Monday, March 12, 2018

Marginalized No More: Fightin’ Words from the Oakland PEN Center

Knox Book Beat, 21 July, 2016

“…As a result, I became one of the first/free women in the world,/in thousands of years.
 Freely I wandered, observed,/studied and pondered,/enjoying the greatest thinkers and artists./
Sure, I was insulted, mugged, raped,/beaten and glared at homicidally/but it was worth it!” (Janine Canan, p. 22, “Blessed.”)
     I congratulate Judith Cody, Kim McMillon and one of the PEN Oakland founders, Claire Ortalda, for editing this anthology, (published and?) distributed by retiring Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books in 2014. At 104 writers filling 171 pages (warning: tiny print), it’s a stellar accomplishment all around. (Blessings to Zellerbach Family, Lef and East Bay Community Foundations; CA Arts Council, City of Oakland, Before Columbus, Oakland Public Library and many others for support.)
PEN stood, originally, for Poets, Essayists and Novelists; and in my mind, the New York City PEN Center meant Muriel Rukeyser’s work in the ‘60s and ‘70s for feminism and civil rights, her support for the voices, words and persons of the suppressed and imprisoned from “The Scottsboro Boys’” through Vàclav Havel.
     PEN Oakland was the third center in the USA after NYC and LA. It was established not on the basis of nationality or language, (English and Spanish), but on “multi-ethnic literatures,” “the problems faced by marginalized people worldwide, as related to written expression” as its founders envisioned them between 1989-91. (Ortalda, p. 172-73, “The History of PEN Oakland.”) After two years of demand, petition, hammering out chapter rights and local sponsorship “brought national attention to multicultural literature,” PEN Oakland challenged de facto censorship, suppression and “media abuses of women, people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.” (ibid.)
     Obviously, these are still major issues, but would not have become so without “the brainchild of writer and activist Ishmael Reed,…launched in fall 1989,” (ibid.) which gathered writers with “words that push back against what is wrong in the world…Those of us, who are visionary,…challenged to give birth to a new narrative.” This had been brewing since the Sixties, and “When will the healing begin?” is still a potent question. (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted in E. Ethelbert Miller, p. 101, “Wounded by Words.”) I had been shocked and wounded by Reed’s misogyny and rhetoric in the early days; but also “educated” by his furious authenticity into finding my own voice, style and metaphor as well as to “dare to speak up against the confines of official narratives and connect with the growing silenced masses.” (Genny Lim, back cover.)
     While Reed, Hispanic-American Floyd Salas, Italian-American Claire Ortalda and Reginald Lockett were “Co-founders;” a host of other local and world writers, presenters, editors and publishers; including Adelle and Jack Foley, Isabel Allende, Carla Blank, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sharon Doubiago, Leslie Silko, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Kitty Kelley, Paul Krassner and Toni Cade Bambara; donated their talents, time, name recognition and volunteer energy to “building our own institutions instead of waiting around to be selected as a token by the establishment.”
      “Ultimately, we have survived these decades intact because none of us has forgotten where we came from,” (Reed, p. xiii, “Pulling Marginalized Literature To The Center…”). And many of us have identified, publicized and let go of the internal humiliation, shame, intimidation and isolation that the culture tried to silence us with as well. “When will the healing begin?” Now. And Now. And Now. AND NOW!

“Well someone’s got to sweep
this broken glass.
Someone’s got to tell that kid
to watch out or his ass
will land in jail just like his old man.”
(p. 87, Alison Luterman, “Day’s News: Oakland.”)

“Think of never being able to say a word
for fear it will be heard
and transmuted and computed and filed in the appropriate place
deep underground with leaden walls to shrink your balls
catch even your cocktail chatter or the privacy of your bedroom
where you grimace at the mirror and cry in your secret heart”
(p. 136, Floyd Salas, “The Politics of Poetry.”)

“books have the power to give us insights into the past, the present, the future, to give us something to reach for…Books can prevent wars, keep us from destroying ourselves and our planet… a society is in danger when good books are neither written nor read.” (p. 110, Elizabeth Nunez, “Boundaries.”)

“A knock on the door in the middle of the night
is a nightmare cliché. See? No one’s there.”
            (p. 14, Christopher Bernard, “Is There a Nazi In Your Future?”)
“How would you like to come of age behind
barbed wire in your own country, charged with being
yourself, a charge you could not deny,
a guard with a machine gun and itchy fingers
overlooking your evening stroll?”
            (p. 100, Adam David Miller, “My Nisei Friends are Dying, a Colloquy.”)

“And this downturn, this turn down,
This big, big disappointment, bummer slump
Might just be Nature’s way of cooling us off
Cooling us down – all that dough
Rising and rising making us feel
Super, natural but you know she’s the boss
Nature had to cool off!
Man! She was feeling the heat.”
            (p.55, Joan Gelfand, “Good Morning, America, Where are You?”)

“Save all of that wasted commodity you call “love,” because there’s no such thing without hope. And no, you didn’t have it tougher. We’ve got it tougher. Because we’ve got nothing.” (p. 113, Claire Ortalda, “NO-Body.”)
“it has to be fine sitting here
 while the earth burns and the population
 spills into the sea which will soon boil over anyway.” (Neeli Cherkovski, p. 23, “At The Caffé Trieste.”)

Fightin’ Words: 25 Years of Provocative Poetry and Prose from “The Blue Collar PEN.”  Ed. Judith Cody, Kim McMillon and Claire Ortalda (Poets, Essayists and Novelists Oakland).
Available from Heyday Press, P.O. Box 9145, Berkeley, CA, 94709; Phone (510) 549-3564.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

“Do Away with Fear” by Taking Collective Action: AXIOMS FOR ORGANIZERS

                                                                                        Whether it be entrepreneurial, Black Lives Matter, public library, Climate Change, local ministry, anti-misogynist, minimum wage, immigration justice or housing, health care and inclusion for the 99%; "People power must be visible to have an impact," and "It's not the quantity of pressure we exert that counts, it's the quality."

Knox Book Beat, The Berkeley Times, 7 July 2016
     Axioms for Organizers: Trailblazer for Justice, is a collection of words to live by spoken and repeated by Fred Ross Sr. who "mentored ... young farm worker(s) in Jan Jose named Cesar Chavez" and Dolores Huerta. His is useful advice for difficult times.
     I have a 1938 Modern Library edition of The New Anthology of Modern Poetry. About that time, Los Angeles’ Fred Ross, Sr. was organizing homeless “Dust Bowl” workers in camp councils for self-government. That was the year Adolf Hitler annexed Austria, claimed the Czech Sudentenland belonged to Germany and renamed himself leader of the High Command of the Armed Forces in preparation for the invasion of Poland.
   That anthology has poems like Carl Sandburg’s “The People, Yes the People,” James Agee’s “Millions are Learning How,” Vachel Lindsay’s “Simon Legree,” William Stephens’ “Standard Forgings Plant” and “The Eyes Have it” and the wry, obscure Marianne Moore’s “The Monkeys.”

      It also has Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s “Last Speech to the Court” on questionable murder charges before he languished seven years in prison and was electrocuted by the State in 1927. That speech is "eloquent with compassion and anguish," as editor Seldon Rodman says, with words that "fall into lines (of verse) as easily as the frost into crystals" in praise of his fellow labor worker, Nicola Sacco, "a man who gave the cause of liberty and to his love of mankind."
    Fred Ross Junior’s new edition of his father's Axioms is similarly redolent with the "community of experience" of the present time when voices and actions are running high in support of the poor, immigrant, under-served and underrepresented. And redolent with voices and actions that are trying to make us frozen and silent with self-doubt and fear.
Woody Guthrie, Fred Ross Sr., Dust Bowl era CA

     Whether it be entrepreneurial, Black Lives Matter, public library, Climate Change, local ministry, anti-misogynist, minimum wage, immigration justice or housing, health care and inclusion for the 99%; "People power must be visible to have an impact," and "It's not the quantity of pressure we exert that counts, it's the quality." This echoes Archibald MacLeish's poem in the Anthology, "a poem" (a social movement or a political, spiritual or religious organization) "must not 'mean,' but 'be.'"
     Good organizers ask people what they need, put them to work at tasks that make things happen and “get out of the way.” As United Farm Worker organizer Jessica Govea says, these little snippets of Fred's truths about "how to turn our grief and anger into action and hope" are rooted in what Fred Ross Sr. had named our "stories that won (us) to the cause" and our "persistence" that makes us "stay on it."
 ( Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936.)
"To win the hearts and minds of people, forget the dry facts and statistics." Our stories need to be told. Remember: "there is no substitute for face-to-face communication," and "90 percent of organizing is follow-up."
As pungent and guiding as 12-Steps' "place principles above personalities," each of the axioms in this pocket-sized manual can lift us up, keep us together and moving when we lose focus, fall behind or need to regroup and recharge.
You don't have to be a Mrs. Clark Kerr Saving the Bay to understand these axioms, you just need to "have hope yourself," let them empower you and "do it now!"
Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin and Kate Kerr

Let's get one for everybody in Berkeley... Maybe in the World…

In Spanish and English, back to back, printed in a Union shop. :-)
Axioms for Organizers Trailblazer for Justice by Fred Ross Sr., Published in 1989 as Neighbor to Neighbor, (San Francisco, California).
PDF of the Axioms themselves. (No Intro, photos or Afterword) FREE. --
Ordering direct – $5 each or $3 each for 50 or more –
Website --
(Amazon Kindle - access to see and read some of it online, including Robert Reich’s Introduction. )

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

For those who Literally Do Not Have the Bandwidth

Launching a Leadership Team
Resistance School, Marshall Ganz Modified for the Resistance School by Kathryn Short
(And by Wyndy Knox Carr for Indivisible Berkeley, hard copies and Luddites)
Congratulations on beginning the journey to launch your leadership team! Your diversity of resources
and unity of purpose are already in the room - this process is all about helping you create the structures
to make them come out and flourish as you engage in action together. Get ready and get excited -- the
work you do together in the next hour will set you up to make the sustainable and deep change our nation needs!
To complete this worksheet as a team, you will need:
● A copy of this worksheet for each team member (paper or soft copy)
● A whiteboard, flipchart, projected screen or some way to write so everyone can see
● Post-its, index cards or scratch paper - just something to write on!
● MOST IMPORTANT: The video entitled “RS Coach: Launching a Leadership Team”
Session Three Structuring a Leadership Team Worksheet page
Agenda: (1 hour total, including video)
1)Welcome (2 minutes)
2) Creating Common Values, Shared Interests and Unique Resources (10 minutes)
3) Our Shared Purpose (25 minutes)
4) How We Will Work Together: norms (5 minutes)
5) Roles: match responsibilities and people (5 minutes)
6) Name and Chant: give ourselves inspiration and motivation (5 minutes)
7) Conclusion: plus/delta, next steps (3 minutes)
Video:  Please play the first portion of the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says“Values, Interests and Resources.” Then press pause to complete the table on the next page.
● To explain the purpose of the meeting
● To provide a roadmap for how the meeting will flow

Please select one person from your team to be a
and one person to be a
SECTION 2: Identifying Common Values, Shared Interests and Unique Resources (10 MINS)
● To identify common values that made each of us join Indivisible Berkeley
● To identify interests shared by members of your team.
● To call out the diverse resources in the room.

● If your team generated common values during Resistance School Session 1 or 2, list those here.
….find that common thread:
O Give each person a minute or two to reflect on the values that brought them to IB.
O Then, let each person in the group share what they wrote and why.
What do these values mean to them?
Why are these values so motivating?
O Now, what are the common themes you heard as a team across everyone’s values?
What are the common values that drive your team? …write them down on the Action Worksheet.

● Create a table everyone can see with 3 columns:
Our Shared Values

Our Shared Interests
Our Unique Resources

…..a protocol to help you find that common thread:
O In pairs, spend two minutes each sharing what brings you to IB:
 What do you hope to change in the world?
What does “a better life” mean for you,
your family,
your community,
your society?

O In your whole team, report out what you learned about your common vision.
What do you all want to see change? Some examples might include “better schools,” “access to healthcare” or “a cleaner environment.”

● Give each person post-its, index cards, scratch paper or something else to write on. (or this page)
● Think of as MANY resources as you can that you bring to the table in each category of Shared Values and Shared Interests. The timer will set the clock for 1 minute for each category listed below. Be expansive and creative! Ready, Set, Go!
Networks: I have: Schools, faith communities, social clubs...

Talents: I have: Playing the guitar, knitting, making spreadsheets, talking to people...

Knowledge: I have: The legal system, the immigrant experience, how to fundraise...

2  Physical resources: I have: A kitchen, a car, office supplies...

○ Anything else! ● Capture the results of your Unique Resources in the table.

● To come up with a shared purpose for the team
● To explore differences in the context of commonality
Video:  Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Shared Purpose: Individual Writing Time.” Then press pause to complete your individual reflection.

There are four parts to this exercise.
As individuals, you will clarify your own thinking about what the purpose of your team could be.
(2) As individuals, you will write a sentence that you think captures the purpose of your team.
Part I: Individual Work (5 MIN)

What is the unique purpose
of your team? What’s its goal?
Who is your team organizing?
Who is your constituency?
What are the people like and what are their interests? What will engage them?
How will your team meet its
goals? What kinds of activities
could your team engage in to
fulfill its purpose organizing
this community?

After brainstorming answers to all three questions by yourself, take a few moments to write a sentence that you think best describes your team’s goal, its constituency, and its activities.
Our team’s shared purpose is to

Draw on all three columns.
Example of a shared purpose sentence:“Our leadership team's shared purpose is to ensure greater health care for all by organizing doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals in Cleveland through pop-up clinics, rallies at hospitals and visits to the state capitol.”
Our team’s shared purpose is to Video:  Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Shared Purpose: Team
Work.” Then press pause to complete your teamwork.

Part 2: Team Work (10 MINS)
(3) As a team, you will share your sentences, look for the common focus, and discern a purpose you can all support.

(4) And finally, as a team, you will consider the second round of sentences (from step 3) and decide on one that best articulates your team’s perspective.

As each person reads his or her Shared Purpose sentence, ask the scribe to note the key words on the chart below (on a flipchart, projected screen, google doc, etc) on

  • goal (what),
  • constituency (who), or
  • activity (how).

Note specific words that speak to you, spark your curiosity, or give you energy.
When you are done, draw out the words that are more or less the same as foundational for your shared purpose and identify the points of greatest difference so as to discuss them explicitly before the next round.

What is the unique purpose
of your team?
Who is your team organizing?
Who is your constituency?
What are the people like and
what are their interests?
What will engage them?
How will your team meet its
goals? What kinds of activities could your team engage in to fulfill its purpose organizing this community?

Video: Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Shared Purpose: Individual Work.” Then press pause to complete your individual draft.

Part 3: Individual Work (5 MIN)
In light of what you learned from the last session, write a new sentence that you think can articulate a shared purpose, using some of the key words and themes.
Our team’s shared purpose is to

Video: Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Shared Purpose: Team Work.” Then press pause to complete your teamwork.

Part 4: Team Work (5 MINS)
Read all of the sentences from step 3 and choose – or combine – one that can best articulate the shared sense of your team.
Our team’s shared purpose is to

Congratulations on writing your shared purpose!
Capture this statement somewhere your team can see and reference often. Many teams put the shared purpose as a header for agendas, or in a shared drive.

● To create a structure that will enable you to govern yourselves effectively, responsibly and transparently
● To help create a collaborative group environment
Video: Please play the RS Coach Video and follow the coach’s instructions for pausing between each section laid out below.

Review suggested norms below. For each section, clarify, add or subtract as your team wishes.
Discussion and Decision-making (2 MIN): As a team, how will we discuss options and reach decisions to ensure both vigorous input and debate and agreement on courses of action?
Decide how you will decide: voting, consensus, delegation, flip a coin, a combination?

Engage in open, honest debate
Ask great questions
Balance advocacy with inquiry
Engage in personal attacks
Fail to listen to what others say
Jump to conclusions

Time Management (1 MIN): How will we manage meetings to respect each other’s time?
Start on time; stay on time
Be fully present throughout the meeting

Come to meetings unprepared
Answer cell phones or do email
Honoring Commitments (2 MIN): How will we delegate responsibilities for actions and activities? How will we follow through on commitments?
Clarify understanding
Provide follow-up on action items
Ask for/offer support when there is a need
Weekly check-in (When? Where?)

Assume you have agreement
Assume tasks are getting done
Commit to a task that you know you won’t do
How will you "self correct" if norms are not followed?

● To practice matching people and roles based on strengths and limitations
● To ensure your leadership team is appropriately diverse
Video: Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Team Roles.” Then press pause to complete your teamwork.


Based on your shared purpose, what kinds of roles will be important for the team?

Use the “Team Coordinator” role as an example, and brainstorm as many as you can. Be sure to think about both functional roles and constituency-based roles (i.e. Team Coordinator, and West Side Lead Organizer) ​(1 MIN)
○ NOTE: Each of these roles is a leadership role, which means that each person accepts
responsibility for offering the team leadership in this domain. At the same time, the
most critical roles other than coordinator are those that reach out to engage members
of your constituency in action. For example, accepting responsibility for engaging
residents of a particular town or community, members of a particular constituency, etc.

Within each role, what are a few key responsibilities?

Remember, we think about responsibilities for outcomes, not tasks. (1 MIN)

For each role, what kinds of traits, skills, talents or resources might make for a good fit? What kind of traits, skills, talents or resources might make for a bad fit? (1 MIN)

Based on the discussion about the roles, go around the circle and ask each person to share their strengths and their limitations. Then go back and try to match people and roles. (2 MINS)

Note: When you do this for your projects, team roles should not be seen as permanent. Also, for the team to be strong, all leaders should have to earn leadership by carrying out responsibilities relevant to the role they seek.

You would be good
for this role if you . . .
Interested Team
members & Related
Coordinate the work of
the leadership team.
Prepare for meetings,
give support and
coaching to the team.

EXAMPLE: West Side Lead Organizer
Reaching out to organize
constituents on the West
Side of town: identifying,
recruiting, and developing
leadership teams, engaging constituents, coaching action.

You would be good
for this role if you . . .
Interested Team
members & Related


● To celebrate your commitment to your shared purpose.
● To remind your team of their strength, unity and motivation
Video: Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Team Name and Chant.” Then press pause to complete your teamwork.
● Be strict on time! Time pressure spurs creativity, especially if you take the “yes, and” mentality of building on one another.
● For a team name, try just all saying words that resonate with you at the same time and build on what comes out.
● For a chant, try getting a volunteer to just start making a beat to play with!
● It will definitely feel silly, but when you come up with something good it will give you energy at the end of long meetings and bring you all closer as a team.

● To end with clarity and shared understanding of how the team will move forward
● To learn about how best to work with your group
Video: Please play the RS Coach Video until you see the screen that says “Closing: Pluses and Deltas.” Then press pause to complete your team evaluation

●Review the decisions made (when you’ll meet), what the roles are, any other big decisions
●Evaluate the meeting with plus/deltas - What went well? What do you want to be sure to improve next time you meet?
●End with a closing reflection.

Please play the RS Coach Video until you reach the end, and then read on!
Go to the Resistance School Session Three Update to share with us your team name, shared purpose and an audio or video clip of your chant!

Originally adapted from the works of Marshall Ganz of Harvard University
Modified for the Resistance School by Kathryn Short
If you have any questions about these terms, please contact or Marshall Ganz, Hauser Center, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.