Tag Archives: mother jones

Changes in the Passing of Old and New: KABF, CROP, ANEW, and More

indexLittle Rock  Landed from Baltimore in time to go spend several hours at White Water Tavern celebrating the 29th Anniversary birthday party for KABF there with some great music including our own Back Roads star DJ, Amy Garland, who opened the affair as well as Bryan Frazier, our assistant manager’s own band ripping it up.  It was fun to visit with people who came up to thank us and tell us they had been listening since 1984.   Of course ,I knew one woman was a little tipsy when she sat down next to me and asked if I were really 29, nonetheless it gets you thinking about how we celebrate transitions in peoples’ institutions.  It is not always our best work.

            I had been in Baltimore for several days helping moderate the founding, first convention of a group of local organizations in and around Maryland, Phoenix, and Atlanta largely assembled by an energetic young man, Matthew Munk, who was elected as their Chief Organizer.  I welcomed the organization, CROP, the Coalition of Rooted Organizing Projects, as a new affiliate of ACORN International.  The CROP groups are embryonic and still sorting through issues they believe demand attention and the ways and means of consolidating a base of supporters and actions that work, so frankly it is too early to say if they will have a first or second birthday party much less 29th.    At the same time, they were already solidly multi-racial and their core, committed organizers included union members, ministers, professors, and young high school and college students and graduates who knew they needed organizational vehicles that could build change and power.  With good farming, something great could grow from this CROP of people.

            I also spent a lot of time talking with an organizer about building community institutions and infrastructure in places like Homestead, Pennsylvania, a hallowed place in labor history in America.  We talked about a branch of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse there, and why not.  We talked about plans for turning vacant properties into community institutions including one that would memorialize the night the great union organizer, Mother Jones, spent in jail there during the famous Homestead steel strike in 1892.   Repurposing old municipal and school properties as social enterprises that can provide museums, cultural venues, fairtrade coffeehouses, education facilities, job training, and, importantly, decent, affordable housing seems like a great idea, even though it might take years of sweat, blood, and sacrifice to make it happen, but this project of ANEW Community Institute, also seems like just the kind of thing that ACORN International should also be trying to encourage and support.

            Call us all crazy, but this week we noted 50 years of both changes and work undone.   Where 50 years ago 5% of African Americans were registered to vote in Mississippi, 34% in Louisiana, and 14% in Alabama, against all odds and continued barriers, now black registration in all three of those states out numbers all other registration.   A lot of seeds and struggle create change as long as we keep marching every day.   We need to celebrate the struggle so we all value the prices paid and all the people that made a difference and that includes a pat on the back for KABF and helping hands to CROP and ANEW while we keep our eyes on the roads we still have to travel.

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Myles Horton and Occupy Decision Making Structure

Occupy CanadaToronto It is interesting to be reading Myles Horton’s autobiography, Long Haul, with its firmly held views on popular education, starting with where people are, supporting social movements, student-run and student-led educational experience, and “circles” of learning that are leaderless in pursuit of knowledge and at the same time hear and think about the Occupy “assembly” structure of consensus decision making.  Horton describes vividly the comeuppance of learned experts and overly theoretical union education directors and what could happen to them, sometimes embarrassingly, as they tried to lecture Highlander Center students rather than listening and trying to connect successfully with them.  Many were brought low in his telling from a popular education model that allowed the “students” to vote with their feet and simply interrupt or walk away when the presentation was didactic or didn’t connect to their experience and interest.

ACORN Canada organizers who had spent time in the general assembly process at Occupy Ottawa, Occupy Toronto, and Occupy Vancouver shared similarly maddening and difficult experiences with the painstaking and time consuming consensus decision making process.  Clearly each place is a little different and here in Canada we are several steps removed from Wall Street, which has set the model for this process, but the basic elements seem standard and replicable.  The solidarity system of repeating what is being said to neighbors without a sound system has been picked up and repeated.  The elaborate systems of hand signals indicating agreement, disagreement, withholding consensus, and so forth has also spread throughout North America and likely the globe.  In fact the Canadian newspaper, the National Post ran a story indicating that there are now Occupy locations in 154 countries and based on monitoring Twitter traffic they believed that Canada was now the second most active Occupy movement after the United States itself.

I had a long chat with one of our young Ottawa ACORN organizers, Alex MacDonnell, who had spent quite a bit of time with Occupy Ottawa including participation in general assembly meetings and several committee meetings.  His argument to me was both fascinating and important, and we’ll see over time if it is also true.  As time consuming and difficult as the process was, he believed that the one thing that might survive in our work from the Occupy movement might be the assembly process.

Andy Kroll writing in Mother Jones makes the same case in a piece about the origins and organizers of the Occupy movement (http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-international-origins).  Like all movements, no one can take credit for a movement, but whether on Wall Street or in Tahrir Square there are always “organizers” and others who kept pushing forward until something happen.

The assembly decision making structure seems to come directly from spring protests in Spain and one can read a widely translated and fascinating “manual” of sorts on “How to Cook a Pacific Revolution” on the www.takethesquare.net site, which Kroll referenced as well.  A thumbnail of the process was included in the highlights of their manifesto of sorts:

“We’re organizing around assemblies, reaching decisions openly, democratically and horizontally. We have no leaders or hierarchy.
Since there’s plenty of work, all sorts of work, to be done, we’ve organized the task at hand around three types of bodies: commissions, working groups and general assemblies.

The commissions and working groups operate independently. The commissions are structural and organizational and serve as tools for the movement (the Legal and IT Commissions are two examples). The working groups are platforms for collective thought, debate and research on specific subjects (we have working groups on subjects such as politics, the economy and the environment, for instance).

These commissions and working groups are open to anyone who wants to participate. They hold their meetings in public spaces, announced in advance, and all their decisions are recorded in minutes that are published on line. They all organize around horizontal assemblies, but each group collectively establishes it own modus operandi, which is permanently open to change and optimization.

All-important decisions made by these commissions and working groups are subsequently raised to the General Assembly for assessment and ratification by the movement as a whole. Hence, while our work gets done efficiently and independently, it is coordinated horizontally by our assemblies.”

The assemblies are run not by “leaders” or “organizers” but by facilitators.  I’m betting that a lot of their “training” is based on the translation from the Spanish of the “Quick Guide on Group Dynamics in Peoples’ Assemblies” (Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies). For all of the handwringing and make believe of the Tea-people, my friend Glenn Beck, and others, there is an important and fascinating infrastructure underneath this movement which is absolutely worth organizers studying thoroughly and coming to understand.

Here are some starting points, so let’s see how far we all get as we wrap our minds around this process and this emerging movement and its methodology.

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