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(en) US, Agitator Index, The Grassroots Prison Campaign January 29, 2005 - February 11, 2005

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 04 May 2005 09:01:09 +0300 (IDT)
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The Grassroots Prison Campaign (GPC) was a national project of
Bring the Ruckus (BtR) and a pilot project for Communities United
for Action, Power & Justice (Communities United). The aim of the
GPC was to bring BtR cadre members and interested others to
Atlanta in early 2005 to assist the newly formed coalition Communities
United. The project offered a chance for people to learn or hone practical
organizing skills through on-the-ground political work.
This evaluation is composed of the individual reflections of each of the
participants and ends with a list of lessons learned. The lessons came from
a collective debrief of all participants at the end of the two-week session.


Participants came to Georgia for two weeks specifically to do
outreach with family members of incarcerated people in the Atlanta
area. The tangible goal was to get family members to turn out for
Poor People?s Day, an annual education and action gathering of
low-income people from around the state. The gathering has a strong
education component which explores the links between different

Poor People?s Day is divided into 2 days: Education Day and Action
Day. Education Day features a key speaker, plenary gatherings, and
workshops on key issues facing Georgians. On Action Day we take it
to the streets and speak truth to power. We meet directly with
decision makers to move a program that meets the needs of poor

The Up & Out of Poverty NOW! Campaign, staffed by the Georgia
Citizens' Coalition on Hunger (Hunger Coalition) and Project South,
is the umbrella group that organizes Poor People?s Day. Beginning in
the fall individuals and organizations from across Georgia are invited
to planning meetings where all decisions about the event are made.
At these meetings participants choose speakers, themes, workshop
topics, as well as the action for Action Day.

Communities United for Action, Power & Justice Communities
United is part of the Up & Out of Poverty NOW! Campaign because
criminal justice reform is an expansion of the struggle for economic

This project was proposed and accepted by BtR for the same reason
anti-prison and anti-police work was proposed and accepted ?
because we believe this is a point of strategic, necessary struggle. The
prison system puts poor, communities of color on the outside trying
to survive economic strangulation and poor, people of color on the
inside trying to survive being brutalized. There is nothing abstract
about this work. How does the state use the intersection of
oppression to advance social control? Look to people?s lived
experiences with prisons, the police, etc., and we have a concrete
answer. This is a concrete fight. Through an educational process
people are able to articulate the larger system of social control,
analyze its weaknesses, and effectively organize to take advantage of
those weaknesses. They stay involved because they have a good, real
reason: the life of someone they love.

Liz Reflection

Liz is an activist based in Portland, Oregon and a member of Bring
the Ruckus. She was also part of the BtR planning committee that
coordinated BtR?s involvement.

During the beginning of February I had the opportunity to participate
in the Grassroots Prison Campaign. Although I had been part of the
planning process, going into it I still had a lot of questions about how
the project was going to be run, who I would be working with, and
the possibilities of similar campaigns in the future. These questions
became more pronounced when I found out I was the only Ruckus
person that was going to be there besides Dan. Initially this was
disappointing. I had been looking forward to working with more
Ruckus members and was worried having a smaller group would
limit the degree to which the GPC could support the Atlanta
organizations? campaigns. I was also concerned because we had
chosen two campaigns at the last national meeting: the GPC and
RNC. While we agreed that the GPC was the priority, more Ruckus
members attended Life After Capitalism and the RNC, which I
consider less important to organizing work and building BtR. I
understand, however, that the timing of the GPC was not the best for
taking time off of work, and while I would have liked to have seen
more Ruckus people in Atlanta, it turned out that having a small
group of participants that approached the GPC from different
contexts was very helpful in evaluating the GPC and brainstorming
ideas about out how it could/should be structured in the future.

The GPC was composed of two main components: political
education and organizing. Political education took place through
workshops, dinners with experienced organizers, tours of Atlanta,
and informal conversations. Education focused on movement
building, the political importance of the South, and the historical
context of the organizing work we were supporting/participating in. I
enjoyed the political education portion of the program, and I learned a
lot, but also would like to have had deeper political conversations.
Political education was structured to be accessible to a group with
varied political experiences. I think this was a smart approach, but in
the future I think it would be good to have space for more in depth

The organizing component of the GPC fell under the auspices of
several organizations based in Atlanta (Fairness for Prisoners?
Families, Communities United, Georgia Citizens Coalition on
Hunger, and Project South). All of them were doing incredible and
inspiring work. We were trained for house visits and phone calling,
and did phone banking, house visits, mailings, and helped with
logistics for Poor People?s Day. I was very nervous about this piece
of the program. After we all laid out our fears at the beginning of the
two weeks and started doing the work, my fears of making mistakes,
and nerves about visiting people?s homes dissipated. I remembered
that I had those skills and I was able to work on improving them. One
of the things that made doing this ?behind the scenes? kind of work
so good was that it was framed to us in the context of a long term
strategy. I never thought, ?Why are we doing this?? Instead, I
thought, ?How could we be doing this better to meet our goals??

Besides myself there were two other participants: Wes, a member of
the Communities United Organizing Collective, and Jay, a
non-affiliated college student from UMASS Amherst. In the two
weeks of the program the three of us developed political relationships
and friendships during the time we spent together traveling for house
visits and discussing how the program was going. I think that all of us
furthered our political development and enhanced our organizing
skills. Although we had assumed he had been beforehand, at the end
of the two weeks Jay confessed to becoming revolutionary. They both
were awesome to work with, and it would be a great gain for Ruckus
if they decided to join the organization. Hopefully they will be
attending the national meeting this May.

The GPC raised key questions we need to focus on as an
organization and has pointed out ways Ruckus needs to grow to be a
relevant revolutionary organization. Three questions arose in the
group and my personal reflections on the GPC: 1- How does Ruckus
relate to mass work? 2- What is our public face? 3- What is our
vision? None of these questions are new, but the GPC made it
painfully clear that these are underdeveloped areas that we need to
discuss and work on if we are going to be principled about mass
organizing Ruckus members are involved in (particularly the GPC in
Atlanta) and build Bring the Ruckus. I think the national meeting in
May is a perfect place to have these conversations and outside of this
brief personal report back I will expand my thoughts on these areas.

Winter ?05 GPC was a successful pilot project, and the work that
came out of it helped build organizations in Georgia as well as Bring
the Ruckus. As a pilot project, it was a success, and I am looking
forward to taking the lessons learned to help build a stronger
program. The GPC is going to be a great asset not only to Bring the
Ruckus, but also to organizations in Georgia and revolutionaries
nationwide. In the brief time I was there I got a crystal clear, first
hand understanding of why the South is so important and strategic to
a national revolution. Part of what I liked about it so much was that it
was organizing focused, about instituting praxis, rather than solely
intellectual. We need more of this in our organization! I left the GPC
more committed to and excited about Ruckus than I have ever been,
hopeful that we can move nationally in this direction.

Jay ?Nicodemus? Venezia Reflection

Jay is attending university in Western Massachusetts. The GPC was
his first serious campaign. He believes his experience and analysis
should be read with this in mind.

The GPC was the first effective campaign that I have worked on. I
am, it seems, too far from the state of mind I was in during the
campaign to have much more than factual recall of events. There are
swimmy masses of light and emotion from my time in Atlanta that
have become fused together into a jumbled whole.

We (Liz from Portland, Wes and Dan from Atlanta and Me, from
Northampton) started the campaign with education sessions. Much
of the first few days had me feeling that I had no idea where I fit into
the work. Much of the talk centered on ineffective tactics and/or
socio-political positions. What I tried to find out was what position
there would be. On the second day of the campaign I wrote in my
journal, ?is my place to take a small, quiet, work horse role in a fight
that is not only not of my own class but whose opposite is actually the
creation and maintenance of my own privilege?? I gradually worked
out where I would stand in relation to those I was working with; I
kept re-evaluating throughout the campaign to try and understand the
power dynamics that I was working in and with.

The education sessions were definitely necessary in informing me of
the different dynamics that I would be a part of working with people
in the south. Popular education and a background into civil rights
movements in the south such as SNCC, SCLC, the Black Panthers
(thanks Althea) and others allowed me to evaluate tactics and
understand much of the cultural background of organizing in an area
unfamiliar to me. The education on phone banking was probably the
only way that I was able to get on the phone with any confidence.
After hearing that my concerns were widespread, they seemed
smaller and less important.

When we began to get out of the office onto the streets of Decatur I
began to realize that there is only so much theory and experiential
testimony that could prepare me for conversations with family
members. To be honest, I choked every single time, with or without
someone there to help pick the dialogue back up. I was always given
a ?no, thank you? when I went alone and of the few times that I was
with Liz or Wes and managed to get into a house I did little if any
talking. For some reason--and unlike phone banking--it didn?t get
easier as it went along. As for tactical focus of time and energy I felt
that the campaign could incorporate better mapping and geographical
concentration. After the last full day of driving I wrote, ?We
completed all the listings we had in three zip codes and doubled back
on those in our favorite Decatur zip, 30032. Again there was much
confusion on where to concentrate.? Problems like this could be
solved with more discussion on crucial areas, better mapping
technology (available for free soon) and more consultation from
people familiar with the areas to be visited.

All in all, as the guinea pigs of the GPC we were an effective group.
We spoke to more people than we thought we would and became
close in the process. This contributed greatly to making the work as
smooth as it was. I look forward to continuing this work on the
summer ?05 campaign.

Wesley Ware Reflection

Wes is an organizer based in Atlanta with experience working on the
Georgia criminal justice system. He is a member of the Communities
United organizing collective.

One of the first things that struck me about the GPC was that the
connections between the GPC and BTR were somewhat unclear to
me. This piece was never fully explained to me, and I didn?t realize
until some days into the program that BTR had been instrumental in
the planning process. This relationship needs to be fleshed out more,
and that relationship more transparent to participants.

At our debrief, we mentioned the structural details of the GPC that
were missing- one of these was the maps for house visits. This was a
task that could have easily been handed to someone (for instance,
me) before out of town folks attempted to drive around unfamiliar
areas looking for addresses. I think this lapse in planning was due to
poor communication between Communities United and the
Organizing Collective (i.e. Dan and me) and Dan being stretched too
thin (organizing for Poor Peoples? Day and the GPC simultaneously)
and unable to manage all of the details. We were able to pull it
together among the three of us, but some time was wasted in this
process. In the future and as Communities United grows, there needs
to be more than one point person for the GPC, the Organizing
Collective will be able to play more of a role, and if the GPC remains
a project of Communities United, the Steering Committee should
provide more direction. We also discussed how the flexibility of the
two weeks worked well for us, but how we could have gone deeper
into some of the workshops and discussions especially since there
were so few of us.

Overall, the GPC strengthened my organizing skills, but mostly gave
me the confidence I needed to continue to work on them myself. To
me, this was one of the most important things I got from the two
weeks and was a necessary step I needed to take to do this work. I felt
a little apprehensive about the whole thing, not knowing what the
other folks would be like or where they would be coming from in
relation to their political work. I didn?t know if I would be further
behind in developing my organizing skills or political analyses. Once I
met Jay and Liz, I felt like we hit it off pretty quickly and I became
comfortable relating to and growing with them.

I had never worked so closely with Dan, but I knew that I would be
working with him as part of the Organizing Collective so it was
important to me that I work on and think critically about this
relationship. In sheer size alone, Dan can be very intimidating (sorry,
but it?s true...), but I began voicing my opinions, trusting my ideas
and experiences more, and more comfortable working with him as
time went on. This was a crucial step for me if I plan on doing
organizing work with him in the future. The GPC gave me a good
introduction to Communities United and working with Dan that
would not have been as easily or as quickly accomplished otherwise.
There is a certain amount of trust that will need to be developed
between us, and I hope that we are on the path to building that.

During the GPC, I was in a very difficult headspace, working some
days out of the week, and trying to devote the rest of my time to the
program. The GPC got me re-inspired and feeling like I was able to
hit the ground running again. I?m excited for the next organizing
program when I will be in a better place and able to fully commit
myself to the development of the program, Communities United, and
the movement.
Dan Horowitz de Garcia Reflection

Dan is a member of Bring the Ruckus and is an organizer with
Communities United. He was on the Bring the Ruckus planning
committee that coordinated BtR?s involvement.

My original goals for wanting BtR members to come to Atlanta were:

1. Have BtR members learn critical organizing skills.
2. Have other members see firsthand the work going on in Georgia.
3. Get some help in building a local and doing the political work.

With the inaugural GPC over, I believe these goals were met and the
program should be considered a success. A local is not yet technically
formed in Atlanta since it takes 3 members. However, I believe we?re
close. The organizing collective of Communities United is much
stronger for the effort and a strong collective will be necessary for the
formation of a local.
What Worked Well

Political education ? There are organizations around the country that
sponsor organizing programs like the GPC. In looking at their
programs I find they are light on educational forums. That is, people
do a lot but there isn?t space to process what they are doing. I am
very happy that we made political education an integral part of the
program although it needs to be more specifically targeted and go
deeper into topic.

Getting the work done ? With this being a first time it was easy for
things to go massively wrong. Despite the setbacks that happened,
the team was able to get back on track. Each of those who attended
had done personal work on privilege and white supremacy and I feel
that helped in the process. Many of the organizations involved in
Poor People?s Day commented on how easy the team was to work
with. In Atlanta, white activists are looked upon with skepticism
(with good reason). The GPC team proved they would walk the walk.

Highlighting the political importance of the South and the work ?
The two participants who came from out of state had never been in
the South before. It?s possible to highlight the unique position of the
South in US history through dialog, but it?s totally different to be
here. To see the work, the obstacles, the opportunities, the style, etc.
of the region firsthand makes a significant difference. I believe having
been here will have a positive effect on the conversations we have at
the national meeting.

Showed it is possible to organize to scale without mass resources ?
One of the great challenges we face in organizing on criminal justice
issues is how to organize to scale quickly. There are 600,000 people
on the prison visitations lists, 59,000 people in prison, and another
340,000 under some form of correctional supervision in this state.
That?s about 1 million people. There is no way we will ever have
enough money to hire enough organizers to talk to them all. This
program showed that another organizing model is possible.

Taught skills ? Participants did learn valuable outreach skills. To be
more accurate, participants fully realized they knew how to do
outreach and became comfortable with it. From the organization side,
Communities United learned a lot about doing turnout with family
What Could Have Been Better

Recruitment - I didn?t do as good a job on getting the word out. Our
goal for participation was 10 people and we failed to meet that mark. I
take personally responsible for that failure. The timing of the event
was difficult, but I had enough lead time to work around it. In
addition, with the exception of me all participants in the GPC were
white. BtR made an effort to recruit internally, and given the
demographics of the organization it makes sense that the members
who came would be white. I did not do an adequate job in outreach to
communities of color I have relationships with. As with recruitment
in general, I think this was due to being personally overloaded and
not addressing it soon enough.

Organization of Work ? The preparation of the work could have been
better. The team spent a lot of time figuring out how to approach the
work. This could have been done ahead of time. Of course, every
campaign has surprises and this was no exception. We made course
corrections as necessary. Still, the work could have been divided up in
a more efficient manner.

Clarity on BtR relationship ? Although I was clear with the
Communities United steering committee about my relationship with
Bring the Ruckus, there was still confusion. Many steering
committee members didn?t know why folks came or how they heard
about it. This tells me how difficult it is for a cadre organization to
clarify its relationship to mass work. We cannot overestimate how
difficult and necessary this process is. I would like for it to have a
higher priority in internal discussions.

? The GPC should be an ongoing program.
This recommendation fits best if the proposal to focus on the South
passes. However, even if it doesn?t BtR should consider this
recommendation. From this experience, Communities United is
instituting a permanent organizer training, leadership development
program called the Justice Organizing Project. This semi-annual
project will be designed to teach organizing skills, develop Georgia
leadership of family members & incarcerated people, and solidify
relationship with other criminal justice organizations around the
country. The work will be built around summer and winter projects.
The GPC would be a program to recruit BtR members and potential
members into the organizing program. BtR would commit to have
90% of members go through the program within 2 years. In addition
to expanding organizing skills and seeing the work firsthand, BtR
members would build relationships with people all over the country,
but specifically with southern organizers.

? BtR should talk about the experience.
Members who have gone through the program should promote the
experience. This would not be a speaking tour (let?s not go down that
road again), but it would be events that locals and proto-locals could
use to build around. One or two members from BtR could go to a city
with a local or proto-local and talk about the experience, the strategy
of anti-prison organizing, a cadre?s relationship to mass work, etc.
The local or proto-local could then use the GPC as a way to talk to
potential members about BtR?s work even if they do not come to
Georgia. This also gives us something concrete to talk about at
conferences (like we did at Life After Capitalism).

These lessons learned were identified during the final collective
evaluation done at the end of the two-week session.

o We need a clear idea of the GPC vision and goals for participants.
o The point person needs to be fully devoted to GPC, not stretched
thin with other organizing projects.
o Our incorporation of theory and action was beneficial.
o The organizing model for COMMUNITIES UNITED and Fairness
for Prisoners? Families needs to be more clearly developed.
o We need to pay particular attention to preparation, divide up tasks
beforehand, provide maps for door knocking by zip code.
o We need to provide space to go deeper into workshops and
discussions, have more discussions among the team.
o We need to have more conversations specifically about organizing
against the prison industrial complex.
o Provide someone with shared identity not involved with GPC to
debrief with.
o Think more critically about the challenge of bringing folks together
who differ politically and recruiting family members.
o Do more outreach to folks who are most affected (participants were
all white, young, educated).
o Participants need to have explicit experience in dealing with
o Consider involving high school kids.
o Think critically about how to work with folks who already consider
themselves organizers and make GPC attractive to and beneficial for
o Pay particular attention to taking leadership from those most
affected, not ?revolutionary chauvinists? who claim to know the
o Think about relationship between family members/prison work and
larger goals of revolution (be wary of using people as a ?tool? for
o Continue to be flexible, this helped in dealing with problems,
scheduling conflicts that arose.
o Pay particular attention to skills improvement. Sharpened and
enhanced organizing skills the team already possessed.
o We should have looked to the Steering Committee for more
o Steering Committee was not clear on the relationship to BTR. It
was confusing about how people relate to the organizations and
individuals. We need to hash this out more and make the relationship
more transparent next time.
o Continue thinking about keeping GPC as a BTR project and how to
relate to mass organizations.
* [Bring The Rukus is an antiauthotitarian anticapitalist
direct action revolutionary initiative.]

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