Solidarity Work Begins at Home

       (This suggestion list is adapted from The Peoples Hurricane Relief  Fund and Oversight Coalition -PHRF/OC- 'Volunteer Handbook,'         March 2006, p. 18.)

A. Why Solidarity Work At Home is so Important

        Hurricane Katrina and the deadly negligence demonstrated by the U.S. government before, during and after the storm, opened up the eyes of millions of people in the United States to the violence that comes from racism, class exploitation, colonialism and imperialism.  But the corporate media soon shut its eyes; and the federal, state and local governments closed their wallets to all the people most affected by the Hurricane.

        If you have already traveled to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast to work in solidarity with communities and organizations devastated by the hurricane, you may have already felt that this work has transformed your life.  Now is the best time to figure out how to share that experience with people in your community and your college back home.

Why is Solidarity Work as important at home as it is in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

            *** To build a grassroots social justice movement that is centered in the visions, demands and leadership of those most affected by Katrina -- African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and poor whites-- will require creating a broad-based united front movement that involves thousands of people, both in the U.S. and internationally.

     Only a huge, organized and powerful movement can force the U.S. government to begin to meet its responsibilities.  As Frederick Douglas once said, 'Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will.'  Each one of us has an important role to play in building this movement.

            *** The deadly horrors of racism, class exploitation, gender oppression and police/military violence that Katrina exposed is not limited to the South land.  Every institution, community, school, university, work place, city and state in the United States is a Katrina. Solidarity activists are in a good position to 'connect the dots' for our folks back home.

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     If we were horrified by the government policies that made thousands of Black New Orleanians homeless, what are we doing to support the fight for housing for homeless folks in our home town?  If the plight of Latino workers going without protective gear or even minimum wages in New Orleans enraged us, how are we supporting the struggles of  immigrant workers  for living wages, unions and healthy working conditions on our college campuses?  If the knowledge that  thousands of children were separated from their parents during Katrina made us sick to our stomachs, how can we use that anguish to support the fight to reunite families torn apart by the Prison Industrial Complex in our home states?

            *** The struggle for the right of return, self-determination and the right to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with racial, class, gender,  environmental and global justice will not be over tomorrow.  It may take decades. Solidarity activists will need to be in this work for the long haul, and we will need to pass on our passion to the next group of activists coming up.  The work is difficult but perhaps the most fulfilling work we will ever do.  Now is a good time to start!

B. Some Ideas for doing Campus or Community Solidarity Work

        1. Fundraising

                All the grassroots organizations listed in this reading packet  need your support.  Building a movement to ensure the right of return of New Orleanians to their homes takes money as well as people power.

        2. Sharing Your Experiences  and Resources

                Your friends back home will want to hear about your time in New Orleans.  Organize a 'report back.'  Share your experiences in the context of the government's criminal neglect, and highlight the resistance struggles of the residents and organizations in New Orleans.  Pass on articles that you have found useful.  Use the report back for fund raising and for recruiting new volunteers. Do some local research so you can 'connect the dots' between Katrina in New Orleans and Katrina at home. (Be sure to pass around a sign up sheet to get everyone's phone number and email for follow-up.)

        3. Campus Anti-Racist Political Education

                a. Ask your professors to assign Katrina readings for their classes that prioritize the voices of those most affected by the hurricane.
(See selected readings and web sites at the end of this packet.)
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                b. Form a 'Katrina special studies' group through a sympathetic professor. Invite students who went with you to New Orleans, and who came to your report back, as well as friends in your campus organization or other networks.  

                c. Organize a People's Institute 'Katrina Teach In' for your campus. The People's Institute's life transforming 'Undoing Racism Workshop' lays the basis for this teach in. Presentations by campus and community leaders 'connect the dots' between the racism exposed through Katrina, the institutional racism at home, and the U.S. government's human rights violations of international law.

      The goals of the Teach In are to create a nationwide dialogue about the human rights violations revealed through the government's deadly actions; and demands for investigations and corrective actions by the government.       (For more info, see The People's Institute web site Click the 'Hosting a Workshop' button on the home page.)

C. For White Solidarity Activists: Self and Group Reflection

          1. For starters, read and discuss the essays in this packet called 'Solidarity and Accountability: An Anti-Racist Approach.'

           2.If you decide to continue working together in a solidarity group, use these articles as a basis for reflection in planning, implementing and evaluating your group's solidarity work.

           3.If you and your group are new to solidarity work, dialogue with elders in your community or through e-mails, to get feedback on the problems and challenges you face in your work.

             It is true that there are no blueprints for doing solidarity work as a white activist;  it is also true that reflective experience is the best teacher. And sharing anti-racist experience helps to build an anti-racist solidarity movement.

          4. Before you decide to take any action as a campus group, check out what racial justice work is already happening on your campus that your group could support. (Remember that the best way to begin your research is to practice Active Listening!)


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 D.  Participating in Anti-Racist Solidarity Work:  Beginning Steps

    1. Join a Katrina Solidarity Committee in your area.

    2. Support the organizing of locally based Katrina survivors.

    3. Consider how the work a local racial justice organization with which you are connected might be strengthened by ‘connecting the dots’ with a similar struggle going on in New Orleans.  Connect people, their visions, their strategies, and their experiences.
    4. Organize within an institution in which you already participate (a university or school, a church, a nonprofit or foundation, a community group with resources and/or political connections) to help develop a ‘sister-to-sister’ institutional solidarity relationship between the organization in your community and a similar organization in New Orleans.

    5. Make a habit of checking different grassroots racial justice organizations’ web sites weekly for information about new campaigns which need national solidarity to win.  
    Think about what skills you have or can learn to support these campaigns, such as:
        *** writing letters to editors, and organizing press conferences,
        *** writing and forwarding e-mails,
        *** participating in pressuring a local politician to support or strengthen Katrina-related legislation and policies,
        *** hosting visiting organizers and artists from Katrina-land,
        *** sharing video, book and email resources with friends,
        *** learning how to clearly ‘connect the dots’ whenever you talk about local issues.
        *** learning to be an effective grassroots fundraiser!

    6. Contact a grassroots racial justice organization in New Orleans about volunteering in New Orleans or organizing a group to volunteer. Try to plan your trip for at least 2 weeks to make it more worth while for the host group in NOLA.  Because housing is so scarce in NOLA, try contacting a church to check for availability.

     Advance preparation for a volunteer journey includes:
        (1) Political education and discussion (see next pages);
        (2) Relationship with a NOLA grassroots organization;
        (3) Fundraising for volunteers, especially activists of color;
        (4) Planning carefully ahead of time for housing;
        (5) Planning carefully for all volunteer logistics;
        (6) Gathering resources at home for your host group in NOLA.