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?
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)
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,