LEFT UNITY AND LEFT SOLIDARITY -- AND RELIGION AND MORE [HUNTER GRAY 3/4/02] UPDATED 2/10/04
HUNGER U.S.A. [HUNTER GRAY 1/13/02]
Jack Reed, Lenin, and Radicalism -- and a Bit More [Hunter Gray 12/26/01]
VARIOUS COMMENTS -- FOUR THINGS
[HUNTER GRAY MID-JANUARY, 2002]
ORGANIZING AND VOTER ED: TOUGH, TEDIOUS, AND VITAL
[Hunter Gray 12/21/01]
LEFT UNITY AND LEFT SOLIDARITY -- AND RELIGION AND MORE [HUNTER GRAY 3/4/02] UPDATED 2/10/04
Note by Hunter Bear: 2/10/04
A physician I'd never seen before walked by my hospital bed where I was too weak to move very much at all. He spotted something -- a holy medal -- around my neck and he asked, "Who's that?"
"Ignatius," said I. "My Saint, the soldier."
The doctor grinned. "The Basque," he replied. We were both right. The
physician's wife, it turned out was Basque, from Mountain Home in southern Idaho. I explained, too, that the bear claw around my neck was Bear Medicine -- and went very nicely with the former Spanish military officer who became the militant founder of the Jesuits ["No Protestante!"]
He nodded approvingly -- a somewhat unusual doctor.
I posted the attached, following piece a couple of years ago -- and I think
it's high time to send it around again. In the past few weeks -- hell, even
few days -- I've picked up "sign" of several sorts of intensification of
internecine warfare within and between Left groups [a case in point being the long-time but hopefully waning and unfortunate SPUSA internal situation, which has even drawn "catty" and sanctimonious sniping of a personal sort from a few individuals in other radical groups], attacks on religion or a person's beliefs in that context, and even attacks on approaches such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
I have some faith in "western" doctors and "western" medicine -- more with some physicians than with others, but it is hardly unlimited. As I've
indicated, struck a few months ago by an extreme version of the worst kind of always mysterious Lupus -- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus -- I have been hospitalized three times for a total of a month or so [much of this in intensive care] and have come within a thin shade of death on those three occasions. It's attacked a number of my other organs in a predatory and hungry and destructive fashion. The last occasion saw diabetes -- unknown in any of my family lines -- develop full blown. None of the physicians knew anything about Lupus -- or even mentioned the word until late in the game. A definitive diagnosis was finally achieved by a top flight cancer specialist to whom I'd been sent on the apparent assumption I had blood cancer [a fine guy whose charm and arrogance, as I've indicated earlier, were matched only by mine] and by an excellent dermatologist who recognized the extraordinarily large and blood-red rash which enveloped much of my upper body and some of my face.
I hung on and I still hang on -- and I shall continue to hang on.
All through this, let me tell you, I've been damn happy to have Ignatius,
The Bear, a very substantial and widespread and on-going inter-tribal Native prayer circle, the prayers of non-Indians, and just the good thoughts of lots of good folks [some of whom I know to be atheists and agnostics].
I should also add that I'm a member of the extremely supportive Ethical
Humanist Society [Ethical Culture/American Ethical Union.]
When an old Catholic priest came recently to see me, I was glad to see him. A little discomfited momentarily when I told him [in response to his
standard question ] how long it had been since my last confession [I don't even want to say that here], he was much relieved to learn that we still went occasionally to Church and faithfully observed all the sacraments. A bit creatively, my confession to him was that I hadn't confessed for ages -- also that I sometimes have a bad temper. He was very good about it all -- and performed a blessing/healing ceremony which I certainly welcomed.
We believe always in the positive and healing power of supernatural Good Medicine.
And we also believe in militant and democratically visionary grassroots
organizing and fighting for social justice.
We don't believe in Red-baiting, back-biting, or ridiculing fellow workers
and fellow activists -- or anyone -- whose face and movements are
essentially toward The Sun.
So here, apropos of that, is my post:
This is a response, E., regarding your rather
facetious post on religious
fundamentalism --with a take-off on the program of Alcoholics Anonymous: "12 step program for recovering fundamentalists." Because it, in its own way
and however inadvertently, addresses a number of issues concerning Left
solidarity [and the lack of it], I'm posting it in several other places
where these kinds of issues, literally and symbolically, have recently
arisen. I am doing so minus your name [simply as an amenity.]
In a very friendly way, E. -- and, using the old Mississippi term, that "I
do so politely" -- I'm frankly not quite sure why you're on this particular
As you've gathered, and I haven't yet gotten the impression that you and I
differ much in this context, I don't "Red bait." I make my own decisions on
who and with what I hook up and work -- and I speak my own piece. I
certainly have and have always had my strong loyalties -- personally and
organizationally. I can and do debate with passion.
But I'm much, much more inclined to focus my activist attention and my
activist attacks on the bosses and Federal finks et al., and lend my efforts
toward the achievement of social justice and socialist democracy, than I am
on the intricacies of someone's Left affiliations -- now or decades ago.
I've always been inclined to wonder why some Left folk, sometimes even very
nice ones, try to secure a measure of "respectability" or bolster their
sense of personal security -- say, in the eyes of the power structure or
even the liberals! -- at the public expense of other Left persons and
groups. I may have been the only guy -- barely into his twenties -- who, in
the continuing Red Scare [especially in challenging places like Arizona]
could work congenially with three editors from three differing radical
traditions: Fred Thompson [Industrial Worker], the Wobbly; Bert Cochran
[American Socialist], the former Trotskyist -- and fiercely independent
socialist; and Charles Humboldt [Mainstream], the Communist --and a very
ecumenical one indeed who was, very sadly for his publication and his
personal vision, cruelly hatcheted by, as his loyal colleague, the very good
and always enduringly creative Dr Annette Rubinstein put it so bitingly well
in Encyclopedia of the American Left, the "ever more rigidly philistine"
The witch-hunters didn't like those guys or the journals they edited or the
very decent things for which they as humans and editors stood. And the
witch-hunters obviously didn't and don't like me at all. The 3,000 plus
pages of my FBI files that I finally got [not counting several hundred other
pages FBI refuses to give me] and in various batches over many years in the
1980s, have various things hostile to the publications those three fine
editors edited -- and hostile to much, much more [e.g., other labor and
radical things, Native rights, civil rights and civil liberties, peace,
socialism and much else indeed from the Sunny Side.]
Those three veteran Left editors certainly helped me, a very young and
geographically isolated and hot-eyed radical Indian kid just out of the Army
who was learning to organize and write. We were all on the same basic side.
To them, and to many others like them, I owe a debt that's more than just
considerable -- and that holds true for many other Left editors and persons
of various Left faiths right into this present moment. Again, I have my
loyalties and commitments. But, in the last analysis, I guess I make my
judgments on the basis of what people actually do -- are tangibly doing --
to effectively help, in a variety of ways, the "people of the fewest
alternatives." You, E., are certainly and personally doing your best on
that critical front.
On the matter of AA: Fortunately, I'm not an alcoholic -- only by the luck
of whatever draw. I am, however, very careful about how I personally handle
alcohol. And, in my extended family and circle of friends and acquaintances,
there has been considerable alcohol-related tragedy. A good part of my
volunteer time is often spent working with alcoholics [of all sorts of
ethnicities] and their families and that's brought me into very close
association with AA and its related programs -- for which I have the highest
respect. I would never comment on AA and its endeavours jokingly or
To come to the really specific matter at hand: I spend virtually no time at
all worrying about someone else's religion. In the Deep South over a six
year period [1961-67], much of it characterized by the highest drama and
the most extreme danger, I spoke in hundreds of fundamentalist Black
churches. Some of my more poignant memories, "forever etched," are driving
through the dark and hot and lethal Southern night to a particular rural
church -- in piney woods, or swampland, or cotton or tobacco turf -- where
the frightened but brave minister waited with his frightened but brave flock
to hear the message of the frightened but brave young organizer with his
bundle of leaflets and other activist materials. And then, in due course,
all of those frightened but brave people [including the organizer] were in
frightened but brave public demonstrations -- facing an array of utterly
reactionary and violent forces whose desperate viciousness we came to
realize indicated depths and heights of fear far, far greater than ours
could ever be.
Let me tell you -- using the very broad "you:" There are many, many times
when the Movement [with its various attendant dangers] and the social
justice trail one has to take and will -- and in the end, the long range,
will take successfully -- is enhanced mightily by singing, say, "Solidarity
Forever" or "Joe Hill" or -- "We Shall Overcome" [with the words, of
course, "we are not afraid" and "God is on our side."]
I never worry about someone's religion or the Bible or the Book of Mormon or
the Koran -- or whatever else embodies their particular beliefs in that
realm [or, as far as that goes, books that involve the lack of religious
beliefs.] That's their business. They have their views, I have mine. If
the institutional Church gets in the way of an organizing campaign, then
we'll find ways to deal effectively with that roadblock -- and push past it
and on toward the Sun. But on personal religious beliefs, I hold to the
Indian Way: leave me alone with My Way, good luck with Yours, and we'll see
where we all wind up -- wherever and when. We may all be surprised.
In the final scenes of that fine film, the old version of "Inherit the
Wind" -- the Scopes trial, of course -- Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond
[Darrow] stands in the empty Tennessee courtroom. They've all gone --
including his very facetious agnostic friend, [Henry Mencken -- played by
Gene Kelly.] "Darrow" [and, from what I've heard of the great Attorney for
the Damned, this could well be quite precisely what happened] stands with
the Bible in one hand and the Origin of the Species in the other. With a
privately quizzical expression, he weighs each one. And then, smiling, he
claps them together -- and walks out of the court and on to the Next Dragon.
Let's go after the Dragons and not each other.
Yours, Hunter Gray [Hunterbear, John R Salter, Jr] Micmac / St Francis
Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk
Hunter Gray [ Hunterbear ]
HUNGER U.S.A. [HUNTER GRAY 1/13/02]
Hunterbear to Connie Curry [SNCC list]:
Hunger USA [ca. late '60s] involved, among other things, an excellent report by that name -- with a very solid map -- put out by the Citizens Crusade Against Poverty [CCAP] whose director, I'm almost certain, was [Richard?] Boone. With strong labor and church backing, among other support sources, it focused on the Hunger counties and Hunger areas of the United States -- not all of which were [and are] in the South. A number, for example, involved Indian reservations [e.g., Arizona, South Dakota, and many more!] CCAP, in addition to research and publication, did a good deal of solid lobbying for -- hungry people and poor people generally. Poverty surveys, however, had been going at different points for a long time. In addition to those many in the 1930s, some were done in conjunction with the emergent civil rights movement of mid-century.
On a personal note: in the very early part of 1963, I conducted -- at the request of Aaron Henry and Medgar Evers -- some extremely detailed poverty surveys in several rural Mississippi settings: causes and extent and nature and effects of the pervasively rank poverty, cheating of sharecroppers, and the special effects of mechanization-in-cotton [a kind of automation] -- this latter as economic reprisals against the slowly emergent Movement and closely coupled with the blatantly obvious effort to force Blacks off and out and away before they were able to register and vote. Although my primary emphasis was in the Delta [e.g., Coahoma and Tunica counties and slices of others], I also did the non-Delta county of Madison as well. I interviewed primarily Blacks -- but also some poor Whites.
Later I testified before the Mississippi Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights -- and these data were useful in broadening and increasing the flow of surplus commodities and also as supportive data vis-a-vis the developing Food Stamp legislation.
And there were other surveys and studies by others -- much of this in the South, but also across the land. CCAP did a good deal of this later in the '60s.
My basic recollection of CCAP is certainly positive.
And now we have hungry people all over the land -- very hungry people and others on the very brink of that. It's obviously time to make Hunger USA a very major issue once again.
Hunter Gray [John R Salter, Jr]
----- Original Message ----- From: "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" To: "mailto:email@example.com" Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2002 5:54 PM Subject: [SNCC] hunger usa
anyone out there know anything about a group in 70's or thereabouts, maybe earlier called Hunger USA? In her story, Winson Hudson talks about someone coming down from Washington to find hungry people in Leake Cou. nothing on internet that I can find. thanks, Connie Curry.
Jack Reed, Lenin, and Radicalism -- and a Bit More [Hunter Gray 12/26/01]
Greg Pason writes: [On
I'm one who couldn't sympathize with either Reed or the old-guard SP. My
anti-Leninism runs as strong as my anti-liberalism.
When I read, in the context of our continuingly cordial discussion on John
Reed and associated matters, my good friend Greg's comments -- in
response to my good friend Gary's words -- my first thought was, "Jesus,
God -- I want to hit the sack and get at least a couple of hours sleep." [It
is, after all, almost 3 am Mountain Time.] But, gamely, let me just quickly
give my personal opinion for whatever it may be worth on Reed, Lenin,
socialism, Leninism, etc.
Given the totality of the realities at that point in history, I have a
strong hunch that I'd have done it essentially as John Reed did.
Liberalism had taken the country into war and repression; most old guard
socialists [obviously not Debs] had -- via commission and omission --
supported that plunge into the abyss. There was every reason to believe
that -- out of the chaos and bloody horror of widespread global
catastrophe -- a New World was being born in the East and, like all births,
it wasn't emerging like an erector set creation.
The colloquy in the film REDS, between Goldman and Reed in Russia, is
extremely well done and it's obviously very likely that something like that
Roughly paraphrasing via personal recollection: Goldman said, "If socialism
means that the workers own and control the industries, then Russia is one
place where that isn't happening." And Reed responds, "It's happening, Emma.
It isn't happening the way we expected it. But it's happening."
A reading of Ten Days That Shook The World -- as most are aware, Reed's
classic account of the Bolshevik Revolution -- vividly depicts the initial
pre-Dawn light, and then, forthwith, the first rays of that Red Sun and its
Springtime Glow -- and the enormous promise that it offered the world.
And Lenin, in many ways of course, epitomized that promise: had helped to
formulate it -- had with many, many others helped bring it from the womb --
and was articulating it far better than any other person of that epoch.
History is bigger for sure than any individual and the basic historical
drift pushes on -- eon after eon -- with whatever relatively momentary
shifts and turns and transitory frustrations. Yet, in that context, there
can be those points -- sometimes in an extremely tight chronological
frame -- where a "small" something looms large in its ramifications. So the
inevitable question: Had Lenin lived -- then what? I personally think
"things" would have been vastly better and that that Red Sun would not have
had its noontime and very dark eclipse.
As an American, I think that, had Reed lived and returned to the 'States to
work in its radical movement, it's very possible that he would have drawn
kindred spirits and, together, they would have attracted and retained a much
broader sweep of indigenous radicals [including a substantial number of
IWWs -- many of whom were not at all adverse to at least some political
action] in the critical years immediately after World War I. Again, it's
risky, I know, to rest historical cases on any one individual -- but there
are those points where -- " the right spark in the pine needles. . ." Reed
had the youth and the vigour and the visionary idealism -- and the American
cultural credentials -- to have played a major, formative role in the
effective resurgence of Radical/Rebel America. To at least some extent, he
had the ear of Lenin for as long as Lenin lived.
Would John Reed have had the courage to take the lead in circumventing the
entangling directives and conditions being thrown forth via Zinoviev's
fishnets? Reed obviously had that courage -- and somehow I think,
especially with his feet on American soil, that he would have dramatically
bucked Zinoviev et al.
The IWW as an organization rejected the Zinoviev-sent
directives/conditions, and moved further toward pure anarcho-syndicalism.
The emergent Communist movement in the United States -- as elsewhere --
ultimately accepted the Zinoviev position. But the American socio-cultural
situation had been born [albeit with many exceptions!] in and to a tradition
of explicit visionary freedom. I think Reed, and the people he would have
attracted had he lived and returned to this country, could have developed a
genuinely radical -- democratically radical -- movement. It might not have
remained a formal component of the Third International-- probably would not
have -- as things developed in the Soviet Union. But it would have had its
own deeply rooted, indigenous and genuinely radical and democratic
For my part -- never especially ideological and hardly a theoretician by any
yardstick -- I have always felt that a homegrown blending of radical
political socialism and anarcho-syndicalism offers Humanity the best shot at
food and freedom, too. I have no problem seeing Lenin as a great and good
person -- and, along with many, many others in that genuinely altruistic
vein that struggles forever against the Darkness, a person with many
worthwhile insights to offer. But I, of course, make up my own mind -- even
as I [as do we all] try to learn something from the wreckage of the past on
which all present efforts are constructed. And I am an optimist to my very
bone marrow -- as all of us radicals are!
I should add, again, that REDS is a great film -- well worth seeing a number
of times. It's very easily secured, of course, via Net purchase.
And I've always appreciated the fact that the great Indian muralist, Diego
Rivera, often put Lenin into his great Mexican Revolutionary panoramas as
well as other works depicting great challenge and great struggle.
Again, gracias Greg, for one hell of a provocative sentence!
And I apologize for the hastiness of this response. I would assume [at
least hope] that other comments and views will emerge.
In Solidarity - Hunter [Hunterbear]
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Left Discussion Group
VARIOUS COMMENTS -- FOUR THINGS
To the very conservative socialist, Jim Chapin on
ASDnet, January 13, 2002:
Your cryptic remarks on ASDnet, Jim Chapin, have
always struck me as
strange -- odd, oblique little thrusts: diversionary darts, not arrows.
In any case, whatever interest a trip to Washington, DC and Teddy Roosevelt
might have engendered for Geronimo, it's obvious from much that he said [and
that his close descendants said] that nothing -- anywhere -- could ever have
replaced a return to his Apacheland of the Southwest. That was forever
denied him -- and many of his colleagues -- by a United States government
which had given its solemn assurances in 1886 that those Apaches could
remain in their homeland. The Federal government broke its word there -- as
it had on countless prior occasions and as it has on countless occasions
since. If you haven't, you might read Dee Brown's excellent Bury My Heart
At Wounded Knee and Vine Deloria's very thorough Behind the Trail of Broken
But what do you think, Jim Chapin, about the basic thrust of the post I
made: the news story that this country, which has pursued an undeclared war
against Afghanistan and bombed unto death several thousand of its civilians,
is now taking the Afghan defenders to Cuba [a country perennially denounced
by our politicos as a Dangerous Enemy, but at which we have maintained for
decades a major and aggressive military base] -- not as "prisoners of war"
for whom the Geneva Convention provides at least some protection but,
shackled and chained and hooded, as "dangerous criminals" against whom no
charges have been pressed?
Surely, the many levels of bitter and paradoxical irony in all of this would
draw from you a more tasty morsel than we've just gotten. Socialist
On the spurious effort to quietly develop a
United States National ID Card via the various state motor vehicle departments [January
This is a concerted effort to force a national United
States ID card via
the back door. Personally, I hope it's killed and damn fast.
This unsavory maneuver began to leak out about three weeks ago. At that
point, from what I noted, it was ladled out pretty consistently in a
relatively sanitized mainline media context. Even with that saccharine
cover, there were quite justified expressions of alarm.
This is from EPIC -- Electronic Privacy Information Center -- and provides
some helpful links. Obviously, this whole national ID scheme stems from the
very authoritarian [to couch it politely] Bush/Ashcroft mentality -- but
let's also remember that it was the reactionary Clinton who consistently
tried to tie drivers' licenses and highway funds to his pet agenda items --
around the same time he was pushing through his own rights-mangling 1996
Anti-Terrorism Act. [As Arkansas governor, Clinton had forced a policy that
denied drivers' licenses to kids who failed to stay in high school.] It
was Reagan who used highway funding to hammer all states into raising the
legal drinking age to 21. Although I hold no brief for "dead-beats" in the
welfare obligation thing -- though recognizing that people can fall on
genuinely hard and extenuating circumstances -- I'm glad we were able to
kill a proposal several years ago in the North Dakota legislature that would
have denied hunting and fishing licenses to fathers who didn't keep up their
child support payments.
Well, anyway. I don't like fences and corrals except for livestock. My
conception of socialism is food and freedom, too -- and the maximum number
of realistic choices for everyone. And I certainly like lots of reasonable
pluralism and diversity. Much of that. Increasingly, the policy faces I see
in Washington -- grim, stony, paranoid and always in very dark suits --
remind me of the completely humorless antediluvian creatures that hung out
in the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Senate Internal Security
Sub-Committee, and Joe McCarthy's coven -- and always in the consistently
Hatchet-forces for the employing class? For sure. And also "keepers of a
narrow orthodoxy" whose only movement is what Darrow, at Dayton, charged in 1925: "Marching backward, ever backward, right back into the Middle Ages."
Patriot Act and disappearances, summary arrests and imprisonment, military
tribunals and star chamber proceedings, subversive lists, national ID
cards -- all part and parcel of the Big Barnyard. And what's next? Public
floggings and executions?
We all know what happens to livestock.
Other things we could worry about -- but don't do it [January 14, 2002]
Note by Hunterbear [a reassuring word]:
As if the raging fires of fear and hysteria -- spontaneous and deliberately
induced -- did not engender a full table already of scary specters, the Feds
would now like us to worry even more. And this time it's not just
conventional things -- terrorists and Ashcroft's night-riders and all. It's
our furry and feathered and scaly friends.
But take it from an Indian and a Real Outdoorsperson: I don't think you
have to worry. If you're out in the boonies, use some logical [and
intuitive] good sense. If you hear a rattler buzzing, back off. If you see
a skunk drooling in broad daylight, stand 'way back -- not because of spray
but because of rabies. If you see Momma Bear with her cubs, leave fast or
hunt up a tree. And if you go swimming in scorpion country, shake out your
clothes before you put'em back on [a buddy of mine once had to sit all day
in cold Phantom Creek in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.]
Where I live right now, there are many coyotes [great singers in the early
morning], two mountain lions [shy and, when glimpsed, impressive], lots of
bobcats [they're fine and I have, of course, my one-half bobcat cat.] And
the rattlers, who just want to be left alone, are OK, too. Too cold for
scorpions and the skunks are pretty normal. Bears aren't too far away at
all -- but, for them, it's live and let live. As I say, just don't get
close to the cubs.
A fair part of my life has been spent out in the open under the Big Sky --
and I'm unbit and unstung and not a bit worried. That is, I'm not a bit
worried about our relations that travel on four legs, that fly, that wiggle.
They're honest. You know where they stand.
But I'm concerned as hell about some people in Washington and such. And I
mean lots of them.
ON TODD GITLIN ET AL. [HUNTER GRAY
This is a very quick comment apropos of the Gitlin
discussion [at ASDnet and
elsewhere ] and the comments by Nathan Newman and others on the
difficulties involved in working with certain Left groups and "tendencies."]
I'm not shooting here at anyone -- except the long ago co-opted Todd
Gitlin -- but:  the American Left [organizational, non-affiliated, and
potential] is one hell of a lot greater geographically and population-wise
than, say, New York City or the Bay Area; and,  let's not fall into the
oft-trap of the late 1940s and much of the 1950s when too many Left and
related folk refused to do anything at all because "certain other groups"
might be involved -- i.e., a cop-out; and  let us be extremely careful to
avoid any version of "red-baiting." Our formal adversaries -- Bush/Ashcroft
& Company -- are using every resource at their command to return us to the
bleak and grim and paranoid epoch of the late '40s and the '50s. Let's keep
our faces always to the Sun and to the Future.
In Solidarity - Hunter [Hunterbear]
[A reponse from Duane Campbell, Chair of DSA Anti-Racism Commission:
" . . .I agree with Hunter in his response to Nathan. Although
examples from New York are interesting, the country and the anti war
movement are much larger than New York.
While respecting my New York comrads, as I read Nathan's point, and
this debate, the folks in New York have been particularly
traumatized, and subsequently appear to have been thrown
particularly into a divisive sectarian frenzy."]
For RedBadBear [copies to several others]
ORGANIZING AND VOTER ED: TOUGH, TEDIOUS, AND VITAL
By Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Micmac / St Francis Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk
The post mortems on the Florida electoral situation of a year ago have been
virtually endless. Calls for "reforms" -- generally statutory and Federal
in nature -- have been frequent. All well and good but, to me and to many
others, effective grassroots organizing is still the most basic dimension in
achieving substantial victories -- whether political or otherwise.
In the realm of political action, this certainly applies whether one is
functioning, say, within the Democratic party or the Green movements -- or
from a Left related independent perspective.
As I see it -- and I've been a consistent social justice organizer
since 1955 -- systematic and enduring grassroots organizing is Genesis.
It's tedious, wearing, frustrating -- and absolutely crucial in the "Save
the World Business." [Our very large social justice website --
An effective organizer seeks to get grassroots people together -- and does;
develops on-going and democratic local leadership; deals effectively with
grievances and individual/family concerns; works with the people to achieve
basic organizational goals and develop new ones; and builds a sense of the
New World To Come Over The Mountains Yonder -- and how all of that relates
to the shorter term steps. An effective organizer has to be a person of
integrity, courage, commitment. And a person of solidarity and sacrifice.
Let's take a look at the Florida situation -- recognizing that in that
setting, as elsewhere, there has been nothing in recent times comparable to
the massive obstacles to voter registration and voting that existed prior to the
Civil Rights Movement [and many associated efforts] and the passage of the
Voting Rights Act of 1965: terror, economic reprisals, poll tax,
"interpretation" requirements, "literacy" tests. There were obstacles in
Election 2000 -- but nothing even remotely like the Bad Old Days.
In Florida [and in some other settings], the NAACP and comparable civil
rights groups did an excellent job in registering new voters and they did a
first-rate job in getting people to the polls.
But -- they fell down badly on the "middle piece" --
i.e., providing intensive voter education for the newly registered voters.
They may have done a little of this but, frankly, not very much at all.
That piece of it -- intensive and thorough pre-election voter education --
is hard and tedious. It involves everything from a massive, paper tornado
of how-to-do-it-stuff and a flood of sample ballots, to role-playing, to basic
and specific discussion of civil rights violations and what to do effectively about those. It's a matter of working very directly with the new registrants
themselves -- but also training key community leaders -- e.g., clergy,
teachers, civic organizational spokespersons, union leaders -- in order that they, too, can themselves provide accurate training directly to the new voters at the most basic grassroots level.
The other dimension involves developing an intricate network of trained
poll-watchers and liaison people [the latter linked to private attorneys
and Federal officials] in order to deal swiftly -- and as preventatively as
possible -- with violations of voter rights.
And another piece is responding to the anticipated large turnout by
effectively demanding, well in advance, that state officials set up
additional polling places -- with up-to-date voting machines -- and to do whatever else is necessary to ensure that the election runs smoothly and fairly on all counts.
The adversaries will use every device and trick to void ballots and to
otherwise sabotage the fairness of the election process. It's incumbent on
our side to utilize every resource at our command to reduce this as much as
possible -- and then to have the solid basis for effective legal and other
protest in those instances where violations of voter rights do occur.
I initially learned about much of this, especially the voter registration
part of it, when Arizona was using "literacy tests" and other devices to
keep Chicanos and Native Americans from registering and voting -- a practice
which was ended only by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I cut my teeth on
this as a kid at and around Flagstaff, where my parents were always very
actively involved in these issues and battles.
And I personally learned a great deal about all of this -- hard-fought voter
registration and education and related issues -- from the always excellent,
very democratic and egalitarian, and quite radical International Union of
Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in settings where much of our membership was Chicano and there were also significant numbers of Apache and Papago Indians, and some Navajo people.
And I learned an enormous amount about voter registration and voter
education -- over many years -- under extraordinarily difficult
circumstances in the Southern Movement.
One of several cases in point:
In one of a number of hard-fought Southern campaigns -- focused initially on
a very hard-core Klan-infested Blackbelt county [Halifax Co., N.C.] -- where
virtually no Blacks or Indians had been able to register and vote since
Reconstruction, we used a wide variety of resources. [I was the Field
Organizer for the Southern Conference Educational Fund: grassroots civil
rights and anti-Klan organizing.]
During an eight month period, I spoke to at least 250 meetings; we ran a
large number of non-White candidates; used top-flight lawyers to win a major
Federal voting order and forced the Justice Department into the situation; and we disseminated many thousands of pieces of mimeographed and printed literature.
We registered several thousand brand-new voters -- people who, certainly
through no fault of their own, had never voted before in an official public
A major effort of ours focused on voter education: we brought the SCLC
Citizenship School staff in from Savannah to help train local leaders to
conduct grassroots gatherings on how-to-vote-effectively. We put out
thousands more copies of our own material and used a great deal of stuff
contributed by the AFL-CIO. During the various voting days -- two primaries
and one general election -- we had, in addition to our own people as
poll-watchers and "crisis runners" -- a large number of law students from
Georgetown and Yale.
The "other side," of course, had a historically accumulated majority -- and
our candidates did not win at that point. [But those tangible electoral
victories certainly did come later.] What this effort did was to register
thousands of new voters in one of the most repressive Southern counties and
get them to the polls to vote in a series of elections -- with very few
We also used economic boycotts and militant nonviolent direct action on
other, related issue fronts: e.g., segregated and substandard facilities,
employment discrimination, police brutality, Klan terror, cheating of
sharecroppers, surplus commodities for poor people -- and much, much more.
This campaign not only opened up Halifax County -- but was the major
initial wedge of our intensive and broad-based campaign which then moved
effectively across the geographically far-flung, multi-county Northeastern
North Carolina Blackbelt.
We did this extensively in Chicago multi-issue block club organizing in the
'70s -- where formal obstacles were not the problem but outright fraud
certainly was -- via the Daley Machine. [I was Southside Director for the
Chicago Commons Association, a large private social justice organization.]
But we had significant successes -- including dumping a Daley Alderman and
replacing him with a woman who was a Black Independent Democrat. There,
too, careful organization -- and very careful voter education -- was the
consistent key to victory. Another key was building bridges based on mutual
goals, mutual respect, and enlightened self-interest between the various "ethnicities of the fewest alternatives" -- especially Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican.
There are many models for effective political action -- registration, voter
education, voting: a myriad of effective organizing approaches over the
epochs [settlement houses, unions, multi-issue community organization, some
of the more tenacious radical groups, etc.]
Notable efforts specializing in this with respect to the Opening South of
the 1960s and beyond involved the aforementioned Citizenship Schools
pioneered by Mrs Septima Clark of SCLC, the Voter Education Project
administered through the Southern Regional Council, and the veteran and
still very much around Highlander Research and Education Center based in
Tennessee [which, in its historic Southwide education campaigns, had
initially trained Mrs Septima Clark herself.]
Next time around in this New Century, I'm sure there will be, All Over The
Land, extensive voter registration and voter mobilization and organization
and, in all great likelihood, very intensive voter education campaigns, and
all of the other related dimensions that need to be pursued and pushed. But
let's make absolutely sure this time -- and well in advance!
In Solidarity, Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Note by Hunter Gray: DSA Anti-Racism Commission has asked to use this material. I, of course, have gladly agreed. And, note by HG 3/05/03: It has just been published prominently on the website of the Commission -- which is linked to the main website of Democratic Socialists of America.