GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING: RACE AND ETHNICITY [HUNTER BEAR] MARCH 18 2006 -- AND MUCH COMMENT
[Published in The Oregon Socialist,
When I look back on it now, I realize that I was no kid in those times --
though I was still a Teen who could skip facial shaving for several days and
still pass inspection. Even then, I, as well as my peers in that very
rigorous Army basic training cycle -- most of them older and draftees
whereas I was a volunteer -- were all traveling, growing up-wise, at an
increasingly accelerated pace. Some of my buddies went AWOL or even, sooner or later,
cracked and went home. But most of us were tough -- sometimes tougher than
even we thought.
I was sitting by myself one evening in fatigues in a shabby Post Exchange
[PX], reading the Army Times and sipping what passed for Army-approved beer.
A voice, loud and hearty, called out to me.
"Salter! Mind if I join you for a few minutes?"
I looked up, mildly surprised but agreeable -- actually somewhat honored.
Master Sergeant J. Hawkins sat down with his beer. He had taken military
interest in me early on. Once, during a five hour full field march [with
super heavy backpacks and MI rifles] he asked us all generally if anyone
could tell him just how far we were from base. Some said more than five
miles, a few said ten. I finally said, "One mile and a half. We've been
marching in circles." It was an extremely accurate assessment and he smiled
broadly. Soon after that he and others especially and formally noted my
expertise as a rifleman.
Sergeant Hawkins was Black -- very Black -- and from one of the deepest
tiers in the Deep South. In fact, the C.O. and most cadre were Black. The
First Sergeant was a genial Irishman and one 2nd Lieutenant, an Anglo --
and a "Ninety Day Wonder" fresh out of Officer Candidate School -- was cold
and often hostile.
I'm half American Indian -- the other half being mostly Scottish, but with
some Swiss. The Army had been interested from the beginning in the Native
part, noting -- along with a youthful and civilian drinking peccadillo and
some very positive words, that "SALTER'S father is a full-blooded Indian . .
." [If anyone is interested in the drinking episode, that official Army
document is in the Narrative page of our large Lair of Hunterbear website.]
I grew up in Northern Arizona with our "mixed" family -- three tribal
nations of the Northeast from Dad's side, Mother from the West -- deeply
involved with the Navajo and the Laguna with which our ties still remain
extremely close. In addition, all sorts of other people of courage and good
will came to our house, then on the far northern rim of Flagstaff: Hopi,
Apache, Black and Chicano, Chinese and Cuban.
I should note, however parenthetically, that in the family I "head" [at
least in a titular fashion], things are pretty well mixed indeed. In
addition to me, Eldri is Norwegian and Finnish, heavily laced with Lapp [Sami or
Saami], and some Swedish as well. Maria's oldest, Thomas, is one-half
Mississippi Choctaw and her other child, Samantha, is a quarter Spanish
Basque and a quarter Jewish. Thomas, a couple of years ago, brought in a
far away international dimension when he married Mimie [Yirengah] Chilinda,
All of this brings to mind:
In a great little 1950 classic by the gifted American writer, Edmund Wilson,
Apologies to the Iroquois [With a Study of the Mohawks in High Steel by
Joseph Mitchell], a veteran Mohawk worker in high steel and a pillar of the
mostly Mohawk Iron Workers Local in the NYC area tells writer Mitchell, an
From Mr Orvis Diabo [O-ron-ia-ke-te or He Carries The Sky] --
"My mother was half Scotch and half Indian," he says. "My grandmother on my
father's side was Scotch-Irish. Somewhere along the line, I forget just
where, some French immigrant and some full Irish crept in. If you were to
take my blood and strain it, God only knows what you'd find."
Back now, at the PX of so long ago, Sergeant Hawkins, after only a very few
words of small talk, looked at me sharply and said, "This is tough duty for
me." There was a long pause and he went on, "How am I doing?"
He was a man who, in addition to having more helpful accounts than even
General Rommel's classic book from World War I [Infantry Attacks, copy of
which I have], was a very balanced mixture of sternness and pleasantry.
But I certainly knew precisely from where he was coming. It had been only
relatively recently that the process had begun in earnest to make the
U.S. Armed Services racially integrated. Our training company was
transitional, mostly Black-led. And, while the trainee/troopers fell
into a variety of racial/ethnic categories, most were White.
And most of those were Southern Whites.
Without hesitation, I looked at him and said, "You're doing O.K. -- in fact,
just fine." I went on, "You're fair, and you know everything that you're
He smiled quickly, appreciatively, and we then talked of hunting in our
respective "down home" settings.
In my "Organizer's Catechism" -- based on about 50 years of grassroots
work and in which I consistently stress the importance of democratic,
local leadership -- I point out, among other qualities that make
up a good and effective Organizer :
"4] Formal academic training in the higher ed sense can certainly be useful
to any Organizer [or, as far as that goes, for anyone] -- but it isn't
absolutely critical. The Organizer, among other attributes, should be fully
literate [including computer literate], with finely tuned sensitivities,
with one hell of a lot of good sense. And almost anyone can do much
Race and social class factors are not usually critical for a good
Organizer. [I'm a Native American who has worked comfortably with Indians of
many tribes, Chicanos, Southern and Northern Blacks, Puerto Ricans,
low-income Anglos. I've also never pretended to have proletarian origins.]
In a word, be sensitive -- but be yourself."
That little Catechism [the Link to which is attached to my e-mail signature]
was immediately, and continues to be, reprinted in social justice print
journals and websites. One journal asked to run it -- I agreed as always --
but, when it did not appear, I asked. I was told that some [unidentified]
people had objected to certain things and that it would, maybe, be run when
several differing views could be assembled. But I was not surprised when
that particular publication never did print it. The shrill edges of
"political correctness" -- however eloquently written and
rationalized and sometimes insufferably sanctimonious -- have
certainly been known to trump the hard, tedious
realities and experience of truly effective grassroots organizing.
While I have no way of knowing with certainty because the "objectors" in
that lone journal instance [lone, at least to my knowledge] and their
ostensible concerns were never identified, I have a hunch it was that just
quoted component of my little piece that upset them: working sensitively and
well across racial and class lines -- with grassroots people who need and
want activist assistance. Ignored, apparently, is the endless flow of cases
throughout the blood-dimmed centuries of Humanity where good people of all
kinds have worked with good people of all kinds with very effective results.
[A few may still now know the name of Frank H. Little, Oklahoma Cherokee,
who, as the chief organizer for the IWW in the decade preceding and just
into U.S. entrance into World War I, worked smoothly and excellently with
every kind of dispossessed in the West -- ultimately being lynched at Butte
on August 1 1917 by thugs employed by Anaconda Copper.
In my book, anyway, it's "the people of the fewest alternatives" who count.
Last July , Bruce Hartford, the indefatigable webmaster of the
genuinely great Civil Rights Movement Veterans, trekked up here and spent
that hot day doing a very long [51 typed, single-spaced pages] on my Life
and Times. We covered all of the essentials -- and they are many indeed --
and, along toward the end, he had several very apt questions and some of the
most basic follow. [The whole interview is on Civil Rights Movement Veterans
and also our Lair of Hunterbear website.]
"Bruce: How do you feel about Black Power?
Hunter: Well, that's a very good question. If you're talking about
grassroots power, that's really what all this is about. And if you're
talking about separatism for the sake of separatism, - that's where some of
it began to go, - the people that began to make a business of separatism, -
no I don't buy that at all. But I don't think it affected the grassroots
But I think we do have to recognize the importance of self-determination.
This is very important in a Native American context. But what I've noticed
is that if a person is a good person, and has something to offer and is
willing to listen, - underlining that about a hundred times, - they can find
themselves working with all sorts of people.
In Chicago, in the period of '69 to '73, we worked mostly with Black people,
but also with Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and others, down in that area. One of
our most successful community organizers, in fact my senior community
organizer, was white, a red-head with a master's in social work. He worked
with Black ghetto youth very, very successfully. When it came time to
arrange the peace parley between the Young Lords and the Disciples and the
Black P. Stone Nation and so forth, he was one of the key figures in that.
Everybody trusted him.
So my sense of this is that your question is complicated. I think we're all
for self determination. I don't think we like people who come in to a
situation, - whoever they are, - and announce they have all the answers. But
I'm wary of people who make separatism a vocation, - a career.
I'm very supportive of grassroots people, whoever they are. I like a
situation where people, - whoever they are, - can recognize that there are
people who might be a little bit different, who are still good people, and
who may have some worthwhile ideas. I don't know if I've answered this.
Bruce: We have a section on the website called "Frequently Asked Questions,"
in which different Movement veterans give their views on questions such as
Black Power, non-violence, and so on. But those are not questions that have
definitive answers, different veterans have different opinions.
Hunter: We don't have an orthodoxy in that sense. But my thing is going back
to the people. Black people in Jackson showed tremendous courage against the
greatest odds, the cruelest repression anybody could imagine. The people in
Eastern North Carolina, - lonely and isolated, - the Klan very much a
threat, to say nothing of [White Citizens] Council, and "Birchers," every
other Goddamn thing, - they showed tremendous courage.
So basically, I go back to the grassroots people, back to the concept of
self-determination, of democratic social movements. But I like the idea of
people being able to work together. And ultimately, I think we're all going
to have to work together if we're going to save this wretched world. And I
think we're going to see movements come that learn from the mistakes of
what's gone before. Every damn movement you can point to has been built on
the wreckage of preceding movements.
Bruce: And the reason you're stressing everybody work together was that
there was an element of some Black power advocates who said whites should
not be involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Hunter: That's right, yeah, which made no sense, particularly if those
so-called whites had risked their lives. In my case, it's kind of an
interesting situation, with a white parent and an Indian parent. In that
sense, I'm half and half. I move back and forth and all sorts of things. You
know, I could go to the Navajo reservation and fit in very nicely. A lot of
people know me. I could go here, I could go there.
So I've got a white side and an Indian side. If you have to ask where does
the loyalty go, I'd say the ultimate loyalty goes to the human race, but
probably the immediate loyalty goes to the Native side. In other words, I
stand with the Indians. But I'm also quite aware that there have always been
plenty of people who helped Indian people who haven't been Indians. "
Master Sergeant J. Hawkins knew what he was doing and always respected
all of his Basic Trainees. And we always respected him enormously --
whoever and whatever we were.
In [Real] Solidarity - H
Let me add, John,
that you have also worked very
comfortably--and well--with some Southern Whites.
Can't let you forget that!
Joan (Trumpauer) Mulholland--of old-line white Georgia
John Salter writes:
But--just how do you define a fundamentalist? I have friends with extremely strong religious convictions and they aren't pushing much of an agenda beyond one to their own families. Is Louis Farrakhan (sp) a fundamentalist? Osama? Not trying to pick a fight here, but I would appreciate clarification on the terminology.
Sam Friedman writes:
As I see it, capitalism and its insecurities and
disdain for the
oppressed and the worker (and the lower-than-you worker) re-creates
religions of various kinds often in person-hating ways. (This is true,
in my opinion, as a matter of social process, and does NOT speak to the
truth or not of any of your religions necessarily)
Thus, one aspect of ending the fundamentalist threats is to get rid of
capitalism and move towards a non-oppressive, non-disdainful,
But to do that, we need the support of lots of folks who see themselves
as fundamentalists of one kind or another. These folks usually have
other parts of their lives, as workers, as Blacks, or whatever, through
which we can make contact. As struggles around those parts of life heat
up, we will live or die (literally) based on the extent to which we can
win over or neutralize those who now see us as enemies.
And that is what Hunter's notes mean to me-with some important wisdom
on how to do it.
FROM BOB GATELY:
Interesting that opposite the page in my Websters from the word," peripatetic" is the peridodic table...It came to me that all your teachings emphases the atomic level of understanding where each element stands alone yet thoroughly connected to the whole of the matter.
Reading your missives and footnotes, we do come to think that you are some form of Virtual Aristotle, inviting one to follow your muses through the web of experience you have participated in.
The roots of your experiences have informed a worldview that embraces the all of human nature and natural order, not to mention the mineral. What makes it so tough for humans to get organized in a periodiac table of perfection that respects, order ? Why should you an me an, the List have to explain, over and over the message repeated through eons that we are all in/of this world at this time and place for some higher purpose. Dah ?
Deciding how to accomplish a Universal Harmony may not be just a local situation...Going beyond the individual is the Idea. Whats the big idea ? Society, as it is,...no big Idea ? Well, nobody gave me a job description for my place in the ,Next New World Order, (NNWO) so, wadda ya do ? Set this set out, or toot your horn till somebody listens ? Whats the sense of talkin when nobody wants to listen....?
Indeed, we have to think the Next is different from the Last...We may be Wobbling but we're not da Wobblies...Dey did it, they lost it, they live on in memory's, yet to be completed...or Not.
Hunter, your musings are truly an inspiration....We are daily transformed by your musing into a World of Possibilities...Delighted to be your audience....Bear with us, dear Hunter, we get it, or we Don't.
cowboysonmars.com is coming back to earth at the speed of light...Welcome aboard
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]
Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
Check out my very much reprinted piece [in print journals and websites] on
Honored with The Elder Recognition Award by Wordcraft Circle of Native
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