeras and companeros, that we
must serve the social and popular movements rather than
the transnational corporations. I am new to politics; I
had hated it and had been afraid of becoming a career
politician. But I realized that politics had once been
the science of serving the people, and that getting
involved in politics is important if you want to help
your people. By getting involved, I mean living for
politics, rather than living off of politics. We have
coordinated our struggles between the social movements
and political parties, with the support of our academic
institutions, in a way that has created a greater
national consciousness. That is what made it possible
for the people to rise up in these recent days.

When we speak of the "defense of humanity," as we do at
this event, I think that this only happens by
eliminating neoliberalism and imperialism. But I think
that in this we are not so alone, because we see, every
day that anti-imperialist thinking is spreading,
especially after Bush's bloody "intervention" policy in
Iraq. Our way of organizing and uniting against the
system, against the empire's aggression towards our
people, is spreading, as are the strategies for
creating and strengthening the power of the people.

I believe only in the power of the people. That was my
experience in my own region, a single province _ the
importance of local power. And now, with all that has
happened in Bolivia, I have seen the importance of the
power of a whole people, of a whole nation. For those
of us who believe it important to defend humanity, the
best contribution we can make is to help create that
popular power. This happens when we check our personal
interests with those of the group. Sometimes, we commit
to the social movements in order to win power. We need
to be led by the people, not use or manipulate them.

We may have differences among our popular leaders _ and
it's true that we have them in Bolivia. But when the
people are conscious, when the people know what needs
to be done, any difference among the different local
leaders ends. We've been making progress in this for a
long time, so that our people are finally able to rise
up, together.

What I want to tell you, companeras and companeros what
I dream of - and what we as leaders from Bolivia dream
of - is that our task at this moment should be to
strengthen anti-imperialist thinking. Some leaders are
now talking about how we _ the intellectuals, the
social and political movements _ can organize a great
summit of people like Fidel, Chavez and Lula to say to
everyone: "We are here, taking a stand against the
aggression of the US imperialism." A summit at which we
are joined by companera Rigoberta Menchu, by other
social and labor leaders, great personalities like
Perez Ezquivel. A great summit to say to our people
that we are together, united, and defending humanity.
We have no other choice, companeros and companeras _ if
we want to defend humanity we must change system, and
this means overthrowing US imperialism. That is all.
Thank you very much.

Recorded by Adam Saytanides Translated by Ricardo Sala


Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Border Wall

The border wall in Berlin and East Germany was 67 miles long.
The new wall that the Republicans propose in the immigration bill will be 700 miles long.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Immigration : urgent action

The House of Representatives is likely to consider H.R. 4312, the Border Security and Terrorism Prevention Act, as early as December 12th. The legislation contains enforcement provisions designed to increase enforcement along the Southwest border. It is unlikely that the House of Representatives will consider other immigration reform provisions, including a path to citizenship, a temporary worker program, and family backlog reduction as part of this measure.
Since your Representative will be in the district over the next two weeks, you may contact his/her district office as well as the office in Washington, D.C. Please ask your Representative to oppose H.R. 4312 on the floor of the House of Representatives. Enforcement-only legislation will not provide a solution to our immigration crisis. Since 1994, Congress has spent almost $25 billion on border enforcement, including the tripling of the number of Border Patrol agents. At the same time, the number of undocumented has more than doubled and deaths along the border have increased significantly. Only comprehensive immigration reform which features an earned legalization, temporary worker program, family-based immigration reform, and due process protections will provide a humane and effective solution to our immigration crisis.
. E-Mail Your Representative to oppose H.R. 4312, the Border Security and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2005 on the floor of the House of Representatives.
If you prefer to personally call your Representative you can use the following link to find their contact information and use some of the talking points we provide you with. You can also simply use your own talking points if you prefer.
. Call Your Representative to oppose H.R. 4312, the Border Security and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2005 on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Finally, please inform the media about this important legislation. Encourage members of the media to give informed and balanced coverage on comprehensive immigration reform
. Contact the Media to Encourage Informed and Balanced Coverage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cornel West at CSU-S on Dec.1

Themes in the speech by DSA Chair Cornel West. Dec.1, 2005.

DSA Honorary chair Cornel West spoke at CSU-Sacramento tonight to a crowd of over 3000. It was an excellent speech.
Major themes were the predominance of white supremacy and the centrality of white supremacy in the foundations of this nation. And, how white supremacy keeps us from developing into a true democracy.
After paying tribute to Rosa Parks, Cornel asked, “Do we have the courage to think critically about our society?”
He urged students and the audience to cultivate their own best self. “What kind of human being do you want to be?”
He quoted James Baldwin as saying that, ‘innocence itself is a crime.” That is persons who claim to not see racism and white supremacy are themselves perpetuating an unjust society and weakening our struggle toward democracy.
He spoke of facing painful truths and realities in our society such as the realities of U.S. imperialism. Cornel encouraged the audience to establish balance in their lives and their priorities and to keep justice and democracy alive, not to only pursue individual riches.
And he spoke of the need to create networks of activists and justice oriented people.
Cornel referred to the DSA table and recommended it and DSA.
We were the only table in the room except for a commercial table
selling his C.D's.
We gave away all the DSA literature we had. And, picked up 5 sign ups.
Cornel West. Author of Race Matters ( 1993) and Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism (2004) and Honorary Chair of Democratic Socialists of America. Professor at Princeton. University Union. 7:30 P.M.
Duane Campbell

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Immigration Advocates Face Challenges

Immigration Advocates Face Challenges:
Tom Barry

The most obvious challenges—including new anti-immi-
grantlegal measures, rising anti-immigrant bias in the
media, and an expanding backlash movement against
immigration—are not necessarily the most difficult ones.
More daunting are challenges facing pro-immigration
groups and immigrant advocates as they seek to estab-
lish a framework for discussing immigration.
If immigrant advocates and immigrants themselves are
to move from the sidelines to the center of the intensify-
ing immigration debate, and by doing so help staunch
the growing influence of the retrograde restrictionist
forces, they must meet five major challenges.
The first challenge is to gain credibility as advocates for
an immigration policy that considers the totality of U.S.
national interests—not just the needs and problems of
immigrants or the demands of business for new foreign
sources of cheap and skilled labor. Marshalling the same
facts and figures used by the Wall Street Journal and
Corporate America, as pro-immigration advocates often
do to describe the net economic benefits of immigration,
falls far short of what is needed if immigration reformers
are to gain the attention and support of the U.S. public.
Macroeconomic figures that show immigrants boosting
national economic growth provide little solace to workers
who see immigrants holding jobs they or their parents
once had, or who find themselves competing in a labor
market where immigrant workers are willing to work
longer, harder, and for substantially lower wages.
The challenge, then, is to offer a progressive vision of a
healthy, multiethnic, multicultural society. Such a society
would collectively move forward with policies to assure
full employment, protect labor rights, and provide basic
social services to all, without unfairly burdening the mid-
dle class, while at the same time facilitating social inte-
gration and a sense of community through language
instruction and good basic education.
The third challenge that immigration advocates face is
overcoming their hesitation to describe the immigration
problem as a class problem. The first step in injecting
class analysis into their advocacy is to disentangle them-
selves from business—whether it be Fortune 500 corpo-
rations, the National Association of Manufacturers,
agribusiness, high-tech firms that increasingly rely on
skilled foreign workers, or even the strong lobby of immi-
gration lawyers—which often support liberal immigration
policies based on their vested professional interests.
Corporate, pro-immigration positions often coincide
with those of immigrants and immigrant advocates. But
failing to distinguish between immigration reform moti-
vated by a desire for cheap labor and immigration
reform advocated to attain a just society make the entire
pro-immigration movement extremely vulnerable to the
critique that it is an open borders lobby.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Divided we fall

By David Bacon
Colorlines, 2/06

If Congress' current proposals for immigration reform pass this year or next, will they help the immigrant workers now doing reconstruction on the Gulf Coast? What about the residents hoping to return home - what might these proposals mean for racial divisions already fanned by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and syndicated newspaper columnist Ruben Navarette in the wake of the flood?
Both Nagin and Navarette play on growing insecurity on each side of the migration divide. "How do I ensure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers?" the Mayor asked in early November. Navarette praised immigrants for "not sitting around and waiting for government to come to the rescue. They're probably living two or three families to a house ... that's how it used to be in this country before the advent of the welfare state." African American politicians, he said, just want to "keep the city mostly Black."
It's not a theoretical problem. The Gulf Coast disaster is having a profound and permanent effect on the area's workers and communities. The racial fault lines of immigration politics threaten to pit Latinos against Blacks, and migrant laborers against community residents hoping to return to their homes. Community organizations, labor and civil rights advocates can all find common ground in a reconstruction plan that puts the needs of people first. But flood-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana could also become a window into a different future, in which poor communities with little economic power fight each other over jobs.
Even before Hurricane Katrina hit, the unemployment rate among Gulf residents was among the nation's highest. According to a study commissioned by the Congressional Black Caucus, 18 to 30 percent of people in the region live under the poverty line, and among Blacks in New Orleans, the poverty rate was 35 percent.
After the flood, jobs for workers in the area simply vanished along with their homes. Thousands of residents were dispersed to shelters and housing hundreds of miles away. Businesses closed for lack of customers. With no taxpayers filling the coffers, cities and school districts face bankruptcy. In New Orleans, Blacks, concentrated in public-sector jobs and already reeling from the storm and flood, were hit again by massive layoffs.
With no sure job waiting for them, few families had the resources to simply go back and take a chance on finding new employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found in October that 500,000 of the 800,000 people evacuated had yet to return home. According to Jared Bernstein, an economist at Washington, D.C.'s Economic Policy Institute, the average unemployment rate for evacuees is 24.5 percent-10.5 percent for those who've been able to return, but 33.4 percent for those who haven't.
What did New Orleans residents need to go back? Within a few weeks of the disaster, the People's Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF) came up with some simple demands. The Federal government, it said, should provide funds to enable families to reunite, and make public the lists of evacuees maintained by FEMA and the Red Cross to help people find each other. Then disaster victims needed the same kind of immediate relief the World Trade Center fund provided in New York City. Finally, to enable people to restart economic life, the PHRF demanded public works jobs, at union wages. It called for putting community residents on the boards planning the rebuilding, and making their discussions public.
Steven Pitts, an economist at the University of California in Berkeley, points out that "the fundamental question in reconstruction is the role of the displaced residents, both in planning the rebuilding itself, and in the support given them by the government."
What actually took place, however, was far from this community-based vision. As the floodwaters receded, a host of wealthy contractors invaded the waterlogged boulevards. Federal agencies signed no-bid contracts, guaranteeing that what little money they were willing to spend on reconstruction would become a source of private gain for the politically connected. Dispersed residents got no help in returning to rebuild their homes and lives. When they tried to go back, they were treated as threats to law and order-impediments to potential gentrification.
The Gulf Coast became instead a playground for advocates of free-market nostrums. The Davis Bacon Act's protection for workers' wages was suspended-reinstated only after massive protest organized by the AFL-CIO and many community groups in the region. Affirmative action, which might have diverted a small percentage of those no-bid contracts to locally owned firms, was abolished. The meager budget a Republican Congress was willing to divert from the Iraq war became a justification for slices to food stamps and student loans.
In this vast enterprise zone, sacrificing the welfare of workers and the poor was just one more incentive to attract corporate investment.
Contractors did come, sometimes bringing their workforce with them. Many migrants were also drawn to Mississippi and Louisiana on their own, by the word-of-mouth network that passes along news of any area where employers are hiring, and asking few questions about legal status. Employers wanted workers, but workers without families, who needed no schools or community services. They wanted workers who could be housed in homeless shelters, or packed into trailers like sardines.
Bill Chandler, political director in Mississippi for the hotel union UNITE HERE, and president of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, describes the conditions for migrant workers: "We've found instance after instance of workers sleeping outside or in tents," he says, "or in abandoned trailers or even school busses. There's no enforcement of any health standards, no safety gear, and no immunizations for people who can easily get tetanus from cuts or punctures. Migrants work from sunup to sundown, without any benefits, and sometimes even without paychecks."
Inspectors for the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division wait in their offices for workers to complain. In Jackson, Mississippi, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is on the floor above the inspectors, and the detention center for deportees in the basement. As one might imagine, the Wage and Hour office doesn't get much walk-in traffic from immigrants, many of whom lack immigration documents. Instead, labor and immigrant rights groups are the ones who gather complaints and demand enforcement.
The biggest contractors-Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR, BE&K (a construction giant with a history of recruiting strikebreakers in labor disputes) and others-disclaim responsibility. They hire subcontractors, who hire other subcontractors, who hire labor recruiters, who employ the workers. According to Chandler, while the original FEMA contract might pay $35 for the removal of each cubic yard of debris, the subcontractor who actually does the work probably gets $10. Layers of middlemen absorb the rest. Subcontractors seek to underbid each other by pushing wages as low as possible.
A family seeking to return to the area, needing a living wage, can't make it on $5-9/hour. And for migrants, the contract system imposes conditions reminiscent of a century ago.
This is the dark side of the neoliberal American Dream. The net result is the casualization of the workforce throughout the hurricane-affected area. Temporary jobs instead of permanent ones. Jobs for mobile, single men, rather than for families. No protection for wages. Hiring through contractors and temporary agencies, instead of a long-term commitment from an employer.
Immigration bills currently in Congress will reinforce this system. Most proposals, from that of President Bush to the bipartisan Kennedy/McCain bill to the new measures put forward by Senators Chuck Hegel and Arlen Specter all rest on establishing huge new guest worker programs. They will allow companies to recruit 3-400,000 workers a year outside the U.S., and bring them in to work under temporary visas. Employers will undoubtedly make the same promises of good wages and conditions heard on the Gulf Coast. But the economic pressure of competing layers of contractors, recruiters and labor agencies will exert the same constant downward pressure. In the wake of Katrina, the contractors now in the Gulf will have a more systematic way to recruit the same kind of contingent workforce, with the active assistance of the Federal government.
Under these immigration reform proposals, the Department of Labor, with the same lack of political will to enforce worker protections it displays at present, will have a new charge. Together with the Social Security Administration, these agencies will be the immigration police, poring through employment records for those lacking guest worker visas. Inspectors may indeed leave that office in Jackson, but only to find and deport the undocumented. Those workers without papers, meanwhile, will be even more vulnerable than they are today. Their employers will have new leverage to demand unpaid overtime or impose bad conditions.
If one of these bills is enacted, job competition at the bottom of the workforce will grow more intense. And the likelihood of an immigration reform package passing with more enforcement provisions, expanded guest worker programs, and no worker protections is high, according to most policy watchers.
In the hurricane-affected areas, fears generated by competition are already apparent. Politicians like Nagin, using racial fears to win votes, and columnists like Navarette, seeking to incite racial hysteria among readers, both see gains to be made from increased division.
Yet as immigration changes the demographics of the South, its communities have a good record of reaching across racial lines. "Every immigrant rights bill in Mississippi has been introduced by African American legislators," Chandler says. In the state's poultry and meatpacking plants, longtime Black workers and a new wave of immigrants have found themselves on the same side in union organizing efforts. Hurricane relief is a key test of those bonds, and the desire to achieve common ground.
This year the Congressional Black Caucus made two important contributions to this effort. The CBC-sponsored HR 4197 addresses hurricane recovery and poverty, authorizing funds for housing and new Section 8 vouchers, for increased health care, and for extended unemployment and temporary assistance to needy families. It provides money to help returning residents rebuild their homes or seek new ones, and for schools to help relocated students. The bill reinstates Davis Bacon wage requirements, creates apprenticeship programs to develop good jobs, and requires the President to present a plan for eradicating poverty.
For Pitts, this moves in the right direction. "You have to assure there's a floor under wages," he suggests, "Both immigrants and African Americans need this. To ensure people can return, the government has to recognize the need for two kinds of income-wages from decent jobs, and money to cover the cost of relocation. Immigrants need a living wage too, as well as the right to organize and the ability to move freely, so they're not tied to an employer or contractor."
The CBC also supported another bill this spring, by Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. The Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2005, HR 2092, provides a way for currently undocumented workers to gain permanent resident status, and enforces migrants' rights in the workplace. Unlike every other immigration proposal in Congress, it has no guest worker program, and doesn't call for greater enforcement of employer sanctions. It will take the fees paid by people applying for legal status, and use them to provide job creation and training programs in communities with high levels of unemployment. For community and labor activists who see Kennedy/McCain and similar proposals as dangerous, Jackson Lee's bill provides at least a partial program for progressive immigration reform.
The key to finding common ground is fighting for jobs for everyone. Whether Black, white, Asian or Latino, native-born or immigrant-no one can live without work. Yet this basis for an alliance of mutual interest has largely fallen off the liberal agenda. Even unions, the bastion of support for the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, a 1970s proposal that the federal government provide jobs to eradicate unemployment, pay only lip service to the idea today. In the Democratic Party, free market ideologues ridicule the idea that the government should guarantee employment, as it did in the New Deal programs of the 1930s. Instead, both parties propose to pile guest worker programs, and increased enforcement of employer sanctions, on top of job competition. This is an explosive mixture in which no one has the right to a job, and everyone shares only increased insecurity.
Unemployment and racism in the U.S. economic system pit communities of color against each other, and against working-class white communities. Competition produces lower labor costs and higher profits. It's no accident that the guestworker programs in Congress are pushed by the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, which includes 38 of the country's largest industrial and business associations.
Racial division is a powerful political weapon as well, helping to maintain a conservative Republican majority in Congress and the White House. By the same token, for working communities, overcoming racial division creates new possibilities for winning political power. In the early 1980s a Black-Latino alliance defeated the Chicago political machine and elected Harold Washington mayor. In the spring of 2005 the same strategy elected Antonio Villaraigosa mayor of Los Angeles, where division between Blacks and Latinos was used to keep conservatives in power for decades. The rebuilding of Biloxi, Gulfport and New Orleans can forge a similar political coalition on the Gulf Coast too. But to accomplish that, working class communities will have to reject the use of immigration as a new dividing line to keep them apart.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Strength of Networks

From: “ None but Ourselves: How the left can get organized”
2004. Susan Chacin
The Strength of Networks.

When I stopped thinking the Left should all unite in a single organization around a single platform, I began to realize that we are united through our networks. Valuing our networks is perhaps the most important way that we can appreciate our strengths and grow the movement. This may seem like common sense to many younger people. They are used to a fluid, networked movement. But older activists tend to have been “brought up” in a left culture that paid attention to the organizations that made up the movement. These strong, often centralized organizations tended to draw attention away from the network of relationships that links us with others irrespective of organizational affiliations.

If you have been around the Left even for a little while, you have probably got a political network. There is the woman who dragged you to another anti-war demonstration in 2002. If you wanted to get in touch with environmentalists, you could call an old classmate who is out in the woods working against logging. Your partner’s sister is married to a man who works in a youth organization. He could put you in touch with anti-police abuse groups. People at your kids’ school have been registering neighbors to vote. Your email address book includes acquaintances who are in touch with independent media, labor, and reproductive choice activists.

Right up front I want to emphasize that by left networks I am referring to more than the Internet. The Internet is an important tool that can facilitate networking. But it is person-to-person connections that are the real threads linking us to each other. In the Internet we have a new avenue for these contacts, but it can also obscure the personal relationships that are the fabric of organizing. An important principle that I learned rather late in life is: all organizing is “one-on-one.”

If you have a personal connection with someone, you are much more likely to listen to what they say or return their calls. And this connection lasts through changes in the organizations we are working with or levels of participation. I’m not shocked anymore to hear that someone I have known to be a strong activist in the past is taking a break from political activity. I can catch up if we get a chance to speak in person, keep track of them through mutual connections, or track them down if I really need to.

What is new about networks?

It’s not that social networks themselves are new. However our awareness of networks is growing exponentially, and they are being used to organize in creative, new ways.

Networks are the basis of the information-based mode of production. Marxists among my readers may find it significant that with networks, the technology and form of production is once again affecting social relationships! Al Quaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001 turned many people’s attention to the network as a form of organizing that is extremely flexible and difficult to eradicate. But two RAND researchers had predicted in the 1990s that networks would be the basis of wars in the new millennium.

We have just seen groups like MoveOn and the Howard Dean campaign turn networking into powerful avenues for organizing. By understanding how networks operate, consciously building and nurturing them, and taking every appropriate opportunity to activate them, the Left can increase our effectiveness and reach much further than we could by using a strict, organization-based approach.

I began to become aware of the potential of networks for our movement when I got ready to move. I had been active in Los Angeles for 25 years and I was moving to the Bay Area where I knew only a handful of folks. I found myself with tears in my eyes at an open house held by the Community Coalition in South Central L.A. I knew I would be leaving all these people who had been contacts and friends over the years.

When I got to the Bay Area, I enrolled in a social work program and decided to do some research on networks. I interviewed five political activists in the Bay Area about their political connections. What I found amazed me. My informants’ networks extended much further than I had suspected, and had supported their work in unexpected ways.

One of the people I interviewed, Matt Chapell, a gay AIDS activist then in his 30s, had found a connection with Greenpeace for ACT-UP to learn how to stage direct action protests. Then breast cancer activists had come to him at ACT-UP to learn the same information. With this series of exchanges, I could document movement “know how” traveling from the environmental movement to a predominantly gay setting, and from there being disseminated to a largely women’s constituency. A recovering drug addict, the same activist had built relationships with experts in the National Institute of Health’s AIDS clinical trials unit based on his understanding of the technical scientific jargon gained in researching the drugs he was using. He saw part of his mission as helping activists in the HIV world advocate for changes in government policies around medications.

Another person I interviewed had been active in the past with a group of primarily white lesbians to protest U.S. foreign policy, and she brought these contacts into her volunteer work against rape. Thanks to her and other feminists’ insistence, the rape hotline’s mandatory training for volunteers included extensive discussion about racism and imperialism. This organization believed that women who call for help after an assault are affected by oppression in other aspects of their lives. Her knowledge of U.S. imperial exploits and connections to people who had been protesting U.S. military policy in Central America helped her break into a new job in the independent media movement. Thanks to her connections, she was able to put together coverage leading up to the groundbreaking anti-globalization protests in Seattle that helped both to build and document them.

The second woman I interviewed, Millie Cleveland, had been part of an African American rank and file movement in unions. At the time I interviewed her, she working on violence prevention with Oakland youth. She was still in touch with an attorney who had handled her ex-husband’s union grievances while they were in the plant, and the lawyer had recently been elected to the Oakland school board. Millie was part of his “kitchen cabinet” advising him about policy in the schools. She has subsequently gone on to work as staff for a union, and the knowledge of training and mediation skills she gained working with youth is coming in handy in labor.

Warren Mar was working for the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute when I interviewed him, but he also had a solid background in Chinese American community organizing in San Francisco. He had gone into the hotel and restaurant union after doing radical community-based organizing, and had strong connections to the lively academic world in the Bay Area as well. I worked with him later in the Labor Immigrant Organizing Network (LION) which helped change the AFL-CIO’s official position to oppose employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers. His connections with Chinese community immigration activists, unions, and radical politics helped bridge these disparate worlds. He later went to work at the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, where he co-authored a text for teaching English as a second language using workers’ rights as the subject matter. He is currently serving as temporary director of the Labor and Community Studies program at San Francisco Community college.

In terms of the size and breadth of his networks, the star of my research was Tim Sampson. He had strong connections in the United Farmworkers, the Love Canal neighborhood anti-toxics network, health care, homecare, welfare rights, labor, consumers’ rights, community organizing, legal and social work worlds. Tragically, he passed away in 2001, but his memorial service in downtown Oakland brought people together from around the country. Even though he had talked with me at length about all the people he had known over the years, I was surprised by the breadth and depth of his legacy.

My discussions with these fascinating people showed me the danger of trying to classify activists as belonging in a single field of struggle. In addition to their active connections at the time I interviewed them, all five of the participants still had a wealth of contacts reaching back years into the projects they had worked on before we met. Besides learning a great deal about how diverse political networks can be, my research had an additional benefit. By talking to five politically savvy people in the Bay Area about their networks, I began to understand more about my new home. I started to form my own networks here in a more intentional, conscious way, and I did not totally lose the connections I had made in Southern California either.


The idea of applying social network theory to social movements is not new, but I don’t believe this approach has been publicized enough. In the late 60s, Luther Gerlach and Virginia Hine started to look at the structure of movements from this perspective. Their analysis confirms many of my observations. They came up with the acronym “SPIN” to describe key characteristics of these movements: “Segmentary: composed of many diverse groups, which grow and die, divide and fuse, proliferate and contract; Polycentric: having multiple, often temporary, and sometimes competing leaders or centers of influence; Networked: forming a loose, reticulate, integrated network with multiple linkages through travelers, overlapping membership, joint activities, common reading matter, and shared ideals and opponents.”

How Networks Work

“Over the last few decades there has been a paradigm shift in scientific understandings of living systems. Scientists are now discovering what indigenous knowledge has long taught – everything is connected. Ecologists, biologists, physicists, and mathematicians have begun to be able to describe vastly complex connected webs of life, which are made up of networks within networks. They have gradually realized that life has the ability to self-organize and mutually adapt, without anyone in control. Their descriptions of living systems are perhaps the best model yet for how the [alternative globalization] movement functions…

“High-speed film reveals that the movement spreads across a flock [of birds] in less than one-seventieth of a second. Yet this should be impossible, as it is much faster than a single bird’s reaction time. The flock is clearly more than the sum of its parts. But how is this possible?

“Observing the movement of affinity groups from police helicopters during many of the mass mobilizations of the past few years, or trying to map the daily flow of information between the forever-transforming activist groups on the internet must create a similar sense of bafflement for the authorities. Even participants in the movements are often confused as to how everything seems to somehow fit together so well…

“Nowadays software designers, urban planners and ecologists all use these concepts in their day-to-day work; the realm of politics has yet [to] catch up.

“For this is truly organizing from below. The process of simple local units generating complicated global or group behaviour, a process not directed by a conscious entity, but rather emerging through the interrelationships of the system’s parts is known in scientific circles as emergence.

“If numbers, neurons, crowds, computer programmes, cells, city dwellers, bird behave like this, why not a networked movement of movements?”

If the Left wants to grow our movement from a networking perspective, we have to learn more about the nuts and bolts, or should I say the warp and woof, of networks. Fortunately, we are in the midst of a period in which networks are receiving a great deal of academic and commercial attention. In addition to the work of the two RAND researchers, Arquilla and Ronfeldt, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s book Linked is a good place for a novice like me to start. It brings science –his discipline is physics– together with highly entertaining stories illustrating properties of networks. He also shows how new the scientific analysis of networks is, and proposes that there are amazing congruencies among networking phenomena in physical, social, and biological sciences.

A few characteristics of networks will be obvious to anyone who is familiar with the Internet. First of all, the whole of a network is difficult, if not impossible, to perceive. When you first connect with the Internet, all you are in contact with is one “page” or node. It takes a few experiences “navigating” from one node to another by means of “links” to understand what you are actually doing. This would explain why so many leftists are missing the essential networked nature of our movement: they see the “page” but not the “links.”

In our movement as on the Internet, large or important nodes can become hubs. A hub can be as simple as an individual’s homepage, or as fancy as Yahoo, but real hubs get huge amounts of traffic. In our movement, hubs can be individuals, organizations, or even web sites that end up transmitting a high volume of useful connections. The relative popularity of web pages is expressed in “hits.” For a social change movement, we could understand a hub’s effectiveness in terms of its links to other hubs, its ability to turn people out, its capacity to raise funds, its influence on a “domain” of struggle, or all of the above.

A key social networking theory shows how this approach can help us organize more effectively. It is a breakthrough by a sociologist named Mark Granovetter. When he got involved with research on social networks in the late 60s, a lot of attention was being paid to small networks with intimate, strong connections, the people we depend on for nurturance, social support, and day-to-day socializing. Members of such close groups tend to agree with each other about many things and feel comfortable in each other’s company.

Granovetter, however, realized that to understand how new information can travel among these strong, primary networks, we have to look further. It is our “weak ties” with people whom we do not know so well that provide us with access to ideas and connections from outside our primary social network. Granovetter’s theory, “the strength of weak ties” has become a basic principle of social network theory. It applies to the Left in several ways.

The “strength of weak ties” principle can explain how important it is to stay in touch with old friends or “hang out” at movement-oriented social events. The real work of the movement moves along just as surely at a party as at a meeting. It’s also important that we not throw away our old address books. When I was doing my research on networking, I told the woman who had been involved with anti-imperialist work about this idea, and she was actually very relieved. “Now I don’t feel so guilty about not being able to be in close touch with people I’ve worked with in the past,” she said. On the other hand, we also commented on how sad it is that the Left has lost the names and addresses of people with whom we have worked for years. Imagine how strong the Left would be if we had maintained contact with all the people who worked on Jesse Jackson’s two campaigns for president in the 1980s! Networking can be the vehicle for the movement to keep connected with people beyond the life of a particular project.

One crucial question that Granovetter’s theory raises for the Left is whether we are good at connecting with people who disagree with us. Too often we are fearful, repulsed, or disdainful of people who support opposing political positions. And there is good reason for our reactions. Our beliefs are anathema to many of our neighbors, and maybe even to relatives and co-workers. We tend to cut ourselves off from meaningful interaction with anyone we fear might treat us with anger or hostility. But according to Granovetter’s principle, these may be the connections that can bring us new information. They are certainly connections that we could use to bring the information we have to a wider audience. How can the Left change people’s minds if we are too angry, fearful, or sure of our own correctness to be willing to talk to them?

Strengths of a Networked Movement

Gerlach acknowledges that movements networked along his and Hines’ “SPIN” model are often “labeled disorganized, poorly organized, loosely organized, or underdeveloped-and thus…(have) been denigrated or criticized not only by opponents or observers but at one time by movement participants.” Instead, these researchers found distinct strengths in these movements. Networked movements are:
• Hard to suppress because there are multiple groups and leaders. If one group is forced out of existence, others come forward;
• Attuned to a variety of social niches, offering every supporter things to do, even though they may have found these spots through factionalism and division;
• Able to divide up the labor by member groups specializing in specific tasks and skills;
• Able to adapt to changing circumstances, with member groups free to innovate and respond quickly to new situations;
• Reliable because the failure of one group does not compromise the whole;
• Good at learning from successes and failures by virtue of having a variety of approaches and experience to synthesize;
• Tactically flexible by including both “hard line” and “moderate” groups, the movement as a whole can roll out a wider range of tactics; and,
• Innovative and energetic as component groups strive to develop new approaches and win support.

Does this mean that there is no need for strong organizations?

None of this networking theory I am proposing negates the need for strong, defined organizations. The National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, is a clearly constituted membership group with local chapters that elect officers and participate in national conventions. They are in the forefront of organizing for a broad agenda of women’s rights.

But even a powerful organization like NOW couldn’t have staged the March for Women’s Lives. In this effort, NOW worked with the Fund for a Feminist Majority, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative. As a result, the event was much stronger and more diverse than any one of the sponsoring organizations could have managed alone.

Such pro-choice coalitions have existed in the past, although maybe not with the conscious emphasis on racial and age diversity of this one. My question for these groups is: Are you continuing to relate to each other and building linkages that last? If not, we will have wasted an important resource for movement building. If so and an ongoing network is being built, how can we help – and how can you provide access to your network for the millions of people who were unable to attend the march?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Beyond Diversity to Justice

Beyond Diversity to Justice!

The danger to our democracy is not race-- it is racism; the oppression of a group of people based upon their perceived race. Racism is both a belief system and the domination of a people based upon these beliefs.
Prejudice, is closely related. It is the a negative attitude toward a person or group of people.

Racism has produced a tortuous history in the U.S. intellectual community and among socialists and progressives . Approaches based upon the "science" of racism have now been demonstrated false.

Although racial definitions, and ethnic definitions, are often vague and imprecise, racism continues to divide our communities and our movements. For a racist: defining race is easy. A race is "them", those people, the other, the not you. Any group which the racist hates or fears. Often it is a group that shares certain characteristics with the hater , but instead the differences are emphasized to a high degree as to draw distinction and justify intolerance and oppression.
Institutional racism is the use of power and authority of a dominant group to enforce prejudices and to prevent the subjugated group from gaining access to public services such as schools, health care, and equal opportunity.

Socialism has a troubled relationship with anti racism struggles. Marxism has contributed significantly to the understanding of social and economic relationships, but has proven inadequate to explaining the structure, development and role of racism in our society. ( See Toward a Socialists Theory of Racism, Cornel West)
DSA presents itself as a democratic, socialist, feminist organization. Since its founding in 1982, the Anti Racism Commission of DSA has defined itself as pursuing an anti racism agenda. This agenda includes participating in the dialogue and intellectual efforts of DSA to advocate for a pluralist, anti racist description of our society and of the democratic socialist project within the society.
• Since our 1983 publication of Third World Socialist, we have defined the anti racism project beyond the white-black paradigm to include a multi-polar understanding of the role of race and the connected role of class oppression in the US society.
• In 1985 the organization adopted this language: " In our society thater are few problems more urgent than the effects of racism and sexism. While rooted in the history of slavery, invasions, and the early development of the Americas, racism has remained a central characteristic of modern capitalism.
• Racism and sexism are brutal and oppressive system of institutions and ideologies which we must be committed to resisting as a a fundamental part of the struggle for new economic relationships."

In 2001, we decided, " The politics of DSA will be guided by a demand for social and economic justice for all/now! In pursuit of justice, multi racial and anti racism politics shall become a priority in our work. Agendas in our organizations should consistently include the issues of communities of color. This calls for an immediate re-orientation of our practice toward multi racial coalition building. We will consistently look for opportunities to work with activists in communities of color."

As Democratic Socialists we propose to create a multi racial class based movement for social change. Only such a movement has a possibility of success in the U.S. To build a multi racial movement we need to have a conversation about race, oppression, language and culture.

Generally people are willing to consider race and class oppression when they see the specific effects of these oppressions on their own lives. Our movement can not exclude the white working class from the dialogue while we seek to understand the role of racism.
Racial oppression is such an integral part of economic and political domination that the struggle against racism is necessary for working class progress. And, working class unity is necessary part of any realistic strategy for positive structural change.

Some of the white working class are influenced by racist ideology dominant in our society. While rejecting white supremacist ideology, we also need to explore oppression which these working class whites experience.

First, We choose to briefly deconstruct whiteness. Many have been influenced by the currently popular arguments known as white privilege. First, we acknowledge that white is a socially constructed category with both positive AND negative connotations. Negative, you ask? Much has been written about the verbal connotations attributed to "white", "black", etc
But we propose that the same mechanisms that bestow privilege upon those who self-identify as "white" also rob them of the ethnic associations that people of color are forced to use (for positive and negative ends). Being classified as white prevents one from choosing another identity (Irish, progressive) or combination of identities that more accurately and usefully describes oneself. THIS INCLUDES CLASS IDENTITY. For a black factory worker and a white factory worker have a lot more in common with each other than either has with the CEO, no matter what color the CEO is.
The whole argument about white privilege is complex and often distorts the issues of class. The advocates in the debate have all too often been a rather homogenous group of middle and upper class faculty and students whose recognition of and subsequent writings about the concept of white privilege has been, at its root, a positive development. We do not dispute that whites in the U.S. have privilege. But let's compare oranges to oranges.

To be accurate, we should really discuss white middle class/upper class privilege,
Please read Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Nickeled and Dimed.: On Not getting By in America. These subjects are not privileged. They are oppressed.

Many advocates of the white privilege position are middle class, and are coming to terms with their own privileges. Their argument really doesn't work well with working class folks; because they are not privileged. They are oppressed.Having middle class and upper class academics preaching about the idea of white privilege contradicts their experience.

Further, persons, good folks, allies from a liberal persuasion argue for diversity. They argue that we need to develop a more representative group of teachers, faculty, etc. As socialists, we find diversity to be a weak, corporate, commodified goal. We seek justice!
Let us suggest a more useful response.

Some people learned their anti racism by going to diversity workshops. Others learned it in social movements.
Many in a younger generation has learned anti-racism by not learning racism in the first place. This group has learned anti-racism first hand from their advantage of growing up in a less racially stratified society than that of their parents. We must recognize this progress as well as the changes in realities of working class life in the United States as important variables in the anti-racist equation.

By working with popular movements, we learn anti racism on a practical level. The white privilege argument really
does not help within movements. And the diversity argument is too limited.
The people who push these limited views , usually are not in movements. They are talking to other white people. . Now, that is not bad. It is good for white folks to discuss their problems. It is ironic that this argument emerges from the middle class where they fail to, or refuse to recognize working class oppression.
The critique of white privilege has often been misguided and misappropriated to cloud class. Yes, a Black man in Manhattan may encounter a problem getting a cab, even from a Black cab driver. And so would a white person who is obviously homeless. Yes, a Black or Latina college professor may encounter prejudice while shopping in a botique clothing store- as would a poor white, or working class white woman who entered the store in her work clothes or even the Salvadoran sister who sewed the clothes.
The white privilege argument is a non-class argument, and it is often self indulgent.
More importantly, it does not build activist movements. We can move beyond the white privilege argument by recognizing that here is a difference between guilt and responsibility. The white privilege argument is usually about guilt. (not a very useful emotion). We prefer to deal with responsibility. ie. what are we going to do different.?

The important task is to do something about oppression. Rather than focus of guilt it would be better to work in solidarity with people of color :in opposition to real oppression and in favor of real change.

Our goal is to build a movement to change the nation. To do this, we need unity- - unity with justice.
Socialists point out that one of our difficulties in seeing class in our society is that we look at poverty (class) and we see race. We racialize class . As a consequence we seldom accurately see poverty and class oppression.

Lets talk about the working class; If we are going to do class politics, we need to look at our own attitudes toward both race and class.
Class refers to the economic and social differences between groups in our society. (poor, working class, middle and upper class).
Socialists recognize the working class as a potential agent for change. The U.S. has a multi racial working class. Workers of color make up the majority of workers in many cities and industries. And whites of the working class make up at least 40% of the potential voters in the nation.

U. S. unions have historically been divided over racism. Some perpetuate racism and discrimination and social inequality and others fight against racism. Left organizations have a similar history. This division is central to our struggle in building a progressive majority. Are we going to support racism, and divisions, or are we going to build a unified social movement to change this society?

At present the working class is losing . If you are interested in doing something about this, please join us.

Many in the working class are ready for socialism and a socialist analysis. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Anglos in the working class are ready for socialism because they think it is wrong for some people to live in mansions while others live in public housing that looks like a bombed out war zone. We think it is wrong for some people to live in luxury while others can not adequately feed their children. We can't accept that one in five children live in poverty and the U.S. has one of the highest infant death rates in the modern world.
We need to build a movement broad enough, and powerful enough to change this system. Only a multi racial movement with multi racial leadership can organize such power.

If you want peace, work for justice.

We strongly repudiate and oppose terrorist actions such as the Sept. 11,2001, attack on New York City and the Pentagon. Those who planned and executed this horrific act bear full responsibility for it, and should be held accountable. But innocent Muslims are not responsible for these acts. The U.S. Muslim community did not organize these acts. They are innocent.

The assaults and threats against Muslims living in the U.S. are wrong.
Arab Americans, and Muslims, like all Americans, were injured and died in this tragedy. They too have family and friends who worked in the World Trade Center and for the Federal Government. They mourn with us for those who lost their lives and those who were injured.

Terrorist actions undermine the moral, political and economic struggle for global justice. We oppose terrorism as a strategy, including terrorism when used by the U.S.A., such as in the Coup in Chile in 1973, the Contra War in Nicaragua, and others. We find it deeply troubling that the present administration has appointed John Negroponte as Ambassador to the United nations and Elliot Abrams to be Under Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy, since these individuals themselves organized and carried out terrorist activities in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

We urge all to stand for our democratic values and against intolerance and hatred. We urge all to repudiate these racist attacks on Muslims and international terrorism. Our position is that terrorism is a criminal matter, and those guilty should be brought before an International Court, as has been done with prior war criminals. In addition to opposing terrorism , the broad progressive and left movements need to join the struggle for social justice and peace .

We in the Anti Racism Commission unite with the effort to create a broad, effective Peace and Justice Movement. War and racism are combined in the current Administration efforts . We need to make the connection between war , economic justice and racism clear in our work.

The world is experiencing a major restructuring of the global economy. This restructuring is directed by the transnational corporations to produce profits for the corporate owners. In many developing nations "neo liberal" economic restructuring plans imposed by the US dominated World Bank and IMF have produced unemployment rates of over 40%. The economic forces of global corporations are unrestrained. The impoverishment of the vast majority in pursuit of profits for the minority has pushed millions to migrate in search of food, jobs, and security. Global capitalism produces global misery. Matters will only get worse as we are now entering a period of global recession.

Global corporate led development has made the rich richer, and millions poorer. Children are starving in Africa, Afghanistan, and Central America. Making the majority poorer has produced new forms of resistance. Some of the people will be organized into resistance, such as the Zapatistas resistance in southern Mexico. Terrorism is the response of offended people who can not build nuclear weapons and guided missiles. Terrorism is the poor persons military strategy. Lacking a left social movement, many will be organized into terrorism as a response to global injustice and U.S. policies.

If we want peace, we must work for justice. We must feed the poor and the starving. More importantly, we need to change the international economic and power relationships which produce starvation, murder, and terrorism.

The brunt of this administration's war effort is aimed at and will be borne by innocent people of color, first in the Arab world and South Asia. Muslim's are being demonized in the media as "terrorists" and "fundamentalist " whose lives are dispensable.

The current crisis challenges all progressive to understand the connections between war, the global economy, and racism. The U.S. left is deeply divided, politically endangered and ill-prepared for this campaign. The isolation of the left, and its lack of organizational strength, the gap between the left in communities of color and the White left, permits and encourages the growth and success of the Right Wing agenda.

Hopefully this new context can awaken a new left, and orient progressives toward unity of struggle. A left can best be built by combining the works of the several communities of color. A new left must be a multi racial left, for that is the only political force which can sustain itself. A new left will not be created by asking the diverse communities to submerge their issues into one anti war movement .
Duane Campbell
Sean Campbell

Monday, November 07, 2005

Racial profiling at San Francisco State

I am dismayed to share this information with you about an outrageous case of racial profiling. On Tuesday, Dr. Antwi Akom, an Assistant Professor at SF State was accosted and arrested by campus police in his office. Many of us know Antwi--he has been a part time instructor in Educational Leadership before accepting the position at SF State. He is an accomplished researcher, instructor, published author and the Co-Director of the Cesar Chavez Institute.

From the SF Chronicle: Akom, 37, who is African American, was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer...after he retrieved books from his office in the Ethnic Studies and Psychology building. A security guard contacted university police shortly after 11 p.m. to report a suspicious person inside the five-story campus building.

Antwi was handcuffed, strip searched, dressed in an orange suit, shackled, and put in lock-down with violent criminals for the night. In the morning, pressure was put on the situation, the felony was dropped to a misdemeanor and he was released on his own recognizance. To make matters worse, a similar incident, without the arrest, happened to Antwi on campus on 11/2/04 and formal complaints were filed with the university.
His attorney, former San Francisco supervisor and former deputy public defender Matt Gonzalez, said police made a mistake by arresting his client and tried to cover up by accusing him of attacking them. Gonzalez said police saw Akom as threatening because he is an African American man, not because of his actions.
Many letters of concern have been sent to President Corrigan SF State, (Raza Studies, Africana Studies, Ethnic Studies, American Indian Studies, Mayor of Berkeley, Dr. Pedro Noguera, and many more)
Dr. Akom states: This situation has been very painful for my entire family…The issue is much bigger than me; however, the issue is about institutional racism and racial profiling… This could happen to any of us... And every day it happens to many of us....I believe we can collectively transform this situation into something that heals not hurts, builds not breaks, develops not destroys.
We are asking for the charges to be dropped immediately, a public apology, termination of the officers, and end to racial profiling, amongst other things. You can share your concern by writing President Corrigan at San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave. SF, CA 94132.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Anti Immigration and White Nationalism

The New Nativism
T@P The alarming overlap between white nationalists and mainstream
anti-immigrant forces.

By Leonard Zeskind
Issue Date: 11.23.05

More than 400 anti-immigration activists gathered in Las Vegas over Memorial Day
weekend to bemoan President Bush’s failure to close the borders. One described
the United States as a nation at war “every time a Mexican flag is planted on
American soil.” They celebrated their most recent success: a “border watch” in
Arizona by fewer than 400 Minutemen vigilantes that had generated millions of
dollars of free advertising. In the aftermath, Minutemen shops opened in Texas,
Colorado, and Tennessee.

The two dozen speakers in Las Vegas reflected the breadth of a new movement
still in birth: the parents of a dead September 11 firefighter, a police chief
from New Hampshire, Pat Buchanan’s vice-presidential running mate from his
Reform Party bid in 2000, representatives of “immigration reform”
organizations, a couple of talk-radio personalities, and several Republican
Party activists (signaling the advent of immigration as the next big issue for
the party’s right wing). On the auditorium floor, hardcore white nationalists
mixed easily, distributing literature and engaging potential recruits,
explicitly identifying nation with race.

California Coalition for Immigration Reform spokeswoman Barbara Coe told the
assembly that undocumented workers were “illegal barbarians who are cutting off
heads and appendages of blind, white, disabled gringos.” Coe believes a widely
held demographic conspiracy theory called the “Reconquista,” a supposedly
covert plan by Mexico to take back the lands of the Southwest. In 1994, the Los
Angeles Times credited Coe with providing the organizational muscle behind a
statewide anti-immigrant referendum known as Proposition 187. That measure,
later found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, denied social and
medical services to undocumented workers and their children. Outside the hall,
along Desert Inn Road, a billboard sign read “Stop Immigration, Join the
National Alliance,” an imprecation to enlist in an avowedly national socialist
sect known best for producing The Turner Diaries, the race-war terror novel
carried by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

For this movement, the most important figure in mainstream trappings is
Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado’s 6th District, who
delivered the keynote speech to great applause. The chief of a congressional
immigration-reform caucus that he organized, Tancredo is a ubiquitous presence
at such rallies and meetings. For him, Proposition 187 was the “primal scream
of the people of California,” which he described as being under “political,
economic, and cultural siege.” Tancredo trades on his role as a Capitol Hill
insider to enhance his standing in a far-flung movement. And in Congress his
reputation far exceeds his backbencher status, precisely because of his
standing among angry Middle Americans. In Las Vegas, Tancredo was alternately
humble and proud, comic and serious. He distanced himself from President Bush
with a quip about the Minutemen’s border watch the previous April. “The same
day the president was calling them vigilantes, I was in Arizona calling them
heroes,” he gloated.

As evidenced by events in Las Vegas, a single -- but not seamless -- web
connects ideological white supremacists, armed border vigilantes, nativist
think tanks, political action committees, and Republican Party officeholders in
an anti-immigrant movement of growing significance. Formal policy deliberations
may include debates on the fiscal costs of providing social services to
undocumented workers, the supposed downward pressure immigrant labor exerts on
the marketplace, the net costs and benefits of immigration, and the
national-security problems evinced by holes in our borders. But at gatherings
like these, the raw issues are race and national identity.

Differences between legal and illegal immigrants fade into a generalized belief
that a brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking tidal wave is about to swamp the
white-skinned population of the United States. The attempt to stop undocumented
workers at the borders morphs into a campaign to end immigration altogether, to
save our supposedly white nation from demographic ruin. As Tancredo told
interviewer John Hawkins, “[If] we don’t control immigration, legal and
illegal, we will eventually reach the point where it won’t be what kind of a
nation we are, balkanized or united; we will have to face the fact that we are
no longer a nation at all … .”

* * *

Tancredo epitomizes an ominous overlap between seemingly respectable Republican
anti-immigration activists and the white nationalist movement. His own route to
anti-immigrant politics began in a Denver suburb, where he taught junior high
school. He was elected to the Colorado statehouse in 1976 and re-elected in
1978, earning a reputation for cutting taxes and social services. Tancredo also
called for the dissolution of the cabinet-level Education Department. However,
in 1981, President Reagan named Tancredo a regional director in that
department. He now touts his record of reducing his staff from 220 to 60.

In 1985, he used his office to distribute to Christian educators in his
six-state region a speech by a onetime colleague that called for a “truly
Christian educational system” and lamented “godlessness” in a country founded
as a “Christian nation.” When a California resident sent Tancredo a postcard at
the Education Department objecting to the material, the Californian received a
personally derogatory letter from a Treasury Department employee -- who
apparently monitored activity across departments he considered
“anti-Christian.” A subsequent investigation by Representative Pat Schroeder
resulted in the Treasury official’s dismissal and an apology from the Education
Department’s public-affairs office. Nevertheless, Tancredo kept his post and was
reappointed by President George Bush Senior in 1989, according to newspaper
accounts at the time.

After Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, Tancredo moved over to a regional policy
center, financed by the Coors family, known as the Independence Institute,
where he served as executive director until 1998. During the Clinton years,
both the militias and the anti-immigrant movement bubbled into public view, and
Tancredo associated himself with both. While he disavowed any formal
relationship to militias, he was one of several speakers at a 1994 meeting
called by the far-right, Colorado-based Guardians of American Liberty.

When he ran for Congress in 1998, Tancredo took $500 from the Gun Owners of
America Political Victory Fund, a group prominent in the militia movement. Gun
Owners’ boss Larry Pratt had given a high-visibility 1992 speech to Aryan
Nations figures and other white supremacists at a meeting regarded as the
movement’s birthplace. The speech to the Aryans became so controversial that
Pat Buchanan asked Pratt to step down as a co-chair of the former’s 1996
Republican Party campaign. After the 1999 student shootings and deaths at
Columbine High School -- just blocks from Tancredo’s home -- his public ardor
for gun rights stilled. (Nevertheless, he accepted $12,000 from the National
Rifle Association between 1999 and 2003.)

Tancredo’s immigration caucus has now grown to 91 members, and it promotes
legislation to reduce legal immigration, plug the borders, and, in its own
words, “address the widespread problem of voting by illegal aliens.” It also
seeks to pass legislation denying citizenship to children born in the United
States if their parents are undocumented residents. This goal is explicitly
contradicted by the Constitution, which declares that any person born in the
United States is a citizen.

A similar political action committee and lobby called Team America holds
periodic conferences featuring the major names of the anti-immigrant movement.
Bay Buchanan serves as executive director, and the outfit bears the markings of
Pat Buchanan’s views. In his most recent book, The Death of the West: How Dying
Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization,
Buchanan makes an explicitly racial and religious argument, writing that
falling “European” birthrates and rising immigration from Africa, Asia, and
Latin America spell doom for America and the West; whether legal or illegal,
nonwhite immigrants, as they reproduce, endanger white America.

Peter Brimelow, a former editor at Forbes magazine, echoes Buchanan’s
contentions. “Suppose I had proposed more immigrants who look like me,”
Brimelow wrote in his book Alien Nation. “So what? As late as 1950, somewhere
up to nine out of ten Americans looked like me. That is, they were of European
stock … . In those days, they had another name for this thing dismissed so
contemptuously as ‘the racial hegemony of white Americans. They called it
‘America.’” These two writers provide an intellectualized rationale for the
raw, crudely white-supremacist view that America is -- or once was and should
now be -- a white and Christian nation.

* * *

After the 1965 immigration act removed barriers based on national origin and
ended the formulas discriminating in favor of immigrants from Western European
countries, the first protests were lodged by the white-sheet and brown-shirt
crowds. David Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan protested Cuban refugees
housed in Arkansas, and Duke staged his own Minutemen-like “border patrol” in
California in 1977. In Galveston, Texas, a court order finally stopped Klansmen
from burning the boats of newly arrived Vietnamese fishermen. During the same
period, Aryan Nations produced a three-color propaganda map showing an
immigrant invasion from Mexico (a version of which is still distributed). The
term “mud flood” entered the racist lexicon. White-power skinheads attacked
immigrants as part of their general war on people of color. One group beat an
Ethiopian student to death in Portland in 1988; a duo murdered a Vietnamese
teenager in Houston; and, in 1997, a lone-wolf skinhead shot to death a West
African at a Denver bus stop.

At this end of the spectrum anti-Semitic conspiracy theories hold sway, and the
battle against immigrants is linked to a campaign against Jewish control.
Cadres from national socialist groups participated in the Minutemen border
watch in Arizona in April 2004. At a recent Save Our State rally in California,
they unfurled both the Confederate flag and one with a swastika while picketing
a day-labor site. All of these episodes portend violence, and in Tennessee a
Klansman pleaded guilty in August to making and selling pipe bombs with
immigrants as the target.

An emblematic example of how the unsavory pieces of this movement intersect is
the career of Wayne Charles Lutton, who holds a doctorate from Southern
Illinois University Carbondale. In the early 1980s, he wrote book reviews for
National Review, penned articles on AIDS for Christian-right publications, and
won recognition as an expert on population and immigration. At the same time,
writing as Charles Lutton, he got involved with the Institute for Historical
Review, a pseudo-scholarly group of Holocaust-deniers. Lutton wrote for its
journal in the 1980s and ’90s, mostly about military strategy, and joined the
institute’s advisory board in 1985. Today Lutton serves as a trustee of the New
Century Foundation, the corporate shell holding a think tank known as American
Renaissance, an advocate of both scientific racism and white nationalism, and
he speaks frequently at its conferences.

Lutton’s résumé as a highly educated flat-earther would be of little consequence
here except that he also occupies this seat at one of the most significant
anti-immigrant think tanks. He edits its journal, The Social Contract, and
co-authored The Immigration Invasion, a 190-page paperback written in 1994.
Onetime Democratic presidential aspirant Eugene McCarthy, surprisingly, wrote a
two-page foreword for the book (“I recommend study of the immigration issue and
of this thoughtful book to all Americans.”). The book’s circulation has been so
widespread -- due in large measure to the financial power of Lutton’s co-author
and boss at the Social Contract Press, John Tanton -- that it is now part of
the growing movement’s wallpaper.

It was Tanton who founded the anti-immigration movement’s most powerful
institution, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). A retired
ophthalmologist once active on environmental issues, his interest in
immigration was marked in the beginning by an explicitly racial argument. “To
govern is to populate,” Tanton wrote in 1986. “Will the present majority
peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile?
… As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they
simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”

Tanton founded FAIR in 1979. Between 1982 and 1994, it received more than $1.2
million from the Pioneer Fund. A little-known foundation created in 1937, the
Pioneer Fund likes to benignly describe its origins in “the Darwinian-Galtonian
evolutionary tradition, and the eugenics movement.” In the late 1930s, though,
it frankly admired Hitler. Today, it still bankrolls groups such as the
aforementioned American Renaissance and the American Immigration Control
Foundation (AICF) in Virginia. As fair has attempted to develop a more
mainstream persona, it has dropped the Pioneer Fund as a funding source. FAIR’s
executive director, Dan Stein, has repeatedly denied that any racial animus
motivates its activities. But the federation has kept Tanton on its corporate
board of directors.

In addition, FAIR’s political action committee, the U.S. Immigration Reform PAC,
routinely receives significant contributions from Tanton and his wife. FAIR’s
PAC has contributed more than a quarter-million dollars for and against
candidates since 1999. In 2000, it spent more than $30,000 against Republican
Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan, an Arab American, who lost that general
election. Not surprisingly, it has also given Representative Tancredo $15,000
over the years, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Buried in
those documents is a disclosure that the PAC had Peter Gemma on its payroll
doing clerical work. Gemma is a denizen of Holocaust-denial meetings and other
hardcore anti-Semitic venues, according to Devin Burghart, the author of
numerous reports on anti-immigrant groups for the Center for New Community in
Chicago. Gemma apparently did not make any of the money decisions at FAIR’s
PAC, but his presence is another indicator of the shark-infested waters that
politicians like Tancredo swim in.

While FAIR has the biggest footprint on Capitol Hill, the AICF possesses the
largest list of donors among the think tanks that provide literature and ideas
to local groups. It has also received $180,000 in grants from the Pioneer Fund.
But its main source of funds is an immense donor base: more than 400,000 names
of contributors who give $5 or more, according to documents provided by the
Center for New Community. The donor list legally belongs to American
Immigration Control Foundation NC, one of three corporations that make up this
particular mini-empire.

Notably, the AICF is heavily interlaced with the Council of Conservative
Citizens. The lineal descendant of the ’60s-era white Citizens Councils, the
Council of Conservative Citizens revived itself in the ’90s with campaigns for
the Confederate flag and against immigration. It stays away from explicit
anti-Semitism and describes itself as a “white separatist” group rather than
“white nationalist.” This distinction is without a difference -- particularly
given the arguments its leadership have made for a genetically determined
notion of American nationalism. Trent Lott was forced to disassociate himself
from the council once his ties to the group became public.

The Council of Conservative Citizens is heavily linked with several
anti-immigrant groups, including the AICF. One AICF board member, Brent Nelson,
also sits as director of the council’s foundation. President of the AICF’s board
from 1993–95, the now-deceased Sam Francis edited the council’s tabloid until
this year and otherwise served as its commanding philosopher-general. And the
aforementioned Wayne Lutton, editor of Social Contract and occupant of
Holocaust-denial circles, serves on the Council of Conservative Citizens’
editorial advisory board.

Although not cut from a single party-line cookie cutter, each of these
personalities connects other anti-immigrant groups to the Council of
Conservative Citizens. And on significant occasions these links extend into the
electoral process and policy making. Consider Arizona’s Proposition 200 and
Virginia Abernethy.

Dr. Virginia Deane Abernethy, a retired professor from Vanderbilt University’s
School of Medicine and author of several books on population and environment,
sits on the board of two organizations with immigration concerns. She is yet
another highly educated professional serving on the Council of Conservative
Citizens editorial advisory board and a frequent featured speaker at the
council’s meetings.

Proposition 200 requires proof of citizenship when registering to vote or when
signing up for state welfare benefits. It passed with 56 percent of the vote in
the Arizona Legislature. More tightly written than California’s Proposition 187,
the Arizona referendum has survived court challenges to date and is likely to
inspire similar statewide initiatives. Brought to the ballot by an organization
known as Protect Arizona Now, campaign-finance report forms show that it
received in-kind contributions totaling $600,000 from the Federation for
American Immigration Reform -- which essentially underwrote the petition’s
signature-gathering process. But when the Protect Arizona Now committee
selected a chair for its national advisory board, it did not pick someone from
FAIR. Instead, it chose Abernethy, according to the Center for New Community,
which issued a special report on her selection. “With charges of racism already
swirling around I-200 … [Protect Arizona Now] has taken the surprising step of
choosing a leading figure in the white supremacist movement,” the center wrote.

When questioned about her views, Abernethy told The Arizona Republic that she
was a “white separatist,” a term used by white nationalists when they want to
avoid the ugly implications of the supremacist label. She added, “We’re saying
that each ethnic group is often happier with its own kind.” What did Protect
Arizona Now’s founder say when asked by the paper? That Abernethy is
“considered the grande dame of the anti-immigration movement.”

In response to the controversy, FAIR issued a press release that read, “FAIR,
and everyone fair represents, categorically denies and repudiates Abernethy’s
repulsive separatist views.” The repudiation did not extend to FAIR’s own
cooperation with white nationalists, however, which goes far beyond acceptance
of Pioneer Fund monies.

* * *

Public acknowledgment of the connection between white nationalism and the
anti-immigrant movement threatens to undermine the legislative strength of FAIR
and Representative Tancredo’s congressional caucus. Both are doing their best to
dodge this bullet. “People who say it’s racist to want secure borders are
insulting the intelligence of the American people … ,” Tancredo wrote in a May
1 Los Angeles Times op-ed. By his lights, the combined impact of Proposition
200 and the Minutemen has energized his movement.

Initiatives modeled on Arizona’s Proposition 200 are already under way in
Washington state, Colorado, and California, and are under consideration
elsewhere. The major PACs will decide early next year whom to support in the
2006 congressional races, and they won’t hesitate to back primary candidates
against Republicans they regard as too soft on border issues.
Immigration-related matters -- from driver’s licenses to social services to
public education -- will be under consideration in virtually every state
legislature in the country next year, and the initiative has been seized by
nativists, xenophobes, and white nationalists.

After a congressional seat from California’s District 48 opened up for a special
election, one of the Minutemen’s founders, Jim Gilchrest, ran as a candidate of
the marginal American Independent Party in an all-party primary on October 4.
Gilchrest received 14.4 percent of the vote, more than the Democratic Party
candidate, and enough to come in third. The Orange County Register counted
“illegal immigration” as the issue that forced a runoff election.

Tancredo could well run in the 2008 presidential primaries. He has not formally
declared his candidacy, but has said that he would run if no other candidate
emerged to carry his “immigration reform” banner. He visited New Hampshire and
Iowa. In that first caucus state, he held three house party fund-raisers in
July sponsored by local Christian Coalition activists. Tancredo knows this
constituency well, dating back to his days as a Colorado state legislator, and
he has also spoken twice in Georgia at the Christian Coalition’s annual
conventions. His trip to Iowa was tightly managed by Bay Buchanan, and he seems
to be following the path left by Bay’s brother Pat in 1992 and ’96.

Things have changed in 10 years, however. Today the thin white nationalist trail
around the edges of the Republican mountain is a major highway, one in which
mainstream travelers mingle with bandits.

Leonard Zeskind is completing a book on the white nationalist movement for
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He was a MacArthur Fellow in 1998 and a Petra Fellow
in 1992.

Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Leonard
Zeskind, "The New Nativism", The American Prospect Online, . This article may
not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without
prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

You can find a record of our prior work against this anti immigrant offensive at

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wrong About the Right

Wrong About the Right
by Jean Hardisty and Deepak Bhargava

The now dominant narrative about the right's rise to power holds that
conservatives invested huge amounts of money in a number of think tanks
over the past thirty years and brilliantly framed their messages in ways
that were simple and resonated deeply with much of the American public.
By embracing a top-down, hierarchical movement structure and relentless
message discipline, the right was able not only to triumph at the ballot
box but also to change the very terms of political
discussion--demonizing "big government" and celebrating "tax relief,"
"personal responsibility" and "free-market capitalism."

This account of conservative strategy has piqued the interest of a
growing number of progressive groups, who argue that the left should
adopt a similar strategy. And it is currently driving the activities of
many major progressive donors.

The difficulty here is that, as an explanation of the right's
ascendancy, it is at best incomplete and at worst misleading. What's
more, it is not clear that progressives should emulate all of the
right's tactics, or that we will succeed by doing so. There are
certainly lessons to be learned from the right--but for the most part
they are different from those commonly assumed. Here is an alternative
view of the insights progressives should take away from three decades of
conservative domination.

Secrets of Their Success

(1) Ideological Diversity. There is no monolithic "conservative"
movement but rather a plethora of ideologies successfully harnessed
together in a grand coalition. In the 1970s, as the New Right emerged
from the discredited old right, a fragile truce was drawn among
libertarians, economic conservatives, social conservatives and
neoconservatives. Under the leadership of William F. Buckley Jr., editor
of the influential National Review magazine and host of TV's Firing
Line, tensions were negotiated and a "fusion politics" emerged that
allowed for cooperation across differences. Such a truce is more easily
maintained when a movement is winning, as the New Right was under
President Ronald Reagan. Now, in George W. Bush's second term, the fault
lines are reappearing.

The implication for progressives is that we ought to tolerate a
diversity of views and think strategically about how to align them to
common purpose rather than seek a homogeneity we falsely ascribe to
conservatives. Conservatives also found that it's not always the most
mainstream or moderate voices who win. Likewise, progressives with a
more radical vision, while working collaboratively in the larger
movement, must not let themselves be sidelined.

(2) Ideas, Not Messages. To the extent that conservatives were
serious about ideas--and to be sure they were and are--they started not
with "messaging" or "framing," two strategies currently in vogue among
progressives, but rather with inquiry into core beliefs about race,
government, family, markets and global economic and military domination.
These core beliefs were at first far outside the mainstream of accepted
political discourse. But by carefully constructing an ideological
blueprint for their movement (despite lack of complete buy-in from
every sector), the right has been working for more than twenty-five
years with a set of unifying ideological principles to which their
strategists and activists return time and again. Support for "family
values," limited government, a strong military, white domination and the
primacy of Christianity over other religions, when combined with a will
to power, have served the right well.

On the left many intellectual projects are more tactical in nature and
avoid asking fundamental questions--not about how we talk but about what
we actually believe. For instance, we are at our best when fighting a
reactionary policy or program, such as tax cuts for the wealthy or
attacks on voting rights. But progressives are not unified, or even
clear, about what we affirmatively want in terms of a role for
government, a just economy or rights for individuals and groups.

(3) Active Listening. It is often noted that the structure of the
conservative movement is hierarchical and that because the leadership
has such a high level of control, conservative campaigns have always
been well coordinated and executed with great precision. Less often
noted is that their masterstroke was not that they went off in a room
and decided on a few cornerstone values and then aligned their work and
campaigns to speak to those values. Their genius was that they first
engaged in a practice of active listening and found a core of resentment
among large numbers of Americans--about race, class, gender and
sexuality--that could provide the emotional base for a new intellectual
paradigm. They did this in the 1970s, at precisely the time when
liberals stopped listening, presuming that the reactionary
ideas of the old right were so far out of favor that only the most
uninformed and backward voters supported them. Today, liberals rely
heavily on polling--a shallow kind of listening--or push ideas at the
country without deeply engaging with people first.

(4) The Importance of Recruitment. Think tanks and their output of
ideas, analysis and information are a necessary but not sufficient
component of any effective social movement. Conservatives focused on
building powerful mass-based institutions that could provide muscle for
a conservative agenda, such as the National Rifle Association, the Moral
Majority, the American Family Association and, later, Focus on the
Family, Concerned Women for America and the Christian Coalition of
America. Many of these mass-based organizations were explicitly
Christian and played a vital role in recruiting evangelical and
fundamentalist Christians to the New Right of
the 1980s.

Further, the right's core leadership showed extraordinary creativity in
exploiting new technologies. For example, Richard Viguerie pioneered the
use of direct mail; Ralph Reed Jr. of the Christian Coalition developed
"stealth" methods of campaigning for political office without revealing
the candidates' actual right-wing agenda and used churches to mobilize
voters. The right's strategists focused not only on ideas and policies
but also on organizing a base and developing recruitment techniques to
build the base. The contemporary right has always been clear about the
importance of recruiting greater numbers to its movement. An examination
of right-wing campaigns reveals that, in nearly every case, the
opportunity for recruitment plays a central role in their
conceptualization and execution. Progressives would make a
tragic mistake by neglecting base-building in the current period.

(5) Electoral Politics as Means, Not End. The architects of the
right's rise to power did not view their project as the election of
Republicans to state and federal office. They perceived the Republican
Party as a tool to achieve certain ends, rather than as the end in
itself; the takeover of the party was important because it would turn
the country toward a reactionary agenda. That the takeover occurred is a
reflection of the potency of the strategy. This is crucially important
because some progressives tend to conflate the project of building a
just world with the project of electing Democrats to office. Winning
people over is our central task. After all, progressive advances do not
always come under Democratic administrations. It was Richard Nixon,
after all, who proposed a guaranteed annual income for the poor, while
Bill Clinton approved time limits on welfare benefits.

It's also important to remember that the right worked at the federal,
state and local levels and used both "inside" and "outside" strategies
to influence the realm of political office-holding and the terrain of
public opinion. No one aspect of movement-building was emphasized at the
expense of others. It is that strength--approaching movement-building as
a whole package--that explains much of the right's growth and

(6) Fearless Politics. The right has not been afraid to propose
extreme positions, knowing they will be pushed back to more moderate
ones still well to the right of the status quo. We've seen this in
almost every policy fight since 1980. By boldly taking stands that are
far outside the mainstream, the right has managed to pull the mainstream
to the right, which is why it is now perceived as speaking for the
majority. For progressives, meanwhile, timidity, ambiguity and constant
compromise have not proved successful strategies; projecting a clear,
principled and uncompromising voice of progressive values and policies
is not only morally compelling but strategically smart.

Learning From Our Own History

Historically, left and liberal agendas--the New Deal, civil rights laws,
the Great Society, women's advancement--have made progress when mass
movements have forced change. To be sure, the ideas of John Maynard
Keynes were crucial in legitimizing and pointing the way to a new form
of capitalism and FDR was the right leader for the times, but the New
Deal wasn't won by economic experts. It was won by ordinary people who
organized to create a sense of crisis and a mandate for change.

While there is no formula for a social movement, we know that successful
ones share some things in common. First, people become mobilized around
issues they hold dear; at some level they share a powerful vision about
what is wrong with society and how it must be improved; and they engage
in lots of diverse activities not under any one leader's direct control.
The resulting political motion and its effect lead to a change in
attitudes, practices and public policy.

Our current infatuation with the strategies and structures of the right
has led some progressives to call for a more streamlined, hierarchical
movement, but this is not how we've won in the past. Progressive
movements have been successful when they have not had a top-down
organizational structure. Also, this analysis fails to appreciate the
comprehensiveness of the right's movement-building style. And it does
not reflect progressive democratic principles. Consider, for example,
the civil rights movement. Despite the popular perception of the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s singular importance, the movement had many
sectors under many leaders, with different ideologies and different
priorities--people like Septima Clark, Ella Baker and Bob Moses, all of
whom believed in the centrality of developing ordinary people as agents
of change rather than in charismatic leadership or coalitions of elites.
The same could be said of the women's movement and the environmental
movement. Progressive movements certainly need a generally agreed-upon
critique of society and vision for change, as well as mechanisms for
coordination. But letting a thousand flowers bloom can prove a strength,
so long as power does not collect around the most "achievable" social
change as opposed to the most just social change.

Race and Social Change

A movement must have a dynamic leading edge before its positions become
majority positions. Many of the progressive gains in American history
were not majority agendas--ending slavery, civil rights, disability
rights, AIDS advocacy and farmworker boycotts succeeded as struggles led
by minorities. In some cases they were struggles led by people who
weren't even enfranchised. How is that possible?

Often, deeply felt issues raised by groups whose numbers are in the
minority have the power to convert, while issues that theoretically
should be in everyone's interest never take hold. A necessary (though
not sufficient) condition for an issue to attain broad majoritarian
support is vibrant, well-organized submovements. Many of our
submovements, such as the women's, environmental, LGBT and civil rights
submovements, are demoralized, underfunded and increasingly influenced
by their own more conservative wings. Further, the progressive
movement's tendency to downplay racial issues and concerns consistently
blocks our process of building from submovements' success to an
effective broad progressive movement. For instance, even though
African-Americans have been the core of progressive politics, it is
often African-Americans who have been taken for granted and neglected by
the progressive movement, which is too often white dominated and focused
on issues of concern to white activists. As long as the movement fails
to become more inclusive and democratic, it will continue to limp along
without access to the wisdom and insight of the most vital part of its
base. Race today is not simply a matter of black and white: Many other
groups and movements of immigrants--Latinos, Asian/Pacific
Island-Americans, Arab-Americans and Native Americans--must also have a
full seat at the table. Conservatives are avidly courting these groups.
When people of color look for allies to advance their issues, there is
no reason to assume they will support the larger progressive movement
when their issues receive only lip service and they are not widely
represented in the movement's leadership and decision-making structures.

This is not only about "credibility" or "diversity." It is actually
about effectiveness. The whiteness of our leadership has played out, for
example, in a tendency to write off large parts of the
country--including the South, the Southwest and the High Plains--which
has proved politically disastrous. Further, a predominantly white
leadership tends to neglect issues like immigrant rights and criminal
justice because they are not pressing concerns of the "majority" of
voters. The perception that an issue can't galvanize a wide majority or
appeal to at least 51 percent of the electorate can sink the issue in
the current climate of poll-driven strategizing. Certainly the
progressive movement needs to pursue programs that knit together diverse
constituencies, but even very broad issues such as healthcare or the
environment will look different when they reflect the concerns of all

The Role of Organizing

Some progressives consider grassroots organizing a remnant of an old
style of politics no longer relevant to our media- and money-saturated
times. Others think of it as an actual obstacle to the efficient,
hierarchical infrastructure they idealize. But conservatives have
nurtured their grassroots constituencies in civic institutions,
evangelical churches and gun clubs. Organizing is central to any
effective strategy for revitalizing the progressive movement.

Organizing, not to be confused with mobilizing, is ultimately what
changes people's minds. Whereas mobilizing is about moving people to
take certain actions (voting, lobbying policy-makers, coming out to an
event or calling your Congress member on an issue pre-selected by
someone else), organizing is about developing the skills, confidence and
practice among ordinary people to speak out in their own voice.

What ultimately forces change is human beings seeing fellow human beings
act from a place of deep conviction. That moment of recognition can
occur only when people who are living with an injustice bring their
experience to the public square. Of course, solidarity efforts are
crucial to social change. It's hard to imagine the farmworkers, or the
civil rights workers in the South, succeeding if they had failed to
rouse broader sympathy throughout the country. But they were able to do
this only because they spoke with an authenticity that transcended walls
of race and class prejudice. No policy paper or slick message will ever
replace the power of organizing.

Major changes in the social order require a leap of "nonconsent" by the
governed. That might be millions of people refusing the draft, or
thousands boycotting buses in Montgomery, or hundreds "dying in" to
protest delays in AIDS research. While the tidal wave of conservative
successes at the federal level is obvious, the less-obvious victories
progressives have had in recent years are largely attributable to
organizing: major new investments in affordable housing through housing
trust funds, new money for transit, living- and minimum-wage laws,
expansions in health coverage at the state level, more income supports
for low-wage workers, education access, driver's licenses for immigrants
and limits on natural resource extraction.

Organizing is, as George W. Bush might say, "hard work"--never more so
than in current circumstances. Memories of successful collective
struggle are fading fast among a new generation not raised with the
1960s as a backdrop. Market culture has penetrated all spheres of life,
and it has reinforced deeply individualistic strains in American
society. Also, pervasive economic insecurity, increasing work demands
and a shredded safety net have heightened the personal costs involved.

Organizing has always had an uneasy place not only in the broader
culture but also in progressive circles. It has frequently been
sidelined by expert-driven advocacy or by charismatic figures who lead
short-lived protest movements, and today it is at risk of being
displaced by a focus on think tanks and communications strategies.
Perhaps more alarming, however, is the relative decline of organizing as
a strategy relative to mobilization. The work of many 527 organizations
prominent in the Bush and Kerry campaigns of 2004 (America Coming
Together and the Media Fund, for example) seemed to be about parachuting
into communities and soliciting votes, with little thought about what
would be left behind.

For all the difficulties, progressives are engaging in some exciting
experimentation with new methods of base-building appropriate to our
times. Organized labor is in the throes of a debate about how to rebuild
membership. There has been an explosion in community-based "worker
centers" and in immigrant community organizations. And in a few states,
groups are beginning to work together across issue and constituency
lines to develop common long-term strategies. This success is very
fragile and tentative, however, and it is still the case that organizing
tends not to get the respect, attention or resources it needs from the
larger progressive community.

A problem closely related to the neglect of organizing is the failure of
many progressive organizations to recruit and encourage leadership from
young people, especially young people of color. Young people have
political, social and economic perspectives that differ from those of
older (usually Baby Boomer) activists, who were shaped by the events of
the 1960s and '70s. Younger activists, organizers and intellectuals will
enrich the movement and take it in new directions, if given the freedom
and the power to do so.

Clarifying Basic Principles

While the focus of progressive movement-building is now on creating
large organizations "to scale," yet another of the movement's greatest
challenges is being neglected: We are undecided on the larger principles
that underlie our work for social justice. Many people don't like to do
this "big picture" thinking. They prefer results-oriented activism
and practical solutions. And they are correct that larger
principles must be tied to people's everyday concerns and identifiable,
attainable goals.

But to be successful, mass organizing must be informed by visionary
principles as well as nuts-and-bolts techniques. Most bold new policy
proposals grow out of the everyday work that activists in submovements
do on various issues. These proposals--for example, national
healthcare, full rights and services for immigrants, or replacing
the racist criminal justice system--are not the polished, poll-tested,
slightly left-of-center ones increasingly attractive to
Democratic Party centrists. Indeed, they may seem fringe and far out of
the mainstream. But they have their roots in real material conditions.

What we lack are the overarching principles to tie these proposals
together. In the 1960s and '70s progressives generally agreed that
government had a responsibility to defend the weak or temporarily weak,
protect individual rights, provide a reasonable standard of living and
regulate private enterprise to protect the public from rampant greed and
criminal behavior. Battered by the right's relentless assaults on these
core principles, progressive movement activists today do not have a
coherent vision. Instead, we are driven by a vague sense of what a
better society would look like, a recognition of how times have changed
and persistent despair as we fight one defensive battle after another.

It is therefore essential that we address several fundamental questions
right now: What is the role and responsibility of government? How
can the racial imbalance of our movement's leadership be corrected? What
role should religion play in public life? How should progressives
respond to globalization? And what social issues should we identify as
"bottom line"? As principles that respond to these questions
emerge, we must not allow political expediency to trump creativity. The
voices of people of color, and young people and women of all races must
be explicitly sought out. Funding may facilitate this discussion, but it
will not in itself produce a dynamic vision. Think tanks alone will not
develop these principles, and framing and messaging will not substitute
for them. The process of drawing out larger principles must be an
organic one: a step-by-step process of slowly creating broad consensus.
Here, we can learn from the right's success with active listening.

While the challenges we face are considerable, they are not
insurmountable. But we must get moving so that when the tide of public
opinion turns in our direction, we are not caught flatfooted, with
a movement badly in need of reform and lacking the very basics needed to
seize the moment and go forward. The right was ready for the backlash of
the late 1970s. We must be ready for the coming backlash against the
outrages of the past twenty-five years.

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