Call For a Conference on Creating a New Green Corn Alliance: Transformative Organizing for a new Red State.
by Roberto Mendoza, Occupy Tulsa Neighborhoods organizer.
On August 2, 1917, the Green Corn Rebellion began in rural Oklahoma. This little-known chapter in U.S. history was an armed rebellion led by impoverished tenant farmers and former railroad workers who had lost their jobs when the railroad strike led by Eugene V. Debs was defeated in the 1890s.
The rebellion took place just weeks after the federal government moved to institute military conscription. (The United States had declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and joined the British and French side in World War I, which had been raging since 1914.) While the Green Corn Rebellion included African-Americans and Native Americans, the overwhelming majority of the insurgents were white Southern rural people. Oklahoma’s dispossessed rebel against poverty and a ‘rich man’s war’ By Chris Mahin
It has been six months since the Occupy movement came to Tulsa. As someone who has been in ‘the movement’ in its various forms since the ’60’s I have had the privilege of being a part of its ups and downs and its defeats and successes. I have worked with people like Richard Oakes, James and Grace Boggs, Starhawk, Margo Adair, John Mohawk and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
I joined the Occupy Tulsa movement from the very beginning. I saw the energy, hopefulness, intelligence and commitment from many people who came to the early meetings. Unfortunately a small group of people quickly took control of the means of communication (the Facebook page and web page) and started to block and push out people who questioned their covert leadership style and unaccountability. I was one of those who was pushed out and demonized.
Eventually the continued excluding of people from access to the Facebook and web pages by this small group led to a revolt of most of the group, which then led to an inevitable split into two Occupy Tulsa groups.
Before the split, I had decided that it was no use in trying to get back into Occupy Tulsa, so I and several other people who had been pushed out (who were mainly people of color) decided to start our own Occupy group, based on the affinity group model and orientated towards basing ourselves in the neighborhoods, especially low income areas in North, West and East Tulsa, which were mainly black, Native, Latino and poor whites.
We were inspired by the ‘Visionary Organizing’ vs ‘Protest Organizing’ laid out by Grace Boggs of the Boggs Center/Detroit Summer.
Visionary vs Protest Organizing
Grace did not believe that putting most of your energy in protesting and trying to create bigger and bigger protests is the best way to create a revolution here in the U.S. The ruling class/1% not only ignore even the biggest protests (the millions who protested the Iraq War around the world and in the U.S.) but use them as a way to paint the protestors as unruly, violence prone proto-terrorists, evicting them from their encampments and tying up their energy and resources in court cases. The Occupy movement is not the answer, it is just the beginning of an evolving transformative movement that will take years, if not decades to fully mature and become truly powerful enough to replace the current declining American Empire.
She also pointed out that making demands on the ruling class is self defeating as they can and will try to make small concessions to defuse and divide the movement. It is the liberal reform wing of the Occupy movement that is pushing this direction. Reforms do not address the structural and systemic faults of the capitalist system, like climate change, peak oil, the prison-industrial complex, imperialist wars and extremes of poverty and homelessness. Grace Boggs, along with Immanuel Wallerstein and Johan Galtung, see that the U.S. Empire is collapsing and something revolutionary has to replace it.
In Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century, Grace talked about the difference between rebellion and revolution: Rebels “do not see themselves as responsible for reorganizing society, what the revolutionary social forces must do in a revolutionary period. They are not prepared to create the foundation for a new society… In other words, because rebellions do not go beyond protesting injustices they increase the dependency rather than the self-determination of the oppressed…if and when they gain power, they may make some reforms, but they are powerless to make fundamental changes because they have not empowered the oppressed prior to taking power.” Examples of failed rebellions are the ‘People Power’ movement in the Philippines and the ‘Color Revolutions’ of Eastern Europe and the taking power in S. Africa by Mandela and the ANC. They replaced the dictatorships/Apartheid system, but retained and even extended the rule of Capitalism in their countries. As a result, inequality, poverty and lack of true democracy still prevail. ‘Revolutions’ that do not replace the Capitalist system and truly empower the people are not what we want or need.
Right now the Occupy movement is in it’s rebellion stage, with its constant marches, rallys and protests. Only when it moves into its Decolonization stage, and moves to sink roots and organize in oppressed communities, can it truly become revolutionary.
Visionary and Transformative Organizing
Organizing to empower our communities is what is needed to create the infrastructure and institutions that can best serve the people in the coming chaos and violence of the crumbling Empire. Creating community gardens, urban farms and community based schools, may not be as glamorous and exciting as fighting the cops in big protests, but they are part of slowly but surely building the foundations of a strong nationwide movement. Only then we will be able to mobilize millions to confront and replace the system when the time is ripe. In the process, these revolutionaries will have transformed themselves by doing transformative work in oppressed communities. This will take patience and a deep commitment to this work, which may take decades. There are no shortcuts to organizing and mobilizing the millions needed to make the structural, political and moral changes necessary for a real transformative revolution.
Transformative organizing, that which transforms not only society, but oneself,
is what is needed in this coming period of social, moral and economic breakdown. Like Sub Commandante Marcos and the Zapatistas in Chiapas, we need committed revolutionaries that go out to the barrios, ghettos, reservations and trailer parks to learn from, patiently organize and build community based schools, farms, health clinics, alternative energy systems for all the oppressed people, including poor whites, in this country.
Internalized Oppression – How They Affect our Movement.
External oppression holds back our movement greatly. But even more insidious, because it is so hidden, is our own Internalized Oppression. This happens when we internalize the negative and cynical messages from the Capitalist System about ourselves and our people – that we are too dumb, too lazy, not competitive and individualistic enough to make it in this system. It is our own anger, fear and resentment turned inward, onto the community itself. Most crime in our community, and especially gang banging, is a product of this hidden oppression. Other aspects include child and spousal abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, sexism, racism, gay oppression and classism. Individually, it is expressed in discouragement, cynicism, low self esteem and losing ourselves in excessive partying, sexual promiscuity and watching mindless spectator sports on TV, brainwashed by Fox News and right wing talk radio.
In our movements, it is expressed by attacking each other, spreading gossip and rumors, fiercely demanding that we all adhere to a ‘correct line’. Finally it leads some of us to become informants, provocateurs and police agents, both paid and unpaid. Suspicion, paranoia, and lack of trust can result, unless we find ways to understand, recognize and heal from Internalized Oppression. These oppressive, divisive patterns keep the system in place, as each one of us internalizes them in our thoughts and actions. We can learn to decolonize our thinking and free ourselves from the oppressor patterns installed as Patriarchal, Heternormative values in our families, schools, churches, corporations, the military and the so called Criminal Justice system.
Ending Addictions and Growing Healthy Food
We have to pledge to help each other giving up addictions like smoking- a self destructive and wasteful addiction that enriches some of the richest drug peddlers in the world. We know it is slowly destroying our lungs and health, but we suffer alone, thinking that nobody cares if we smoke. We need to let each other know that we do care about each other’s health and well being. This is how we can show our love for each other. As Che Guevara said, “at the risk of seeming ridiculous, a true revolutionary is motivated by feelings of love”
It is hard to quit smoking alone. We need each others support, just as we need each other’s support to quit other addictions like alcohol and drugs, even seemingly innocuous drugs like marijuana. Our drug use leaves us open to arrest at any time, where we can end up in the prison industrial system. Harder drugs can kills us with overdoses.
Quitting addictions goes along with helping our people to stop eating toxic food produced by the Industrial Agriculture Complex that leads to all kinds of degenerative diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, etc. Helping others grow and eat healthy food is how we show love for our own bodies and the bodies of our families, friends, lovers and coworkers. This why the Food Sovereignty movement is growing so fast. Community gardens break our dependency on the Industrial food system, while encouraging young and old to work together in a safe, educational and spiritual environment that reconnects us to the living essence of the Natural World. As Grace Boggs reminds us, growing food is revolutionary.
Occupy vs Decolonize
On the national level, many people of color caucuses have begun calling for the Occupy movement to transform itself into a Decolonization movement. Especially since Native people, having suffered 500 years of Occupation by a Settler Colonial system called the United States. Many have started to split off from Decolonization movement, one of the most recent taking place in Oakland, CA. They felt that the mainly white leadership of Occupy Oakland was not open to hearing and acting on the concerns of communities of color who have constantly fought against colonial police violence, racism and the oppressive effects of White Skin Privilege. They have asked white leaders to Step Up, then Step Back, to little effect. White members of the Occupy movement need to learn the real history of colonization, genocide and slavery which created this settler nation, that eventually became an Empire. White skin privilege, and the middle and upper class lifestyles can only exist in a nation built and sustained by Empire (currently hidden under the benign term, Globalization).
We in Occupy Tulsa Neighborhoods were multiracial at the beginning, especially in our leadership, so we have not had these divisive struggles – yet. But we will still have to educate our white members on what White Skin Privilege and racism is doing to our communities. Occupy Tulsa and Occupy Oklahoma needs to deepen their commitment to understanding the dynamics of racism and White Skin Privilege within their own groups.
Who Will Organize Poor and Working Class Whites?
This means that they need to make a clear commitment to organizing poor whites in Tulsa and Oklahoma, who have felt ignored and marginalized by the White Left for too long. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz pointed to that this was one of the worst mistakes of the White Left in the 60’s, which left poor whites to being organized by fundamentalist right wing Christians and the Republican party. The Klan is trying to fill the vacuum by organizing poor whites in West Tulsa. What is Occupy Tulsa doing there to counter them?
This does not mean that the different races cannot join together in multiracial coalitions and alliances, like the Rainbow Coalitions of the 60’s. It just means that whites can more effectively organize in the white communities, just as African Americans can best organize in their own communities. Too often, poor and working class whites have been ignored by white leftists/anarchists. Too often white leftists prefer to only work with and support Third World struggles like the Apartheid Movement and the Zapatistas in Mexico. That is seen as more glamorous than taking up the struggles of poor and working class whites who are seen as too racist, ignorant and fundamentalist. This is part of the Internalized Oppression of liberal and leftist whites, who end up looking down on and ignoring the poverty and oppression suffered by their ‘white trash’ ‘redneck’ and “clinging to guns and religion” poor white sisters and brothers.
We need the white Occupy people to direct their energies toward organizing and politicizing the millions of poor whites, who, if ignored, will continue to join right wing militias and racist groups. The Corporate State has and will continue to use them as the shock troops/Brown Shirts of the counter-revolution. This is already happening with the Tea Party and Christian Fundamentalist movement.
For white Occupiers, some resources for organizing their own people is in two books, ‘Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power,’ by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy, plus Deer Hunting with Jesus, by Joe Bageant (who also had a blog). They need to organize study groups around these books to get a sense of how poor and working class white groups like the Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry movements started in the 60’. They need to study their mistakes and successes and learn how to create a new movement of poor and working class whites for this century. Their are 60 million poor whites and their political education and organizing is one of the key parts of a strategy for a successful revolution in this country.
Indigenous People in Oklahoma: A New Way of Thinking
Native people have a key role to play in the coming iterations of the Occupy and Decolonizing movements here in Oklahoma. Our history goes back at least 30,000 years on Turtle Island and over a century in this Settler State now known as Oklahoma.
Ethnically cleansed from our homelands in the South, West and Midwest, we were were originally forcibley driven into what was then know as Indian Territory. After Statehood, many of us joined with poor whites and blacks in the Green Corn Rebellion during the First World War. Then, most of us were driven off our lands by the Land Run, the Dawes act and the Relocation program. Our children were kidnapped and brainwashed in BIA and church run boarding schools, where our language and culture were suppressed. When we could no longer find jobs and decent opportunities in our rural towns and lands, most of us ended up in the cities, especially Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the American Indian Movement led many Oklahoma Native people to join the Occupation at Wounded Knee, SD in 1973. Carter Camp, a Ponca, was one of the leaders of that occupation. My own mother went to AIM meetings in Okmulgee.
Now, as groups like the Indigenous Environmental Movement link up to Native movements hemisphere wide, new ideas are being introduced by Natives from the Andean regions of South America.
Living Well instead of Living Better
“a vision of society in which the goal is working to live and not living to work. It is in this context that Evo Morales has been promoting the concept of ‘the good living’ (sumac kamaña in Quechua, sumak kawsay in Quichua, allin kausaw in Aymara or buen vivir in Spanish). ‘The good living’ – or ‘to live in harmony’ – is an alternative to ‘development’. While development puts life at the service of growth and accumulation, buen vivir places life first, with institutions at the service of life. That is what ‘living in harmony’ (and not in competition) means.”
—from, The Communal and the Decolonial, Walter Mignolo.
This is the new economic paradigm needed for the people in the Western Hemisphere – Living Well instead of Living Better. Living Better is grounded in Empire, Colonialism and Capitalism, of people, land and nature. Living well means living within our means, sustainably and in harmony with other nations and the Natural World. It requires values of cooperation, respect for the earth, balance, sharing – not individualism, competition and materialism. It means that we have to say goodbye to Empire, and the crass consumerism, materialism, individualism and competition that it produced, and learn to live a simple, cooperative, yet sustainable way of living. We will gain community, peace and a sustainable, balanced way of living.
We Are All Connected to the Sacred – Native Wisdom
Grace Boggs, in reading the writing of Karen Armstrong The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, is also seeing the power of Indigenous thinking: “Armstrong is convinced that as a result of urbanization, globalization, and rapidly changing technology the whole world is now in the midst of a social crisis as profound as that of the Axial Age. We are therefore called on to make a similar leap in faith, to practice a similar compassion. Native Peoples’ view of the Earth as a sacred entity rather than only as a resource, she believes, provides us with a model.”
Even Albert Einstein, the epitome of a scientist, began to think like an Indigenous person in his later life: “A human being,” Einstein concluded, “is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Our understanding that we are all interconnected, in a living entity called the Earth, forms the basis for an ancient, yet modern way of living our lives. It is a form of Spirituality (not religion) needed in this period. We need to become Warriors of the Rainbow, those multiracial fighters for the defense of life on earth, that an old prophesy that Betita Martinez wrote about, in the introduction to her book, De Coloris Means All of Us, “the legend continues with all the races and religions banding together against the disaster. Under the symbol of the rainbow they spread the great wisdom of living in harmony with each other and with all the creations of the world. “Those who teach this will be the Warriors of the Rainbow,” …Armed only with the truth, after a great struggle they will bring an end to the destruction. Eventually they will save life itself.”
The Eagle and the Condor
We are starting to understand that Chicanos and Indigenous people from Central and South America are One People, and that the Vision of the Eagle and the Condor is coming to pass: “Every five centuries the life of the nations would be nourished and renewed. For our time period, the beginning of liberation would be symbolized by this prophesy: “When Condor of the South and the Eagle of the North come together again, the union of their tears will heal the wounds of the Indian peoples and fortify their spirit, body and thought. A new generation will spring forth who will reach out their hands to end oppression, exploitation and injustice, and will write the word liberty in the sky.”
In our State, where Indigenous/Native/Latino people constitute a growing population, we can call on these legends, prophesies and stories (including the Green Corn Rebellion, which was composed of poor whites and Native American and African American farmers) to begin a dialogue among the different races, classes and religions here in Oklahoma about what kind of future we want to create for our children and grandchildren.
Call for a new Green Corn Alliance in Oklahoma
“What we urgently need are impassioned discussions everwhere, in groups large and small, where people from all walks of life are not only talking but also listening to one another”, Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution.
We can start by calling for local dialogues/discussions leading up to a conference on creating a New Green Corn Alliance: Transformative Organizing for a new Red State. This will be statewide, multi-class, multi-racial, across age and gender lines, building on the inspiration of the original Green Corn Rebellion. It will also reclaim the radical history of early Oklahoma, a necessary step in building a new radical movement for the 21st century.
The Conference will feature workshops on topics discussed in the Call for Local Dialogues. It will feature speakers like Roxanne Dunbar-Otiz, Food Sovereignty and Native American Activist, Ben Yahola and possibly regional activists like Grace Boggs and Native American land activist Winona LaDuke. Hopefully a new statewide Green Corn Alliance can result from this effort. Joining together the stuggles of Native Americans, African Americans, European Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Arab Americans would create a powerful force for positive change in the new Red State of Oklahoma. Let us begin the first steps in this new direction. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us.
If you wish to be on the Organizing Committee, contact Roberto Mendoza, firstname.lastname@example.org.