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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.

"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 the Gulf Coast. PHRF believes that the people themselves should be the leaders and that this is the only way justice will be served." (PHRF: Who We Are, fall 2005)  The following document sets out some of the issues that led to this situation.

HOW DID WE GET TO WHERE WE ARE...HISTORY AND ANALYSIS

Community Labor United was the host coalition that organized the PHRF. CLU had already established a methodology and culture of facilitating meetings and had established a method of organizing that included door to door canvassing and facilitation based on the story circle model. CLU had also evolved a set of principals that we called the principals of unity and our decision-making was based on consensus.

This culture of work was presented and accepted at the Baton Rouge meeting in September. Recently it became obvious, while not transparent, that a group of folk who joined the PHRF coalition and staff had serious disagreements with this work style and culture. This group of folk (guessing, because it was not made known openly) I think included Malcolm, Chokwe, Kali, Khalil, Kanika, Saladin and maybe a few others. The problem began when these forces began to attack this method of work without being transparent; when it surfaced, it surfaced in a vulgar and antagonistic way mostly via recently hired staff. This antagonistic approach began to surface in the work groups, coalition partners, volunteers and national solidarity support groups. It began to look and feel like a staff led campaign to destroy a work culture that had been the primary method of developing our support network.

It should be noted that John O'Neal and Curtis Muhammad had spent the last four or five years moving around the country doing "Story Circle" workshops with a collective called the Colorline Project. When we would do these workshops we would try to show people how this method could be used for education, art and organizing. CLU was our model for how this model could be used to build coalitions. When Katrina happened it was these net-works, SNCC network, the Quality Education as a Civil Right, Labor Left, (a network of folk from labor no longer a formal group) and other networks, all of whom were by now utilizing CLU's organizing model, became the initial supporters of the CLU/PHRF call.
 
I mention this to say that here we were working with a model that no one on the ICC had openly disagreed with and thus left us to believe we were in agreement on our work style, while part of our staff was campaigning against this style of work seemingly with support and knowledge from members of the ICC. In fact when it became obvious to the ICC that the staff was openly antagonistic ("it's bullshit"), the ICC was unable to discipline staff because Chokwe opposed firing one staff member who openly defied the process calling it "bullshit" in an open forum and refusing to even be orientated to the work.
 
Opposition to the work style began to be codified in the proposed
constitution. According to this document, a five member leadership circle would have day-to-day authority in running the organization, including authority OVER the Survivor Councils, and including the ability to expel survivors from the organization for reasons unstated in the document. Members of the Coordinating Committee, on the other hand, could not be replaced by the membership giving three months notice to a general assembly (actually a delegate assembly), which would only happen once a year. These stipulations suggest a group of people who want control OVER the organization, a directly opposite approach to the "bottom up" culture established by CLU.

THE BIG PROBLEM comes when the part of the staff who accepted the historically established work style chose to discuss with the survivors they were organizing some of the contradictions in the ICC. The same group of the ICC that had supported the ongoing opposition to the work style was now ready to fire the members of the staff who had spoken to the survivors about the ICC's internal conflicts.

For the record it should be known that CLU pays for PHRF organizing because Vanguard Foundation refused to release money to pay for organizing. I raised that money and established that account at Vanguard specifically for CLU organizing, and I think that in order for PHRF to continue accessing that money, we need to have unity on these issues.

CLU supports unity. The struggle for UNITY is our central theme.

Finally, if we are going to fire anyone, we should fire them all.

Curtis Muhammad

International School for Bottom-up Organizing