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2011


June 2011


Learning to Be Egalitarian from the Ground up in the Now

A Report on the Organizing Process of the ISBO Collective in Jamaica
June, 2011

The slim, ebony arm of the sixteen-year-old girl went up. "Maybe it truly was fair, or maybe it was unfair, I don't know, but I think last time, Howie got too much and some people didn't get enough. All of us have needs, and what he got could help him with his needs, but what some of us got wasn't enough to help us with our needs. I think Howie should get less this time and some of us should get more."

Maurice said, "Well, it's according to how much work you do, and he did most of the work."

The facilitator asked, "Is that the principle we agreed to? Get paid by how much we work, like any other job?"

Several people responded, "It's by need, not only by work."

Howie said, "Maurice did a lot more work this time than he did last time; he helped me tend to the chickens many days; he should get more money this time."

A woman who is new to the group and very shy said, "I think what Marcia said could be right. Maybe it wasn't fair before. We should look at people's needs, too."

An older woman said, "I was uncomfortable about Marcia last time, too. Four people each got the same small amount, but one of them has parents who support her so her money was just spending money; two of them have other income; but Marcia doesn't have any income at all, she has to beg rides to school, so it looked equal but it really wasn't fair."

Richard, who had been reluctant to say anything at all, finally said, "All I can say is, each one of us has an inner soul. We all have to look into our inner soul to see what we think is fair and right. Last time, if you remember, those four got that amount because I put back a lot of my part. The only thing I can say is all of us can look into our inner soul." After that, there was silence until finally Howie said, "Take off 25% of my money and put it back in the pot."

This is a small part of an hour-long conversation at the last meeting of the Organizing Class led by ISBO (International School for Bottom-up Organizing) in Jamaica.

[For background about the project in Jamaica, please read the appendix.]

The Organizing Class is part of the community group in Jamaica. It meets once a week and works on several fronts. Members consider themselves as working for the community, and they do the day-to-day work of the group: making house calls to harvest ideas and encourage people to come make their voices heard at general meetings, making phone calls for those meetings, preparing the site, facilitating the meetings, and doing the same organizing steps for each workday and fundraising event. That is one front. Another front is studying the history and experience of previous revolutionaries, including the mass struggle to abolish slavery in the Americas (led by slaves and former slaves), communist or socialist attempts to create egalitarian societies, and recent and contemporary history and events. We discuss our own internalized racism and how to combat it, internalized sexism and how to combat it, and how the ideas and values of the Two Percent (the owners and rulers of the world) seep into our own values and how to combat them. We are looking for how to create an egalitarian world that does not make the same mistakes that defeated our ancestors and predecessors.

The third front of the Organizing Class is our egalitarian enterprise, which is what this article is about. Members of the class started our enterprise in March to provide material support so organizers can be free to do the work of the community. It is part of our vision of creating egalitarian prototypes of the world we want to build, learning egalitarianism by doing it, and becoming self-sufficient so our communities can sustain themselves independently of the government and the Two Percent. The economic principle of the enterprise is that we distribute the proceeds according to need: "each person does what they can, and each person gets what they need." This article is about the amazing, exciting, painful and scary challenges we are confronting in working through the problems in our enterprise. Eventually, we would like to see the enterprise grow to include all the whole community and all of its needs; eventually we want to do all of this without money.

So far, our enterprise is raising chickens to sell for eating, and making wicker products to sell both local and internationally. We have raised and sold two sets of fifty chickens so far. With the help of donated start-up money from supporters abroad, we now have chickens maturing every three weeks and have a small flow of income from them. We also sold three wicker picture frames, but have not made any more yet due to lack of time and people to do all the work, but they will be coming soon.

Here is the story of our successes and challenges in our chicken enterprise.

We create a market for our chicken by going door-to-door every three weeks to take orders. We explain our vision and that the income goes to support the organizers who work for the community: they know about the community work already. So far, we have delivered all of our chickens the same day we harvest them.

After selling our first chickens and some wicker products, we had a very happy and excited meeting where we pretty easily agreed on how to distribute the money. 70% of it went to a blind, unemployed man who did the day-to-day work of taking care of the chickens as they grew. (Everyone helped with cleaning, picking and marketing.) Everyone got something and went home happy; but later on there were some second thoughts.

The quotes at the beginning of this article were about distributing the money from the second set. This time it was not as easy, as you can see from the quotes. One person who had done very little work for the past month decided to leave the meeting early without really explaining why. We all left the meeting feeling pretty good, though. Our words to each other were not angry. We reminded ourselves that none of us know how to do this, that we are doing the best we can at figuring it out, and that we will get better as we go along. We are creating a new world, and just like childbirth, that cannot happen without pain; some of our mistakes will be painful, but we will learn from them: that is our spirit as we move forward.

The next day, several members talked to each other about the mistakes we could see after sleeping on the meeting the night before. We agreed that it still wasn't fair: Howie still got too much, several people got too little. One of us said to the facilitator of the meeting: "You'll get the blame for it, too, you know. If you had just said how it should go, and proposed a more equal solution, everyone would have been relieved." The other said, "but then the solution would be coming just from her; we want everyone to be part of the process and say their part." For her part, the facilitator knew she was feeling her way just like everyone else, and didn't actually have a "solution" to propose that night!

Here are some of the issues we will be discussing over the next week and longer:

  • The work of the enterprise is not just the chickens. It is all the work we do for the community, because the whole purpose of the enterprise is to support the organizing.
  • It is not a business where we get a salary. It is about providing for the organizers' needs so they can work for the community. NEED is the main way to decide.
  • Each time we distribute money, let's put some of it in the community group treasury.
  • We have to look more clearly at our own sexism. One thing that happened as a result of looking too much at work, and only at the chicken work, is that the three men got more money than the four women. But if we look at NEED, we can see that at least two of the women have very great need, more so than any of the men. If we had the understanding at the time that ALL the work the organizers do is considered "work," we would have included all the organizing work the women had done: house calls and phone calls for meetings, etc., not only the work they did with the chickens. We would have realized that the women did plenty of work!
  • Talking about women's needs, there is one thing we have to discuss more, which we already have talked about some. That is the fact that in our community, women and girls are forced to sell their bodies when they don't have any other way to get food, shelter and other necessities for themselves and their children. Our priority is to prevent that happening in our community, starting with doing everything possible so it does not happen to our organizers!

We should hold up Marcia as a great example for speaking up at the meeting. In spite of her youth, she showed leadership, and it comes from her own situation. She has already turned down propositions from taxi drivers to trade sex for her fare to get to school and most days goes without lunch. Many women and girls are shy about speaking up in meetings. All of the women felt the distribution was unfair, but only Marcia said something about it. We will encourage women to speak out more and louder at meetings, because their voice is what we need to stay on the egalitarian path! This is why ISBO says we need leadership from the poorest and darkest, ESPECIALLY WOMEN.

Addendum: Quotes from this week's organizing class discussion
"We have to look at the meaning of equality. Is it the same money, or money based on your standard of living? Some of us don't have income, some have other income, some are educated, some are not educated. So we need to decide on the meaning of equality, then we can figure this out."
"This is a test drive. We expect to make mistakes and work them out as we go along. But this is not about work; we have to put work out of the discussion completely or we'll have a problem. This is based on need."
"Remember the world historical context: equality is exactly the place where everyone messed up: Russia, China, even Cuba; they lost it, they have some very poor and some rich. So we should give ourselves a break and expect to make mistakes and correct them. It depends on total honesty and trust in one another."

A Special Note to Our Comrades and Friends in Other Revolutionary Organizations

Part of the reason for writing this article is to appeal to you to think about our experimental projects in building egalitarianism in the now. We think you share our goals of creating a world of egalitarianism by the hands of the oppressed masses, ending racism, nationalism and sexism, and making an historical monument from the ruling two-percent that has caused most of our misery for centuries.

We have concluded that it may not be preferable to start the process by first overthrowing the state. Our work is based on the idea of creating an egalitarian mass movement by building egalitarian, self-sustaining collectives in the poorest, darkest communities worldwide. (You can read more about our ever-developing ideas and activities at www.peoplesorganizing.org; please look particularly at our first two books, The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World, Books One and Two, both available in full and downloadable from the website. You can also see photographs from our organizing projects in Jamaica and Colombia.)

Our theory (practice will prove it right or wrong) is that by developing such a movement, there will be masses of people with a very sophisticated, practical knowledge of egalitarianism alongside a deep and passionate commitment to defending it. At this point, state power will truly become a "paper tiger," and the new society that follows will already be in the hands of the people themselves. IT IS VIVIDLY CLEAR FROM OUR PROJECTS THAT THE GENIUS TO LEAD OUR MOVEMENT EXISTS AMONG THE PEOPLE AT THE BOTTOM: THE POOREST, DARKEST OF OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS - ESPECIALLY OUR SISTERS!

What we ask from you is several-fold:

  • critical readers for our writings; all of our writing is a result of collective experience and discussion; we want the benefit of your experience and thoughts, too
  • venues to discuss our work with potential supporters and other interested people: we can provide speakers
  • people from the "bottom" where you are who want us to train them in egalitarian organizing
  • financial support
  • all other forms of support: medical, legal, technological, in-kind material support, volunteers
  • "folk tech" energy technology, water technology, etc.
  • social networking, YouTube and other electronic expertise
  • connections with like-minded people all over the world
  • circulation of our writings, websites, etc.

When ISBO first started, some of its founding members had been in existing revolutionary formations that seemed to be spinning their wheels, waiting for objective conditions to change so that the old ideas would gain new popularity. We decided to quit waiting and try something new. Because we came out of bottom-up, black-led organizing in the 1960s, this is where we have ended up. So far, we think we are in a good place! We are not asking you to quit what you are doing, however; we are just asking for your thinking, expertise and support.

We are very excited that poor, grassroots people are struggling with the very issues that stymied the revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and elsewhere - how to distribute the product of our labor in an egalitarian way. This is not happening in an isolated "commune" among people with alternatives: it is happening on the ground in rural, "third world" communities where people have run out of alternatives. Will you join us in learning from these brilliant, profound, and courageous people, and in spreading knowledge of their work far and wide?

*       *       *

Appendix:
Report from Jamaican organizing class to the ISBO School in Colombia
March 2011

Introduction:
The organizing in Jamaica has been in process for nearly four years. It has evolved during this time and is at a deeper place now than four years ago or even one year ago. Some of the things we are thinking about and working on have never been done before in the way we are doing them. We think about our work as a laboratory for experimenting with and learning about egalitarianism and self-sufficiency.

We have passed through a stage of dealing with dishonesty and selfishness. This caused us to become very vigilant and principled about how we deal with money and who we trust. Whereas in early events, people doing the work at our events sometimes stole money, food or drink for themselves and gave to their friends, in our most recent event, the Valentine dinner (which was our best collective effort yet), everyone from the group who worked also bought their own ticket and no one stole or took more than their share.

We always have internalized racism on the front burner. We have passed through a stage of everyone deferring to the white person, which is still an ongoing struggle. But we have improved in this because the same set of organizers has been active for a year and a half, and they have become much more experienced and self-confident. They facilitate the meetings, handle the money, do the door-knocking and the phone calls and organize the activities. In every event we evaluate, we discuss how internalized racism was there and how we dealt with it, so we continue to learn and become stronger.

We continue to learn about and deal with internalized sexism. We have had some very deep and honest conversations about our experiences with sexism, male and female, and this shows that we are honestly trying to deal with it, and that we trust one another very much. Most recently, one of our high schoolers brought to the group that a taxi driver had asked her for sex in exchange for rides because she does not always have her fare. We discussed this long and hard, and decided to go together as a group to help her talk to her mom about it. In the end, we weren't quite satisfied with her mom's response, but decided to abide by it unless the man approached her that way again. We will be vigilant about it from now on. It is also our principle that all activities we do have male and female involved; we agree that nothing is "men's work" or "women's work."

Organization:
We have three bodies that meet regularly.

The highest body in the community group is the general monthly meeting. For that meeting, we do house calls and phone calls (about 120 calls) to invite everyone from the two or three communities to attend. The meetings rotate venue to make them accessible to the whole community and demonstrate our principle of unity. The general meeting hears reports of all activities for the month, hears a financial report, and discusses and makes plans for workdays, fundraisers and other activities. It opens with a cultural or spiritual offering and ends with everyone standing and singing with hands joined in a circle. All meetings are facilitated according the People's Circle method of equal voice and consensus decision-making. The facilitator rotates to different members of the organizing class. We take a collection at each general meeting.

The leadership team is composed mostly of elders and some representatives from the organizing class (not always the same ones). It is open to anyone who wants to help do its work. This group meets once a month, the week before the general meeting, and decides the agenda for the meeting, makes recommendations to it for work and activities, and assigns tasks for decisions agreed to in the general meeting. It is held in the yard of one of the members of the team.

The third regular meeting is the organizing class. This is a weekly training class for organizers taught by ISBO organizing trainers. It is also voluntary, but only accepts people who have shown themselves to be honest and have the people's best interest at heart. The regulars include an elder woman (the trainer), a young adult man, two middle aged men, and three teenage girls. Sometimes, one or two of the girls' moms attend; sometimes one or two other teenage girls also attend. There was an older teen youth who used to attend, but he had to move out of the community. This group has been together more or less since the ISBO school in Jamaica in 2009. It had existed before then, but with a different and changing set of people.

Egalitarian self-sufficient prototype:
The organizing class members think of themselves as part of ISBO and as organizers who work for the community. The topics listed in the beginning of this report are main topics for the organizing class (that is, honesty vs. two-percent selfish attitudes, struggling against internalized racism and sexism). Several of them have taken some concrete steps toward creating an egalitarian prototype. This began about a year ago when the general meeting discussed self-sufficiency and planned toward having a community farm and farm market, an ongoing crafts committee and baking committee for bake sales.

About five organizing class members recently started an enterprise. The reason for this is that members of the organizing class are sometimes not available to do their organizing work because they are forced to focus on personal necessities. Several members of the class do not have enough food to eat, and at least one, sometimes two, of the school girls do not have transportation or lunch money for school. Sometimes members are too tired and hungry to concentrate during meetings or are in danger of sexual abuse as mentioned above. We decided that as a set of people trying to build a new world who love and care about each other, we had to begin to solve these problems collectively. We see this as the embryo of making our whole community self-sufficient on the basis of an egalitarian principle, which can then be an example that can spread to other communities, link with similar projects in other countries and spread to the whole world.

Our enterprise is currently making wicker products and raising chickens. The guideline for the work is that each person will give and do what they can and know how to do, and each person will receive according to need. We have had several discussions about how to do this and have not completely figured it out yet. We all know how the two-percent pay for work according to the hour or day; we will not do it like this. We also know that the capitalist way is that whoever starts out with the most resources gets out the most; our enterprise will be the opposite of that: the person with the most resources will probably not get out anything at all because they don't need it. Some of our members have other income and their needs are not as great. Even if they put in as much time as another person, the person with the most need will get the greater share of what we produce. Up to now, we have not sold anything yet; we have made some wicker products (picture frames) and have started raising chicks. We have not figured out how we will share out the proceeds, but we do know that we will first put aside what we need to keep the enterprise going. We also have consensus about who has the most need. So we are pretty confident that we will work out something fair. We have decided that as long as we are honest and caring, we will be able to correct any mistakes we make and gradually figure out the best method.

Another principle of the enterprise is that whatever we produce comes with a message about egalitarianism. Everyone involved with the enterprise is required to help market our products by going door-to-door for orders and explaining our principles and our vision. When we sell picture frames, we plan to put needlework in them that also says something about our principles. If we sell things outside the community or abroad, they will come with a printed tag explaining our principles so they become ambassadors for our egalitarian prototype.

The organizing class has also just launched another experiment: it is a fund for our members. Beginning in mid-February, we began throwing money in a can at each meeting. We said that those who are working can throw around one to one and a half percent of their income, and those who are not can throw whatever they might have even if it is very little. The one member who collects a pension in US dollars is throwing three percent of the income, because that money goes farther than Jamaican dollars. The purpose of this fund is for organizing class members to draw from when they need urgent help with food, educational expenses or medical expenses. We have decided we will keep a portion of it each month toward major, unexpected medical expenses. Also, we agreed that if a person does not have money but has food, they can donate the food, since that is one of our needs. We are still having discussions about how to manage the fund and what to name it. We have consensus that the money will be given out according to need, not according to how much a person put in.

Here are some of the suggestions for names so far:

  • Fair-view fund
  • Oh freedom fund
  • Wise-equal-life fund
  • Life care fund
  • Equamor fund (equal + amor/love)

We have consensus about the two people with top priority to receive from the fund. One is a disabled man who does not have a job and often does not have food. At first he resisted everything out of pride. Then he said he would not take out from the fund until he had put some money into the fund. We pointed out that it is the two percent who say money is the most important thing and we don't agree. He has already put in more work on the enterprise than anyone else, he is honest and we know he will use the money for the agreed purpose. We all agreed he should take from the pot before he has money to put in (which he will get once the enterprise begins to sell). One young woman said, "we are family within the group, and if we're family then anything that's mine is yours, share and share alike. If you have a need, you shouldn't put pride in it and you shouldn't feel guilty, because you are not taking something that doesn't belong to you." He finally agreed.

The next person we agreed needs urgent help is the high school girl who is begging rides to school. One man in the group gave a passionate speech about how he feels for her because he was in the same position as a child, eating one meal a day and no carfare for school. As he said, "she is part of us, one of our soldiers" Everyone agreed that she was very skilled and dedicated to make sure she got to school every day with no money and no food. We decided to help her by buying snacks for her to sell in school to raise money for her fare and lunch. We know that she has done this before and spent off the money or was careless with it and it got stolen, so we also said that if she loses the money, she can only come to the fund for taxi fare a limited number of times for the month. One of our adult members agreed to oversee her buying and selling, because she said she couldn't manage money, so we need to help teach her how.

Conclusion:
These things are experimental and we will see how they work out. We know there will be ups and downs. As far as we know, nobody has tried to do this inside the revolutionary movement in the last hundred years, even after they controlled nations. They never had confidence that the people at the bottom could work according to egalitarianism instead of individual self-interest. We are giving ourselves permission to make mistakes and then correct them, based on our commitment to egalitarianism, our love for each other, and our honesty. If we can do this on a small scale, we think we can take it to a bigger and bigger scale. Our first step in the direction of bringing in the community will start next month, when we cook one meal per week together, with whatever anyone has to put in the pot. We will invite a few friends and family to partake with us and spread the idea of share and share alike. After dinner we will show a movie and discuss it.

We are excited about the Summer Project, where we will build a windmill to start generating our own energy, and learn many skills that can help us learn from the elders and communicate with other communities all over the world. It will help us move from just taking care of a few of our needs collectively in a small group toward eventually taking care of all of our needs for everyone in the community!

March 2011


Minutes of the ISBO Local School Session in Colombia, March, 2011

People came to the ISBO school from mountain and valley communities in Cauca, from Cali, Medellin, El Choco, Bogota, and also from England, Finland, France, the US and Jamaica. They came from all walks of life, including high school and university students, farmers, workers, teachers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers and professors. Several had been reading and following ISBO for a few years. A core group of about twenty organizers attended all week, and an additional forty-plus people came for various lengths of time during the week. They were women and men, young and old, of all colors, but predominantly dark-skinned and predominately young, between the ages of 18 and 35.

Day One, March 6, 2011

On the first day, everyone introduced themselves and responded to the questions: "why are you here, and what do you want to learn in this ISBO school this week?" Below are quotes from some of the dozens of answers.

"I know who I am; I want to know who I can be."

"How to create self-sustaining mechanisms."

"What is the limit we need to go to finish racism and all the things that are stopping us."

"I want to know what I can do so that people in my community understand that the project, process and land is theirs, and they need to appropriate it. Also: how to make our own gas and electricity, and how to eliminate money. How to raise children collectively, so the raising of children is not just the responsibility of the father and mother, so we all feel responsible for the children."

"How to eliminate poverty and the sense of being poor, because I feel that I am excluded, pushed away by people in different places where I go because of that. The government and society reinforces this and keep poor people down so that we can't stand up and fight for our rights."

"Every moment in my life makes me be here. To be Afro makes me be here."

"I'm here because I want to change our history."

"I'm here for the knowledge we can learn from each other. The process of the school is very important. From our community roots we will come up together. It is important to have unity: we can't do things alone."

"My worry is to do with food security. What can we do to make the small farmers, campesinos with very little income, and all the people that are involved in food . . . organize a working plan to counteract the current ways how food is produced and moves."

"I'm interested in learning the concepts of the school: machismo, racism, and to hear some experiences people have had."

"My friend from ISBO said he went to Jamaica and learned that Jamaican culture gives lots of importance to Afro culture. I learned about sister Nanny, and it has always been very emotional for me to know about Granny Nanny and my ancestral culture. So this is the moment for me to come here to share and visualize how to blow up this movement here in Colombia so people know about their culture and history."

"I want to learn all that I can, especially how young people can have a higher respect for saying we are Afro, we are black. Because among our Afro youth, there are many influences from other cultures and it's important for me to know that I can go out in the street and see that people feel proud of who they are and where they come from."

"I want to learn your strategies how to organize so I can apply them here in the palenque."

"I want to learn what is the best strategy so we can make the multinationals not contaminate our territory."

"All the processes that have to do with sustainability: I'd like to know about that."

"I want to learn deeply about ISBO, the things that will be shared about machismo, racism, all the things on the table, so I can integrate it into my music and AV projects."

"I like to be part of an organization that really takes what the communities have so we can show it to everyone, and learn how to do this without government intervention."

"I want to discuss how to deal with themes of trust. And how do we get women to participate more. How to maintain our community projects and processes without the use of money; how to become self-sustaining."

After the introductions, the overall plan for the school was laid out: former graduates of ISBO schools would meet in the mornings, and the overall school would open at 2:00 PM every day. The organizers would plan the sessions around the questions people had raised in the first session. All meetings were open to anyone who wanted to attend. The facilitator then made a few general points about ISBO:

"Our school will start every day at 2 PM. And the reason it will start at 2 PM is so the sisters that work in the kitchen, and work in the center, and work on jobs can also attend.

Here are some major features of the ISBO school. One is, we think everybody's equal. So we talk about racism and sexism up front, and we do that in every school session no matter what. One of the reasons we do that - even though Africa is the mother of all people on the planet, and most people on the planet today have African blood in their veins - all people, really - so when we talk about lifting African people up and making them our leaders, we are not talking about putting anybody else down. So that's why we have that discussion, so you get it right: we're talking about saving humanity. And women are all of our mama. And they too are trampled on. Isn't that amazing that we trample on our mamas? Those are two subjects that will be on our agenda, you should know that.

The other main issue on our agenda is: how do we make our communities self-sustaining? And as we talk, remember that if we are one people all over the earth, and we are, and there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, then we should know everything as a people, right? There shouldn't be anything we can't learn, right? So shoot high in the sky when you think of what you want to learn, because there's nothing we can't learn."

Day Two: March 7, 2011

The first thing we do in our school sessions is to have people from our projects give reports on what we've been doing since the last time we were together. There were four reports for this session, one from Jamaica, two from Colombia, and a report on the Underground Railroad research.

The first report was from Jamaica, accompanied by a slide show of photographs of the work. The report is attached.

The Jamaica report included a description of three types of meetings: a general meeting to which the whole community is invited, a leadership team which plans the general meeting, carries out some of its plans, and involves community elders in overseeing the work, and an organizing class led by ISBO organizers which studies current events, history of revolutionary movements, and issues related to the organizing, and which takes responsibility for organizing the meetings, facilitating the meetings, doing house calls and organizing the work the meetings agree to. The school emphasized that these three meetings - general community meeting, leadership meeting and organizing class - are three elements ISBO wants its trainees to create and maintain in all of our projects.

After the report and questions, we did a round of reflections on the report. Here are some quotes from that round:

"The thing that got my attention was that we are organizing in an egalitarian way, working for the common good, not the individual."

"What affected me was the story about the girl and the taxi driver. All the things women have to do for wanting to better themselves. I know I've been harassed and have tolerated it because I want to better myself. It was interesting that we helped her not to be harassed."

"That kind of story is reflected here, too; that's the reality of life. You can see it, like the girl may be here in the park - they might offer their body so they can travel to work or school: very sad."

"I really liked to hear the story of the young girl - that even with what she went through she kept on studying. I think that was a very good example."

"I particularly liked hearing that there is someone very committed to his work, giving all his energy to it who is blind, and he's going to receive more from our project because he's in greater need. That's a very novel thing. It would be so good to multiply that here and have that type society."

"I liked the opportunity you gave to the blind man to work, because so many people discriminate against blind people and think they can't do anything. And it was good to hear about the relief fund to help the most needy. Also the idea of creating our own energy is very good."

"What caught my attention was the unity in the group. The idea of cooking food collectively in the street and everyone chipping in, that really sounds like a family!"

"That there are three communities working together to become one family to benefit the poorest - that is really a good example to take around the world. I particularly like the young people uniting to work together for the most need, being independent from political parties and working on independence about energy so they don't depend on anyone. Those stories are very important for us to learn from and apply it here. That's what I want to do, work for my people, not depend on a job for a multinational so that I work and give my time so they can get richer.

"The whole story is very interesting and we have to look at it, reflect on it. The idea of autonomy from the government, the way the meetings are done, the thing about honesty around resources, fighting the minimizing of our identity - racism - the thing about sexism, machismo. It's very interesting about giving more to who is most needy. I think it is very daring, very interesting and contains many things that shake people's everyday life. These are all themes to reflect about."

"What impacted me was to see that people in other places in the world are working together to get to that dream world."

"The slide show was very impacting, to see the cultural expression of Jankunu, which is the same here - the difference is that you are doing it for the collective, where here they do it to ask for money for themselves. This is the kind of thing we have to reproduce in all our communities, also the productive project to give to the most needy. And the thing about honesty: sometimes people stole, but then started to learn that not stealing the resources is very important. We are very used to that here, people running away with the resources of the community. People need to understand that's bad. What the Jamaica project is doing is completely the reverse of capitalism, and that is super. We have to start bringing down those foreign processes like capitalism, and fight the individualistic mindset that people work for themselves only. We have to work together for the collective good."

At the end of the round, the facilitator commented on how profound the responses were and pointed out that it was the result of listening. He explained that listening is more important for an organizer than talking, because all the genius we need in the world is in the hearts and minds of the people, so we need to listen in order to get what we need.

The second report was on the Underground Railroad research project. The report is attached. In the discussion afterwards, the following points were mentioned:

** the role of the Masons as a significant part of the leadership of the UGRR in the US and Canada.

** if we had several thousand organizers in each nation in the Americas (the number the UGRR had in the US and Canada), the people could take over now.

** the movement made an error putting a white man (John Brown) in front in the military campaign to take over the South, because he got soft-hearted about the white prisoners and delayed movement until he could reassure their wives, causing them to be surrounded and defeated

** their constitution gave equal rights to women and all property owned by the community

** Lincoln freed the slaves to prevent them taking their own freedom and taking over the South

** because of the genocide of indigenous peoples and the mass importation of Africans, there ended up being more Africans than indigenous in most of the Americas: all Americans are Afro-descended

There was a wide-ranging discussion of racism and internalized racism, with many stories from the history of the Americas. A final comment on the type of organizing done by the UGRR was made by a Colombian organizer:

"This is the kind of organizing we are looking for. It is complicated to do within the oppression and harassment we are subject to as black people. We know that Haiti was marked after their revolution (1804), and because of that white people organized even stronger against the movement. Even today we know for a fact that when we try to organize, we are being watched because they say we know too much. In our town we've been trying; we know that the government has tried to break our process through legislation against it. What we're trying to do is get people away from political parties and politicians. What we're doing is our own politics, the politics of people."

In the evening, there was a round of reflections on the stories and reports people heard today. In addition to some people repeating thoughts expressed earlier in the day, several people focused on leadership: that in ISBO projects, the community is the leadership, that leaders are equals and shouldn't be big-headed, that their role is to unite people. They mentioned the need to train people to respect themselves so they can respect and serve the people; they mentioned the need for female leadership. Others mentioned accountability and transparency about money, learning to put down self-interest, producing collectively for the community.

"The boss in the organization is everyone that comes to the meetings. That is the most important thing, because if the boss is just, everyone will work justly - and the boss is the community!"

"ISBO's idea is interesting. It's looking for a new world, an egalitarian world, more just, democratic - it invites us to think of the possibility of creating a form of alternative organization that can help our communities get rid of poverty and move towards a world of egalitarian development."

"The way that ISBO projects work as a team, with equality and fairness, creating a new world from the bottom, from the community, is important, because we see each other as brothers and work together with our hearts, without looking for our own interest. The work is done in unity - I get educated and can also educate others. We can unite hands and work together toward a better future."

"I noted that the organizer is not someone who is going to look down on people, and who takes into account the opinions of everyone. All opinions uniting to build a model to create a new world. In our context, many of our leaders don't have that idea of leadership - they say "I invest, so I rule like a dictator." But we want to change that and create an egalitarian model of leadership."

Final session of the day was "hot and cold," in which people said what was "hot" (good, high points) of the day and what was "cold" (needed improving).

"Hot" comments included:

** it feels like family

** all the knowledge we can use in our community work

** well documented, good teachers

** easy to understand

** opportunity to know what's going on in other countries, and that what happens here also happens there

** I've met friends, I feel good and want to keep learning

** the organizing ideas and the political ideas

** seeing lots of women here

** sharing with everyone

** learning some English

** see new faces and learning about Afro history

** logistics done well - food, tables, spaces

** hearing the responses to our report made me see we are really making progress

** seeing that we are doing the same things in Colombia and Jamaica even though we are distant from each other

** the food, the attention, the love that can be felt here "Cold" comments included:

** we need to know more about this organizations so we can become part of it and develop our community objectives

** our memory won't hold all this; we need it in writing, even if it is in English and we have to get it translated later

** many of us women are making ourselves shadows; we need to work on being more assertive

** the translation takes too long: the language impediment is the cold stuff

** people here should invite more people, create more spaces where people can be involved

** too bad more people from Jamaica couldn't be here

Two areas for improvement were mentioned over and over again: the language barrier and providing written documentation (which is really a problem of translation because the documents exist in English only).

Day Three: March 8

The morning started with a discussion from the youngest people that it was hard for them to listen to the morning report repeated in the afternoon. After a round of suggestions, it was agreed that the youth would listen to the report in the morning and summarize for the new people that came in the afternoon. It was also agreed that we would break every 45 minutes or so to do some singing, chanting, polyphonics, etc.

We planned to hear reports from Villa Rica, and in the afternoon spend time discussing sexism. Today is International Women's Day. The women who volunteered to spend the week cooking for us have the day off today, and the male organizers are doing all the cooking and serving.

Villa Rica presentation

This will be in three parts:
1. Haga que pase (Make it happen)
2. SK Productions
3. General work in the Palenque (report to be given by Fundacion Villa Rica later; the first two in the morning. Also Mi FinK discussion this morning and viewing video this afternoon.

Haga Que Pase report:

Viewing of video interviews from Ecuador and Brazil.

Slavery was abolished in Colombia in 1830. There was a plantation in Villa Rica at that time called Hacienda del Alto. In 1830, a boat arrived with hundreds of slaves, and the owner of the Hacienda, Julio Arboleda, bought them. Although emancipation happened, he decided he couldn't give away the slaves because he had paid for them. He gave them two alternatives to achieve their freedom: continue working for him until they could pay for themselves, or if others bought and released them. Since Hollywood hadn't invented superman, there was no saviour, so we had to work 18 years to free ourselves. A youth in this hacienda escaped while working, went to the high land to get with other slaves like the San Basilio Palenque, and then began organizing to come back and free others. He learned a lot of voodoo. A big board appeared in the woods, which the slaves couldn't read: "Christ didn't go farther than the cross, Julio Arboleda won't go farther than this." One day, as Arboleda was walking with his bodyguards, he came upon the billboard. As soon as he started reading the billboard, many maroons came from the bush, led by the young man who had escaped. The young man threw one bullet with his hand and killed Julio. The bodyguards all jumped into the bush, but couldn't find anyone. That's how the people in Villa Rica got their freedom, and Villa Rica is sitting on the land of the hacienda. Villa Rica used to be called La Bolsa ("the bag") because Arboleda carried the money the money he used to buy the slaves with him in a bag. From then on people appropriated the land and planted food.

All people had was a barter system until the sugar cane mills came 1948, exactly 100 years later. The sugar owners started taking the land of the liberated people. In the early 1950s, they tried to negotiate with people to sell land for sugar planting. People knew the land was a symbol of freedom, and everyone said no, but the sugar people created strategies to appropriate the land. One was to bring plagues to destroy the crops. Our grandparents tell us that in the nights there were airplanes fumigating the crops with diseases until they were killed. Since the land was all they had to survive on, they ended up having to sell their lands. Here is how the sugar companies did it: they sent people house visiting with the strategy of creating problems, then proposing solutions. They would tell people, "if you depend on your traditional farms, your crops will die from the plagues and you don't have anything to live on, so we propose you lease your land to us, and with that money, you can survive until the plagues pass. Just for one season." So people accepted, and were giving lots of money for rental. After the first cycle of the sugar, people tried to plant food but it wouldn't work because the chemicals they used on sugar had killed all the microorganisms and depleted the soil. So then the sugar companies' proposal was: since you can't use the land, sell it to us. Many people accepted. When they valued the land before buying, they said the land was dead and therefore the price was very, very low.

Another way they got the land was through the agrarian bank, which offered credit to save crops, but at very high interest. Because sugar kept fumigating, people didn't make enough money to pay the credit and had to turn over their titles to the bank. They mortgaged the land and the banks repossessed it and sold to sugar mills. So today in Villa Rica, unemployment is high, crime is high, and people became slaves to the sugar mills, which pay slave wages. The local government made an agreement to create an industrial estate around here, and now everyone works for these industries.

These companies won't hire people directly: they employ subcontractors to hire people to work, so people can't join unions. Most people nowadays work 12-14 at $4 per day, no holidays, no overtime pay. Many have to work nighttimes and are paid 5-6000 pesos per shift (less than $4 US). The worst thing is that young people have no time for anything but work, so every weekend they drink and go to discoes all weekend. No one is protesting the situation, because they know there are thousands of other young people waiting for their jobs, so there seems to be no way to change the situation.

Because of this we started the campaign "Make It Happen" ("Haga Que Pase"). We talked to the few people who never sold their land, and compared their life with the modern life of Villa Rica. Those people who keep resisting are happier than those working in mills and factories. We produced a documentary film based on their lives: Mi FinK. The documentary launch was here. We decorated this place as a traditional farm. J&M brought plantains from their farm, and there were many fresh products, and we told people to come take anything from "your farm." And people loved it. The main idea was to make people reflect on the loss of their farms. The invitation was to organize to recover our land.

The education offered by the government to the Afro-descendants and indigenous people is the lowest, so when they try to access higher education, they can't pass the exams to get into the university. They also don't have the money. So many have to join military, go into paramilitaries, form a gang to steal money to eat, or go work in the sugar mills and other industries.

Haga Que Pase is about that: we contacted a few organizations in London and made a tour with the film. The idea is to start recovering our land, whether legally or by going and taking it ourselves. While we were on the tour, we met a man and woman from the Brazilian landless movement. They said they wanted to speak to me, that they have the same problem and want us to come to Brazil and to visit Villa Rica. We also met a woman from Ecuador, who sent a youtube video which told almost the same story. In the video, she said, "they took the shackles off our hands and put them on our minds."

Discussion of report:

** the importance of not letting the government or NGO's control our stuff: SK was able to flip the script with the NGO that funded the film, forcing them to use our ideas and train our people in filmmaking

** the NGO's intention was a documentary for the ministry of culture to use as part of the Colombia bicentenary. They wanted a film about the slavery stories, now you're free. We told them we want to show how we are still not free in our own land - they said no. We said: "how can we talk about 200 years of freedom if we are still not free?" Since we had already signed the contract that we were going to do the documentary, and we went ahead and did the one we wanted, made them train us, and refused to let them launch it - instead we launched it without their money or support. We also did not allow them to keep the rights to the film, which they wanted so we wouldn't share it publicly. It was a fight all the way through.

** there have been lots of documentaries about Villa Rica, but everything is taken away and the community left with nothing.

** the process: 4 or 5 weekends of consulting with the community, getting gthe stories and deciding how to structure the film. Two more weekends to do the filming. Another weekend for editing. We learned to srite script, check it step by step.

** Very important to let the elders speak because of their experience, and the younger farmers because they are the future.

** like the SK tour in England, we used to have the Freedom Singers. The Spanish brought small pox and killed most of the indigenous (Mexican story) and also brought slaves until more Africans than indigenous. They methodically created castes based on skin color, by deliberately impregnating women with white sperm. They put it in our brains to compartmentalize ourselves by hue and think of ourselves as separate people, but all the colonizers did this purposely. After emancipation in the US, blacks bought 1.6 million acres and today have lost nearly all of it by the exact same process that happened in VR/ Colombia. But my people and your people don't know we are one people! "I want us to figure out how we can know in our hearts and our souls that we are one people" - that all our groups in Colombia, in Jamaica, the US, the school we'll start in Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil - they are all the same. We've got to figure out how to make them all the same. The Freedom Singers used to spread the word in music and to raise money for our organizing. (played video of Freedom Singers). "I hope by the end of this, we realize we are all one, and SK become OUR freedom singers!"

Two members of SK then performed "Haga Que Pase." A suggestion was made for them to try to change the lyrics from "I" to "we." Your presentation was bigger than your song - you need to make your songs as big as all the things you have presented to us! SK needs to speak for the whole world!

Afternoon addressed by Mama Anatulia Olaya Cortez (Manato)

Facilitated by Eliana, introduction by Guillermo. G helped Manato recover and record her stories of the Africans in North Cauca at her request, working Sundays for 2 years. Includes rising above slavery, how the people freed themselves, life in the 1920s on the fincas, black warriors called banditos who used to fight those who wanted to take the land. Also, she tells traditional stories like Duende, and has been leader of the Oraciones which she inherited from Santiago. The book also contains fuga songs, death rites, bundes songs. Sulma is doing a thesis on slaves - rites of passage. Book also includes information on fifty figures in North Cauca history, including original African surnames.

Manato spoke for a long time. Because her stories are all published in the book, we refer readers to that book for the most complete and accurate telling of the stories. Briefly, Manato told the same story about emancipation that is in the report above about VR; she told about her own memories of the banditos, her personal experiences with farming, childrearing, and spiritual happenings. She also recited poems and songs from the rites mentioned above and from the Oraciones.

Sexism discussion

Facilitated by Maria, introduction by Curtis as follows: "Today we say thank you mama, thank you sister, thank you Miss Comrade. We're so thankful to be your children, thankful to be your husbands, to be your brothers and you the mother of our children. Someone declared this day to be the international day of the woman. Let us all give a hand to you. "Our organization, sponsoring this event is called the International School for Bottom-up Organizing. What we mean by that, we are learning how to organize the people who are the poorest and the darkest. We recognize that poverty and suffering in the world is mostly done to people of dark skin all over the world. The world is now suffering for the need for justice, the need to get rid of poverty, and the people most qualified to lead us are those who have suffered the most. The darker you are, the more you suffer. We want to change that. "We believe that the women of that group are most capable of leading us. Women have always been our caretakers, always been able to make a pot of beans share for everyone. They have been able to care for us even when times were hard, hard, hard. We believe in the hearts of women is the greatest example of justice. So our school is trying to train dark-skinned people, people of color, and all people, but putting women in our leadership. That is not to say dark-skinned people are better than others: they are not. But they know more about suffering. And the women, especially. So we humbly pass the leadership of this session to you women this day. We hope it is every day."

A page or two was read from the sexism chapter in ISBO's book two, then the circle was asked to share personal experiences with sexism. Here is a selection of the comments:

** Our African ancestors said all you get from women is food for dogs, but my mom never said that to me. Women are judged to

be only good for gossip; I don't agree.

** Manato: it is because of women that men exist.

** Machismo creates different tasks for men and women, defines women as submissive. Sexism and racism are two plagues we need to eradicate to have a just society.

** some parents think women shouldn't go to school.

** sexism humiliates women as if they are less than men.

** cooking and watching kids should be shared by everyone

** sexism is a capitalist strategy to oppress women, make them seen as object that has nothing to offer society; women are foundation of society

** sexism is cultural backwardness, reflects low education. A civilized person cannot hit his partner and treat her badly.

** sexism is more than domination, it is history written mostly by men. We need to de-learn sexism, because even women are sexist. Mothers treat daughters differently; society approves violence against women.

** women need to learn we have the same capacities as men

** it's a divide and conquer thing, like the division between campesinos and Afros. We need to learn to create one people.

** my cousins can stay out as long as they want, but not me; they say "you're my treasure." We still live with this sexism.

** Sexism carries the weight of history, brought down generation to generation that girls are only good for having kids looking after the house, cooking. We see women in history as objects, not subjects.

** sexism isn't distinguished by race; it happens everywhere. We need to develop spaces to find how to resolve this.

** our parents have preferred men over women, say women shouldn't have rights. Women have value and we have to give them rights. I've always been a fighter.

** we're all women at my house, so I don't have any experience with sexism

** in some ways, the woman in the house is boss; the men don't know where anything is; when they are alone they can't figure out what to do

** our house is all women, but obviously we experience it in the streets

** I lived a long time in London and I have taken a hard punch coming back here. In the countryside, women stay home, cook, don't go out, get fat, have lots of kids. Men go out and work, but many women don't work in the fields and say it is the men's responsibility.

** I have recognized that I have been machisto all my life; my experiences abroad widen my vision of sexism, but I am still sexist and trying to overcome it and hope you women can help me. Sometimes women give us confusing messages: what limit can we go with flirtation, for example? Reggaeton lyrics make us think it's okay to speak about women's bodies, but I think that is insulting.

** we can't solve poverty and illiteracy of the glove without unity of men and women, without mutual love and respect. I propose a code of behavior: men who demonize women orally should get a piece of tongue cut off; slap, fingers cut off; fist, hand cut off; rape, get that cut off too. That will stop people from practicing sexism.

** Sexism smashes women and also brings pain to men, because they have been separated from their natural role of nurturing humanity. We need to bring everyone into the love and humanity of our movement so we can free ourselves.

** If you let men take care of tiny babies, fix food for children, change diapers, take care of family elders, wash clothes - we have lost the ability to care for our people. all human beings should care for their young, helpless and old. That is what produces humanity. Sisters, please help us get back our humanity.

** we are sexist in ourselves, so it is important for us as women to be together to talk, recover spaces where women used to celebrate rituals; in that way men can learn from us.

** my mom brought us up as equals, and it goes down to the grandchildren. We all sit and discuss problems together, don't swear, share with each other. We need to do this with all kids, even if they're not our own.

** I'm the opposite - only girl of 6, and all the housework and cooking is on me.

** I understand what people have been saying about sexism, but we also need to recognize that in the black community, women are the boss of the house and in charge of the family government. The image of the man as macho is different. We have been trying to help youth go to university, and we see that 90% are women. I think in five years, our communities will have women at a high level of education, and men without many possibilities of getting jobs. I think we have to take this into account as well. In five years, we will be talking about how to motivate men to better themselves.

** our process here is about educating, learning and de-learning about gender and equality. What I can do, women can also do, so don't put women down. I am ready to make that step, but women need to teach us, correct us. Mothers are the ones always with the children; they need to teach us from we are kids.

** as men we have to be aware that all that work is not just for her; we have to collaborate, help the kids with homework, help raised the kids, pick up things, clean house, cook. Cooking doesn't take our gender away. Things get done quicker that way. Money creates a problem with sexism too, because men can get better jobs; women get exploited in shit jobs, especially single mothers.

** we can't pretend to be each other. Women are special because they give the gift of life. Little children are attached to women more than men, because we are different.

** What G said is very important. I am a white woman trying to learn from the people who need to be our leaders, which is people with the dark skin. I have noticed the same thing G said. In Jamaica it is already as G said: 80% of university students are female. In my community, there are many men with nothing to do, no job, no money, and the government and press say they are no good, lazy, criminals who desert their children. Unfortunately, many women also say these things. J, C, and C asked for women to guide them, and as a woman I think this is what we should do. Of course when someone is abusing us, we need to stand up and fight back. But while sexism is smashing down women, it is also paining the hearts of men. I think we need to bring them into the love. We must have unity if we are to defeat the two percent and liberate ourselves.

Day 4, March 9

Introductions, Curtis read a few paragraphs introducing ISBO for the new people. Present this morning were CAIS Maloka people, two from Choco/Medellin, SK and a few from the Palenque

CAIS Maloka presentation

CM is a project which began in the belly of Babylon. We lived in London 15 years, and worked with organizing projects with young immigrants and artists, including Refugee Youth. We used PAR (participatory action research) as a tool to find the problems of the young immigrants/refugees and found out what they wanted to do, find solutions to the problems. PAR is a spiral process: investigate, find possible solutions, implement them, evaluate - ongoing process. We began to realize the problems of refugees started in our home countries. The only way to discover why people migrate was to go back. One principle for CM is to investigate why we are poor and from there begin the process. This will be our 4th year here in Dagua; we're here with our fellow members. We've been in a slow process, because we have to work at the people's pace. We use arts, theater, dance to get to know people. We started working with the local action group (junta). When we arrived it existed, but then dissolved. So we started meeting with people, investigating why it dissolved. We did people's circles and gave everyone an opportunity to express what was problem with last junta, and what we want to do. We arrived at consensus that the junta failed because of lack of information, communication, and also because the government wants us to organize the junta their way, in conflict to how the community wants to organize. In our work with young people, we had become very good friends, so we started to meet with the guys to speak about idea of taking the junta as a young people's junta. People had little idea how to form a junta, never had been given voice before. We investigated: what is power behind the junta? Agreed it was the people, and should be a circle, not a hierarchy. In a hierarchy you give power to one president, and then everyone else becomes dependent. We had to play the game, so on paper we are organized the way the government requires, but in practice we are egalitarian.

We've had some struggle with some people, because they are not used to seeing a youth junta, but it was a legal process, there was a ballot box, a government representative was there.

Several other CM members spoke about their experience:

** The president of the junta is an 18 year old male, the secretary a 25 year old female

** fundraising, Christmas party for kids, Father Christmas from London

** pine cultivation threatening water source; ongoing struggle about it with forestry

** productive project of organic farming, learning to make fertilizers and pest control from natural sources (ashes, chilies)

** the vegetables are for our own consumption and if extra, to sell

** also about creating identity and belonging; creating common good for everyone

** dealing with mayor about transport to school for children, machinery to clear the roads; so far they haven't done it

** collective community work

We're talking about self-sufficiency, to create our own petrol, food, and in that way liberate ourselves from money and capitalism. We're working with ISBO, to find experts to teach us and at the same time give them access to what we're doing: an exchange. One of the things we've lost is the knowledge of our elders. We need to find it back. We're looking to create a community council based on egalitarian principles of cooperation, the leadership of women, dark-skinned, and the principle of consensus, not voting. Every time we practice voting, we exclude a big part of the community. It creates problems when people don't feel included.

In most places, the same people have been in power for 25-30, usually older men who take this power and don't share it with community. They are organized in a pyramid shape. This form reflects corporate organization, not the reality of community. So we are investigating how to create community based prototypes better adapted to people's reality.

One of the big problems is pines taking over our spring water area. The company is in Ireland. As you know pine trees are not native to our mountains; they take out a lot of water. 35 liters per day per tree. So if we got 3500 hectares of pine trees, you can work out how much water it takes out. The fathers are the ones who built the present aqueduct so water gets to all our houses. It's very modern, we don't pay for it, it is our mother's milk and we resist all companies who want to take over our water and we'll defend it with our machetes if necessary. This is an example of self-sufficiency. We're looking a way to build Villa Rica an aqueduct that belongs to the people so each house doesn't have to have a big tank. On our aqueduct we've got work groups to maintain the pipes, clean. Every month two families clean the tanks. This is voluntary work. The 3000 pesos people contribute for water we keep for repairs. Before it was used to pay the person to clean the tanks.

Lately the government has been making requirements and if we don't do it that way, they can legally take the water management from us. Some years back, they put meters in our village to measure water and without the community tore out the. That's what we hear from our older members. We believe that there's a great genius among the people on the bottom, waiting to be released. Everyone has the ability to free themselves, liberate this genius, create these self-sufficient communities, led by women especially of dark skin, because they have most knowledge of justice.

Brief explanation/discussion of ISBO international work

ISBO believes everything we need to be healthy and well, the knowledge already exists in our collective communities. We believe our suffering, poverty, oppression is a result of our lack of organization and unity. Our work is to organize, organize, organize. We want to put an organizing school, more specifically an organizing class, in every country, community, town, and city in the whole world. Those are the parameters of our international work. So we want to talk to our sister from Choco about starting a school down there with you. J said something last night: we believe that everywhere in the world there are people who think like us. It's our job to find them. The main feature of the international report is the research about the underground railroad. That name will change depending on where you are, but what we are researching is the methodology and technology the slaves used to run away to freedom. Also the communities they established: what kind of governments they established, how they defended themselves from attack. We want to understand how they were able to build their communities and provide all necessary institutions, without aid from anyone.

We are planning summer projects in several communities to begin to build some of our institutions to become self-sustaining: windmills, learn to make fuel for cars and cooking - taking that off people's budge will improve their lives.

We ask people to think about this vision: do we have confidence in ourselves to make it happen? Do we believe we can put an organization in every country in the world in the next forty years? Let's think like that. Develop an international consensus against oppression.

Comments:

** society tells us we're poor, makes people want material things, then develop a culture of begging from government agencies, etc. What are the real possibilities for people to reclaim their land? In VR we used to always have plenty of organic food and animals. In Dagua it's pines; here it's sugar cane, took over our farms.

** we have concept of poorness stuck in our head, always expecting government help. Relationship with politicians is always what they can give us; after elections they forget us. The only way to advance is to understand the problem starts with us.

** the constitution and human rights are not reality.

** need to rediscover our ancestors' wisdom and experience, indigenous and Afro: they worked by cooperating. We get seduced by the life the media projects and forget we already had our own knowledge and wisdom. Capitalism destroyed it, but it's in the memories of our elders, there to discover.

Introduction of people from Choco

J: I work for ISBO and SK productions; while in London I met the Uhuru Movement working on political prisoners. I invited the sister here because she's from Choco and we're very interested in Choco.

M: Choco is a region where the majority of Afros are; they came as slaves. It's an important theme to discover the ancestors' history so we can better our conditions. My ethnic and cultural identity guide me; I became part of the Rastafarian movement, created a Rasta group in Bogota around reggae music, translating Bob Marley lyrics, learning about Haile Selasse. I dealt with violence against black women based on the theme of straightening hair: the natural beauty of black women is attacked. I work at the university in Medellin teaching communication science, formed a group for Afro-descended students to discuss their needs. Some are from poor backgrounds in Choco, many are children of corrupt politicians. We focus on African identity. Eleven years ago, Law 1320 said Afro and indigenous communities have to be consulted on issues effecting their environment and economy, water, air, etc. They call the student group Quilombo (maroon) Group, the majority are law students. This symbolism brings unity, because there were also indigenous in the palenques, even though they were created by runaway slaves. We would be open to ISBO coming to teach us organizing skills. We work with a variety of organizations and enterprises, especially the Uhuru Movement. The group is in Medellin, not Choco; the main group is in the US and we are developing groups in Medellin, Buenaventura, San Basilio.

(Curtis: I know the Uhuru people well, their history, beginning and organizers. ISBO would have trouble working with them. We'd like very much to work with you, but Uhuru is 35 years old; I've been in the struggle 50 years, and they have been a serious problem to our movement historically, though I'm sure there are good people in there. We'll talk more later about this.)

M: We have an Afro newspaper (presented it); I write for the Medellin section.

J: could we organize a session like this with the people from the bottom and find out what's going on in their communities?

M: yes. It's not just one collective, many working together. I have contact with the Mayor of Medellin, but conscious to deal with community in a participatory way, create networks like the women's network, SK, Quilombo - be open minded about other paths.

C: how is your work funded?

M: from our own resources, donations, and by selling advertising. Sometimes by submitting proposals to the government, selling food, a store, a magazine.

C: who is the "we" that directs this work?

M: it's disorganized, that's why we want help in organizing

C: this is an emergency, because this type of situation is an enemy's gold mine. I guarantee you the enemy is always there. We need to go set up a school with you.

Underground Railroad Research report

The report was read aloud, followed by discussion of the need for us to solve the translating and interpreting problem. (Report is in Book 2)

Elder Nicolas Possu told the story passed down to him about his ancestors. (Also on video) Notes: I'm finding in my research and what I'm hearing, my family name is Bolu. I know my family, from family stories, they were brought from an island called Isla L'Oro, somewhere near Greece. My granddad said his great granddad who was brought here was the leader in that tribe, which was an egalitarian society. The Greeks went to Isla L'Oro, taking people from there, that's the ancestral story. He let them capture him so he could come rescue part of his family that had been taken before him. When he got here, many people were coming in a boat, they were dying of hunger and being squished: many were brought but so few arrived. They were distributed in Cartagena and other places. Because he was of noble lineage, he knew several languages, including Latin, and when he was brought to the haciendas he was able to communicate with slaves who spoke many languages. So he was telling them not to work too much, and revolutionizing them. The people were blind; he was trying to wake them up. He encouraged them to leave, go to the jungle and grow their own food and live together. The slave master would see that his slaves were decreasing, and would say, what's happening? So every time they realized it was this man making them escape, they would sell him to another hacienda, so that's how he traveled the coast all the way to here, La Bolsa (Villa Rica), the pioneer. He finished with a few haciendas here, encouraging escape. Julio Arboleda realized it was him getting his slaves to escape, so he ordered him punished He had to punish him himself, to show everyone that he would finish the black bandit. They sent him to the wall to tie him up, the panibulo - a thing made of wood they'd tie the slaves to - tied up with chains there, belly down. When he was tied up, Julio Arboleda raised the whip in his hand, and at that moment the chains broke and a black panther appeared before him. When he saw that, soon after he went to arrange moving this man from his hacienda. He went to talk to the owner of the Japio hacienda, his friend, who agreed to buy the slave, so sent him to go to the new owner. He sent him with another slave, who he gave a paper saying, "here are the two slaves I'm selling you." Night came and they hadn't reached, so they stayed under a tree. So he was telling his slave friend let's see what the paper says, but the other said no, it is forbidden. He saw his friend had fallen asleep, so he took the paper and read it. He put the paper back in the other guy's pocket and left him there and escaped. He went to another hacienda to liberate the other people, and continued traveling all the haciendas he knew getting people to escape. He stayed around here as a maroon. Then abolition came. My name is Nicolas Possu Ballanta. Moskera Navas through my mom.

A discussion followed comparing the oral histories and traditions in various countries: Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico. The ancestors were immersed in the topic of freedom. The songs and dances were codes about escaping: this is one reason why people hate the dances of African people and say rap, kuumba, etc. are satanic. Many of the dances and festival traditions, nine-nights, are very similar in all countries. It's important to rescue this history and culture.

Day Four, March 10

Presentation from Leonila Dinas

Sra. Dinas is the 70- year-old woman farmer featured in the SK film "Mi FinK." She came to share her experience with the school.

"I was raised on a finca in Puerto Tejara. My parents brought me up with what the farm would produce. There were so many things to eat in those times, oranges, etc. We wrapped everything in viado leaves: this is how we used to wrap meat and salt. My mother used to say that her mom had left that land to her and that she wanted her children to keep it.

"So she died and she left the land; there were four of us. We thought about sharing it, but it was too little for all of us. It was only one and a half acres of land. So we sold it to the industrial park. Everyone got their money for it and took it to the Santander Bank. My daughter was saying to me, don't sell it, then we'll be without land. So I said to my daughter, I won't spend the money on bad things: I'm going to buy a new plot of land with it. So we went with my brother looking for land, to find the best place to buy. The money was safely kept in the bank. One of my sons wanted me to buy two carts to do pirate work (taxi work). So I said, I don't want any carts, I want to buy a piece of land. We walked and walked until there was a piece of land me and my brother really liked. We bought one and a half acres. The guy who was selling to us told us it was two acres, but it was only one and a half. My brother and I just divided it in half.

"And since then I've been going to my farm every day. The trees were full of moss, there were bees and ants; I had to control all of that. So I was making it better bit by bit and now it is a different farm. Because it is a bit far from here, I bought a bicycle so that I could come and go. I ride my bike there and bring my food. I feel so good in my farm. I come to my farm, I get my shovel, do the weeding, clear the dead leaves off my plants. I take the seedlings out, take the dead plantains out, make the plants new again. Because there are lots of hard weeds, I cut them off. My coffee plants, I take the old leaves out and leave the new ones; that's how my parents used to do. We do the same with the cocoa. Take a potato sack and wrap the stem to keep the moss out. You can see the trees changing. I paid a worker to come take out the pines growing in the orange trees, and to kill the ants. There was so much bees and ants. So I used to get a stick, light it at one end and burn the bees and all the bad insects.

"I feel a bit bad sometimes that the farm is surrounded by sugar cane. People keep telling my daughter to tell me to sell the farm because it is too dangerous, it is a lonely place, or that I should sell it so they can plant cane. But since I've been going there, nothing has happened to me. And it's really hurtful to sell, because I was born on a farm, and a farm is what bears fruit. Every time at orange harvest, I get 10 sacks of it. Or tangerines, cacao, coffee. At the moment I'm planting a cacao hybrid. In any case, I'm trying to see how long I can go with this, because of all my illnesses. I don't have a son that helps me. I get to my farm, put on my work clothes, and start working and singing. (She sang "Don't Write to Me" after the audience asked for a song.)

"I've won prizes for singing these songs for various groups. I have six children. When kids die, I don't want to sing the bundes, I do the Oraciones for the baby Jesus. I sing, I tell jokes, I make rhymes. I'm very loved. Not everyone loves me, but most people do. I work with Manato, I'm a part of that whole team."

In response to a request for advice about how we can learn the skills to take care of ourselves, as if there was no government, she added:

"Then every family would have to look after each other, because then we would have to govern ourselves. There was a time in the past, before, and now there is another time, but for example I'm here and many young people are interested in what I do. I think the young people want to learn. But there's other young people that actually try to damage what we do. The Oraciones, for example, have been very good. But actually we are in a critical moment. The young people actually try to damage the things we do. Me and other ladies have a group called the Renaissance Group (rebirth) we treat all things old, chairs, traditional grinders, irons using coal, the old recipes for toasting coffee, carts that would bring water with a piece of bamboo in it, we'd tie the baby on our back with a piece of cloth, a big pile of clothes tied on my head to go to river to wash, a hammock made of sacks to put the children while we washed, made baby formula from plantain flour, invented foods without meat, you'd put in it cimarron, beans, (cimmaron was brought by Spaniards to fight black magic, but also used as condiment). But many young people don't like it. It's a very big struggle. I have nine grandchildren and none of them come with me to the land - it's such a struggle to encourage them to come with me. My daughter is also teaching young people the traditions, and working with those that are going the bad way, to bring them back to the good way."

The facilitator finished the session by describing in detail what we mean by self-sufficiency, that is, taking care of our own food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, child care, health care, education and energy needs. We want to build windmills, learn the technology to sustain ourselves. We need any knowledge we can get, and wherever we have our school, we will teach all of that right here.

People's Circle: how to facilitate a meeting

The People's Circle document was read aloud and translated. Then each of the young organizers took a turn facilitating one of the topics raised by the people at Monday's meeting. That list was:

* food security (how to make a plan so food is produced and used locally and not going to international commerce),

* making our own petrol and electricity,

* how to get women to participate more, how to record our forgotten culture,

* how to make people feel proud of who they are and where they come from,

* how to stop multinationals from contaminating the earth, air and water,

* how to understand racism and sexism better and integrate it into our music

Food Security (facilitation was demonstrated in an enthusiastic, inclusive, upbeat fashion by J). Thoughts raised in the discussion:

  • plant our own food working collectively
  • use organic methods, ashes for fungicides
  • rotate helping each other on our farms
  • make the most of what's around us to make fertilizers
  • create our own market in the village so people don't have to spend travel money; take food to poor communities that don't have markets; whatever is left, take to town and sell it
  • if we don't have land, grow things in bottles, cans, rooftops
  • food security is not just about food, it's also about relations between people: growing our own food together makes us stronger reclaim the land of our ancestors
  • if young people farm, it will impress the older people who don't expect youth to want to farm
  • owning land collectively is best
  • those who don't have time to join our productive projects, encourage them to form mingas (working groups)
  • organize agreements among farmers to produce different products so we don't waste
  • make agreements for barter with people in town
  • add fish and chicken farming, use for food and fertilizer, a good way to have something to sell outside and support the village
  • approach agricultural schools to get the word out to young people about what we're doing
  • create a community food bank and a bartering system for food
  • start to eliminate the idea of private land, "my family's land," own, work and eat from it collectively, barter the surplus
  • figure out how we're going to take over one of the sugar cane plantations
  • learn about hydroponic agriculture, don't need much soil

Discussion question: is barter egalitarian if some people don't have anything to exchange?

  • a person can come help clean the farm, exchange work for food. If they can't do that, you have to find something else they can contribute.
  • We should assume that everyone has something to offer; it's our job to discover that offering. We need to discover a new concept of value.
  • Find things that are not a product, that we can share
  • People have abilities they can share, like what Manato gave us: a song
  • If people don't have something to exchange, they don't feel good about it
  • In some Cuban factories, there's one person reading the news out loud to everyone: there's always something a person can "exchange." My mom can't bend her knees, so we made a platform for her to grow her stuff.
  • Some people just want to know what they can get on our farm, but don't offer to work. I tell them to take what they need, but please be conscious when it's time for me to clean the plantain, I can't just work for you. They didn't come back.
  • If we are just giving to poor people, we create dependency; we have to deal with that.
  • Maybe we need a language that is not I give this to get that, but we all participate in the process and share what's produced.
  • We're putting in so all can have, not so that I can take.

How to integrate our understanding of racism and sexism into our music This conversation included some general discussion about learning not to be racist and sexist, including a suggestion that by being involved together in a collective process of taking care of the community, people will learn about equality. It was suggested that we make opportunities to talk to young people about the overt sexism in reggaeton, and at the same time produce and popularize our own music, which will be a tool for diffusing our ideas and experience. Also, spend time working with the artists we are involved with so they can begin to transmit an anti-racist, anti-sexist message loud an clear, and in particular get more women involved in our music. Show our themes in our actions, not only in our lyrics.

How to stop the multinationals from contaminating our earth, air and water Demand more uncultivated space around our water sources; research the laws to find international support; hold people accountable for spraying poisons; find alternative energy sources; build unity and power in our communities and run the world ourselves; cut down the pines and dump them in a hole, make it unprofitable for them; develop our own resources so as we bring them down, we have something to replace them with; raise awareness that water is the people's resource, shouldn't be owned or sold; take direct actions to take back the land; produce our own gas; learn how to use technology to make our movement public internationally; multinationals bring military bases and paramilitaries.

How to get women to participate and lead more Educate ourselves not to be submissive and quiet; give more visibility to the fact that more women than men participate in our processes, often leading; provide childcare always; more education of men; although families are matriarchal at the end of the day men have the last word (grandfather); value women's work more, stop saying man is head of family; we have to empty the cup so we can fill it again, reeducate ourselves; teach mothers not to reinforce sexism with their children; women work for love of humanity and without pay, as all humans should, and therefore have the qualities we need for leadership; make a rule that women and men participate in all our projects; women know more about equality and sharing from feeding everyone with a little; oppose and punish violence against women, must be 100% absent in our organizations; create safe spaces for men and women to talk openly; women need to stand up to men behaving badly in order for the men to stop; women replicate machismo to be attractive to men; giving life is the most important thing in life; inferiority of women is in the language, especially Spanish: "I am the woman of so-and-so" means I'm the slave of that person; make our own re-education a permanent exercise; women are the backbone of most organizations and just like dark-skinned people need to lead the struggle against racism, women need to lead against sexism and learn they are not weak, but strong because of their organizing and nurturing skills. Focus on role of women in our research, for example, women took seeds in their hair when escaping from slavery, used plaiting as code for directions to escape. SK should make a campaign of anti-sexism in music videos. Make our own novellas and TV shows.

House Call

Workshop was held on how to do a house call, using the "how to do house calls" piece. (Note taker was sick.)

Day Six, March 11

We worked collectively on finishing the film proposal for SK productions, due in London today. Simultaneously, there was a circle on what we would do if we had no money at all and had to rely on ourselves. Summary of that discussion: Two-thirds of the world's dark-skinned people already live this way, so we should start doing this now. Start growing our own food, even on roofs of houses. The old revolution was to take nations from the rich. We can't wait for that. Our revolution is to be able for any of our organizers to be able to go into a community that is starving and teach them how to grow food and lift them up. We need to practice egalitarianism starting now, don't wait another moment: eat together, live together, work together, especially the organizers, to show people what it looks like.

"Hot and cold" about this week: how do we make our next school better?

Hot round (highlights):

  • It was surprising to me to realize I have all the tools inside me, comforting to know of brothers and sisters that have lived that process and are teaching people to awaken and be able to articulate collectively that genius we have inside, so we can have a collective outcome.
  • It showed me strategy and ethics and some principles that can help us to recover the degradation of black community organizations in Colombia. The 25 years we've worked on this is getting lost due to tiredness and burnout.
  • Very inspiring to me to see that brothers and sisters are doing the same things we're doing in Jamaica
  • Most organizations are disunited, but here we're all equal.
  • We are the people we have been looking for. In the midst of people walking through, babies crying, one group of faces in the morning and another in the afternoon, we've still managed to continue, to be. It's been amazing so far.
  • That I've been able to meet so many people, hearing you speaking English is really cool, and to know VR and its projects. It's like a coming together of our families.
  • Discussing racism and sexism, sharing with so many people, we learned to fight it and be better people.
  • Helps us strengthen ourselves, our unity. Thanks for your knowledge and support, which we can now give to our community and revolutionize it with a new process, because the people at the bottom will rise. I apologize for not being here all week. I've been responsible for so many things, the sole support of my family, but processes like this are what strengthen me to keep resisting.
  • Very deeply inside, I am very happy, because we've been trying to organize a session here since last year, maybe we were lacking the teamwork, but we have it now.
  • Thanks to the Palenque, the VR collective, and all the ISBO organizers. My expectations were minimal, and this went over the top. I've learned so much about VR and the resistance of Afro communities.
  • Wish I could do this every day.
  • We never stop learning. It's been inspiring and beautiful to see our growth, strength of spirit and mind. It helped me clarify my ideas about what's happening in CAIS Maloka.
  • (Everyone thanked the VR hosts for their hard work and welcoming.)

Round 2: what can we do to improve this?

  • We the organizers should have been present more. The local organizers from here called people from the community, but we should have been here not the other way around. Also, we need to learn English and have more time.
  • The calling of people was very limited, we could have called more from North Cauca, especially the people in the Afro organizations. If they had come they would have had an opportunity to reflect on what they're doing. We need to be more consistent, because we had different faces morning and afternoon.
  • We tried to do two things, train organizers and meet with the people the organizers called. We need the organizers here, with a plan for them, then the others in the afternoon, and another plan for them. Use our time more efficiently, not drifting in and out and stopping so often. More women facilitating sessions beside the one about women.
  • Have the school more often
  • More women, more women, more women; more women's leadership. I need to learn Spanish, you need to learn English, better translators. More fun at night. More fruit and vegetables.
  • Go to other places to see what they're doing, share with them.
  • More people from other municipios where they are organizing.
  • The fact that the girls from the Palenque are working here at the same time is distracting, because they have to be walking in and out. We should make the space so that only this is happening.
  • We could rotate the cooking, so the women who volunteered to cook all week could also take part in the meetings.
  • I'd have loved to have a meeting before this session to plan this session better. I'm going to have to learn to speak very concisely.
  • 1) language 2) moments of too much chaos 3) make the most of the time, use evening
  • We need more documentation so we don't need to read aloud and translate, and so we can take the documents home and use them.

Overall, the most repeated suggestions to improve the next session were: one, more efficient interpreting; two, more written documentation in Spanish; three, less chaos in the space; and four, more consistent attendance by the same people.

Summer Project discussion

Introduction: Technology is now out of the reach of the poor. When my generation was young, we knew how to do everything. Now we have been taught to screw one bolt or weld one spot and that's it. The ISBO summer project is to learn some of the technology we need to know to take care of ourselves without reaching outward. The prompt was "if you want to invite people to come teach you something for a week or two, what will you say to get them to come?

  • There are lots of people in the world who want to do this. They are sitting there in the old places that experimented with socialism (Russia, China, Cuba). I think they would die to come take part in this process. We need a letter to say this is who we are, come visit us and participate and give us their knowledge. Energy, bio-fuel, etc. If they were revolutionaries they would love the opportunity.
  • It would be good outline our situation, what we want, the way we are submitted to the capitalist regime here.
  • We have to reach those people who hope to build a new world with egalitarian principles, so they can share their knowledge and become part of our process. We need to be precise on what we want so that we don't get fifty people here who don't have much to share, if they don't have something to teach they can support us with resources. We can encourage others to come be a part. Then they'll fall in love with us and can tell us who they know that knows how to do the things we want to learn.
  • I would start the letter: VR is an Afro-descended community in North Cauca. Most people in VR have to go out every day to be able to eat. Electric bills are more expensive than food per month. We need to learn to make our own electricity so we can stop paying electric bills. Is there someone out there who can come help us start this this summer?
  • Something that can actually be sent to people accompanying the letter, like a video or CD.
  • Maybe the title should be "urgent call" to radicals, professors, students, everyday people, people with money, all those who really want to see and participate in the creation of a new world. The recipient can propose to us what they can give, what they have to exchange so they can participate in building a new world.
  • First, let them know we are all the same people. Second, this is a different kind of process: we don't have self-interest, but rather collective interest. Third, we are in a process that has been going for many years and its philosophy is equality for all regardless of your color. Has to be built with the participation of everyone in the community. We are giving everything we have and ask them to contribute with their mental capacities and economic resources. It is of optimal importance, their participation.
  • We should look within our communities, because I'm sure there are engineers and other human resources who can help us be more concrete in what we are asking for.

A true story: Years ago we asked some retired engineers from Detroit to design a cheap, durable car. They did it, mainly from plastic, and it became a boat when you drove into the water. We tested it out. Within a few years, all the engineers died in "accidents." So even though we sound like we're talking about sweetness and love, the boss man's not going to like what we're doing. We made a mistake and kept it small then - now we should make everyone know about it. Maybe we should try to get some people from Cuba to come teach us how to make cars, because they've kept cars running since the embargo started fifty years ago.

  • We need someone who can teach us how to contact a satellite ourselves to have internet.
  • I have a worry, because what is being proposed here, the state is not going to like it. We'll have very strong enemies, international enemies. So what is the guarantee that what we are starting, which is very delicate, is going to be successful without being killed by the government?
  • Talking about energy, we need to be specific about what we need in of the three communities that have that problem. VR is about 7000 houses, so that requires a very different kind of technology from a small community. As far as safety: to build a new world, we'll have to stand up to the old world. There are no guarantees.

We agreed to discuss later how to deal with security. Some suggestions were to make connections with various movements and countries.

Other suggestions: reopen a closed cooperative sewing workshop in Dagua (the machinery is still there); investigate bottling the spring water there in bamboo or something to sell cheaply in cities as fundraising; electric-generating bicycles that go into motor mode for hills.

Afternoon assignments

One team to write Summer Project letter and translate it; one to work on a video to accompany it based on our discussion; three teams to go door knocking.

Evening (final session)

We summarized the importance of door-knocking. 67,000 pesos was collected, a gallon of paint, a paintbrush and two rollers: this is enough to paint the space. The painting will go on tomorrow morning and cleaning Mama Leona's farm in the afternoon. We learned a lesson from the great success of the house calls, and also a lesson from the fact that most people who participated in planning the house calls did not come do it!

The Summer Project letter was discussed and approved.
(See "Breaking News" section.)

Lots of hugs and good-byes, followed by some dancing.

February 2011


Jamaica Organizing Report for the ISBO School Session in Colombia
February 28, 2011

Introduction:
The organizing in Jamaica has been in process for nearly four years. It has evolved during this time and is at a deeper place now than four years ago or even one year ago. Some of the things we are thinking about and working on have never been done before in the way we are doing them. We think about our work as a laboratory for experimenting with and learning about egalitarianism and self-sufficiency.

We have passed through a stage of dealing with dishonesty and selfishness. This caused us to become very vigilant and principled about how we deal with money and who we trust. Whereas in early events, people doing the work at our events sometimes stole money, food or drink for themselves and gave to their friends, in our most recent event, the Valentine dinner (which was our best collective effort yet), everyone from the group who worked also bought their own ticket and no one stole or took more than their share.

We always have internalized racism on the front burner. We have passed through a stage of everyone deferring to the white person, which is still an ongoing struggle. But we have improved in this because the same set of organizers has been active for a year and a half, and they have become much more experienced and self-confident. They facilitate the meetings, handle the money, do the door-knocking and the phone calls and organize the activities. In every event we evaluate, we discuss how internalized racism was there and how we dealt with it, so we continue to learn and become stronger.

We continue to learn about and deal with internalized sexism. We have had some very deep and honest conversations about our experiences with sexism, male and female, and this shows that we are honestly trying to deal with it, and that we trust one another very much. Most recently, one of our high schoolers brought to the group that a taxi driver had asked her for sex in exchange for rides because she does not always have her fare. We discussed this long and hard, and decided to go together as a group to help her talk to her mom about it. In the end, we weren't quite satisfied with her mom's response, but decided to abide by it unless the man approached her that way again. We will be vigilant about it from now on. It is also our principle that all activities we do have male and female involved; we agree that nothing is "men's work" or "women's work."

Organization:
We have three bodies that meet regularly.

The highest body in the community group is the general monthly meeting. For that meeting, we do house calls and phone calls (about 120 calls) to invite everyone from the two or three communities to attend. The meetings rotate venue to make them accessible to the whole community and demonstrate our principle of unity. The general meeting hears reports of all activities for the month, hears a financial report, and discusses and makes plans for workdays, fundraisers and other activities. It opens with a cultural or spiritual offering and ends with everyone standing and singing with hands joined in a circle. All meetings are facilitated according the People's Circle method of equal voice and consensus decision-making. The facilitator rotates to different members of the organizing class. We take a collection at each general meeting.

The leadership team is composed mostly of elders and some representatives from the organizing class (not always the same ones). It is open to anyone who wants to help do its work. This group meets once a month, the week before the general meeting, and decides the agenda for the meeting, makes recommendations to it for work and activities, and assigns tasks for decisions agreed to in the general meeting. It is held in the yard of one of the members of the team.

The third regular meeting is the organizing class. This is a weekly training class for organizers taught by ISBO organizing trainers. It is also voluntary, but only accepts people who have shown themselves to be honest and have the people's best interest at heart. The regulars include an elder woman (the trainer), a young adult man, two middle aged men, and three teenage girls. Sometimes, one or two of the girls' moms attend; sometimes one or two other teenage girls also attend. There was an older teen youth who used to attend, but he had to move out of the community. This group has been together more or less since the ISBO school in Jamaica in 2009. It had existed before then, but with a different and changing set of people.

Egalitarian self-sufficient prototype:
The organizing class members think of themselves as part of ISBO and as organizers who work for the community. The topics listed in the beginning of this report are main topics for the organizing class (that is, honesty vs. two-percent selfish attitudes, struggling against internalized racism and sexism). Several of them have taken some concrete steps toward creating an egalitarian prototype. This began about a year ago when the general meeting discussed self-sufficiency and planned toward having a community farm and farm market, an ongoing crafts committee and baking committee for bake sales.

About five organizing class members recently started an enterprise. The reason for this is that members of the organizing class are sometimes not available to do their organizing work because they are forced to focus on personal necessities. Several members of the class do not have enough food to eat, and at least one, sometimes two, of the school girls do not have transportation or lunch money for school. Sometimes members are too tired and hungry to concentrate during meetings or are in danger of sexual abuse as mentioned above. We decided that as a set of people trying to build a new world who love and care about each other, we had to begin to solve these problems collectively. We see this as the embryo of making our whole community self-sufficient on the basis of an egalitarian principle, which can then be an example that can spread to other communities, link with similar projects in other countries and spread to the whole world.

Our enterprise is currently making wicker products and raising chickens. The guideline for the work is that each person will give and do what they can and know how to do, and each person will receive according to need. We have had several discussions about how to do this and have not completely figured it out yet. We all know how the two-percent pay for work according to the hour or day; we will not do it like this. We also know that the capitalist way is that whoever starts out with the most resources gets out the most; our enterprise will be the opposite of that: the person with the most resources will probably not get out anything at all because they don't need it. Some of our members have other income and their needs are not as great. Even if they put in as much time as another person, the person with the most need will get the greater share of what we produce. Up to now, we have not sold anything yet; we have made some wicker products (picture frames) and have started raising chicks. We have not figured out how we will share out the proceeds, but we do know that we will first put aside what we need to keep the enterprise going. We also have consensus about who has the most need. So we are pretty confident that we will work out something fair. We have decided that as long as we are honest and caring, we will be able to correct any mistakes we make and gradually figure out the best method.

Another principle of the enterprise is that whatever we produce comes with a message about egalitarianism. Everyone involved with the enterprise is required to help market our products by going door-to-door for orders and explaining our principles and our vision. When we sell picture frames, we plan to put needlework in them that also says something about our principles. If we sell things outside the community or abroad, they will come with a printed tag explaining our principles so they become ambassadors for our egalitarian prototype.

The organizing class has also just launched another experiment: it is a fund for our members. Beginning in mid-February, we began throwing money in a can at each meeting. We said that those who are working can throw around one to one and a half percent of their income, and those who are not can throw whatever they might have even if it is very little. The one member who collects a pension in US dollars is throwing three percent of the income, because that money goes farther than Jamaican dollars. The purpose of this fund is for organizing class members to draw from when they need urgent help with food, educational expenses or medical expenses. We have decided we will keep a portion of it each month toward major, unexpected medical expenses. Also, we agreed that if a person does not have money but has food, they can donate the food, since that is one of our needs. We are still having discussions about how to manage the fund and what to name it. We have consensus that the money will be given out according to need, not according to how much a person put in.

Here are some of the suggestions for names so far:

  • Fair-view fund
  • Oh freedom fund
  • Wise-equal-life fund
  • Life care fund
  • Equamor fund (equal + amor/love)

We have consensus about the two people with top priority to receive from the fund. One is a disabled man who does not have a job and often does not have food. At first he resisted everything out of pride. Then he said he would not take out from the fund until he had put some money into the fund. We pointed out that it is the two percent who say money is the most important thing and we don't agree. He has already put in more work on the enterprise than anyone else, he is honest and we know he will use the money for the agreed purpose. We all agreed he should take from the pot before he has money to put in (which he will get once the enterprise begins to sell). One young woman said, "we are family within the group, and if we're family then anything that's mine is yours, share and share alike. If you have a need, you shouldn't put pride in it and you shouldn't feel guilty, because you are not taking something that doesn't belong to you." He finally agreed.

The next person we agreed needs urgent help is the high school girl who is begging rides to school. One man in the group gave a passionate speech about how he feels for her because he was in the same position as a child, eating one meal a day and no carfare for school. As he said, "she is part of us, one of our soldiers." Everyone agreed that she was very skilled and dedicated to make sure she got to school every day with no money and no food. We decided to help her by buying snacks for her to sell in school to raise money for her fare and lunch. We know that she has done this before and spent off the money or was careless with it and it got stolen, so we also said that if she loses the money, she can only come to the fund for taxi fare a limited number of times for the month. One of our adult members agreed to oversee her buying and selling, because she said she couldn't manage money, so we need to help teach her how.

Conclusion:
These things are experimental and we will see how they work out. We know there will be ups and downs. As far as we know, nobody has tried to do this inside the revolutionary movement in the last hundred years, even after they controlled nations. They never had confidence that the people at the bottom could work according to egalitarianism instead of individual self-interest. We are giving ourselves permission to make mistakes and then correct them, based on our commitment to egalitarianism, our love for each other, and our honesty. If we can do this on a small scale, we think we can take it to a bigger and bigger scale. Our first step in the direction of bringing in the community will start next month, when we cook one meal per week together, with whatever anyone has to put in the pot. We will invite a few friends and family to partake with us and spread the idea of share and share alike. After dinner we will show a movie and discuss it.

We are excited about the Summer Project, where we will build a windmill to start generating our own energy, and learn many skills that can help us learn from the elders and communicate with other communities all over the world. It will help us move from just taking care of a few of our needs collectively in a small group toward eventually taking care of all of our needs for everyone in the community!

2009


November 2009


Provisional Constitution of the Harper's Ferry Raiding Party
Click here to download document - 79 KB

August 2009




2008


July 2008


Fire Next Time: Social Justice in America
July 1, 2008

In the Black church, there's a spiritual that contains the line, "It won't be water, but fire next time," where God essentially tell Noah right after the flood, "You ain't seen nothing yet." I think about this when I examine the actions of American government immediately following the Civil Rights movement, and I wonder if they got the message.

After weathering the storm of mass organization and protests through trickery, decapitation, intimidation and petty concessions, America went right back to its wicked ways before the ink was dry on the Civil Rights Bill. Under the guises of Reaganomics, 'the War on Drugs,' Get Tough on Crime,' and No Child Left Behind;' exploitation, repression, and miseducation sought to undermine any victories we supposedly won on paper. But this time, prettier faces than Bull Connor and Ross Barnett drove the point home. And here we are. Schools have been re-segregated; Black ownership is at an all-time low, while Black unemployment, incarceration, and state-sanctioned mistreatment threaten to surpass their 'pre-movement' levels.

To be fair, just as the government is guilty of instituting these practices, we are equally at fault as a people for not recognizing what was going on and falling for the trap. We cannot change the past, and it is the present and future that are of concern to me. Each of the disasters that have befallen this country in recent times have presented opportunities for this country to do what it says on the label, and each time, it has failed miserably. I recall the U2 video, "The Saints Are Coming," that showed the troops being called home from Iraq to help people in need and military aircraft dropping sandbags to fill the breached levees. Today, that vision seems to have come from another universe.

Now, as desperation overtakes caution, the results could very well prove to be catastrophic. It is only for so long that a people can be collectively exploited, oppressed and degraded before those people begin to rebel. And now, as youth and elder alike come to their senses, we could very well be on the verge of such a desperate time. I think back to that Negro spiritual, and I think in this day and age it should read, "It won't be marches, but action this time."

And when I speak of action, I don't mean putting on shows or chanting slogans or grandstanding by lukewarm organizations but real change. The change I'm talking about is the change that comes from recognizing the genius of the poor, the overlooked, and the forgotten and realizing that each of us has a contribution to make. Now more than ever, an organized populace is essential to our survival. We should all be well aware of what is taking place. Whether through malice, neglect, or incompetence the people of New Orleans were flooded and then left to die. Our young men and women continue to die on the streets of America's cities, and on the battlefields of her unjust wars, and this current economic crisis is sitting right on all our doorsteps. But the time for complaining is past. It is time for us to organize. Each and every one of us has to bring his or her gifts skills and talents to the table, and together let us determine how to best use them for our collective survival. We are on our own, but with the power that we have within us, sometimes I believe that on our own is the best place for us to be. We each have the potential to contribute to a better world if we come together. Catch a fire, and let your light shine.

Thank you

Jondrea Smith


Creating Bottom-Up Organizations: a Working Paper
Note: This paper is an introduction to the basic organizing theory and practice of the People's Organizing Committee of the New Orleans Survivor Council
July 1, 2008

Preface:

This paper is hoping to help describe and refine the working models we are creating to fight for and build a new and just world. It is based on what we've learned so far and what we want to share out of "Bottom-Up" organizing in New Orleans after Katrina. This organizing has not taken place in a historical vacuum, and we credit all those people whose struggles we've learned and benefited from, from Ella Baker (mentor and trainer of young "Bottom-Up" organizers during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. during the 1960's) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the "Bottom-Up" organizers of the 1960's Southern Civil Rights Student Movement), to the sharecroppers' unions of the 1930s and 1940s, to the classic revolutions and struggles in the last century, and to the centuries of struggles by our ancestors around the world. We present this working paper in the hope that with the help of many other people, we can also make a contribution to that ongoing journey. We ask that you lend your experience and ideas to this process.

When the authors of this working paper talk about the "bottom," we are referring to the roughly 80% of the world's population that lives collectively on an average of $2 a day: poor, hard-working people who mostly live on the fringes of cities or in their ghettoes, and in rural areas, who are the most lacking in resources, health care, and formal education. Some work in various industries and sweatshops or on the land, some are unemployed, and some work in the so-called informal economy. They are the folk who live on steep mountainsides in constant danger from the next hard rain, who live in shantytowns where AIDS and tuberculosis are rampant, whose children die of malnutrition, diarrhea or malaria in ungodly numbers, whose youthful daughters are sold into prostitution, whose neighborhoods are victimized by drugs and gang violence. Pretty much everywhere you look in the world; they are also those with the darkest skin.

Bottom people are all over the world, but the writers of this document, the People's Organizing Committee (POC), are a group of organizers that began our work with the bottom in the U.S. POC is an organization created to assist those catching the most hell with grouping themselves together to attack the problems they face in a collective and unified way. POC is not an exclusively bottom organization. It is a space to which all people can come that are willing to work for and submit themselves to the direction and leadership of the bottom. All of us in POC, whether from the bottom or not, have been working directly for and with the people on the bottom. In New Orleans, where we began, the bottom is organized through the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC). NOSC has reviewed this document to guide its development. Now we offer the same opportunity to you, the readers.

The vision of poor, black people on rooftops and floating in poisoned water in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina brought to us graphically the reality of how the current economic and political situation treats poor people everywhere. It challenged us to look carefully at the dynamics of the struggle of our people and to investigate the existing assumptions of who should lead it. We decided we must harvest the agenda and direction for responding to the aftermath of Katrina from those most impacted by it - the same poor, black, working people left in the city to die.

We consider ourselves revolutionary organizers. By that we mean that we have concluded that the status quo will never lift up that 80% or provide that 80% with a decent life because the status quo is permanently invested in maintaining inequalities of race, class, and gender. We believe that the 80% needs to build a new and entirely different world, eventually eliminate the world's current bosses and the structures those bosses have erected along the way. Most revolutionaries in the past have focused on defeating the old system through bringing regime change: having workers in charge instead of the rich, having black people overthrow whites, having women in power instead of men. Several of these movements actually succeeded in overthrowing governments, and began trying to build societies without exploitation and oppression. So far, those attempts at building a new world have failed. Our feeling is that our information on the enemy and the need to defeat its empire is fairly well developed and must always be kept in mind. But the challenge of learning how to create a just and egalitarian world still lies before us. In our view, this will be a world created and led by the masses themselves.

The History:

Our first attempt to develop the agenda described below began immediately after Katrina with calling together a coalition that came out of many years of organizing in New Orleans. Although most of the organizations involved did not have that constituency or membership, the decision made by the writers of this document was to begin the process by going to the bottom. We decided to look among the people most impacted, gather them, and ask them -- with equal voice -- to come up with solutions. We assumed that most of the people and organizations in the "movement" would be happy to come to work with the people and would acknowledge that the agenda and leadership of the process should come from organizations comprised primarily of the people most impacted by Katrina, the people on the bottom: the same dark-skinned, poor and working black people we all saw on TV in the flood, at the Superdome and then scattered across the country. We began to call this process "Bottom-Up organizing."

(See Appendix 1a, which is a timeline of the work to develop Bottom-Up organizing in New Orleans. We would suggest the reader look at that timeline before reading the rest of this document.)

The Purpose:

In the rest of this paper, we will try to allow you, the reader to walk through the steps we have used in the New Orleans to begin to develop this thing we call "Bottom-Up organizing." We hope that you will then help us analyze how to improve on it. We are particularly interested in those creative thinkers, workers and organizers who want to invest in and experiment with this process. The things we are doing are not presented as antagonistic to other types of organizing already being done. This is a particular body of work we are engaging in within the construct of human development at this period in history. We want to investigate collectively how theory and practice come together.

What we have observed through doing this work is that when the folk on the bottom come together on a principle of equal voice and egalitarian organization, they will make fair, just, and correct decisions about how to conduct the work of building a new world. All doors must stay open; we can't have any space where the mass can't enter, or where the "true" leadership is not mass. However, we are not romantics or delusional. We don't think that the bottom will magically change the world into a paradise. We know that the conflict between the collective impulse and the selfish impulse exists there, too. We know that the enemy lurks in the background waiting to attack, and will. We know this will not be a short, easy, smooth or peaceful road. But our experience of the past year and a half, and standing on the shoulders of our brothers and sisters before us, tells us that there is genius among the poor waiting to be harvested to direct our movement; that those who are the most oppressed can understand and deal appropriately with all of the challenges has they arise, and that the reins of our movement should be in their hands.

Documentation of the Work:

In this part of the paper, we will describe the steps we took in New Orleans to build the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC) and root it in the principles of Bottom-Up. Each organizing situation will have its own particularities. For example, in New Orleans, we had an onslaught of hundreds of volunteers, which is not likely to be the case in most organizing situations. We expect that people organizing in cities or rural areas, in the US or so-called developing countries, and so forth, will face different particular problems and needs. However, if we are sticking to the principles that those on the bottom should lead, of respecting the human drive to take care of the needs of humanity equitably, and of treating all of our people with fairness and humanity, we all may be able to use elements of the model developed in New Orleans.

Step 1: Door-to-door and house call to begin relationship building with the bottom

The first step taken in New Orleans was sending organizers and volunteers into the streets to meet and talk with as many poor and working black hurricane survivors as we could. The purpose in doing this was to begin building relationships, make some initial guesses about desire for involvement, and establish agreement for future communication with people who would then be invited to meet together in what was to become the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC). Simultaneously, the visits allowed us to obtain the people's agenda about the issues and what solutions were needed.

Almost 6,000 visits were done (remember we had an outpouring of volunteers). We found that we were gathering very similar information from many people about what happened to them, how they were treated, and what obstacles faced them back home or in their efforts to return home. Even before the first meetings, we knew something about the consensus developing among the people about what they needed and wanted done. The visits were the source for developing the first agendas for the community's initial meetings. Much of the information we received provided the basis for the people determining and prioritizing later legal actions to bring to address community issues.

In door-knocking, you mostly listen to gain initial understanding of where the person is, what they are thinking about, and their desire for involvement. After that, you identify some of the things you have also heard from others. You then tell them about a meeting where others with these same concerns are getting together to discuss the situation community members are in and how to get out of it. You try to secure a commitment to be there and you deal with problems or reasons for not coming (transportation, child care, scheduling conflicts, disagreement, etc.), trying to make it possible for the person to attend. You ask if you can contact the person in the future, and write down contact information. When you're leaving, you may leave a flier as a reminder of the meeting, but the door-to-door is not introduced by a piece of paper.

This describes the first time you knock on a person's door. After that, when someone is expressing interest, coming to meetings, or doing some work, you follow up with house calls. In these house calls, you plan to sit and spend time with the person, build a relationship with them and help them get more involved in the work, a committee, etc. Building relationships is the key to developing people socially and creating an ongoing organization with stability, where people feel they can rely on each other. You also, periodically, conduct follow-up house calls with people who have not been as involved, after certain community victories or new developments related to the concerns they have communicated.

It is really important to constantly reflect on the new relationships you are developing, understand where your relationships are, and be deliberate about growing them when opportunities for growth present themselves.

As a result of the work described above, by January of 2006, the first meeting of what was to become the NOSC was held in New Orleans. Several hundred residents attended, despite the fact that only a tiny fraction of the poor black community was back in the city. Even before the first meeting of the NOSC, their organizers were assisting residents with whom they had begun building relationships to address issues in their community.

NOSC residents directed the filing of a lawsuit to stop evictions of displaced renters without notice. They directed the development of a report on conditions related to laborers and other workers in their community by having volunteers find community members and ask them to contribute their testimonials. Similarly, they directed the development of a report on conditions related to members of their community dealing with incarceration during the Katrina disaster.

However, because the residents had no organizational identity for their community and for their work, credit for the reports and the lawsuit was almost exclusively given to the attorneys who were working for the residents and the organizations those attorneys belonged to or to the advocacy organizations that partnered with the residents. Organizers were able to talk about these efforts and successes by the residents during
house visits and also have it serve as an example of the need for residents to develop their own organization so that they could give more direction and supervision to their solutions. Even the disorganized resident successes were useful in feeding a desire and need for the community to get together and develop organization. Planning those first initial meetings for the community is very important.

(See Appendix 1b, for more information on the history of NOSC.)

Step 2: Creating a safe space for people to meet

Before the first meeting of what was to become the NOSC was convened, their organizers, who were mainly young people, had to think carefully about how to conduct it in a "Bottom-Up" fashion. The method chosen came from "story circle," a meeting model which community elders had been using in other contexts for years. The fundamental principle of the story circle process (also called "people's circle") is egalitarianism, or treating everyone equally and fairly and ensuring everyone's equal voice. This requires several elements:

1) Make sure everyone has equal access to the meeting itself. This means preparing the meeting in a way that takes obstacles into account and deals with them. So, for instance, each meeting should have childcare available, so people with children can come. It should have food, so people don't have to worry about cooking. These measures particularly help to remove obstacles that would otherwise stand in the way of women participating, and we have found that women have taken the lead in much of this organizing. Transportation should be organized so those without access to it are enabled to come to the meetings. Chairs should be set in a circle so everyone will be able to see everyone else's face.
   
2) Take measures to assure equal voice in the meeting. Estimate the number of people expected, choose and (if necessary) train enough facilitator teams, which include facilitators, timekeepers and note-takers. The role of the facilitator team is to make sure everyone gets an equal chance to speak, create the agenda, understand the process and participate; to keep to the agenda and help the meeting run smoothly, to monitor that the rules are being followed, to call on people during cross talk, and then help to gather the agreements that have come out of the discussion. The facilitator team also assists in getting disagreements tabled for further discussion between meetings or at other meetings. The role of women is important here. Most meeting facilitators from among the grassroots in New Orleans have been women. We have come to feel that participants (normally accustomed to male leaders and spokesmen of organizations) take the group as a seriously rooted group when women, too, are taking visible leadership roles.
   
3) Begin the meeting in a way that invites everyone and makes everyone comfortable. We always start our meetings with a cultural or spiritual offering from someone in the circle. When possible, it is great to organize some children to present a song or poem. Or the offering could be as simple as a prayer to invite the spirit into the circle. This can also be a good time to present a thought-provoking prompt and do one round of reflection on it. (For example, at one meeting, the prompt was, "If we woke up tomorrow morning and the whole government was dead, and we had all the money and resources we needed, what would we do?")
   
4) The meeting usually starts with reports on the work that has happened since the last meeting: committee reports, organizer reports, etc.
   
5) Following reports, the agenda is set by taking suggestions from the floor.
   
6) If the group is larger than 15 people, break it into smaller groups to consider each of the agenda items.
   
7) The method of discussion is equal time for each person. A timekeeper assists in assuring this by timing each speaker for the length of time agreed upon by the room (two minutes, for example), and clap hands or make a sign when that time was up, at which point the speaker finishes his/her sentence and stops talking. While one person is speaking, the others are listening - not responding, interrupting, asking questions or thinking about what they'll say when it's their turn. Listening is the most important thing going on in the meeting. If a person "passes" their turn, they are offered an opportunity to say what they think after the round is finished and before the next round begins. Each prompt or agenda item is taken separately and all opinions put on the floor in this way.
   
8) Once everyone has said what they needed to say, cross talk occurs for the time agreed upon by the room. Cross talk is more like a traditional meeting, in which the facilitator calls on people as they raise hands. However, the goal is not debate, but to work toward everyone having clarity about each other's contributions.
   
9) If the meeting has broken into smaller groups, these groups come together once all agenda items have been addressed and report back. Common agreements are now listed and plans made to carry them out. The facilitator helps guide the discussion to breaking the plans down into assignments, and asks for volunteers to take on the assignments.
   
10) The meeting closes with another cultural offering, most often with everyone standing, holding hands and singing together.
   
(Note: The NOSC conducts its meetings using this model. The terms "people's circle" and "story circle" are used interchangeably. See Appendix 2, the People's Circle document, to get a more detailed description of the method.)

We are sharing this process not because we feel it is perfect or the "only way." The main thing is to develop meetings in a way that honors the principles of equal voice, harvesting the agreements and moving on them, and of making decisions by consensus rather than by vote. We are not trying to engage in debate and create winners and losers. We are trying to move forward on those things people have consensus on at the moment. By the same token, we are not trying to ignore or paper over differences and disagreements, merely to continue talking about them until there is agreement to accept or reject a particular idea by the group as a whole. Whatever meeting methods and styles achieve these purposes would be fine.

In line with these principles, the NOSC decided to form a leadership committee. Previous to this, the entire group had been meeting weekly and found it too frequent a schedule. However, they felt they needed someone meeting weekly to keep the work going, to be a link between what happened in the meetings and the people doing the work. They decided not to have traditional elected officers, but rather volunteers for a leadership or organizing team, and the door always stays open to anyone who wants to be in that group and do that work. Meetings of the leadership team are conducted in the same style, and it became a consistent working group of pretty much the same people each week. This meeting has also been used for skills/technology transfer, including facilitation training, bookkeeping, managing volunteers, organizing staff, etc.

Step 3: The Work

This is not so much a "step" as a brief report. The work is circular: that is, the community meets and decides on solutions to problems and identifies teams or committees from the community to move on the solutions. Work is assigned to a committee, organizers build relationships between community meetings to help build the committees (phone and house calls for existing relationships, door-knocking for new relationships, leafleting for anybody you miss); committees do the assigned work, develop proposals for additional work and new solutions, and bring reports and proposals back to the next community meeting.

In the very early days, the NOSC asked itself the question, "What do people need in order to come home?" Residents agreed upon four needs: a place to live, a place to send children to school, a place to take people when they are sick, and a job. The issue of the safety of the levees was always in people's minds, but more recently, sound levees around poor black communities have also been noted as a basic requirement for people to feel safe enough to come home, so it has become a fifth need.

Within these five needs, the NOSC realized that the hundreds of volunteers at their disposal could mainly help initially with the first (housing), and to some degree the second (education). They decided to prioritize the gutting, cleaning and rebuilding of homes according to the principle of most need. As house calls created a list of people who wanted help with their homes, priority was to be given, first, to elderly and disabled people with no insurance or resources, second, to single parents, and third, to other residents going from people without resources to people with some resources. Initially, the NOSC focused on low-income homeowners because they were the first members of the community to return in large numbers. Subsequently, the NOSC began to also focus on public housing residents and then renters. Volunteers also gutted, repaired and helped reopen schools and meeting places. Once again, the decision-making was based upon an egalitarian principle.

Following the same principle; the NOSC made and carried out decisions to reopen public housing, help people get trailers to live in while their houses were worked on, clean up two schools for reopening, reopen one school, develop a reconstruction skills training project, create a "technology transfer" program (i.e. teaching survivors all the information and skills organizers had at their disposal, from meeting facilitation to grant writing to computer skills), and reach out to immigrant workers brought into Louisiana in slave conditions to begin to create unity with them. Committees were set up to do various aspects of this work. Part of the goal of the technology transfer program was to develop the skills among poor and working black people to be able to account for and manage any money raised for this work directly through their own NOSC.

In many of these initiatives, questions came up that challenged the egalitarian principle. For instance, at one point it was suggested to help rebuild the home of a man who had worked very hard for the NOSC rebuilding other homes, but did not fit the priority criteria because he had some insurance and resources. In another example, some people initially questioned uniting with guest workers because those workers were taking jobs previously held by black workers until Katrina gave employers an excuse to fire them. A few people wanted to set up the leadership committee in a traditional hierarchy and be bossy. In each case, the group decided in favor of the original principle. In each case, opportunism was rejected by consensus.

Step 4: Developing across Neighborhood Boundaries

The NOSC was first conceived as a space for poor and working darker people in and displaced from the New Orleans area to come together to direct the recovery and reconstruction of their lives and community. The organizers began their first relationship building in the neighborhood that members of that community lived in that was the most devastated during the Katrina catastrophe. As a result, the residents that began to participate in the NOSC were low-income homeowners from the Lower Ninth Ward.

Some months after the NOSC began its work, public housing residents who were returning to the city on their own and taking their homes, or who were returning to the city on vouchers, began to participate in the NOSC. Quickly, public housing residents decided that they wanted their own committee to deal with the struggle to reoccupy public housing. Organizers began to assist public housing residents in developing their committee, which gave birth to a new organization that named itself Residents of Public Housing (ROPH).

This new space had two interesting aspects about it. One, as a space for public housing residents to come together to address issues of return, it was for all public housing residents, across all the developments. Second, though it was a space for public housing residents to make decisions autonomous to the broader NOSC, ROPH maintained a relationship to the NOSC, including reporting about its efforts, relying on and participating in the Reconstruction and Media Committees of the NOSC to achieve some of the solutions that ROPH determined for their neighborhoods, and recognized the NOSC as their broader community space.

By comparison, soon after the beginning of the Katrina tragedy, poor and working darker people from various countries outside the U.S. were shipped into New Orleans as a part of current day U.S. slave trade. NOSC organizers began an effort of developing relationships with the new residents, understanding that they were members of the NOSC community. However, language and cultural barriers between the NOSC organizers and the new residents contributed to a need for assistance from organizers who were more familiar with their language and culture.

NOSC organizers began to call for organizers to assist with organizing these new members of the NOSC community. When these organizers arrived, they began to build relationships and nurture the development of an organization for this new population independent of the NOSC. In fact, the new organizers even set up their own organizing committee separate from the NOSC organizing committee. The result was that these poor, hard-working dark-skinned people, not familiar to the area, found themselves in new groups that were totally separate and isolated from the organizations of poor and working dark-skinned people who had been in the area for centuries.

To say the least, the effort to connect both the "new to the area" residents and their organizers to the residents and organizers who have been in the region has been a much more gargantuan task than maintaining connectivity between ROPH and the NOSC. We started the process with dialogue and rebuilding relationships between the organizers doing "bottom up" within both neighborhoods. Our second step was to extend invitations in both neighborhoods to send delegations to each other's meetings. Meetings between the two groups led to work between the two groups, which began to lead towards recognition between the two groups that they are one community catching hell because they are poor and working darker people. Both groups began calling for unity and considering a space for developing that unity.

These experiences have helped us to realize the importance of the whole community of poor and oppressed people of color working together in one organizational process. Having members of the same community working together in separate organizations based on single issues works against strengthening the bonds of the community as a whole. We believe in an organizational process that brings all bottom folk together so that people are working together as a community struggling for justice and then use a committee structure to iron out the details related to the different issues that we are confronting on the bottom.

By keeping all decision making at the largest level of community involvement, the most inclusive level, a committees' need for resources or support would go through approval from the community as a whole. This ties everyone together and helps to curb divisiveness or the practice of working in isolation from the rest of the folks who are struggling for the same thing.

Step 5: Developing Internationally

While initially the NOSC formed during trauma to respond to urgent needs and it continues to do so, through the process of developing the work, people began to think in broader terms about the meaning of their work. Developing unity between homeowners, renters and public housing residents, for example, broke down previous barriers. Meeting with, supporting, and being supported by immigrant guest workers broke down further barriers, and people began to see the struggle as unity against a broader system of slavery. They began to see that many of the problems of the bottom in New Orleans are shared by poor people all over the world.

This process eventually led to a trip to Venezuela, to meet with the Communal Councils there. The Venezuelan government, just after Katrina, had offered to send resources to help the recovery, but this move was blocked by the US government. So in early 2007, a delegation of organizers and members of the NOSC and ROPH went to Venezuela to appeal directly for those resources. They met with the Communal Councils and saw the work those groups are doing in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas and elsewhere. With members of the Councils, they met with government officials to make their requests for support. They decided to try to build a sister-city relationship between the NOSC and the Caracas Communal Councils. The process of developing international unity between those on the bottom in both countries was begun.

After this first effort towards international unity, NOSC sent a second delegation to Venezuela to continue to nurture relationships between the people of the bottom. Following the second trip, a POC organizer returned to Venezuela to spend six months, continuing this same process.

Conclusion: Moving Toward Developing an International Organizing School

What we have learned from putting one foot in front of the other in New Orleans is that a mass, collective, consensus-based organizing process built on a foundation of egalitarian principle has shown great potential as a beacon for the future. By defending this kind of active space, people could begin to see themselves as the legitimate governance of their own lives and future. We've seen the collective take the high ground on each issue that came before it. We are convinced that the folk on the bottom have, collectively, the genius needed to figure out how to run society, and that those of us who have had the opportunity to learn about history and develop various skills have the responsibility to put that knowledge and those skills at the service of the people, and help them learn to lead the decision making process. In this way, through practice, experience in the struggle, trial and error, we will work towards understanding how to build a future egalitarian society and begin building it.

Although there is much more still to learn than what we have learned so far, we feel that we have a precious embryo in our hands. We want help in nurturing and developing it. We have begun an international school for organizers in the hopes of learning from the struggles in New Orleans and around the world - landless struggles in South America, the Communal Council movement in Venezuela, the campesinos in Oaxaca, and other struggles on other continents - and in the hopes of creating connections between those struggles so we can begin to move together to create the future. We invite you to help in this process, if you find yourself in fundamental agreement with the idea of "Bottom-Up."

(See Appendix 3, "Creating Prototypes in the Struggle for Egalitarian Revolution" for more discussion on the International School for Bottom-Up Organizing)

Please contact us,
People's Organizing Committee &
International School for Bottom-Up Organizing


June 2008


New Orleans Survivor Council Spring 2008
Volume 2, Issue 2
Doing For Ourselves What the Government Won't!
 
NOSC Encourages Reading Throughout the City
 
In a time when charter schools pick the cream of the crop and the rest of the of our children are herded into one of 5 public schools to sit in teacher-less classrooms, a holding pen until they are forced into holding cells, the members of the New Orleans Survivor Council have decided to take action. We have realized the only

Special Features:
NOSC BookMobile passes out free books to kids throughout New Orleans & St. Bernard Parish!
Volunteers clean up overgrown lots in the Lower 9th Ward.
Editoral by Council Member Jondrea Smith.
 
Contents:
Volunteers clean up Lower 9th Ward
A Valentine's Day to Remember
Fire Next Time: Social Justice in America
BookMobile Summer Schedule
About NOSC
way to ensure our children receive the education they deserve to help them develop into literate, productive members of our community, to ensure they have the basic skills needed to become anything they can dream; is to open their minds ourselves. It is in this spirit that the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC) received a Book Mobile.

The Book Mobile, a mobile library, was donated to the NOSC over a year ago. After overcoming many obstacles such as the need for proper insurance and a qualified driver, we were able to fulfill our dream and bring reading back to the Lower Ninth Ward, an area where many schools remain empty or partially knocked down. This lack of schools forces the children who've returned home to wake up at 5 am to make it to a bus that will carry them into another community to sit in over crowded classrooms because the only school in their community has reached its capacity. Through posting our contact information on the literary network, we've already received over a dozen boxes of books to give away to the community and more books arrive every day. We've also received donations of adult books from the St. Bernard Parish Library, creating the opportunity for entire families to read together. Through visiting many community businesses, we've received donations to sponsor a community cookout along side our Book Mobile. We serve free hot dogs and snow balls, as well as bottled water and cold drinks. Because many of these businesses understand the value of reading and care deeply about the community's children, we've received their commitment to support our community cookouts all summer long.


While browsing through the numerous tables of free books, many parents expressed the desire to donate books their children had outgrown to the Book Mobile. This has sparked a book recycling program where families can bring their old favorites and pick out new books to explore. The Book Mobile provides the space for families to come together to discuss the importance of education and distribute books to fresh, young minds who enjoy new adventures. This program is helping build a stronger sense of community, as families are cleaning out their closets to support each other by giving away their old stories to families who will use them. If you'd like to donate books, food, drinks, and/or make a tax deductible monetary donation to cover operation expenses such as gas and insurance, please contact us at 504 655 2715. All checks should be made payable to NOSC/IFCO and mailed to 2226 Ursulines Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119.

To ensure that all communities that suffer from a lack of educational resources have access to free books, we'll be cooking out in many different locations all over New Orleans and St Bernard Parish for the rest of the summer. Please check out our Summer Schedule to locate when we will be in a neighborhood near you!
 


 


Volunteers work hard to ensure displaced residents are not fined
for overgrown yards.
Volunteers Keeping It Clean

Since February of 2008, we have had over 200 volunteers cleaning up lots in the lower 9th ward. They've been working hard to ensure elderly members of the New Orleans Survivor Council are not fined $500/day for grass that stands over 18 inches. Many of the elderly residents on our list are still displaced to various parts of the country waiting for Road Home to make good on their promise to make them "whole".


With the help of these volunteers, mainly high school students from across the United States, we have been able to clean and maintain 15 different lots. They were also able to paint a rusted iron fence for a 70 year old widow, who through the help of classmates was able to return home but lacked the funds to replace the rusted fence. Side-by-side with her grandchildren, the volunteers restored the beauty with a little elbow grease and a can of paint.
 
Volunteers have fun with a sing -along while working to restore residents' homes. After hard work, volunteers relax as Ms. Walker prepares real New Orleans cuisine.



A Valentine's Day to Remember

February 14th, 2008 was a day to show some love. Miss Ora Green, an active member of the New Orleans Survivor Council since January of 2007, was finally able to plug in her deep freeze freezer after it had sat, still in the box, on her porch for over a year because the men who delivered it refused to carry the freezer through her house and set it up in her kitchen. For over a year, Miss Green has feared that it would be stolen before it ever entered the house.


Once the help was located, the fun began. To move the freezer into her kitchen, the second to last room in her historic 7th ward shotgun, NOSC volunteers Drew and George helped her son, Freddie, load it into the back of his truck. They then drove around to the abandoned lot behind her house and lifted it over the fence. They figured it would be easier to take it in the back, rather than rearrange the furniture in the house.

Soon to be 88 year old Miss Green played her part as well. While the guys were busy lifting the new freezer, she snuck into the kitchen and slid her broken refrigerator out of the way, making room for the new freezer. Miss Green is a constant reminder that age ain't nothing but a number'. After situating the new freezer, the guys hefted the broken fridge out of the kitchen and into the back of the truck, so Freddie could dispose of it.

Within 30 minutes of the volunteers knocking on her door, Miss Green was plugging in her freezer with the biggest smile I've ever seen her wear. She took a moment to pose for pictures with Drew and George and appreciated the help, saying, "It's good to have friends."



Fire Next Time: Social Justice in America
An Editorial by Jondrea Smith

In the Black church, there's a spiritual that contains the line, "It won't be water, but fire next time," where God essentially tells Noah right after the flood, "You ain't seen nothing yet." I think about this when I examine the actions of the American government immediately following the Civil Rights movement, and I wonder if they got the message.

After weathering the storm of mass organization and protests through trickery, decapitation, intimidation and petty concessions, America went right back to its wicked ways before the ink was dry on the Civil Rights Bill. Under the guises of Reaganomics, 'the War on Drugs,' 'Get Tough on Crime,' and 'No Child Left Behind;' exploitation, repression, and mis-education sought to undermine any victories we supposedly won on paper. But this time, prettier faces than Bull Connor and Ross Barnett drove the point home. And here we are. Schools have been re-segregated; Black ownership is at an all-time low, while Black unemployment, incarceration, and state-sanctioned mistreatment threaten to surpass their 'pre-movement' levels.

To be fair, just as the government is guilty of instituting these practices, we are equally at fault as a people for not recognizing what was going on and falling for the trap. We cannot change the past, and it is the present and future that are of concern to me. Each of the disasters that have befallen this country in recent times have presented opportunities for this country to do what it says on the label, and each time, it has failed miserably. I recall the U2 video, "The Saints Are Coming," that showed the troops being called home from Iraq to help people in need and military aircraft dropping sandbags to fill the breached levees. Today, that vision seems to have come from another universe.

Now, as desperation overtakes caution, the results could very well prove to be catastrophic. It is only for so long that a people can be collectively exploited, oppressed and degraded before those people begin to rebel. And now, as youth and elder alike come to their senses, we could very well be on the verge of such a desperate time. I think back to that Negro spiritual, and I think in this day and age it should read, "It won't be marches, but action this time."

And when I speak of action, I don't mean putting on shows or chanting slogans or grandstanding by lukewarm organizations but real change. The change I'm talking about is the change that comes from recognizing the genius of the poor, the overlooked, and the forgotten and realizing that each of us has a contribution to make. Now more than ever, an organized populace is essential to our survival. We should all be well aware of what is taking place. Whether through malice, neglect, or incompetence the people of New Orleans were flooded and then left to die. Our young men and women continue to die on the streets of America's cities, and on the battlefields of her unjust wars, and this current economic crisis is sitting right on all our doorsteps. But the time for complaining is past. It is time for us to organize. Each and every one of us has to bring his or her gifts skills and talents to the table, and together let us determine how to best use them for our collective survival. We are on our own, but with the power that we have within us, sometimes I believe that on our own is the best place for us to be. We each have the potential to contribute to a better world if we come together. Catch a fire, and let your light shine. Thank you.

Survivor Council member, Robert Richardson, poses with his sign as he recalls the early days of protesting in the fight to return to his home north of Claiborne Ave in the Lower 9th Ward.




Volunteer Ito reads books with
children at BookMobile Community
Cookout in the Lower 9th Ward.
Bookmobile Summer Schedule

May 31st - MLK & S. Claiborne, Central City
June 7th - Caffin Ave & N. Claiborne, Lower 9th Ward
June 14th - St Bernard Parish Library
June 21st - Ursulines & Roman
June 28th - Old Shadow Brook Complex (Algiers)
July 5th - Caffin Ave & N. Claiborne, Lower 9th Ward
July 12th - TBA, New Orleans East
July 19th - TBA, Central City
July 26th - Westbank
August 2nd - Caffin Ave & N. Claiborne, Lower 9th Ward
August 9th - Chalmette High School, St. Bernard Parish
August 16th - TBA, Upper 9th Ward
August 23th - Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Rd


About the New Orleans Survivor Council...

The New Orleans Survivor Council meets every Saturday to discuss community issues and how we can solve them ourselves. Our meetings are from 11am to 1pm at the Old Pathways Baptist Church at 1910 Alabo St.

Our organization is run according to the Bottom Up' principle of organizing, where the leadership of the organization comes from its members. It is our goal to create a safe, egalitarian space where decisions are made according to the consensus of the participants. All decisions regarding resources, work, and the Council in general are made according to this process, and the benefits are twofold. First, through consensus we ensure that resources are allocated in a manner that has the backing of the agreement of the people, and secondly, through carrying out our work in this manner, we grow accustomed to the type of participatory democracy that is necessary for us to be a self-determined people. The primary goal of our organization is community-building. It is our goal to form the necessary relationships to ensure not only will we recover as a community, but that recovery will be led and directed by the community.


2007


November 2007


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

Click here to view a videotaped interview by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now

August 2007


Greetings from the New Orleans Survivor Council and Residents of Public Housing:
August 2, 2007

Residents of Public Housing is an organization of public housing residents from the various developments throughout New Orleans. We are assisting our family, friends and neighbors in public housing with returning home and with improving the living conditions and quality of life for those of us who have already returned. We work together with the rest of our community who are not public housing residents through our New Orleans Survivor Council. The Council is made up of people from the poor and working black community of New Orleans and includes low-income homeowners (most of whom are from the Lower Ninth Ward), renters and public housing residents from wards and neighborhoods throughout New Orleans, and immigrants who have been brought into our community to as the new slaves to replace the old slaves. We have also been assisting our family, friends and neighbors with returning home, rebuilding and repairing our community and our lives, and taking charge of our neighborhoods. Our mission is to do for ourselves what the government won’t.

Click here to download document - 284 KB


New Orleans Survivor Council & Residents of Public Housing Katrina Anniversary 2007 Form

Click here to download document - 31 KB

July 2007


NEW ORLEANS SURVIVOR COUNCIL / CITIZENS OF NEW ORLEANS COMMITTEE ON RECONSTRUCTION AND REBUILDING
Bad Neighbor Commission
Contact Information: 504-872-9591
July 30, 2007

NOTICE OF VIOLATION

Click here to download document - 28 KB


Bring Our People Back Home!
Residents of Public Housing Plan Anniversary Activities

July 27, 2007

Residents of Public Housing (RPH) met yesterday at Guste High Rise Community Center. Twenty-eight residents came from several public housing neighborhoods, including Iberville, Guste, St. Bernard, Lafitte, B.W. Cooper and Desire. With the second anniversary of Katrina only a month away, residents discussed plans for the anniversary.

“Bring Our People Home” Block Party

On August 28, RPH will sponsor a block party outside the HANO/HUD office on Touro Street, starting at noon. At the block party, we will be presenting HANO and HUD with a list of units the community needs them to reopen now.

Funeral Procession and Memorial Service

On August 29, we are having our funeral procession and memorial services for those from the public housing community who lost their lives during the Katrina tragedy. We will be starting our processional and memorial services at the St. Bernard Housing Development at 10:00 AM, and doing services at St. Bernard, Lafitte, B.W. Cooper and Guste, and C.J. Peete. We are looking for financial support to provide buses to enable residents who are still outside New Orleans to come home for these events.

Please help us with these events. Click the “Donate” link on this page so public housing residents who are still in exile can come home to commemorate the losses they suffered and continue to suffer since

June 2007


REPORTS FROM NEW ORLEANS SURVIVOR COUNCIL DELEGATIONS TO VENEZUELA, INDIA AND WASHINGTON, DC: CREATING INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES, SEEKING RESTITUTION

When:
Saturday, June 16, 2007, 11am-1pm
Where:
Old Pathway Baptist Church, 1908 Alabo St. (2 blocks off N. Claiborne) Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, LA
Contact: Ishmael Muhammad, 404-664-3009

Members of the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC) have been seeking alliances and support both internationally and nationally; their reports on their travels, observances, and sources of support will be presented at a meeting on Saturday, June 16th. Members from each of the delegations will be in attendance, offering strategies for garnering support and translating it all into opportunities for survivors to return home and rebuild their homes, families, lives and communities.

A delegation of 4 NOSC participants went to Venezuela (see full information below) to garner moral and financial support from the Communal Councils (neighborhood People's organizations) and the Venezuelan National Assembly to help poor, black New Orleaneans in their attempts to reclaim their city. Both the Communal Councils and National Assemblymen promised ongoing support to the survivors and expressed outrage that the money they had previously sent to New Orleans never reached the poor, most affected people in the disaster.

Immediately after returning from Venezuela, two of the members of that delegation, Bobbie Hammond and Gloria Williams, went to Washington, DC to meet with Senator Mary Landrieu to press her to support legislation that would re-open public housing in New Orleans and allow them to return to their units to which they hold leases. Landrieu has refused so far, and, in response, Hammond and Williams, along with others, are participating in a sit-in in that senator’s office right now.

Another delegation traveled to India, where they met with survivors of their tsunami and discussed each of their experiences with “disaster capitalism” that benefits the multinational corporations and contractors much more than the victims. The NOSC participants explained to the people of India how rejected and attacked our people have been by the governments on all levels"New Orleans, Louisiana, and US Federal.

Representatives of each of the delegations will be present at the meeting for reports, questions and answers, and interviews.

NEW ORLEANS SURVIVOR COUNCIL DELEGATION RETURNS FROM VENEZUELA:
FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT FROM VENEZUELA, REJECTION FROM U.S. GOVT.

Four members of the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC) traveled to Venezuela for one week and met with elected officials and members of the Communal Councils and got a rousing welcome and show of support. They arrived back in New Orleans on June 9th.

Bobbie Hammond, Alberta McCathen, Ishmael Muhammad, and Gloria Williams went as the second NOSC delegation to Venezuela to spread the word about the real treatment of poor black people in New Orleans, the ways in which all the governments in the US have abandoned them, and how the money Venezuelans and others gave to New Orleans never reached the poor people themselves. The delegation made the journey to get support from the Venezuelan people and government for the poor people of New Orleans.

The four New Orleaneans visited poor and working class people in Caracas. They were sent by the NOSC to carry a proposal for aid to the displaced black residents of New Orleans to friends and allies in the Communal Councils in the poor neighborhoods that were made on a previous trip, with the hope that Council members would accompany them to present the proposal to the government. The NOSC wants to establish a sister-city relationship with the Caracas Communal Councils and obtain the aid that the Venezuelan government offered and the US government rejected just after Katrina.

They were welcomed with open arms by the people in Caracas. Said Gloria Williams, "It was a great, great, great experience. I've never seen all this love in all my 60 years. The people at the Communal Council showed us so much love that I cried. They built an $8 million ASPCA in New Orleans, but nothing for us. In New Orleans, white people stepped over the black people to save other white people. But the Venezuelan people don't look at color. They said they are from the hood' and they will help the NOSC because they are in the hood.'" Alberta McCathen agreed: "They made us feel like we were princes and kings, showed their gratitude for what we went through. I've never been further away from home than Baltimore. We had to come right across the water to get all this love. They love us." Bobbie Hammond added, "We had a great week. I'm going back to the projects. I feel like we are going to win this. We went to the mountaintop in the hood' in Caracas. The people are living up their comfortable, happy, and it belongs to them. If they can live in the hills, we are going to take our community back. I don't feel as down as I did when I came here. They lifted our spirits. We have some brothers and sisters right here in Venezuela."

The words of these Katrina survivors show the immense power of international solidarity among grass roots people. Their own government has deserted the poor and working black people of New Orleans, none of the billions of dollars in "aid" have reached the hands of poor people, their efforts to return home are thwarted at every turn, and all odds are stacked against them. But the love, support and unity from poor struggling people abroad instilled in them hope and determination. As Ms. Hammond put it, "I feel like I have my dignity and pride back. Everything is different with us now. The fight's not over. If they could do it, we can do it."

Ishmael Muhammad added, "The people of Venezuela are supporting the efforts of the poor black people in New Orleans displaced by US government policy. They are our friends. The US government turned a natural disaster, Katrina, into an unnatural disaster: we charge them with genocide, with the responsibility of killing 6000 people and making it impossible for hundreds of thousands of poor black folks from returning to their homes, families, and communities in New Orleans. The US government has denied all our basic freedoms."

Together with Communal Council members, the NOSC delegation joined half a million people demonstrating in support of the government's move to close down a TV station that had participated in a CIA-backed coup attempt five years ago. Ms Williams describes the scene: "We were in a parade with the poor and middle class people for Chavez. He has so much support among the people. They love him. We must have walked about 20 blocks, but it was worth it."

The delegation also met with members of the National Assembly and spent several days attending meetings and appearing on radio and TV, spreading their message to people across Venezuela and other Latin American countries. The Communal Councils took the NOSC proposal to their umbrella organization, the Venezuelan Commission on Citizen Participation, which then presented a resolution to the National Assembly to support the NOSC and making it an official "sister Communal Council." This would mean the NOSC would also be eligible for all the support that Communal Councils get from the government.

One part of the NOSC proposal asked for support for a Training Institute in New Orleans. Said Ms. Williams, "After meeting with National Assemblyman Francisco Torrealba, he indicated to the delegation that he wants to see a training institute in New Orleans so our people can be trained in all the skills they'll need for the recovery. I told the National Assembly that none of the money they gave New Orleans got to the poor people. The congressmen had tears in their eyes."

Communal Council members wanted the delegation to stay even longer than they did. They invited NOSC to come back, and offered to put people up in their own homes next time. The delegation went back stronger than it had left. As Ms. Hammond said when she was asked what she'll do now that she's back in her home town, "We are on our way back. I've been committed to the Survivor Council from the beginning. We will work even harder. The hood is our family."

MEDIA ALERT
For Immediate Release
Attention: News Assignment Desk
Contact:
Nicole Banks
Renelle Carter

WHO: New Orleans Survivors' Council and Florida Public Housing Residents
WHAT: Residents to Return Home
WHERE: Florida Public Housing Development
WHEN: Saturday, June 10, 2006 9:30a.m.

The Right to Return to Public Housing

New Orleans, LA- More than ten months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, residents of New Orleans' Public Housing Developments are still displaced around the United States. After many months of failed appeals to HANO, residents of the Iberville, St. Thomas, and Gus Housing Developments moved back into their homes independently. Residents of the Florida Housing Development have been inspired by these actions, and after their own unanswered appeals to HANO, they have decided to pursue a similar course.

Two weeks ago, Florida residents came to the weekly New Orleans Survivors' Council meeting. They asked the Council to support their effort to return home by assisting in the clean up process. The Council came to the consensus to help and formed a committee to focus on public housing concerns. Last weekend over 60 people came out to support the cause as Council members gathered with Florida residents to remove debris from ten homes.

This Saturday, June 10th, at 8 am Florida residents and Council members are scheduled to clear the debris from thirty additional homes. In continuation of the larger Right to Return to Public Housing Movement, two families will move back into their homes which were not affected by flood waters or the resulting mold. These families and the others that are slated to follow hope to inspire HANO to begin repairs and reopen the doors of the Florida Public Housing Development.

"This is my home. I lost my only brother in the Florida Housing Development four years ago, over ten dollars, but I am here with my daughters to make it a better place- I'm staying. I worked and had a nice place," says Renelle Carter, a Florida Public Housing resident.

This is an effort of the New Orleans Survivors' Council to empower the community to return to their homes, public or private.



Genocide

We are in the middle of genocide of black people, people of African descent. This is not the sort of genocide that we have been alert to in the past, where millions of people are decimated over a relatively short period of time in a small geographic and political region. No. This genocide is moving along at a steady, relentless pace, moving faster and faster with many focal points. But make no mistake: there is a “systematic program of action intended to destroy a whole racial or national group” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Hundreds of millions of people of African descent are being killed before our eyes.

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A Timeline of Organizing in New Orleans after Katrina
March, 2007

  • August 29, 2005: Hurricane Katrina misses New Orleans and people who were left in the city by the government heave a sigh of relief.


  • August 30, 2005: waters rise, levees are destroyed, homes and people are washed away by violently rushing water. Approximately 6,000 people die within a few days, 100,000 are trapped in shelters or on roofs without food or water, shot at by police while trying to flee the waters, then loaded on buses and planes and shipped all over the country. These people were the poorest and darkest-skinned people in New Orleans.


  • August 30, 2005: At a meeting of "The National Black Convergence" leadership group organized by Harry Belefonte, going on during the hurricane, Curtis Muhammad asked for an immediate and united response. The suggestion was tabled for a later date, missing the crucial opportunity to defend poor, black New Orleanians and to open a new militant chapter in the US struggle for justice.

  • September 8: a group of people from the Community Labor United network met and concluded that the movement to respond to the travesty should be led by the poor, working class black people who were hit hardest by it. Two sectors of the movement, the nationalists and the internationalists, began to develop a coalition on a verbal agreement to follow the leadership of poor black people. A name was chosen: People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition.

  • October through January: PHRF sent Curtis on a national speaking tour, exposing the victimization of poor black New Orleanians and announcing the campaign for the right of return led by the survivors themselves. The money began pouring in: working people, poor people, unions, progressive organizations, all were deeply moved by the victimization of black people in New Orleans and responded generously. The coalition planned its first big event for December 9 and 10: a Survivor's Assembly and a March for the Right of Return.

  • The strategy for the Survivor's Assembly was that survivors would be brought from all over the country to the Assembly, and would take the reins of the organization from the Interim Coordinating Committee (ICC) that had been set up temporarily to facilitate the passage of resources raised on the backs of the suffering of the poor. Allied groups in many cities began finding and organizing Katrina evacuees.

  • Early December: it became obvious about a week before the assembly that there was not agreement in this coalition. $200,000 was spent to get survivors there, but the planning committee held back the agenda until a week before the event. When they unveiled it, it was clear that the only role for the survivors was to sit and listen.

  • A struggle developed around the voice and leadership of the survivors in their own struggle. In the end, survivors did not take over the organization, and the rally the following day was dominated by spokespeople for various left and nationalist organizations. That weekend exposed the reality that the ICC was not committed to follow the leadership of poor black folks.

  • January 2006: Curtis Muhammad, heading the organizing committee, hired a staff of young, committed people, dedicated to following the leadership of poor black people, and put volunteers on the streets to find survivors and listen to their stories. This grassroots organizing followed the traditions of Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Paulo Friere's popular education and organizing work (which has influenced Movimento Sin Terra). The New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC) was established out of this work.

  • January: a delegation from PHRF, including Curtis Muhammad, went to the World Social Forum in Venezuela, gave a workshop on the travesty in New Orleans, and were very impressed with the young social workers and their organizing in the housing developments in Caracas.

  • The NOSC set down principles for its work. In the midst of trauma, people put aside selfish concerns to fight injustice. They said that in order for people to come home, they would need four things: a place to live, a place to send their children to school, a place to go when they got sick, and a job. NOSC set up set up an egalitarian system to prioritize requests: those in the most need would get first priority in the rebuilding effort. First help would go to elderly and disabled without resources, then single parents without resources, then other homeowners without insurance, and finally everyone else.

  • March: because at first most volunteers were middle class white youth, an effort was made to recruit black students to come for spring break. Well over a thousand responded during the month of March, organized by a new network called Katrina on the Ground. Residents took heart from this response of children who looked like their own, and were inspired to take more initiative.

  • March-April: The ICC, serving as temporary coordinators of PHRF, was moving PHRF in a different direction. They began maneuvering to take over PHRF and the people's resources. Most people on the ICC represented organizations that aspired to leadership of the movement. They were impatient with the slow work of building leadership among the people at the bottom and anxious to lead a national campaign, affect local and national elections, and get international attention. They became irritated at the young organizers, out there talking to the Survivor Council members, teaching them organizing skills, explaining the work to the hundreds of youthful volunteers and putting them on the streets in the service of the Survivor Council.

  • mid-April: the Survivor Council began to ask questions about the money PHRF had raised in their names (mainly from Curtis Muhammad's speaking tour, over one million US dollars), and began to request oversight over that money. Overnight, the young organizers were accused of insubordination and fired. PHRF's ICC deserted the Survivor Council and left 60 high school volunteers in the city without guidance, kept control of the remaining $800,000 raised in the name of survivors, and began organizing around its program of influencing the upcoming mayoral election and preparing for an international tribunal.

  • mid-April: the day after being fired, the young organizers decided to continue working without salaries. Curtis Muhammad threw his lot in with them, and promised to raise money to help them keep doing "Bottom-Up" organizing. The group re-named itself the People's Organizing Committee (POC) and continued its work with survivors and volunteers, asking the Survivor Council to supervise them and act as their employer if money could be raised to sustain them.

  • May August: POC coordinated a large and complex summer volunteer project. Hundreds of volunteers supported the work of the New Orleans Survivor Council, gutting homes and doing door-to-door organizing, and discussing what they were learning. The work expanded to include organizing in the trailer parks where survivors were still living, working with immigrant workers who had been brought in to take jobs formerly held by Katrina evacuees, public housing residents, parents trying to open a school, and allying with a grassroots oriented legal group, and an environmental committee.

  • August 29: on the anniversary of Katrina, NOSC and POC participated in organizing and attending the march to commemorate the hurricane and its victims. New Orleans residents attempted to take empty FEMA trailers from a lot; Curtis Muhammad was arrested for trespassing (charges were later dropped when many residents attended court).

  • September: a new group of organizers replaced the original group, who went back to work and school. All the areas of work continued, though with far fewer volunteers because young people were back in school.

  • October: Curtis Muhammad, on a visit to New York to raise money, was told that a move was afoot among foundations not to provide funding for POC or Survivor Council initiatives.

  • September December: New Orleans of Survivor Council consolidated its own leadership group. Public housing residents formed an organization within the Survivor Council and worked toward reopening developments that the government had slated for demolition. POC organizers and immigrant organizers formally joined forces and resources.

  • January February: Residents of Public Housing reoccupy units in a public housing project. Survivor Council organizers join forces with immigrant guest workers to attempt a citizen's arrest of a slave trafficker. High school volunteers are threatened with arrest for helping to clean up public housing apartments. The Survivor Council sets as a priority developing plans and resources to build a section of world-class levee around the Lower Ninth Ward as a demonstration project.

  • February: members of the Survivor Council, POC and Residents of Public Housing go to Venezuela to appeal for support for building the levee, taking control of public housing and maintaining and training organizers.


What is POC?

People's Organizing Committee (POC) refers to a collaboration between a group of young organizers from several different organizations that were working under the People's Hurricane Relief Fund. PHRF was founded on the principle that the people most impacted by Hurricane Katrina should lead the movement to return to and rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. In “PHRF " Who We Are,” this principle was stated this way: “The purpose of PHRF is to ensure that people from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region play a central role in all decisions made about relief and the rebuilding of New Orleans and Gulf Coast. PHRF believes that the people themselves should be the leaders and that this is the only way justice will be served.”

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Donate
All the money people generously donated to support this organizing work has been taken from us. There are some who are in the process of taking legal action (see “Disclaimer” on this site), but meanwhile we need money to enable us to do this work!

Please make checks payable to IFCO/NOSC, mail contributions to:
People's Organizing Committee
IFCO (Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing) / NOSC

2226 Ursulines
New Orleans, LA 70119

May 2007


May 1st Celebrating Worker's Day, Afrikan Liberation Day and Ending Slavery
Time: 1:30 pm  Where: 2635 Orleans Ave.

Come and support our demands:

  1. We demand a Just reconstruction that includes the people that have been displaced.

  2. We Demand the Immediate Reopening of All Public Housing in New Orleans

  3. We demand that contractors and developers who are ripping off migrants and black people in New Orleans be investigated and placed under citizen arrest.

  4. Stop immigration and police raids on the Latino and Black community.

  5. We demand that all money and resources for poor and working black people and other people of color in New Orleans be controlled, managed and directed by us.

  6. We demand immediate temporary housing inside the city of New Orleans for all poor and working black people who are still displaced.

  7. We demand that the rent in the city of New Orleans be set at what it was before Katrina.

  8. We demand the rebuilding and reopening of public schools under community control.

  9. We demand the rebuilding and reopening of public health care facilities under community control.

  10. We demand the same or better levee protection for our community as is provided to the rich white community in New Orleans.

Note: As an act of solidarity and unity between the Latino and Black Communities; Latino workers, members of the Day Labor Congress will be rebuilding Mrs. Green House. Mrs. Green is a 86 years old lady, who since hurricane Katrina, hasn't been able to rebuild her house due lack of money.

NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.

Supported by:
New Orleans Survival Council, Peoples Organizing Committee, the Day Labor Congress of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice. For more information, please contact 504-872-9591.

Click here to download document - 463 KB


May Day: Remember Katrina

The Washington Post recently published an article exposing the fact that the U.S. government managed to turn back and/or not use almost all the hurricane assistance offered by foreign governments (see the attached article). This is on top of all the well-documented things the governments at all levels did when Katrina threatened New Orleans and hit the Gulf Coast, and during the subsequent flood in New Orleans - from not evacuating residents to turning back rescue efforts from land, sea and air, to scattering our brothers and sisters across the country never to return to their homes.

On this May Day, international workers' day, let us not forget that these actions represent the biggest racist attack against the working people of the US in recent history. Over 100,000 mainly poor black workers were left in New Orleans to die, and would have died had Katrina hit the city as it was forecast to do. They were forced at gunpoint to stay in "shelters" with no food, water, toilets or electricity. They died in the thousands. All offers of aid were turned back. They were sent away from home and to this day have not been allowed back. Their neighborhoods look like they did just after the flood. Their schools are closed. The public hospital remains closed though it did not sustain flood damage.

Most of this fascist reality has been allowed to fly under the radar, even of many people who will celebrate May Day.

POC asks that everyone celebrating May Day this year hold up this ongoing racist, fascist attack for everyone to see, and commit themselves to the ongoing fight for poor black residents of New Orleans to reclaim their homes. Fascism succeeds when ordinary people stand by and ignore the attacks going on under their noses! Let May Day truly be a day of anti-racist unity, bringing together the struggles of black (former slaves), immigrant (modern slaves) and white workers behind the leadership of grassroots black folks fighting to regain their homes and livelihoods.

Click here to download the Washington Post document - 33 KB

March 2007


Survivor Council to Open Lawless High School Residents and Volunteers Face Down Cops and School Officials
March 8, 2007

On Thursday, March 8, residents and volunteers working with the New Orleans Survivor Council faced off against the Recovery School District (RSD). The NOSC had previously decided to reopen the public school system themselves, because the city has taken public education out of New Orleans. They are targeting mainly poor black communities, and particularly the Lower Ninth Ward and the area around the C.J. Peete public housing development.

As a result of NOSC pressure, Martin Luther King elementary school will be reopened soon in the Lower Ninth, but residents are not happy about the fact that it is reopening as a charter school. People need to know that all of their children are guaranteed to be able to attend school in order for them to move back home. Charter schools choose their students.

So a few weeks ago, the Survivor Council decided to reopen Lawless High School, also in the Lower Ninth, and Tom Lafon near C.J. Peete, as public schools. Student volunteers have been cleaning Lawless out for the past week. This week, students from Wilberforce and FAMU were in the building, cleaning and salvaging usable educational materials, when the RSD sent contractors to the school. The contractors demanded to know who had authorized the students to work. They answered, "the New Orleans Survivor Council authorized us; this is their school, and we're cleaning and reopening it."

The contractors revealed that they had been hired to clear out the "full contents" of the school, throw them away, and prepare the school for demolition! The second floor of the building had computers, books, software still in its original wrappings, and other salvageable materials. At schools that have been designated as "full content" schools, contractors are instructed to throw away all the contents of the school. Nearly all of the schools designated as "full content" schools are in poor, black neighborhoods. Other schools are designated "partial content" schools, and in those, contents are salvaged.

Since both the volunteers and the hired contractors were under instructions to clean out the school, the POC organizers proposed that they all work together. An agreement was worked out whereby the RSD contractors would work on the first floor, where everything needed to be thrown out, and the NOSC volunteers would work on the second floor and continue to salvage materials. However, then the contractors added "you have one day." After that, they said, the students would be in the way and would have to go.

The volunteers responded that they planned to stay until they got the job done, and added that if anyone started tearing the building down, the students would get in their way. When the contractors reiterated their demand that the students leave the following day, POC and the Survivor Council decided to pull out all the stops. That night, they called residents and the press.

The next day (Thursday), nearly a dozen residents donned protective clothing to join twenty students in cleaning out the school. The press watched as the students, many of them having done a quick orientation in civil disobedience, prepared to be arrested if necessary, alongside residents who were not about to back down on their goal of opening a high school for their children.

Looking for a response, the press called RSD officials on the phone. The officials asked where the things taken out of the school were, and residents responded that they had salvaged it, because the RSD was going to trash useful materials and equipment. The RSD then decided that they did not want the publicity that would come from calling police to arrest residents and their volunteers cleaning out their own school, and finally said they would meet with NOSC to discuss the reopening of Lawless School!

After the experience of MLK School, residents don't have confidence in the RSD to look out for their interests, but they knew they had won at least a temporary victory that day. The next day, they sent another team into Tom Lafon School so that residents determined to reoccupy C.J. Peete would also have a school to send their kids to.


New Orleans Survivor Council Turns to Venezuela for Support
March 2, 2007

Poor and Working Class Black Hurricane Survivors Visit Venezuelan Communal Councils and Expose "Hatred" of the Poor by Progressive and Government Forces in the U.S.

New Orleans, LA, March 1 - A delegation of four members of the New Orleans Survivor Council and two Bottom-Up organizers have just returned from a truly inspiring and life-changing trip to meet the people of Venezuela. True to their commitment to Bottom-Up leadership in New Orleans, they went directly to the bottom: to the everyday, grassroots folk of Venezuela. They met with several of the Venezuelan Communal Councils (organized groups of neighbors within Venezuela who run their communities, and control the resources for their communities; much like what the New Orleans Survivor Council is attempting to do within their poor and working black New Orleans community), and told their stories of survival and struggle to an undeniably attentive audience. The Communal Councils were equally excited and inspired by the meeting with the survivors, and leaped at the chance to bring their needs and requests to the Venezuelan government.

This was the first time a group of poor and working class black people visited Venezuela representing themselves and their own organizations and were not just a backdrop or exhibit for other groups led by the privileged. The effort of the New Orleans Survivor Council delegation to develop camaraderie and a direct working relationship with Venezuelans who are also struggling through class and racial oppression is unheard of in the modern era. Most relationships between the masses of the people throughout the world have not been developed by the masses themselves but by people who claim to represent them, or advocates for them, or those who have styled themselves as their leaders.

For almost except one Survivor Council member, it was their first time outside of the U.S. They had no passports before the trip and all of the delegation was awestruck to meet people who had such solidarity in their hearts for the poor and working black people in New Orleans, the U.S. and throughout the world. Everyone saw each other as part of the same struggle and each person, those from the Survivor Council and those from the Communal Councils had such similar experiences in their own countries, lives, and organizations.

Because of the revolutionary act of these New Orleans residents and Katrina survivors, a delegation from Venezuela will soon be coming to New Orleans to follow up on the first visit of the Survivor Council. They want to see the situation in New Orleans with their own eyes, and to help lay the basis for meeting the needs identified by the New Orleans Survivor Council, as well as investigating setting up a sister-city relationship between the Caracas Communal Councils and the New Orleans Survivor Council. There is great hope among the poor and working communities of both places that the roots of international alliance that were planted in this visit, will grow into a tree of established sisterhood, whose branches stretch from the barrios of Caracas, to the hoods of New Orleans.

If you would like to learn more about this story, please review the included documents developed by the New Orleans Survivor Council to share with the people of Venezuela and the documents developed by the delegation during the visit. The documents have also been attached to this release.


Greetings to the People of Venezuela from the New Orleans Survivor Council

To the people of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan Community Councils, we come to you as people who have been deserted by the government in our own country. We are survivors of Hurricane Katrina, members of the New Orleans Survivor Council, poor and working black folk who have historically been ignored in our country and feel we have been set up for genocide. When Katrina hit, we were left in more than 20 feet of floodwater for over 21 days in a city that sits over 13 feet below sea level - left to die.

The events of the past year have caused us to re-evaluate the direction of the progressive and revolutionary movement. We noticed that those left in New Orleans to drown were the poorest and darkest-skinned people of the city. Looking around the world, we see that the most oppressed and cast-aside peoples are those with darker skin. We are looking deeply at this intersection of skin color and poverty and asking everyone to do the same. We are committed to building an egalitarian society. We have concluded that the only way to accomplish this is to look to those very people who have been relegated to the bottom of society's heap for leadership. We call this Bottom-Up leadership.

Our people have also been deserted by most members of the progressive community at home. We know that everyone comes to you for help; the Harry Belafontes, the Danny Glovers, and the very organizations that we helped to start and that later deserted us: they have all come to you. Often, their talk is of oil money. Our appeal to you is something quite different. We think the most exciting thing happening in your country is the communal council movement, and that is why we are here.

We are looking for a relationship with you. Because we've been deserted, we need to rebuild our own communities, schools, and hospitals. We need to rebuild our levees so we won't be washed away by the next storm. We need to build relationships with people who care about us. From listening to your leadership, it sounds like you care.

We are looking to forge sister-city relationships. These would be sister-city relationships of a different type: not with the official City Council of New Orleans, but with the New Orleans Survivor Council, the organization of the most oppressed folk in the city. Our council is the council of the people, the grassroots people who were the most impacted by this disaster, the council of the people who were left to die. And we have made great sacrifice to come before you, personally, in order to represent ourselves and put a stop to those who come over and claim to represent us, building the power and prestige of themselves and their organizations on the backs of our suffering.

In your communal councils, we see organizations similar to ours. Our goal is to empower the people at the bottom to begin to self-govern. You have a government that declares support for that process. We don't, and that is why we have come to you.

We are interested in building our schools and communities, and we desperately need to build our levees. We also have a dire need for organizers to help us build Survivor Councils among the 200,000 New Orleanians still scattered across six states, in fifteen cities and numerous trailer park concentration camps.

We therefore come to you with four requests:

  1. That you send 25 of your organizers to work with us for 18 months to 2 years and support them while they are with us.

  2. That you provide support for 25 of our own organizers for the same period, to include a trip here to see your model and learn from it.

  3. That you provide engineers and resources to help us build a small demonstration levee to world-class standards.

  4. That you provide resources to help our people take back our public housing communities and provide alternative energy sources for our people who are moving back in because the U.S. government has refused to reopen these communities or provide heat light, or repair assistance to those of our community that have reoccupied.

We thank you very much for enabling us to visit and learn from your work, and we thank you in advance for the help we hope you will extend to us.


An Emergency Appeal to the People of Venezuela
from the New Orleans Survivor Council

We are a group of survivors and organizers working for the people who were left to die when New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina. We are visiting your country for the second time on an urgent mission on February 18 to appeal to you as friends of the poor, black, working class people of New Orleans. We need your help and support, as our government has attacked us and then turned its back on our desperate needs.

When Katrina threatened our city, local and national government united to keep us in the city as the floodwaters rose. The poorest and darkest skinned of working class people were left to die, and more than 6,000 of us did. We were herded into shelters with no food or water, and later dispersed all over the country with no way to get back home. A quarter of a million Katrina survivors are still scattered all over the country, and tens of thousands of us are living in trailer camps that are like concentration camps. Until now, the government has put every possible obstacle in our way, has not rebuilt our neighborhoods and has not even built levees around them that would keep out the water in the next hurricane. They closed the public hospital and most of the schools. Even the public housing units thousands of us lived in are scheduled to be torn down, though the flood did not damage them. Some residents moved back in anyway, and this week heavily armed special police units have kicked in the doors at 2 AM to throw people out and arrest them.

To replace us in the jobs we once held, the government has brought in so-called guest workers from Latin American countries, who they tell a pile of lies to get them here. Then they house them in trailer concentration camps, too, don't give them medical care or safety protection, and pay them a fraction of what they used to pay us for the same jobs. These workers cannot quit their jobs without becoming illegal immigrants, so they are forced to work under these conditions. This is modern day slavery used to take the place of the descendants of their former slaves.

As former slaves and modern slaves, we are building unity. We realize that we must take our future into our own hands. The government has proven that it won't help us. We are actively organizing to bring the poor, black and working class communities back to our city and to unite with oppressed working people of other hues. We know that we all have the same oppressors, and in unity there is strength. We are one people. This is why we are coming to you to ask for your solidarity and support.

We have been struggling for over a year now to rebuild our communities and bring our families back home. However, it has become clear to us that we are being cast aside by the government and much of our society. Although everyday people have poured in to help us rebuild, no one with any resources has helped us. No money is coming to us from government or private sources, except the small donations of poor people like ourselves. We have come to see that the poorest black working class people in the United States today are in the same position that our ancestors were in on the Middle Passage from Africa, that Jews, Gypsies and other oppressed peoples in Europe were in during the 1930's. Our young people are thrown in jail by the thousands and shot down in the streets by the police. Our access to health care is so poor that tens of thousands of us die each day of preventable causes in the richest country in the world. Our children cannot get a decent education and look to a future without a decent job. We are being set up for genocide, and few people see this, either in our country or internationally.

What is happening to us is important to every struggle in the world today. We are the descendants of the African slaves who built this country with their labor. We look around us in America and all the world, and we see that the darker your skin, the closer you are to the bottom of the heap. Like oppressed people everywhere, poor black people in the United States have always fought for freedom. We have a culture of resisting exploitation. We refuse to work hard for someone else's profit. We fought slavery; we joined the army in large numbers to fight fascism in Europe during World War Two, because we know racism when we see it; we rose up against racism and burned cities forty years ago. This is why the government is afraid of us and wants us out of New Orleans. What is happening to us is a prediction of what will happen across our country and throughout the world as the U.S. government sinks deeper into fascism and aggression. This is not our struggle alone, it is the struggle of all laboring, oppressed and shunned people of the world.

When we first visited your country last year, we were excited by promises of help. We need that help desperately. We have to fight or die. We were very impressed by your young social workers. We ask that you send twenty-five of them for two years to help us organize the rebuilding of our communities. We also ask that you provide financial support for twenty-five Katrina survivors to be trained and supported as organizers.

Another of our goals is for our people, by our own efforts, with our own hands, to begin to rebuild the levee around our devastated Ninth Ward neighborhoods to world-class standards. The US government has left us vulnerable to being swept away by the next flood. We appeal to you to help us fund a demonstration project that will rebuild one block of levee. This will show the government that the levee can be rebuilt, that the only thing lacking is their political will to protect us. And it will show the world that someone does care about the plight of poor black people in the US.

The rich want us to believe that as poor, working people, and dark-skinned people, we are not smart or skilled enough to run our own lives. On the contrary, we believe that it is the people on the bottom, all over the world, who have the skills, intelligence and humanity to run the world. Help us take a step toward international unity of the oppressed of all hues, under the leadership of the most oppressed, to stand up together. It is a necessity for the survival of all of us.

Thank you.

The New Orleans Survivor Council
The People's Organizing Committee
The New Orleans Workers' Center

February 2007


Click here to download our February Newsletter.


Click here to download the Summer Project Pamphlet.


Letter to President Chavez

To: The Honorable Hugo Chavez, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
The Honorable Jorge Rodriguez, Vice-President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
From: The New Orleans Survivor Council Delegation to Venezuela
Subject: A Report of our Visit to Venezuela
Date: February 22, 2007

President Chavez Press Release and Request
February 22, 2007

Dear Honorable President Hugo Chavez:

We thank you from the bottom of our heart for the warm, educative, and passionate reception your people afforded our delegation while in Caracas. We came to you as people who have been deserted by the government in our own country. We are survivors of Hurricane Katrina, members of the New Orleans Survivor Council, poor and working black folk who have historically been ignored in our country and feel we have been set up for genocide. We deeply believe in organizing the poor people most affected by oppressive conditions and we look to them for leadership. We feel a strong kinship with your government and people.

While in Caracas, we met with a large number of your leaders and had important conversations with them. We will summarize below so that you can get a snapshot view of these interchanges.

  • Gladys Bolivar, activist from 23 de enero, along with Iraima Espinoza, Yanilet Gonzalez and others in her neighborhood, met with us to describe the Consejos Communales and their desire to establish a sister city relationship between the Consejos and the New Orleans Survivor Council. We acknowledged the similarity of our struggles and structures and how we came to Venezuela because we sought a close relationship with the Consejos Communales. Gladys and her fellow activists said they would join us wherever possible in meetings in Caracas and that they would like to come to New Orleans in a delegation to see the situation for themselves. They said they would propose to their people that the activists of the Consejos Communales would welcome to Venezuela and train 25 organizers from the New Orleans and that they would help train and send 25 Venezuelans who can speak some English to come to New Orleans to organize with our people.
  • Francisco Torrealba, national assembly representative, President of the Solidarity Group between Venezuela and the US, met with us, along with Gladys Bolivar and Tulio Virguez. Mr. Torrealba's compassion for our plight moved him to propose a trip to New Orleans to see our conditions first hand and to seek approval for the Venezuelan government to support the training and work of 25 organizers from New Orleans and 25 organizers from Venezuela. He also heard our request for Venezuela's support for a demonstration project of a world-class levee to protect the poor communities of New Orleans that would replace the inadequate levee that the US government has given us. He said he would speak with the minister of Training and Social Development as well as others in decision-making positions in the government about our proposals.
  • Omar Rangel of the Frente Francisco de Miranda, representing Erica Farias and other social workers from the Frente met with us and indicated his interest in training our organizers and helping to recruit and train Venezuelan social workers to serve in New Orleans as we re-build our families, communities and lives in our city under the leadership of our poor people.
  • Jorge Ariasa of the International Affairs TV show interviewed two of our Survivors and
  • Radio shows
  • Gladys Bolivar took us to the new Cotiva housing development to see the way the Venezuelan government has dealt with survivors of your floods. We were inspired by the beauty of the construction, the hope of the people and the inspiration from the government. We viewed the containers that some of these people were forced to live in for over 20 years and they reminded us of the horrible trailer park concentration camps the survivors of the hurricane in New Orleans are forced to live in now. We now have an image of what respectful housing for the poor can look like.

The events of the past year have caused us to re-evaluate the direction of the progressive and revolutionary movement. Those left in New Orleans to drown were the poorest and darkest-skinned people of the city. Looking around the world, we see that the most oppressed and cast-aside peoples are those with darker skin. We are looking deeply at this intersection of skin color and poverty and asking everyone to do the same. We are committed to building an egalitarian society. We have concluded that the only way to accomplish this is to look to those very people who have been relegated to the bottom of society's heap for leadership.

We discussed how our people have also been deserted by most members of the progressive community at home. We know that everyone comes to you for help; and the very organizations that we helped to start and that later deserted us: they have all come to you. Often, their talk is of oil money. Our appeal to you is something quite different. We think the most exciting thing happening in your country is the communal council movement, and that is why we are here.

We shared our desire for a relationship with you, your government and your people. We shared our desire to rebuild our own communities, schools, and hospitals. In New Orleans we need to rebuild our levees so we won't be washed away by the next storm. We need to build relationships with people who care about us. From listening to your leadership, it sounds like you care.

We talked about our desire to forge sister-city relationships. These would be sister-city relationships of a different type: not with the official City Council of New Orleans, but with the New Orleans Survivor Council, the organization of the most oppressed folk in the city. Our council is the council of the people, the grassroots people who were the most impacted by this disaster, the council of the people who were left to die. And we have made great sacrifice to come before you, personally, in order to represent ourselves and put a stop to those who come over and claim to represent us, building the power and prestige of themselves and their organizations on the backs of our suffering.

We also discussed your communal councils and the fact that our organizations are similar to each other. Our goal is to empower the people at the bottom to begin to self-govern. You have a government that declares support for that process. We don't have such a government, and that is why we have come to you.

We are interested in building our schools and communities, and we desperately need to build our levees. We also have a dire need for organizers to help us build Survivor Councils among the 200,000 New Orleanians still scattered across six states, in fifteen cities and numerous trailer park concentration camps.

We discussed in detail the following:

  1. The need to have 25 of your organizers to work with us for 18 months to 2 years and support them while they are with us.
  2. The need to provide support for 25 of our own organizers for the same period, to include a trip here to see your model and learn from it.
  3. That you provide engineers and resources to help us build a small demonstration levee to world-class standards.
  4. That you provide resources to help our people take back our public housing communities and provide alternative energy sources for our people who are moving back in because the U.S. government has refused to reopen these communities or provide heat, light, or repair assistance to those of our community that have reoccupied.

We are inviting you to New Orleans to see our conditions first hand, to meet our people, visit our organization and help us think thorough and formalize our relationship. We seek to create a relationship with Venezuela and the poor from New Orleans. We urgently request your presence.

Hasta la Victoria,

Curtis Muhammad
Julie Andrews
Freddie Robinson
Robert Richardson
Ishmael Muhammad
Allen Harris
For the New Orleans Survivor Council

2226 Ursulines Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
504-872-9491 office
504-236-4703 cell
www.peoplesorganizing.org
poc_information@yahoo.com




Letter to the Vice-Minister of Education
February 22, 2007

To: The Honorable William Mantilla, Vice-Minister of Education of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela The Honorable Prof. Eduardo Piñate, President of the Venezuelan Teachers' Union
From: The New Orleans Survivor Council Delegation to Venezuela
Subject: A Proposal for Shared Work

Dear Vice-Minister William Mantilla and Prof. Eduardo Piñate:

We are survivors of the hurricane in New Orleans and have come to Venezuela seeking a relationship with your country. We are the first delegation of poor, black, working people from a grass roots organization from New Orleans, the New Orleans Survivor Council, to come to Venezuela seeking friendship, inspiration and support. We six survivors came to you as people who have been deserted by the government in our own country. We feel we have been set up for genocide. We deeply believe in organizing the poor people most affected by oppressive conditions and we look to them for leadership. We feel a strong kinship with your government and people.

Public education has been destroyed in New Orleans since the hurricane. All the teachers were fired, the children could not go to school, all schools that eventually were opened (none in the poor communities) were privatized charter schools, the teachers union was basically busted, and the children and families of New Orleans were devastated. The situation of children and schools in New Orleans was taken on by the Trinational Commission in Defense of Public Education (Mexico, US, Canada) which is a section of the Initiativa Democratica de Educacion en las Americas, a Western Hemispheric organization of progressive teacher unions and educational activists who want to defend public education together through knowledge, solidarity, and action. They saw the political dynamics in New Orleans as a laboratory for the neoliberal agenda of destroying public education. The leaders of Section 22 from the state of Oaxaca, those who led the struggle in their city and state this year, were the first to recognize the need for our people to unite together; we are expecting a delegation of Mexican teachers to join us in New Orleans to help us rebuild our schools, levee and infrastructure.

We are particularly interested in having a relationship with teachers in Venezuela because our children, families and teachers are in such need. As educators, you know how important it is to children's education that their families have homes, jobs, and health care, and that good schools are available to them. We have none of that in New Orleans. Our approach to the rebuilding New Orleans is holistic: all parts of the city-- education, housing, employment, health-- need to be developed together. That's why our relationship with teachers and educators in Venezuela is so important to us.

We ask you to consider the following proposals for our shared work:
  1. That you or a representative come to New Orleans on a fact-finding mission initiated by National Assemblyman Francisco Torrealba, to see first hand the devastation 18 months after the hurricane in New Orleans. We want you to be part of the Venezuelan team that comes to New Orleans to participate with the poor black community in assessing how to rebuild the infrastructure including schools for our children and families. We are attempting to bring back the 200,000 people who have been dispersed outside of New Orleans, many of them in trailer park concentration camps without any services including schools. We know you have sent teachers to other nations in the past to teach literacy; perhaps this is a model that you might apply to New Orleans.
  2. That you contact the leader of the IDEA network, Maria Elena Arriaga, mariluz@servidor.unam.mx, and assess your possible participation in their progressive grouping of teacher unions and activists in the Western Hemisphere. They would be honored and it would amplify solidarity and friendship between teachers of our nations.

Please know that we have made other requests of your government, for organizers, for support for building part of a levee, to provide alternative energy resources for our public housing residents, and to develop mechanisms to share economic development and technology transfer between the Venezuelan people and the poor people of New Orleans through the New Orleans Survivor Council.

We thank you and the Venezuelan people, the teachers, the children, the families. We support your revolutionary struggle and we claim it as our own.

Hasta la Victoria,

Curtis Muhammad
Julie Andrews
Freddie Robinson
Robert Richardson
Ishmael Muhammad
Allen Harris
For the New Orleans Survivor Council

2226 Ursulines Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
504-872-9491 office
504-236-4703 cell
www.peoplesorganizing.org
poc_information@yahoo.com

P.S. Our work would not be possible without the generous and able support we received from Tulio Virquez and Edwin Herrera, arranging our meetings, transportation and translation.
 



Letter to Our Friends in Venezuela

Camaradas:

The New Orleans Survivor Council activists who have been in Caracas over the last few days have been received by all of you with warmth, friendship, and support. We realize that while we come from different nations, we share similar values and solidarity.

While in Venezuela, Francisco Torrealba proposed that he come to New Orleans in the next two weeks on a fact-finding and solidarity mission in order to assess how the Venezuelan people and government can support the efforts of the black, poor, working people of New Orleans in our struggle to regain our homes and our lives.

We hope you will join Mr. Torrealba on this trip and see for yourself what the situation is in New Orleans. If you cannot come yourself, we hope you will send someone to represent you from your staff. When in New Orleans, the Venezuelan delegation can discuss with the New Orleans Survivor Council ways to work together to create a just future for our people.

We look forward to your response to this proposed trip and to our future work together.

Hasta la Victoria
 



Katrina Survivors and Immigrant Workers Unite to Arrest Slave Owner
February 15, 2007


Guest workers demand
arrest of their slave boss,
Matt Redd, at his office.

Poor black working class New Orleans residents are facing the worst racist attack in decades. At the same time, immigrant workers from Central and South America are being trafficked as slaves in New Orleans and across Louisiana. These two groups have come together to arrest one of the slave owners and traffickers.

Public housing residents who just last Saturday reoccupied their homes in the C.J. Peete housing development were told last night, Wednesday, February 14, that they must vacate

their units or lose their vouchers. This would leave their extended families homeless. Today, young volunteers from New Jersey who have been helping to clean up the development were threatened with arrest for their efforts to help the residents.

Despite this emergency, when organizers from the New Orleans Survivor Council heard that immigrant workers had located their slave owner and were ready to execute a citizen's arrest, they left New Orleans to come help their brothers and sisters.

Slave trafficker Matt Redd has been holding about one hundred Mexican workers as virtual slaves near Lake Charles, Louisiana. About forty of these workers, accompanied by supporters from the New Orleans Survivor Council, walked to the offices of Redd Properties in Sulphur, LA to attempt to execute a citizen's arrest.

At a press conference in a CVS parking lot, just before going to Redd's office, workers told the press that Redd had taken their passports without their consent at the US consulate in Mexico where they obtained their H2B (guest worker) visas. Redd then charged them plane fare and then put them in vans to bring them to Louisiana, where he leased them out to low-wage employers in restaurants, car washes and municipal waste management. He also recently imported dozens of skilled pipe fitters and welders, who have not worked in the


Workers and supporters march to Matt Redd's office

two weeks they've been in the country. These workers have had no income, and because they do not have their passports, they can't even go home. One worker told the press that his mother needed blood for a liver operation, and that he was the only family member whose blood was a match for hers, but he is unable to return because he doesn't have his passport. In the past several days, Redd had begun firing workers for circulating a petition demanding their passports back.

A spokesperson for the New Orleans Survivor Council told the immigrant workers the words to some freedom songs: "before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave," and "we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes." He pointed out that a carload of NOSC organizers had come to join them in making the citizen's arrest despite the fact that at 11:30 the night before, residents who had reoccupied their public housing units were put out in the street by the Housing Authority on one of the coldest nights of the winter. Even so, the speaker said, "we are all the same people, the only thing that separates us is language; and we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes."

The citizen's arrest statement said in part, "You are officially accused of taking an official passport of a person and refusing to return it in order to prevent the movement and travel of that worker without lawful authority in order to maintain the labor of that worker - this is a felony under the law of the United States of America." The statement quoted the particular U.S. and Louisiana laws against slavery and trafficking in slaves, and pointed out that it is the right of a private person to make an arrest of a person who has committed a felony. That person can then hold the criminal until law enforcement comes to take him into custody, or can take him to law enforcement.
 


H2B workers look for slave
boss in his office

Redd was not in his office, but the group had notified law enforcement agencies of their intention to make an arrest, so when they arrived at the office they demanded law enforcement find and arrest him. Sheriff's police must have been a little worried about openly defending slavery while the press cameras were rolling, and they quickly worked out an agreement with Redd by phone to give back the passports of the workers present. The Sheriff's office took possession of the passports and returned them to the workers, but the workers are still

adamant in their demand that Redd be arrested for violating the anti-slavery laws. They vowed to continue their struggle, and to make sure that all passports Redd is holding will be returned to their owners. Meanwhile, the Survivor Council members jumped back in their cars to return to the struggle to reopen public housing, to rebuild the homes of black residents the government doesn't want to come home, and to continue its campaign to build a world-class levee around the Lower Ninth ward.
 
These beginnings of unity between black New Orleans hurricane survivors and immigrant guest workers - the descendants of the old slaves uniting with the modern day slaves - is a very significant event. As one of the Sheriffs pointed out, it was the U.S. government itself that gave the passports to the slaveholder. Just as in the days of African slavery, the government is on the side of the owners. When the descendants of the former slaves were asked what should be the next step, they suggested filing suit against the government of the United States for being an accomplice to slave owning and trafficking.


Workers demand Sheriff's
office arrest Redd for slavery



C.J. Pete resident families celebrate move-in day

Public Housing Residents Take Back Their Homes
February 11, 2007

February 10 was a historic day in New Orleans. Residents of the C.J. Pete public housing development moved back into their homes, which the government had slated for demolition.

Although Hurricane Katrina did not seriously damage the buildings, which are structurally sound concrete and brick construction, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) and HUD used the excuse of the hurricane to evacuate all the public housing in the city and lock the residents out of their homes. Then they decided to demolish the public housing and replace it (years from now!) with so-called mixed-income housing, which basically means most people would never be able to come home.

In all previous hurricane evacuations, residents were able to come back to their homes after the storm passed. In this case, they were not even allowed to come back and get their belongings. Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated to distant cities or trailer parks, and have not been able to get home at all. The government later broke into the apartments to throw out refrigerators, throwing them down stairs, breaking doors off hinges and leaving the units vulnerable to widespread looting and destruction, including theft of pipes and electrical fixtures. The workers doing this work were told they would lose their jobs if they even talked to the residents! The $10,000 the government offered some residents can never cover what they have lost, including baby pictures, diplomas and other sentimental personal items. And still HANO and HUD have claimed that it would be illegal for the residents, who hold valid leases to their apartments, to come home.

Despite all of this, public housing residents have come together over the past several months and formed an organization, Residents of Public Housing, which is part of the New Orleans Survivor Council. They decided to move back home.

People's Organizing Committee, which is committed to developing and following the leadership of those most affected by Katrina, helped provide support for the residents' move. At the direction of the residents, they cleaned apartments, obtained generators to provide light and heat, canvassed the surrounding neighborhood to explain the move and build support, and sent out a press release for the residents' press conference. At this writing, two dozen volunteers from a high school in New Jersey are working for the residents, cleaning out more apartments in the complex.

The move and the press conference were managed and led entirely by the residents themselves. Six residents spoke before the cameras about their determination to come home. "The government wanted us to get out and stay out," said one resident. "I voted for Nagin, but he did nothing for us. They want black people out of New Orleans, and they figured this was one group they could get rid of. But nothing is going to stop us from coming home. C.J. Pete is back!"

This event was a change from earlier public housing reoccupations. Some of them were mainly symbolic, and in most cases, people who were not residents took a major hand in leading them. A few weeks ago, when residents attempted to move back into a different development, the rally and speeches were mainly led by white activists, not by the residents. This displayed a lack of respect for the black residents, who are not only capable of leading their own movement, but on principle should be leading it. Racism in America has created a situation where poor, black working class people are so marginalized and disrespected that even many politically progressive groups and individuals don't trust them to organize and lead their own fight. POC is dedicated to Bottom-Up leadership, so its role was to provide every possible support and encouragement to the residents to lead themselves.

About 60 people, residents and supporters, came to the press conference and support rally. Balloons decorated the front porch of the newly opened units. A big sign announced the reoccupation. Residents took turns speaking on a bullhorn to the assembled crowd and passers by, repeating for all to hear that C.J. Pete is back to stay. The Community Kitchen donated food for the event. Residents also thanked organizations that donated generators, including Hope House, the Workers' Center and Moving Forward Gulf Coast. And The Hot 8, a second line band played at the end, while residents danced and sang along in a happy celebration of their victory. "I don't know what you've been told, but the projects is livable!" went the words to the last song. This chant echoed as supporters drifted away and residents went back to the work of settling their new apartments.

Residents and POC staff provided a security watch through the night, aware that HANO could descend on them at any moment and try to evict them. But so far, the police and HANO have done nothing more than drive past and observe. Perhaps even they understand that the unity and determination of these residents will not easily be opposed, or perhaps they are busy with Mardi Gras. The residents will remain vigilant to defend their homes.


Residents dance to the music of the Hot 8 after their press conference

Meanwhile, on the wave of this victory, Residents of Public Housing is making plans for reoccupying the next development, the Lafitte projects. Their intention is to open all the projects now slated for demolition and bring their communities back.

How You Can Support This Struggle

The Residents of Public Housing are reaching out for support from people across the country and the world. Yesterday's events have significance for everyone. The powers that be used the excuse of Katrina for an attack against mainly black working class people on a scale not seen in the US since the slave trade. The government expected to be able to move the poorest black working people out of the city without resistance. They especially expect that no one will care enough about New Orleans' public housing residents to support them. Hundreds of volunteers are coming in the next few months to work for the New Orleans Survivor Council. You can help too, by sending a donation to:

IFCO/New Orleans Survivor Council
418 W. 145th Street
New York, NY 10031

(IFCO is the fiscal sponsor for the New Orleans Survivor Council, and your donation will be tax deductible.)

To donate electronically, go to http://www.ifconews.org and click on "Donate Now." IMPORTANT: Because IFCO sponsors many activities and organizations, in order for your donation to be credited to the New Orleans Survivor Council, you will need to call or fax IFCO to let them know that's where you want your donation to go. Call 212-926-5757 or fax 212-926-5842.
 



Katrina Survivors Take Over Public Housing in New Orleans
February 9, 2007

Residents of Public Housing Use Self-Help to Bring Poor and Working Black Families Back Home to New Orleans

Approximately 200,000 residents from the New Orleans community are still scattered in the U.S. Over 190,000 of them are poor and working class black people. Within that population is a group of residents who have been fighting for almost a year and a half to come home. They are public housing residents. They are over 25,000 people strong. Over eighty percent of their homes are structurally undamaged. Many are in move-in condition. Others just need a good scrubbing and minor repairs. So why have they not returned?

The Housing Authority of New Orleans and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have locked public housing residents out of their homes to pursue a plan of demolition and redevelopment aimed to create better communities by removing over two-thirds of the public housing population from their homes and replacing them with richer people. "[The projects] look good . . . but . . . they are obsolete. The kitchens are very small, one bath, and we could do better. We're looking to do mixed-income where we could blend it rather than having a concentration of poor families . . . that's why our crime rate is so high," said Donald Babers of HANO. Allowing public housing residents back into their homes would disrupt HANO and HUD's "mixed-income" plans. HANO and HUD have decided that the best move for them is to not allow or assist public housing residents in returning to their homes.

Gloria Williams, resident of C.J. Pete, feels different about home. "My home is my castle, and I'm taking it back," says Williams. She is a member of Residents of Public Housing, an organization of public housing residents from all of the various public housing communities. They have a different plan and the power to carry it out. "We want all of our people home. Public housing, section 8, renters, homeowners, everybody. This is a disaster, and no one has a right to stand in the way of people returning home. If it is really about "mixed-income" neighborhoods, then put some of us poor people in Lakeview," says Julie Andrews, a spokeswoman for Residents of Public Housing and a resident of the Desire public housing community.

The New Orleans Survivor Council, an organization of residents from the most impacted New Orleans communities who Residents of Public Housing are a part of passed a resolution taking authority from HANO and HUD because of their conduct, declaring that: "all public housing units belong to public housing residents."

WHO: Residents of Public Housing and New Orleans Survivor Council

WHAT: Press Conference and Re-occupation of the C.J. Pete Public Housing Development

WHEN: Saturday, February 10, 2007, 2:00 P.M.

WHERE: C.J. Pete Public Housing Development, corner of Washington & LaSalle, in New Orleans.


Residents of Public Housing in New Orleans Ask for Your Support
February 5, 2007

The Residents of Public Housing organization has decided to reoccupy the C.J. Pete public housing development on February 10, 2007. After supporting the residents of St. Bernard in reoccupying their homes, Residents of Public Housing had its regular meeting (held the second and third Thursday of every month at Guste High Rise, 1301 Simon Bolivar, at 6p.m.) and discussed which was the next development to begin moving back into in the struggle to reopen public housing in the city.

About a dozen residents from the C.J. Pete development were present, along with residents from Florida, Lafitte, St. Bernard, Iberville, the Melphomene and Guste, Desire, and B.W. Cooper. The residents of Pete (also known as the Magnolia) pushed for their development to be next. Given that residents of C.J. Pete had already once attempted to move back home and had been scheduled on prior occasions to reoccupy, Residents of Public Housing decided to move forward with C.J. Pete's move-in.

On Tuesday, January 30, 2007, C.J. Pete, two resident leaders met with P.O.C. organizers supporting their efforts to make an assessment of the units that the Magnolia residents had chosen to reoccupy. The following list identifies the supply needs in order to ready the homes for move-in. Following the moving-in, additional work will be needed in order to repair the electrical and plumbing issues that have occurred as a result of government neglect and disregard for the lives and homes of the people of public housing.

Residents of Public Housing is part of the New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC). NOSC has been fighting for the return of all those most impacted by Hurricane Katrina, from public housing residents to renters to homeowners. We have hosted thousands of volunteers, who have helped clean and gut scores of homes and apartments alongside the residents. The government left the poor, black working class residents in the city to die, and since then neither the government nor private agencies have put resources in the hands of the people to help them return and rebuild. We rely on volunteer labor and donations from supporters across the country and the world. Help us in the effort to reopen public housing, which the government wants to demolish!

This appeal is all the more urgent because the government is stepping up its opposition, moving residents and supporters out of apartments in the middle of the night with SWAT teams. Residents hold legal leases to their homes. Don't let them down in their struggle to return home!

Attached to this correspondence is a New Orleans Survivor Council Donation
Commitment Form. Please fill out the commitment form and send it back with your donation. You may email the form to the New Orleans Survivor Council at
NewOrleansSurvivorCouncil@gmail.com, or email it directly to Residents of Public Housing at ResidentsofPublicHousing@gmail.com. You may mail the commitment forms and have any resources delivered to:

Residents of Public Housing, in care of New Orleans Survivor Council
Old Pathway Baptist Church
1910 Alabo Street
New Orleans, La. 70117.

Tax-exempt donations can be made on behalf of Residents of Public Housing by mail to:
New Orleans Survivor Council/IFCO
418 W. 145th St.
N.Y.C., NY 10031
(Please make checks payable to New Orleans Survivor Council/IFCO)

Click here to download the Residents of Public Housing Donation Commitment Form.


A Request to Amnesty International to Accept Bottom-Up Leadership
February 5, 2007

Dear Friends,

This letter is coming to you from the New Orleans Survivor Council and its organizers, the People's Organizing Committee. We have been involved in organizing for the return of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans since days after the flood. The letter below will give you some insight into what we do, and we also invite you to visit our website at www.peoplesorganizing.org.

Recently, Amnesty International contacted us as part of its hiring search for an organizer in New Orleans. By listening to residents, Amnesty points out, it has learned that the effort to prevent the demolition of public housing is a major issue, and Amnesty came to us because we have played a significant role in helping public housing residents organize themselves to lead their own efforts to return to their homes. In its project organizer description, Amnesty says, in part,

Amnesty will employ a project organizer to work in New Orleans over a two-year period with a steering committee for local accountability and support. Building on a foundation of organizing and systematic legislative campaigning, the organizer will help create local, regional, national and international support through Amnesty's diverse structures. Pressure will be directed to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the Louisiana State Legislature and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The project will develop educational materials, events and advocacy campaigns, and a guide to assist future advocacy efforts based on the Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced Persons.

While we welcome Amnesty to support the residents' struggle and bring its resources to bear on the travesty that is happening here, we are also concerned about making sure that their efforts follow the mandate and leadership of the residents themselves. Too many organizations, while probably well meaning, have assumed that they know best what the people need, and set up their own "steering committee for local accountability," and planned their own "materials, events and advocacy campaigns." The people want the support and resources of these organizations, but need to have the respect that comes with recognizing that they themselves can and must lead all efforts to restore their communities.

POC sent the following letter to Amnesty International asking that they submit to the leadership of the residents for whom they purport to advocate. We ask that you lend your voice to the concept of leadership from the "bottom" by sending a letter of support for POC and the New Orleans Survivor Council to Amnesty yourself. Please send letters to: admin-us@aiusa.org and aali@aiusa.org, and copy them to neworleanssurvivorcouncil@gmail.com. Thank you for support.

* * *

The Peoples Organizing Committee is a committee of the New Orleans Survivor Council. We are committed to "Bottom-Up" organizing in the tradition of Ella Baker and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is a model where the most impacted in a given situation are the leaders of the activities and campaigns to deal with that situation. We provide safe space for folk to talk; we provide space for "technology transfer," whereby those of us who have had the privilege to attend the academy, travel, read, etc., can share their gifts, skills, talents and resources with that on-the-ground leadership. We believe that progress is retarded in New Orleans because this process has been avoided by all, including the progressive movement.

In New Orleans, the group most impacted is the poor, black working class people who took the brunt of the natural and human-induced disasters following Hurricane Katrina. POC organizers initiated the formation of the New Orleans Survivor Council and have since followed its direction and instructions. POC had also been instrumental in providing organizing support for the Residents of Public Housing organization, and has been active from the start around the issue of residents reclaiming their homes in public housing.

We will commit to working with all who will submit to the leadership of the people. We would very much like to support your presence here as you represent a long standing human rights group that is international and has positively impacted many issues of great importance to the poor and oppressed of the world. The project description you have outlined appears to promote "top-down" organizing, which we oppose aggressively. We hope that in this case of organizing in New Orleans, you will be willing to submit to "Bottom-Up" leadership by the residents themselves. If you are willing to commit to taking direction from the residents, in the form of the New Orleans Survivor Council and the Residents of Public Housing, we are ready to create the space in which you can share your gifts, skills, talents and resources to help our people return home. But the agenda must come from the most impacted sector of the people.

We have attached a working document that we hope will help you understand fully our concerns. We ask that you share our concerns with your international governing body, because if your organization would adopt "Bottom-Up" as a principal we think the poor and darker hued laboring people of the world would be very grateful. It is time that we all learn to respect the genius of the poor struggling masses.

All of the candidates we recommend to you for this job are being trained in "Bottom-Up" organizing and if you should hire one of them, we hope they will continue their training and following the direction of the Survivor Council and produce that type of organization wherever they go.

Unfortunately, most national organizations and most activists subscribe to "top-down" methods and demonstrate severe disrespect for grassroots poor people. The coalitions we develop are made up of grassroots led and directed organizations. We hope to hear from you soon, and to develop a working relationship based on these principles.


January 2007


Residents of Public Housing
We Are Not Finished Yet

January 25, 2007

On Thursday, January 18, 2006, over forty residents came together from public housing developments across the city of New Orleans. In the house were Lafitte, Iberville, Florida, C.J. Pete, B.W. Cooper and Melphomene. They call their organization "Residents of Public Housing (ROPH)," a name chosen to reflect that the group was just that: a unity space where residents from all public housing developments could get together and determine collectively how to get back home. The group makes decisions by consensus at their mass meetings.

At their Thursday meeting, ROPH decided it was time to reoccupy the next development. This followed the successful reoccupation of the St. Bernard Development on Monday of that same week. The residents declared that they needed to continue to turn up the pressure on HANO and HUD to either open public housing back up or get out the way for the residents to do it themselves. The next development to open up will be C.J. Pete. The Pete residents were in the building in large numbers thanks to the work of their outstanding organizer, Lenny. And they have been hungry to return home. This next reoccupation will be their second effort to open their development back up. The first time, they were met by a line of police and forcibly kept from returning home. "This time," declared C.J. Pete residents, "we will not be turned around."

Along with the reoccupation of C.J. Pete are steps that ROPH is taking to assist residents of the Florida Housing Development in their efforts to reoccupy. Diane, one of the leaders in the Florida Housing Development community, proposed that ROPH conduct a clean up project around the development as another step in the fight to return for the Florida. ROPH will be going into the Florida on February 17 to do that clean up.

Other developments, particularly Lafitte, are scheduled to determine their reoccupation dates at the next meeting.

People that have been involved in the struggle on the ground have seen a clear line drawn between the two ideas of what leadership should look like in New Orleans. One idea (top-down) that says, "Organize the people around my idea of what is best for them and lead" and the other (Bottom-Up) says, "Organize the people to make there own ideas of what is best for them and follow." On Jan. 15th these two ideologies collided when a white, non-resident organizer, as well as other organizers who are not public housing residents, flamboyantly dominated the stage, the microphone, the streets, the news cameras, and any other outward representation of the efforts of the residents to return home. They effectively put their faces on the people's struggle.

What ensued was an altercation between an organizer with POC and the white organizer, where the white organizer was struck. A demand was put out by the portion of the activist community that supported the white organizer for POC to cease all interaction with the public housing struggle.

Since POC first and foremost respects the demands of the community of poor/working class black residents, and since POC takes its instructions from that community, we took the issue to the people. We worked with survivors to make a phone script, [see Public Housing Phone Bank Script, below] explaining what happened on the 15th and the response taken by the activist community. Then we called every public housing resident we knew and asked for them to come to the next meeting in order to discuss the appropriate action to take in response to the incident. We constructed a letter [see The People's Organizing Committee Asserts article below] to put out to the community at large addressing the top-down and Bottom-Up philosophies and how they affected the Jan 15th rally. We created a leaflet explaining what happened on the 15th and the reasons behind it [see Reoccupation of Public Housing leaflet, below] and canvassed the St. Bernard community with them.

In the end, three meetings took place. At our staff meeting the issue of security and the massive opposition at every front against the leadership of poor and working class black folk was addressed. We decided that no matter what the outcome, we would take our direction from the people, and that if the residents of public housing didn't want us to work for them, then we wouldn't. At the public housing meeting we had a large turnout, more so than many previous meetings. When the issue of the organizer that hit the white guy, and what to do about him came up, there was unified consensus that what took place on the Jan 15th rally was an attack against the leadership of the residents of public housing, and that what the POC organizer did in defense of the people was not only understandable, but honorable. Lastly, at the survivor council meeting the incident at the rally was used to raise a broader question: "Are the poor and working class people of New Orleans, specifically, and the world in general, capable of leading their own fight?" And though they invited the world to work with them and support them in their fight, the survivors said in a unanimous voice, "We are smart enough. We are strong enough. And we don't need anyone to walk, talk, or fight for us!"

So that's where the POC stands now, with the voice of the people. We will continue to organize the people to lead themselves, and we will take their collective leadership as law. Why? Because we believe, whole-heartedly, in the leadership, genius, and right to self-determination of the people.


Phone Bank Script
Public Housing Meeting

Thursday, January 18, 2006

Hello. My name is ___________________ and I am volunteering for Resident of Public Housing. May I speak to __________________________ .

How are you doing?

I am working with Ishmael and the lawyers from the public housing lawsuit. I am calling to let you know about the Residents of Public Housing meeting this Thursday at Guste High Rise.

Are you familiar with the location for Guste? (It is at 1301 Simon Bolivar)

The meeting starts at 6p.m. Are you available at that time?

Residents of Public Housing are still working to get residents back home into their developments. They went out Monday, January 15, 2007, on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to support the residents of St. Bernard in moving back into the St. Bernard. Members of Residents of Public Housing from all the developments, including Ms. Odessa from Lafitte, the twins and Lenny from C.J. Pete, Theo and Ms. Deborah from B.W. Cooper, Ms. Stephanie from St. Bernard, Ms. Lillie from Scatter Sites all were out on MLK day helping residents of St. Bernard clean up and move back in.

Residents of Public Housing have a lot more work to do to get public housing reopened and would like to know if you would come to the Residents of Public Housing meeting and participate with them in the effort to get people back into their homes?

Well, if you are coming, we are going to be looking for your advice on a very important issue in this fight to reopen public housing. At the St. Bernard reoccupation, there was a big fight about who is leading the effort to reopen public housing. POC organizers who have been helping Residents of Public Housing get together believe you are the leaders. Do you know Ishmael?

He is one of the organizers with POC and he is one of the people frustrated by the ongoing efforts of whites and non-public housing residents to say that they are in charge of your fight. He hit this white guy at the St. Bernard reoccupation for acting like he was ya'll leader. The whites and non-residents are now telling POC to no longer support and work for Residents of Public Housing.

The organizers need to know from you what they must do about this issue. POC believes that you are our leaders and only you can tell us to work for you and support you, or leave! Can you come out to give leadership on this issue?

(Some of the other work being done at the meeting is to pick up Residents of Public Housing surveys to find out how many residents want to come home, where they live, and what is in the way of them returning to their units; they are also helping residents from the Florida housing development to do a community clean up in preparation for the reoccupation of Florida; and they will be helping the residents of Lafitte determine the date that they will be moving back into their development and a schedule for cleaning up and repairing their units).

Will you need assistance with transportation or child care?

We will also have refreshments at the meeting for those who attend.

Are there other residents you feel we should contact or that you would like to contact?

Thank you for your time.


Re-Occupation of Public Housing
Who Should Lead The Fight?

"A strong leader makes a weak people
A strong people don't need no leader"
-Ella Baker

Residents of Public Housing SHOULD Lead ALL EFFORTS to Reoccupy It!
People Who Do Not Live In Public Housing CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT:
  • LEAD THE MARCHES FOR PUBLIC HOUSING
  • SPEAK FOR THE PROJECTS AND CONTROL YOUR STAGE
  • HOLD AND CONTROL YOUR MONEY AND RESOURCES

Why Are "Supporters" Claiming That They Are Leaders in This Fight?

SUPPORT                                      IS NOT                                      LEADERSHIP

WE NEED YOUR LEADERSHIP!
NOT SUPPORTERS BEING YOUR LEADERS!

We ask for your leadership. We fight against so-called supporters who jump in front of your march, control your money, take your stage, and do all they can to hijack your movement. We support YOUR organization and leadership.

You tell us:                Who should lead us?                Who should lead you?


The People's Organizing Committee Asserts the Importance of Local Black Leadership - by the Tenants Themselves - in the Movement to Reoccupy Public Housing
January 16, 2007
Contact: Joshua Ward: 504-940-8389

The People's Organizing Committee (POC) asserts the importance of local, black leadership of its own movement in the recovery effort in New Orleans. The tenants themselves must lead the efforts to reclaim public housing units.

The People's Organizing Committee recognizes the participation and support of non-residents in these struggles. However, the POC asserts that those who are suffering the most and receiving the least assistance must determine the primary direction of the movement for return and recovery.

A white activist who was not a public housing resident led the events at a rally on January 15, 2007 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) at the St. Bernard Public Housing Development in New Orleans. There were, however, more than a dozen adults at the rally who did live in public housing and intended to return to their units. They could have and should have hosted and led the day's events.

An altercation ensued between the rally leader, who was a white organizer, and a black organizer from the POC. Words were exchanged, threats were made, and then physical contact ensued.

This incident, while unfortunate, is indicative of a much larger struggle going on beneath the surface of the New Orleans reconstruction and reoccupation effort. The struggle is over the leadership and direction of these efforts. There are some who believe that the direction of the effort must be determined by 'those who know best,' unchallenged by people for whom they advocate. The POC, however, believes that poor and working class black people must be in the leadership of their own movement. The January 15th incident was the result of a clash between two opposing perspectives.[1]

Subsequently, several organizations that subscribe to leadership "for the poor" instead of "by the poor" have asked that the POC cease its participation in the efforts to return public housing residents to their apartments - a position which the POC finds outrageous.

The POC has consistently demonstrated its work to empower survivors by harvesting, rather than usurping, leadership from the people themselves. We declare today that the POC ain't going nowhere. We will continue to stay involved in the struggle for poor and working class black residents of New Orleans to return to their public housing units, and we will continue to respect and follow their leadership for as long as they want us to stay involved.

The POC asks the people in the public housing movement, the tenants themselves who hold leases to public housing units, to make the decision as to whether or not the POC should continue to participate in the movement. The Residents of Public Housing will discuss and decide at a meeting on Thursday, January 18th, at 6 pm at the Guste High Rise at 1301 Simon Bolivar. The POC will listen carefully to the advice and desires of the survivors themselves to determine how we go forward.

[1] This has not been just a theoretical difference of perspective or opinion: over the last year, the organizations in question have acted to block funding support from coming to survivor-led projects, and have even manipulated student volunteers from other cities to discourage them from working with survivor-led recovery efforts.
 

2006


December 2006


Click here to download our December Newsletter.


The New Homelessness a video on the Mississippi Gulf Coast Post-K.



POC Calls for Dialog on Direction of Movement
December 22, 2006

A little over a year ago, Hurricane Katrina headed for New Orleans, and the government at all levels decided to leave over 100,000 mainly poor, black working people in the city to die. When Katrina didn’t hit the city, they did the next best thing, refusing to mount a rescue effort for days,

herding people into abominable conditions, shooting young people trying to get food and water from abandoned stores and finally strewing people across the country against their will and without support. The ASPCA treated the animal victims of the flood better than the government treated black human beings.

In the wake of these events, activists from the left and from black nationalist organizations came to New Orleans to organize. After a brief commitment to the concept of Bottom-Up leadership - to the idea of organizing and lifting into leadership those most impacted by the hurricane - virtually all these groups deserted that commitment and went back to business as usual: using the internet to organize mobilizations and pressure the legislature. Only a few organizers, mainly young and inexperienced, remained committed to the painstaking work of going door-to-door, developing relationships with survivors in the city and in the trailer parks, putting together survivor councils and trying to develop and support the leadership of the people themselves.

From these experiences, and from a lifetime of movement activity beginning in the days of organizing in Mississippi in the early 60’s, we have found ourselves needing to rethink and re-evaluate how we understand the revolutionary movement and what its strategy should be. We are feeling frustrated with what is currently in place in our movement, and we’re looking for others who feel similarly frustrated to help figure out where we are and how we need to proceed. Mostly, we have questions, and we are asking you to help us find answers to them. We are inviting you into study and dialog on these questions. We’re looking for existing discussion on these topics, reading materials, and opinions. We’re not looking for academic debate, however; we want input from people who are ready to consider alternatives to the current movement paradigms.

Our questions are based on a commitment to egalitarianism, and to the concept of Bottom-Up leadership: that the folk, worldwide, who are most oppressed and cast aside by international capitalism must be looked to for leadership of the movement against it. The first step is study and dialog. The next will be the formation of a school to continue that study and to train organizers as we begin to develop some clarity on direction. We are asking you to consider these questions, send recommended readings, send opinions and your own questions, and most important, take the dialog to the grassroots people you are working with for their input.

  1. Most Americans were unable to see the Katrina experience as attempted genocide in spite of watching it with their own eyes. Why was the physical evidence so easily contradicted by intellectual arguments about why the government "wouldn’t do that?" Today, hundreds of thousands of former New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, overwhelmingly black, remain scattered across the country, tens of thousands of them still living in fenced, concentration-camp-like trailer parks, patrolled by armed guards - and most Americans are unaware of it. Of all the oppressed working class people in this country, one segment - poor black workers - has been criminalized and vilified so deeply as to be off most People's radar, including that of revolutionaries and activists. Is it possible that we’ve reached a point where poor blacks can be murdered in large numbers by the government without a defense being mounted by the rest of us?


  2. The founders of the anti-capitalist movement, Marx and Engels, were great visionaries and their work laid the basis for major revolutionary movements in the Twentieth Century. At the same time, they were products of a time in which the issue of race was not on the front burner, and they had a limited understanding of it. The first line of the Communist Manifesto reads "a specter is haunting Europe . . ."  -- not "the world." While they were anti-slavery and anti-colonialism, they also believed that some human beings were more evolved than others. (Engels, for instance, referred to the "lowest savages" who had regressed to an "animal-like condition" in The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man. Undoubtedly, he was referring to dark-skinned, colonial peoples; he mentioned European artists and thinkers as the most evolutionarily advanced.) Did this historical blindness on their part (probably unavoidable given what they knew and experienced) prevent the following generations from learning from the struggles and experiences of dark-skinned people worldwide? For example, what could we have/can we/should we learn from the struggles going on simultaneously to those in Europe studied by Marx and Engels? What do we make of the Haitian revolution, led and organized by slaves? Of Gabriel Prosser’s revolt, which organized thousands of slaves, led by men and women, supported by a few whites, under a plan that could have initiated a guerilla movement? Of the Harpers’ Ferry raiders? Of the African anti-slavery movement, led by former American slaves returned to West Africa? The Mexican revolution, the early pan-African movements, struggles in India and the rest of Asia?


  3. How does our movement explain the nearly universal fact that the poorest, most oppressed and outcast workers are those with the darkest skin? Do we have an understanding of how that came about, and what its significance is for organizing?


  4. Marx thought that colonialism, while exploitative, had the positive side of moving the colonies into the modern age. Lenin, understanding the problem inherent in this thinking, made what was essentially an anti-racist call for the self-determination of nations, against imperialism. This line, however, still said that the needs of people in the colonies were different from those of workers in the imperialist countries (the colonies needing national independence, workers in the imperialist countries needing communist revolution). The national liberation movements of the 20th century turned out not to liberate the colonial peoples; the revolutions stopped at the boundaries the imperialists had created as borders and ended up with new exploiters. But how do we understand and incorporate in our thinking those revolutionaries who called for continuing and extending those revolutions, disregarding the borders, overcoming tribalism, creating pan-African socialism? Of the world’s oppressed, should we be looking for leadership to the industrial workers of today’s most advanced capitalist nations, or to the most oppressed workers of the former colonies? 


  5. In the 19th Century, most revolutionaries thought revolution would happen first where capitalism was most advanced. They were wrong. The first communist revolution happened in Russia, then the most undeveloped capitalist country in Europe (and not even regarded as European by many). Only 3% of the population was industrial workers. The next major revolution was in China, a recent colony, where an attempted uprising by industrial workers in the cities was quickly and brutally defeated in 1927, and Mao made the controversial move of going to the countryside and basing the revolution among the poor peasants, the largest and most oppressed part of the population. While it is true that industrial workers are central to the capitalist economy, and could have a stranglehold on the economy if they chose to, does this necessarily make them the main people to look to for leadership in a revolutionary movement? If workers on the "bottom," like the poor peasants of China and Vietnam, were key to previous revolutions, who are the corresponding people in our world today?


  6. Have revolutionaries overlooked the genius of the poor out of blindness caused by racism and by lack of attention to the lessons of previous revolutions about who were the key movers? To what degree have we bought into, for instance, the idea that poor, inner city black workers could do better in life if they tried? What is the real significance, in terms of the movement, of the fact that black workers, especially the poorest, resist working hard for the system and resist joining the military? What is the significance for the movement of the fact that black gang youth looted stores in New Orleans, at risk of their lives, to bring diapers, water and baby formula to the people trapped in the so-called shelters, first clothing themselves with identically-colored raincoats so they could identify each other? What is the significance of the fact that this is also the segment of the population  (not industrial workers, not radical organizers) that has been imprisoned by the government in staggering numbers, to work as slaves in prison industries?


  7. Throughout the world, there are huge populations of oppressed workers who correspond to poor black workers in the US. Indigenous peoples of Central and South America, the vast majority of Africans, the poorest, dark-skinned Asians and Australians. Often these people are considered marginal to the economy; some call them the "informal economy." They are in and out of paid jobs, and eke out a living by whatever means are available, living in squalid conditions, often on the outskirts of cities or deep in the countryside. Are these folk "outside the capitalist economy," as some say? Are they parasitic? Or are they the most oppressed segment of the population? Could it be that organizers should focus energy on this group as potentially the most revolutionary? How should we understand the struggles of the landless in Brazil, the indigenous peoples Oaxaca, Chiapas, Bolivia, etc.?


  8. Socially marginalized people are always at greatest physical risk because they occupy the riskiest environments. They live on steep, landslide-prone slopes of the barrios that surround major cities in poor countries. They live in swamps and flood-prone riverbanks of urban peripheries. They live in poorly built houses that collapse easily when shaken by earthquakes or are wrecked by floodwaters. They lived in the 9th Ward of New Orleans." (John Mutter, deputy director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University) We can add that our people also have the least access to education, health care, social services, are the poorest and most victimized by every aspect of capitalism. Their languages are disrespected, their culture is disrespected, their intelligence and even humanity itself is disrespected. To capitalists and their state and other institutions, our people are cast aside, left out and ignored, except as their labor can be used for a profit, their youth as cannon fodder. However painful it is to look at honestly, they are also cast aside, left out and ignored by the traditional left - perhaps not in words, but, overwhelmingly, in practice. Where are the poorest of the poor, probably at this time a large majority of the world’s population, in our organizations? In the leadership of our organizations? How has this situation come to be? Do we, also, disrespect the genius of the poor? We sometimes behave as if socialist and communist theoreticians invented the idea of egalitarianism; however, hasn’t there been a thread of egalitarianism throughout the existence of humanity? Didn’t human beings start out in egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies? Is there not an oral tradition of egalitarianism handed from generation to generation amongst the laboring peoples of the world? Doesn’t it show itself whenever there is a crisis or disaster, or even in the last few days before first-of-the-month checks arrive? How can we lift up this tradition and the genius it represents to take leadership of the struggle to remove the yolk of capitalist oppression?


  9. In a similar way to the left, nationalist organizations have also ignored the genius of the poor. Just as the left has historically taken Europe as its starting point and accepted the assumption that the "most advanced" capitalist countries and industries would provide the leadership and initiative in the class struggle, the nationalists have assumed a European paradigm in looking to the nation-state and its structures as their goal. The idea of the "talented tenth" is a mimicking of capitalist and European cultural standards of judgment of worth. Those black people who are educated to control the standards of language, culture and education held up by North American and European ruling classes are considered worthy of leadership. Nationalists chase "equality" by setting a goal of having everything the European capitalists have: their own nations, their own businesses, their own wealth, their own servants. Instead of promoting international unity between the poor of the world, nationalism promotes mimicking and joining the European colonial bosses. In the course of raising and training their youth to speak African languages, carry out African cultural activities, eat healthy food, go to college and graduate school, work their way up the economic strata, what has happened to a commitment to serve and fight for poor black people? In accepting a European paradigm of nation-states, what has happened to an understanding of the essential sameness of even the struggles of poor black people across national boundaries? How can we engage militant youth in the nationalist sphere to broaden their horizons to consider international unity? Since race and class have intersected as the basis of oppression, how do we participate with them to arrive at a new understanding of fighting for a raceless, classless society?


  10. Looking at the left in the US, a related set of questions arises. Much of the mass, grassroots activism of the 60s and early 70s, from the ghetto rebellions to the anti-war movement, had its roots in the organizing of sharecroppers and tenant farmers in the early 60s civil rights days. These organizers, many of them in SNCC, in turn took their lead from community elders who had experience in the anti-racist and labor struggles of the previous generation. With the end of the Vietnam War, Cointelpro and the pumping of government dollars into organizations of all stripes, the movement died out. What has evolved since then bears investigation. In large part, door-to-door organizing and grassroots activism have given way to mass mobilizations organized over the internet. Single-issue non-profits have proliferated, and there are dozens of parties calling themselves revolutionary, most of them very small. Much of the work of all of these formations has served to support the election of Democratic Party candidates to various local, state and federal offices. The immigration reform movement has been developed as a patriotic, pro-Democratic movement. Friction between black and immigrant workers has been allowed to fester without sharp, well-organized opposition on either side. The movement against the war in Iraq has lacked the militant activism of the anti-Vietnam-war movement. A generation of young black activists has been diverted into non-revolutionary paths and away from poor, working class black people. Virtually all of the organizations on the ground in New Orleans since Katrina have avoided organizing the people most impacted by the hurricane and instead focus on electoral and non-confrontational reform issues.
  11. How have these things come about? What has happened to the lessons learned about militant, grassroots organizing and action by today’s movement elders? What has our enemy been doing for the last 40 years to temper, squelch or control the movement? How have they used the mass organizations, the campuses, even the revolutionary parties to accomplish the pacification of the movement? How did we get convinced to use the internet and NGOs in place of mass organizing and action? How did we end up with movement leaders who take us to the polls instead of the streets? What should we do about leadership that thinks changing politicians will win our freedom? What should we do about leadership that fails to prepare us for violent attack by the state, as just happened in Oaxaca? Why have we had a harder time recognizing the genius of poor African-Americans, while elevating the poor of other countries, such as the Zapatistas, the landless movement in Brazil, the campesinos and teachers of Oaxaca? Who is running our movement, and how do we begin to develop a truly radical, revolutionary movement that is independent of the ruling class and the government?

  12. Finally, what does the society we would like to see look like? What are the lessons of egalitarian experiments throughout history, from Reconstruction to the literacy campaigns in Brazil and Cuba, to the Brazilian landless movement, elements of the Zapatista movement, the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in China? What are the lessons of these and other experiences in terms of what we’re fighting for? In terms of leadership? What is the difference between a vanguard party and a mass party? What do we need? What does that look like?

We welcome all comments, questions and ideas. Please send responses to: bottomuporganizer@yahoo.com.

You can also submit them to the blog on the POC website: www.peoplesorganizing.com
 

New Orleans Survivor Council’s New Bookmobile Plans are under way to use the NOSC Bookmobile to bring reading materials to New Orleans residents displaced in FEMA trailer parks with no library access.
Click Here to see all of our most recent photos added to our Photo Gallery.

October 2006


Dear Friend in the Struggle,
October 17, 2006

At the last meeting of the New Orleans Survivor Council, a profound issue was raised and decided upon. It didn’t take much time, and less fanfare, but that made it no less profound.

But don’t let me get ahead of my story. You need to know the beginning before I tell you the end.

You may or may not know that there is about $210 billion in grant and aid money in New Orleans right now. Funding agencies are giving money out like lollipops to people who want to study something, relate something to a political issue or campaign, promote charter schools, or whatever. But no one wants to give money to poor people. They’ve gotten none of it. Their neighborhoods, schools and health care are still shut down.

The Survivor Council, indomitable, growing, determined to grasp its own future, was able to get two small grants of $10,000 each to set up a construction-training program and rebuild some houses. If you’re a homeowner, you know that $20,000 might get you a deck or part of a kitchen.

But we were determined to use the money to start training some residents in skills they can use for a lifetime, in the process of helping some people without resources get their homes together. We had no trouble recruiting trainees or trainers, and got started on a side project of preparing a space for our office and volunteer housing. But then we had to choose a house to start rebuilding, and there came the rub.

With tools in hand and paychecks looming, the Reconstruction Committee met. Two proposals were on the floor. The “practical” one was this: here’s this guy, his house has been on our list for months, he’s been working hard with the Survivor Council, and he has insurance money to buy materials. Let’s start with his house, because we don’t have money for materials.

But other folks were saying " wait a minute! Back in the winter, the Survivor Council laid down a set of principles for prioritizing houses to work on. This was the way we determined the order in which we had our hundreds of spring and summer volunteers gut the houses, and we should be using it now, too. The principle was according to need: first priority for help should go to those with the least resources. First elderly and disabled, then single parents, and so on: those without insurance or money first, then on down the list.

What a radical principle! And truly it is: just take a look around this city and see who’s getting help. The more you already have, the more you get.

Well, the Reconstruction Committee debated the issue back and forth. We can start Monday if we do this guy’s house. If we stick with the principle, how can we get the materials? Finally, one man offered his insurance settlement of $6,000 as a loan to buy the first materials. Someone said, let’s go to Habitat: they raised all this money in the name of the poor people of New Orleans; they should provide materials for our house.

The eight or ten people in the room couldn’t agree. So it was decided that the issue should go before the Survivor Council meeting that Saturday for a decision. Which brings me back to the beginning of this letter.

Thirty residents sat in the gutted, unlit Sanchez Center in the Lower Ninth ward, where they meet twice each month. Most of them lost everything to the flood, but they are determined to fight back and come back. They were discussing everything from how to get trailers to how to open schools. The issue of choosing a house to rebuild was raised, including both of the solutions offered in the committee meeting. The first response
was voices from around the room with suggestions of places that were giving away this or that material. After a few brief moments of discussion, the facilitator said, “Well, how should this go? Should we do the man’s house or should we go with the principle?”

Hands went up, accompanied by voices, around in the circle, “Principle.” “Principle.” “Principle.” “Principle.” “Principle.” Complete consensus.

There aren’t too many places in the country where you can see something like this.

So, the work starts on the home of an elderly, disabled couple, still living in a dismal trailer park an hour outside of New Orleans. The $6,000 loan gets the first materials bought, but a volunteer carpenter has estimated we’ll need nearly $10,000 more. Plus, she suggests making sure the trainees go away from the project with at least a minimal toolkit. Plus, what about the next house, and the next, and the next? So we swing our volunteer proposal writers/organizers/office managers/supporters into activity, researching and writing more grant proposals. But we’re worried. Because we know that this is not the type of activity, nor the type of people, that attracts major funding. What big corporation, what organization wants to put a large sum of money in the hands of poor people?

And so, you’re getting this letter. Because we know that the main people we can really count on are people like you, people who know about the struggle. You may not have millions, but you know the principle. And that’s the real bottom line.

The poor black people of New Orleans have been deserted by the government and all but forgotten as they linger in their trailer parks or unfamiliar cities, far from home. Let’s not let the government get away with their plan to keep them from coming home. Please dig deep to help this reconstruction project continue to train residents, fix homes, and, most important, give hope and inspiration to those who won’t give up the fight.

Thanks, again and again.

New Orleans Survivor Council and the People's Organizing Committee

Please send contributions to: IFCO / POC
418 W. 145th St.
New York, NY, 10031

The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) is proud to serve as fiscal sponsor for the People's Organizing Committee (POC). IFCO is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that has worked to advance the struggle for racial, social and economic justice since 1967. Your donation to IFCO/POC is fully tax-deductible.

September 2006


Click here to download our September Newsletter.


Survivors Demand Quality Local Schools for Their Children


NO Survivor Council meeting, Sept. 2006

On the first day of school in New Orleans, several hundred parents and children came to Colton School to protest the fact that the school was not ready for occupancy. The action was led by the NAACP with the cooperation of the People's Organizing Committee and New Orleans Survivor Council. At the end of the event, the people conducted a spirited march to school administration headquarters.

Meanwhile, parents of students at Martin Luther King School in the Lower Ninth ward are meeting with the New Orleans Survivor Council to plan strategy to force the opening of their school in its original building on Caffin Avenue. In late spring, residents and volunteers defied police orders to stay out of the building and went in to clean it and gut it. It is estimated that it would only take two weeks to prepare the building for use, but no attempt has been made by school administration to do that. Instead, parents are still waiting to hear where their children should report to school and when.

The Survivor Council insists that education is a civil right. The State of Louisiana has done everything in its power to stop the parents and students of Martin Luther King from holding school at its regular building site on Caffin Avenue.
 
To this date the state still has not provided adequate facilities for our African-American students. Some residents have discussed the possibility of opening a school on their own, using retired teachers from around the country who will teach on a voluntary basis. Their rallying cry is “We Must Take Back Our Schools!”


Parents and children protest on opening day

August 2006


Click here to download our August Newsletter.


New Orleans Survivor Council Attempts to Seize Trailers
August 29, 2006


Residents demand FEMA trailer, Aug. 29, 2006
 


Mr. Muhammad is arrested at FEMA site

On August 29, members and supporters of the New Orleans Survivors Council and People's Organizing Committee went to the Six Flags FEMA storage site to take a long-awaited trailer to the home of a resident of the Lower Ninth ward. Mr. Curtis Muhammad, a Survivor Council member, was handcuffed, arrested and charged with municipal trespassing. The action followed a resolution on the right to return issued by the Survivors Council.

Mr. Muhammad stated, “Our government left us to die. One year has passed and not one house has been restored by the

local, state or national governments for poor black folk. It is now time for the poor black community to take charge of their future.”

The woman who the trailer was for stated that this was the first time anyone had done anything of significance to help her. She had been promised a trailer since December 2005.

The New Orleans Survivor Council believes that it is a violation of basic human rights to prevent people from returning to their homes in New Orleans, and therefore the citizens have a right to reclaim their homes.

Attend the Trial October 24
Mr. Muhammad pleaded not guilty to the charges and will be tried in Municipal Court on October 24, 2006. The New Orleans Survivors Council will use this case to expose how the government on every level has denied poor, black New Orleanians their right to return. The Council encourages all readers to attend the trial in support of the right to return.

DONATIONS NEEDED
Help continue this work! Send donations to:
POC/IFCO
418 W. 145th Street
New York, NY 10031



Survivor Council Update

About 45 residents attended the New Orleans Survivor Council meeting on September 2 shortly after the anniversary of Katrina. Members of the Council had taken action on August 29 to try to obtain a trailer from FEMA for a resident who had been promised one since last December.

The meeting discussed the Right to Return resolution, which affirms the right of residents to take trailers from FEMA lots for their use while rebuilding their homes and the right of public housing residents to occupy their units.

Another topic for discussion was the school situation. Children are being placed on waiting lists with no actual school placements, schools in poor black neighborhoods are not reopening, causing children to have to go to school outside their neighborhoods, and school expulsion hearings will now be held in Baton Rouge, which means kids and their parents will not be able to attend to defend their rights.

Also, residents discussed taking over control of the People's Organizing Committee as well as Survivor Council finances, and other tasks that POC is currently coordinating, such as the job training program, house gutting and reconstruction, and the responsibility for volunteers from outside the city.

Attendees broke up into smaller discussion groups so everyone’s voice could be heard. When they came back together, they had consensus on the issues discussed, and residents joined committees to implement the work. The meeting ended with socializing and eating barbequed chicken!

The New Orleans Survivor Council meets every first and third Saturday at the Sanchez Center, corner of Caffin and Claiborne, at 11:00 A.M.


July 2006


Click here to download our July Newsletter.


First Gutting Block Party a Resounding Success!
July 29, 2006

On Saturday, July 29, the New Orleans Survivor Council and People's Organizing Committee sponsored their first Gutting Block Party. Others participating in the effort included many volunteers from Common Ground and Acorn. Over one hundred people attended to help gut five homes or help out with cooking (and eating!) plenty of good food. A DJ lent a festive atmosphere to the lawn of the Sanchez Center on the corner

of Caffin and Claiborne, where the food was set up. Gutting volunteers arrived at 8:00 AM and were sent to homes in the neighborhood after putting up the tents.


Sign-up sheets were available for gutting and for the reconstruction training program. Many residents helped cook food, set up and clean up, and talk to their neighbors about getting active in the rebuilding effort. People came from as far away as Baker, Louisiana to participate.

Not only was real progress made in gutting several homes of residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, but the Block Party was a

great morale boost for residents who are trying to bring back their community from the ruins. Since the government is not helping people reclaim their communities, residents are doing it themselves, and having festive events like this helps to lift everyone’s spirit of optimism.

Organizers from NOSC, POC and Common Ground have already met to collaborate on the next Gutting Block Party, which will take place on August 12. Through our own efforts and the help of our volunteer supporters from around the country, we are moving forward!
 


Reconstruction Training Program to Start up Soon!!

New Orleans Survivor Council and the People's Organizing Committee have both just been informed that they have succeeded in getting grants to do reconstruction training programs. Each grant is for $10.000 and will be used to match up residents with construction skills (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, sheetrock, painting, etc.) with residents who would like to learn those skills while rebuilding homes. Some of the money will pay participants (trainers and trainees will receive the same pay) and some will buy tools and materials to accomplish the work. Homes will be chosen on the basis of agreement from the homeowner to allow use of the property for the organizing and rebuilding effort for a period of time.

Everyone wins through this program: some folks will have income for a while, young residents will learn job skills that can serve them for a lifetime, and a few properties will be brought back into use.

If you are interested in participating in this program, either to teach skills or to learn and work, please call the POC office at 504-872-9591 and ask for Steve.

June 2006


Click here to download our June Newsletter.




Hampton & New York students helping with reconstruction in May

Summer Project Testimonial

Over the summer from July 10 2006 to July 31 2006 I went to New Orleans as a volunteer. For three weeks I worked with a non-profit organization call People's Organizing Committee. This organization’s main goal was to get the people most affected by Katrina to play a leading role in rebuilding New Orleans. One year after the storm the lower class communities still have not received the proper care or been helped to rebuild their homes. POC decided to get hands on with helping these communities.

The organization did this by having volunteers work with the victims of Katrina. The volunteers did two things when working with POC. One group would gut out residents’ houses that were most affected by the storm. This group basically took everything out of the house until nothing was left but the frame of it. This group worked mostly on houses in the lower ninth ward, a mostly lower class community. While the gutting group was gutting another group was canvassing around different communities in New Orleans to invite residents to a Survivors Council. In this Survivors Council POC guided the residents to organize their community’s top priorities and fight for them. Some of these community issues were building schools for the kids, building hospitals for the sick, and getting residents back in their homes. For three weeks I did this as a volunteer. This trip was an experience of a lifetime, personally and educationally.

Personally, so much anger was building, living and seeing the conditions Black and Latino communities are living in. I felt this trip was not only an eye opener, but also an emotional cooler. POC’s way of logically thinking situations through taught me basically to turn my anger into something useful, whether it moves me to take a leading role in changing the direction of my community’s lifestyle or joining groups that agree with my views to make a change. When I went to New Orleans and actually experienced a taste of what the lower class residents of New Orleans were going through I became angrier. But the more I stayed down in New Orleans I began to realize that being angry wasn’t useful to myself or my community. In fact, it was more harmful than good. I soon began changing my whole attitude and instead of being angry at the world I realized I could fight passionately and smartly against the oppressor. What really inspired me were the Katrina victims. Just seeing how bad they were being treated by the government, but instead of being angry and sour they didn’t let their condition bring their spirit down. These people were open-hearted, god-loving people that didn’t even show how angry they were. They fought for their homes, fought for their rights, and never gave up. Now I feel at peace. I feel like I’m ready to take on the world with a different attitude, a different understanding of myself. But sadly I feel like I left New Orleans with a burden on my shoulders to change how minorities are treated in America.

This trip was also educational. I learned a lot about socialism, racism, and sexism. These issues were brought up in several conversations down in New Orleans. POC staff encouraged me to approach these issues logically and strongly which allowed me to take a stance on all of them. Being that these issues are so large and complex I can’t give you a solution for any of them, but this experience allowed me to think out of the box and attack some of these issues in my daily routine. For example, in my culture the word “bitch” is a common word in speech directed to females. I was educated on how that might be sexist and how that affects how I treat women.

Another thing I learned when working with the POC was Bottom-Up organizing. Bottom-Up organizing is basically having people at the bottom take power in organizing whatever needs to be done in their communities. Instead of having the rich higher class or the politicians make the decisions for the working class, the working class should make the decisions telling the politicians what they need to do. This was the POC’s main goal and view and by staying with this organization more and more I understood Bottom-Up organizing and why it is key for Americans to function correctly with it.

I also learned a lot of cultural things in New Orleans. Jazz is big down there so I learned a lot of interesting facts about Jazz. Also, many of the housing structures down there were built by slaves and these structures hold a lot stories. The most interesting thing I learned was that In New Orleans the deceased were buried above the ground.

Overall, the experience was a life changer. I came to New Orleans confused with my life and where it was heading and I left ready to move on to the next chapter prepared. Now I know what direction I want to go in life. I don’t want to be stuck in the “ghetto” all my life. I want to be the wise old man that lived through the darkness, but found a spark of light and used that one spark to move on and live in the light. This trip was that spark. This experience, even though it was only three weeks built my character a lot. This experience made me less passive and more aggressive with my future, more focused on the task at hand, less focused on my peers and girls. I learned to express myself more clearly and not close myself when people don’t understand where I’m coming from. It may seem like all of a sudden I woke up a new man, but I see it like this: I just needed to clear my mind and really think about life in a new environment and not in chaos, something which I’m usually at the center of. I want to thank Herb Mack and the Urban Academy staff for never giving up on me and allowing me to experience this trip.

Click here for more “Volunteer Information”.
Click here for the Summer Project Pamphlet.
Click here to view our entire Photo Gallery

Thank You.
Julius Rainey


Events

In addition to the Levee Walk (see above), there the Survivor Council decided to support a tent city protest called Survivors Village, beginning Saturday, June 3 at the St. Bernard Housing Development. Gutting work at the Florida development is scheduled for later the same day. Volunteers who want to help with the Florida work should meet at the Sanchez Center at 11 AM for orientation, tools and protective gear; work will start at noon.


Electricity policy test

The city's policy for allowing residents to return to their homes and receive electricity is that you must have an electrician confirm that your fixtures and wiring are in safe condition. Once your home has been inspected, the city is supposed to activity your electricity. To test this policy the council selected a resident who lives on Gordon Street to go through the necessary steps and see if the city turns on his power. This Council member will report the status of his endeavor at the next NOSC meeting on June 10.


Updates from Baker Survivors’ Council: Bottom-Up Organizing in Action
Monday, June 5th, 2006

POC organizers arrived at Airport 1, one of the trailer park communities for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, to pass out flyers before the third meeting of the Baker Survivors’ Council. A resident, the daughter of an organizer at the Renaissance trailer park, walked us around the park to meet a few of the residents. We were met with both smiles and resistance. “I know how Louisiana is. They ain’t gonna let that happen. It don’t work like that,” said Mike, a resident, while admitting that he liked POC’s ideals.

Despite his words, Mike showed up to join the other 30 people in the circle, chimed in with his thoughts and spoke about the cause of his cynicism. Prior to the meeting, Mike wasn’t returning home, but afterwards, like many others, Mike is now undecided about returning home.

The meeting was a good one. It was very high in energy. The people of the Baker’s Survivors’ Council are excited about the effect they can have on the situation in New Orleans. They want to return and are willing to do what it takes and to work together as a community to rebuild New Orleans the way they want it rebuilt.

They formed five committees -- Organizing, Reconstruction, Education, Finance & Fundraising, and Media " and then discussed specific tasks for each. The Finance & Fundraising Committee started raising funds at the meeting. D. M., who has volunteered to be the committee coordinator, said, “I got five bucks,” when they asked him how he was going to raise money. His comment started others reaching for their wallets. Everyone pulled out a dollar or more and tossed it in the pot in the center of the circle. In just a few short minutes, the survivors’ had raised $65 and decided to use it to buy water for the volunteers who came to help gut houses.

As a POC organizer, I’m grateful I was able to attend the Baker’s Survivors’ Council meeting. The positive energy and hope that flowed from the survivors was intense and made me realize that the reason some people don’t want to return home is because they have no hope of a better life. It seems people are discovering the hope and strength they need to continue the struggle in the thoughts and words of their community. It was inspiring to see a couple of the youth buzzing around outside of the meeting. I made it a point to talk to them and to invite them and their friends to the next meeting. They seemed excited at the idea that they can have a say in how their city is rebuilt. I know this is just the beginning of a very long journey, but the folks at Baker have the attitude to succeed.

Submitted by K.M.
Nothing about us, without us, is for us!

Monday, June 12th, 2006

The fourth meeting of the Baker’s Survivors’ Council, and all I can say is WOW!!! Five of us arrived about four hours early to talk to residents and invite them to the meeting. We split into two groups, one to scout out new folks and one to visit current members. I stopped by a couple trailers and chatted with a few of the committee coordinators. I discovered just how active the Baker survivors had been over the last week.

Each of the committees had been out fulfilling the tasks the council had outlined the week before. The education committee had been to a conference over the weekend and made several contacts with folks who wanted to talk to the parents in the trailer park about teaching their children. A couple different dance teams want to help with the mentoring program by establishing dance teams for the girls and a semi-pro coach wants to set up a football team for the boys. The YWCA wants to be involved as well as many other contacts. With all of this good news, I was told the best was yet to come, but I had to wait until the finance & fundraising committee report at the meeting.

They were right; I was jumping for joy at the meeting. The finance & fundraising committee coordinator had been busy. The idea from the last meeting was to talk to all of the businesses who the trailer park residents support regularly. The first stop was Baker Hardware, where the residents purchase their propane. Baker Hardware made the commitment to donate all the plumbing supplies we need. Several of the RTA workers eat breakfast everyday at Baker Express. They have allowed a donation jar to be set next to the register with a note explaining our purpose. The organizing committee coordinator was involved with the fundraising aspect as well. She called Wal-Mart to ask for their support. They have agreed to donate two cases of water a day for the gutting and reconstruction crews.

There were a lot of new faces at the meeting this week. It was evident that the organizing committee had been spreading the word around the different trailer park communities in Baker. All throughout the meeting people kept showing up and asking questions. A couple of guys in their early twenties not only came but stayed for the entire meeting. They want to be involved. They are thinking of having a party/barbeque to raise funds possibly the weekend before July 4.

Once again, I was inspired to witness the environment at the Baker’s Survivors’ Council. I couldn’t believe how much they accomplished in a week. Their involvement in active committee work is an example for the New Orleans Survivor Council! The dedication of the residents in the trailer parks in Baker gives me hope that leaders will rise up from the devastation and take an active role in deciding their fate. People want to go home. The people in Baker know they can make it happen. I hope their attitude and determination spreads to the community of New Orleans as a whole because together we can do anything. The people hold the power, and because of the folks of the Baker’s Survivors’ Council, my strength and determination to illuminate the power of the people has been rejuvenated.

Thank you, Baker!!!

Submitted by K.M.

HELP SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE BAKER AND NEW ORLEANS SURVIVORS’ COUNCILS!
Please send contributions to: People's Organizing Committee
IFCO (Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizing)
418 W. 145th St.
New York, NY 10031
Contact us: 504-872-9591
 


Housing Project Residents Lead the Way to Take Back Their Homes
June, 5th, 2006

On Saturday June 3rd a group of approximately 8 residents were joined by over 20 volunteers and supporters at the Florida housing development. Media coverage was present as residents tore down the wooden boards that kept them from entering their homes and went in to remove piles of debris and furniture, beginning work on what is planned to be a permanent return to their homes. It was an emotional day for many survivors as they re-entered their homes for the first time since September and saw the full extent of the damage to their homes and belongings. Some tried to salvage mementos and pictures that they were able to find among the debris. Although witnessing the destruction may have been disheartening, many expressed a deepened determination to return to their homes and communities regardless of any city policies. It was a reminder for all present of the power and beauty inherent in community and unity. We must all remember this as we continue to struggle for the return of displaced residents and the rebuilding of this vibrant city.

At the St. Bernard housing development residents set up a tent city which they named Survivor’s Village as a sign of resistance to the city’s no return policy for most of the city’s public housing residents. Although residents are keeping their activities off of HANO property for the time being, they plan to take the same course of action that Florida housing residents have taken and begin the gutting work necessary to move back into their homes.

The two actions, though organized separately from one another, were attended by residents of both housing projects, and it is hoped that a coalition will arise out of the support the residents have been showing for each other’s activities.
The St. Bernard leadership committee met Monday June 5th to discuss the events that took place over the weekend, and to decide upon further courses of action. High on the list of priorities was the topic of unity. Residents have already been meeting weekly at St. Bernard’s, and it was discussed whether those meetings should be used as the basis for a new coalition of residents and organizers, to build and connect around issues and needs specific to residents of public housing.

Those present came to the consensus that the presence of Survivor’s Village created an excellent opportunity to make a strong and visible sign of unity between the different developments, and that a tent would be put up to represent each different development, with residents from each site manning and occupying each tent.

In order to show that the residents are determined to return to their communities, regular activities will begin to take place throughout the week at Survivor’s Village. The need for a sense of “community normalcy” was expressed and Sunday church services were among the activities that were suggested be held at the site. The weekly St. Bernard meetings are already taking place at Survivor’s Village.

It was also decided that residents could use Saturdays as a weekly opportunity to carry out a planned course of action and show a unified front of residents from across the public housing community, so each week residents will gather at a different development to carry out reconstruction work on various homes.

June, 7th, 2006

Leaders from the Florida Public Housing Development that are heading up the public housing workgroup of the New Orleans Survivor Council met today with POC organizers and laid out their plan for returning to the Florida. Looking to reclaim their homes without leaving HANO any room to violate their leases, the Florida residents have decided that instead of moving into those homes that need to be gutted out, they would move back into homes that need no gutting. The Florida Housing Development currently has no power so residents have begun to solicit generators in order to assist them in their return home.

On Saturday, June 10, 2006, over thirty residents of the Florida Housing Development will meet up at their homes and continue the cleanup that they started on last week. Two residents have committed to moving back into their homes Saturday and to look out for the homes of all the residents who have yet to come back.

POC organizers also met with a supporter of the New Orleans Survivor Council and POC who works with the City of Kenner. The supporter has pledged to deliver additional resources to assist Katrina on the Ground students with their efforts to volunteer for the New Orleans Survivor Council in repairing their homes and reaching out to more residents throughout the city in order to empower themselves.


Lower Ninth Ward Remembers Victims of the Levee Break on Memorial Day
June, 2cd, 2006
 


Reading names of the dead at Memorial Day levee service, May 29

There was a memorial for the victims of Hurricane Katrina this past Monday, May 29. The memorial walk was organized by Ninth Ward NENA and citizens throughout the communities surrounding the lower 9th ward. The New Orleans Survivor Council supported and organized for the walk. Anywhere from 150-200 people came out to honor the memory of thousands of victims of the Katrina disaster. Residents took turns reading out hundreds of names of people that did not survive Katrina. The memorial included going on a march around the lower 9th ward with a band playing uplifting music. There was a lunch provided for the people involved in the memorial service by the emergency relief committee. It is important to remember the victims of hurricane Katrina and to rebuild the community with them in our hearts.
 

May 2006


Click here to download our May Newsletter.


Legal Disclaimer
May, 1st, 2006

To: Secretary of State of Louisiana
Secretary of State of California
Secretary of State of Mississippi
Vanguard Public Foundation
Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) Interim Coordinating Committee (ICC) of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF)
PHRF Account in Jackson, Mississippi
Community Labor United (CLU) Account in New Orleans
All Donors to PHRF

From: Curtis Muhammad

Read the rest of this entry »


How We Got Where We Are
May, 1st, 2006

Dear Friends,
Two weeks ago, in April of 2006, PHRF experienced an "unfriendly takeover" by people who do not abide by or carry out the principles under which PHRF was established. Unfortunately, at that time, the organizers and workers who were carrying out the principle of Bottom-Up organizing lost the name "PHRF" and the funds that had been raise until that point. However, the work PHRF was formed to do continues unabated under the current name, People's Organizing Committee.

Read the rest of this entry »


Resistance in the Belly of the Beast:
A Survivor Council Develops in a Trailer Park

Baker, Louisiana,
Monday, May 29th, 2006

“When these folks [People's Organizing Committee] came here last week, I figured they were just another group promising stuff they wouldn’t deliver. They were promising to gut People's places for free. So I decided to challenge them " I told them, okay, you can gut my house. But I didn’t really expect them to do it. So on Saturday, I drove over to New Orleans, and I called them. They said they were already on their way. So that was the first surprise. But when they got there, I saw it was S. and four women. I thought, no way, these folks are not for real. My house doesn’t have dry wall, it has plaster walls. No way some women were going to knock that stuff out " it’s hard as concrete. But those ladies got to work, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. They just worked! They were covered in dust and insulation. I was so impressed with them. So I told them I was going to the store and asked them what they wanted " they said, just some juice. Man, I went and bought everything, sandwiches, chicken, fruit, juice. They were amazing. So I want you all to know, these folks are for real. They do what they say. And I am so grateful to them, I got this thank you card I’m going to read to you and give them. But you can trust these folks, they really are for real!”


Baker Trailer Park / Concentration Camp for Katrina survivors

These were the words that opened a meeting under the tent in the middle of a trailer park in Baker, Louisiana. The previous week, when POC organizers went to the park, nine people came to the meeting they had called. This time, we made a circle of fifteen folding chairs, hoping for a slightly larger crowd. As the meeting went on, we kept having to add chairs, move the circle out, add more chairs. By the end of it, nearly 30 residents took part in the meeting.

This trailer park is one of many scattered around the Gulf

Coast. It is really more like a concentration camp than a trailer park. Several thousand tiny trailers are lined up on a treeless patch of gravel on a dead-end road, surrounded by chain-link fencing. Dozens of security guards in black shirts patrol constantly. When we drove up to the entrance, we had to say who we were seeing and give their “address,” and everyone in the car had to produce picture ID. The guards wrote down each name. When we started to take a few pictures, security ordered us to stop " they said because it was government property. Security even attended the meeting (though much less than last week, when there was more security than residents!).

In spite of these intimidating conditions, people spoke freely at the meeting. Everyone introduced themselves, and said whether they wanted to move back home to New Orleans or not. Now that they saw POC was serious, nearly everyone wanted to return. Three construction workers in the group volunteered to form a committee to find out the needs of everyone who signed up for house gutting or renovation. The first three homes were scheduled, and people talked about the importance of helping each other on this work. Another resident signed up to be an organizer, in particular to spread the movement to the other trailer parks in the area, and this work was begun on Thursday. The next two house-guttings will happen on Saturday and Sunday, June 3rd and 4th.

At the end of the meeting, we all stood in the circle holding hands and sang “Hold my hand while I run this race, ‘cause I don’t want to run this race alone.” The POC organizer and three volunteers were greatly inspired by the folks who lost all in the hurricane except their humanity, unity and determination!


Levee Walk
May 29th, 2006

Memorial Day Levee Walk
Memorial Day Levee Walk

On Monday, May 29th, there will be a Memorial Walk to the new levee sponsored by NINA. Council members and friends are encouraged to attend.

At the May 27th meeting, the Reconstruction Committee reported that it has 60 more houses to work on. After gutting, the next step will be pressure washing and mold removal. The Committee is working to obtain resources for this type of work. Students from New York and Montana are coming in this week to help with the work.

Discussion was wide-ranging on new business, including comments on the new levees, which have been built only to withstand category 3 hurricanes, and the need for better media and other communication to facilitate displaced residents knowing about events in New Orleans and being encouraged to return home. There was also discussion about a group effort to rehabilitate the Florida housing projects on Saturday, June 3.

Events

In addition to the Levee Walk (see above), there the Survivor Council decided to support a tent city protest called Survivors Village, beginning Saturday, June 3 at the St. Bernard Housing Development. Gutting work at the Florida development is scheduled for later the same day. Volunteers who want to help with the Florida work should meet at the Sanchez Center at 11 AM for orientation, tools and protective gear; work will start at noon.

Electricity policy test

The city's policy for allowing residents to return to their homes and receive electricity is that you must have an electrician confirm that your fixtures and wiring are in safe condition. Once your home has been inspected, the city is supposed to activity your electricity. To test this policy the council selected a resident who lives on Gordon Street to go through the necessary steps and see if the city turns on his power. This Council member will report the status of his endeavor at the next NOSC meeting on June 10.



P.O.C. Update
May, 10th, 2006

In April, POC hosted nearly 100 high school students from Urban Academy and Beacon Schools in New York, who gutted about 12 homes and spoke with over 150 folks in the neighborhoods.

The students sat in on a groundbreaking session of the New Orleans Survivor Council. Students witnessed the survivors attempt to hold organizations accountable for the money raised in their name. This was very important for the young students, who themselves are engaged in education battles in NY. They vowed to take the spirit of the residents to their neighborhoods and schools and be a part of the struggle for the right to return and decide in New Orleans and the local issues of their communities.

Spring Break Continued

During May, we are working with students from historically black Hampton University. Students will continue the work from spring break, when college students gutted 30 homes in five weeks. They will also do door-to-door organizing to build survivor councils in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Baker, Slidell, and support the council in Lafayette. This will be the first group of students coming in for the summer.By the end of May, we expect students from New York, followed by volunteers from Chicago, LA, New Jersey and other areas.

Volunteer Voices

People are still hurting here. The destruction is all over and the rich white folks across town are going on with their lives as if nothing was happening. But people here are still dying, if not physically, then emotionally. By talking with them, we heal each others' woundsmine from feeling powerless when I was in Virginia, and theirs, by having someone listen to their stories of what they went through.
(James Madison University student)

Letting people know about the Survivors' Council meetings where they can build their own power collectively, I felt, for the first time, that I was part of something, building with the peopleno longer part of "generation yz." I'm not just in the world. I'm one of the movers.
(Hampton student)

On the last evening they spent in New Orleans, students and teachers from Urban Academy High School met to sum up their experiences. Each person answered a question about what about their experience had the most impact on them. The following quotes are from students unless otherwise noted.

In the last house we did, I found a lot of stuff that I have in my house, like video games. They had the same kind of style, and I thought: "that could have been me!"

It's shocking to me that the government is entirely absent. The lack of attention - I wasn't prepared for how that would make me feel.
(teacher)

Seeing us work together, get stronger and more united each day. For the first couple of days, the teachers had to keep pushing, but by yesterday, the kids just ripped that house apart!
(teacher)

Having to remove all these personal belongings of families from their homes made me realize that people lost everything, including family and friends. That really sunk in, and it makes it real personal to you. I want to bring the knowledge that I have back, and try to find ways to bring people back to their homes.

Going around the immigrants' tents and talking to people working in [POC] about how they just dropped their lives back home to come down and help. Hopefully when I get back, I'll join and do organizing in New York to help.

It is completely infuriating how the government and FEMA are totally not here at all. It's great we were here, but it's their responsibility, and there's no funding for anything. They're gone completely. It's ridiculous and frustrating. The situation in New Orleans is bigger than Katrina; the situation in the government is bigger than New Orleans.
(teacher)

One moment I'm really going to take back. We were all gathered in this one house, with our goggles on, and I couldn't even tell who I was talking to, but I could ask anyone for help and they'd help me. I thought, why can't it be like this all the time?

I haven't even realized how it impacts me yet. Maybe I will after I get home. I'm really disgusted to be an American. I'm really sad that this is what happens in America.

The emotions I had when I was scooping up pictures and taking out games and stuff like that: I'll use that as energy to keep fighting.

My main reaction is anger! Seeing face to face how corrupt and f'd up our government is. It makes me proud to be part of Urban Academy, because very few schools do this.

The government and how its presence isn't here. How they don't even learn from their mistakes and are rebuilding the levees the way they are. That doesn't make sense. Not only did the people whose houses got gutted benefit, but I think we benefited, working together.

The hospitality of the people that we talked to. Today some guy invited us into his house to eat food. He didn't even know us. It made me realize how beautiful black people really are. I haven't slacked here at all, and I think that's really great.

Seeing the 9th Ward and the total destruction. Mile after mile, and every house had something wrong with it. And on the other side, the French Quarter is thriving. The same things happen in NY and the country, but it's a little harder to see. I'm going to keep working, cause I feel like this is an important struggle for everybody.
(teacher)

When I talked to the lady that was just a few notches below the mayor, I just got so angry that I cried. I was so filled with anger that I couldn't go on; I didn't know how to express myself. How do you go on and do what you need to do when you're so filled with emotion?

An observer who worked in the community center where the meeting was held was moved to speak at the end. He thanked and commended the students for their work and for what they had learned from it. He added, "Individually, you all need each other like the very next breath."


New Orleans Survivors Council Update
Reports from Meetings of May 20th and 27th

The New Orleans Survivors Council continues to meet each Saturday morning at 11:00 AM at the Sanchez Center on the corner of Caffin and N. Claiborne in the Lower Ninth Ward.

At the May 20th meeting, reports were made by the Reconstruction, Organizing and Finance Committees. Student volunteers from Hampton had been helping the Reconstruction Committee with ongoing house gutting. More volunteers are expected from around the country throughout the summer, and a number of students have volunteered to stay for longer periods of time to help with the work. A shipment of supplies is on its way from New York to help with the reconstruction work as well.

The Organizing Committee agreed on a Come Back Home Campaign to help displaced residents beat the August 29th deadline to begin work on reclaiming their homes. Meanwhile, the Finance Committee is communicating with People's Hurricane Relief concerning funds for Council operations. The Committee also reported that residents without homeowners insurance can call 1-888-388-4673 for information on available resources and assistance.

April 2006


Discussion Document for PHRF/CLU Leadership and Staff
April, 3rd, 2006

[Please read and give comments and feedback toward developing a collective position paper on grass-root “Bottom-Up” organizing and leadership development]

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Momentum Building for Massive April 29 March for Peace, Justice & Democracy
Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

Like the recent immigrant rights actions across the U.S., a massive
turnout is expected for the March for Peace, Justice & Democracy on
Saturday, April 29 in New York City. Organizers anticipate an unprecedented crowd, which will gather in the area stretching from 7th Avenue to Park Avenue South and 18th to 22nd Streets. The march will step off at […]


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Town Hall Meeting
Thursday, April 13th, 2006

This Saturday, April 15th at 11 AM PHRF will host a Town Hall meeting to formulate a grassroots response to Blanco’s community block grant plan. Representatives from all regional community organizations are welcome to come and contribute. Meeting will be held at The Sanchez Center, at the corner of Caffin and Claiborne in the lower […]


National Day Laborer Run for Peace Dignity
Thursday, April 6th, 2006

This Saturday - Runners from The National Day Laborer Organizing Network NDLON will join us in New Orleans!
1. To raise awareness around anti-immigrant legislation
2. Help forward a worker organizing project in New Orleans for all workers.
3. Provide a space for testimony on harassment by police and lack of payment by contractors.
4. […]

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Discussion Document for PHRF/CLU Leadership and Staff
Monday, April 3rd, 2006

[Please read and give comments and feedback toward developing a collective position paper on grass-root “Bottom-Up” organizing and leadership development]

From the first time one person took something for himself and denied it to his fellows, humanity has resisted. From the beginning of private ownership and exploitation and oppression, there has been resistance. Human beings have […]

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March 2006


Charity Hospital Is “Next Victim” in Post-Katrina Pillaging of Poor Communities
Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Fight to save last N.O. public hospital mirrors struggle to halt sell-off of community resources
New Orleans " Community groups representing neighborhoods, African-Americans, low-income people, prisoners, disabled people, Katrina reconstruction workers, health care workers and public officials today defied the depopulation of New Orleans, bringing a crowd of marchers to demand that Charity Hospital be reopened […]

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Know Your Rights Workshop
Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

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Important Message from PHRF
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Friends:
We’re writing to you from New Orleans, more than six months after the levees broke"killing loved ones and washing away the homes, life work and life dreams of hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians. Of the 270,000 evacuees who sought public shelter, 93% were African American. One third of them had incomes below $10,000. […]

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9th Ward Residents Rebuild School
Thursday, March 16th, 2006

[New Orleans March 16, 2006] Lower 9th Ward residents and volunteers began renovations today on MLK elementary school at Caffin and Caliborne. Their goal is to bring families back to their neighborhood, which was badly flooded following the levee breach in the Industrial Canal. Community meetings in this damaged neighborhood have inspired the […]

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Global Women’s Strike Action in LA Highlights Katrina & other Global Warming Survivors
Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

Global Women’s Strike Action in LA Highlights Katrina & other Global Warming Survivors
by Susan Andres
“Everything was calm. I had just gone from the sofa into the kitchen. That’s when the water came gushing in. I saw my little dog, Queenie, struggling to get up on the sofa. I grabbed her up, […]

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Rally to Save Charity Hospital
Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

On March 25, 2006, at 2 p.m., several hundred doctors, residents, medical students, nurses, hospital employees, politicians, and political activists will be meeting outside of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital to protest the closure of this esteemed public institution. Considered the oldest continuously running public hospital in the country, Charity has cared for thousands of […]



Students on Spring Break Take Action and Support Community Organizing
March 13, 2006
Press Conference: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 2:30pm
1227 Tupelo Street

WHO: Students: "Katrina on the Ground" is 2000 plus college students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Black Student Unions from Universities across the country and community groups coordinating volunteer efforts. Community members: New Orleans residents working to support the return ofdisplaced residents in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. Community based organizations: Representatives from:Critical Resistance South, Tamika Middleton INCITE- Women of Color Again Violence, Mayaba Leibenthal Zion Travel Cooperative- Plaquemines Parish, Tyrone Edwards, People's Hurricane Relief Fund, Ishmael Muhammad LaKedra Robertson, RALLY Foundation Lynn Dean, St. Bernard Parish City Council

The People's Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition (PHRF), a collaborative of organizations and Katrina survivors, working to ensure the voices of hurricane survivors are central to the just reconstruction and recovery of New Orleans, neighboring parishes and the Gulf Coast is taking part in coordinating "Katrina on the Ground," a student lead initiative and collaborative effort that has organized thousands of students to participate in community-led reconstruction efforts during their spring break throughout the affected region- New Orleans, LA, Biloxi, MS, Mobile, Alabama. The student
volunteer effort takes place over 4 consecutive weeks March 5 - April 2, 2006.

"A tremendous number of people living below the poverty level were severely affected by this catastrophe. Prior to the storm, many of these individuals struggled by on low wages while serving as the lifeline for the booming tourism industry, serving as cooks, maids, bell hops and other industry workers that allowed the region to flourish with prosperity" Having identified this unprecedented opportunity to target, harness and capitalize on the collective intellect, initiative and manpower of African American students en masse, this concerted effort is intended to generate national support and impart widespread improvement at several levels in the lives of the thousands of still-reeling victims."


NOLA Property Owner’s Rights After Katrina
Thursday, March 2nd, 2006
Click here to read the rights of homeowners!

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February 2006


Chicago and New York Protest Evictions and Homelessness of Katrina/Rita Survivors
Monday, February 27th, 2006

National Protests are taking place this tuesday, February 28th against constant rolling deadlines, threats of eviction.
Chicago - 536 S. Clark Street, 12:30 PM, March to Federal Plaza (Adams and Deerborn) Contact: Cassandra Burrows 773-307-9686 casbur@hotmail.com
New York City - 26 Federal Plaza, 4-6:30 PM FEMA headquarter and March to City hall to protest beurocratic, oppressive […]

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Proposal to Make Our Communities Livable
Sunday, February 19th, 2006

To: Governor Kathleen Blanco
From: People of 9th Ward of New Orleans and Other Survivors of Katrina
Subject: Proposal to Make Our Communities Liveable
Residents, property owners, and business owners of the Lower 9th Ward, The New Orleans Survivors’ […]


People's Hurricane Relief Fund Statement on Gulf South Housing Crisis
Thursday, February 9th, 2006

In the wake of thousands of hotel evictions on Tuesday and with thousands more being made homeless in the weeks to come, hurricane Katrina survivors are continuing to struggle for long term housing, a right to return to their communities and justice in the rebuilding process.
Government failure on housing issues has manifested […]


Hurricane Survivors Displaced Again: Nationwide Actions to Combat FEMA Evictions 2/7/06
Monday, February 6th, 2006

Demonstrations: February 7th, 2006 in New Orleans, LA, Jackson, MS, Atlanta, GA, Oakland, CA, New York, NY, Raleigh, NC, Washington, D.C. See below for details
February 7, 2006- At local FEMA office headquarters in cities
throughout U.S., Hurricane survivors and community supporters will demonstrate to call for an end to unjust hotel evictions.
Following several deadline extensions and […]

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New Orleans Residents Confront Governor Blanco
Sunday, February 5th, 2006

Press Conference and Rally:
Monday Feb 6, 2006 at 2 PM
Sanchez Center, Corner of N. Claiborne and Caffin
New Orleans, LA Lower 9th Ward
Contact: Sakura Kone 917-440-9679 media@communitylaborunited.net
New Orleans Residents Confront Governor Blanco
Express Concerns about Land Grabs and Unfair Rebuild Plan
Residents of the 9th Ward and other low-lying areas plan to confront Governor Blanco during her New […]

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College Students Nationwide Plan Spring Break in Gulf Region
Friday, February 3rd, 2006

College students will hit the Gulf Region Sunday, March 5th " Saturday, April 1st opting to engage in rebuilding instead of recreation. Katrina on the Ground is a Spring Break initiative organized by hiphop generation leaders and college students like Kevin Powell (Writer/Activist), Wesli Spencer (James Madison University undergrad), Rukia Lumumba (Howard University Law […]

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Build Working-Class Solidarity and Self-Reliance
Friday, February 3rd, 2006

The Reconstruction Working Group of PHRF is preparing to undertake a major demonstration project in New Orleans…
Download the flier to find out more about this exciting project!

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January 2006


KATRINA WORKERS WIN LANDMARK VICTORY AT CONTRACTOR-RUN CAMPSITE
Saturday, January 28th, 2006

Migrant workers, recruited to rebuild New Orleans, challenge unsafe living conditions

New Orleans " In pitch darkness, in a field with no lights or bathing facilities, more than 100 Katrina workers translated weeks of organizing into a powerful collective bargaining session. During a three-hour meeting the workers confronted contractors responsible for the campsite where they struggle […]

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Bulldozing Halted by Ninth Ward Victory
Friday, January 20th, 2006

City Must Give Notice to Residents

New Orleans residents won a major victory against abuses of their right to due process; the violations, widely understood as a land-grad targeting black neighborhoods, had been cloaked in the guise of “emergency measures” by City officials. Residents challenging the city’s attempt to bulldoze their homes without notice won […]

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Hurricane Evacuees Council-Bay Area (HECBA) Event
Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

What: Press Conference " Katrina Evacuees Press Conference
Where: Thursday, January 19, 2006, 4:30 pm
1111 Broadway outside FEMA Regional Office (near 12th St BART )
Contact:CC Campbell-Rock, Hurricane Evacuees Council-Bay Area: 504-432-4243
Nell Myhand, Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike: 510-390-8626
415-626-4114
Katrina Evacuees Now Victims of FEMA & Relief Agencies
The Hurricane Evacuees […]

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HURRICANE DISASTER RELIEF COMMUNITY WORKSHOP
Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

Contact: Trisha Miller, Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights
Phone: (202) 294-3547
*HURRICANE DISASTER RELIEF COMMUNITY WORKSHOP*
GET HELP FROM VOLUNTEER LAWYERS WITH: Insurance, Home Repair,
Employment, Landlord-Tenant Issues, Private Loan Programs, Rental
Assistance, FEMA Appeals, Foreclosure Prevention, and Predatory Lending.
Wednesday, January 18, 10:30 a.m. " 6:00 p.m.
Loyola Law School, 7214 St. Charles Ave. " Room 308

(Bring: Identification, letters […]

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9th Ward Residents Honor Dr. King’s Struggle
Monday, January 16th, 2006

Marching to honor Dr. King’s struggle,
New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward residents vow not to wait for City, FEMA to rebuild
New Orleans " Over 100 residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward took the street this morning in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., flanked by crowds of supporters. The residents " some of whom […]

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New Orleans Community Meeting, January 10th
Saturday, January 7th, 2006

THE PEOPLE WILL DECIDE!!!
Rebuilding Our City
(Advancing A Peoples Agenda)
At the Ashe Cultural Center
1712 Oretha Castle Haley
(Between Euterpe and Terpsichore off MLK)
TUESDAY JANUARY 10TH 6:30 PM

Survivors, Community leaders and Organizations.
Building a United Front led by Katrina survivors.
With Community Leadership.
Survivors: […]

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Judge Extends Restraining Order: Full Hearing January 19th
Friday, January 6th, 2006

After a conference hearing Friday morning, Judge Feldman ordered The City of New Orleans to stop demolition of homes or face jail. A full hearing has been scheduled for January 19th at which time a clear process for informing residents and obtaining concent to demolish homes will be established.
Homeowners may request that […]

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City of New Orleans Violates Restraining Order
Friday, January 6th, 2006

Media Alert
For Immediate Release
Attention: News Assignment
Contact:Cassandra Burrows, 773-307-9686, casbur@hotmail.com

City of New Orleans Violates Restraining Order
9th Ward Advocates Gear up for Hearing to Defend Residents Rights
New Orleans residents faced a standoff with demolition workers in the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans on Thursday morning after city officials ordered the violation of a temporary restraining order against […]

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Coverage of Ninth Ward Actions
Friday, January 6th, 2006

Times Picyune
Lower 9th Ward Activists Chase Away Bulldozer Crew
New York Times:
Fight Grows in New Orleans on Demolition and Rebuilding
CNN:http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/01/05/ninth.ward/index.html

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Finding Our Folk
Thursday, January 5th, 2006

January 14th - February 4th, 2006
Sat. 1/14 Jackson, MS
Sun 1/15 Mobile, AL
Sat 1/21 Atlanta, GA
Sun 1/22 Birmingham, AL
Sat 1/28 Baton Rouge, LA
Sun 1/29 Lake Charles, LA
Sat 2/4 Houston, TX
Sun 2/5 Lafayette, La
Purpose
We seek to raise the voices of Katrina’s survivors and connect them with the voices of America’s survivors, the brothers and sisters […]

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Women’s Caucus statement from the Dec 10, 2005 New Orleans Rally
Monday, January 2nd, 2006

Women’s Caucus statement Protest New Orleans
My name is Cherise Harrison-Nelson. As a survivor of Katrina I am an artist, a member of the Interim Steering Committee of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, I convene the Arts and Culture working group and have also been active with the Women’s Caucus of the People's Hurricane Relief […]

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2005



December 2005


Legal Victory Stops Property Demolition
Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

People of New Orleans 9th Ward Win Restraining Order Against City

Kirk v. City of New Orleans, filed December 28th; the people of New Orleans 9th Ward won a temporary restraining order against the city of New Orleans to prevent bulldozing and demolition of property until a full hearing can be held on January 6th.
Lawyers […]

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Protest Home Demolitions Without Communication or Consent
Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

December 24, 2005
“I have no problem with unsafe places being taken down. but after these last few months, I realize we are not part of the decision process taking place and I’m weary that people will not be appropriately compensated or asked what should be put back in it’s place… we must […]


Principles and Agreement of Unity
Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

Agreement and commitment to work in a united front for justice and community based reconstruction of the gulf south
This United Front Agreement was developed by members of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, a coalition of progressive community organizations and individuals who, together and separately, are working toward the comprehensive reconstruction of New […]


Update on Direct Relief
Monday, December 12th, 2005

People's Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition (PHRF)
Report on Distribution of Goods

Pastors for Peace Caravans: Materials Distributed by PHRF
September 11-18, 2005:
7 truckloads of aid (the vehicles were 20-ft box trucks and large school buses),
each vehicle containing an assortment of: new and used clothing; shoes, bottled water; nonperishable food; blankets; toiletries; household supplies; cleaning […]

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Marchers Demand Action
Sunday, December 11th, 2005

Marchers demand action Hundreds stage rally for restored N.O. Sunday, December 11, 2005 Times-Picayune By Gwen Filosa Hundreds of people marched from Congo Square to City Hall on Saturday, demanding that city leaders restore New Orleans, from the catastrophic Lower 9th Ward to Mid-City’s hollowed-out homes.

“Justice After Katrina,” was sponsored by a host of activist groups banded together as the […]

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The People's Declaration: Survivors Assembly Demands
Sunday, December 11th, 2005

The People's Declaration: Survivors Assembly Demands Identified by survivors on December 9, 2005. We demand that the local, state and federal government make conditions possible for our immediate return. This includes the following:
The Nagin Administration must make temporary housing such as apartments, hotel rooms, trailers and public housing developments available for us while we rebuild […]

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October 2005


JUSTICE AFTER KATRINA RALLY DEC. 9-10
Monday, October 31st, 2005

The People's Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition Announces:
FROM OUTRAGE TO ACTION !!!

Justice After Katrina: The People Must Decide
Gulf Coast Survivors Assembly
December 8th Youth Forum and Speak Out
7:30 - 10 PM
JSU School of Business
1300 Lynch St, Rm #134 Jackson MS
December 9th Survivors National Assembly and Conference
9 AM - 6PM
Anderson United Methodist Church
6205 Hanging Moss […]

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Community Housing Rights Meeting and March
Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

Landlords are raising rents and throwing resident families and their property out on the street. Meanwhile, HANO is locking up perfectly livable public housing while their residents are stranded in shelters around the country. If the government can feed and shelter 120,000 troops in Iraq, they can do the same for New Orleans as we […]

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Legal Victory Won!
Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

A Statement from Ishmael Muhammad,
Counsel in Sylvester v. Boissiere,
Staff Attorney, Advancement Project and
Appearing on behalf of the Grassroots Legal Network
This is a clear-cut victory for the people in a long-standing battle waged by the most victimized population of the Katrina disaster against government entities and landlords around the right of the people to return home.
Victory has […]

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PHRF Rosa Parks Statement
Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

It is hard to imagine our world without Rosa Parks. While we remember the woman, the actions, dedication and courage of the woman, her place in history; let us affirm her living legacy. The story of Rosa Parks reminds us of the power of individuals to inspire change. The story also reminds us of what […]


Goddard College Offer of Temporary Office Space with Housing
Sunday, October 16th, 2005

Hurricane Katrina displaced many community organizations as well as the communities they serve. With this in mind, Goddard College, a small, progressive, liberal arts college located in rural Vermont and committed to social justice, is offering at no cost the use of work space, computers, telephones, and housing to staff members of organizations who […]

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Family Members and Prisoners Share Nightmare After Katrina: Fact Sheet Produced
Thursday, October 13th, 2005

Broad Coalition Calls for Independent Investigation of OPP Evacuation, Amnesty and Real Public Safety Models for New Orleans NEW ORLEANS, LA " “They won’t let my daughter out of prison, even though she was supposed to have been released weeks ago,” says Althea Francois. “This is a long time for us to be separated […]

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The People's Hurricane Relief Fund holds organizing conference
Saturday, October 8th, 2005

Gulf coast evacuees from the People's Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF), met with their national allies to develop immediate and long term plans for supporting the determination of displaced people to oversee their own relief, recovery and reconstruction. Over 100 gulf coast and national organizations sent representatives to participate in the strategy session from September […]


September 2005

Muhammad and Rahim Speak at DC Anti-War Protest
Saturday, September 24th, 2005

Curtis Muhammad of Community Labor United, and Malik Rahim, who helped open the Common Ground Relief Center and Health Clinic in Algiers, New Orleans, will speak at the massive national anti war rally Saturday in the nation’s capitol. According to Mr. Muhammad, “We have to be here. Martin Luther King, Jr. built a poor People's […]

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Special Needs of the Algiers Community
Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

The community in New Orleans on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, right across the Mississippi River Bridge and visible from the French Quarter is known as Algiers. It is higher than the rest of New Orleans so did not flood. Many of the residents of the West Bank did not evacuate, […]


PHRF Demands
Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

The People's Hurricane Relief & Reconstruction Project
The U.S. government, which has failed to rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina and provide adequately for many survivors, has recently announced that it will spend more than $50 billion to reconstruct New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
On Saturday September 8, a group of New Orleans activists and […]

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Additional Archive Links > Documents From People's Organizing Committee Volunteer Program


Description of POC Week
Click here to download document - 31 KB

New Orleans Summer 2006
Click here to download document - 30 KB

Join the POC Summer Project
Click here to download document - 112 KB

Join the POC Summer Project Template
Click here to download document - 42 KB

Summer Project Pamphlet
Click here to download pamphlet - 702 KB

POC Info for Volunteers
Click here to download document - 138 KB

Bottom-Up Organizing
Click here to download document - 127 KB

Grassroots Outreach
Click here to download document - 130 KB

Door to Door Notes
Click here to download document - 126 KB

The Story Circle Model
Click here to download document - 124 KB


2005 PHRF Report CM Letter for Student Funds



 
International School for Bottom-up Organizing