WORKING ORGANIZER'S PAGE: Philosophy,
Values, Strategies [By Hunter Gray]
This section of our website -- initiated July 10 2001 -- is consistently up-dated and expanded. A new component, posted September 21, 2001, is Deja Vu -- A Mountain Of It. Another new component, posted September 5, 2001, is My Fiery Debate Post On The 'Sixties [And The 'Fifties] And Now.
Among the other recent components are my 8/30/01 DSA discussional letter; 7/10/01 letter to DSA, CCDS, SPUSA et al.; discussion notes of mine -- 7/18/01 -- on Left radical "openness" and unity; and my 6/12/01 essay on grassroots-up organizing vs. top-down stuff -- with South/Southwest Side Chicago as example.
[Note: We have, in addition to this page, the new Organizer 2 page -- immediately following this one. And now following that, Organizer 3 !]
DEJA VU: A MOUNTAIN OF IT - HG [POSTED 9/21/01]
There has been something in the tenor of some of the
most recent ASDnet
interchanges [with sparks hitting some other lists] that has riled me in an
unusual way -- and, as is so often the case, sleeping on it brings the
perspective [at least one's personal one] to the fore.
For me, it's very much a kind of deja vu -- going back, deep into the
Sixties, when the Southern Movement, rising from all of the earlier
traditions [slave revolts to the sharecropper unions and the CIO efforts and
much, much more] reached from the red soil and the black earth and the pine
trees and in the most hideous places to catch History and ride toward the
Sun. The Adversaries, of course, were legion: entrenched racist
traditions, White Citizens Councils, Klan, legions of police, etc et al.
But for the Movement and its cutting edge, there was always another major
problem -- down at and around the smouldering and smoky grassroots.
That was the "moderate" -- frequently, but not always, the "white moderate."
The moderate spent a great deal of time, not in challenging the evil of the
segregationist system and its extraordinarily exploitative economic
dimensions, but in worrying "about going too fast," or stewing about the
possibility of "Communist infiltration," or being troubled about being
politically "impractical," or condemning Movement activists because a portion of a demonstration broke the discipline of tactical nonviolence and threw rocks
and bottles at hostile and brutal police. Martin King addressed the problem
presented by the "moderate" in his classic "Letter from the Birmingham Jail"
and, in Jackson, around that same time, we ignored and bypassed those deeply
inhibiting forces and were able to get a great and good fire burning in the
very crucible of racist intransigence.
On speaking trips in the North, one often encountered the person [not the
bona fide and experienced pacifist] who was shattered and bitterly indignant
when he or she heard that, on occasion and in a sensible and studied
fashion, civil rights people defended themselves with firearms -- against
night-riding Klan attacks -- and suddenly the meeting would be, for a few
moments derailed from its basic purpose of Movement support, until brought
back on track by the realistic activists. Another version of this was the
person who could simply not accept the fact that John and Robert Kennedy
were not the main spark-plugs of the Movement and, indeed, were in many
respects negative forces which could "pragmatically" subvert it when that
fit their own political self-interest.
Now, as I commented earlier, as this country plunges toward a
multi-dimensional abyss -- and carries much of long suffering global
Humanity along with it -- there are those who are rising to the occasion,
reaching out to History, groping toward the Sun: incisive statements and
dialogue; words as "good bullets;" challenging the cowardice of the
Democratic "liberal-left;" -- stirring up a whirlwind of non-violent [
whether tactical or deeper-in-conviction] demonstrations; and, in the best
traditions of Debs and Haywood and [M] Jones and Thomas and Muste and King and Chavez and a multitude of others, moving to become, as best they can, the cutting edge of social justice decency and historical/contemporary
meaning in the finest traditions of American radicalism.
And there are the others: those who worry about "Leninism" and comment in
facetious fashion about "party-lines" and "commissars;" who fret about
Ramsey Clark [and, BTW, I think that, whatever the sins of Yugoslav
leadership, the more than three months of US bombing by the Democratic administration constitutes one of the great war crimes of the 20th century]; rationalizing the yet again cave-in and capitulation of the Democratic "liberals;" prefacing their statements on the current crisis by adding to the
now-mountain of redundant denunciations of its obvious hideousness; and, in
whatever de facto fashion, joining the Republican administration -- and its
Democratic bi-partisans -- in calling for broad and sweeping and devastating
military revenge [and the consequently huge pile of dead civilians.]
I should add, as a personal aside, that Jim and Leo and anyone else in New
York -- or elsewhere -- certainly has every human reason to be thoroughly
traumatized. But no movement should ever be confined to the prisons of
that pathos, however genuine and understandable that might be. And, at a
certain point [and I say this at the risk, however meaningless it may be, of again being called a would-be "commissar" by Leo] , they should refrain from carping criticisms and "smart" remarks vis-a-vis the bona fide activists who are
really trying to do something significantly meaningful.
Bill Haywood said it well at Paterson -- to a delegation of local clergy who
were urging him [they were unaware -- until he told them -- of the 127 person
strike committee] -- to "go slow" and not precipitate a "crisis."
"In an I.W.W. strike, there isn't room for anybody except the working class
and the bosses," he told them, pushing them aside. "Anybody else is excess
baggage." [Solidarity, April 19, 1913.]
I always remembered reading those words. I remembered those in Jackson and I remember them now.
And there's a related dimension in this current discussional context: you
can't be a radical and be respectable, too. You can't walk two trails at
the same time.
This is, obviously, a discussion list with many views. But it's also an
interesting measure of DSA -- for people like myself, removed
geographically and culturally from New York City. I joined DSOC in
the late 1970s -- and [with one major exception] I have never yet, at any
point, picked up any enduringly significant indication that DSA is much
interested -- really interested in an on-going fashion -- in the thoughts
and opinions of its world that lies west of NYC and Philly. The one great
exception is, of course, the excellent Anti-Racism Commission and its
collateral dimensions and its commitment and work, and certainly the
faithful bulletin, which have done infinitely more to keep me in DSA than
all of the rest of it multiplied 100 times.
Whatever of substance is done in DSA relating to "people of color," it's
obviously via the Anti-Racism Commission -- and, if anything continues to be
done on that critical front, it will obviously be via that fine river.
Speaking for myself, this series of colloquies has been extremely revealing.
I may say little on ASDnet for a good spell -- in fact, I really haven't
said much at all lately -- but I am one of the people who continues to watch
and assess bona fide commitment and relevancy -- and the lack of it;
courage -- or hesitancy; carping and tedious intellectualizing -- or
forthright, crisis-focused activism.
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
My Fiery Debate Post On The 'Sixties [And The 'Fifties] And Now -- [HG]
One of the intriguing characteristics of X's
strange, but all
too common position, is the interesting effort to blame the people who were
in the Movement
trenches in the various '60s sectors for the "breakup" of things at the
close of that decade and into the
seventies . [Sounds like he's even trying to blame their offspring of
today!] As I've said, I think X knows nothing about any of this --
and I doubt he knows much about the contemporary period beyond primarily
arm-chair theorizing. What's even more interesting is that this bizarre
contention seems to have stirred at least an implicit echo or two in a
couple of quarters on our List.
I'm not inclined to spend a massive amount of time endeavouring to respond
to people who are heavily concerned about "generational chauvinism" and who
make sour comments about "flower children" or the "nostalgic generation."
My basic and very friendly suggestion to you all who are troubled by what
you see as these things [ or
whatever] is to do a hell of a lot of wide-ranging reading and a great deal
of listening -- before you, too, pass judgment. [And that's advice I
try to give to myself.]
I offer no rigid erector set formulas for the Save the World Business. From
the reality perspective, there are no such things.
I've always considered myself fortunate, long before the 1960s began,
not only to have been the offspring of reading parents, and a patron of
libraries; but to have also spent a vast amount of time hearing and
learning directly from a great number of much older veteran radicals and
Left union organizers whose memories and lessons spanned the beginning of
century right into the 1950s. Very much to the point, I often worked
directly with them when I was still quite young -- frequently in very
organizing campaigns and under very tough and hostile circumstances.
So when I went to Mississippi in the foreboding Summer of '61,
I carried with me a hell of a big duffel bag brim-full of organizing tools
and techniques -- and, more than that, I had a radical Vision. And I also
had a strong sense of how you combine that visionary radicalism with
sensible and effective pragmatism.
[Furthermore, I've always tried to learn everything I can from everyone
around me -- and very much indeed from grassroots people.]
I and many others reached out and caught History and were privileged to ride
with it. I make no apologies for "having been there" and having insights
which clash with the ex post facto analyses of arm-chair jawsmiths.
This country in the 1950s was largely covered by the grim, gray clouds of
Red Scare repression, apathy, and apathetic futility -- but, even in that
cold and ostensibly barren setting, things [e.g., Montgomery bus boycott,
dissident students, and much more] were brewing. Then came the 1960s:
[On November 23, 2000, I posted on this List a long discussion and
analysis of the Civil Rights Movement: "Radicals -- And Troops -- In The
South And Other Things." You can quickly check it out. Later, I expanded
it a bit and it ran on a few other lists -- but our List, right here, has it
almost completely. It's easily located in List Archives.
Note by HG: It's also found en toto elsewhere on this Website:
In the concluding portion of that I wrote:
"There were very positive changes which eventually emerged: breaking the
hard-lines of resistance to social change, the achievement of the right to
organize and dissent and the development of widespread local leadership,
the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, the beginnings of desegregation and
some integration, widespread Black political participation and activism, an
end to most open terrorism, a basis for interracial and democratic unionism.
But the really radical promise of the Southern Movement of the 1950s and
1960s -- the emergence of bona fide socialism did not, of course,
materialize. The social class dichotomies of the Southern Movement, joined
by the integrationist/separatist debates -- all of this in the context of
these initial positive victories, much tokenism, and continuing massive
economic poverty -- combined to fragment much of the solidarity which had
initially characterized the Movement in its springtime.
The never-ending manipulative and repressive maneuvers of finance
capitalism and stratospheric corporate liberalism and their more localized
the War -- even as it fueled worthy protest, the machiavellian usage of the
Economic Opportunity Act -- and, very much indeed,
the FBI and its Cointelpro poisoning and hatchet-jobbing -- all had an
extraordinarily destructive impact. Much of this all was certainly going on
nationally on a myriad of
fronts, and much is still continuing today."
- hunter gray
Two other dimensions at this point:
1] The rebellions in the Black ghettoes of the North in the 1960s --
which had their own unique sociology -- did a hell of lot to bring some
multi-faceted positive change to those hideous settings and to the country
as a whole.
2] If there hadn't been a militant and broad-based anti-war movement, no
one knows what burgeoning catastrophes would have been spread by the United
States -- and some others -- across the globe.
[And, as a related aside, I can't imagine anyone seriously trying to write
off the impact of the Chicago 7 Trial, Benjamin Spock, Daniel Ellsburg, Bill
Kunstler and his myriad of visionary and healthy legal victories and
precedents -- and the martyrdom at Kent State and Jackson State -- and
everyone and everything else who poured their idealism and courage into all
of those crucibles.]
A point that I made in my second post re the X thing was this:
"And I don't think you know anything, either, about dreaming
big; and then actually getting a long, long way in tangible accomplishment
and over really bloody turf toward that Vision -- only to see the
multi-faceted diabolical [secularly speaking] cunning and brutal
repression of the most Machiavellian citadel of finance capitalism on the
globe stall and stop things at that point along that bloodstained trail."
Once again, unless you've been in one or more of the genuine versions of
actual combat, you'll have trouble understanding what the survivors
sometimes wish: i.e., that they'd been killed, too. This was common enough
in the aftermath of Korea, and certainly Viet Nam -- and it was also a
hall-mark for many activists in the aftermath of the 1960s, [There's an
excellent website some of you might wish to check out which, in part,
addresses some of these continuing and ghostly things: Civil Rights
I was one of many people who simply kept on keeping on as I always have,
frankly -- organizing at the grassroots in many arenas -- in all the decades
that followed. [That's always been my "best therapy."] I'm still doing it.
And now there are many more doing bona fide radical social justice
organizing. And there'll be vastly more!
The country that existed in the 1970s and beyond was not the same country
in which I'd
come of age at the beginning of the 1950s -- or even that at the end of that
drab and openly racist and brutally repressive decade. The '60s changed all
of that very fundamentally. And virtually all of those changes have been
for the better -- major steps far up into the mountains -- and toward the
World. Almost every activist who went through that decade -- even if many
left the field in the on-going sense -- still retained the basic idealism
that he/she had contributed and drawn vis-a-vis the 1960s. It showed up in
their activist-oriented college/university teaching, in their successful
opposition (which was joined by ever younger generations) to the conniving
and imperialistic United
States schemes in Latin America and elsewhere, in their day to day racial
and other human relations. And, in most instances, that rich '60s legacy
continues right along.
And now, fortunately, there is the heavy thunder of New Things Coming.
I really think there is now very good reason for sensible optimism -- in the
United States [and at least in some other parts of the world at this
time] -- vis-a-vis what I call, somewhat presumptuously, the "Save the
Looking at the 20th century in the US, we can see it commencing with all
sorts of positive radical and reform movements perking up and flowing out --
from the IWW to the Society of American Indians -- then hitting a stretch of
reaction [ WWI and then the first Red Scare and the twenties], but then the
Dust Bowl and the Depression and the eruption of social movement on all
kinds of fronts and into WW2 and the broad struggle against fascism and
Nazism; and then another Red Scare period but, even within that [i.e.,
1954/55], the beginnings of the massive civil rights movement, its rapid
rise and the consequent rejuvenation of other movements and initiation of
new ones -- and then into the Viet Nam war issues and much movement on that
front, finally Wounded Knee etc -- and then a long and generally dry period
[but with a few green oases at least -- and plenty of still-burning sparks.]
But never before, in recent historical times, has this country gone so
without healthy broad-based social movement -- more than a quarter century.
The victims have been many [and just one of those many has been widespread
and genuine radicalism.] But now, there are many new and healthy and very
strong winds blowing.
And all of this reminds me a great deal of the end of the
1950s, when, at first look, most of the social justice geography still
seemed arid -- but there were very substantive stirrings building -- and
the distant drums were ever so more audible -- and then: The Sixities in all
of their feathered fervor!
I think we're heading into a great new era with all sorts of constructive
hell-raising grassroots stuff [and with all sorts of positive political and
legal ramifications] in our own living future. I'm a radical -- and really
a grassroots organizer by calling and vocation and I see that --
organizing -- as Genesis. And The New Beginning, thank God, is finally
underway once again. Keep optimistic, powder dry and arrows sharp!
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
DSA DISCUSSION: Let's Not Get Too Precious
Personally, I find even the so-far relatively minimal
comments about a "new"
DSA list -- the discussions restricted purely to essentially internal
matters -- to be disturbing. The possible dimensions mentioned -- members
only, somewhat moderated, charges and possible expulsions -- all seem to me
characteristic of a yearning to "retreat into preciousness" and quite
antithetical to the compelling need to reach out -- ever outward and far
beyond. Anything like that could very easily slip into the "doll house and
china shop syndrome" and, in conjunction, veer off into all sorts of
intricate ideological fencing.
And ideologically exquisite knifepersonship [?] would, I suspect, certainly
be exaggerated in any organizationally internalized crucible -- and would
definitely turn off persons like myself, who have always cut our teeth in
grassroots and tangibly effective and vision-promoting industrial unionism
and general activist community organization [where our hearts obviously
still remain], and who've always been somewhat bored by late afternoon
faculty meeting pontificating. I don't stalk out of those settings when
they reach that point. If I can't get the drift of discussion back into
meaningful waters, I just go to sleep.
Issue and tactical and generally visionary discussions are one thing --
fine. Ideological refining -- "my page of this vs. your page of that" --
ain't my glass of Scotch and I suspect there are plenty of others who feel
the same way.
I don't think there's any problem at all in talking about issues, tactics
and general vision on ASDNET. Seems to me that all of that's been moving
along quite well indeed. And the various matters that arise here -- e.g.,
organizing techniques, the critical need for functional solidarity with all
peoples' justice movements in this Hemisphere, pros-and-cons of independent
politics and when and where, plusses and minuses of "boring from within,"
which alliances and when, working-class values and inclinations, the
not-always-well- known-to-everyone trails of the various ethnic and gender
and preference communities, the poisons of racism and ethnocentrism and
homophobia and other anti-people isms, civil liberties in the context of the
socialist world, and vastly more -- all flow into our stormy little world
of ASDNET where rain falls and things grow.
ASDNET goes off into all sorts of wild and wooly directions -- some are
obviously more interesting to some people than to others -- but there is
clearly a basic solidarity and a basic direction and we all learn much from
each other -- even if it frequently grates. Every single one of us brings
certain unique experiences, commitments, visions into this mixing machine.
And people like the intriguing and mysterious issodhos, and others from
the Hinterland, help keep us on our toes. We may not be able to codify
this process in sociological black-board formulae, but the chemistry -- the
alchemy -- in all of this really does have much indeed to do directly with
positive DSA perspective, growth and expansion.
If there are ASDNET tangents that turn some off, then those people are
obviously free to delete that little corner of the world and go on to other
things for the moment. And, I say again, rather than leave in a noisy
tempest, the best way of meeting what one sees as a void challenge, is to
simply start posting in one's own area of priority concern. Don't cut
out -- talk! Raise hell.
These sorts of sparky and sometimes downright turbulent discussional
experiences are Rivers of No Return. Who know what lies beyond the next
bend? Let's stick together, even on the rough water, and find out.
Traveling along -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Idaho [where there is, literally, The River of No
Radical Unity/Organizing/Activism: Letter to Democratic Socialists of America, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Socialist Party USA -- and Others
Early in the morning in Idaho. An extraordinarily dangerous drought --
water shortages, extreme fire danger -- may finally be breaking via
I've been personally much impressed by the thoughtful nature of the
discussions regarding DSA, other democratic socialist organizations, their
roles and their future, socialist unity, etc: Duane Campbell's sensitive
and sensibly directive/non-directive approach; Jason Schulman's provocative
and productive contributions; David McReynold's fine blend of historical and
contemporary insights; much very good thinking from others -- new friends
and old. All of this and much more certainly, to me and I'm sure to many
others, provides the short answer to Duane's now-asked question: "Does DSA
have a future?" As I see it, the answer, of course, is an obvious and very
And so do the other democratically socialist groups have a solid future --
both very realistic and very promising.
And quickly, as I've said before, I believe DSA's commissions -- and
comparable bodies in other organizations -- are absolutely critical. These
are crucial communities in the primary, gemeinschaft sense.
My association with DSA is long-standing. But, of course, I am also a very
loyal member of CCDS and SPUSA and my words apply in those fine directions,
too. And certainly to other comparable outfits: Solidarity, Freedom Road,
and some others.
I'd say that, very much now, History -- never static nor stagnant -- is
moving swiftly. And it's moving along our lines and toward our Sun.
All of "our groups" -- well grounded in the traditions of democratic
discourse and the recognition that the free minds of people will indeed
accept truth and reject error -- are certainly pointed at least in a
sensibly Left direction. But it's critical that these groups "open out --
not in": i.e., reach out in every principled fashion to new people, new
coalition efforts, new projects and fresh and innovative approaches to old
ones; every possible use of old media approaches and the constant
exploration of the new ones in the still-strange world of cyberspace
sociology -- and much, much more.
These are basic, obvious dimensions -- some of this is presently underway --
but much of this still bogs down across the land in oft-empty "jaw-smithing"
and wistful thinking and planning a future that's never brought to tangible
materialization. Effective [radical] social justice organizing is the
hardest and the most tedious work there is -- and the most satisfying, in my
opinion -- and it starts in very basic ways: person-to-person stuff, house
to house work, lonely little meetings, the first sentence of the first page
of the newsletter, listening and then acting.
And, hard as it may be for some good folks to believe, it really doesn't
always take a great deal of money to do bona fide and effective radical
justice organizing! In fact, much more often than not, it takes very
little. But it does take a good cause and a powerful people commitment: a
commitment to the concept of serving one's community rather than serving
It also means answering telephone calls and responding to letters [e-mail or
otherwise.] Although I have done substantial organizing work in the cities
of the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, and Rochester [NY], most of my life has
been spent in the "hinterland:" Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Deep South,
Northern Plains, Intermountain West. In most cases, unless you've been
similarly situated, you will never know how critically important letters
and e-mails -- and organizational media and literature -- are to people in
the "far off" places: settings where the social justice challenges are not
only brutally compelling [as they are everywhere] but where, because of the
relative isolation, things can be very, very dangerous as well. The old
radicals -- wherever they were situated and working -- always answered their
letters. Duane Campbell and David McReynolds -- and some many others --
know very well what I mean.
And for others -- who get queries and comments from the provinces and who,
being genuinely good people fully intend to get around to replying but so
often never do -- let's start answering us! It doesn't really cost anything
financially, may not even take much time, but it certainly means a hell of a
lot to the people Out Yonder.
And it means -- if I can be quite personal for a moment -- a great deal for
a Native person to encounter people within the
larger-concentrations-of-the-organizations who are willing to devote some
time and genuinely empathetic interest vis-a-vis the concerns of Indian
people and others [e.g., Native Hawaiians] so often ignored in the
racial/ethnic check-offs. From that standpoint, DSA Anti-Racism has my very
enduring loyalty and commitment -- now and forever.
Personally, I don't think that pervasive-merger [blending] between any of
the democratic socialist groups is likely at any time soon -- nor even
amalgamation-merger [formal association with maintenance of individual group
identity] -- and I don't think that's at all critical. But I think what is
crucial is stepped up inter-organizational dialogue at all levels: dialogue
that's transposed into tangible action around solid and substantive issues,
through action coalitions or joint-councils [however loosely organized they
may be], contributing articles across organizational lines to the print or
cyberspace media of "the other groups" -- anything that brings us together
and builds up our cumulative momentum. I certainly would not rule out the
sort of thing that flared, however briefly, with such great promise in the
tough and lean times of the mid and latter '50s: the American Socialist
Union concept carried by Bert Cochran and others: a very loose structure
but very close inter-organizationally and inter-personally.
But, in the most basic sense, the Save the World Business starts -- as it
always does and as most of the people on these Lists are aware -- with the
individual activist combining with others and embarking on the very hard and
tedious job of multi-faceted person-to-person organizing: organizing at all
sorts of levels but, most fundamentally of all, at the grassroots.
There are no erector set formulas for any of this.
All of this obviously takes hard work: physically and mentally. It means
answering letters and phone calls and keeping commitments and learning the
art of listening and much, much more -- including avoiding the quicksand of
doctrinal twaddle. It means -- without become a tight-lipped fanatic --
sometimes giving up a promising [social] party in order to go to a
never-ending and often grinding meeting-of-the-people. It means spending
your own gas money to go long distances to speak to a group -- and maybe
even traveling by bus and eating in a third-rate cafe. It means tangling
with heavy social justice challenges -- some well-known and more often the
lonely "little" battles [that are not, of course, little] in the far-off
shadowy corners -- even when nay-sayers with crocodile tears say "you don't
have a chance of winning" [your cue is to tell them, with a smile that's
equally hypocritical, that,  with the people and commitment we can sure
as hell make it;  and, if you won't work with us, get out of the way!
It means working with people to effectively deal with the day-to-day
challenges and, at the same time, building a sense of the radical vision
over the mountains yonder -- and a lucid and practical recognition of how
each of these dimensions, the Day-To-Day struggle and the Vision, relate in
integral fashion to the other. And how all of this comes from and goes to
the people, individually and collectively.
The River of History is indeed flowing -- faster and faster -- Our Way. We,
our groups -- and Humanity -- have a hell of a great future. Reach out,
reach high and take it -- and ride optimistically with Destiny.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Micmac / St Francis Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk --
and DSA / CCDS / SPUSA
Notes on Left Radical "Openness" and Unity
I've followed closely the interesting, and
sometimes rather tortured,
discussion on openness and Left politics. [To go back to the discussional
dawn for a moment, I subscribe to both Labor Notes and Against the Current,
among many other radical things, and have written articles at various points
for both -- and for all sorts of other Left publications.]
I've been a pretty consistent social justice organizer since about 1955 --
and I grew up in an essentially rural Southwestern setting where one tended
to state where one stood on things -- and was prepared to fight it out. [No
pacifism in our setting -- but I do very much respect that position.]
My hatch as a radical was essentially in the context of Left industrial
unionism and, on the matter at hand, the old-time Wobbly adage, "It's better
to be called Red than be called Yellow," made great sense to me then -- as a
relative kid -- and still certainly very much does to this moment. It always
will. The harsh realities of the Southwest of the '50s led logically to a
kind of ecumenism among radicals so I also developed as someone tending to
make Left-related judgments on the basis of the individual and not all that
much on the basis of the person's particular radical flag. While I have my
own very strong views on things, I've tended to get along pretty well -- as
I think almost all of us on this List do -- with most Left people. The late
A.J. Muste set on a good example on that score.
Among other battlefields, I and my wife, Eldri, [and our developing little
family] were very much involved in the Deep South civil rights movement from
1961-67 -- starting at Tougaloo College and then going into full-time
grassroots civil rights and anti-Klan organizing work for the quite
radical Southern Conference Educational Fund [then headed by the always very
excellent and ecumenical Jim Dombrowski of New Orleans, and often working
with our dear friend and colleague, Miss Ella J. Baker.]
Like my native Southwest, things were harsh and demanding in those tough
Southern days. Radicals of all sorts and other Movement people frequently
stayed at our home whether I was there or not -- I was often gone in the
field and on the road for long periods. When I had time, I wrote for all
sorts of Left publications [as I always have] and supported various good
organizational Left causes [as I continue to.] Among other things, I was a
strong and publicly listed activist supporter of the broad-based and Trotskyist-oriented
Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants -- CAMD. Headed by the very
capable Berta Green, this solid outfit related, of course, to the vicious North
Carolina state government- and Klan- induced tragedies at Monroe, Union
George Meyers, Labor Secretary for CPUSA, was one who occasionally stopped
and stayed overnight at our home. I recall sitting at our table with
George, who was talking gardening with Eldri [their passions, not mine],
while I went over a number of recent CAMD mailings from Berta [Trotskyist.]
As a spokesperson for Solidarity, I believe, quite rightly pointed out at
the outset of this openness colloquy , organizing can be a "touch and go"
thing. As such, there may be instances where an organizer, for very good
and solidly principled pragmatic reasons, should not give his/her full Left
resume to the Four Directions -- especially in the initial organizing stages
in especially tough and harsh or otherwise precarious settings. But an
organizer can certainly give a basic perspective in the spring-time of the
effort and then, as people come to know [and appreciate] him/her, tell much
more of one's self and background and specific views.
The reactionary dragons of the other side will, of course, be quick enough
in their own right to always give their Red-baiting depiction of any
And the people with whom one works as an organizer can certainly figure
things out -- and pretty pronto. Reading recently a University of Southern
Mississippi oral history done by a former student and old Movement colleague
of mine, Lawrence -- Larry -- Guyot of SNCC and MFDP and other worthy
crusades, I came across some very kind words for myself and others vis-a-vis
the Tougaloo and Mississippi context of the early '60s, starting with "John
Salter [my former name] was there. He was teaching as much socialism as he
was history." Guyot is quite right.
Anyway, I do fall out on the "openness" end of things -- with an occasional
and principled pragmatic qualification or two. But I also, as an Indian
person and a rural Westerner, believe that an individual's personal beliefs
are his/her own business [actions affecting others being something else] and
I don't think a person should be compelled by anyone to give those beliefs
until damn well ready.
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Idaho
Organizing: Grassroots Up vs. Alinsky Top-Down -- Cat-Clawing in Chicago
I'm very much interested in and encouraged by Dave Grenier's discussion of
DARE [Providence, RI], its grassroots nature and its democratic and
effective ethos. John Lacny's thoughtful analysis of all of this: i.e.,
healthy organizing approach vs. top-down, old-line political stuff -- "the
mass line and the "concrete victory" -- is extremely solid and very much on
target. John mentions -- as I, too, have -- the Saul Alinsky approach.
It's about 2 am in Idaho but I have a few comments. Even my faithful
one-half Bobcat cat and companion has gone to sleep by this computer.
The history of Chicago is wild and turbulent: a flood of ethnicities from
the four directions; racism and ethnocentrism like the leaves on trees and
the smog in the air; pervasive Boss political traditions where
machiavellian use of race and ethnicity to create and maintain grassroots
divisions -- and, hence, control -- is a fine and wicked art; traps
everywhere --especially patronage payoffs; remote stratospheric elites like
the myriad of stars in the sky -- all of these and much, much more are
It was in all of this, of course, that Saul Alinsky developed his basic
top-down, coalitioning and narrowly pragmatic organizing approach which
eventually became the dogma of his Industrial Areas Foundation -- and was
carried into many other urban areas. The pioneer Alinsky effort in the old
Stockyards/Packinghouse district -- the Back of the Yards Neighborhood
Council -- was essentially built by bringing together a broad range of
existent leadership groups, some better and many worse. BYNC, run in
traditional Chicago style from the top down, initially won significant
short-range victories, was quickly courted by high up politicos and just as
quickly entered into Faustian alliances at that level. There never was a
radical vision on the Alinsky trail.
In time, Alinsky moved on into other pastures with his "model" and BYNC,
bereft of any substantive grassroots involvement and vigour, degenerated
[under Alinsky's protégé Joe Meegan] into an increasingly reactionary
appendage of the Democratic machine. Although in time, Alinsky denounced
BYNC as a "Frankenstein," his basic flaw -- organizing existent leaders and
Visionless short-term pragmatism [often devoid of a moral foundation and
context] , led to a situation where many of his subsequent efforts --
e.g., The Woodlawn Organization --followed the same progression of the BYNC:
tub-thumping coalitioning of leaders, short-term victories, political
alliances and payoffs, ossification and corruption. And Alinsky has had
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was privileged to play the key
directive role in a very large-scale grassroots community organizing effort
on the bloody Chicago South/Southwest Side from the late 1960s into the
1970s. Starting at the most basic level, the house-to-house city block, and
working primarily but not completely with racial minorities, we organized
around 300 block clubs plus related groups in two large grassroots umbrella
organizations. In a wild and cat-clawing melee that went on and on, we had
to fight the Daley Machine, the Republicans, racists and realtors, police at
all levels, some gangs, urban renewal, part of the Catholic Church, and Joe
Meegan and his Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council [and much more.]
Red-baiting was prevalent, our offices were set afire, our organizers framed
up [we had solidly effective volunteer lawyers.] Violence was rife
everywhere. We struck a good balance between the grassroots and the
organizers' involvement -- with the tilt going very strongly with the
grassroots. And we struck a pretty good workable balance between pragmatic
[with a reasonably moral foundation and framework!] short term "civic
improvement" stuff and longer-term visionary goals. [From the safe, far
edges we were picked at by some uninvolved Progressive Labor elements as not
being explicitly radical enough but this was purely mosquito sniping.] Early
on, I bailed out several key leaders of the Disciples youth gang who had
been cruelly assaulted by "riot" police. From that point on, the
Disciples -- a grassroots approach in its own right -- provided us with
considerable protection and much support. And, in due course, our own
fast-developing grassroots block club organizational work joined, in one
ward, with the Disciples and, together, we ousted the Daley alderman and
installed a Black woman Independent Democrat. One of the internal
organizational provisions grassroots people wisely insisted on was a
prohibition against serving as an organizational officer and as a paid
[e.g., assistant precinct captain] operative of any [but basically we're
talking about Democratic] political party. All of this has lived on and,
over the years, the community people themselves took on more and more of a
direct organizing role -- moving grassroots efforts effectively into new
Our efforts on the Chicago South/Southwest side weren't perfect. There was
factionalism, back-biting, power struggles. But, these were vigorous
grassroots organizations and there was an essential solidarity. They worked
and they've lived effectively.
Here and there, there were examples of Alinsky projects in which an ignited
grassroots , often with younger idealistic organizers, could take things
over -- and , at least to some extent, turn the initial top-down
organizational effort around "toward the Sun" and democracy. These tended to
be rare because of much of the founding baggage and people proved heavily
In due course, I had direct and acrimonious contact with a very key Alinsky
honcho over many of these issues. At a large inter-tribal urban/reservation
Native conference held on the Mill Lacs Chippewa reservation in Northern
Minnesota, I and a colleague, Bill Redcloud, conducted a workshop on Native
American community organization -- and accountability to the Indian
community. When that was done, we went over and sat in on another workshop
being conducted by the late Alinsky's successor, Ed Chambers from Industrial
Areas Foundation. Everyone was Indian except Chambers [who did not know
me.] His approach seemed even more elitist and rigid to me than that of
his prophet. Initially, I said nothing, just listened. When an elderly
Chippewa man very politely questioned whether this kind of an approach would
fit Native situations, Chambers simply and rudely hammered him down,
indicating the Alinsky approach was a proven one for all people. The room
grew quiet and very tense. At that point, I arose and did [fairly civil]
battle. Chambers, taken aback by someone who had warred against Joe Meegan
and BYNC, reddened and floundered but maintained his rigidity. We debated
heatedly and I carried things well. Chambers abruptly declared a break in
the workshop and, when it resumed, he was immediately attacked verbally by
young Indians who then forced him physically from the room and then from the
There is always something worse and, in Chicago, Jesse Jackson's very
top -down Operation Push -- a largely empty, Daley-captured entity with
much verbal militancy and nothing beyond the end of the old-line Democratic
leash -- would be it. Alinsky, at least, in his own way, was a fighter.
The DARE effort in Rhode Island sounds great to me -- and it strikes, as do
John Lacny's solidly analytical reflections, a strong note of resonance
with me. Effective social justice organizing has to be fundamentally
grassroots in nature; has to build enduring and increasing grassroots power;
has to generate vigorous grassroots leadership; has to maintain a sensible
focus on the here-and-now and, concurrently, on the Better World Over The
Mountains Yonder -- and keep those two critical dimensions integrally
related to one another and each rooted solidly in the grassroots. That's
what makes any "Save the World" endeavour -- labor, civil rights, community
organization, whatever -- strong, sharp, vital. And, to its enemies,
Time to hit the sack. In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]