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Support the Campesinos Uprising in Colombia!
Report from ISBO Conference Call

September 9, 2013

On September 3, ISBO held an international conference call at which we discussed the sudden mass movement in Colombia, with first-hand reports from participants. Notes from this conversation are below.

Colombian campesinos (small farmers) are leading a major protest movement that stretches to all corners of the country, with mass support from workers and students in the cities. The Colombian government has cracked down on demonstrators with brutal ferocity. Several people are dead and many are injured. News of massive peaceful demonstrations and their vicious suppression by police and army has been censored, both inside Colombia and in international news media.

[Note: To see for yourself what has been happening, the best place to go seems to be You Tube. Here is a link to a demonstration in Cali which was not attacked by police. The videographer chose to use music from Hage Que Pase, a group which has organizers trained by ISBO in it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pScJloyWrgc&feature=youtu.be]

Notes from ISBO conference call:

A Colombian organizer:
What’s been happening in Colombia for the last 15 to 20 days is deeply rooted in history. Two weeks ago the campesinos (small farmers) decided to organize against the free trade agreement (FTA) the government signed with Obama early last spring. People came into the main highways in the countryside. They came because the FTA has caused so much pain in campesino lives. It is a very unfair way of letting multinationals get seed patents, which makes it illegal for farmers to plant food with native seeds. The seeds are patented, so it is illegal to save them: farmers must buy them from companies like Monsanto. The FTA also raised prices for fertilizers and allows US and European agribusiness to sell their produce in Colombia cheaper than the cost for Colombian farmers to grow the same things. It is impossible for small farmers to compete with agricultural economies that are subsidized, like the US and Europe.

The movement started with campesinos, but then others came in: health workers, teachers, students and transportation unions, among others. They part of a coalition being held together by a group called Marcha Patriotica (MP, or, in English, Patriotic March). One of the leaders of the MP is a woman who was kicked out of the Senate under an accusation that she was part of FARC (the group that has been at war with the government for many years). They are demanding that the government reconsider and drop the free trade agreement.

The government has made the false accusation that the FARC is behind the demonstrations and used that excuse to arrest one of the leaders (Ballesteros), whom they also accuse of links with the FARC. But the people in the demonstrations are clear that their movement is not connected with the FARC. It is a genuine movement of the people, and they plan to continue their struggle until the government backs out of the trade agreements.

For the last nearly twenty days, the government reaction to the demonstrations has been brutal police force. They bully the demonstrators, hit them; people have been disfigured. We’ve even seen the anti-riot police stealing food from the demonstrators! We’ve seen videos of plain-clothes police in hoodies – they are mingled in with the police themselves – throwing things to break windows in people’s homes. Then they blame it on the demonstrators and use that to justify using violence on the demonstrators.

This is not being shown on television. It is mainly on YouTube and Facebook, posted by people who have captured the events on cameras or smart phones. Only one of the newspapers in Colombia is actually reporting on this. There is a little coverage in the international press, but not much. President Santos keeps saying to the international community that these demonstrations are nothing, and are under control. But the truth is that Bogota is now partially destroyed and is under military control.

A Colombian organizer from the city:
There have been demonstrations throughout the whole of Colombia. The started in the countryside with small farmers; then everyone in the cities started to join in. After the first week, every city was involved. There was lots of police repression and a lot of people arrested, including me. I was in jail for a whole night. People were angry because they were able to see the police mistreating people in the countryside; this is what made people in the cities come out and protest. The national TV didn’t show anything, but Facebook and YouTube were posting videos all the time. When the demonstrations arrived in the cities, the government said it was infiltrators, but it was the police who infiltrated the demonstrations to give themselves justification to attack.

We were able to contribute to the national strike; we were on the picket lines, and we also organized a concert during the negotiations with the government. The negotiations were only one or two of the sectors involved in the demonstrations: the transport unions and the miners negotiated. Other groups, like the potato farmers, were saying one negotiating table for everyone, don’t negotiate separately. But that didn’t happen.

I don’t like that some things have been negotiated: it should not be done that way. I would have liked no negotiations. People could see that due to the demonstrations in the countryside there was very little food in the cities, and if it had gone on longer, it would become clear that it is the countryside that is feeding the towns.

Now the government is using army helicopters to bring food into the cities to undermine the movement. In my city, there was not food on the shelves until day before yesterday; then suddenly all the supermarkets were full of food again. Some of them were announcing on microphones: “come get your food here! This supermarket supports Santos!” The thing that made many city people become aware and join the demonstrations was when they saw no food. Now they have food and they are drawing back. Now the farmers will be on their own again. Last week, everyone was in the street at 7:00 AM, banging their pans. This week, things here have cooled down.

Discussion of responses to these reports

Jamaican organizer:
It makes me feel hopeful, the fact that the farmers started demonstrating and the city people joined in. It shows that people are realizing what’s happening in the world and making an effort to stand up against oppression. If people are not allowed to plant seeds, you won’t have food. This is clearly capitalism: they want people to spend their money with them (the capitalists) instead of having their own fair share, cultivating their crops. What the people are doing in Colombia seems like a revolutionary step to me.

About the negotiating: I don’t think such things should be negotiated around a table. The government just wants to sweep things under the table. The people should continue what they’re doing against the government; otherwise the state will get the best of them. Aside from the people getting hurt, I really like what’s going on. The police are just helping to cover the government, too. But I really like the movement; that’s what a revolutionary demonstration is like. I’d like to congratulate those taking part in it, especially the city people: it is inspiring to me!

Jamaican organizer #2:
I have mixed feelings. The government seems to be selling out its people. In not allowing the farmers to plant native seeds, they are selling out their independence, making themselves dependent.

Thank God for technology, so people could circulate the truth. Without that, people would have no knowledge of what’s happening because it’s not coming on TV. It seems clear that the government and police sat behind closed doors, made a plan, and put I into practice. But I can see they met with stiff resistance from the farmers and the city people.

I think they should continue to press on their voyage and they’ll reap the benefit in due course.

Jamaican organizer #3:
When I went to Colombia last year, the organizers there were telling me what was happening about the seeds. What the government wants, plus the fact that the small farmers, including ISBO organizers, are saving their own seeds to replant. I think we should try to do that on our group farm here. Our carrots are going to seed now, and I’d like to harvest those seeds and plant them back, see how they do, instead of buying seeds. It seems to me that the Colombian organizers saw things far ahead. Now governments around the globe are doing the same thing.

I only hope for more peace in the demonstrations, because those guys are being bullies. They think if you are a small package, they can sweep you under the towel. But small people will always be the power of the whole system! What’s happening in Colombia is a demonstration of how powerful the people really are. Last year, we were responding to a tragic bombing that killed innocent people – now this year, it’s the poor people on the move! That is a brilliant guide for us.

I love that when they try to cover their actions up, the small people show it to the world, because they catch it and broadcast it on the internet.

Jamaican organizer #4:
I find the demonstrations in Colombia very inspiring. But I also feel frustration, because there are so many people fighting back around the world but the leadership is not pulling in the right direction for victory.

How does anyone have a right to negotiate for the people who are demonstrating? I agree with the others; I don’t think they do.

There are many lessons for us from this. One of the major things to learn is: what is the government? What are the police? What is the army? I don’t think the government is selling out the people, because to me the purpose of the government is to oppress the people. It may sound like only a difference in words, but it is a difference in the way we understand what the government is. The purpose of any government is to protect, defend and support the capitalists. It is basically a tool of the capitalists to keep their power over the poor and working people. This is not just the Colombian government, it is every government in the world today. And all the segments of the government – the police, army, jails, courts – all are working in the service of the capitalists.

Another lesson is to be aware of nationalism or patriotism. It would be worthwhile to go back are read some of the articles in the ISBO books about nationalism. In times like this, in many countries, it is seductive to jump on the patriotic bandwagon, but if we do that, we are saying we want to unite with everyone from our own country. But we in ISBO want to unite with our oppressed brothers and sisters everywhere in the world! When we hear of something named Marcha Patriotica, it automatically raises concern in our mind about who those leaders really represent.

All of that said, I take great inspiration from what’s going on in Colombia! To rebel is justified!

Colombian organizer #3:
It was great to see so many people out in the streets demonstrating, especially the small farmers. But there was also, like was said, a lot of frustration. You could see that this is just the beginning of possibly a lot of violence and struggle. I think there’s still a lot of, especially in Colombia, things people don’t understand because of the way they’ve kept us ignorant. The lack of information, lack of national TV showing what’s happening, keeps many people from seeing the oppression. I could see it from people speaking on the videos: they still having hope that the government would ease or somehow be on their side. So I think our job as ISBO is to keep widening that knowledge, sharing what we can see happening. Not many Colombians can see the videos that are on the internet.

Despite that, I think it was very brave, everyone that came out, and definitely a step in the right direction. We don’t want to see or feel violence, but unfortunately in Colombia, I don’t know about the rest of the world, it’s the only road to walk down. They way the police are treating people is not going to get any better.

Three Colombian organizers from the countryside:
We are a bit far from where the demonstrations were taking place. I think we lacked the courage to go and support our fellow farmers. It is important for ISBO to have contacts in every place where these protests are happening so we can have a clear picture of what’s happening and also how to support. It’s also very important to know what’s happening with the farmers, because the Colombian state is evil and we don’t know what’s going to happen from now forward in the countryside.

Comments:

“You guys have a very concise description of what’s happening, not only here, but also in all of the Americas.”

“The truth is I felt like shit sitting here not able to support the people, just staring at the internet, watching how the police were hitting people in the face, how youth got their faces disfigured by police batons. One student got hit so bad he had no lip. Another one’s eye got taken out. Old women were hit on the head. They were smashing things into people’s homes and throwing in tear gas. And I was just sitting here watching it on the internet without being able to do anything. I felt indignant. It made me feel like going over there to do battle! This hurts. It hurts to see what capitalism and imperialism does to our poor people. It hurts me not because of my nationality, but because I see them hitting other human beings, especially people that are not armed. It made me question myself. I asked my wife: should I go and do something? These are opportunities to do good organizing work. I am also in agreement about the negotiations like people said. At the end of the day, the government comes out on top the rest are f***ed. I think this is going to keep going in Colombia; this is the last drop that filled the cup. Taking seeds away from people. This is our opportunity as organizers to ask ourselves what are we going to do? And if we’re organizing in Colombia, then that’s our local organizing. We can’t limit ourselves to working in the village or the town or the district. We have to question: are we really a revolutionary movement or not: what are we? To be honest, I’m ready for whatever. Tell me.”

“The passion that he just expressed – when we see something like what is going on in Colombia, we need to put ourselves as ISBO into that picture. The existing leadership is going in the direction of reform, not revolution. But it leaves the question, as revolutionaries, what do we do? My frustration is that we’re so small and the need is so great. This is the question for our international school, our organizing classes, for each one of us in our heart: how do we see ourselves being able to organize in this type of a revolutionary situation? How do we envision moving out of our small villages and districts to be able to eventually liberate the people of the world from all of this oppression and violence? I wish I had answers.”

“That’s pretty much what I was feeling. I asked myself yesterday: how can we get everyone out on the streets simultaneously? They can’t kill us all! There’s not enough of them in the 2%. I don’t have answers either, but we have to find the answers together, and do what we say we are.”

“What happens is that lots of people don’t understand that we ARE the majority. Maybe it’s because of fear.”

Organizing Reports:
The time for organizing reports was short in this meeting due to the discussion of the mass movement in Colombia.

Report from Jamaica: The last general meeting had more than twenty five people at it. There was a lively discussion about the upcoming ISBO organizing school, and the consensus was to raise money to send people to it. We printed tags to sell, and planned a party for mid-October, to include a raffle and sale of food and drinks. The proceeds will go to send organizers to the ISBO school. The general meeting also agreed to do a workday at the community centre to finish covering the roof from the elements. We invited the cricket side, and they said they would like to be part of it. They invited us to speak at their meeting, and they agreed to come. This is major, because before they were fighting us for control of the centre!

Report from Colombia countryside group:
Everything is going well; we’re happy because we’re fixing the community centre, which at the moment hasn’t got a roof. Last Saturday, people from our collective (COCA) and others came out to help. We’re not receiving any help from the Social Action Group (SAC: official government group in the hamlet). Last week, the head of SAC informed the community that the SAC leadership are dissolving, and we should look for a new group of people to take over. Everyone was looking at us when he said that. But we made it very clear that we don’t want any SAC. The only things they’ve contributed is the stuff they couldn’t sell – some beer, rum, gas, and little things they bought for a bingo – they left that to the community! We are also training the children’s football team every weekend and will start another tournament at the end of this month. The group farm is still going well, too.

Comment to the young people who made the report from Colombia:
“It’s amazing that we’ve been victorious after this big fight, more than five years, with the leadership of the SAC! It shows that a government structure is not needed. All that’s needed is the passion of people wanting to do something for their community. And you’ve done it and should keep doing it! And tell the people not to bother with the SAC any more, but instead join COCA and be part of an egalitarian organization!”



Report from Jamaican Organizers' Trip to Colombia in September, 2012

[Three ISBO organizers from rural Jamaica traveled to Colombia to visit our sister organizing projects. This is their report, submitted February, 2013.]

As we ventured out of the culture and atmosphere we knew and were accustomed to, several unanswered questions rang in our minds, but upon arrival in Colombia - Villa Rica to be exact - most of those questions were answered.

Jamaican Organizers' Trip to Colombia

The people had warm and welcoming smiles upon their faces as they greeted us. Then, we knew that our ten days visit to Colombia would be memorable, and that we would miss the people dearly when we returned home.

As us Jamaicans would say, "your kindness knows no bound." That much could be said about the people who took us into their homes and treated us like family. Their hospitality was second to none.

However, our visit to Colombia was not a vacation, but a trip to carry out our work as ISBO organizers, which is to build self-sustainable communities starting from the bottom up, with the people of the darkest hue, among them especially women.

The first meeting was held on September 12, 2012, a day after we arrived in our sister country. The turnout of people was impressive. In that meeting, we were introduced to the people of Villa Rica, explained to them what ISBO is about, our principles and aims. We also decide on the topics that we would discuss over the next couple of days and placed them in order of importance and urgency (not that all were not important). As organizers, we worked assiduously to complete these topics during our limited stay.

The topics of prime importance were:

  • racism and internalized racism
  • sexism and internalized sexism
  • communication
  • education
  • agriculture

Racism
[Dictionary definition: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human "races" determine cultural or individual achievements, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others. In ISBO, we see that in today’s world, those with white or light skin are considered superior, while those with the darkest skin are usually the poorest and most disrespected, feared and hated. Dark-skinned men, in particular, are depicted as evil and worthless. Rich white people, especially males, control the world and its resources.]

As egalitarians, we rule out such obnoxious belief and practice. As it regards this delicate topic, people made reference to personal experiences. One particular person said, "When my brother and I were children, our grandmother sat us down in a bath of water with soap power and bleach and scrubbed our skin until it began to bleed." As this individual spoke about her personal experience, you could see the hurt and terrifying look on her face. It was almost like she was reliving the moment.

One person mentioned a woman with six children, three of dark complexion and three of light complexion. Whenever the woman was seen with her children, she was always asked who the dark skinned children belong to, and people wanted her to treat them worse than those of light complexion. But she refused to, because they were her children regardless of hue.

These experiences prove that racism is alive and well, and as egalitarians trying to build a new world, it is our aim to eliminate racism. Our strategy is that the poorest and darkest should lead the struggle to liberate all of humanity. We believe there is only one race: the human race.

Sexism:
[Dictionary definition: the attitude or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles. In ISBO, we see that women are often given less respect, but are often the most experienced in organizing people and treating them with equality. We believe leadership of dark-hued women is key to the success of our movement.]

In the meetings we held in Colombia, there were mostly women in attendance. However, the few men spoke out more than the women did. The women were holding back on their opinions. This is a strong indication of internalized sexism arising from sexism, where the culture might believe that men should be outspoken and women should listen. It is also the belief of the Colombian culture to have women do housework while men earn a living to support the family. ISBO organizers work toward egalitarian relationships between men and women in the home and community.

Communication:
[Dictionary definition: the act of imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions or information by speech, writing or signs]

It is important that we listen carefully and allow people to express their opinions. One of our principles states that there is equal voice for everyone, and this is very crucial as we welcome each and everyone’s ideas. It is the view of ISBO to have organizers using the same plan, so that communications will not be delayed. Ambiguities in delivering an opinion or idea will lead to miscommunication, and as such can distort our movement.

Education:
It is important as organizers that we teach our members important lessons that will help to push the movement forward, such as our own history. The oppressors are the ones who write history, and they leave important information on the back page. We believe that history should be taught by senior citizens in our communities. We agreed to give priority to studying the history of our struggle for liberation, economics, literacy, organic agriculture, and to learn one another’s languages: English, Jamaican and Spanish.

Agriculture:
Multinationals use genetically modified seeds to create mass production so that they can benefit from large profits, and do not take into consideration the long-term health impact it has on people’s lives. First world countries make third world countries produce organic crops for the benefit of first world consumers and make them too expensive for poor people to buy. Poor people have to stoop to their mediocre products, produced from genetically modified seeds, because they cannot afford to purchase organic foods which they themselves worked hard to produce. An important part of our trip was learning about organic methods of farming at their group’s farm in the mountains of Colombia. We learned how to make our own compost, about earthworm composting, and recipes for making organic pesticides.

With all that said, the session held in Colombia was much of an experience to share what we have learnt, as well as to learn more and continue the revolutionary movement of ISBO to create a new and better world based on equality.

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Organizing Update from Jamaica Organizing Update from Jamaica
February 25, 2012


We have to start this report by apologizing for such a long silence! Although our readers haven’t heard from us, we’ve been very busy. Here is a brief list of what we’ve been doing and accomplishing since last summer. We’ve also posted photos in the Audio-Visual page.
  • The People's Uprising Committee had general meetings the third Sunday of each month. We meet alternately in three different sites to include and unite our communities. The activities listed below were all discussed and most of them planned in these meetings.
  • September 10, 2011: We finished putting the roof on the Fishermen’s Beach House. This was our very first project as an organization, so it was a major victory!! It was very slow going because we had to work hard to get the money for the materials, but we did it! Now the community has a shelter for meetings and activities. Next on the agenda: a toilet facility. (click here for pictures)


  • October 13, 2011: The organizing group started to prepare the site for our new chicken coop. The chicken enterprise is for the purpose of providing some support for the organizers so we can continue our work of building a self-sustaining community based on an egalitarian principle. We had been using a coop belonging to one person, and we decided that we need one that is owned by the collective. (click here for pictures)


  • November 24, 2011: Next workday on the coop. We cut sticks in the woods for the structure, and came together collectively to start construction. Several more workdays followed in December, January and finally we finished it in February of 2012!! This chicks will go in next week. The chicken enterprise has been very successful so far; in the old coop, we raised five sets of chickens. To sell them, we went door-to-door in the community to get orders, explaining to the buyers that they were helping to support egalitarian organizing in the community when they bought from us. We always sold all of our chickens the same day we slaughtered them, and got very high marks from our customers! As soon as the coop is finished, we will be doing the same again. (click here for pictures)


  • January 2, 2012: Old Time Day! This day was the end result of several months of committee meetings, planning and practice. We wanted to honor our own heroes, the elders of our community, and at the same time learn from them how they sustained the community before electricity and automobiles came along. Elders shared their knowledge and skills, and we prepared old time foods like roast yam, rundown and pudding. Young and old performed cultural items that come from the culture of poor, black people in Jamaica: poetry, live music, songs and dance. This event was very, very popular! People lined up for the food all day, and crowded the school grounds and street to enjoy the entertainment at night. It was our most successful fundraiser yet! At the next general kmeeting, the people decided to donate half of the proceeds to ISBO to help pay the expenses of our January 14-28 School Session. (click here for pictures)
  • January 14-28: We hosted the ISBO School Session, which included as students four people from Colombia, one from England and twelve from Jamaica. We built a solar panel (click here for pictures), made our own ethanol (click here for pictures), had a workday to finish the roof on our second community centre (click here for pictures), learned to weave wicker, (click here for pictures) took a few field trips to learn from other communities, and discussed, planned,
learned to weave wicker
analyzed from early morning to late at night every day for 14 days so we can build an international movement from the bottom up, led by the poorest and darkest, especially women. We also cooked and ate together, sang and danced together and we all came to love and treasure one another. Our commitment to building our movement for freedom and equality together will never die! See a full report elsewhere on this website. (click here for pictures)
  • February 2012: In response to the emergency situation in Colombia (see articles below), three of our members prepared to go there to support our brothers and sisters and help them organize. Unfortunately, passport problems and financial problems have caused delays, but that travel is still on our agenda. We also plan, with our brothers and sisters in Colombia, to travel elsewhere in South America to start new ISBO projects this year.


  • February 11: We held our second annual Valentine’s Dinner. This is a special night, serving a three-course meal under the stars, complete with tablecloths, candles, flowers and wine. By discussing, planning and hard work, we improved on last year (when we did not raise any money on the event) and this year the fundraising was a success, as well as an evening thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. (click here for pictures)


  • February 2012: the Organizing Class, who all attended the ISBO School, is putting the finishing touches on the chicken coop and will start earning money from it soon. We are planning to start our communal farm later this month as well, learning from the experiences of our Colombian brothers and sisters. And next week, we will start our new ISBO weekly class. We will use ISBO’s book The Bottom Will Rise, Book Two as our textbook as we improve our skills in reading, writing and computer literacy. We also plan to work on math and budgeting skills, and study current events, history of the people’s struggles for freedom and equality, organic farming, and much more. On our agenda is finding a teacher or a way to learn Spanish so we are prepared for travel and communication with our brothers and sisters throughout the Americas and the world.
Stay tuned for more reports. We promise not to make you wait six months next time!

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People of Villa Rica Respond to Terror Attack by Organizing People of Villa Rica Respond to Terror Attack by Organizing
February 21, 2012


On February 2, bombs were detonated in Villa Rica that leveled a block of houses and killed seven people, including two children. After the initial shock, the people of Villa Rica responded with a strength and determination that would make their
ancestors proud. (Villa Rica was founded when slaves rose up in a successful rebellion in 1840, killing the plantation owner and taking over the plantation land to found the town and surrounding farming area.)

Ten days after the bombing, thirty seats were set up in a circle on a plot of land donated by a member of the community. There were more participants than chairs, about forty people, children, men and women, women being the majority.

ISBO organizers from Villa Rica had just returned home to Colombia a few days before the bombing

People of Villa Rica Respond to Terror Attack by Organizing
from the organizing training session of ISBO in Jamaica, January 14-28. They immediately began organizing, together with brother and sister organizers from another part of Colombia, who temporarily moved from their home several hours away to help. (A group of Jamaican organizers was also on its way, but was prevented by passport problems and insufficient money.)

An ISBO organizer welcomed the collective and explained that this meeting was the continuation of a meeting held on January 10th. The main agreement from that meeting was to plant food collectively, to begin to become self-sustaining, as were the ancestors who founded Villa Rica. (The land that was controlled by the former slaves and their descendants for 100 years has been stolen by agribusiness, and the grandchildren of farmers now have to buy food. Many are unemployed, so food is hard to get.)

The organizer suggested having a facilitator to allow more participation from the collective and equal time to speak so everyone shares their opinion. He explained that this meeting was not organized by the government, nor an NGO or any sort of religious group. He suggested a round of speakers to form the agenda but before that we had a round to introduce ourselves.

A young woman facilitated with the help of an ISBO organizer; someone volunteered as timekeeper (each person in the circle has equal time) and another volunteer wrote down our agreements.

Most people wanted to hear first from those who had more experience about cultivating food, so mostly men spoke at first to share their ideas around planting crops. After the collective agreed on the planting, the women practically took over the meeting and organized various ideas on raising money for tools and seeds.

The main agreements are to:

  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Plant collectively
  • Meet one group Saturday and another Sunday 7am until midday to begin to clear the land
  • Donate 1000 pesos each to the collective pot for tools etc
  • Organise bingo, raffle and a bazaar
  • Selected a treasurer
  • Organised a fundraising meal on the 26 February. The ingredients were donated by the collective and the price was agreed.
  • All bring food on Sunday to donate to the five families most affected by the attacks on 2 February

It proved to be difficult at times to keep the facilitation or the time keeping and even an order in the rounds, due partly to the people being full of ideas and excitement. It was a very powerful meeting; the people were 100% full on the idea of being more united and working together. By the end of the evening there were many agreements and ideas formed for the work. Night fell and we cleared the chairs, but people remained standing around talking to each other; there was clear excitement and motivation in the air! We shared that it is important to take a register on workdays and note down all donations.

A lesson we are learning: It is necessary to repeat the People’s Circle rules at the beginning of each meeting so the collective can begin to practice this and understand its importance.

The first workday was successfully held on Saturday, February 18, as you can see from the pictures. People from other neighborhoods in Villa Rica have been calling and coming to us wanting to join in the organizing effort. We plan to do house calls and organize meetings in more neighborhoods in the coming week.

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Haga Que Pase - Musica pal Barrio Haga Que Pase - Musica pal Barrio
February 21, 2012


This song was written and performed by an ISBO organizer from Villa Rica!

Click here to view the video »




Help Needed in Colombia! Help Needed in Colombia!
February 6, 2012


It is seldom that we ask our friends for financial help, but a community in southwestern Colombia, South America, where ISBO has organizers, is under attack as we write this letter. ISBO organizers (International School for Bottom-Up Organizing) from around the world are going to
Colombia to stand with the people and help them organize. Here is a first-hand statement made yesterday by one of our organizers who lives and organizes in the town of Villa Rica:

"Thursday morning we arrived in Villa Rica at 11:30 AM. The sirens that usually sound at 12:00 noon were going off at unusual times. No one understood why an hour later it sounded again. Then we heard the first explosion thirty seconds later. We weren't in the area of the blasts; those that were near the area say that there was a truck parked in front of the police station. Two guys left running with guns. As they ran, they screamed: "run, there's a bomb!" and as soon as they said it there was a bomb, double impact, on the police station; another cylinder exploded on top of a house destroying everything nearby, and another fell in the main road in Villa Rica, instantly leaving five dead people. Two more died at the hospital. Two of the dead were children, one was only three years old. Thirty five people were injured. And all the community didn't know what to think; this had never happened before. This hurts us very much to see children and people from our community die this way. It was very painful to see pieces of people on the road. This is not just. Things at the moment are on lockdown. The authorities have said that this was an attack from the Farc. One of the reasons they suggest this is that the police in Villa Rica, a few months ago, confiscated a ton of weed and then a mule loaded with cocaine. They say these drugs belonged to the Farc, and in response they put the bomb. But this is very suspicious, because 24 hours before, there was a similar bomb attack in Tumaco, another Afro population town. At the moment there have been talks about rebuilding the station. People are very angry, because before they built the police station there was a school there, and the mayor of Villa Rica knocked the school down and put the police station there in the midst of people protesting. These are the consequences today, and they are talking about reconstructing the police station in the same place. People are not up to tolerating this."

From another Colombian organizer by phone: "We have to be a bit careful about what I'm going to say, because we are in a public space and there can be spies everywhere. From the analysis that I have been able to do about this incident, what I think is happening is the fact that Piedad Cordoba, an Afro-descendent woman, was gaining too much power by negotiating with the Farc thru her humanitarian group. There has been talk of peace at recently through her: they were going to liberate twelve soldiers and police they held captive for ten years, and this was because of the negotiations of her group. A few days before this happened, the government was announcing that groups outside the government couldn't be negotiating. Maybe the government wanted to sabotage this process. The big question I asked myself when this happened was why was this attack on two Afro-colombian communities and not in Cali or Bogota? I think what they are trying to do is to discredit Piedad Cordoba and at the same time make a racial attack against the Afro-colombian communities. And I think that’s because they saw that she was getting too much support in those communities. Villa Rica is in a very peaceful area. I think it’s a whole strategy to make people scared and turn to the government to "defend" them, and at the same time because they don’t want to end this war. That’s just some initial observations of the whole thing. . . . My wife and I personally commit ourselves to go and be full-time organizers in Villa Rica for the next two months, even though we are expecting a baby. We will leave tomorrow morning."

These and other Colombian organizers had just returned from an intense, joyful, and very successful ISBO training session in Jamaica, along with organizers from Jamaica and England. We learned to make ethanol and solar panels as part of our goal of creating self-sustaining prototype communities based on the principle of egalitarianism. We strategized about how to develop a system of distributing our communal farm products based on the idea of each putting in what they can and taking out what they need. We searched our hearts and minds in the process of overcoming the obstacles of internalized racism and sexism, and we put into practice our most important organizing tools: visiting community members at their homes to invite their knowledge and participation in the process, and learning to facilitate meetings in which each person has equal voice and decisions are made by consensus. Love and unity between organizers from different countries grew as we became determined to build an international revolutionary movement to create a new world led by those most oppressed: the poorest and darkest among us, especially women.

WE ARE NOW FACING AN EMERGENCY SITUATION AND NEED YOUR HELP. Less than a week after our comrades returned from the ISBO school they were confronted by this racist attack on their town. (See below for background on Villa Rica and what is happening to black people currently in Colombia.)

Because we just finished our school session, our finances have been depleted. We need your help to IMMEDIATELY replenish our resources so that we can provide necessary support to our Colombian comrades. We also need help in bringing international attention to these events and to the fascist conditions poor people face in Colombia, particularly if their skin is dark.

We are asking you to do two things:

  1. Please go to our website (www.peoplesorganizing.org) and make a donation; no donation is too small!
  2. Post this letter or your own summary on your Facebook page, send Tweets, send emails, and help us get the word out far and wide.

The struggle is international, and our comrades under attack need your help!

Background information:
Villa Rica is a town of about 15,000, nearly all of them African-descendants. In the 1840’s, led by a maroon, the ancestors of today’s residents rose up, killed the owner of the slave plantation on which they labored, took the land and began subsistence farming. In the 1940’s, agribusiness came in and forced them off their land (only a few still retain their small fincas, or farms). Today the dusty town is surrounded by sugar cane grown for ethanol production. There is very high unemployment. Meanwhile, Colombia has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people: 5,000,000 people, the vast majority of them Afro-descendants, have been forced off their ancestral, legally owned lands by paramilitaries who are clearing the way for multinational corporations to exploit the resources. People have crowded into the big cities after traumatic, violent experiences and face massive unemployment there. Scores of labor organizers have been assassinated in the past year or two. Colombia is described as having the worst humanitarian crisis in the Americas.

According to official figures, about 40% of Colombians are considered Afro-descendants. However, nearly all Colombians have ancestors who were African slaves!

ISBO has been training organizers in Colombia for four years. We believe we have a responsibility to stand in UNITY with our comrades and defend them and all of our right to live without fear of bullets and bombs. Please respond generously. Let the people of Colombia know that the world is watching, and cares about what is happening to them!

Thank you,
International Collective of ISBO

Help Needed in Colombia! Help Needed in Colombia!
Help Needed in Colombia! Help Needed in Colombia!




Report from the ISBO Organizing Project in the Mountains of Colombia
December, 2011


The new colours of our freshly painted community centre, "make us feel happy (alegre)" says one of our young community organisers, as we teach the young children of our hamlet how to cut out sheep, cows, houses, baby Jesus, bridges and the three mystical kings that came from somewhere in the Arab world to see the just born Jew child-god.

Dressing the Pesebre

In Colombia it is folklore to "dress" the nativity (pesebre) scene and to do the novena, nine nights of prayers and songs to baby Jesus. Basically to dress the nativity scene is to recreate Belen, the place where Jesus was born, so children and mothers build towns, mountains, rivers, with little houses, animals and plastic people that are usually bought from shops.

This year our organizing group decided that we should build our pesebre out of a series of art workshops where children were instructed on how to draw, cut out and paint. It worked very well and we had lots of participation not only from the children but also youngsters and some elders. Such activity has never been done in our hamlet, said many elders.

Organizing Door-to-Door

Currently our organising group is preparing for the monthly general assembly where the whole community will get a full annual financial and work report. We are also gathering information on the possible projects that we want to engage on: our health centre is a big priority. In order to invite the community to this assembly we did house visits. It was a grey afternoon, heavy dark clouds coming our way from the mountain that separates Cali from our nearby town: La Niña does not give us a break. M and J agreed that they would go up towards the road and then down through the footpath all the way to where Mr H lives.

M, V (teenager organisers) Mr. E and I went down through the footpath that take us toward the town, then around and up towards where the Maloka is. The footpaths are all muddy; it is good that the normal footwear in this area are Wellingtons. We took turns at speaking with our neighbours. M and V, both 12-year-olds, were doing house visits for the first time, and it was very good to see them doing it: asking people what they thought about the work that the organising group is doing, how do they envision our community developing, and finally inviting our neighbours to the general assembly and assuring them that their participation and ideas were essential for our whole community. M took down phone numbers from everyone we visited, promising that we would call one day before the meeting. It became dark before we knew it; we had just enough time to do our round and come back to the centre of our hamlet.

Reflection

We (ISBO full time organisers) see the need for immediate concrete action within our community from our side. For example the new municipal government are promising to help with developing sites such as our school. We do not know whether the government will fulfil their promise; one thing we know is the fact that the new government received many votes from our community. As soon as they knew they were elected, our local school teacher received a phone call reassuring her that our community would have full support from them.

This has raised expectations among many of our community members. It is expected that when a community supports the government that gets elected, they get something out of it.

We are full of questions at the moment:

How do we (ISBO organisers) treat and manage the relationship with the new "friendly" municipal government without compromising our principles?

How can we help people understand that we can do it for ourselves without expecting anything from the government when we have such little resources?

Productive Project

After nearly a year since our initial meeting to commence our production project, we finally met again last night at the Social Research and Action Centre (CAIS) Maloka. Fifteen of us met; together we made a delicious meal. Some cut firewood, others sliced and prepared the meat, whilst some barbecued it; some of us made the salad and the juice whilst others looked at the piece of land we are planning to cultivate. It was a very warm gathering with laughter, excitement and "juarapo" (a fermented sugar cane juice), home made by one of the members. There were children running around playing whilst dinner was served. We sat around the table full and satisfied with such a feast. We warmed up as we began a discussion round on how we each visualised the project: how we would work together.

Immediately we had some very firm and concrete ideas. Some members felt we should all work together equally; others said it was very important to be in agreement as a collective in all decisions. One of the youngest members, J, said he thought we should "make decisions the way we usually do, by consensus," and that if there was something happening within the group that we didn’t agree with, that we should bring it to the collective instead of saying things outside of the group. One of the main agreements was to create a set of principles ("reglamento") for our group. We talked about what we would do if a member had to leave the group -- if we would give them some money from the profits, etc. We decided that there would be two instances, first one is if the person left by their own accord and second if the member left because of circumstances out of their control. We agreed that we would keep talking about shaping these principles since we have a lot of trust in one another. We agreed that we would cultivate a large vegetable garden that would firstly feed our families and the remainder harvest would be sold. We agreed that we would save the money to invest in buying cattle, pigs or chickens, depending on how well it goes with our first harvest. One member suggested we put some money aside each week when we meet for seeds and tools. We agreed that our workday is Monday, commencing the 9th of January. Our work hours will be from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., with an hour lunch break. We agreed to each bring our breakfast and that we would all bring something to contribute to lunch which we would make collectively here at the Maloka. We also agreed to collect small donations to have food aside for the work days. We agreed to work collectively for the greater good of the collective, that no one was better than the next, and that we are going to work with seriousness but also including other activities such as outings and camping.

We all agreed that we would keep talking, that we didn’t have all the answers, and that we had to be honest and open with each other in order to keep nourishing the collective. We agreed that this was not just a growing crops group, that we wanted to make better futures for our families. We also talked about creating an emergency fund to be able to support those in the group with greatest need, that we didn’t need to rely on government funds or NGOs to realise this project. One of the women in the group said of her experience with such promises, "I have been in a women’s group for ten years and the government has promised and never given our group any support." We are dreaming big, with the hope that we will realise our dreams together. As our saying goes "sonar no cuesta nada!" ("It is still free to dream!")



ISBO Official Statement of Support for the Occupy Wall Street Movement - The Dark and Poor Must Join OWS!
November, 2011


The International School for Bottom Up Organizing (ISBO) wishes to thank all who have stood with and in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS). We also wish to thank the Council of Elders and all veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. We embrace and stand in solidarity with everyone who stands up against capitalism, corporate greed, racism, sexism, classism, and all other isms that oppress and divide people and that take away the humanity of anyone in this world.

ISBO held its first international meeting in October 2008, in Venezuela, then met in Jamaica in 2009, and most recently gathered in Colombia in March 2011. We focus on creating and supporting organizing projects in the Americas. Our style of organizing embraces the teachings of Miss Ella Baker, which were used by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s to end segregation and to win the right for black folk in seven states to vote and to access public accommodations, education, and housing in the fight for equality. Our projects aim at building self-sufficient, egalitarian prototypes in communities of the most oppressed. Ours is an international struggle led by the poorest and darkest among us, especially women.

ISBO is an intergenerational collective of organizers from different parts of the world. We include:

  • A young man and young woman from Colombia in South America who have established a Highlander style institution in the mountains above Cali
  • A Colombian organizer who lives and works in a town of Maroon descendants
  • A young man and young woman, living and working in New Orleans, LA, USA, who began working with ISBO as organizers during the Katrina crisis
  • A woman who started her organizing work with Chicago High School SNCC in 1963 and lives and organizes in Jamaica
  • A farmer, a shopkeeper, and several young people from the ground in Jamaica
  • A young man and a young woman who are establishing a training center in England to produce the technology needed for the self sustaining communities ISBO organizers are developing
  • A veteran of SNCC and Ella Baker organizing, who is a full time volunteer organizing trainer for all sites

There are another 15 to 20 students of organizing from the sites above who also have access to this collective.

ISBO recognizes that those fighting for justice today are the legacy of those who fought for justice in the 1960s. These young folk all over the world who are standing against capitalism are our movement. On November 16, 2011, "The Rachel Maddow Show" on the MSNBC news network highlighted the connection between OWS and the "Free Speech Movement" that sprung from the University of California at Berkeley. The show talked about how Occupy Movement participants that had been dispersed forcefully and violently the day before had reassembled with ten times more folks on the spot where Mario Savio spoke in 1964 when he called for folks to place their bodies on the line to demand FREE SPEECH. What they did not say was that Mario Savio spent three months training with SNCC under the leadership of a SNCC organizer (Curtis (Hayes) Muhammad) in McComb, Mississippi before he gave the powerful speech that sparked the massive national movement for free speech and the right to assembly. They did not describe the violence the SNCC staff and volunteers endured in McComb when their Freedom House and every church used to hold meetings were bombed, nor how they overcame that violence and held organizing trainings and mass meetings in the yard of the bombed out Freedom House.

Since our experiences as SNCC organizers in the ’60s, we have studied revolution around the world and have come to understand the importance of engaging the folk on the bottom of society to create a new world based on equality and humanity. We believe that this historical moment dictates that the poor should and must rise and lead us all to freedom. History mandates us to place ourselves on the agenda of OWS, to walk onto this stage with our vision, our hopes, our work towards building a new world and inspire others to work together to create prototypes of the new world that is possible in their communities all over the globe. A global movement to create an egalitarian and just world needs the leadership of the 70%, those so severely oppressed and excluded from the current system that we don’t feel like citizens of our countries.  We recognize we are 21st century slaves, the discriminated against, the colonized, the poor who live on $2 or less a day.

At this time, we do not see the presence of the voices and vision of the poor nor the suggestions of the poor in OWS. We see this as our work, to bring this forward. We have developed technology to engage the poor, to harvest their genius about the enemy (oppression, inequality, injustice, etc) from their intimate, daily struggle with the enemy.

ISBO is working inside poor communities and empowering the dark poor as the primary teachers and practitioners. We are now beginning a class of theory and practice on HOW TO BUILD A NEW WORLD, a world based on egalitarianism, freedom, and justice. We ask the world to watch as we begin creating our own self-sustaining communities.

To be self-sustaining, communities must learn how to build, nurture, and maintain at least these nine institutions:

  1. Food production, distribution and storage
  2. The making of clothes, shoes, and developing agricultural support for the raw material
  3. Building homes and other structures for shelter, furniture, and the agriculture support for this
  4. Transportation, refurbishing and building new cars, trucks, buses and bikes
  5. Communication: telephone, radio, television, newspapers and social media developed and run by us
  6. Education: we must build our own schools from preschool to doctoral programs.
  7. Health Care
  8. Child care
  9. Energy: solar, water, wind and decaying waste

All of these institutions will be developed and run collectively with consensus decision-making. We will teach the method of how to engage the poor and how to facilitate discussions where all participants have equal voice. ISBO believes that each of us participating in OWS can learn the technology of how to build a new world and take care of ourselves. We will start small: each organizer will be responsible for organizing 9 to 15 folks who will build a prototype of a self-sustaining, egalitarian new world. We will help you learn how to make sure your collective is at least 70% poor and dark. And then, step by step, together we will discover and harvest the knowledge that we need from the worldwide OWS movement and teach it to everyone at the same time. We (ISBO) commit to sharing the building of each prototype as we learn it "brick by brick" right before your eyes through our website www.peoplesorganizing.org.

Developing these structural fundamentals at the level of and from the most oppressed is critical for the OWS movement to succeed and reach its full potential. History has taught us that lasting social revolution requires it.

Thank you very much for reading this and we hope to see you in class soon.

The Bottom Will Rise and Create A New World!

The ISBO Collective
www.peoplesorganizing.org
bottomuporganizer@gmail.com



Egyptians Offer Leadership and Advice to US Occupy Movement
November, 2011


[The following statement was issued by Comrades from Cairo on 13 November 2011.]

To our kindred occupiers in Zuccotti park,

When we called out to you, requesting you join us on 12 November in defending our revolution and in our campaign against the military trial of civilians in Egypt, your solidarity - pictures from marches, videos, and statements of support - added to our strength.

However, we recently received news that your General Assembly passed a proposal authorizing $29,000 dollars to send twenty of your number to Egypt as election monitors. Truth be told, the news rather shocked us; we spent the better part of the day simply trying to figure out who could have asked for such assistance on our behalf.

We have some concerns with the idea, and we wanted to join your conversation.

It seems to us that you have taken to the streets and occupied your parks and cities out of a dissatisfaction with the false promises of the game of electoral politics, and so did our comrades in Spain, Greece and Britain. Regardless of how one stands on the efficacy of elections or elected representatives, the Occupy movement seems outside the scope of this; your choice to occupy is, if nothing else, bigger than any election. Why then, should our elections be any cause for celebration, when even in the best of all possible worlds they will be just another supposedly "representative" body ruling in the interest of the 1% over the remaining 99% of us? This new Egyptian parliament will have effectively no powers whatsoever, and - as many of us see it - its election is just a means of legitimating the ruling junta’s seizure of the revolutionary process. Is this something you wish to monitor?

We have, all of us around the world, been learning new ways to represent ourselves, to speak, to live our politics directly and immediately, and in Egypt we did not set out to the streets in revolution simply to gain a parliament. Our struggle - which we think we share with you - is greater and grander than a neatly functioning parliamentary democracy; we demanded the fall of the regime, we demanded dignity, freedom and social justice, and we are still fighting for these goals. We do not see elections of a puppet parliament as the means to achieve them.

But even though the idea of election monitoring doesn’t really do it for us, we want your solidarity, we want your support and your visits. We want to know you, talk with you, learn one another’s lessons, compare strategies and share plans for the future. We think that activists or as people committed to serious change in the systems we live in, there is so much more that we can do together than legitimizing electoral processes (leave that boring job to the Carter Foundation) that seem so impoverished next to the new forms of democracy and social life we are building. It should be neither our job nor our desire to play the game of elections; we are occupying and we should build our spaces and our networks because they themselves are the basis on which we will build the new. Let us deepen our lines of communication and process and discover out what these new ways of working together and supporting one another could be.

Any time you do want to come over, we’ve got plenty of comfy couches available. It won’t be fancy, but it will be fun.

Yours, as always, in solidarity,

Comrades from Cairo, 13 November, 2011

P.S. We finally got an email address: comradesfromcairo@gmail.com



ISBO Summer Project Report from Jamaica
August, 2011


As you know if you have read previous reports (see www.peoplesorganizing.org), a rural community group in Jamaica has an Organizing Class that is trained and guided by ISBO (International School for Bottom-up Organizing). The group and its organizers are working to build a self-sufficient and self-sustaining economy in our community. The work is based on an egalitarian principle and led by the people on the ground themselves, poor, black people. One step on this road was the creation of a chicken meat enterprise alongside some wicker production. Proceeds go to the organizers to support them in their work, with a portion going to the treasury of the community group itself. Another step was the creation of an emergency self-help fund to help organizers through crises involving food, medical or school needs. (We call this the "Equamor Fund" - "equa" for "equality" and "amor" for "love". The name was chosen by the group to express the principles of equality, love and internationalism.)

The ISBO-sponsored Summer Project had a goal of adding to our ventures into self-sufficiency by beginning to create our own fuel, using fermented vegetation to distill ethanol. We also planned to investigate aquaculture, which is a combination of fish-farming and vegetable-farming using the effluent from the fish as fertilizer. Toward this end, we did several things:

  • We took a field trip to the local agricultural college in April to tour their "green" facilities. We saw their bio-fuel project, which uses pig manure to make methane gas, their hydroponics project, which is highly technical and uses purchased fertilizers, their composting facility, their plant nurseries, and their demonstration windmill.
  • We appealed to supporters here and overseas to come to us during the summer with their expertise in these fields. In addition to words of support from the staff at the agricultural college, we received responses from two academics, one in Jamaica and one in the US.
  • The Jamaican academic did a one-day workshop with us explaining and demonstrating techniques to interview elders in the community. This was of great importance to us, because we recognize that there are many elders living in the community who have deep knowledge of how the community can support itself without input from government or corporate groups. They grew up and lived as adults in the community before it had electricity, imported fertilizers, or easy transportation to towns. And the community descends in large part from escaped slaves who developed self-sustaining communities certainly without outside help! The interview workshop was a great success: two elders participated and became very interested in following up with our work. We ourselves learned video and interviewing techniques. In the next few months, our instructor will send a colleague who will teach us how to edit our videos and post them on the internet. Our instructor was very respectful of us as serious revolutionaries, and of the wisdom and experience of our community elders. We are very appreciative of our university friend’s ongoing support and contribution to our work and our knowledge!
  • The academic from the US came out at his own expense. However, his practical experience was limited to a well-funded laboratory in a city and he was not able to help us actually put the ethanol or aquaculture production into practice using locally available materials. He suggested using plants that are not adapted to our climate and soil conditions and equipment that is very expensive. Most importantly, he was not able to see us as his equals and or to respect our knowledge, insight and experience as revolutionaries. This experience taught us many things, which we will describe more in another letter. But we did not make any ethanol or start fish farming (yet: the ISBO summer project in Colombia successfully built a fermenter and distiller from available materials and we are awaiting their videotape so we can follow suit). One key lesson learned was a deeper appreciation for the skills already known by the grass root sector (for example, the skills of the "moonshine" maker are the skills required to make ethanol) and also of the staff at our local agricultural college, who have decided to assign student researchers to work with us to discover the best plants and methods for small-scale ethanol production. We are very appreciative of this budding cooperation. We also concluded that academic "experts" who have not practiced their craft in poor, dark-skinned communities will tend to only know how to practice their skills in a corporate setting requiring resources far out of the reach of the poor. Our friend at the agricultural college was very in-tune with the needs of small-scale, money-poor production techniques.
  • We had a two-week visit from an ISBO organizer who process the ethanol and fish-farming experience along with us, as well as joining our ongoing discussions about how to develop self-sufficiency based on our most important principle: EGALITARIANISM. He facilitated a very important discussion about a more equal way to distribute resources. The first question he asked us to consider was what principles to put in place that recognize that we are creating a model for the whole world, not just for our own community. This discussion was a great boost to our collectivity, motivation, and understanding of the historic, international importance of the step-by-step experiments we are doing in trying to create a new, just and equal world! As a result, we made some major decisions about how to distribute the resources coming out of our enterprises and Equamor fund, which we will discuss in detail below. This may have been the most significant of all the things that happened this summer, so please read it carefully and tell us what you think.
  • The ISBO organizer (who was once an egg farmer) and a local organizer went to the agricultural college to find out how to buy fertile eggs so we could begin to hatch our own rather than buy chicks. We were in for a BIG (and disappointing) learning experience: All the fertile eggs used to hatch chickens for meat in Jamaica come from secret, patented hybrids in the US. They do not breed true to species, meaning we can’t raise our own. This brought us face-to-face with how the big countries and big corporations keep small people dependent on them! The feed we buy for our chickens is imported as well.
  • We had a visit from two young men who showed us an easy, cheap way to raise grubs to provide protein for chickens, so we can begin to create our own feed. Our goal is to become completely self-sustaining: breed our own meat chickens, raise and sell eggs, make our own feed, and use the manure as fertilizer.

Our most important new plan comes out of our struggle to become more egalitarian in our practices. When we started the Equamor fund, and when we started our enterprise, we said that we would be entering a trial-and-error process of learning how to work collectively and how to share resources equally. The big question was and is: what is equal?

As one of our lead organizers on the ground puts it: "Learning to distribute resources equally is like test-driving a vehicle we have just built ourselves; we have to do it gently and be prepared for frequent adjustments and changes." We are very aware that we are trying to learn to do something that no one in recent times have succeeded at, so we are approaching it with humility. We have been learning about the experiments in Russia, China, Cuba and elsewhere, and we are planning to succeed where they failed and create a model poor people everywhere can take and use.

If you have read our previous reports, you may know that at first, most of what we reaped from our enterprises (after setting aside the principle to keep going) went to one man who did a large portion of the work and who is unemployed and visually challenged. As time went on, we came to question whether this was really equality. Various other members of the organizing group also have very big needs; in fact, the only ones with few needs are one or two teenagers whose parents are able to provide most of their basic needs. There are two parents in the group who have children. One of them is a single mom who is also unemployed and lives in a one-room house with her three daughters. There are also teenagers whose parents do not provide for all of their needs. The man who was reaping the most benefit from our work has only himself to care for and has a three-room house, though he has no other source of income. We began to wonder if we were making the mistake of distributing the resources according to WORK instead of according to NEED.

In our vision of an egalitarian new world, everyone will get what they need, regardless of their ability to do any particular work. Children, old people, sick people, disabled people - all will have their needs provided for just as if they were able-bodied, working people in the prime of their life. We believe all people are equal and deserve that the society take care of their basic needs. And yet, we realized that we were distributing our own little bit of resources disproportionately to the person that did the work of feeding the chickens every day. Were we treating him differently because we thought his work was more important than the organizing work many of the rest of us were doing - making house calls, phone calls, facilitating meetings, etc., etc. - that was not directly involved with the chicken rearing? Were we treating him unequally because we were focusing on his handicap?

These questions led us to ask ourselves: "What does an organizer need to do in order to be eligible to receive from the common pot?" and "How do we determine need and distribute resources more fairly?"

To the first question, we decided:

  • The purpose for setting up the enterprise and the Equamor fund was to support the ability of people to organize for a new world, NOT to "make money"
  • ALL WORK that helps organize the community is a contribution toward that goal and organizing work is the most important

Our consensus was that to be able to receive support from the resources we have, an organizer must do the following:

  • Required work: house calls (visiting community members to invite their input and attendance at meetings); attending meetings (organizing class and general meetings); helping with the enterprise work
  • Optional work: phone calling, facilitating meetings, setting up meeting space, buying snacks, making snacks, helping with transportation, participating in workdays, and all the other work the General Meeting decides to do

To the second question, we decided to set up a new distribution method. We know it is not perfect, because it does not do an exact job of determining each person’s exact needs, but we feel it is motion in the right direction on this newly-built vehicle we are learning to drive with care! Here is the method:

  • First, we are putting all our resources together. The Equamor fund gets money from weekly contributions at Organizing Class meetings according to people’s ability to donate, while the enterprise gets money from selling chickens and other products. We decided to keep the Equamor fund primarily for medical emergencies, and keep a base amount of 8000 Jamaican dollars (almost $100 US) in it.
  • When there is money to divide (eg after killing chickens, selling products, or when the Equamor fund goes significantly over its base amount) we will:
    • Divide the money equally. This will be the adult "base rate" for a single adult without children.
    • Adults with children will have ¼ of this amount added for each child in their house.
    • Adults with no other source of income will have ¼ of this amount added.
    • Teenagers under their parents’ care will get ½ of this amount, while teenagers who have to fend for themselves will get the full base amount.

We have done one distribution according to this agreement. We also decided that, since the man who had been getting a much larger share than anyone else would have a big reduction from what he was expecting, we would stop using his coop so that he can raise chickens for himself in it. Also, our vision is to create collective spaces that "belong to" the collective for meeting, eating, socializing and living. We want our coop, as well, to belong to the collective, not be privately owned.

So - stay tuned! We know we are experimenting. We will continue to re-evaluate and change as we learn the strengths and weaknesses in each new step. But we are convinced that we are moving closer and closer to the egalitarian prototype we envision for the future of our community and the world.


Summer Project in Colombia Video
Summer Project in Colombia Video: "Como Hacer Etanol en Casa"
"How to Make Ethanol at Home" Click here to watch the video.



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!



Join the ISBO Summer Project in Colombia and Jamaica
Únete al Proyecto de Verano ISBO en Colombia y Jamaica
haga clic aquí para leer en español
March, 2011

Urgent call to all who want to participate in the creation of an egalitarian new world from the people of three communities in Colombia and Jamaica

"We live in an Afro-descended community in Colombia. Most of us have to go out every day to find something to eat. Our electric bills for the month cost more than our food for the month. We need to learn to make our own electricity so we can stop paying electric bills. We need to grow healthy food in the very little space left since huge corporations have taken our land to produce bio-fuel. Is there someone out there who can come help us start this summer?"

The speaker is a young bottom-up organizer from the International School for Bottom-up Organizing (ISBO). ISBO organizers are building prototypes of self-sufficient egalitarian communities in the Americas. If you have had the opportunity of being educated or learning skills or trades, we think you have both the responsibility and the need to pass on that knowledge to the most oppressed. ISBO is based on the idea that the true genius and leadership for the creation of an egalitarian new world lies amongst the poorest and darkest among us, especially women. Bring us your minds and hearts this summer!

ISBO has planned summer projects for learning the skills of self-sufficiency in at least three communities in Jamaica and Colombia. At a planning session, another organizer from a poor Afro-Colombian community said:

"First, you must 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. Our work must be built with the participation of everyone in the community. We are giving everything we have and ask you to contribute with your mental capacities and economic resources. Your participation is of optimal importance."

Another organizer envisioned elders who were in the old revolutionary movement that also wanted an egalitarian world: "I believe there are lots of older people in the world who are dying to come take part in a magical process like what we are doing. They are sitting there, maybe in the places that experimented with socialism. We don't want their knowledge to die with them - it's not fair to them or to us! We say, you get access to us, to our spirit that will make you feel like you wouldn't mind dying tomorrow; we get access to your knowledge so we can build the world we all want to build!"

If you know how to

  • Make electricity, bio-fuel from waste materials, pedal generators
  • Organic and hydroponic food production
  • Electronic communication (communication with the world via the internet)
  • Teach English or Spanish
or have other skills beneficial to creating self-sufficiency, we need you!

Volunteers will live in the community and spend 24/7 with the on-the-ground organizers - working, learning, eating and playing together. You will learn about egalitarian living and organizing from the people themselves, who are the best teachers. If you still want to go home after that, you will be taking skills and knowledge with you, as well as sharing yours with us. We're sure we will develop a long, ongoing relationship.

What if I love the idea but I can't come?

We still need your help! We have a huge need for people who can help us get the resources we need to do our work. For the summer project, we will need money for transportation, room and board for volunteers, and materials, and equipment. We also need plenty of in-kind contributions: video and still cameras, digital voice recorders, computers, scanners and printers, paper and ink, telephones, tools, medical equipment: you name it. We need people to get the word out about what we're doing. We have a world to build!

What do I do if I want to participate or help?

Contact ISBO at bottomuporganizer@gmail.com or write to ISBO at P.O. Box 7295, Port Antonio, Portland, Jamaica. Tell us who you are, why you are interested, and what you have to offer.

Click here to download this article as a PDF file »
*Please download this letter and share it with everyone!

Click on the links below for some videos and websites that will help acquaint you with us.

Photo Galleries
Photo Gallery of ISBO Summer Project Sites

Audio-Visual Gallery > ISBO Summer Project Sites in Jamaica and Colombia

Videos
Audio-Visual Gallery > Video From the First Day of the Recent ISBO School in Colombia

Video: "Mi FinK"

Websites & Blogs
CAIS Maloka

Soporte Klan Blog



Únete al Proyecto de Verano ISBO en Colombia y Jamaica
March, 2011

Nuestras tres comunidades de Jamaica y Colombia hace un llamado urgente a todas y todos aquellos que quieran participar en la construcción de un mundo igualitario.

"Vivimos en una comunidad Afro-descendiente en Colombia. La mayoría de nosotras y nosotros tenemos que salir todos los días a buscar el sustento diario. El recibo mensual de electricidad es mucho más costoso por mes que la comida que consumimos, debemos aprender a generar nuestra propia electricidad para no tener que pagar por ese servicio. Necesitamos cultivar comida limpia de quiacute;micos en cada pequeño espacio que hayan dejado libre las grandes multinacionales ya que se apropiaron de nuestros territorios ancestrales para producir biocombustibles. ¿Hay alguien quien pueda venir a ayudarnos a comenzar este proceso en el verano?"

la frase anterior fue dicha por uno de los Organizadores de la Escuela Internacional de Organización Bajo-arriba (ISBO). Los organizadores de ISBO estamos construyendo comunidades igualitarias autosuficientes en las Américas. Nosotros creemos que si usted ha tenido la oportunidad de tener acceso a educación o ha aprendido diferentes habilidades o manualidades, entonces tienes la responsabilidad y es necesario que pases ese conocimiento a aquellos que han sido históricamente oprimidos y que están más necesitados. ISBO esta regida por la idea que el verdadero ingenio y liderazgo para la creación de un nuevo mundo igualitario se encuentra en los más pobres y de piel más oscura, especialmente las mujeres. ¡Tráenos tu mente y corazón este verano!

ISBO ha planeado los proyectos de verano para aprender estas nuevas habilidades para la autosuficiencia en al menos tres comunidades en Jamaica y Colombia. En una de nuestras secciones de planeación, otro organizador de una comunidad pobre Afro-Colombiana dijo:

"Primero que todo, deben saber que somos un solo pueblo. Segundo, que esto es una clase de proceso muy diferente: nosotros no tenemos intereses propios sino colectivos. Tercero, estamos en un proceso que lleva mucho tiempo, y la filosofía es igualdad para todos y todas sin discriminación por color de piel. Nuestro trabajo debe ser construido con la participación de todo el mundo en nuestra comunidad. Nosotros estamos dando todo lo que tenemos y le pedimos que contribuya con sus capacidades mentales y económicas. Su participación es de optima importancia."

Otro de nuestros organizadores piensa en los adultos mayores que participaron en los viejos movimientos revolucionarios los cuales también querían construir un mundo igualitario: "Yo creo que hay muchos adultos mayores en el mundo, los cuales se mueren por participar en este mágico proceso que estamos desarrollando. Deben estar por ahí sentados, de pronto en sitios donde hubo el experimento socialista. No queremos que su conocimiento muera con ellos - no es justo con ellos ni para nosotros! Nosotros les podemos decir, ustedes obtienen acceso a nosotros y a nuestro espíritu organizativo, lo que los hará sentir que no les importaría morir mañana; nosotros conseguimos acceso a su conocimiento para poder construir el mundo que todos queremos!"

Si usted sabe como:

  • generar electricidad, biocarburantes; hechos de residuos orgánicos, generadores eléctricos de pedal
  • producción de comida orgánica e hidropónica
  • generar y construir comunicación electrónica (comunicación con el mundo vía Internet-satélite)
  • Enseñar idiomas, o si tienen cualquier otra habilidad para la construcción de la autosuficiencia, nosotros te necesitamos!

Los voluntarios y voluntarias vivirán con las comunidades y estarán todo el tiempo con los organizadoras y organizadores, trabajando , aprendiendo, comiendo y jugando. Aprenderán sobre el vivir igualitario y a organizar desde el punto de vista de las personas en las comunidades, los cuales son las mejores profesoras y profesores. Si usted aun quiere irse a casa después de esta experiencia, regresara con nuevas habilidades y conocimiento de la misma forma que nosotros quedaremos con nuevas habilidades y conocimiento. Estamos seguros que desarrollaremos un larga amistad.

Los voluntarios y voluntarias vivirán con las comunidades y estarán todo el tiempo con los organizadoras y organizadores, trabajando , aprendiendo, comiendo y jugando. Aprenderán sobre el vivir igualitario y a organizar desde el punto de vista de las personas en las comunidades, los cuales son las mejores profesoras y profesores. Si usted aun quiere irse a casa después de esta experiencia, regresara con nuevas habilidades y conocimiento de la misma forma que nosotros quedaremos con nuevas habilidades y conocimiento. Estamos seguros que desarrollaremos una larga amistad.

Pero que si me gusta mucho la idea pero no puedo ir?

Aun así necesitamos su ayuda! Tenemos la gran necesidad de gente que quiera ayudarnos a recolectar los recursos que necesitamos para nuestro trabajo. Para el proyecto de verano, necesitamos dinero para el transporte, acomodación y alimentación de las voluntarias y voluntarios, materiales y equipos. También necesitamos mucha ayuda en especie (material): cámaras de video y fotográficas , dispositivos para grabación de vos, computadores, scanners y impresoras, papel, tinta, teléfonos, herramientas, equipo medico: todo lo que se pueda imaginar. Necesitamos que lleven nuestro mensaje de lo que estamos haciendo. Tenemos un mundo por construir.

Que debo hacer si quiero participar o ayudar?

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Contacta a ISBO en bottomuporganizer@gmail.com o escribir a ISBO a P.O Box 7295, Port Antonio, Portland, Jamaica. Cuéntanos quien eres, por que estas interesado y que nos puedes ofrecer.

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Galerías de Fotos
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Video: "Mi FinK"

Páginas web y blogs
CAIS Maloka

Soporte Klan Blog



Black Freedom Fighters Led the Underground Railroad
June, 2011

Those of you who have followed our research know that ISBO researchers have come to understand that the movement to end slavery in the Americas was led by black freedom fighters, slave and free. Most official and even left history of the Underground Railroad in the US gives credit to white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown while ignoring the leadership they themselves were getting from black people and black organizations. (And at the same time portraying these white freedom fighters as lunatics.)

In our report on our 2009 research trip in Canada (see "Using Historical Research to Study the Science of Liberation"), we wrote about talking to an elder in Chatham, Ontario:

The Harper's Ferry raid and the Provisional Constitution have gone down in history as the work of one white man, John Brown. We knew that couldn't be true: the ideas in the Constitution were too profound to come out of the brain and experience of one white man. We asked one of the people's historians about it. We explained that we are dedicated to showing that people on the bottom are the authors of their own freedom. She responded, "I didn't go to college, and if they taught you that we didn't author our own liberation, I don't need it." Nearly 80 years old, she is like a walking encyclopedia, pulling 100 year old books off her shelves to show us history that has been lost. She told us that she agreed that the Constitution was not likely to have been the work of John Brown, and named numerous black men who had met with Brown, hosted him in their homes, in the US and in Ontario, including Frederick Douglass, George de Baptiste, William Webb, and William Monroe. Monroe, she said, chaired the Convention in Chatham and was a pastor in Detroit, where there were violent battles against slave catchers in the black community. As she put it, these men and others "could have had input, because [the Provisional Constitution] wasn't what I'd expect; it outlines a way of life and how to treat people."

We have recently discovered some documents that substantiate this woman’s claims and more. We are posting them here for you to read for yourself. These are documents written in the 19th century, and we thank Evelyn Leasher for posting them (or links to them) on the Central Michigan University website. (http://clarke.cmich.edu/resource_tab/bibliographies_of_clarke_
library_material/underground_railroad/underground_railroad_index.html
)

These documents begin to tell the story of the vast, highly organized, sophisticated secret society led by black people in the US and Canada, called the African-American Mysteries; the Order of the Men of Oppression. We have reason to believe this was associated with the Masons, and are following those leads for more information. Below you will read an 1889 interview with a leader of this secret order and a "manager" of the Underground Railroad in Detroit, William Lambert. We have also included a portion of the official Detroit City Historiographer’s words about the Underground Railroad in Detroit, and the following quote from James Redpath’s 1860 work on John Brown.

"In the Canadian Provinces there are thousands of fugitive slaves. They are the picked men of the Southern States. Many of them are intelligent and rich; and all of them are deadly enemies of the South. Five hundred of them, at least, annually visit the Slave States, passing from Florida to Harper’s Ferry, on heroic errands of mercy and deliverance. They have carried the Underground Railroad and the Underground Telegraph into nearly every Southern State. Here, obviously, is a power of great importance for a war of liberation."  page 229

" . . . People called the attempt [ie the raid on Harper’s Ferry] an insane one; but they did not know that many hundreds of men, earnest haters of the slavery whose terrors they had known, and drilled for the service, were eagerly awaiting, in the Canadian Provinces, for the signal to be given at Harper’s Ferry, to hasten southward and join the army of Immediate Emancipation."  p. 229-30
(from Chapter V, "Assembling to Conspire" see:
http://clarke.cmich.edu/resource_tab/bibliographies_of_clarke_
library_material/underground_railroad/pdfs/captain_brown.pdf

We welcome your comments and further input into this research! Write to us at bottomuporganizer@gmail.com.

Included here are two documents:

1886 William Lambert interview in the Detroit Tribune, with an introduction by Evelyn Leasher

1889 selections from Chapter 48 of the History of Detroit and Michigan by Detroit City Historiographer Silas Farmer

* * * * *

William Lambert, An African American Leader of Detroit's Anti-Slavery Movement.
By Evelyn Leasher

Before the Civil War Detroit had a small but active African American population. One of the most active African American men of the time was William Lambert, who in addition to his public activities, ran a thriving tailoring and dry cleaning business. Lambert's name is prominent in many accounts of activities involving African Americans in Detroit from his arrival in 1840 to his death in 1890. He worked with the Underground Railroad, he organized an African American secret order, he led the Detroit Vigilant Committee, he was a deacon in his church, and he worked to bring publicly supported education to the African American children of Detroit. Lambert corresponded with many of the anti-slavery leaders of his day. He was a personal friend of John Brown and participated in the Chatham meeting in which John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was planned.

In 1886 Lambert was interviewed by a reporter on the Detroit Tribune about his activities before the Civil War in Detroit. The resulting newspaper article is an important source of information about antebellum Detroit and African American activities there. That interview is the focus of this website. The newspaper article is reprinted in full with links to the various references made by Lambert wherever they could be found. For example, when talking to the reporter Lambert pulled from his desk a copy of Walker's Appeal for Freedom. There is a link to the Walker website which gives the full text of the Appeal, a publication banned in the South, which is full of references to the evils of slavery and which calls for the elimination of that portion of the population who refuse to grant slaves the right to be human. That Lambert was in possession of this document is important information which helps to understand his work. Lambert also mentions an important co-worker in Detroit, George De Baptiste. In the article De Baptiste is repeatedly called Le Baptiste, but there is no doubt about the identity of the person. De Baptiste and Lambert worked together for many years on all aspects of anti-slavery work. When De Baptiste died newspapers carried lengthy obituaries which gave details of his life and his work on the Underground Railroad. There are links to these obituaries which give an idea of the scope of De Baptiste's work and the dangers he faced in pursuing his anti-slavery goals.

Lambert's detailed description of a secret African American organization which worked to free slaves is one of the few references to this organization. The elaborate ritual he describes and the secrecy of the work speak to the need to keep its existence hidden. There may be many reasons for this secrecy but one of the reasons may have been the danger involved in working to free slaves, especially after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was enacted.

Lambert's interview was conducted in 1886, many years after the events he was recalling. There are some statements which could not be verified or which were slightly wrong. For example, he and the reporter mention an article in Century magazine about John Brown by Col. Green of the United States Marine Corp. There is an article by Col. Green but it was not in Century magazine. A link to Col. Green's article is provided. The reporter also mentioned a poem by Richard Realf which has not been discovered, but information about Richard Realf is included. Another problem is in the estimate of the number of people who were helped by the Underground Railroad. Although it is not possible to give accurate figures of Underground Railroad work these figures do not appear to be realistic in comparison with the actual number of slaves in the United States.

The Underground Railroad has been written about and studied at great length. However, there is relatively little mention of the involvement of African Americans in the work. Lambert's interview makes clear that in Detroit African Americans were actively involved. They were organized and they were efficient and they were militant. They knew what they were doing and they were willing to take risks to free their fellow human beings from slavery and discrimination. Lambert is an example of a man who saw a wrong and did his best to remedy it. At the end of the website there is a short bibliography for further reading. This is by no means a complete Underground Railroad or Detroit bibliography. This reading list stresses material which might help in understanding the antebellum Detroit scene. Of particular interest is the article by Katherine DePre Lumpkin in which Lumpkin uses this same Lambert article to discuss Detroit and the secret organization Lambert describes.

Detroit Tribune January 17, 1887, Page 2
FREEDOMS'S RAILWAY
Reminiscences of the Brave Old Days of the Famous Underground Line
Historic Scenes Recalled

Detroit the Center of Operations that Freed Thousands of Slaves

The western underground railway paid no dividends, aspired to no monopoly, and never had a general meeting of its directors. Its objective termini were Canada and Freedom, and its trade was derived from the slave plantations of the south, its patrons were people of color, and its promoters and managers had their headquarters in Detroit. Some of them still live and all of them recall the days of the underground road with the hearty satisfaction that comes from a good work accomplished.

Among those living here, well known and highly respected, is William Lambert, age, say, 70; occupation, tailor and philanthropist; son of a slave father and free mother; a man of education, wide reading, rare argumentative power; the founder of the colored episcopal church of this city, and the leader of his race in this state. He is the warm, personal friend of Frederick Douglass, was intimate with the Rev. Highland Garnet, worked hand in hand with J. Theodore Holly, now bishop of Hayti; was the trusted counselor of Gerrit Smith, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Philips, and had something more than a passing acquaintance with John Brown. Under such circumstance it is no wonder that William Lambert was chosen as active manager of the underground railway service. His energy was unflagging and his executive qualities of the highest order. Associated with him was George DeBaptiste, also colored, and like Lambert, possessing good executive ability. The pictures of both these men are worth turning to as presenting faces and heads whose phrenological development would attract attention were they Caucasian instead of negro. LeBaptiste is dead, but Lambert still lives, his mind and eye undimmed and his enthusiasm for the advancement of his race sparkling as brightly as ever. He told the greater part of this story which follows, but the charm of its narration is lost in the writing, for Lambert's modulated voice, his graceful gesticulation and the carefully chosen and accurately pronounced words with which he clothed his teeming ideas can only be suggested here. Nearly 40,000 slaves were made free by crossing them into Canada over Detroit and St. Clair rivers between the years 1829 and 1862, when the last one was ferried over. In the last twenty years of that time $120,000 were collected and expended to bring slaves from the south to Canada, by way of Detroit. There escaped to Canada in all the estimated number of 50,000 slaves. A few of these were not travelers on the underground road, but they were a small minority. The larger number were brought from Florida and Louisiana and from the border states. They were never left unprotected in their journeys, and the hardships they underwent to secure liberty were not only shared with them by their conductors, but repeated time after time by the hundred or so of men who cheerfully assumed this arduous duty.

Taking up Mr. Lambert's story of personal reminiscences he begins with 1829, at which time a band of desperadoes, something in general character like the James' Boys, were the terror of the southwestern states. McKinseyites they were called, and in number were some sixty or seventy. They robbed and pillaged wherever they could with safety, and these people were the first southern agents of the underground railway system of Detroit. "It was a long time," said Mr. Lambert, "before we could make up our minds to make use of these scoundrels, but we at last concluded that the end justified the means. Indeed we went further than that before we got through our work, and held that the effort to secure liberty justified any means to overcome obstacles that intervened to defeat it. These men would, with the permission of the slave himself, steal him away from the owner who had a title to him, and then sell him. From this second bondage they would steal him again and deliver him to us on the line of the Ohio river. They got their profit out of the sale, although they had to commit two thefts to do it. There were no steam railways in those days. We traveled at night, or if in daytime with peddling wagons. We had at one time more than sixty tin peddling wagons with false bottoms, large enough to hold three men, traveling through the south. Our association with the McKinseyites was from the very necessities of the case of short life. They were sure to be caught sooner or later, and at last some more daring robbery than usual brought some of them to prison and dispersed the rest. We then began the organization of a more thorough system and we arranged passwords and grips, and a ritual, but we were always suspicious of the white man, and so those we admitted we put to severe tests, and we had one ritual for them alone and a chapter to test them in. To the privileges of the rest of the order they were not admitted."

"Mr. Lambert," said the reporter, "there is among the poems of Richard Realf one that hints at the existence of the order whose ritual was filled with a marvelous imagry."

"Oh, you have seen that, have you?" and the old gentleman's eyes sparkled. "Well, I wrote that ritual and you shall see it."

He took from a desk where "Walker's Appeal for Freedom," and the letters of Mr. John Brown, Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips, and Lucretia Mott were carefully preserved, two books bound in sheep, and of the pattern called memoranda books in the trade. In Lambert's own handwriting was the ritual, the names of the degrees, the test words, grips, description of emblems and lessons. It is impossible to give full space to them here. The order using them was composed of nearly 1,000,000 free Negroes in the United States and Canada. Of their literary merit it can only be said that they rank with the best of all the orders, and as to the poetry and imagry so richly used, Mr. Realf, who was a white member of the order, had made no exaggeration. The title of the order was the "African-American Mysteries; the Order of the Men of Oppression." In the first chapter the degrees were captives, redeemed and chosen. A branch of the first degree was that of confidence which was used on the underground road. It could be bestowed by any one of those in or above the degree of chosen. It was from this degree that the agents sent to the south were selected. The oath administered ran thus:

I. A.B., do most solemnly and religiously swear and unreservedly vow that I never will confer the degree of confidence on any person, black or white, male or female, unless I am sure they are trustworthy. And should I violate this solemn covenant may my personal interests and domestic peace be blasted and I personally be denounced as a traitor.

This was a mild oath compared with those called for in passing to other degrees. To complete the confidence ritual, however, which was the one actively used by the underground railway managers:?

Word - "Leprous."

Password - "Cross over" - spoken thus: Question -Cross? Answer - Over.?

First lecture:?

Q. Have you ever been on the railroad??

A. I have been a short distance.?

Q. Where did you start from??

A. The depot.

Q. Where did you stop?

A. At a place called Safety.

Q. Have you a brother there? I think I know him.

A. I know you now. You traveled on the road.

This conversation was the test. It was taught to every fugitive, and the sign was pulling the knuckle of the right forefinger over the knuckle of the same finger on the left hand. The answer was to reverse the fingers as described. It is an interesting feature of this history to remember that nearly 40,000 slaves used this test, and it was on the lips of every Quaker in America, the latter for the first and only time foregoing the use of "thee" and "thou" in order to make the test more certain.

The Grand charter lodge had its rooms on Jefferson avenue, between Bates and Randolph, about where No. 202 now is. When the applicant for the degree of captive was brought up for examination he was detained without while asked what it was he sought. "Deliverance," was the answer. "How does he expect to get it? "By his own efforts."Has he faith?" "He has hope."

He was clad in rough and ragged garments, his head was bowed. His eyes blindfolded and an iron chain put about his neck. When his examination was over his eyes were unbound and he was admitted to the fellowship of the degree of captive. When he passed to that of the redeemed the chain and fetters were stricken off, although before that, when his eyes were unbound and he was a captive, he found about him all the members of the lodge present, each of them with a whip in his hand. In this way the organization maintained its typical character. After passing to chosen there were yet five degrees, that of rulers, judges and princes, chevaliers of Ethiopia, sterling black knight and knight of St. Domingo. To pass into these was no small task upon the memory and studiousness of the aspirant. The last one has a ritual of great length dealing with the principles of freedom and the authorities on revolution; revolt, rebellion, government - in short a digest of the best authorities. It is of no little credit to the mental capacity of the colored race in that day when free schools were closed to them in most of the states that over 60,000 took the highest degree. It was when the highest ranks were reached that the full intention of the order were first learned. The general plan was freedom, and it is only in the presence of such records as these that the strength of the colored race in organization for their manumission becomes known.

It is from this body that John Brown took on his task of raiding Harper's Ferry. The history of the Chatham Convention (pdf), presided over by Elder W. C. Monroe of Windsor, and one of whose prominent members was Mr. Lambert, has been told in Redpath's history of John Brown (Roberts & Co., Boston, 1860) and it is gone into at some length by Mr. Farmer (pdf) in his excellent history of Detroit. In both of these it is shown that John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was planned here, and much of the money used was subscribed here.

It was on some of the personal qualities of John Brown that the reporter opened the interview with Lambert which may run steadily along from this point. "Have you read the last contribution to the history of John Brown episode published in the Century, from the pen of Col. Green of the United States marine corps?" "Yes, I saw that, and he most unjustly says what so many have equally erroneously declared, that John Brown (pdf) was crazy. I knew him well, as the many letters you see here from him and this one from his wife of his execution will show. He was sane and reasonable, but he knew that what was necessary was to make a beginning. It was out of the circumstances of the case destined to be a failure of itself, but it opened the way. John Brown told me himself that he could not expect to escape martyrdom. 'But I shall have made the flame that will give the unquenchable light of liberty to the world,' he said, standing erect and pointing to heaven as he spoke. That was what he did."

"When did you meet Brown first?"

"Here in Detroit. I was expecting a train from the south and we were waiting for it at the lodge on Jefferson avenue. This was our custom. The fugitives were brought in from the country from Wayne and Ann Arbor so as to arrive at night. They would be brought to the vicinity of the lodge, when we would go and test them, and all those with them. Some twenty or thirty came on the night I speak of, and I went down to test them. Among others to whom I applied the test was a tall, smoothly-shaven man. When he had answered correctly I cried out: "Are you John Brown? You are: I know it, brother." "Yes, brother, I am John Brown." From that moment he and I were the firmest friends. He stopped with me at my house, then in the western part of the city, and became a conductor on the underground railway. He brought to Detroit more than 200 fugitives. Here are the books. If you care to go over them you will see the reports that give the dates and names, and from whence they came. He penetrated every part of the south, and visited every colored man that it was possible to get at, who had intelligence to grasp the idea of freedom, and yet made no boast of it. He was indefatigable in these respects. He was always on time, and his personal courage, tested a thousand times, was beyond dispute.

"When we had received the people at the lodge we then took them to the rendezvous, which was the house of J.C. Reynolds, an employe of the company then constructing the Michigan Central railway. He had been sent by Levi Coffin of Cincinnati, who was the head of the underground railway in the west. His residence was at the foot of Eighth street, just opposite the place where the first elevator was subsequently built. The house has long since been torn down. We would fetch the fugitives there, shipping them into the house by dark one by one. There they found food and warmth, and when, as frequently happened, they were ragged and thinly clad, we gave them clothing. Our boats were concealed under the docks, and before daylight we would have everyone over. We never lost a man by capture at this point, so careful were we, and we took over as high as 1,600 in one year. Some times we were closely watched and other rendezvous were used. Ald. Finney, Luther Beecher, McChubb and Farmer Underwood could tell you lots about these details. Finney's Barn used to be filled with them some times. It stood opposite the hotel property which bears Finney's name. Well, one night we had reason to believe we were watched. Two persons were skulking about and we turned upon them. Brown seized them both and dropped them over the pier head first into the water. He had scarcely done so when he threw off his coat and plunged in after them and brought them safely to land. They would have certainly been drowned had he not interfered to save them. Once in Indiana, near Indianapolis, he was driving a covered wagon with nine fugitives concealed under some old furniture. He was pursued by some slave-hunters who had got on the trail in some way, and although they were armed and fired at him he boldly faced the crowd and drove them away, and brought his charge through in safety. But those incidents of Brown were the recurring ones to every conductor, of whom we had as many as a hundred employed. It was recalled by all the old underground railroad people who are living. He wore a belt of seven revolvers and he used them when necessary with deadly aim. He engaged in the business of a conductor rather from the necessity of his nature for excitement than for any other reason. Over the revolvers he wore at all times a loose-fitting overcoat, with wide openings for the pockets cut high up, but no pockets. Into the holes he thrust his hands and drew his weapons unperceived and fired with telling effect through the cloth of his coat. I used to make those coats for him, and I knew how often they were marked by bullet holes and burned by exploding powder. That fellow used to go down into any one of the states and get an engagement as driver and overseer and then get a train load and fetch them in safety every time. He brought over 1,500 to Detroit. At last he became so well known and had to run such risks that he was sent to the east, where he worked on the Philadelphia branch very successfully. It would be a picture if you could only have seen it, never to be forgotten, if you could have witnessed many of the scenes of families reuniting and of freemen reaching Canada. For any labor, or cost, or danger, that was our ample reward. I guess most of the incidents that happened in Detroit are pretty well known. After we got to Michigan we didn't have a regular route, but we did have others. We used to work up the Wabash river to Ft. Wayne, and then cross into Washtenaw county, where Ann Arbor is, you know. There we had lots of friends and help. Then if the hue and cry had been sharply raised we would keep our people in concealment and get them over the ferry when we could. They used to lay in barns and all sorts of retreats and doubtless underwent many hardships, which at times caused them almost to regret their flight, but we got them through all right at last. Girls we often brought as boys, and women disguised as men, and men as women were frequent arrivals. When railways began to be built we used to pack them in boxes, and send them by express. We got thirty or forty through in that way, but the danger to their lives by reason of lack of careful handling and fear of suffocation made that means dangerous."

"In making some preliminary inquiries I heard of one Lovett who had three or four negroes who used to go south with him and allow themselves to be sold and share the proceeds after escaping with the underground railroad. Do you know him?"

"There was such a man from St. Clair. I do not remember that Lovett was the name. It was all very disgraceful, indeed. His accomplices were not permitted on the underground railroad after they were discovered, you may be sure. The man, whatever his name was, finally died in prison - was captured in Tennessee and, after being locked up in Brownsville jail, was removed to Jackson to prevent his being mobbed."

"Well, the story is that the underground railroad people gave the information that secured his arrest."

"That may be so. You see we could not stand upon hair-splitting questions of right and wrong when the main objective of our intention was threatened. I am not aware that we did anything more serious than Lovett's own acts themselves to imperil his safety."

"But what was the most important thing happening in Detroit in connection with your railroad on society?"

"Well, I suppose it was the one that led to fugitive slave law being introduced by Benton of Missouri in the United States senate. Benton, strangely enough, as perhaps you know, was the father of Mrs. John C. Fremont, the wife of the first candidate of the republican party for president. They eloped together. Well, there was a slave escaped from Arkansas some time in 1840 and we got him into Indiana among some abolitionists, who said he would be safe there. They taught him to read and so on and he came to Detroit. His name was Robert Cromwell. After awhile he went to Flint and opened a barber shop there. Now, one of the greatest difficulties we had was to keep fugitives from writing home and giving their addresses, or otherwise betraying their whereabouts. Cromwell thought he'd be cunning, so he wrote to his old master, dating his letter at Montreal, and telling what he was doing and so on, and asking his master, whose name was John Dun, to send him his sister, and he would send him $100. But he posted his letter at Flint, and it went forward with the post stamp of the same date as that within. Dun knew that no one could come to Flint from Montreal in one day, so he came to St. Louis and looked up a Flint newspaper in the exchanges of the St. Louis Republican, and there found Robert Cromwell's advertisement, "next door to the hotel" that was described and named in Robert's letter. About this time Robert began to think he had done a foolish thing, and becoming frightened hurried down to see me. He concluded to come to Detroit for a while and leave his shop in charge of some man. This he did, and then opened a little restaurant at the corner of Brush and Larned streets. His mother came to Flint and soon traced him here, but the slave law then was the one of 1790. It authorized the master to seize his slave and bring him before the judge of the United States court, who would make the necessary order to bring him back. Judge Ross Wilkins, of sainted memory, was then judge of this circuit, and the United States courthouse was the First national bank building at the corner of Jefferson and Griswold. Dun knew that to get any warrant or summons would be to put Cromwell on his guard and he consulted with the United States district attorney, at that time John Norvell, who told him he could seize his slave and bring him before Judge Wilkins, who would then have to make the order, but it would be impossible to do this in the streets, the man must be enticed to the court-house. Accordingly an officer, who was appropriately named Bender, went to Cromwell and told him to come to the United States court to give testimony as to the character of certain houses in the vicinity of his shop, Cromwell wanted to know what the United States court had to do with the character of the houses. Bender, said he knew nothing, had recently come there, and so on. Then the officer produced an unsigned subpoena. Cromwell laughed at this, and the officer then went away and returned to say that the judge had ordered him to fetch him. On this Cromwell went. Dun stood just inside the door of the building, and as soon as Cromwell entered he pushed it to and attempted to seize his former slave. Cromwell dashed for the window and tried to escape, giving the alarm. This was heard above and its nature suspected by Judge Wilkins, who at once fled from the court, it is said, to the attic. Anyway he disappeared. George Ball was the clerk of the court. He yelled down to Cromwell not to allow himself to be fetched up - for God's sake not to come up. By this time George Le Baptiste, myself, and a score of others, among them George Rogers, a lawyer, were on the ground, but we could not get into the court-house - the door was closed. Ball, however, came to the upper window and threw us out a key to come in by another door, and in two minutes we had Cromwell free from Dun and rushed him down to the foot of Shelby street, into a skiff, and into Canada. While this was done Dun was detained on the steps, the crowd growing momentarily larger and more threatening, a number of Irish among them crying out, "Where's the man stealer?" "Let us at him." When I came back Jefferson avenue was filled with people. There stood Dun on the steps, towering over every one about him, and looking for a means of escape. All at once Dun make a dash. He thrust the crowd aside like chaff blown from a fanning-mill, and tore down Jefferson avenue, where a friendly door opened for him and closed to shut out the crowd. Just at this time the passage of a state law had been secured making it a penal offense "to inveigle or kidnap any fugitive slave to return him to slavery." Mark the wording. Well, Elder Monroe whose picture you have there and who died in Africa on the St. Paul Loando river, where he had gone to establish a colony of episcopalians, took the lead in this affair and we demanded Dun's arrest under the law. It was hours before the officers fetched him out and brought him to Justice O'Byrne's office at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson avenues. We colored people demanded admittance, which was refused us, and we appealed to Mayor Van Dyke (pdf). We told him that Dun was from Maryland, and the United States court had jurisdiction. Our law point was bad, but we were many in number and resolute. The mayor made us a speech and then declared we should be admitted. It was decided to postpone the hearing until 9 o'clock the next day, and when a bankrupt merchant was offered as bail Elder Monroe objected. The judge threatened to put us out, and we asked him to begin. Then John Norvell offered himself as bail, but Monroe remembered that a mortgage sale of his property had recently been published, and objected to him. What would have happened I cannot say had not Dun cried out that he wanted no bail, that he preferred to go to jail. The mayor begged that no disgrace be brought upon the city by mob law. The state law should be enforced, he declared, and proposed that we form in a double line in the street, allow Dun to be brought down and to pass to the jail, then on the site of the public library, where we could see him enter and be assured that he would be kept. We agreed to this, and the colored people kept their word, but the Irish population had not so agreed, and the danger to Dun's life was very great. Just as we got to the jail a rush was made but it was stayed. Well Dun lay in jail till the next term - three months - and being afraid of the mob let his trial go over, and lay in jail six months more. He was rich, and had big lawyers come up from St. Louis, but it was no use, and we would have sent him to state prison had it not been that the law read, "to return to slavery." He had inveigled and attempted to kidnap, but there were not able to prove that he did it to return him to slavery.

"Well, when the United States senate met, Senator Benton introduced a fugitive slave bill with a speech in which his wonderful faculty for invective was turned upon Michigan. The history of the case he recited and charged Michigan (pdf) with being the resort of a nigger mob. Gen. Cass, United States senator from Michigan, then replied; and defended the state and its colored citizens in a way that set our hearts beating with joy. But afterwards, when we thought we had him ready to swallow, and came to him to lead the petition to the state legislature to strike out the distinctive words "white and colored" in the state laws and constitution, he evaded us. So we went in to defeat his presidential aspirations, and we did. That is the story of the inception of the fugitive slave law. "Well, our work went forward here just thirty-three years. It was a great one, and I am satisfied with my share of it. I have told more of it to you than I ever did to any one before. Indeed, I am quite hoarse with talking."

The old gentleman rose, indicating thereby that he had talked himself out for one sitting, and, giving me a courteous good night, added that, some other day, he would like to tell about the Bulwer-Clayton Treaty at length. F.H.P.

* * * * *

THE HISTORY of DETROIT AND MICHIGAN

PAST AND PRESENT

By Silas Farmer, City Historiographer

Detroit
Silas Farmer & Co
Corner of Monroe Avenue and Farmer Street
1889

selections from Chapter 48 "Slavery and the Colored Race" from pages 345 - 348

No attempt was made to enforce the law [passed in 1827 that any black person living in the territory had to produce proof of freedom - KF note] until after the riot of 1833, and then the colored people fled to Canada. The history of that riot is as follows: On June 14, 1833, Thornton Blackburn and his wife, who had resided here nearly two years, were claimed and arrested as fugitive slaves from Kentucky. They were taken before a justice of the peace, who directed an officer to take charge of them and deliver them to the claimant. During their examination before the justice, a crowd of colored people collected in great excitement, and threatened to resist the execution of the law. The alleged slaves were, however, conveyed to the jail, and the crowd dispersed. The next day, which was Sunday, the agent of the owner sought to have the slaves delivered up, but the sheriff, fearing a disturbance, declined. During the day a number of colored persons were permitted to have access to the prisoners, and one woman was allowed to remain in the cell with the female slave till after dark. The latter exchanged clothing with her visitor, and thus made her escape. Meantime the colored people, armed with clubs, assembled in large numbers on the common near the jail, and showed a determination to attempt a rescue; but after the departure of the steamboat in the evening they dispersed, as it was evident that the slaves would not be removed. On Monday they again assembled n increased numbers, gathering in groups in the neighborhood of the jail, armed with clubs, stones, and pistols. There was also a large number of them on the wharf where the steamboat lay. A little before four o’clock in the afternoon, the sheriff went to the jail, and a carriage was driven up to convey Blackburn to the boat; but he was hardly seated before the negroes attacked the carriage; the sheriff then attempted to convey him back to the jail, but as he was going in the negroes made a rush, rescued the slave, put him in a cart, and he escaped to Windsor. He was then arrested by the Canadian authorities and lodged in Sandwich jail. They were requested by the State authorities to deliver him up, but refused to do so, and he was soon set at liberty.

During the melee, Sheriff Wilson was dangerously wounded. The excitement in the city was intense, and several colored persons were arrested. There were no sufficient means of preserving order, and Governor Cass, then Secretary of War, who happened to be in the city on a visit, ordered a company of troops from Fort Gratiot to proceed to Detroit to "aid the civil authority in support of the laws." As affording further and more permanent protection, the citizens, at a public meeting, on July 10, decided to establish a city watch, "to consist of sixteen persons, to continue until the trial or discharge of the colored persons who are now under arrest for riotous conduct."

Public sentiment became increasingly opposed to slavery, and on April 26, 1837, the Detroit Anti-Slavery Society was organized. The constitution contained the following articles:

Article 1. - This association shall be called The Detroit Anti-Slavery Society, and shall be auxilliary to the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society. Article 2. - The object of this society shall be the entire abolition of slavery in the United States of America, and the elevation of our colored brethren to their proper rank as men. While it admits that each State alone has, by the constitution of the United States, the exclusive right to legislate with regard to slavery within its own limits, its aim shall be to convince all our fellow citizens, by arguments addressed to their understanding and consciences, that slave-holding is a crime in the sight of God, and that the duty, safety, and best interests of all concerned require its immediate abandonment. Article 3. - Any person not a slave-holder, or engaged in the traffic of slaves, may become a member of this society by signing its constitution. . . .

Article 7. - The annual meeting of this society shall be held on the anniversary of the emancipation of the British West Indies.

The officers of the association for 1837 were: Shubael Conant, president; Edward Brooks, Edwin W. Cowles, and Cullen Brown, vice-presidents; Charles Henry Stewart, secretary; George F. Porter, treasurer; William Kirkland, Alanson Sheley, and Peter Boughton, executive committee. In 1839, Robert Stewart was president, and A.L. Porter, corresponding secretary. The society was in existence only a short time, but its spirit remained, and its principles grew increasingly popular.

In January, 1842, the ex-slave, Henry Bibb, came to Detroit, and in 1844 and 1845 he lectured in Michigan under the auspices of the Liberty Association, a political organization which sought to promote the election of anti-slavery candidates. Horace Hallock was president, Cullen Brown, vice-president, and S.M. Holmes, secretary.

On September 18, 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act. It provided that slaves might be arrested in any State, appointed special officers to secure their arrest, and directed that the testimony of fugitives, in any trial growing out of their arrest, should not be admitted. This law greatly incensed many citizens, and increased the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment. The proximity of Canada, where slaves became free men, caused Detroit to become a noted point of departure, and fugitive slaves were constantly passing through the city, and frequent, and sometimes successful, efforts were made by their owners to capture them. In October, 1850, the arrest of a colored man named Rose created so great an excitement that, at the request of the mayor, General Schwartz called out three volunteer companies to preserve the peace; and on October 8, 1850, the thanks of the Council were tendered to John Ladue, then mayor, for his action in the case.

The attempts to retake fugitive slaves were in the main unsuccessful, for the majority of the people were opposed to slaver, and though the law upheld them, the slave-holders were foiled and outwitted. There was a complete chain of persons, extending to the slave States, who were organized for the relief and transportation of fugitive slaves. A paper in their interest, called the Voice of the Fugitive, was published, first at Sandwich and then at Windsor, by Henry Bibb. The issue of November 5, 1851, contained the following notice:

This road is doing better business this fall than usual. The Fugitive Slave Law has given it more vitality, more activity, more passengers, and more opposition, which invariably accelerates business. We have been under the necessity of tearing up the old strap rails and putting down the regular T’s, so that we can run a lot of slaves through from almost any of the bordering Slaves States into Canada, within forty-eight hours, and we defy the slaveholders and their abettors to beat that if they can.

We have just received a fresh lot to-day of hearty looking men and women, on the last train from Virginia, and there is still more.

Box containing reproduction of ad from the paper says:

STOCKHOLDERS
OF THE UNDERGROUND
R.R. COMPANY
Hold on to Your Stock!!

The market has an upward tendency. By the express train which arrived this morning at 3 o’clock, fifteen thousand dollars worth of human merchandise, consisting of tentry-nine able-bodied men and women, fresh and sound, from the Carolina and Kentudky plantations, have arrived safe at the depot on the other side, where all our sympathizing colonization friends may have an opportunity of expressing their sympathy by bringing forward donations of ploughs, &c., farming utensils, pick axes and hoes, and not old clothes; as these emigrants all can till the soil. N.B.—Stockholders don’t forget, the meeting t0-day at 2 o’clock at the ferry on the Canada side. All persons desiring to take stock in this prosperous company, be sure to be on hand.

Detroit, April 19, 1853      By Order of the BOARD OF DIRECTORS

The above fac-simile reduced, half size, of a hand-bill of that day, shows the spirit and humor that were sometimes indulged in.

On December 3, 1851, the paper contained this item:

Progress of Escape from Slavery
In enumerating the arrivals of this week we can count only seventeen, ten of whom came together on the Express train of the Underground Railroad. This lot consisted of a mother with six children, and three men. The next day there came four men, the next day two men arrived, and then one came alone. The latter tells of having had a warm combat by the way with two slave catchers, in which he found it necessary to throw a handful of sand in the eyes of one of them; and while he was trying to wash it out he broke away from the other, and effected his escape.

In order to aid the runaway slaves a Refugee Home Society was organized at Detroit, and officered by the active members of the Liberty Association. The society bought a large quantity of land back of Sandwich, and aided in settling nearly fifty families. Its operations covered the period from 1854 to 1872.

In order to hinder the working of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Legislature of Michigan, on February 13, 1855, passed a law prohibiting the use of the county jails to detain persons claimed as fugitive slaves, and directing the prosecuting attorneys in the several counties to defend them. On March 12, 1859, John Brown arrived in Detroit, with fourteen slaves from Missouri. One of these slaves gave birth to a son while on the journey, who was named John Brown, and lived for many years in Windsor. Besides the slaves, John Brown had five of his own men with him. By a most remarkable coincidence, or as the result of a pre-arranged plan, Frederick Douglass, the colored orator, was present in Detroit, and lectured on the same evening that Brown arrived. After the lecture, Douglass and Brown, with George De Baptiste, William Lambert, John Richards, Dr. J. Ferguson, William Webb, and a few others, met at the house of William Webb, who was then living in the building now known as 185 Congress St. East, and held a preliminary meeting which resulted in the organization of the Harper’s Ferry raid. Their plan was to make the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry a place of rendezvous, and there assemble the fugitive slaves in sufficient numbers to protect them in their freedom. The treachery or folly of one of their number, who made known their plans, forced them to make a premature movement, and the result is a matter of general history.

The Emancipation Proclamation was one of the legitimate results of the meeting in Detroit. The first celebration in honor of the day of its issue was held on January 6, 1863, at the colored Baptist Church.

http://clarke.cmich.edu/resource_tab/bibliographies_of_clarke_ library_material/underground_railroad/pdfs/farmer.pdf



Summary Report of Local Organizing School in Colombia
April, 2011

From coffee farms in the mountains and from dusty towns in the plains they came; driven from their lands by multinational corporations and paramilitaries, they came. From southern Colombia, from Cali, Medellin, El Choco and Bogota, men and women, mainly young and eager to organize for freedom walked through the doors of the Palenque, a community center that serves the people of the poor, landless community where it sits - and named after the maroon freedom-fighters who are their ancestors. From Jamaica, England, Finland, France and the US, ones and twos entered those doors as well. All told, close to 70 people, young and old, women and men, all colors of the human rainbow, but mainly dark of hue, intimate with oppression, hunger, racism and machismo/sexism and with determination burning in their hearts to figure out how to build a new world.

And they shared their stories. Multinationals gobbling up the people's farms by spreading plant diseases to kill their crops, by swindling them through fraudulent mortgage schemes, intimidation - so rich folk could grow vast fields of sugar for the fuel industry. Replace food for the people with money for the super-rich. Other multinationals gobbling up the mountainsides and destroying the forests - and therefore the water table - to grow pulpwood to make paper. Ultra-thirsty pine trees sucking up the cool, clear water that had sustained the forest and the people. Twenty-five years of struggling to organize black folk to reclaim their land and their history of heroic struggles against slavery and racist practices. Stories handed down through six generations of ancestors who organized plantation-to-plantation to help people run away from slavery and set up their own, free, self-sustaining communities, oases of freedom in the midst of entrenched human destruction and death.

And more stories: a mountain community pulling together to build, maintain and defend their own water system with volunteer labor. Young rap artists moving off the streets and into the people's struggle, traveling the continent and the world with a message of fighting for a new, egalitarian world. Rural people confronting the mayor about the cruelty of forcing poor children to walk two hours each way to attend school. Elders and youth maintaining a few small farms in the midst of the sugar cane to demonstrate that people can feed and take care of themselves without selling themselves to industry, the military, the paramilitaries or the gangs. Elders leading the way to maintain the stories and traditions that sustained the ancestors through their trials and tribulations. Organizers banding together to protect their female members from sexual abuse. The embryonic development of production groups to support organizing teams, based on the principle of "each one gives what they can, and each one gets what they need."

"I'm here because I want to change our history." "I know who I am; I want to know who I can be." "I want to work to the limit to finish off racism and all the things that are stopping us." "I want to learn and plan how we can sustain ourselves." "I want to eliminate poverty and the sense of exclusion I feel because I am poor." "I want to take back our land from the multinationals." "Every moment in my life makes me be here; to be Afro makes me be here."

These were just a few of the voices and stories of the people who attended the International School for Bottom-up Organizing (ISBO) local session in Colombia, for six days in March 2011. An elder ISBO organizer explained the School with these words:

"ISBO thinks 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 is because even though Africa is the mother of all people on the planet, and all people on the planet today have African blood in their veins, those of us with the darkest skin are disrespected, disregarded, used and abused, and our intelligence is denied. But as we said, all of us come from Africa, Africa is all of our Mama, so when we talk about lifting dark-skinned 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 mamas. And they too are trampled on! Isn't that amazing that we trample on our mamas? So 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 here this week, because there's nothing we can't learn!"

As you can imagine, we talked about far too much in six days to be able to tell it in a few pages of report. (You can read all the notes from the whole meeting in the Archive section of our website if you want to: www.peoplesorganizing.org.) The main thing that inspired us all, was that we discovered we were already moving on the same principles and doing the same kind of work in the mountains of Colombia, the rural communities in Jamaica and the musicians and filmmakers of the Colombian plains. We discovered our deep unity, and fell in love with each other and all of our people. We pledged to learn each other's languages and help each other's projects. We committed ourselves heart and soul to being one hundred percent organizers, turning our backs on self-interest, and serving our people with every breath.

We agreed on a few key things. The first was that wherever ISBO trainees organize, we will organize according to the same principles and in the same ways. Our principle is to build, nurture and defend egalitarian prototypes capable of sustaining themselves without depending on the government or any part of capitalism. We will organize as egalitarian people right now, overcoming internalized racism and sexism (machismo) within ourselves and our communities as a matter of principle: we will cultivate the leadership of dark-skinned folk, especially women, and there will be no "men's work" and "women's work" in our projects.

We agreed that our organizations should have certain characteristics. In our meetings, there is equal voice for all people, and our organizers will do house calls in the community to get our instructions about what our people want us to do and get them to come to the meeting. We will have a general community meeting at least once per month, and that will be the highest decision-making body. We will have a leadership team that meets to plan and oversee the general meetings and the work they have assigned. And we will have an organizing class that meets weekly that continues to be trained by ISBO volunteers, and that does the day-to-day organizing work, house calls, meeting facilitation and organizing the agreed-on work.

We agreed that the artists among us learn to become our voices to the world, a full and essential part of our international and local organizing. We agreed to continue our research into the freedom struggles of our ancestors (so much the same throughout the Americas!), to mine their experiences for the rays of brilliance that will light our path to the future. And we'll learn how to share our luminous culture, history, struggle and vision with the whole world!

We agreed to organize our work on a basis of "each contributes what they can and gets what they need." We are building a new world, and we will not wait to do it!

We studied how to do house calls (and did them) and how to facilitate meetings (and did that too). We studied how to put our understanding of racism and sexism and equality into our music. We studied how to get more participation and leadership from women, and how to live our lives in an egalitarian way.

Finally, we agreed on an international Summer Project. We want to find those who love egalitarianism, want to build a new world, and have the knowledge and skills we need to make our communities self-sustaining. The Project will happen in Jamaica and Colombia, and the priorities are learning to create our own energy, learning organic farming methods, learning how to communicate with the world, and learning each other's languages (English and Spanish for now). You can read about the Summer Project on our website: www.peoplesorganizing.org.

The week was not all talk, though. We went out in the community, and our house calls gave us the materials we needed to paint the children's room in the Palenque where we held our meeting. We also helped to weed the farm of an elder who came to speak to us about her subsistence farm. Our meetings were punctuated by freedom songs in English and Spanish, by chanting and shouting together. Two main messages could be heard over and over, loud and clear as we shouted together: "We Are One People!" and our freedom singers' anthem "Make It Happen!"



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!



To those fighting for freedom, justice and equality in Egypt
February, 2011

First, we applaud your leadership, commitment and courage in ousting Mubarak. The sustained and massive protests in Egypt have inspired oppressed peoples around the world, reviving our hope in the possibility of real change that can benefit the majority of the world's people. The world is watching what the people of Egypt are doing very closely, and your actions are sparking more movements for freedom, justice and equality.

In support of your movement, we are writing to raise some questions for your consideration as your efforts advance. First, now that Mubarak is removed, it is most likely that a leader from the same class of rich folks will take his place. Will that really translate into change for the majority of Egypt's people? In the United States, the people who are the most oppressed- those who are poor and dark-skinned, those who do not have access to quality education or healthcare, those who live in inadequate housing, those who are being incarcerated in mass numbers, those who are struggling to provide for their children- recently saw a president elected who is not completely white, but still represents the same class of rich folk as the previous presidents. This election did not produce change for the better: in fact, for many people things have actually gotten worse.

We ask you to ask yourselves: how will you achieve the true equality for which you are fighting? Can this really happen just from changing the leader of your government? Who are the most oppressed in your community and how are their voices a part of this struggle? Can there be true freedom, justice and equality without involving those who are suffering the most? How will the people of Egypt build the world you are calling for - a world without poverty, racism and all forms of inequality, including the inequality of women?

We strongly believe that you, the people of Egypt, those of you who have been struggling with hunger, inadequate housing, lack of access to education and healthcare and a myriad of other problems, you are the ones who can best govern Egypt. The genius that lives within all of you that has enabled you to survive this long against all odds, it is this genius that will inform the decisions you can make as collective leaders and governors of yourselves. Please show the world that those who are struggling, those who best know the need for freedom and equality, can build, govern and lead a truly just world.

We write to you as organizers who are affiliated with the International School for Bottom-up Organizing (ISBO). Ours is an international struggle that must be led by the poorest and darkest, especially women. We all need the same freedom and equality; we all have the same oppressors, worldwide. Our movement will work toward an internationalist, egalitarian world. We foresee a world in which the genius and creativity of humanity is unleashed, in which all humans share and share alike, whether in starvation or in plenty: in which we are free to love and truly take care of one another. We realize that the "haves" are a ruthless enemy who will stop at nothing to keep their power and resources. We see examples of their viciousness, violence and greed all around us all the time. We must prepare ourselves to defend ourselves from these ruthless murderers.

ISBO is currently focusing on creating and supporting organizing projects in the Americas because that is where we are. Our projects aim at creating egalitarian prototypes in communities of the most oppressed throughout the world and linking them internationally. Our website is at www.peoplesorganizing.org.

We welcome a continued dialogue with you. Please contact us at: bottomuporganizer@gmail.com.

We will be watching closely with hope and support.
In solidarity,

International School for Bottom-up Organizing (ISBO)



The People's Revolution Does Not Seek to Lead Nations
January, 2011

Dear friends,

At the bottom of this document, you will find a brief essay about nationalism that we sent out to readers for comment a while ago. (We have changed a word here and there since sending it, but it is basically the same document.)

From the responses we've gotten so far we are seeing that our communication with you is faulty. With this letter, we try to rectify that. The first piece was very brief; this letter explains its core ideas more fully.

We are in a process of trying to uncover the theory and practice of the movement that achieved the destruction of chattel slavery throughout the Americas, a movement that we could say won its first major victory with the Haitian revolution at the turn of the 19th century, picked up steam throughout the Americas in the following decades, knocking down slavery in the Spanish colonies beginning in the 1820s, the British empire (1830s), the US (1860s) and finally in Brazil (1880s).

The reason we are trying to uncover the buried knowledge of that movement is because we think it contains profound lessons for the future struggle of humanity to free itself from oppression once and for all.

The former slave masters and their political descendants buried the history for obvious reasons. The revolutionary movement that started in Europe in the 1840s and which Marxism developed out of was not a descendant of the anti-slavery movement, and completely overlooked any lessons it could have taken from it. The reason for this was the overwhelming culture of racism that existed in Europe when it came into being. The result of both these factors is the demolition and near-erasure of people's struggles to liberate themselves, and the lessons of those struggles.

We therefore are basing ourselves on the hypothesis that it is best to question the conclusions of Marxism and not hold them sacrosanct. This presents some difficulties - not only from those who feel that this is akin to blasphemy, but also because the language of Marxism-Leninism gives definitions to the words we are using to express new ideas. We are finding that some readers assume the Marxist definitions and then misunderstand us. We need to use language differently to make ourselves clear.

Secondly, the ideas we are expressing are coming from two sources. One is our research and knowledge about the movements and communities led by black people in the Americas during the anti-slavery struggle and afterward. As we pointed out in the previous document, the anti-slavery movement, Underground Railroad, and resulting free black communities were sophisticated organizationally, technologically, and philosophically, and were led by slaves and free blacks. The other source is our ongoing organizing practice in several communities of poor, African-descended people in the Americas, in the attempt to develop egalitarian organizations and eventually communities. Unfortunately, we have been remiss in sharing this practice with our readers.

So, for example, when we say "egalitarianism now," it is not an abstract slogan. It comes both from the egalitarian practices we are uncovering through our research, and from the egalitarian organizing we are doing - successfully, though as yet on a small scale - in the present.

What is a nation? What is a state?

Historically, nations came into being with capitalism. Capitalists found it useful to create relatively large territories (let's use France as an example) out of diverse populations (in the area that is now France, people once spoke 200 different languages), and create a single government to rule them, a single language, and a new "national" identity. As imperialism developed, the European capitalists captured and annexed territories in other parts of the world, ignoring previous boundaries and methods of rule. Lenin, Stalin, and other Marxists later defined "nation" in a somewhat different way - as a set of people who shared land, language and culture, even if that set of people did not have a government specific to it. This was a step in trying to understand and fight imperialism - which, for example, made Guadalupe in the Caribbean a part of France, and put Algeria under French rule. The Marxists said that Guadalupe or Algeria (which had not previously considered themselves national units) were separate nations and as such had a right to "self-determination."

Whereas nationalism had been strictly an ideology of the capitalists, now it was also adopted by the Marxists. Marxist-influenced radicals and revolutionaries began to fight for the self-determination of non-existent, abstract "nations," such as black people inside the United States. Nationalism was adopted as a revolutionary strategy by revolutionaries throughout the colonized world, who, rather than fighting for the people to rule themselves, ended up fighting for the imperialist-defined Algeria, for example, to become a nation of its own, separate from France.

[Note: When we use the word "nationalism," we refer to a political strategy that focuses on the control and management of nations. This was first a strategy of the capitalist class, and then a strategy of the Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries. Some people use the word "nationalism" to describe the sense of belonging to a certain set of people and loyalty to that set of people as separate from (and usually better than) other people. We suggest a different word is needed for that meaning - perhaps tribalism or racialism. In any case, it is NOT the meaning we intend when we use the word.]

One way to see this adoption of a nationalist strategy is that European Marxists said to dark-skinned revolutionaries in the colonies: you have a right to self-determination; you run your revolutions and we'll run ours. It is important to note that neither the European nor colonized side spoke to the people on the "bottom."

[Another interruption here: When we talk about the "bottom:" imagine sitting down in some country in the world - take your pick: Jamaica, Colombia, India, China, Iraq - and looking for the relationships between the haves and have-nots. In the setting of the have-nots, denote the relationships between all of us and the least of us. If we all do that without allowing ourselves to use previous preconceptions and categories of people (for instance, "working class," "informal economy," etc.) we would not need to say: "Now you know they are going to be the darkest, nastiest, poorest, angriest and hardest to get along with folk in the world." White AND black revolutionaries have had a problem respecting that group of people, but it is precisely the group that made up the movement for liberation from slavery and racism. The closest similar analysis within the communist movement was the way the Chinese CP crafted its strategy for dealing with the "peasantry" before they seized power - they categorized people as rich, middle, poor, and landless peasants, and set themselves the task of recruiting the poorest of the poor and landless peasants.]

To be clear on definitions: the Marxist definition of "state" is the apparatus used by the class in power to rule over the people it oppresses: that is, the government and all its departments (army, police, courts, jails, schools, etc.). The Marxist, anti-colonial revolutionaries who successfully fought for the independence of Algeria or Vietnam instituted new states (theoretically revolutionary ones) in those new nations. People who are not familiar with the Marxist definition of the state often use it as an alternative word for nation - meaning a nation that is independent and has its own government. We sometimes also use the words interchangeably, because not everyone we are writing for is familiar with Marxism, and we are trying to use language in ways non-politically trained people can understand.

Nationalism is anti-revolutionary, anti-people

So: the idea we are trying to raise is that any and all forms of nationalism only serve oppressors. This is true whether we are talking about existing nations ruled by states (from Algeria to Russia to China to France to the United States) OR about non-existent, abstract "nations" of the sort imagined by anti-imperialists, such as black people in the United States, the Bretons in France, or indigenous people in various parts of the world OR about past or future nations ruled by revolutionaries seeking an egalitarian world.

Our research and our experience have shown us that the idea of nation-state is not a useful one for oppressed people seeking liberation. For example, the communities set up by escaped slaves usually met the definition of nation-state, even though they clearly weren't on the scale usually thought of as a nation. They were made up of people who shared language and culture, who controlled a specifically defined territory, who had methods of self-government, and who often had armed forces to defend themselves. This was true not only of Maroon communities during slavery, but also of, for example, black communities in the Deep South during Reconstruction and later Jim Crow. If we use this definition of nation, we can end up with millions of micro-nations. This is obviously counter-productive. In our organizing practice, we confront the results of this type of thinking every day in trying to build unity between communities that are only half a mile apart, but which consider themselves separate entities and to which people harbor passionate loyalties and hatreds.

Secondly, the experience of the last hundred years has demonstrated than even when revolutionary, egalitarian-thinking, well-meaning people who have risked their lives to overthrow oppression take power over a nation (create a state) - that is, the power changes hands from "them" to "us" - within the blink of an eye, "us" becomes "them" again. The same people who led the revolution turn into enemies of the people. If you look closely at the history of communist-led Russia and China, you will see that some of their leadership saw this happening and made attempts to stop the process. Stalin, just before World War Two, proposed that members of the Communist Party not be allowed in government because he saw that many Party leaders had become entrenched power-holders with vested interest in not moving forward toward egalitarianism. He said communists ought to be organizers and political educators, helping people understand and move toward egalitarianism, and that meanwhile, the grass-roots organizations in the communities should be the governmental decision-makers. Mao instigated and organized the Cultural Revolution to "bombard the headquarters" and take down "capitalist-roaders" in the Party in China. In this case, masses of people on the ground took part in changing things in an egalitarian direction. But both efforts proved half-hearted and were abandoned and/or defeated, with the result that the billions of people in those nations are now thoroughly under the thumbs of capitalist oppressors again. (And in neither country did the leadership reject nationalism, but instead called for "defending the motherland/fatherland.")

White supremacy, Marxism and nationalism

The contention that we are raising is that the white supremacy inherent in Marxism due to its European beginnings caused the vivid, heroic and determined worldwide communist movement to unknowingly get off on the wrong track from the beginning. This is because it overlooked the mass, egalitarian, anti-racist movement that preceded it - the anti-slavery movement in the Americas. Instead of learning egalitarian lessons from that movement, it adopted the capitalist idea of nationalism and made the practice of nation-states part of the revolutionary movement. This happened in two ways: one was the anti-imperialist nationalism of the colonies fighting the imperialists; the other was in the actions of the communists themselves as builders and managers of nation-states. The communist movement ended up focused on destroying the capitalist state and replacing it with one led by communists; it did not focus on building egalitarian organizations, communities and structures, even though it believed in the concept of a future egalitarian society.

Although communist theory is internationalist, and calls for the unity of all the workers of the world, its practice has been nationalist. Looking at the world from within a Marxist perspective, it is impossible to think of another way to approach revolution than that of seizing state power from the capitalists within an existing nation. So you end up with two-step theories based on an assumption that the people are not "ready" for egalitarianism and internationalism.

The first two-step theory of so-called revolutionary nationalism was that the colonial peoples had to first overthrow the imperialists and set up their own (capitalist) nations before they would be "ready" to work on building a communist revolution.

The second two-step theory is that by having a communist party in power, you will be able to pass through the socialist phase to the communist phase. The slogan for how a socialist economy was to be organized was "from each according to their ability, to each according to their work." The slogan for a communist economy, which was expected to gradually develop out of the socialist economy, was "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need." In this theory, the oppressed people are not "ready" for egalitarianism, so a capitalist-minded economic policy of unequal wages based on amount or type of work has to be instituted under communist leadership while the leadership prepares the masses for equality. In practice, the leadership reaped the benefits of the unequal wages, became entrenched, and now had a material incentive NOT to prepare the masses for equality.

The third two-step theory is that when a communist party takes power and creates its own state, this is a step toward internationalism, which the people aren't "ready" for until communists have taken state power in nations throughout the world and then uniting. In practice, this third two-step theory resulted only in the communists becoming nationalists and capitalists.

In rejecting all of these stages, we are trying to think completely "outside the box." It is our contention that people are ready for egalitarianism now and don't have to be led through a set of steps by a group of people who think they know better than the oppressed people themselves. We get this idea from the history of the black-led movement of slaves, their allies, and their descendants in the Americas, because the unifying theory and practice of that movement was that all human beings are equal and deserve to be treated equally. Equality is what all of us want for the future of humanity, and the essence of what communist theory is after. In addition, this idea is reinforced by our practice on the ground, not only today, but throughout our lifetimes in the anti-racist, black-led movement, including the U.S. civil rights movement. It is our experience that the people who feel the brunt of the inequality of capitalism rebel against inequality. They are passionate about fighting for freedom from being treated as unequal and less than. They love the idea of "from each according to ability, to each according to need." They already have the idea that fairness is defined by "share and share alike." This is most particularly true of women, who have throughout history maintained the role of nurturers of humanity. Capitalism and racism have been more successful in cutting men off from their historic role of nurturers, and have therefore made them more vulnerable to individualist, self-seeking, self-promoting and inhumane ideas and actions. But even many men among the dark-skinned poor are acutely aware that they are unfairly being treated as less-than, and have a desire for equality burning in their hearts. Many if not most of them are open to accepting leadership from women, who in essence are already the organizers of the family and community.

This is why we call for revolutionaries to focus their energies on developing the leadership of the darkest-skinned poor people, and among them, especially the women. We think this desire for creating a new world based on equality is strongest among that section of oppressed people, and that their leadership is key to freedom for all oppressed people. So, we believe the movement must be international and multiracial, but that the most diligent egalitarian leadership will come from amongst those who have been treated the most unequally and unfairly. While our experience is specific to the Americas, we know that racism against dark skin is international, and that in most if not all parts of the globe racism has created a situation where those who are darkest in skin color are to be found at the bottom of the society and the economy everywhere. This is true in most of Asia, especially South and Southeast Asia, in the Pacific Islands, in Australia, in Africa, and in Europe. Our working principle is: go to the bottom and develop leadership from there.

We are convinced that women everywhere in the world are better equipped by their experience to provide egalitarian leadership than men, and should therefore be developed preferentially as leading organizers at this moment in history.

The reasons for this focus are based on the need for equality, and the specific historical conditions we live in now. If we develop the leadership of the most discriminated against, we will be able to develop a truly egalitarian, international and multi-racial movement. This does NOT mean that we think ONLY dark-skinned people or ONLY women will be part of leadership. That is not, in fact, the case in the organizing we are currently doing.

What does our practice look like right now?

ISBO is currently organizing on the ground mainly in Jamaica and Colombia, although it has members and friends from Venezuela to Cuba to Argentina, to Canada, the US and the UK. On the ground, we are organizing community groups around an explicitly egalitarian principle. That means that the community group is conscious of itself as a place of equality that is working to forge an egalitarian community. Our meetings create equal voice for everyone who attends. Our decisions are made by consensus. If something is controversial, we continue to discuss it until we have agreement. If members of the group do something self-serving, dishonest or unequal, this is brought before the group and either the people change or get out of the group. Inside the group is an organizing class made up of volunteers who want to commit to becoming egalitarian organizers. They are conscious of the need for black leadership. They struggle against their own internalized racism, which they can see is holding them and most oppressed people back from recognizing and using their own genius. This education about internalized racism is given top priority in developing new organizers. All leadership, all committees, and all work require the presence of males and females as equals. The group is committed to defending women and girls from being abused or hurt by sexist males in the community. It has discussed but not yet implemented confronting such inhumane males, using any means called for by the situation. Meetings of organizers-in-training are safe spaces where people share their most difficult and painful experiences and give support to one another. They are open to anyone who wants to put in the extra time to learn about the world, the movement and its history, and to take responsibility for becoming the organizers of their community.

ISBO is made up of people who are black, white, Latin and Asian. Two of our organizing projects are in communities in which people have black skin. A third is in a community of African-descended people who would be called mestizo.

We hope this brief description helps you understand what we mean when we say "egalitarianism now." We are calling for people who consider themselves revolutionaries to have confidence in the ability of the people to lead themselves. We are convinced that this is the only way forward. We think the people who have been hurt the most by the present system have the genius to lead all of us toward the creation of an egalitarian new world.

Conclusion

The ideas taken on by Marxists about stages and steps that revolutionary parties need to lead the people through to get to liberation, we feel are wrong. They are understandable attempts at shortcuts. They hope to create vanguards that represent the most advanced, egalitarian thinking and bring the rest of humanity along behind. This is essentially elitist, and the shortcuts turn the revolution into its opposite.

We don't think there are any shortcuts or stages on the road to egalitarianism. We think the way forward is a long, hard, often tedious path to helping oppressed people on the ground organize themselves to create an egalitarian world. We are calling for the revolutionary movement to "slow the bus down:" that is, don't take the most advanced thinkers and run off with them as a separate group, but observe, listen to, and work from the directives of poor dark-hued women and children and their community in the now.

We must also be reminded that the other existing strategies for change are bankrupt: they are those which demand the people's needs from the existing nation-states and/or replace the present government leadership through the electoral process. We are proposing constructing a new world and ask revolutionaries to join the "peoples revolution" by uncovering a movement and harvesting its genius for the benefit of all oppressed people. We think that doing so will cause a ripple effect of bringing wider and wider groups of people into the egalitarian movement. As that movement develops, we don't think it should recognize colors or borders or the idea of nations or states.

We think we are on the right track from what we know so far, but we recognize that there is a whole lot to learn, and we've only scratched the surface. How will this movement look? We don't know. How will it defend itself against, and take the offensive against, the violent state power of the current ruling classes? We don't know; but we do know that it will have to. How will we convey to and convince less-discriminated-against oppressed people to overcome their racism, join with, and accept leadership from their darker sisters and brothers? We have yet to discover how that process will unfold, but we have confidence that it will.

So, readers, please know that when we throw our ideas out there as we did recently with our brief paper about nationalism, we are begging for your input. If we sound incomprehensible, awkward or too sure of ourselves, we don't mean to. Like any honest scientists, we are in need of and open to input from others - even if it contradicts the conclusions we have reached so far.

Every time we have gotten responses from readers on documents we are working on, we learn and change. Please continue to be a part of this process, and by all means, help us see where we are communicating unclearly, as several of you have done this time. It would be wonderful if we could sit in a circle and speak our minds in turn, learning from each other. Maybe discussing things via e-mail can be a partial substitute.

Thanks.

Below is the original document. Please note especially the egalitarian-minded quotations from the Provisional Constitution of the Harper's Ferry raiders.


Nationalism is the Enemy of the People's Revolution

We, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitution. (1858, Chatham, Ontario, from the Preamble to the Provisional Constitution meant to govern the army of liberation and the liberated zones anti-slavery fighters planned to established in the mountains of the South)

What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now! (1960s, slogan of the U.S. Civil Rights movement)

*        *        *

Equality was the rallying cry of enslaved people. Equality is the rallying cry of the descendants of slaves, for they are still at the bottom of society's heap. The hunger for equality is the rallying impulse of the darkest, most oppressed, violated and despised of humanity everywhere in the world.

The fight for equality is the centerpiece of revolution. Humanity yearns for an egalitarian world. If you consider yourself a revolutionary, if you love humanity, your duty is to help organize the most oppressed to lead the struggle for equality against all opposition, and to keep organizing and fighting until it is won, no matter the cost.

On the other hand, the focus of the revolutionary movement that took center stage in the world for the last one hundred and fifty years was to build parties to seize power from the oppressors and manage the nations they took from them. Although such revolutionaries succeeded in seizing power in many countries, the nations they ended up managing returned to being oppressive.

All nationalism belongs to our enemy, the rich and powerful two percent that run the world. It is impossible to control a nation and be egalitarian.

Oppressed people throughout the world are one people. If we are loyal to "our country" or "our race," we end up with the slaughter we see around us: Israel imprisoning and murdering Palestinians (after their parents and grandparents were, in their turn, imprisoned and murdered by the German Nazis), murder and genocide between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, the U.S. invading Iraq, Afghanistan and now maybe Iran, whites fighting blacks fighting Latin Americans fighting Asians, and on and on and on. Disunity everywhere among the oppressed, when our greatest need is unity. All of us need egalitarianism, no matter which "nation" or "race" our oppressors want us to believe we are members of. To achieve egalitarianism, we need the leadership of those who hold the rallying cry of "equality!" closest to their hearts, and they are the poorest, darkest of us.

A revolutionary cannot call himself or herself an egalitarian fighter if egalitarianism is their long-range, future goal, and managing a nation is their immediate goal. Anyone who wants to manage a nation is a nationalist, and a nationalist will always be an enemy of the people.

The past revolutionary movement, the nationalist one - (though its name is communist: a tragic distortion of a word that means equality!) - is blind to its own nationalism. Racism blinds it to its own reality. By thinking that industrial workers were the class of people in the best position to attack the enemy, it built a strategy around the leadership of white people (because until recently, most industrial workers were white). Equality of all humanity was never the demand closest to the hearts of white workers. In truth, oppressed white people will only defeat their own oppression when they learn to follow the leadership of black people, because the poorest people, the most oppressed people, and the people with the deepest yearning for equality in their hearts, are the darkest-skinned of the poor, everywhere in the world.

The nationalist communist movement (the phrase is a contradiction, but the truth) hypocritically, blindly, calls black nationalists racist. In truth, black nationalists are nationalists, and nationalism is the enemy of equality. But it is the (mostly white or white-led) nationalists/communists who are the more damaging. If you have more power and influence, you have more potential to do serious damage.

We remember that, as Africa organized itself for revolution fifty years ago, it was white revolutionaries who were training them. We remember that there were and are black folk who believed that the so-called "talented" blacks, the educated ones, that is, the ones who could be more easily accepted by white folk, should lead the mass of "ugly, dirty, ignorant, poor black folk." And unfortunately those ideas had their parallel in the old revolutionary movement, which believed in leadership by the smart (and mainly white) few who really understand about revolutionary ideas, and in the elevation of industrial workers (also often mainly white) over the poor, scrabbling-for-a-living dark-skinned folk. How does any of that make sense for an egalitarian movement? Especially when we know the movement that came before this was the one that abolished slavery in span of eighty years, led by black slaves and free blacks - and was built around the central theme of the equality of all human beings? That movement organized internationally, set up a network of secret societies, used the most advanced communication technology of the day (telegraph) to communicate by secret codes, trained and placed thousands of organizers, sent organizers traveling internationally into the most dangerous areas, connected communities of escaped slaves who were sustaining themselves across borders, in impenetrable swamps, organized massive, active support from white and Native American people, and created armed struggle to defend their movement and attack slavery. This earlier movement had more advanced ideas, was more anti-racist, and more egalitarian, than the later revolutionaries, who ignored their black predecessors and declared themselves the most advanced, most communist, most egalitarian. (But they became the nation-builders and nation-seekers that call black folk who, like them, want to build a nation, racists.)

Equality has always been the essence of what we need, and must be the central principle of all our organizing.

Oppressed people don't want to manage nations. Revolutionaries should not be fighting for the power to manage nations. Oppressed people don't need the "talented tenth" to lead them (revolutionary or not!). Revolutionaries are servants of the people who help the people organize themselves to create an egalitarian world. Revolution can only succeed when egalitarianism is in the hearts of those at the core of the movement. (And you cannot convince us that industrial workers in a place like the U.S. have egalitarianism in the number one position in their hearts.)

The long-range vision of communism has always been egalitarianism. This is a big mistake. All of our immediate organizing must be done around a principle of egalitarianism. In every organization we help to create, in every community in which are organizing, at every job site, in every struggle, the principle is EGALITARIANISM NOW.

The experience of the last hundred and fifty years has taught us that the themes of that earlier movement led by the darkest of the poor should once again be the themes of our current struggle, on a new and deeper level. We appeal to revolutionaries who are still attached to the nationalist focus of seizing and managing nations to re-evaluate their strategy, and to step back and let the people organize themselves into egalitarian collectives and communities. Better yet, we ask them to join the still-small ranks of organizers who are committed to the process of building such egalitarian prototypes.

It may not seem as dramatic and exciting as taking over a government, but block by block, farm by farm, workplace by workplace, community by community, the people themselves will create an egalitarian world, and crush all of the inevitable opposition under the mighty steamroller of international humankind, united in equality.

*        *        *

All persons connected in any way with this organization, and who may be entitled to full protection under it, shall be held as under obligation to labor in some way for the general good; and persons refusing or neglecting so to do, shall, on conviction, receive a suitable and appropriate punishment. (Provisional Constitution, 1858)

All persons known to be of good character and of sound mind and suitable age, who are connected with this organization, whether male or female, shall be encouraged to carry arms openly. (Provisional Constitution, 1858)



Black Radicals Led Struggle against Slavery and Built Self-Sufficient Communities in Canada
Report on Research Trip to Canada, October 2009

November 25, 2009

"Self-reliance is the true road to independence." (Mary Ann Shadd Cary)

The second international meeting of the International School for Bottom-up Organizing held in Jamaica in August, 2009, agreed to the following proposal:

that ISBO continue to research the hidden history of historic movements of dark-skinned folk on the bottom and publish it widely, and we continue to discuss and deepen our understanding of how the lessons of those movements can help light our way to victory in the struggle for an egalitarian new world.

At ISBO's first meeting, in October 2008, we began a discussion about the relationship between class and hue (skin color). We suggested that one of the main reasons the revolutionary movements of the 20th Century, both communist and nationalist, had failed was because their thinking was distorted by the racism of the day, so they did not understand how hue and class are two sides of the same coin. That led them to downplay the history and experiences of dark-skinned freedom fighters throughout the non-industrialized world.

Our research is based on a belief that great wisdom and genius lies among the people on the bottom. By unburying and lifting up the experience of freedom fighters from the bottom, we will learn lessons that are necessary for us to move forward on a revolutionary path. We think this could be the missing link in revolutionary knowledge: the information we need to create a successful revolutionary movement. If we combine this historical knowledge with the genius and leadership of people on the bottom today, we think we can successfully build a new world of equality and justice.

In the 19th century, when revolution was in the air, black Americans put this sentence on a poster calling black men to join the Union army to fight slavery in the US: "If we are not lower on the scale of humanity than Englishmen, Irishmen, White Americans, and other Races, we can show it now." The general attitude then - and NOW - was and is that the darker your skin, the "lower on the scale of humanity" you are. This racist idea, which is internalized by people of every skin color, has blocked revolutionary leadership coming from the dark-skinned bottom, the very people who are most dead-set against the oppressors who rule us all.

History is written as if the liberation of African people from slavery in the Americas, and all other progress made since then, resulted from the efforts of white abolitionists, white political leaders, and a few famous black individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Poor black people have been the authors of their own liberation, have organized rebellions, escape routes and communities, and have given leadership to those principled white people who joined the fight for freedom and equality. Our research is aimed at making this truth known and applying the lessons of it to our own bottom-up organizing in the Americas and eventually the world. (ISBO is only in the Americas right now. However, we believe that the same principles will be found to apply worldwide.)

Throughout the Americas, "there were movements of enslaved people from the bottom that had principles of equality within them. These were slave revolts, movements to abolish slavery, underground railroad movements and maroon communities. They all had strengths and weaknesses, but we think we can learn lessons from them for our own struggle." (2009 ISBO Research Proposal) One common thread was that these folk set up self-sustaining communities, in which they provided their own food, shelter, transportation, communication, health care, and education, often giving leadership to and uniting with indigenous people and poor whites. Reconstruction in the US was an example of this we already have some knowledge of. In addition, we are aware of such communities in Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Jamaica, Venezuela, Brazil - in fact, throughout the Americas and even in West Africa - formed by previously enslaved people of African descent in the Americas. We have lived, visited and done research in a number of these areas in the past.

Two of us volunteered to use our own resources to continue this research and report on its lessons to ISBO organizers and other interested people. In October 2009, we followed the trail of former slaves from the US into Canada. We will soon travel to South America. This is a report of the trip to Canada. Note: photos from this trip can be viewed at www.peoplesorganizing.org.

We began in the province of Nova Scotia, which is on the Atlantic coast of Canada. Black people in Nova Scotia got there in several ways.

At the time of the Revolutionary War for independence of the United States from England (1770s-1780s), Nova Scotia was a British colony. During the War, England offered freedom and land to American slaves who escaped from their "owners" and came over to help the British. Several thousand of these Black Loyalists were transported to Nova Scotia at the end of the war in 1783, and others came as slaves or servants to whites Loyalists at the same time.

A few years later, in 1796, several hundred Jamaican Maroons who had been double-crossed at the signing of a Peace Treaty with the British in Jamaica were also removed to Nova Scotia.

Nearly all of the Maroons and about 1,500 of the Black Loyalists demanded and achieved transportation to Africa. In 1792 and 1800, they became the founding population of the Sierra Leone Colony.

In addition, slaves also came to Nova Scotia on the Underground Railroad. All three of these groups were made up of people who valued freedom enough to take great risks to achieve it. Once in Canada, they faced brutal racism, discrimination and neglect. They formed self-sufficient communities in several areas, and their descendents have honored their history.

We visited several of these communities.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia and an important shipping port. The Maroons were brought here. During the four years they stayed, they played a major role in building the main British fort guarding over the harbour, which is called the Citadel. They lived in the community of North Preston, several miles away. They continued to be rebellious, rioting in the streets and refusing to become farmers on the land they were given. They demanded to be taken to Africa, which happened in 1800.

North Preston is still a black community. We were invited to tea in North Preston by a woman we met in a store. She is publishing a book about the life and wisdom of her grandmother who lived to the age of 107. Her grandmother was a griot in the community, and also a bush doctor. (A griot is a person in an African community who memorizes and teaches the history of the community by word of mouth.) Many of the black people in this area, including these women, are mixed with Mik'Maq Indians, who were living here before the Europeans arrived. They have organizations which bring together black and Mik'Maq as one people. This woman and the others we met in her home welcomed us with open arms. They served us a whole meal, including vegetables from their garden. North Preston is a rural community, and the home was heated by a wood stove. This would have been a very harsh environment for the Maroons arriving from a tropical climate.

Near North Preston, in Dartmouth, we visited the Nova Scotia Black Cultural Centre. The Maroon drummers we visited in Charles Town, Jamaica, during the meeting of ISBO came to this Museum in the summer of 2009, and one of the Founders of the Museum, Dr. Henry Bishop, hosted them and drummed with them. We met Dr. Bishop there and he introduced us to the Museum and in particular to the destruction of a historic black community in Halifax called Africville.

Africville was a community of black people living in Halifax beginning in the early 1800s. It suffered greatly from racism, unemployment and neglect by the city, which gave it no services and put slaughterhouses and dumps in the area. But still, it became home for hundreds of people, with an active church and its own school. In 1969, the whole community was bulldozed to the bare earth by the city, supposedly for the construction of a large bridge. Many homeowners had no title to their property, because their ancestors had settled so long ago, and they were only paid $500 for their houses.

Visiting Africville felt like being in a town of ghosts. The site is near the base of the bridge and is now used as a dog park. But as we were driving away, we saw protest signs and stopped. One man, with help from his brother and others, maintains a vigil on the site of the old Africville School. The two brothers identified themselves as descendents of Jamaican Maroons. Their mother was a Mik'Maq Indian. They were young boys living in Africville and attending the school when their neighborhood
was bulldozed. They had stories about their heritage that we haven't been able to find in writing. One of these stories is printed below.

When I was twelve years old, Africville School was bulldozed and we were sent to a new school. We were all put back a year because they said our education was inferior. But my teacher, who was from Jamaica, respected my intelligence and told me to go to the sixth grade classroom (the grade I was really in) and sit on the floor in the back. They were teaching about the ancestors of different Nova Scotia names, including mine.

I ran home and asked my grandmother where our people were. She took me to my aunt's house and said, "Victor wants to know where his people are. Do you think we should share that with him?" My aunt said yes, and they took me up the hill to a place where the earth was sunk in. They told me "You are standing on your people. The British commander executed them (Maroons) here. It took six months to clean up the carnage. They were dumped in a hole here."

The story is that two young black girls were raped. They went to the Commander at the Citadel to get justice. The Commander looked around and saw that there were more Maroon soldiers than white people and decided it was a dangerous situation. So they executed some of them. Do you see that dead tree on the top of that hill? That's where it happened. I was lying on the ground there one day in the 1990s and picked up a green human finger bone. The bones are rising to the surface.

We have tried to corroborate this story. A historian who knows the Maroon history says that the numbers and names of people on record that came from Jamaica and left for Sierra Leone four years later match up too well for a mass execution to have happened. But we also know that these stories told from grandparent to grandchild down through the generations come from some truth. Hopefully some day, someone will be able to unearth the reality behind this oral history.

Birchtown, Nova Scotia

From Halifax, we went three hours west to Birchtown. In 1783, thousands of Black Loyalists landed here on ships from New York after the American Revolution. They were supposed to get land and supplies, but mostly did not. They carved out a self-sustaining community three miles from the port town of Shelburne, where the jobs were, and had to walk those miles every day to work. The first winter they spent in tent-shaped pit houses, dug into the ground and covered with logs, like the temporary housing of soldiers of that time. Winter in Nova Scotia is very long and very cold. It is amazing that they survived.

A year later, white soldiers returning from duty rioted against the black workers, because the employers were paying black workers only one third of the going wages, so the whites couldn't get jobs. This was Canada's first race riot; several black settlers were killed and a big part of Birchtown was burned down. In an echo of that violence, the first museum commemorating the Black Loyalists was burned down a few years ago. We visited the new museum, located inside the old Birchtown School.

The escaped slaves who left New York on those ships bound for Nova Scotia were all listed in a ledger called "The Book of Negroes," because as "property," the British were supposed to pay the Americans for them. They never did, but the book contains the names, former "owners," and other information about the men, women and children who settled in Nova Scotia after escaping slavery. The Black Loyalist Museum took all those names and put them on a big board. In a spine-tingling moment, Curtis saw
his ancestor's name on the board. He knew this was his ancestor because of the oral history passed down to him from his grandmother.

A note about oral history: Many things about the history of our people on the bottom were never recorded in writing. Years ago, in some areas in Africa and other parts of the world where most people did not read and write, history was kept by word of mouth. This is called oral history. The people who kept this history were very brilliant people who could memorize centuries of information. This tradition has been carried on to the present moment in some families. Whether history is written or oral, a good researcher has to make sure it is true. But oral history is just as valid as written history.

Our visit only scratched the surface. Each institution we visited (The Black Cultural Centre in Dartmouth, the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax, and the Black Loyalist Museum in Birchtown) has a library and numerous individuals who have a great deal of knowledge. Also the people in the communities have much knowledge recorded orally and in writing, like the women who hosted us in North Preston and the men protesting at Africville. It is clear that ISBO needs to go back there and dig deeper. The people who founded these communities were made up of escaped slaves and former Maroons. They maintain a knowledge and spirit of their heritage, and they have faced severe racism in the past and present. They have united with the First Nations people (the Canadian name for Native American Indians) as one people. We are sure there is a history of common suffering and unified struggle to be uncovered there.

Ontario: Where the Underground Railroad Ended

Dresden, Ontario

This was the first place we visited in Ontario, and the home of a historic community called the Dawn Settlement, founded in the 1830s by slaves who ran away from the US South using the Underground Railroad. It was a self-sufficient farming community, and established a school called the British American Institute, "one of the first schools in Canada to emphasize vocational training." Although it did not last very long, it was an inspiration for things to come. A vocational school was a theme in the experience of escaped and emancipated slaves as they established communities where they could take care of their own needs. We will come back to this theme in the conclusion of this report.

The Underground Railroad was not under ground and was not a railroad. It was a secret organizing movement run by escaped slaves and their supporters, black and white, that guided runaway slaves to freedom. Individuals, usually former slaves, would go South at great risk to their lives and act as "conductors" for freedom-seekers. They went from one safe house to another. White people and Native Americans helped by providing hiding places, food, and transportation, and by carrying messages and information. A famous leader of the Railroad was Harriet Tubman. Ontario was one of the main destinations, because slavery was illegal there.

One of the leaders of the settlement was the Reverend Josiah Henson. A book called Uncle Tom's Cabin was written based on his life, and it became a huge best-seller that influenced thousands of white people to fight against slavery. Henson was also a member of the Freemasons, and our research leads us to suspect that some members and leaders of the Freemasons were part of a secret society that helped organize the Underground Railroad and prepare for an armed struggle against slavery.

Chatham, Ontario

The historic marker out front lets you know that you are at the First Baptist Church of Chatham, where a Convention took place in 1858 to plan a war on slavery. The plan was to start with a raid on the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and then move into the mountains to establish a liberated zone where slaves could escape, and where the guerilla war against slavery could be based. The military commander would be John Brown, who was a white abolitionist that had led violent battles against slave owners who were
trying to bring slavery into Western states of the US.

Chatham was one-third black at that time, and the Convention in 1858 was three-fourths black. The whites at the meeting had proved themselves in battle with John Brown against slavery in Kansas. The Provisional Constitution they approved laid down plans for a society that would be far more egalitarian than anything yet thought of anywhere in the world at that time. It assumed the equality of all humans, black and white, male and female. Chatham was a hotbed of the anti-slavery movement.

We visited the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, (http://www.ckblackhistoricalsociety.org/john-brown/john-brown.html) which commemorates the Harper's Ferry raid and provides the history behind it. In the back room the walls are lined with books, papers and huge three-ring binders full of information about the freedom fighters who established this community. The people who created this center and collected this
information, and who manage and share it now, are fully aware of the importance of the history they are sitting on, and very generous about sharing it.

The Harper's Ferry raid and the Provisional Constitution have gone down in history as the work of one white man, John Brown. We knew that couldn't be true: the ideas in the Constitution were too profound to come out of the brain and experience of one white man. We asked one of the people's historians about it. We explained that we are dedicated to showing that people on the bottom are the authors of their own freedom. She responded, "I didn't go to college, and if they taught you that we didn't author our own liberation, I don't need it." Nearly 80 years old, she is like a walking encyclopedia, pulling 100 year old books off her shelves to show us history that has been lost. She told us that she agreed that the Constitution was not likely to have been the work of John Brown, and named numerous black men who had met with Brown hosted him in their homes, in the US and in Ontario, including Frederick Douglass, George de Baptiste, William Webb, and William Monroe. Monroe, she said, chaired the Convention in Chatham and was a pastor in Detroit, where there were violent battles against slave catchers in the black community. As she put it, these men and others "could have had input, because it wasn't what I'd expect; it outlines a way of life and how to treat people." [Click here to read Provision Constitution.]

North Buxton, Ontario

Just outside of Chatham is the rural community of North Buxton. From what we found out, this seems to be the place where Chatham got its radicalism. This community was originally called the Elgin Settlement, and was founded by freedom-fighters arriving on the Underground Railroad. A white abolitionist minister, acting on the advice of black ex-slaves, bought the original land and sold parcels to the escaped slaves at cost, making his own property available for people to live until they had the money to build homes. He then stepped back and the people ran the community.

The Buxton Historical Site and Museum are run by descendents of the first settlers who have dedicated themselves to discovering and sharing the history of this amazing community. Like most communities settled by escaped slaves, a majority of its members went back after slavery ended in the US to find their families and build communities during Black Reconstruction. But this community was known even in its time as a center of radical organizing. The school bell was donated by "the coloured inhabitants of Pittsburgh," one of many communities in the US that helped support it. The Museum tells the story of slavery and the fight against it, including violent mass uprisings against slave catchers in the 1850s. The people who were freed in these battles often ended up in Buxton.

This community was self-sufficient as well, with its own industry as well as agriculture. Once again, the school was a very significant part of the history. It was a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher for grades one to ten. There were two important lessons about the education at this school. One was that it was so excellent that its graduates were admitted to universities after grade ten. It was so excellent that the public school nearby, which served the white children, closed down because all the white parents took their children out and sent them to the Elgin School. The other aspect was that the content of the education produced anti-racist organizers. Many graduates became active conductors on the Underground Railroad, including a founding member of the black Freemasons, Thomas Stringer. They volunteered and recruited other black men to fight in the US Civil War, including the first black officer in the Union Army, Martin Delaney. They went back after the Civil War to help organize Reconstruction, including John Rapier, one of the first black Congressmen in the US. Stringer and Delaney were also part of the Convention that planned the raid on Harper's Ferry and approved the Provisional Constitution, and Delaney led a trip to West Africa looking for land for former slaves to settle on.

Even later, when many of the people had gone back to the US, the community and its school continued to be conscious. In 1879, the spelling sentences in the curriculum were about fighting slavery. And to this day, every Labor Day weekend, there is a Buxton community Family Reunion that 4,000 people attend from all over the US and Canada.

"If we are not lower on the scale of humanity than Englishmen, Irishmen, White Americans, and other Races, we can show it now."
(in the fine print on the poster)

This is a poster recruiting black men to fight for an end to slavery by joining the Union Army in the US Civil War, signed by Frederick Douglass and about 50 other black freedom-fighters. For people living in Canada, already free and safe, enlisting in the US Army meant a risk not only of death, but worse yet, of being re-enslaved. But this risk did not stop them.

A final note about Ontario:

We are convinced that our ancestors in freedom-fighting organizing were in places like Chatham and North Buxton. The places beckon us back, to delve deeper into the stories of the community and into the three-ring binders in the museum offices. This is a place for ISBO. Should we have our next annual meeting there?

Conclusions and Ideas from the Research So Far

We are products of the Ella Baker "school" of organizing. Ms. Baker sent SNCC organizers into Mississippi to ask the people what they wanted organizers to do. At the time, young civil rights workers were staging sit-ins to integrate various businesses and transportation. But the poor people in Mississippi wanted power, and felt the way to get it was to get the right to vote, which the racist government denied to them. Ms. Baker said that the people have a consensus: it is the job of the organizer to find out what it is and organize them around it. SNCC agreed to organize for the right to vote, and a mass movement resulted. We have been asking the people in our community in Jamaica what they want us to do. In every house visit we get the same answer: skills training and education for the youth, so the youth can have a future and make a contribution to their community.

Because we are revolutionary organizers, we do research to serve our movement. We are not just trying to write books (though that might happen too). So we ask ourselves, how does our research connect to this consensus of the people in the community where we are organizing in Jamaica?

There are several themes becoming clear through our research so far. One is egalitarianism in the movements of anti-slavery fighters. Another one is the strong, black, bottom-up leadership that lies just slightly buried, but not hard to uncover, that puts the lie to the history we have been taught in most of our schools.

But one theme in particular that stood out to us on this trip is the one quoted at the top of this report: "Self-reliance is the true road to independence." This quote is from Mary Ann Shadd Cary of Chatham. (Shadd Cary was the editor of the Provincial Freeman, an anti-slavery newspaper in Ontario in the 1850s. She was the first black woman editor in North America, and the first woman editor in North America. Her descendents operate both the museums in Chatham and in North Buxton.)

We noticed that schools, and particularly vocational schools, were the focus of many of these communities. This was true in Dresden, Chatham, Buxton, and also across the US South during and after Reconstruction. These communities existed in the context of tremendous racism and dehumanization. They saw the necessity of sustaining themselves, so they taught their youth all the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain their farms, process and preserve their own food, build and maintain their homes, their health, transportation, communication, education, and revolutionary political organizing - all the necessities of life.


Children at North Buxton School
These communities produced revolutionaries who transformed the world by ending African slavery in the Americas and establishing liberated areas where they lived. Today, ISBO is training revolutionary organizers to build egalitarian prototype communities and transform the world even further. The more we dig up of this history, and the more we apply it to our own practice, the faster we will move toward creating a new world and burying all forms of oppression once and for all.

Is the first lesson from our research that we should create vocational training and bottom-up education for our youth?

A Note to Readers: We invite input, ideas, guidance, advice, information and stories to help us in our research. Please contact us at bottomuporganizer@gmail.com.
Thank you.


Click here to view the Photos of the ISBO Research Trip to Canada

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Summary Report of Second Session of the International School for Bottom-up Organizing
Jamaica, August 2009

September 21, 2009

Magic happened in Jamaica between August 15 and 23, 2009. It was one of those moments in history when the whole is something much greater than the sum of all the parts. As with any other moment in history, it was a link in a long chain of the people's struggles against inequality, injustice and oppression. The roots of ISBO go back to the organizing of plantation workers by SNCC in rural Mississippi in the 1960s under the guidance of Ms. Ella Baker, and further to the radical organizing in the South in the 20s and 30s, and before that to self-sufficient black communities that evolved out of Reconstruction, which in turn owed their inspiration to the valiant struggles of slaves and their allies in rebellions, maroon communities, the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement - not only in the United States, but all over the Americas.

Descendants of these struggles from Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela, the US and England came together to learn from each other and to continue the process of creating a new movement based on bottom-up organizing. They left with a profound commitment to build a revolutionary movement to create a new, egalitarian world, a movement to be led by the poorest and darkest, especially women. They left with new tools, new knowledge and new comrades, to embark on deeper and more radical organizing, determined also to build strong and fruitful support networks, and to expand ISBO organizing to other parts of the Americas.

The second ISBO session built on the foundation laid in October, 2008 in Caracas, Venezuela, at the founding meeting of the organizing school. Since that meeting, ISBO produced a book of documents of that first session, called The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World. Organizers are working on a second book now, which will include a detailed report on the second session, as well as documents developed during the organizing work between the two sessions.

The school began with personal introductions, in which each person talked about themselves and discussed how they came to be at the meeting. We heard moving stories about days without food, dropping out of school to work so the family could eat, struggling to make sense of a world that casts a person aside because of the color of his or her skin. These stories began to make comrades out of former strangers. Before moving on to the rest of the agenda, we held a workshop on the "house visit," and then went out in the community to try out what we'd learned, introduce ourselves to the community and invite people to a community meeting happening that afternoon. Attending the meeting was an education in itself, as the community was struggling to move forward after losing a great deal of money through mistakes involving untrustworthy individuals. Elders in the community took a firm stand about the need to fight for what's right, defeat the dishonest elements and stay on course.

Reports from two organizing projects in Colombia and one in Jamaica followed, illustrated by videos and photographs, and a report about fundraising efforts in England as well. These created lively discussions on topics such as the need for bottom-up organizations to remain independent from government agencies and corporate funding, the history and legacy of maroon communities, the Highlander school model, dealing with male domination in some projects, the role of the CIA in South America today, and the use of the international spotlight as a protective device for organizers working in police states. A particular focus was on the agreement that organizing on the ground everywhere in the world should be done on the basis of the same ISBO principles, not on the basis of solidarity between groups doing different types of organizing. On the other hand, solidarity and alliances with other groups could be useful in the organizing of support networks in the "rear," such as among supporters in the US and the UK.

Each day for the first several days, we had a lively discussion around two prompts: what is wrong with the world as it is? and what kind of world do we want to create? These discussions drew on the varied experiences and histories of the people and places at the meeting, and confirmed our consensus that we want to create a unified, just and loving world, in which each person's problem is also your own. A world in which religion does not oppress people or set them against one another, in which people are free to come and go all over the planet as we like, in which the genius of dark-skinned people arises from its position of degradation and oppression to provide leadership for all. An egalitarian world, in which people know how to collectively take care of themselves, in which inequality by race and gender are relics of ancient history, in which world power is a baby's cry.

Two trips away from the meeting place were key to the learning process. We spent most of one day at a maroon community, where we were treated to a lesson in maroon history and culture and took part in drumming and dancing, eating and swimming together with young Jamaican maroons. This experience was very inspiring, and cemented the sense between the Jamaican, Colombian and Venezuelan participants that we are all one people: ISBO members from other countries kept commenting that they felt like they were at home. On another day, we visited a beach and heard from a representative of a community group that is fighting to save the beach and the people who make their living on it from privatization by the tourism industry (and we enjoyed the sun and the sea!). We realized that, for all its good work, it is largely made up of small business people (including many not originally from Jamaica), and it hasn't figured out how to incorporate the poor and working people of the community who are the main users of the beach into the struggle. This helped us see the great importance of bottom-up leadership.

Several profound conversations happened as a result of group members raising issues. The first was a discussion of internalized racism, brought up by one of the newer Jamaican organizers. The essence of this discussion was, do we really think the dark-skinned people on the bottom can lead this movement, or do we think educated people, white people, or "outsiders" will be more capable, more honest? This challenged unconscious assumptions of black inferiority and white superiority of many members. Likewise, a discussion about whether the elders who initiated ISBO should continue to be the "movers and shakers," or whether young people were ready to step up and lead proved a very provocative and uplifting session. Several younger members dedicated themselves to stepping up for the long haul.

A particularly deep discussion resulted from some criticisms raised by female participants about certain behaviors of some male participants that were hurtful to women As one young man said when confronted with a possible one-minute time frame for his comments, "I can't say anything in one minute, because what I have too much to say." The group decided to allow as much time as each person needed, and spent four intense, emotional hours on the discussion. There were many revelations, many tears, and many self-criticisms. The pain suffered by women was exposed in raw form, and many young men expressed the pain they suffered because severe racist oppression prevented their fathers from being real parents to them: we realized that this is a serious and general issue we need to address. Everyone learned things they hadn't even known they needed to learn: things that weren't even on the school's agenda. At the end of the conversation, a young, male, maroon descendant from Colombia called for everyone to show their unity, respect and love for each other by hugging every other person in the room, which we all did. This act represented the magic that happened that week, as we saw the painful process of criticism and self-criticism create a higher unity and true comradeship.

On the last day of the school, we once again went into the community to do house visits. Then we helped community youth paint one of the community centers the local group is rebuilding. It was great fun, and each participant signed their name on the freshly-painted front of the building to commemorate the activity and the School meeting.

Finally, each participant committed him or herself to ongoing work. There will be a local organizing school in Colombia in the coming months to train new organizers to work with the current ISBO organizers. Fresh, young Jamaican organizers committed themselves to attend ongoing organizing classes to study and learn movement history, politics and organizing. An elder man volunteered to help be a father to some of the young men. Others volunteered to work on writing and translating the new book that will come out of this session, to create a hip-hop CD to accompany the book and tour with it, to build support work in England and the US, and to participate in international travel to open up new areas of organizing.

A year ago, an infant collective developed, which struggled through ISBO's first year, issuing a book, raising funds, and digging deeper in the local organizing. This session, though, went further than its organizers could have imagined. Suddenly, a youth group has sprouted in the community in Jamaica, young organizers are going door-to-door in their communities in Jamaica and Colombia, supporters in the US are committing time and a portion of their salaries to guarantee that the work can continue, young organizers are writing poetry and songs, and discussing their work with each other independently of the elders. The love and determination of these young people can be felt crossing borders and seas. Truly, something magical has happened.

A Note to Readers:
An organizer is one who creates, nurtures and maintains organization, and ISBO is an organizing school. We, the volunteer staff of ISBO, believe that the graduates of this year's session are organizers. Movement building is about slow grinding work, slow progress, creeping along inch by inch, and every now and then there is a big "leap forward" and the pace of progress and forward motion is speeded up. We believe that ISBO is experiencing its first "great leap forward." If you wish to experience this great historical moment please watch out for the next edition of the ISBO book and read the notes from some of the most important sessions. While you are reading, please remember that ISBO recruits students from the bottom of society: the poor and often not academically trained, not "movement intellectuals".

Please send your comments to us so that we can continue to learn and grow. We welcome your input.

Thank you,
The ISBO Collective

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In the Upcoming Edition of The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World from the International School for Bottom-up Organizing
April, 2009

The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World is a work in progress. We have already begun to revise the current book based on our organizing practice and on the feedback we are getting from the first edition.

What Is This Thing about Hue and Class?

It has become clear to us that our readers do not understand how we make the leap from noticing that the bottom throughout the world is dark-skinned to saying that it is that sector that should lead our movement. We are working on how to do that.
Here's a start:

When Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, which focused exclusively on Europe, they predicted that the proletariat would rise up, overthrow capitalism, and create an egalitarian future for humanity (socialism and communism). The proletariat they wrote about was their "bottom:" its children were swept into factory work by the age of six or seven; they worked from sunup to sundown, earned only enough to stay alive until the next day, lived in squalor and disease, and usually died before reaching the age of thirty. When the communist anthem, the Internationale, said, "the international working class shall free the human race," it was saying, "the bottom will rise and create a new world!"

The problem is, that vision excluded most of humanity. Marx and Engels were products of their times, and saw the world with racial blinders on. Because of this, they were able to see the bottom within their limited context, and were able to propose that the bottom would be the salvation of humanity. Their racial blinders excluded dark-skinned people from their line of vision because, to them, slaves and colonial people were a different and lower category of humanity. Our vision today drops the racial blinders. We must look squarely at the truth - that all of humanity is one, and that bottom is dark. Everywhere in the world, those at the bottom have darker skin than those at the top, and the lower you go, the darker they get. The biggest problem our movement faces today is internalized racism - and it affects all of us, whatever our hue. Once we can see that the European proletariat is not the bottom, our internalized racism prevents us from imagining that the bottom has the capacity to "free the human race."

This is the phenomenon we are trying to understand in our attempts to analyze the unity of hue and class. We invite your thoughts and experience as part of this process.

We see what ISBO is saying: What is ISBO doing?

Venezuela
ISBO's first session was held in Caracas in October of 2008. The New Orleans Survivor Council (NOSC) had a relationship with people in Venezuela dating from when the government promised money to the people of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. An NOSC organizer lived in Caracas for six months prior to the first session of the school to continue to deepen relationships with Communal Council members. This relationship was consistently undermined by efforts of the US government, culminating in derailing support for NOSC by replacing it with a collaboration around a completely different effort (which is represented by several panels here at the Left Forum). However, ISBO continues to train young organizers in Venezuela working with Communal Councils.

Colombia
ISBO organizers are working in three areas. One is a mountain campesino community, where they are building a local community organization, establishing a cultural and educational center for organizers, running organizing retreats, and doing radical cultural work with young people. They are experimenting with collective methods of food production and distribution. In an Afro-Colombian town, ISBO organizers are working with a deeply rooted community group fighting for its survival against racist opposition, in an area where slavery persisted until the 1920s. They work especially with young people in the hip-hop community. A collective of women in an Afro-Colombian city neighborhood are the third set of ISBO organizers.

Jamaica
ISBO organizers are working in two neighboring communities in rural Jamaica. They have established a community group consciously based on bottom-up principles, intentionally separate from government and electoral politics. They are building two community centers and dealing with local issues like water and postal service, as well as running an organizing class that has already produced new leaders. Our School operates out of Jamaica, which will also host the next session.

England
Organizers in England supported NOSC work and have had a relationship with the organizers in Colombia from the beginning. They are creating a support network for ISBO's "front line" organizers, including cultural events, fundraising, communications, artwork and printing.

United States
ISBO was born out of the demise of the organizing in New Orleans after Katrina. Our estimate is that, after leaving the bottom to die, the government organized to prevent rebellion by sending its agents within every organization that was part of the rebuilding effort. These groups then united to reject and repudiate the only group organizing along egalitarian principles of leadership from the bottom, the NOSC (organized by People's Organizing Committee). Some of these agents have become public; most have not. It was this estimate that New Orleans and the US had become thoroughly contaminated by a combination of sellouts and outright agents that led ISBO's initial organizers to base themselves outside the US. However, a support network similar to the one developing in England is also developing in the US. We expect that it will eventually give birth to new organizing projects within the US, as honest, on-the-ground organizers come to grips with the infiltration, at leadership levels, of virtually all existing movement organizations by government agents.

Watch for the next edition of The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World for detailed reports on these efforts and on newly developing projects in Bolivia and Mexico.

Click here to download the Book Insert PDF file »

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Friends and Supporters of Bottom-Up Organizing:
March 23, 2009

Have you read with interest ISBO's book, The Bottom Will Rise and Create a New World? Well, we are pleased to invite you to attend ISBO's (and the book's) "coming out event" at this year's Left Forum in New York.

Curtis Muhammad has been invited to organize a panel there, which we have entitled "How Do We Create a New World?" and subtitled "Do we help save the old dying world, or do we help speed up its certain death?" We will also get a booth, and introduce the new book to the crowd.

Thousands of activists attend this event, and it will be the first time ISBO and its revolutionary work will be represented at such a gathering.

Our panel will open up the theory and practice of building egalitarian prototypes from the bottom up, led by dark-skinned folk, and particularly women. In addition to Curtis, invited panelists include:

  • A representative of the legacy of independent, Afro-Colombian communities with roots in the palenques of escaped slaves (see article)
  • Martha M. Vega of the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York
  • An organizer from the project ISBO is working with in Jamaica

This is a call to action for ISBO organizers and friends! If you have read some of our work, and find you are in substantial agreement with it, we are reaching out to you. If you know that we movement folk should be about building a new world, an alternative to the old that is rapidly decaying, we are reaching out to you - our friends, supporters, radicals, loved ones! We need your help in New York, April 17-19. We want every person in attendance to leave with a knowledge of our work. We want to find those people who can help establish ISBO and/or Friends of ISBO on the US side. WE NEED YOU TO COME HELP!

If you will be in New York April 17-19, please contact us and we'll put you to work that weekend! Even if you have a few hours, we can use you. If you would like an ISBO representative to meet with your group or organization, let us know that, too: we will have people available.

Contact us at: bottomuporganizer@gmail.com
- or call - 773-675-2017

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Afro-Colombians Resist Eviction Attempt
March 23, 2009

On New Year's Day, international representatives from ISBO made connection with young Afro-Colombians in the town of Villa Rica: a town in which slavery still existed into the 1920s. These inspiring young people do organizing out of a community center they call the Palenque, which was the name for independent communities of escaped slaves, which existed in Colombia for hundreds of years.

A few short weeks after that meeting, our new comrades were informed that they were to be evicted from their Palenque after the departure of the one white man who had been on the board of the foundation that runs it. When ISBO heard about this, we wrote a letter to the Mayor of Villa Rica and to the landlord, who is a well-known white sociologist who works for the UN and the World Bank, among others. Below is the text of that letter.

The Honorable Mr. Mayor and Gustavo de Roux

Sirs:

The International School for Bottom-Up Organizing is writing to you on behalf of oppressed dark-hued people from all over the world.  The tragic and shameful event of evicting black descendants of African slaves because they lost their white sponsor is unacceptable. We will not tolerate this kind of white supremacy, Ku Klux Klan behavior in Colombia or anywhere else in the world. We will wage an international campaign against you until you cease and desist; we will expose you as hypocrites and racists in every arena, in all institutions with which you have relationships, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

La Fundacion Villa Rica has been working with the community for the past 16 years, organizing cultural projects, young pregnant mothers sessions, prevention of infant fatality, drug addiction awareness programs, a community nursery run voluntarily by the mothers, homework and study support, music and lyric workshops to get young boys off the streets, making the space available for the use of the general community, maintaining it, and generally doing the work that the local government should be doing with no financial support whatsoever.  In addition, La Fundacion built a performance and meeting space within the Palenque. Currently the community are preparing for "Oraciones," a festival of traditional music, dance and song celebrated every year, involving the whole community and dating back to the days of slavery. We cannot forget that Villa Rica was a distribution hub for slaves, and slavery was still practiced as recently as the 1920s.

Mr. de Roux, you write and speak about community empowerment of Afro-Colombian people. What is a better example of this than the work the community is doing in the Palenque? You promised La Fundacion the space until 2013. Now you are evicting them one month after the departure of your main contact and the legal representative of the Palenque - a white man. You are exposing the fact that your words are empty and hypocritical. You are simply a racist who does not trust hard-working black community members to run their own center.

Mr. Mayor and Mr. de Roux, please do not forget that the Palenque folk are the descendants of those who rose up to break the chains of slavery. We demand that you stop the eviction of La Fundacion Villa Rica now! The people must keep their Palenque. The international community of sufferers supports them.

NEWS FLASH: VICTORY! Although we sent the letter to our friends at La Fundacion, they confronted their landlord before we were able to send the letter to him and the mayor! In what they described as a long and angry meeting with many community members, Mr. de Roux backed down and agreed to abide by the terms of his original agreement with them.

But the struggle continues: In February, the Mayor withdrew funding at the last minute from a major cultural celebration they produce each year called Oraciones. Keep watching here for updates.

For more background information on the situation of Afro-Colombians, see the following website: http://isla.igc.org/SpecialRpts/SR2murillo.html

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Hey all you ISBO Organizers and Friends:

The International School for Bottom-up Organizing has made an amazing start. Since October, when organizers from five countries met in Caracas, we've been fighting and organizing! We had to fight just to get everyone to the meeting, almost creating an international incident at the Colombia-Venezuela border. That struggle built a spirited, unified collective that understood we have to be radical in order to build a school to train revolutionary organizers.

Since then, ISBO international organizers have traveled to Colombia to visit the local ISBO group, which is organizing in a mountain community of African- and indigenous-descended people. They met with three other groups connected to the ISBO organizers, all in Afro-Colombian communities. In one of these communities, slavery was still practiced in the 1920s, and just in the last month, we've organized international support to help them confront the racist landlord who was trying to evict them from their community center. We sent a strong letter denouncing racism, which gave them a morale-boost. It also resulted in a flurry of e-mails internationally about racism and militancy, which was a good learning and teaching opportunity. The end result was a large, long and militant confrontational meeting which forced the landlord to back down. The Colombian ISBO group will soon have a retreat to process and consolidate this victory, which will involve people from at least three organizing projects.

Meanwhile, in Jamaica, our organizing project has made several qualitative steps, on the heels of months of work which included a spirited roadblock protest demanding water that resulted in the arrest of an ISBO organizer. In recent months, the community group has overcome the tribalism of a few who wanted to divide in two by village. We've organized a highly successful Afro-Jamaican cultural activity that involved nearly two dozen costumed youth dancing through the community to everyone's delight. A solid collective of people from the bottom has taken the reins of leadership and is facilitating meetings, doing house visits, and has a fundraising party, a community workday, and a protest for the return of the post office planned all in the next month. It has roofs under construction at two community centers and has established a relationship with a professor at a major university who will be sending students to the area on fieldwork assignments to help with the organizing work.

Things are moving so fast in Colombia and Jamaica it is taking our breath away.

In England, a dedicated group of young immigrants has been working hard to organize fundraising events for their ISBO friends in Colombia and for ISBO in general. They have stepped up, along with supporters in Chicago, to get our book published: it will be out within a couple of weeks, in English and Spanish.

At this moment, ISBO is focusing on our next scheduled session, planned for May. The Jamaican comrades are researching a way for us to carry out our agreement from last October to take a radical action against slavery during this session of the School. People held as chattel are the bottom of the bottom, and we are committed to organizing a new Underground Railroad! Our international representatives are about to embark on travel in Central and South America to recruit for the School.

However, all of this work and planning are in jeopardy. ISBO has a desperate need for financial and organizational support. Unlike the 1960s, when everyone was aware of the profound organizing and struggle going on in the South, today ISBO is still in its infancy, and many people, instead of looking to the bottom for inspiration and hope are looking to the president of the United States. Simultaneously, the financial crisis is drying up sources of donations, lowering the prices of many things in the US (but not air travel!), while in places like those where our front-line organizing is occurring, the currency is devaluing rapidly, causing immense hardship and difficulty.

We need people who can see the profound nature of this work and will step up and help. Just to pull off this meeting, we need to raise an additional $15,000 to $20,000 US in the next few weeks. And that will just get us through May! So we have a huge need for fundraising. Because current ISBO membership is still small, our main organizers are on the ground in local organizing projects, which leaves us without anyone to effectively organize communication, publicity, translation, web support - and on and on!

We are asking you to step up in any way you can. Can you donate a few months, weeks or even days of your time and skills? Can you take on a piece of the work on an ongoing basis? Can you volunteer a few hours a week to help with translating, web design, phone calls, list serves, a newsletter? Can you throw a fundraising party, solicit friends, or give a donation? You name it: the people need you! And need you URGENTLY!

When a visitor from the university recently asked one of our organizer-trainees, a blind man who raises a few dozen chickens in Jamaica, what he envisioned five years from now in his community, he expressed vividly the power of what ISBO is doing. He said, "My vision is the youth recognizing their self-worth and getting educated. I don't mean pencil and paper educated, I mean educated in their history and struggle. My vision is the people on the bottom recognizing their power and putting the wealthy and so-called educated on the bottom. My vision is that the bottom will rise."

Please look at the list of needs above, and the budget and see what you can do to help. The bottom needs and deserves the skills and resources of those of us who possess them!

In hope and struggle,

International School for Bottom-up Organizing
773-675-2017

Send donations to:
c/o Fischer
1316 E. Madison Park
Chicago, IL 60615

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Victory at the Colombia-Venezuela Border!
October 2008

Note: The first meeting of ISBO was held in Caracas, Venezuela. Two comrades from Colombia coming to attend the meeting were stopped at the Colombian border by the Venezuelan consulate, in a demonstration of power politics between pro- and anti- US/CIA forces in the Venezuelan government. This is the story of how a small but dedicated band of radicals got our comrades across the border and to the meeting.

The call came Monday from Bogotá: the Consulate is closed for a holiday, what should we do? The coordinator of the International School for Bottom-up Organizing (ISBO), who was already in Caracas setting up the week-long workshop, told the two young, rural organizers to come to the consulate at the border. Tuesday morning, the trouble started.

Although officials in Caracas had assured us the Colombian comrades should have no trouble coming into Venezuela on their British and Colombian passports, the Consul General in Cucuta had other ideas. The two were handed a list of all the requirements they would need to meet. By the end of the day, it was clear they were being denied their visas. Already on a shoestring budget and traveling cross-continent by bus, they were stranded in a truck stop with drug addicts and drunks.

Meanwhile, School participants from other countries were gathering in Caracas, and they went to work. ISBO organizers had been in Caracas several times over the past few years as organizers of the New Orleans Survivor Council, and had contacts within the government, but none of them would return phone calls. By Wednesday night, those contacts had been exhausted, a press release was being prepared, and the consulate was demanding an official letter of invitation from a government Ministry.

Thursday morning, the organizers went downtown to intervene personally with the government. The small band from the US, UK, Jamaica and Venezuela went to the Ministry of External Affairs and found a young, English speaking brother and sister on the sidewalk, who were immediately sympathetic. The young man, who worked in the Ministry, took the letter of invitation we had prepared and said he'd work on it after lunch.

We headed down the street to the General Assembly, where several hundred union protesters were gathered. We barged through them to get the attention of an official. We were trying to find the Assemblyman we knew from earlier trips (who hadn't returned our phone calls), but instead found a different Assemblyman who whisked us away to speak with an Army general. The general listened and promised to make some calls to the Consulate in Cucuta.

Back at the Ministry, where we walked through the pouring rain, the young man invited us in to help us correct our letter, get it scanned, and fax it to Cucuta. We called the stranded comrades, who received the letter by email and went to the Consulate the next morning, letter in hand.

The Consulate attempted more sabotage on Friday, saying they hadn't received the fax (which was sent three times) and telling the comrades to get various health and police paperwork. The general talked about sending some men to chastise the Consul General, who was clearly making up requirements not permitted by law. The young man at the Ministry stayed in close phone contact with us and did some things behind the scenes. Another government worker came on board at that point, in the Consular department, and also made phone calls. We let the Consulate know that we had contacted the Venezuelan and North American press.

One of our participants, who has military experience, suggested that he be allowed to go to the border and find out from the poor people there how to get the comrades across. We discussed it and agreed that if all else failed, he could go, but that the rest of us would go as well, as back-up.

Suddenly, the Consulate did an about face. An official came to our comrades, asked for their passports and photos, and went to stamp the visas in them – no other requirements! There was much jubilation on both sides, but the saga still wasn't over.

As they left Colombia, the Colombian immigration officials threw up a new obstacle, demanding the payment of a large fine for an alleged violation that hadn't happened. At that point, the comrades just walked across the bridge to the Venezuelan checkpoint and showed their visas, first the one that had been stamped by Colombia, then the other one. Before he saw the missing Colombian stamp, the official had stamped both visas. Then he ordered them to go back to the Colombian side and get the missing stamp. Once again, the two young comrades refused to buckle under. They simply went and got on a bus headed for Caracas.

That night, they endured six more checkpoints, with aggressive, armed National Guard, police and soldiers, but each time they made it through.

Saturday, two days late, ISBO started its official session. But the three days spent fighting the border authorities weren't lost. We learned lessons about the conflict between Colombia (supported and instigated by the US) and Venezuela, and within the Venezuelan government. We realized that the US in particular is afraid of what we are doing and pulled out the stops to prevent our front line comrades from reaching the meeting. And we all discovered the power of direct action, of being militant and not being intimidated by power, even in a "foreign" country, even against armed border guards. The struggle has cemented our unity, solidarity, and spirit. It has taught us the power and significance of building revolution from the bottom up and intensified our commitment to this work.

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International School for Bottom-up Organizing