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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  August 2008

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE August 2008

Subject:

Interesting proposal for "bottom up organizing"

From:

Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 25 Aug 2008 14:10:26 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (566 lines)

Forwarding this interesting idea to you to 
consider becoming part of it. I think it's right up an activist SftP's alley.

Of course, I have questions about their statement --

who are the "haves"? Is that category based on 
AMOUNT of money, per se, or on certain economic 
and social RELATIONSHIPS to power? It needs to be more clearly defined;

also, what SPECIFIC organizing strategies will be 
used? Alinsky? Common Ground? IWW? the Black 
Panther Party? Affinity groups? Young Lords? 
Science-for-the-People? Anti-Nuke movement? 
Marxist-Leninist parties? All of them?

The statement here is mostly ideological, not 
specific enough -- but if these people are as 
well-meaning and thoughtful and committed as they 
seem to be, we should contact them, engage in 
sincere discussions, and possibly join these efforts.

What say ye?

Mitchel



Dear Friends,

The first meeting of the International School for 
Bottom-up Organizing will take place this 
October. The following document is an initial 
draft aimed at explaining the ideas of 
"bottom-up" to grassroots people. It will be 
discussed, developed, and polished at the 
meeting. We are inviting you to respond to it as 
well, if you find this vision one that inspires you.

For more information about the School, please go 
to www.peoplesorganizing.org and click on 
"International School for Bottom-up Organizing" 
on the left. For more of the thinking that has 
led us to where we are, click on "What We Believe."

The document below is being submitted to you by 
the organizing collective for the school, which consists of
Curtis Muhammad, Kathy Fischer, Becky Belcore and others.

You are invited to contact us at:
[log in to unmask]

The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World
(A Vision of Egalitarianism)


August, 2008

Human society is divided into haves and 
have-nots. Nearly all people in the world today 
are have-nots. The "haves" say that the have-nots 
are powerless, but they are wrong. It is the 
masses of people that make society change, and 
always has been. The people on the bottom made 
all the great advances in society and all the great social revolutions.

They tell us that great leaders make history, but 
this is not true. For example, in the United 
States, Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. 
The slaves freed themselves and won the Civil 
War. They tell us that a few extraordinary 
geniuses invented everything, but actually the 
people who work hard and have nothing invented 
everything from language to culture to machines. 
It is the people themselves who are the geniuses. 
Everywhere in the world it has always been like 
this, but the rich and powerful lie to the rest of us about it.

On the other hand, the have-nots are powerless 
when they allow themselves to be powerless. The 
rulers rule by the consent of the governed. This 
is also true. The people on the bottom, even 
though they want freedom and equality, agree to 
let themselves be oppressed and exploited. 
Usually this is because they don't see their own 
power or their own genius, or because they have 
adopted the selfish ideas of their own oppressors.

Bottom-up organizing is about building and 
defending a new, just, egalitarian and loving 
world by creating organizations that are equal 
and fair and led by the people themselves. The 
strategy is that by running their own 
organizations in an egalitarian and loving way, 
the people on the bottom will learn how to run 
all of society and see that they have the power 
to do it. They will learn that the "haves" only 
rule because we let them, and we don't have to let them.

Bottom-up organizations will begin to govern 
their own communities or areas. In this process, 
they will inevitably have to confront the "haves" 
who are now running the communities. This will 
take many forms, but as organizers we realize 
that the "haves" are a ruthless enemy who will 
stop at nothing to keep their power and 
resources. We see examples of their viciousness, 
violence and greed all around us all the time. We 
will be prepared to fight fire with fire.

As organizers build bottom-up organizations, an 
important part of their work is education. This 
is because the "haves" have deliberately kept the 
"have-nots" in the dark about everything from 
literacy to science to history and politics. As 
we begin creating a new and egalitarian world, 
the people on the bottom will learn and master 
every aspect of human knowledge.

People have persistently rebelled and tried to 
take back the world from their oppressors, so we 
have a rich revolutionary history to learn from 
as we do our political education and figure out 
our strategies. We can learn from our ancestors' 
victories and from their losses, their successes and their failures.

Right now, in this period of history, many people 
feel hopeless about revolution and about our 
ability to create an egalitarian world, because 
just in the last hundred years, many revolutions 
tried and failed, on almost every continent. One 
reason for this is that the leaders of these 
revolutions did not have confidence in the genius 
of the people they set out to lead. In the 
struggle for freedom they saw a separation 
between the leaders and the followers. Bottom-up 
organizing strives to eliminate this separation 
by training the people to lead themselves and not be followers.

Another reason the recent revolutions failed is 
that revolutionaries incorrectly identified the 
two sides of the contradiction between the haves 
and have-nots. They did not perceive the intimate 
relationship of economic class and skin color in 
the division between haves and have-nots. Some of 
them paid attention primarily to class division, 
and others primarily to color or national/tribal 
division. These were both mistakes that misled 
the struggle. These were mistakes of racism and nationalism.

Bottom-up recognizes that class and skin color 
tend to go together. Most of the haves in the 
world are white Europeans, or in countries of 
darker-skinned people, they are mostly 
lighter-skinned, with more white, European 
influence (sometimes they have dark skin but have 
adopted oppressive European values). On the other 
hand, have-nots are mostly darker-skinned. Almost 
everywhere, you can find the poorest people by 
looking for the people with the darkest skin. 
This is because of historical reasons, not 
biological ones. For the past many hundreds of 
years, Europe has been the dominant oppressor on 
the world stage and has imprinted its values and prejudices on the whole world.

Skin color has become a shortcut to defining 
oppression. The oppressors have convinced folk 
with light skins that they are better than their 
dark-skinned brothers and sisters, and they have 
also convinced many dark-skinned people of this 
lie. Our struggle to overcome this racism will be 
long and hard. For this reason, bottom-up 
organizing sees the need for poor, mainly 
dark-skinned leadership in the struggle to create 
a new and egalitarian world. All of oppressed 
humanity needs the leadership of the most 
oppressed among us, because it is the most 
oppressed who can most clearly see the realities 
of oppression that must be overcome for humanity 
to live equally, justly and lovingly.

European and European-influenced revolutionaries 
were defeated partly by their own racist elitism, 
because they did not look to the dark-skinned 
people on the bottom for leadership. Instead, 
they defined them as different, off lesser 
importance, and not members of the revolutionary 
class. They ended up running nations and becoming 
the new privileged elite (the new "haves").

On the other hand, revolutionaries in the 
colonial countries (so-called third world) also 
failed to look to the bottom for leadership, and 
instead simply defined Europe as the enemy. They 
were also defeated by their own 
racist/nationalist elitism, and emulated their 
former rulers in creating nations run by those 
with wealth and privilege, who were also usually the lighter-skinned group.

Past revolutionaries made the mistake of 
imagining or creating divisions between oppressed 
people. Bottom-up organizers see all oppressed 
people as one. We see the need to build one 
unified international movement. We understand 
that it is not enough for different groups to 
form alliances with each other: we are all one group, the same class of people.

This principle applies to all oppressed people. 
All over the world, our enemies have divided us 
into artificial groups based on "race" and 
"ethnicity." We reject those divisions and see 
ourselves as one. Our enemies have even invaded 
our communities and families to divide our men 
and our women. This is a very deep division, and 
we also reject that division. Egalitarianism 
means equality for every person. Women and men 
are equal, and our unity and respect for one 
another is necessary for building our movement. 
Our movement defends women from sexual 
exploitation and slavery, and from mistreatment, 
and looks to women for leadership. This was also 
a major mistake of past revolutionaries, who did 
not see the importance of female leadership and 
mainly lifted up men as leaders.

We will put aside all suspicion, prejudice and 
disunity, whether they are about skin color, 
nation or gender. All of these divisions come 
from accepting the values of our oppressors. This 
will be a long and difficult process, but we know 
we cannot create a just world without engaging in 
this process, and organizing our leadership from the bottom.

Although we live in discouraging times, we must 
not be discouraged. It is true that there are 
more chattel slaves today than ever before in 
history. It is true that those of us who are not 
bought and sold are also basically enslaved 
because we do not have the means to live without 
our oppressors. However, our oppressors are only 
two percent of the world's people. Their wealth 
and power, even their military might, come from 
us and we can claim them back. Their rule can be 
broken when we unite and organize ourselves under our own leadership.

It is also discouraging that the revolutionary 
movements of the twentieth century did not 
succeed in creating the world of egalitarianism 
that they hoped for. However, their struggles and 
failures will allow us to accomplish what they 
could not. Like a baby learning to walk, our 
movement learns from its own mistakes. Yes, the 
baby falls down, but inevitably, it succeeds and 
walks. Those who came before us fell down. It is 
now our task and our destiny to master what they 
were attempting, to walk forward into history and create a new world.

******************************
 From one of the three "callers" of this effort:


Farewell Letter from Curtis Muhammad
November 12, 2007

A Message from an Organizer to the Left and 
Progressive Forces inside the USA - by Curtis Muhammad

With this second anniversary of Katrina upon us, 
there are a few words I wish to speak. This 
letter is written to the progressive, left 
movement for justice in the USA. In the last two 
years, every left organization has been in New 
Orleans, but despite that there is still no sign 
of a mass movement. There is still no sign that 
most activists are willing to put their knowledge 
and resources at the service of the grass roots 
and take their leadership from the bottom. I have 
found myself wondering, have poor black people 
been so vilified and criminalized that they are 
completely off the radar even of the so-called 
left? When Katrina happened, I hoped and expected 
that this would be the trigger to once again set 
off a true mass movement against racism and for 
justice in the US, led by those most affected: 
poor, black working people. When it became 
abundantly clear that this was not happening, I 
found myself at the crossroads of hope and 
hopelessness, and began to wonder how to spend 
the last years of my life in the service of my people.

The thing that I remind myself when I’m 
contemplating hopelessness is the beauty of 
humanity and the fact that people have always 
fought for what was right even when they knew 
they couldn’t win. They tried because they loved 
each other; I think it’s because it’s built into 
human beings for people to look out for each 
other. There is a drive in humanity to be just, 
to live in a society that is just, equal and 
respectful. I believe that ultimately people will 
achieve a just society; I believe humanity came 
out of a just society and will create it again.

I do believe that there was a time that the 
lovers of life, the lovers of humanity, the 
lovers of justice dominated the world. Some say 
this was so during the hunter-gatherer days, when 
though there were evil people they could never 
gain dominance. Their numbers were always small, 
less than 1%; people ran their lives 
collectively, and therefore the greedy could not 
dominate. Well then, I say what happened, there 
is only that same 1% who dominates the world now.

This thinking, this logic has been the motivating 
factor in my life of movement work: the belief 
that there is a basic humanity that is inside the 
soul of most people. That this humanity can be 
harvested and organized into a movement for 
justice to free our people from slavery, bondage, 
oppression and exploitation. That the 80% of the 
world who live on an average of $2 a day can and 
will overcome the 1% and return us to a 
collective life organized around love, justice and equality.

Most of you who know me also know I'm a 
storyteller and believe story to be a universal 
language that can be a vehicle for voice ­ the 
voice of all regardless of status, class, cast, 
race, gender. Story is an egalitarian language. 
So I wish to share with you my story, an 
abbreviated story of my organizing work from SNCC 
in Mississippi through the ghettoes of the US to 
the villages and jungles of Africa, to CLU, PHRF, 
NOSC, POC and finally the International School 
for Bottom-up Organizing. My story is meant to 
clarify why I now choose to live, work, teach and 
write outside the US and away from the grip of a 
drastically de-energized and often opportunistic 
and reactionary left in the USA.

* * *

I grew up in a community that, of necessity, had 
to take care of its own. In rural Mississippi in 
the 40s, 50s and 60s, mothers and fathers, 
grandparents, uncles and cousins protected the 
children from the hostile, racist world and 
collectively helped each other meet their needs. 
Nonetheless, when I was a child traveling to 
church on Sundays, I had to pass the tree from 
whose branches my cousin was lynched. The 
community of my birth gave me both my strength -- 
my faith in the people, my dedication to 
egalitarianism ­ and my undying hatred of racism 
and the oppressive few that control the world.

When SNCC came to town, I found my direction. It 
was both a community of love and a set of 
organizers devoted, at the risk of their lives, 
to the folk on the bottom: the poorest black folk 
in Mississippi, those who had nothing, not even 
the knowledge of how to read. SNCC introduced me 
to the struggles of my brothers and sisters 
around the world, and particularly in Africa. I 
became an internationalist and a revolutionary. 
The lessons of Ella Baker and SNCC have stayed 
with me throughout my life; I labored to make 
them a reality from Mississippi to the ghettoes 
of our major cities, from my time in the 
revolutionary movement in Africa to my work as a 
labor organizer, and I have done my utmost to 
apply them in post-Katrina New Orleans.

In 1998, I helped to organize Community Labor 
United (CLU), a coalition that was founded with a 
commitment to bottom-up organizing. (CLU 
principles included “ending the exploitation of 
oppressed peoples everywhere; educating, 
organizing and mobilizing the masses within our 
organizations and communities from the bottom 
up.”) After eight years of organizing in some of 
the poorest areas of New Orleans, it became the 
“first responder” after Katrina, and led the 
formation of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF).

As a founding member of PHRF and an organizer and 
New Orleans resident, I was back in the city 
within 8 days of the flood, struggling with 
overwhelming pain and anger. I felt that Katrina 
represented an historic moment. Never before had 
all levels of government united to attempt 
genocide of 100,000 black people at the same 
time. Even in the 60s in Mississippi, they were 
murdering us in ones, twos and threes. I threw 
myself into the attempt to put the knowledge and 
resources of the left and nationalist 
organizations and “movement” people under the 
direction of the bottom: the poor and working 
class black folk who had been left to die in New 
Orleans. PHRF became a coalition that committed itself on paper to that goal.

What followed was a dramatic learning experience 
for me and for all those whose commitment is 
truly to the people and not to their own 
particular grouping. Within months, mainly as a 
result of a speaking tour I went on for PHRF, we 
had raised about a million dollars from folk 
across the country who were deeply moved by the 
attempted genocide of over a hundred thousand 
black folk. And by December, there was already 
conflict over who controlled that money and how it was to be used.

The New Orleans Survivor Council was organized by 
PHRF with the understanding that it was to become 
the leadership of the organization and the 
movement, and should control all resources. By 
April of 2006, when the NOSC began to sound like 
it wanted oversight of the funds, the interim 
leadership of PHRF took the money and ran, firing 
its own organizers for daring to tell the poor 
black residents in NOSC that they had the right 
to control the resources raised in their names. 
Undaunted, the young organizers continued working 
for the survivors and formed a new group called 
People’s Organizing Committee (POC).

This event was a turning point for me. I realized 
that the words of those who I had considered my 
comrades were empty, that their so-called 
commitment to bottom-up was a fiction; that their 
real commitments were to various organizations 
and their own egos. Our attempt to 
institutionalize bottom-up had led instead to a coalition of opportunists.

When I had spoken to mass audiences about Katrina 
in the fall of 2005, I had spoken of my discovery 
of the depth of the fear and hatred America has 
for poor, black people. The images on the media 
of those left to die could have been taken in 
sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean: those people 
were very poor and very black. With the desertion 
of PHRF, I was confronted by the knowledge that 
this hatred of poor black people extended into 
and throughout the progressive movement, even 
within exclusively black organizations. I felt 
very lonely in my continued commitment to lift up 
precisely that segment of oppressed Americans to lead the movement.

But POC plunged ahead, still dedicated to that 
vision. Thousands of volunteers came in the 
spring and summer, and many continue to come to 
this day. The hearts of so many people are in the 
right place. The New Orleans Survivor Council and 
its member group Residents of Public Housing 
continue to work to put bottom-up leadership on 
the map and fight for the right of our community 
to return and control its own destiny. But the 
past year has also revealed further weakness and 
lack of vision in our movement.

 From the days immediately following the flood, 
we recognized that immigrants ­ brown people, 
some of the poorest and most desperate of our 
brothers and sisters from countries to the south 
­ were being brought into our city. They were put 
to the dirtiest, most dangerous clean-up tasks, 
and later to replace the forcibly dispersed black 
labor force, for slave wages and in slave 
conditions. From the start, we called for 
organizing this new part of the New Orleans 
community in unity with and under the leadership 
of the black folk on the bottom.

This call was part of my message in the speeches 
I made in the fall of 2005, and several immigrant 
organizers heeded the call and came to work with 
us. However, despite many serious attempts to 
develop unity between black survivors and 
immigrants, it has become clear that those 
organizers refuse to unite with and take 
leadership from black folk. They have organized 
immigrant slaves into separate groupings with no 
contact with the NOSC, despite their initial 
commitment to unity. They are essentially, 
wittingly or unwittingly, following the 
government’s agenda, which is to build a racist, 
assimilationist immigrant “movement” that will 
serve the needs of a war economy and patriotism.

And so we come to the second anniversary of 
Katrina. Bottom-up organizing is still embryonic, 
though hanging on to life and with a small, 
dedicated band of survivors, organizers and 
volunteers. But the rest of the movement is in 
shambles, or under direct or indirect influence of our enemies.

Through the experience of the last two years, I 
have also come to the conclusion that the 
infiltration of and direct attacks on the 
movement that started (in my lifetime as an 
activist) in the late 60s and early 70s with 
Cointelpro have never stopped. Our movement has 
been successfully divided into thousands of 
groupings, non-profits and NGOs, and the left has 
been rendered ineffectual. It is not an accident 
that, for forty years now, the movement has been 
so totally reformist, or that those who want to 
be revolutionaries are so isolated as to be 
irrelevant. The government and its agencies have 
a stranglehold on the people, the culture and 
even the left. I do not think it is possible in 
the U.S. at this time ­ for me ­ to develop and 
train organizers with a real understanding and 
commitment to the folk on the bottom.

And thus, I find myself at the crossroads of hope 
and hopelessness. I find myself possibly in the 
position of writing not mainly to the current 
readers of these words, but to those future 
revolutionaries who will learn from our impasse. 
I find myself deciding to work toward creating an 
international organizing school as a vehicle to 
discover, recruit and train radical organizers. I 
want to continue my investigation of the 
movements in Mexico and South America among very 
poor -- members of the informal economy, workers, 
campesinos and landless people -- learn more 
about how class and hue interact to shape 
oppression, take inspiration from the fact that 
the struggle continues, un-abandoned, worldwide, 
and share my own knowledge and experience with 
the rebels of today and tomorrow.

I have lived 64 years and have struggled 
intentionally for justice for about forty-six of 
those years. I am thankful and appreciative to 
all those who have traveled some of that distance 
with me: those who helped nurture my children, 
who stood with me when I was imprisoned and 
tortured, those who have always supported my work 
and stood by me when all seemed to stand against 
me. To these worthy friends, comrades and loved 
ones, I will always honor you, be there for you, 
and know you are there for me.

Still, I have arrived at a place in my life where 
I wish to share everything I have and know with 
the “sufferers.” My principle continues to be the 
struggle to engage the poor, oppressed, 
voiceless, and those who have the least and 
suffer the most. The only struggle that matters 
to me now is finding justice for those who have never had it.

This is me, where I am, trying to figure out how 
to organize our folk in a way that we always look 
at need as the principle of justice. If you are 
looking for me, look among the youth, the poor, 
and the struggling masses trapped in slave-like 
conditions throughout the world, for I am no 
longer available to an opportunistic and racist 
left. I NOW SEEK REFUGE AMONG THE POOR.

This is my struggle.
Wish me well,
Curtis

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