by Eve Mitchell, originally posted on We’re Hir We’re Queer here.
I recently finished reading Michael Staudenmaier’s Truth and Revolution: A History of Sojourner Truth Organization 1969-1986. Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) was a majority white revolutionary group that worked closely with Black Nationalist and Black Power groups to build autonomist workplace, community, identity- and issue-based organizations. They are most known for their theoretical contributions including the white skin privilege analysis and theory of dual consciousness. Perhaps their most well-known writing (which was originally a speech) is “Black Worker, White Worker,” which describes their approach in building militant, fighting groups that organize on the demands of the most oppressed layers of the class. Concretely, in their time and in the spaces they organized, that meant the Black proletarian.
However, as Truth and Revolution describes, STO was involved in many forms of struggle including the early anti-nuke movement, the women’s liberation movement, some immigrant defense work, among other things. The sheer amount of work they accomplished with very few people and resources in the span of a 17 years is extremely impressive. This post will discuss some other reflections I have on their work. These reflections are relevant to me in this stage of my organizing and experience, having recently moved to New York City and attempted to help build the Florence Johnston Collective (aka Flo Jo), a group that organizes within and across feminized workplaces, alongside working to build Unity and Struggle, a small, national, left communist grouping for the last five years.(1) Obviously both of these tasks have been carried out in an extremely low movement time, in the wake of some interesting struggle globally and some upticks nationally and regionally. My comments may not reflect some of the broader lessons to be learned from STO; I recommend checking out Truth and Revolution itself to extract those.
1. Privilege Theory and STO’s Race Politics.
Elsewhere I have written substantial critiques of how today’s activists and the Left use privilege theory and identity politics. While I think this is qualitatively different from how STO used them, I agree with Staudenmaier when he writes that STO must bear some of the responsibility for how this theory continues to be applied.