July 22nd Conference Gives Hope & Inspiration

(Published July, 2003)

On July 22, 2003, a group of 80 hard working progressive organizers met at the Cabrillo Marina Conference Center in San Pedro for a day of exchanging ideas about the global economic and political crisis and dreams for the future.

Speaking Out: Dave Arian

Dave Arian presented a scathing analysis of U.S. imperialism drawing on his 40 years of experience as a civil rights activist, International President of the International Longshore and Warehouseman's Union and founder of the Harry Bridges Institute.

Arian began by recounting his childhood dream of women crying at a candle lit vigil when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed. He described how 50 years ago the U.S. government manipulated the American people to fear communism abroad and the domination of the Soviet Union. Today we are being told that it is "terrorists" we must fear both internationally and domestically as a threat to "Homeland Security." 50 years ago the struggle was described as between two super powers.

Today it is the capitalist world fighting amongst itself for what's left in the global economy. 50 years ago the United States said it could out produce and out compete any country. Japan proved that to be false. America said it controlled the resources of the world. OPEC challenged that. Finally the U.S. said it controlled the world through its wealth and monetary system. The European Union disproved that.

In the 90's a new strategy was developed: preemptive strikes. If the U.S. was unable to compete, Arian said, it would not hesitate to use the most powerful military in the world to enforce it's economic interests worldwide.

After World War II it became necessary to enact the Taft-Hartley Act for the purpose of controlling labor – the strongest collective organization in the United States. Arian pointed out that in every contract trade unions negotiated wealth and power was shifted from the capitalist class to working people. The Taft-Hartley Act was passed to reign in this influence. Likewise, in the 21st century it is the "war against terrorism" that will shift $1.7 trillion from the cities of America to the Haliburtons' of the world who, of course, pay pennies to foreign workers and pocket the super profits.

This waste of our tax money is accompanied by repression of the American people. Arian talked about the forces that were brought to bear against the ILWU in their recent struggle to negotiate a fair contract. He detailed how pressure was applied on the union by multiple government officials from the head of Homeland Security to the Secretary of Labor and how the ILWU was characterized as "economic terrorists."

When the contract struggle was over there was an anti-war protest at the SSA (Stevedoring Services of America) at the Port of Oakland. The police responded with incredible brutality, sending many demonstrators (and longshoreman trying to go to work) to the hospital. Arian pointed out that police violence was directed at these particular protestors because they were "combining struggles" : SSA was chosen as a site for the anti-war demonstration because SSA was the first U.S. company to be awarded a contract to rebuild Iraq. Arian likened the attack on the Oakland demonstrators to what happened to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X when they started to talk about a united front of struggle and not isolated issues.

Arian stated with great enthusiasm that "the key to our fight back sits in this room." There is no political party that can fight what the U.S. government is doing and certainly not the democrats. Arian called for resistance based on the twin concepts of "I don't accept what you're doing to me" and "I'm going to do something about it." The response needs to be indigenous and local (exactly like the organizations that the DMF funds).

Arian pointed to many examples of current resistance, singling out the "Battle of Seattle" where many diverse organizations and the labor movement joined together to say "we don't believe in the unequal distribution of wealth."

Arian concluded that the Middleton Foundation has set out to fund organizations that want to fight against capitalism and maintain their independence. But, he said, that was not enough. We needed paid staff and greater resources to enable the DMF to fund even more progressive work. Arian called for a shift of capital from progressives who have the resources to the DMF to further progressive work. "We live in the belly of the beast. There is no better place to be. We are the only ones who can take on U.S. imperialism and change it."

Speaking Out: James Lafferty
James Lafferty, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild and KPFK Commentator, spoke about the growing repression directed against the American people. He noted that shortly after 9-11, Dick Cheney addressed a conference of governors about Homeland Security and said that it was not a temporary measure but would become "the new normalcy." He described a paper written by the Project for the New American Century that talked about the need to have "an event like Pearl Harbor" that would provide the opportunity to move against political opponents. Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice openly spoke about the need to figure out "how to capitalize on 9-11."

Lafferty noted that if the United States was hell bent on domination abroad the last thing they needed was opposition at home. Hence the need for the Homeland Security Department, the U.S. Patriot Act, and various Executive Orders – all of which have nothing to do with protecting us from terrorism but rather are designed to protect the ruling elite from us.

Lafferty posed a series of questions to the Conference participants:
- How are we safer by asking young Muslim men to come into an INS office to be fingerprinted? Does the U.S. government truly think that a terrorist would comply?
- How are we safer by rounding up hundreds of low paid Latino workers at LAX because their papers are not in order?
- Does it make us safer that the government can find out what books we checked of the library but the librarian can't tell us the government is looking?
- Does it make us safer that the government can search our homes (the "sneak and peek" rules) and don't have to tell us before or after?
- Does it make us safer that the government can read our Internet e-mail?
- Does it make us safer that the government can take our property like the Internet site they closed down for "aiding and abetting terrorism" - meaning selling tapes of the speeches of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark?

As scary as all of the above is, Lafferty pointed out that Attorney General Ashcroft is now preparing Patriot Act II which would allow the Attorney General to strip the citizenship of anyone found to "aid terrorism", to secretly arrest and detain U.S. citizens, to abolish the Freedom of Information Act, and to end consent decrees (like the one in place against the LAPD for prior unlawful spying on individuals).

Lafferty stated he agrees that this is a time of great opportunity. That it is now okay to talk about imperialism. That, indeed, the United States government admits that world domination is a primary goal of our foreign and economic policies.

He pointed out that the government prefers to talk about the desperate acts of individuals but will not comment on "state terrorism" or the acts of the U.S. government in violation of international law.

We have a terrific job ahead of us educating the American people. 80% of them say that they are in favor of the Patriot Act. But when presented with specifics they quickly say that they do not want their Internet e-mail read, they do not want the government to know what books they are reading, and they certainly don't want searches of their home without notice.

Lafferty pointed out that under the Homeland Security Act the Attorney General has the power to declare a "code red" which then gives the Attorney General powers normally reserved for martial law. Powers like canceling private meetings, taking over radio stations, etc.

Lafferty said he remembers the McCarthy Era and the Vietnam War. But not withstanding that he has never been as frightened as he is today of what is becoming the "new normalcy". It is up to us since "we be many and they be few." The challenge to the American people is to join with people worldwide who are protesting in massive anti-war demonstrations and otherwise resisting the attempts of the U.S. at global domination.

Lafferty stated that he believes there is a "second super power – it is the people of the world coming together as a result of globalization and worldwide oppression." He urged that we reject quick fixes. He stated the best thing to do in the face of repression is to speak up, march, and not give an inch.

Speaking Out: Luis Rodriguez
The final speaker in the morning was Luis Rodriguez - noted author, poet, and founder of Tia Chucha Café Cultural. He kept the Conference spellbound as he talked about "imagination" and urged us to think about how we imagined our community, our family, our country, and our world.

Rodriguez urged that we think not what we are against but rather what are we for. It appears that we are in a state of chaos but the way out of chaos is creativity. He pondered a community that cooperates for the benefit of everyone in that community.

Rodriguez mused about his days as a gang member and what he learned subsequent to leaving that life. He stated that young people were drawn to gangs because of what was missing in their lives and the state they found themselves in:
Rootlessness - no culture, no family, no work.
Powerless – such that the only power they had left was the ability to scare someone.
Helpless – connected to hopeless – the inability to change anything.

Rodriguez stated that what changed his life was an intense political involvement that gave him a cause greater than himself and allowed him to imagine what life could be.

Rodriguez believes that art is vital and central to our humanity. That capitalism concentrates art in a few people and takes it away from everyone else. The motto of Tia Chucha Café Cultural is "where art and minds meet for a change." It is filling a void in the northeast section of the San Fernando Valley that has 400,000 people but no movie house, no bookstore, and no cafes.

He noted that with oppression the first casualty is imagination. He urged that we have big dreams and a large imagination and then think of large things our organizations can do. He concluded that the only way to truly change anything is when all of our imaginations come together.

Adapting to the Political Climate
While the morning sessions provided thought-provoking analyses of the current national and international political situations, the Patriot Act, and new approaches to work, the afternoon session focused on practical applications.

Speakers from four terrific organizations addressed the question of how to adapt organizational mission statements to the current political climate.

The Coalition for Educational Justice works in the Los Angeles Area to bring together parents, teachers, and students to agitate to achieve far reaching changes in the educational system (like an end to standardized testing and unequal distribution of resources to schools based on race and class). Alex Caputo-Pearl described the work CEJ is doing in South Central High Schools demonstrating the link between unequal resources, students getting a poor education, and immediate tracking to military service in Iraq.

Harmony Goldberg from SOUL (the School of Unity and Liberation in Oakland) discussed a global justice manual that SOUL produced to train a new generation of leaders.

Susan Tanner from the Theater Workers' Project did an impromptu mini production demonstrating how middle school youngsters can participate in a play about the events subsequent to 9-11 and their feelings about it.

Cynthia Rojas from the Labor/Community Strategy Center, which sponsors the Bus Riders Union, talked about the struggle to make the voices of low-income workers heard around major transportation issues.

The day ended with a discussion of Foundation funding priorities and what the Board looks for in applications.

Participant Comments:
Evaluatating the Conference

Almost every organization that attended responded to a request to evaluate the Conference.

The collective responses were overwhelmingly positive. Attendees were impressed with the participants gathered at the Conference and the quality of both presentations by the main speakers and the level of discussion. Almost everyone indicated that they thought it was important to meet and dialog with the Board of the DMF and other grantees.

Some sample comments:
"The speakers present some very important "context" to consider as we continue to organize in our communities."
"After listening to other grantees, I understood that many of their strategies and approaches to organizing can be duplicated in our area of work."
"I wish Dave Arian's philosophy of 'community/labor' organizing would be the norm for other brothers and sisters in the labor movement in California."
"Luis Rodriguez is a cultural warrior."
"As a young person it was interesting to hear the connections between society and the cold war era and society now."
"Your Conference really focused on the solutions to problems rather than just talking about them."
"We really appreciated the Foundation creating spaces for its grantees to put their work into a larger context into an anti-capitalist context."
"I've thought a lot about the model Alex Caputo-Pearl shared and the effectiveness with which CEJ has tied together local and global issues."
"Luis Rodriguez presented something I hadn't thought about before – in order to be complete human beings we must be complete artists."
"The Conference was terrific. There was a good cross-section of the community present, the program was well run, the grantees who described their work did a good job and I came away with an excellent understanding of the work of the Foundation."
"The main thing this Conference gave me was a strong reminder that despite the increasingly oppressive political culture people are standing up for themselves and fighting back in a wide variety creative and effective ways."

In past years, the DMF has sponsored conferences for grantees only. Our Board concluded that opening up the conference to all organizations with whom we are in contact was a terrific idea. We intend to host a conference on an annual basis and seek ways to make it more interactive, perhaps with small workshops that cover more narrow topics.

We do intend to follow-up on Dave Arian's comments with reference to the need for more resources so that the Foundation can increase our ability to fund terrific groups like those that attended the conference. If you have any ideas about this or you know anyone who should attend a very small meeting (less than 25 people) to talk about a fundraising program for the DMF feel free to contact Diane directly either (310-519-7555) or by e-mail to dlmlawfirm@msn.com.

If you would like a CD of the three main speakers contact Kathy Venn at kathyvenn@aol.com and request a CD of the "DMF Conference of 7/22/03". The cost is $5.00 per CD.

The Board of the DMF wants to thank everyone who participated in this Conference. We thought it was great and can't wait until next year!

We have addressed the question of changes to our funding priorities in a separate newsletter article. Please Read That Article to see what we learned from the Conference about the necessity to change the work we fund.
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