[sixties-l] Fwd: Calif: Reflections on SLATE and Lessons Learned

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Jul 13 2000 - 10:50:19 CUT

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    >Opinionated Ruminations Prompted by the SLATE Reunion.
    >Mike Miller. May, 2000
    >In Fall, 1957, at the University of California at Berkeley, five students
    >ran on a common platform for student government office. They called
    >themselves "a slate of candidates" and they wanted an "end to sand-box
    >politics" in the Associated Students of the University of California. The
    >slate doubled the electorate, and its best known candidate almost won. In
    >Winter of that year, the candidates and activists who supported them gathered
    >to form a permanent student organization which took the form of a campus
    >political party. Because "the slate" had become so well known, they called
    >the organization "SLATE," but it wasn't an acronym. The next year, when
    >Chancellor Clark Kerr threw the organization off campus (it was subsequently
    >reinstated), a humorous acronym emerged: "Student League Accused of Trying
    >to Exist." SLATE indeed did exist--until 1965. It was the first clear break
    >from the silent generation and the impact of McCarthyism on college campuses.
    >Its action precipitated the formation of similar organizations on campuses
    >across the country. SLATE held a reunion in 1984, and a recent reunion in
    >May, 2000. Mike Miller organized the first slate of candidates and was the
    >organization's founding chairman.
    >What We Did.
    > These are some thoughts about what I think we did right in the period
    >1957 - 1964, and what ultimately went wrong, beginning in late 1964/early
    >1965, punctuated by the 1968 and 1972 elections of Richard Nixon and
    >culminating in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. I'll leave the telling of
    >what we did wrong for another time.
    > Though there were deep moral commitments underlying everything we
    > did, we
    >were not simply about moral witness. We were political. We cared about
    >effectiveness, about how to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.
    >We measured the consequences of our actions, and made calculations
    >accordingly. We understood that freedom, equality and justice without power
    >didn't have much of a chance.
    > We developed a broadly-based agenda which was expressed in the phrase
    >"lowest significant common denominator." While we argued about issues, we
    >sought to maintain a fragile unity that encompassed traditional liberals,
    >students just awakening to the connection between morality and politics and
    >people from various strands of the left. We had both an "issues orientation"
    >and a core set of democratic values.
    > We believed that fundamental to our task was making a break from "the
    >silent generation" that preceded us. We wanted to make politics legitimate.
    > We resisted efforts to de-legitimize the politics we were
    > pursuing. Such
    >efforts were undertaken by the University Administration -- and every time
    >they tried to weaken us they ended up making us stronger. Similar efforts
    >were made by cold-war liberals, specifically in the formation of the campus
    >Americans for Democratic Action -- and they were defeated there when Bob Bell
    >was elected its president. Those on the left who wanted to impose
    >anti-Communist litmus tests for participation in "legitimate" politics were
    >rebuffed as well.
    >Among the things we did right.
    > We sought to win the support of majorities on the campus which was our
    >base. We wed intimate knowledge of student government and the day-to-day
    >concerns of students with expressions of commitment on the great issues of
    >the day. We ran candidates for student government office, vastly increased
    >the electorate, challenged the political hegemony of our "ruling class"--the
    >fraternity/sorority crowd--and won elections.
    > We were multi-issue in character. We could appeal to different
    >constituencies because our platform reflected the priority concerns of
    >different segments of the student body. We built a base among independents,
    >commuters, graduate students, the coops, university dorms, the campus
    >religious foundations (the "Y's," Hillel, Newman, Westminister, Wesley,
    >Plymouth and others), and even in some fraternities and sororities.
    > We were the incubator for numerous single-issue groups and campaigns.
    >SLATE trained people who provided leadership in other groups and,
    >reciprocally, these single issue groups served to bring students into the
    >wider politics of the student movement. It was largely through these groups
    >that SLATE people made forays off campus into farm labor, capital punishment,
    >war and peace, civil rights, civil liberties and other issues.
    > Our action stimulated action by larger social groupings who had also
    > been
    >silenced by the cold-war consensus and remnants of the McCarthy era. While
    >we were not as successful in this regard as we may have hoped, we made a
    >difference in this area.
    > We were an ally of newly emerging social movements, union organizing,
    >community organizing and issue politics. The Berkeley student movement was
    >an early supporter of: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, farm
    >worker union organizing efforts by the AFL-CIO, Packinghouse Workers and
    >Cesar Chavez' National Farm Workers Association, community organizing in San
    >Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, the campaign against capital punishment, vari
    >ous manifestations of the peace movement including opposition to American
    >ventures in Cuba and Chile, and more.
    > While rejecting Cold War politics and the anti-Stalinist Stalinism of
    >some of our cohorts, we spoke up for justice and democracy wherever struggles
    >were undertaken in their behalf--Po Prusto in Poland and the Hungarian
    >Revolution being examples -- and we opposed A- and H-bomb testing by both
    >blocs in the Cold War. When issues like the World Youth Festival threatened
    >to divide us we found a way to keep principles intact and ourselves together.
    > We made imaginative use of tactics, but didn't fall into the trap of
    >guerrilla theater which measures its success by whether or not it makes the
    >evening TV news or by how much it disrupts buisness as usual, whatever the
    >policy results or the effect on public opinion.
    > We built a sense of community among us, bonds attested to by our
    > interest
    >in being together 40 years later, and by the friendships among us.
    > It should be noted that the two major strands of the student movement,
    >expressed in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as "direct
    >action" and " community organizing," also made their appearance at Berkeley.
    >Beginning in 1960, if not even before, the student movement included some
    >who wanted to speak truth to power and others who thought truth needed to be
    >combined with power to speak to power. Until late 1964/early 1965, these
    >activities were synergistic; they strengthened one another. Mel's sit-ins
    >contributed to the defeat of Harold Dobbs, owner of Mel's and Republican candi
    >date for Mayor of San Francisco. The Sheraton-Palace sit-ins brought the
    >(African American) Baptist Ministers Union and Longshore/Warehouse Union into
    >support of militant direct action. Mississippi Summer Project volunteers
    >became core leaders of the Free Speech Movement, Mario Savio among them.
    >Action supporting farm workers exposed the university's agriculture
    >department as a servant of agribusiness. Black and white sociology, city
    >planning and political science students from UC were deeply involved in
    >efforts to stop urban renewal in San Francisco and their experience led them
    >to raise questions about how these subjects were taught. Blocking that gates
    >at San Quentin to protest the Caryl Chessman execution recruited volunteers
    >who sought to build majority support in the state to eliminate capital
    >punishment. Students would drop out for a year-or-so of "off campus"
    >activity, then return to UC. We related these issues to what we thought the
    >university ought to be, a center for independent and moral thinking, and
    >counterposed that to Clark Kerr's vision of the un iversity as handmaiden
    >of corporate capitalism.
    >What Happened?
    > We were unable to prevent or undo five things:
    > first, the cold-war liberal foreign policy consensus;
    > second, the social democrat welfare state with its attendant paternalism
    >and categorical division of social problems so they fit distantly determined
    >and bureaucratically designed social programs;
    > third, the limitation of domestic reform to whatever was acceptable to
    >corporate capitalism,
    > fourth, a misunderstanding of democracy that emphasized the dangers of
    >popular participation and the importance of elites, and;
    > fifth, the selection of movement leaders by media and foundations
    >resulting in media stars, niche organizations and fragmented action rather
    >than accountabillity to democratically constituted, multi-issue,
    >broadly-based orgnaizations.
    > In foreign policy, these failures were demonstrated by our inability to
    >stop, among other things, CIA sponsored coups, intervention in Cuba,
    >destabilization of governments that didn't fit cold war policy aims and the
    >continuing build-up of the War in Vietnam.
    > Domestically, urban renewal, red-lining of inner cities, destruction of
    >urban mass transit systems and their replacement with highways and
    >automobiles, defeat of the Freedom Democratic Party's challenge to unseat the
    >racist Democrats from Mississippi, failure of the McGovern campaign in 1972,
    >job training programs for jobs that didn't exist, the fate of full employment
    >legislation--passed by Congress, signed by the President and never enforced,
    >seduction of many student movement veterans by various government sponsored
    >citizen participation and community control programs (as if power could be
    >given rather than asserted and claimed), and we could name more.
    > In communities across the country, broadly-based organizing efforts were
    >weakened and undone by so-called "community based nonprofits." Worthy of
    >much more discussion, I'll limit myself here to noting that most "NGOs" on
    >the international scene and domestic "community-based organizations" share
    >the following characteristics: self-perpetuating boards of directors,
    >dependency on foundation, government and/or corporate money, the narrowest of
    >agendas and generally no membership that can democratically affect the policy
    >or program of the organization.
    > Suspicion of participatory democracy or the active engagement of
    > citizens
    >in politics led many sociologists and pundits to conclude that declining
    >voter participation was a sign of political health rather than social
    >alienation. The argument was that in stable times when people are satisfied
    >they don't become politically engaged . The high degree of politicization
    >that preceded Nazi power in Germany was used to demonstrate the point.
    > Self-anointed "leaders" learned to use media-attracting tactics to
    > create
    >the smoke and mirrors illusion that they represented somebody. And the
    >media, especially TV, sought the most outrageous 30 second sound-bite to
    >dramatize stories for the evening news. Organizations that really
    >represented somebody were relegagted to public interest announcements and
    >letters to the editor.
    > In each of these we ultimatedly manifested our weakness rather than
    >strength. We, along with our allies, were never able to build serious
    >institutional power that could negotiate with and transform dominant power.
    > Contrary to Chairman Mao, we were dealing with no mere paper
    > tiger. That
    >we were unable to undo the most powerful corporate and state apparatus ever
    >to be seen in history is not something for which we should blame ourselves.
    >Perhaps there was nothing that could have been done to change the course of
    >events. But we should examine and seek to understand what the student
    >movement, and those activities into which we went from the student movement,
    >might have done differently.
    >The Opportunity That Was There.
    > It should be noted that a great deal of off campus activity was bubbling
    >beneath the surface of the cold-war liberal, welfare state, democracy-as-the-c
    >ompetition of elites, corporate capitalism consensus.
    > There were liberal Democrats who took exception to this consensus, built
    >a grass-roots movement and won local, state and Congressional elections.
    >They, along with the portion of the student movement that took an electoral
    >turn, were later the core of the 1972 McGovern nomination.
    > While the Washington DC-based Civil Rights Leadership Conference was
    >generally in the pocket of Kennedy-Johnson-Humphrey Democrats, there were
    >four voices on it that were regularly in dissent: the Student Nonviolent
    >coordinating Committee (SNCC) was most vigorous among them, but it was often
    >joined by the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) , Dr. Martin Luther King and
    >the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the National Council
    >of Churches (NCC). Across the country in African-American and Latino
    >communities, grass roots organizations, as well as NAACP branches, worked
    >outside the Leadership Conference's Washington beltway civil rights framework.
    > While George Meany and Lane Kirkland presided over the American
    >Federation of Labor/Congress on Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), there were
    >industrial unions within it, independents on the outside, state and local
    >labor councils and hundreds if not thousands of locals across the country
    >that were deep critics of the consensus.
    > Community organizing against corporate sponsored reform popped up
    >wherever local communities were being destroyed by something called
    >"progress," which generally took the form of urban renewal, public
    >underwriting of downtown convention centers and sports arenas, highway
    >construction, and other activities which undermined central cities and
    >created metropolitan sprawl. Reflecting on the impoverishment and
    >destruction of urban neighborhoods and cities, as well as their recognition
    >of racism as a central social problem, Catholic and Mainline Protestant
    >churches, at local, judicatory and denominational levels, became substantial
    >financial sponsors of the work of Saul Alinsky and other community organizers.
    > By many accounts, beginning in 1973 the real income of most Americans
    >began to decline. Hidden by two and three jobs in a single household, the
    >reality was even worse than the income data suggested. Growing disparity in
    >income and wealth made the U.S. one of the most economically inequitable
    >societies of the world.
    > During this period distrust of major American institutions grew to
    >extraordinary proportions. Electoral participation rates continued to
    >decline. Trust in American political and economic elites plummeted. Of our
    >politicians, it was widely believed that they were in it for their own
    >aggrandizement. Of our corporate executives, it was widely believed that the
    >only thing guiding their decisions was the desire to make a buck. Public
    >opinion polls indicated that close to a majority of Americans supported
    >worker ownership. The end of the Cold War, defeat in Vietnam and increasing
    >exposure of the CIA led more and more Americans to question our foreign policy

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