Category Archives: Organization

Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, 5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson, The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.

Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action

by Out of the Flames of Ferguson

Intro

The decision made by the grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson for the merciless killing of Mike Brown came at no surprise. I had been hearing and reading about similar stories prior to that one of Brown and realized the outcomes were pretty much the same. A black man dies at the hands of our American brothers and sisters and the system continues to work flawlessly. No indictment. No charge. Paid vacation. Half of me wishes this was fiction but all of the conscious me knows it is a full blown reality.                 

Knowing that it would not be anytime soon before any kind of justice would be displayed regarding such cases, many individuals including myself took our frustration to the streets. We marched tirelessly throughout Third Ward the following night…                

It seemed as though I had arrived to the protest at precisely the right time. There was at least one thousand people there with signs that read BLACK LIVES MATTER and HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT. The momentum had been building for some time now and I could gather from observation, that at that corner of Southmore Boulevard and Dowling Street, the massive group in its entirety had to make a decision. The energy was perfect and our power as group was getting more intense by the second; however, there was a problem. We had no direction. Our mission has suddenly started to unravel. We began to look like fools in the eyes of the oppressor. While the majority wanted to push through the barricade of horses and pigs in uniform, those individuals who we thought were on our side presented their own agenda.

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The Intermediate Moment (Part One)

by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee

*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S.  U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions.  While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.

PART ONE

Introduction

This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity.  We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated.  While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.

As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study.  While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.

Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so.  This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach.  The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future.  So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.

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How can we advance the anti-police brutality struggle?

Reflections by Nightwolf and Mamos from Seattle Unity and Struggle

The week of August 30th, 2010 saw five people murdered by police throughout Washington State, including John T. Williams. Williams was a First Nations carver who was shot four times by police officer Ian Birk while walking with a closed carving knife and a block of wood.  Birk gave Williams only four seconds warning before opening fire, and Williams, who is partially deaf, may not have heard his commands.

This murder, along with several other recent cases of police brutality against Black and Latino folks in Seattle has sparked a small but vibrant movement against police terrorism.  Here we will analyze the potentials and the limitations of this movement.  While we are very critical of some of the players in this movement, our goal is not to hate on folks- it is to open a rigorous and honest discussion about how we can advance the struggle beyond its current limitations.   We need to advance the struggle because we don’t want more people in our communities to die at the hands of killer cops. Every day we are struggling and organizing against the effects of the economic crisis in our workplaces , schools, and neighborhoods and we need to organize citywide and country-wide networks of resistance  and solidarity to make sure these small embryonic struggles are not shut down through joint repression by the bosses, landlords, and cops.

This reflection is broken into two essays.  In the first one, “The Rainbow Coalition stomps the flames”, Nightwolf analyzes how liberal people of color leaders worked with the cops to try and dampen the explosion of anger in communities of color  following John T. Williams’ death; he puts this in historical context, showing how it relates to the successes and failures of the 1960s and 70s movements against white supremacy.

In the second piece, “Workers spread the embers”, Mamos analyzes some of the small but promising actions against police brutality that have emerged in Seattle the past few months and asks how these actions can deepen and how they can connect to other forms of working class organizing going on in Seattle now.  He  explores the role that  militant worker networks like Seattle Solidarity Network and International Workers and Students for Justice could play in challenging state violence.

While these essays reflect on anti-police brutality struggles, they raise much broader questions that are really relevant for a number of different struggles in Seattle and in other cities.  While these essays may not present a full answer to the question of how to stop police brutality, they are an attempt to prompt discussion about the current political impasse our movements are  in and to think creatively about how to move beyond it.

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Developing Militants and Organizers

From our last post on the topic of organization, S Nappolis wrote, “Revolutionaries active in the mass level need to prioritize work that facilitates the radicalization of militants at the mass level.”

The following is being reposted from the blog, Workers Power, which archives material from the Industrial Worker newspaper.  In a similar vein, it begins to discuss what is required to actually help a new layer of militants develop as organizers.

Replace Yourself

by J. Pierce

The primary task of an organizer is to build more organizers. We need more and more working class leaders and the way to do this is to constantly replace yourself. Here’s a few easy ways to help you build up your successors:

Reveal your sources so others can think with you: “I had a long talk with MK recently. He really convinced me that we should reorganize as a shop committee instead of having one or two ‘stewards’. He gave me this awesome article on how IWW shop committees used to work.” Telling others where you got an idea from demonstrates that you think of them as equals. You also provide an opportunity for them question your sources.

Show others how it’s done and take them through the process: “Hey Keith, has anyone showed you how to post an article to iww.org? I’m going to post that write-up on the strike right now. Let me show you how to do it. We need another person who can post.” Pass on the technical know-how so others can be ‘experts’ just like you.

Encourage people because you believe in them and you know they can do it: “We really need this message to get to the people upfront. Can you have a talk with Shannon? She respects you and you’re the best person to talk to her.” You run faster for coaches that want to win. We’ve got to show that what we do matters and that we believe in each other.

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Muslim Students Take the Lead at UC Irvine

written with Will

This past February students in the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at UC Irvine deliberately disrupted a talk by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the US, as he attempted to justify the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008/2009.

The 11 students who disrupted Oren by shouting him down were arrested.  Afterwards, Muslim students and other Palestine solidarity activists attending the event walked out and held a protest outside.

Recently, Lisa Cornish, the Senior Executive Director of Student Housing, and other university officials at UC Irvine have recommended the 1-year suspension of the MSU.  In addition, MSU members must complete 50 hours of community, no MSU officers will be allowed to be an “authorized signer” for any other student groups, and if the MSU is allowed to re-register for official status in 2011, it will be placed under a one-year probation.

There is currently a debate over at Kabobfest where some in the Muslim community are arguing that the MSU should not have been involved in organizing the disruption.  They argue that MSAs and MSUs have no business taking leadership in this struggle.

One argument goes that it invites retaliation on the whole Muslim community threatening their religious freedom.  The problem with this argument is that it places the sins of white supremacy and empire squarely in the laps of Muslims and solidarity activists who choose to resist.  There is a faulty assumption here that the occupations of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the racist attacks on Muslims in the US are a result of organized resistance on our part.  This is completely backwards.  Oppression doesn’t result from our resistance; we resist because we are oppressed.

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The Debate on Strategy in the Anti-Budget Cuts Movement

by Mamos

As an anti-budget cuts organizer in Seattle, I am excited by the important debates Advance the Struggle (AS) has raised with their piece Crisis and Contradictions: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th.    I basically agree with the perspective that AS is putting forward;  it confirms and advances a lot of the perspectives that my comrades in Unity and Struggle have been developing, especially with our anti-budget cuts work with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle, with ella pelea! in Austin, and our comrade’s work at Berkley.  For those who don’t know, Unity and Struggle is a revolutionary organization animated by a belief in the self-emancipation of oppressed people; for more info, check out the “About US” section of the Gathering Forces blog.    I would consider Unity and Struggle and a lot of the milleiu around Gathering Forces to be part of  the “class struggle Left” tendency that AS outlines and calls for; like AS we are attempting to chart a third path that is independent from both the centrists (the “we need to meet people where they are at” folks) and the adventurists (the “Occupy Everything Demand Nothing” folks).  We appreciate the chance to dialogue with AS and other  like-minded activists around the country and we also appreciate the chance to have principled debate with comrades from the other two tendencies.

The response pieces written by Socialist Organizer (SO) and Labors Militant Voice (LMV), raise some important challenges to this third tendency and highlight some key differences between us and the centrist tendency.  It is important to note that LMV’s piece raises important critiques of SO’s piece and I engage with those here  – I have no intention of lumping them together.   I offer my notes on these responses  in the hope of furthering the debate.

What I write here is relatively unsystematic because my comrades and I are  in the middle of organizing for a strike at the University of Washington on May 3rd so I don’t have a lot of time to flesh this out. I hope comrades will forgive and correct any points here that are underdeveloped , inaccurate, or unclear. I am writing this from a first person perspective rather than formally representing Democracy Insurgent or Unity and Struggle, the groups I am a part of.   I imagine that most people in both groups would agree with the spirit of what I put forward here but we simply don’t have the time to collectively write and edit a formal response right now because of all of our organizing and study groups.

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March Forth Seattle

by Mamos

Reflections on the Shifting Terrain of Struggle

It is has been ten years since thousands of workers and youth shut down the WTO here in Seattle.  Now the fight against budget cuts is once again laying the groundwork for a mass movement.  One again young people and workers are in the streets  asserting that another world is possible.  In this piece I will analyze this dynamic, shifting terrain of political struggle.

This reflection comes in the wake of the March 4th National Day of Action to defend public education, which was a major leap forward here.   A student strike at the University of Washington (UW)  brought out around 700 students, workers, teachers, and high school students with an unexpectedly high level of militant energy, shutting down streets and almost blocking the freeway ( as you can see in this video).

As an organizer with the student-worker group Democracy Insurgent  (D.I.) at the University of Washington, I wish to draw out some reflections and conclusions from our involvement in the struggle.  I’ll start by tracing the struggles that lead up to the March 4th strike and made it possible.  Then I will outline what March 4th shows us about the prospects and challenges for building a mass movement here in WA state and beyond.

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Whither Copwatch?

oscar_grant_shooting

Within the last decade, small groups of individual activists, some part of radical or revolutionary Left organizations, have taken part in organizing “copwatches” in cities across the US and Canada.  Presently, none of us around Gathering Forces are involved in such work (still if we’ve had our share of run-ins with the police in other struggles), though it is a form of organization we are supportive of and believe necessary.  But because of this lack of experience and existing information out there, this post will have more questions than answers.

What copwatching formally entails is observing the actions of the police in the process of routine traffic stops or other encounters, documenting their activity in writing and on video, and collecting names and badge numbers of the officers involved where necessary.  Some may follow this up independently or with other organizations by making complaints or protesting through civilian review boards.  Additionally, some groups do “know your rights” trainings or pass out relevant literature, but it is unclear if most copwatch activities go much beyond this.

The Berkeley Copwatch website claims it is the original copwatch, starting in 1990, but even they have their antecedents.  The historical inspiration for copwatching has no doubt come from the practices of the Black Panther Party, though the Deacons for Defense and the NAACP branch in Monroe, North Carolina led by Robert F Williams had their own forms of armed intervention that was coupled with fighting the Klan and defending civil rights activists.
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Queer Liberation is an Insurgent Movement from Below

Across the country, the debate over Gay marriage is continuing with Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa initiating its legalization, and other states currently facing struggles over prop-8 style ballot initiatives which aim to halt the ability of all people to have their marriages recognized by the state. Here in the state of Washington, the legislature passed an expanded domestic partnership law last year which would provide many of the rights and privileges associated with marriage to same sex and elderly domestic partners. The Washington Values Alliance opposes Referendum 71 in an attempt to strike down this law; a yes vote on the Referendum keeps domestic partnerships in place and a no vote gets rid of them.

Washington Values alliance and many of the other right-wing forces mobilizing to attack Gay Marriage are linked to far-right white supremacist organizations that are also attacking immigrants. Many folks on the Left both locally and nationally are discussing how to respond to these right-wing offensives. Many of us are not thrilled about gay marriage itself or the often liberal racist, patriarchal, and assimilationist groups that are fighting for it. But at the same time it is important to fight the bigots who oppose gay marriage since they are using the anti-gay marriage organizing to build their base preparing for more devastating attacks on queer folks and people of color.

This piece raises some key questions about how to tie the struggle against anti-queer bigotry to immigrant workers’ and student’s struggles against white supremacy. It is a talk given in July by comrades Jomo and Wen, two queer Asian American activists with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle. It was part of a panel of various queer Seattle activists from different organizations hosted by the socialist feminist group Radical Women.

—————

Democracy Insurgent is a Middle East solidarity group animated by principles of anti-racism, democracy, third world feminism and queer liberation. The group came together last fall and have started by doing Palestine Solidarity organizing. A few months ago the anti-budget cuts committee within DI was created because of the budget cuts that University of Washington has distributed disproportionally affected immigrant workers, low-income students, people of color, women, people with disabilities and queer folks. That’s how we started getting involved with organizing with the custodians on campus and supporting their fight against the management because we see our struggles as connected with theirs.

How we see “queer movement” as opposed to white liberal queer movement

The topic of the panel today is on queer liberation and that’s what we are here for! DI is a multi-racial, multi-gender and multi-sexuality group. The way we approach queer liberation is not to compartmentalize issues solely on an identity basis, like that of gay people getting together to fight on marriage equality without any class or race analysis, neglecting the needs of people of color, immigrant folks, or women. Identity based organizing can be very harmful to the movement in the long term. We all know that 40 years ago the Stonewall Riot was lead by majority people of color and majority of gender-queer, and trans folks– but how did it turn into a white middle-class gay man’s story of liberation?
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Balance Sheet on Obama and the Left

election-nightIt’s 8 months into the Obama administration and approaching two years since the national debate began about Obama and the left. The images and feeling of election night, being on the street when thousands of young people spontaneously came out, are now only a powerful memory of the deep desires and frustrations of a new generation growing up in America where social conditions and oppression are only getting worse.

In many ways that night was a confirmation of the essential character of the Obama phenomenon. While Obama was New Democratic-Clintonian politics, he was so in new language and form that made visible for a moment something new in the U.S. Tens of millions expressed a desire for a break with the slogans and programs of ruling class politicians that have overseen a broadening and deepening of social polarization the last 30 years. What seemed like a break for many, Obama’s election and the Democratic Party victories since 2006 only raised expectations that couldn’t be met. Obama has overseen and implemented the capitalist offensive, taking advantage of the crisis, and has proven to be no protective umbrella from the return of white supremacist populism of the Right.

Discussions about Obama and the Left take on a new urgency given these realities. No longer are discussions about what might happen–we are now living perhaps at the end of a long list of Obama’s “betrayals” with his abandonment of the so-called “public option” in health care. Where are all those millions of people who are learning from this experience? How are we to understand Obama and the progressive Left? How are revolutionaries to move forward in linking reform and revolution? What are the forms of struggle and new types of organization that are emerging and are needed? These aren’t new questions on the blogosphere, and the past and contemporary break-outs of struggle are a guide.

With this in mind, here is an article by Charlie Post that appeared a couple months back via Solidarity

Post writes:

“Historically, attempts to simultaneously build an alliance with Democratic Party centrists and build social movements have led the disorganization and decline of the movements and a shift to the right in politics. Time and time again—from the CIO upsurge of the 1930s, through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, to the movements against the Vietnam War — the decision of the leaders of powerful and potentially radical social movements to pursue an alliance with the Democrats have derailed these struggles.”

and

“The same pattern is and will be repeated by the leaderships of the labor and social movements in the age of Obama. Not wanting to alienate Obama and the Congressional Democrats, the leaderships of both the AFL-CIO and CTW have done little to publicly oppose the Democrats back-pedaling on the EFCA—with Andy Stern of the SEIU, as always, leading the retreat. The labor officials and many mainstream immigrant rights groups are abandoning the struggle for universal amnesty and a direct route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in favor of the Obama-McCain plan. Proposals for a single-payer insurance system appear dead in the water, leaving the Democrats and Obama free to implement their “universal health care” program based on massive subsidies for private insurance companies. The list can, depressingly, be multiplied across a wide variety of popular reform issues.”

——

How should the left relate to Obama? A response to Linda Burnham

by Charlie Post

There is a broad consensus on left—from those who actively campaigned on his behalf, through those who sat out the election, to those of us who supported the independent candidacies of Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader—that the election of Barack Obama represents an important opening for anti-capitalists and radicals in the US. The election of an African-American to the highest elected office in a republic founded on white supremacy was, in itself, an important symbolic blow against white supremacy. Even more importantly, Obama’s victory was a political and ideological defeat of the right. The 2008 election has raised popular expectations of the possibility of gains for working and oppressed people—national health insurance, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a renegotiation of NAFTA, the expansion of civil rights for queers, women and people of color, and an end to the imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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