GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING:  RACE AND ETHNICITY  [HUNTER BEAR]  MARCH 18  2006 -- AND MUCH COMMENT

[Published in The Oregon Socialist, Autumn 2006]

When I look back on it now, I realize that I was no kid in those times --
though I was still a Teen who could skip facial shaving for several days and
still pass inspection. Even then, I, as well as my peers in that very
rigorous Army basic training cycle -- most of them older and draftees
whereas I was a volunteer -- were all traveling, growing up-wise, at an
increasingly accelerated pace. Some of my buddies went AWOL or even,  sooner or later,
cracked and went home. But most of us were tough -- sometimes tougher than
even we thought.

I was sitting by myself one evening in fatigues in a shabby Post Exchange
[PX], reading the Army Times and sipping what passed for Army-approved beer.
A voice, loud and hearty, called out to me.

"Salter!  Mind if I join you for a few minutes?"

I looked up, mildly surprised but agreeable -- actually somewhat honored.
Master Sergeant J. Hawkins sat down with his beer.  He had taken military
interest in me early on.  Once, during a five hour full field march [with
super heavy backpacks and MI rifles] he asked us all generally if anyone
could tell him just how far we were from base.  Some said more than five
miles, a few said ten.  I finally said, "One mile and a half.  We've been
marching in circles."  It was an extremely accurate assessment and he smiled
broadly.  Soon after that he and others especially and formally noted my
expertise as a rifleman.

Sergeant Hawkins was Black -- very Black -- and from one of the deepest
tiers in the Deep South. In fact, the C.O. and most cadre were Black.  The
First Sergeant was a genial Irishman and one  2nd Lieutenant, an Anglo --
and a "Ninety Day Wonder" fresh out of Officer Candidate School -- was cold
and often hostile.

I'm half American Indian -- the other half being mostly Scottish, but with
some Swiss.  The Army had been interested from the beginning in the Native
part, noting -- along with a  youthful and civilian drinking peccadillo and
some very positive words, that "SALTER'S father is a full-blooded Indian . .
."  [If anyone is interested in the drinking episode, that official Army
document is in the Narrative page of our large Lair of Hunterbear website.]

I grew up in Northern Arizona with our "mixed" family -- three tribal
nations of the Northeast from Dad's side, Mother from the West -- deeply
involved with the Navajo and the Laguna with which our ties still remain
extremely close.  In addition, all sorts of other people of courage and good
will came to our house, then on the far northern rim of Flagstaff:  Hopi,
Apache, Black and Chicano, Chinese and Cuban.

I should note, however parenthetically, that in the family I "head" [at
least in a titular fashion], things are pretty well mixed indeed.  In
addition to me, Eldri is Norwegian and Finnish, heavily laced with Lapp [Sami or
Saami], and some Swedish as well.  Maria's oldest, Thomas, is one-half
Mississippi Choctaw and her other child, Samantha, is a quarter Spanish
Basque and a quarter Jewish.  Thomas, a couple of years ago, brought in a
far away international dimension when he married Mimie [Yirengah] Chilinda,
from Zambia.

All of this brings to mind:

In a great little 1950 classic by the gifted American writer, Edmund Wilson,
Apologies to the Iroquois [With a Study of the Mohawks in High Steel by
Joseph Mitchell], a veteran Mohawk worker in high steel and a pillar of the
mostly Mohawk Iron Workers Local in the NYC area tells writer Mitchell, an
Anglo:

From Mr Orvis Diabo [O-ron-ia-ke-te or He Carries The Sky] --

"My mother was half Scotch and half Indian," he says. "My grandmother on my
father's side was Scotch-Irish.  Somewhere along the line, I forget just
where, some French immigrant and some full Irish crept in. If you were to
take my blood and strain it, God only knows what you'd find."

Back now, at the PX of so long ago, Sergeant Hawkins, after only a very few
words of small talk, looked at me sharply and said, "This is tough duty for
me."  There was a long pause and he went on, "How am I doing?"

He was a man who, in addition to having more helpful accounts than even
General Rommel's classic book from World War I [Infantry Attacks, copy of
which I have], was a very balanced mixture of sternness and pleasantry.

But I certainly knew precisely from where he was coming. It had been only
relatively recently that the process had begun in earnest to make the
U.S. Armed Services racially integrated.  Our training company was
transitional, mostly Black-led. And, while the trainee/troopers fell
into a variety of racial/ethnic categories, most were White.

And most of those were Southern Whites.

Without hesitation, I looked at him and said, "You're doing O.K. -- in fact,
just fine."  I went on, "You're fair, and you know everything that you're
talking about."

He smiled quickly, appreciatively, and we then talked of hunting in our
respective "down home" settings.

In my "Organizer's Catechism" -- based on about 50 years of grassroots
work and in which I consistently stress the importance of democratic,
 local leadership  -- I point out, among other qualities that make
up a good and effective Organizer :

"4] Formal academic training in the higher ed sense can certainly be useful
to any Organizer [or, as far as that goes, for anyone] -- but it isn't
absolutely critical. The Organizer, among other attributes, should be fully
literate [including computer literate], with finely tuned sensitivities,
with one hell of a lot of good sense. And almost anyone can do much
self-teaching.

Race and social class factors are not usually critical for a good
Organizer. [I'm a Native American who has worked comfortably with Indians of
many tribes, Chicanos, Southern and Northern Blacks, Puerto Ricans,
low-income Anglos. I've also never pretended to have proletarian origins.]

In a word, be sensitive -- but be yourself."

That little Catechism [the Link to which is attached to my e-mail signature]
was immediately, and continues to be, reprinted in social justice print
journals and websites.  One journal asked to run it -- I agreed as always --
but, when it did not appear, I asked.  I was told that some [unidentified]
people had objected to certain things and that it would, maybe, be run when
several differing views could be assembled.  But I was not surprised when
that particular publication never did print it.  The shrill edges of
"political correctness" -- however eloquently written and
rationalized and sometimes insufferably sanctimonious -- have
certainly been known to trump the hard, tedious
realities and experience of truly effective grassroots organizing.

While I have no way of knowing with certainty because the "objectors" in
that lone journal instance [lone, at least to my knowledge] and their
ostensible concerns were never identified, I have a hunch it was that just
quoted component of my little piece that upset them: working sensitively and
well across racial and class lines -- with grassroots people who need and
want activist assistance.  Ignored, apparently, is the endless flow of cases
throughout the blood-dimmed centuries of Humanity where good people of all
kinds have worked with good people of all kinds with very effective results.
[A few may still now know the name of Frank H. Little, Oklahoma Cherokee,
who, as the chief organizer for the IWW in the decade preceding and just
into U.S. entrance into World War I, worked smoothly and excellently with
every kind of dispossessed in the West -- ultimately being lynched at Butte
on August 1 1917 by thugs employed by Anaconda Copper.

In my book, anyway, it's "the people of the fewest alternatives" who count.
Last July [2005], Bruce Hartford, the indefatigable webmaster of the
genuinely great Civil Rights Movement Veterans, trekked up here and spent
that hot day doing a very long [51 typed, single-spaced pages] on my Life
and Times.  We covered all of the essentials -- and they are many indeed --
and, along toward the end, he had several very apt questions and some of the
most basic follow. [The whole interview is on Civil Rights Movement Veterans
and also our Lair of Hunterbear website.]

"Bruce: How do you feel about Black Power?

Hunter: Well, that's a very good question. If you're talking about
grassroots power, that's really what all this is about. And if you're
talking about separatism for the sake of separatism, - that's where some of
it began to go, - the people that began to make a business of separatism, -
no I don't buy that at all. But I don't think it affected the grassroots
that way.

But I think we do have to recognize the importance of self-determination.
This is very important in a Native American context. But what I've noticed
is that if a person is a good person, and has something to offer and is
willing to listen, - underlining that about a hundred times, - they can find
themselves working with all sorts of people.

In Chicago, in the period of '69 to '73, we worked mostly with Black people,
but also with Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and others, down in that area. One of
our most successful community organizers, in fact my senior community
organizer, was white, a red-head with a master's in social work. He worked
with Black ghetto youth very, very successfully. When it came time to
arrange the peace parley between the Young Lords and the Disciples and the
Black P. Stone Nation and so forth, he was one of the key figures in that.
Everybody trusted him.

So my sense of this is that your question is complicated. I think we're all
for self determination. I don't think we like people who come in to a
situation, - whoever they are, - and announce they have all the answers. But
I'm wary of people who make separatism a vocation, - a career.

I'm very supportive of grassroots people, whoever they are. I like a
situation where people, - whoever they are, - can recognize that there are
people who might be a little bit different, who are still good people, and
who may have some worthwhile ideas. I don't know if I've answered this.

Bruce: We have a section on the website called "Frequently Asked Questions,"
in which different Movement veterans give their views on questions such as
Black Power, non-violence, and so on. But those are not questions that have
definitive answers, different veterans have different opinions.

Hunter: We don't have an orthodoxy in that sense. But my thing is going back
to the people. Black people in Jackson showed tremendous courage against the
greatest odds, the cruelest repression anybody could imagine. The people in
Eastern North Carolina, - lonely and isolated, - the Klan very much a
threat, to say nothing of [White Citizens] Council, and "Birchers," every
other Goddamn thing, - they showed tremendous courage.

So basically, I go back to the grassroots people, back to the concept of
self-determination, of democratic social movements. But I like the idea of
people being able to work together. And ultimately, I think we're all going
to have to work together if we're going to save this wretched world. And I
think we're going to see movements come that learn from the mistakes of
what's gone before. Every damn movement you can point to has been built on
the wreckage of preceding movements.

Bruce: And the reason you're stressing everybody work together was that
there was an element of some Black power advocates who said whites should
not be involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Hunter: That's right, yeah, which made no sense, particularly if those
so-called whites had risked their lives. In my case, it's kind of an
interesting situation, with a white parent and an Indian parent. In that
sense, I'm half and half. I move back and forth and all sorts of things. You
know, I could go to the Navajo reservation and fit in very nicely. A lot of
people know me. I could go here, I could go there.

So I've got a white side and an Indian side. If you have to ask where does
the loyalty go, I'd say the ultimate loyalty goes to the human race, but
probably the immediate loyalty goes to the Native side. In other words, I
stand with the Indians. But I'm also quite aware that there have always been
plenty of people who helped Indian people who haven't been Indians. "


Master Sergeant J. Hawkins knew what he was doing and always respected
all of his Basic Trainees.  And we always respected him enormously --
whoever  and whatever we were.

In [Real] Solidarity - H

COMMENTS:

Very good piece; the Army stuff is intriguing and heretofore un-mined ground.
 
 John Salter

______________________________________________________________________________

 
Reber Boult writes [and my answer follows]:

Hunter observes "I'm very supportive of grassroots people, whoever they
 are. I like a situation where people, - whoever they are, - can
 recognize that there are people who might be a little bit different, who
 are still good people, and who may have some worthwhile ideas."  I agree
 and I wonder what about all those people in all those fundamentalist
 Christian right wing churches.  They seem grassroots to me.  They're
 definitely organized.  But I don't support a lot of what they're
 organized to do, like elect Republicans, support big business war and
 imperialism, turn the country into a theocracy, and a bunch of
 infringements on individual liberty (and they sometimes promote racism,
 too).

 - Reber Boult


Reber: [from Hunter]

You've raised interesting points, Reber, and while -- on this pleasant
snow-falling Idaho mountain day -- part of me is inclined to smoke my pipe
and go further with my gallon of coffee and commune with my Cat, I do have,
of course, a word or two.

First, as you know, I'm consistently committed -- always have been, always
will be --  to careful organization with democratic form and structure and ethos in the context of
bona fide social justice. That's threaded thru the piece I just posted on
race/ethnicity and organizing, it's found throughout my little "organizer's
catechism," and it's been an integral part of virtually everything I've
written and tried to accomplish.

I don't get involved in the intricacies of other people's theological
beliefs. My syncretic Catholicism is mixed with some traditional tribal
dimensions and I am now a member of the Ethical Humanist Society as well;
Mother was Anglican; Eldri is a mainline Lutheran.  I grew up intimately
exposed to rich and quite satisfying Navajo and Laguna ceremonials.  And, of
course, almost all of our extremely supportive neighbors hereabouts are
Mormon, LDS folk.  Religious fundamentalism doesn't bother me at all -- many
of the consistently cordial Black churches at which I spoke in the Southern
campaigns were quite fundamentalist.  [Despite constant disclaimers on my
part, I was often introduced as "Reverend."]  Religion [or the lack of it]
is the business of the person and the trails to the Creator are more myriad
than the leaves on an Aspen tree.

I, too, am quite troubled by noisy enclaves of any right-wingers.  But I
also see people -- and, frankly, I like people.  While I don't think there
is much I could do to further secular reality within -- I say, within -- the
collective bodies of many fundamentalist white right-wing churches, I am not
[and I don't think you are either] going to write those people  off
individually as blithely as some are prone.

Eventually, the Pied Pipers are going to fade -- maybe via financial or
personal scandal or simply because those things cannot keep it up Forever.
Long before those Big Huckster balloons burst, we need -- as many are
doing -- to reach out to those folks in other settings and see if we can
broaden and deepen their savvy and lengthen their horizons.  Integrated
community action groups focused around the common local concerns of many,
interracial unionism, even single-issue groups such as NRA [not nearly as
inherently conservative as its adversaries feel, and always with some
"minority" members throughout] can be very productive arenas.

Sometimes things can be responsibly forced: the desegregation of the Armed
Services and then schools at all levels and much, much more.  In the latter
1960s, the [white] Alabama-born International President of the Chemical
Workers [ICWU], Walter Mitchell, ordered the immediate integration of those
Southern locals that were still segregated -- with the alternative being
"jump ship".  The holdouts immediately integrated.

The last time I spoke to a Mine-Mill gathering as Mine-Mill [as
differentiated from other speaking stints where Mine Mill members and
officials were part of a broader attendance], was in late '63 [and I have
referred to this before] at Superior, Arizona [Local 938 was host].  Under
the auspices of the wide-ranging [and powerful] and very multi-local Arizona
Mine-Mill Council, the locals from all over the central and southern part of
the state sent large delegations to hear me on the civil rights struggle.  I
spoke throughout the night, as groups -- which had often traveled great
distances -- came and went.  Most of the people to whom I spoke were
Chicano, reflecting the general composition of production and maintenance
work forces, but there were -- in that hardworking context -- a number of
tribal Indians and Anglos as well.  Many of the people were Catholic, some
were LDS, others were other things -- and probably "southern fundamentalist"
as well. The gathering, which also had several key union organizers in
attendance, had -- as a major convener -- a veteran organizer, an Anglo
originally from Tennessee and Alabama and who had been with Mine-Mill for
ages.  He had formerly worked for years building and maintaining the
racially integrated Mine-Mill iron locals in the Bessemer and Fairfield and
environs setting.  He was a major target of Federal witch-hunting.  The
other key convener was the sharp and hardworking business agent of the
Superior local, who was up from the ranks. He was Chicano.  Not far from our
meeting was the Enemy -- the massive works of Magma Copper.  Anyway, that
was Real Solidarity.  Mine-Mill had practiced that kind of interracial [and
effectively militant] unionism since the days of the Western Federation of
Miners [sparked in North Idaho in 1893.]

As the director of a large organizing project for four very turbulent years [1969-1973]
in the bloody Chicago South/Southwest side, I had an excellent staff and the
community people were generally just fine.  We accomplished a good deal in
that long stretch -- among other things, helping people organize about 300
block clubs.  Occasionally, there were problems.  One interesting one arose
when a crack community organizer of ours [Jim, a young Anglo] wanted to
shift his primary focus away from a fascinating and very effective
anti-urban renewal coalition of Chicanos and Lithuanian-Americans that he
had helped develop and with which he had worked painstakingly.  Our working
turf was fast expanding  and a number of Black and Hispanic youth gangs
wanted him badly -- and he wanted their arena.  I was quite agreeable but
our staff was stretched thin across much of the South/Southwest Side.  At
the same time, Jesse, Black and a first rate organizer from one big stretch
of the Black/Hispanic gang setting, was interested in finding new horizons.
In our broad-ranging mix of all sorts of neighborhoods and ethnicities, with
danger high and heavy, we had a policy that no organizer could be
unilaterally transferred: he or she had to  fully agree.  Jesse was willing
to spend a fair amount of his time with the [Chicano-Lithuanian]
Neighborhood Redevelopment group [anti-urban renewal and successfully so.]
I spoke first with the Chicano leaders.  No problem with Jesse, none
expected.  Then I went to The Dragon, George, the Lithuanian spokesman, a
saloon owner, and someone who had angrily viewed the marriage of one of his
kids to an Italian as a "mixed marriage."  George, like everyone, liked Jim
and he liked me.  But he had his racial hang-ups on Blacks and exploded when
I told him we were transferring Jesse in as Jim's replacement.  Even the
fact that Jim [with Jesse's ready concurrence] was willing to occasionally
visit his old group, was not even a sunny scratch as far as George was
concerned.

Finally, after his fires had subsided somewhat and knowing exactly how to
proceed, I told George, "It's either Jesse or no one."  He wilted but,
before he fell, I played my next card: "Tell you what," I said cheerfully.
"Let's try it for a month."  On that, he agreed.

In less than a week, they were all good friends -- and Jesse often had a
congenial drink or two after the formal working day was over and he had it
right there in George's heavily White Ethnic drinking spring.  And things
continued to proceed very nicely with the Neighborhood Redevelopment
organization.  In the end, all the neighbors were able to remain in their
homes, industry was kept at arm's length, and the City had to build a small
but attractive park in the setting.

Best, H

_____________________________________________________________________

 
Joan Mulholland writes [and I then respond]

Let me add, John, that you have also worked very
comfortably--and well--with some Southern Whites.
Can't let you forget that!

Joan (Trumpauer) Mulholland--of old-line white Georgia
heritage

Hunter writes:

 
Point very well taken, Joan.  But we have always felt that you, like us and
others, nicely defy any neat categorization.  BTW, in response to my NC
piece, I got a long message from Bob Zellner the other day -- working
outside of the NYC area with the Shinnecock Indians who are fighting for
Federal recognition and a full measure of richly deserved social justice.
Sam's photos of you all's reunion vis-a-vis your historic civil rights
demonstration at the Maryland amusement park came a few days ago and we have
seen them all -- including you, of course, and those platters of food look
very appealing indeed.  We are sending the photos back to Sam, as requested,
in Monday's mail.  Best, H or J

__________________________________________________________________

John Salter writes:

But--just how do you define a fundamentalist?  I have friends with extremely strong religious convictions and they aren't pushing much of an agenda beyond one to their own families.  Is Louis Farrakhan (sp) a fundamentalist?  Osama?  Not trying to pick a fight here, but I would appreciate clarification on the terminology.

John Salter

_______________________________________________________________________
 

Sam Friedman writes:

As I see it, capitalism and its insecurities and disdain for the
oppressed and the worker (and the lower-than-you worker) re-creates
religions of various kinds often in person-hating ways. (This is true,
in my opinion, as a matter of social process, and does NOT speak to the
truth or not of any of your religions necessarily)

Thus, one aspect of ending the fundamentalist threats is to get rid of
capitalism and move towards a non-oppressive, non-disdainful,
non-exploitative society.

But to do that, we need the support of lots of folks who see themselves
as fundamentalists of one kind or another. These folks usually have
other parts of their lives, as workers, as Blacks, or whatever, through
which we can make contact. As struggles around those parts of life heat
up, we will live or die (literally) based on the extent to which we can
win over or neutralize those who now see us as enemies.

And that is what Hunter's notes mean to me-with some important wisdom
on how to do it.

sam [friedman]

______________________________________________________________________

FROM BOB GATELY:

Howdy, HunterRedBear....
  
  Interesting that opposite the page in my Websters from the word," peripatetic" is the peridodic table...It came to me that all your teachings emphases the atomic level of understanding where each element stands alone yet thoroughly connected to the whole of the matter.
  
   Reading your missives and footnotes, we do come to think that you are some form of Virtual Aristotle, inviting one to follow your muses through the web of experience you have participated in.
  
  The roots of your experiences have informed a worldview that embraces the all of human nature and natural order, not to mention the mineral.  What makes it so tough for humans to get organized in a periodiac table of perfection that respects, order ? Why should you an me an, the List have to explain, over and over the message repeated through eons that we are all in/of this world at this time and place for some higher purpose. Dah ?
  
  Deciding how to accomplish a Universal Harmony may not be just a local situation...Going beyond the individual is the Idea. Whats the big idea ? Society, as it is,...no big Idea ? Well, nobody gave me a job description for my place  in the ,Next New World Order, (NNWO) so, wadda ya do ? Set this set out, or toot your horn till somebody listens ? Whats the sense of talkin when nobody wants to listen....?
  
  Indeed, we have to think the Next is different from the Last...We may be Wobbling but we're not da Wobblies...Dey did it, they lost it, they live on in memory's,  yet to be completed...or Not.
  
  Hunter, your musings are truly an inspiration....We are daily transformed by your musing into a World of Possibilities...Delighted to be your audience....Bear with us, dear Hunter, we get it, or we Don't.
  
  Best, Bob


cowboysonmars.com is coming back to earth at the speed of light...Welcome aboard
 
 

HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]   Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
www.hunterbear.org
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'

Check out my very much reprinted piece [in print journals and websites] on
Community Organizing:
http://www.hunterbear.org/my_combined_community_organizing.htm

Honored with The Elder Recognition Award by Wordcraft Circle of Native
Writers and Storytellers:
http://www.hunterbear.org/elder_recognition_award_for_2005.htm


 

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