tv Minority Activism and the 1968 Election CSPAN November 8, 2014 10:30am-11:51am EST
>> coming up next on american history tv, a panel discusses minority activism leading up to the 1968 election. it is part of dr. martin luther king jr.'s "poor people's campaign," african-american into -- and chicano activist came to washington, d.c. but it is largely remembered as an african-american movement. this event is part of the american folklife center at the library of congress to mark national hispanic -- heritage month. >> i should say that my name is steve winick, a writer at the american folklife center. we are presenting this symposium entitled "organizing across the boundaries, strategies and coalitions in the struggle for civil rights and social justice."
this first presentation is called "when poor people marched on washington, the 1968 campaign in black and brown." i will introduce the speakers, and then they can come up and begin the discussion. so, the first person i will introduce is gordon -- who is an -- gordon mantler who is an assistant professor at george washington university specializing in the history and the rhetoric of 20th century social justice movements and the african-american and latino experience in the united states, as well as oral history and history of film. his first book and focus of his library presentation is "power to the poor, black-brown coalition, and the fight for economic justice 1960 to 1974." it was published in 2013. and so, we are really happy to have him here. he is the recipient of many awards, including the first
annual ronald t. ferrar civil rights history award. so we are very happy to have him here. and how is this going to work? come on up and have a seat. yeah. our second speaker is going to be our second panelist is going to be carlos montes, a nationally recognized leader in the chicano immigrant rights and antiwar movements who resides and works in east l.a. it was while attending college in 1967 that he joined the mexican-american student association and founded la vida nueva, a chicano student group, and organized and fought to establish one of the first chicano studies programs in the united states. we have an academic program coming out of that, which is wonderful. he took part in founding various social movements, including the brown berets. he took part in the antiwar
movement and the free huey newton campaign and other campaigns during the 1960's. he's remained active organizing other social movements. so carlos montes, if you would come on up as well. finally, i will introduce our third panelist who is or our moderator who is the wonderful guha shankar, who works here at the american folklife center of the library of congress where is a senior specialist. he looks after our civil rights history project. so guha. [applause] >> good morning. thank you for coming out on a rainy afternoon washington, d.c.
it seems like fall is here now. i want to thank carlos for flying off from california to be here. it's hard to believe it has been nine years since i first interviewed both of them for my book that came out 8 years later, back in 2005 when i first trekked out to california, new mexico, and colorado to speak with them and some other folks. oral history became the core of the book. so, what i plan to do today is to briefly sketch out the story of when poor people marched on washington in what was dr. martin luther king's final crusade. one that he did not see but was envisioning and working on around the last six months of his life. so, you may have noticed that we are in the season of civil rights anniversaries. as the opening introduction to
the entire symposium today suggested that this is the last program of a season of programs that started off in the spring to commemorate freedom summer, the 50th anniversary of that in mississippi, as well as the civil rights act of 1964. it is the 60th anniversary of the first brown decision from 1954. no commemoration has been -- moment has been celebrated as much as the 1963 march on washington in d.c. last august. i'm not going to go into critique and analysis of the original march and the commemoration, but what i will say is that i am struck at how much that march has overshadowed the other marches, particularly the 1957 prayer pilgrimage a few years after the brown decision, as well as the 1968 "poor people's campaign." i think this is a product of
continued public memory an d scholarship that emphasizes two 1960's. an early 1960's, the halcyon days of the civil rights struggle, and perhaps kennedy liberalism and a bad 1960's. a good and a bad 1960's of urban riots, white backlash, and for a lot, black power. today i want to talk about the "poor people's campaign," dr. king never saw. one i argue reveals the complexity of the man, the movement, and of the decade, the far more than the campaign's better-known counterpart from five years earlier. alarmed by what he saw as a vicious circle of state violence in the form of police brutality and harassment as well as military involvement in vietnam,
and by rioters frustrated with the slow pace of civil rights reform, particularly in northern and western cities, dr. king really was fearful that we were very quickly moving toward a fascist state. in december, 1967, king announced "poor people's campaign," in which the southern christian leadership conference would "bring ways of the nation's poor to washington, d.c., to redress their grievances by the government..." adding the poor would "stay until america responds." he envisioned the campaign as not just one of black and white but one -- a rainbow coalition that included mexican-americans, puerto ricans, and native americans. he hoped the campaign would do a number of things. one, transform fully the struggle for civil rights into human rights. of course, many other people had
been already doing that. one of the leading civil rights organizations, this was a considerable turn from what they had been doing earlier, including other people they had not worked with before. bringing about the federal government's rededication to the war on poverty which have been declared by president johnson and never fully fought or funded, at least partially because of the commitment to the war in vietnam. and three, restoring the credibility of nonviolence and social justice organizing, which had lost ground amid calls for armed self-defense. the campaign blossomed into the most ambitious ever taken -- undertaken by sclc and dr. king, but has been dismissed by journalists, scholars, biographers and even some , activists as irrelevant or a disastrous coda of the black civil rights struggle. one former official of the sclc
called it the little bighorn of the civil rights movement. it certainly was flawed. it did not achieve many of its goals. a closer look at the campaign reveals a remarkably instructive moment, an experiment to build a multiracial movement designed to wage a sustained fight against poverty. only in d.c. did representatives of so many different movements come together to build a physical and spiritual community about justice and poverty that went beyond a one-day rally. represented was the southern civil rights movement, labor unions, chicano and american indian activists, the welfare the welfare movement, the student movement, north, south, and west, and many others. what a diverse campaign reveals is how class-based multiracial coalitional politics often operate alongside the race-based identity politics of black power and chicano power. they were not at odds. this is often times what the
public memory suggest as well as historiography and scholarship, that these were always at odds. but in fact, i would argue they were mutually interdependent. the campaign also reveals how poor folks also saw their poverty differently. issues overlapped, but were not the same based on the different historical trajectories. so, despite dr. king's call for a different sort of campaign, it wasn't until march 19 68 that activist beyond traditional civil rights circles began to respond. in what was called the minority group conference, 80 activists gathered in atlanta. it was a remarkable moment that few people had ever heard of. some of the most important leaders of the chicano movement. as you can see.
the mexican american political association in california. jose gutierrez, one of the founders of the mexican american youth organization in texas. and denver's crusade for justice were among the folks there. they were welfare rights activists. there were coal miners interested from eastern kentucky and west virginia who were interested in land and environmental issues. religious activists from the national council of churches. and the american foreign service -- activists from the quakers. all these people in varying degrees saw themselves as opponents of the vietnam war. and saw that as linked to the abandonment of the war on poverty by 1968. here king presented his vision. one that was not just about how sclc defined poverty as jobs or income or a solution to poverty but one that included everyone's ideas.
the chicano activists offered a familiar refrain about the burgeoning relationship between them and civil rights activists, representing more urban chicanos reminded king that "conferring is a two-way street." african americans must listen to them and include them in campaigning. reyes -- dominated the room in a cap committee defense of the land grant rights. -- and i also will not go into all the details of the land grant struggle but i will be happy to talk about that in q&a. the delegates bonded over food, culture. the growing realization that they were stronger together than they were a part. and perhaps most importantly, that sclc took their issue seriously. so miles horton, the founder of the highlander folk's school,
the training school or center for civil rights and union organizing in tennessee wrote king after this conference. "i believe caught a glimpse of the future and the making of a bottom-up coalition." know, king waswe assassinated three weeks later, sparking violence in more than 100 cities including the district. ralph abernathy insisted the campaign would go on and support exploded as many people who had initially dismissed the campaign for a variety of reasons -- to o provocative, social nonviolent protests was outmoded. for a variety of reasons. many of them reconsidered. black panthers who i talked with said, we wanted to go to washington as, in memory of dr. king. even if they were still skeptical.
in fact, the campaign was so flooded with volunteers, so flooded with financial support, th campaign was overwhelmed. and speaking of this idea of ptsd, that is a good way of describing ralph abernathy and a young jesse jackson, the folks that were the close aides around king, the people who had been working with him for years trying to put this campaign on a month after dr. king's death. so, this disorganization -- it starts to become apparent as marchers began to descend on washington through the nine caravans modeled after the montgomery march in 1965. and the march of the united farm workers. they came from the west, northwest, midwest, northeast, and of course the south. i hope in his comments that carlos might speak about his
experience on the caravan from the west. i remember some interesting stories he told, some of which are in the book. and the most photographed of the caravans, however, was the mule train. as you can see here. a classic civil of southern poverty, sharecroppers, even black southern poverty. what this did was inadvertently reinforce the notion that the campaign was one more black civil rights campaign, and not the multiracial campaign that scls and dr. king had thought. by using the symbol over and over again, and having a reporter cover and follow the mule train, the press reinforce d this idea that this is really about southern poverty. not about westerner midwesterner northeastern, puerto ricans and native americans.
but about black southern poverty. another symbol that ended up distracting from the campaign's multiracial message was -- resurrection city. you can see on west potomac park in the district, the plan was to have some sort of encampment in washington. where marchers could stay and they could launch their campaign of federal agencies, of congress and the white house. so, they settled in a small tent city on the national mall. even got a permit from the department of the interior to do so. now, it's partly based on the army march of 1932. when world war i veterans came to d.c. to demand their bonus early, rather than getting it in 1945. because they were desperate to have some kind of money at the depths of the great depression. they were burned out by u.s. soldiers led by douglas mcarthur. and sent back over the bridges into virginia.
but it was seen by king aides a s successful in that it helped bring down hoover. it was one more way, one more poor optic for president already on the ropes, that he just did not care about poor people or care about regular folks and veterans. it's interesting if you go to be lbj library and spend time with the papers of aides to johnson, they were all reading arthur schlesinger's history. they were very aware of how that played out and they were insistent that it would not happen in 1968. so, resurrection city did take a life, take on a life of its own, and became a focal point of the campaign. in both good ways and bad ways. by late may, the city had 2500 people living in it. described by one magazine as a
revival meeting within a carnival within an army camp. when people were not lobbying congress and federal agencies, they ate at the mess hall. they put their kids in a day care center. they got their hair cut. they listen to some of what was called the best entertainment in town from pete seager to diana ross and gladys knight. residents wrote their own newspaper, criticizing sclc leadership. there was the poor people's university that offered a range of courses. everything from mexican american history to the intimacies of -- intricacies of income maintenance, which were -- which welfare rights activists are working on as a solution to poverty. and there was also the many races soul center. which fostered intercultural exchange is to us -- exchange
especially the music and dance. but it was a rainy spring. i feel like again -- there was a lot of rain. oslo my -- the folks i spoke with for the book said, it rained like in the bible. 19 days out of 31 it poured. a wet spring here. it had to be evacuated twice. you can see what happened. i think maybe the drainage has gotten better in west potomac park. i hope so. here are pictures of slightly happier times. barbers doing their job, one of the white families from west virginia. and so by the time most of the mexican american and native american marchers arrived from the west, which is several days after resurrection city had been started and they started pitching tents there, the city was a mess. as one said with some understatement, we did not see
what we hope to see. for understandable reasons. martin luther king had been assassinated. we figured, we wished them the best. meanwhile, we have to get on with what we want to do. instead, most chicanos who came to washington lived in the hawthorne school, an experimental high school that opened its doors to the marchers. at the time, their building was on i street southwest the became -- they later became part of southeastern university to which went defunct a few years ago. the choice of hawthorne was critical. it was in this space that much of the campaign's relationship building for chicanos occurred. several activist independently called it "a successful multiracial community." some of it was cultural exchange over food and music. others describe their shock at the poverty of poor whites from
appalachia to the point where they would give their extra shoes and jackets to them. for many chicano activists in their teens and 20's, and the age is in the poor people's campaign skewed young, it forced them to take a more sophisticated look at the world and consider how race, class, and gender were intertwined. chicano activists such as the brown berets that carlos was part of met folks they would not have otherwise met. and who got them thinking in different ways. one of my favorite quotes from carlos, i'll give here. let's see if i get it right. when would we have gotten together with the crusade for justice? live with them, shared bread with them, marched every day with them.
their activities in washington bonded the activist together in such a way that they build on these relationships when they went home. one of the protests, maybe most interesting was next-door in front of the supreme court. in early june, 1968, where 400 african-american, native american and mexican-american , activists joined to protest a recent court ruling about native fishing rights. in the 1960's, this was one of the key issues for a lot of native americans. who had been supposedly given the right under treaties that were up to 200 years old to fish in ancestral waters. state laws, including washington state, forbid them from doing this and they would be arrested. so, inspired by the direct action they saw on tv by the student nonviolent coordinating committee, they would fish in places they were not supposed to, be arrested, and put this challenge into the court system. the supreme court earlier that
year had ruled that the state laws were indeed constitutional. they were not a violation of the treaties. and so, they showed up in june and protested in front of the court. this protest did not change the ruling. the ruling would change later on in the early 1970's. but what it did do is highlight the potential of coalition building at the time. on on their way back to hawthorne, where most of them are based from the supreme court, the district police attacked and beat a lot of the protesters. maria showed that one photo of ernesto -- from that moment where they did not think the protesters were moving fast enough, and they attacked them. several folks were jailed. and ernesto remembers about it years later, you find common cause when you sit in the same jail cell.
and they were released, thanks to naacp bail money. after they were released they , were greeted like heroes in a rally. i think this incident underscores the role of police brutality and harassment as a key issue that everyone agreed on. not all the issues that folks brought to washington were the same. but police brutality and harassment brought folks together, whether it was in chicago, the district, l.a., albuquerque, denver. no matter where they were, this was something that bonded folks together. on june 19, the campaign sponsored solidarity day. it looked a lot like the march on washington from five years early. made for media. that featured a theme of hunger. and in contrast to the march from five years earlier, women played a prominent role.
coretta scott king gave a keynote. many other people took the stage to speak. yet, what i would argue is focusing on it, obscure the campaign's relevance, which was not just about a one-day rally but the relationships built over several months' time. just days after solidarity day, reservation best resurrection city was knocked down. the department of interior decided they have had their say. we are going to forced the evacuation of folks. the police came in and knocked it down. i will say that many of the documents, many of the what sclc had that an historian can normally use to talk about were destroyed when the police did this. it took me several years of piecing together the story of the campaign and resurrection city, oral histories and
through, travels to 20 archives. and so, in the end, the campaign accomplished modest policy changes. welfare rights activist did gain the ears of bureaucrats in what was then a lame-duck johnson administration. they even gained a seat at the table in a new nixon administration. the government released surplus food to the 100 poorest counties in the country. including many the and mississippi. good stance became cheaper. a lot of things around hunger did change, at least on the edges. what i would argue more , important we should care about the "poor people's campaign" for several reasons in the 20th century. one, i think we should reassess the expectations we have for
multiracial coalition building. just because they are fleeting, that they are not sustained. does not mean they are not unproductive. the class, race, and gender are mutually exclusive. this is not the case, but they reinforce each other. and three that the black freedom struggle or the civil rights movement was not simply a happy optimistic message for brotherhood, as the march on washington might suggest, but one that demanded full citizenship rights but full economic and educational opportunity for everyone -- black, white, mexican, and native american. thanks so much. [applause] thank you, gordon. carlos, if we could have you up here. bring a land grant.
let's see if i can find it. a couple of power points that are kind of long, so i will try to do a new one. -- it am looking for is was great looking at all all the photos, it brought back a lot of memories. my history as different. my family came from mexico. and thisis powerpoint outline. can you hear me ok? like a quick powerpoint i did. it is not even the best one i should do. let me start with an introduction. i looked in mexico on the border. in that city and removedtheir that's from there to l.a. in the late 1950's. an alley. living in
you do not know when you're poor when you are poor. now when i think back on it. no running water, gas, amateur city. or at least no refrigerator. we have the kind the iceman delivered. we were poor and did not know until we were and out eight. -- neighbors across the street, southerners. had no idea. i was fascinated by all of it. my parents did not speak english. you had a rural family from mexico, and you had lakhs from the south in the same block. chicanos and blacks free of the
older whites had already started moving out. i lived with the -- they treated me ok. stadium, there was -- i said how are they doing that to the mexicans, they were picking them up and throwing them out, they were evicting them to build the stadium. it was not watch, but close enough. -- watts, but close enough. but i grew up in south l.a.,
florence area, walking into the neighborhood, which was still white, southeast l.a. huntington park, to see the movies, right, and seeing a sign, apartment for rent, whites only. so you're a little chicano, you're a mexican becoming chicano, you're like, ok, the -- they do not like the blacks, but what about us? where do we fit in? so, little by little, we realized that they didn't want us either. the racism that i faced from the police and in the schools -- you got to give me a time thing because sometimes i talk too much. [laughter] by the way, i am active today. i'm a writer, part of the legalization -- obama didn't do the doca like he promised. he was still doing the protests. so my involvement growing up with racism in south l.a., during the '65 rebellion, i was a janitor with blacks at the local school. i remember a debate, we could come back the next night and we
would be cleaning, i was right in the middle of it having that discussion with them, kind of just learning from them, or seeing the debate. but my experience in high school in east l.a., i was young, growing up in the urban city, there was soul music, being -- crusing, being harassed by the police, being pushed out of high school, being recruited by the military, becoming angry young chicanos without any direction, but the civil rights, you watch it on tv, moechldhammed ali, they told me why don't you go ahead and do it. the older chicanos, they're more about assimilation, i said why can't we do like carmichael? they said why don't you you do
it. i was at east l.a. college. so i hooked up with the young chicano for community action, they said why don't u you do it. so i hooked up with the young chicano for community action, which became the brown berets. the big connection with the black panthers, bobby sele giving us the red book and then john huggins achnd bungee carte. they founded the gang in south l.a., but they founded the black panther party and they came to east l.a. to say let's work together. i said who are these guys? i could relate to it because i'm from south l.a., i had already moved to east l.a. by then erp
they believe to bridge that. and bungee and john were eventually assassinated at ucla, but they had the forethought to talk about black and brown unity. here's a picture of me, i don't know where that was. but there i am, angry young chicanos, when we became conscious, we thought the problem was the whiteman, chicano power supported black power. i think that they be one of the reasons we got the notoriety, but by then we were already becoming more radicalized, the vietnam war, the black panthers, we weren't really socialists,
but we liked mao. we liked china and mao, better than we did russia. but it was real basic, we wanted to get into theory until later on. and maybe later on, i have a little bit -- but the poor people's campaign, we get the invitation, king had been assassinated, and, i got the call, and, you know, you're young at that point, let's do it. it took the walkouts, it took a couple of months, it run into school, when you're young, you're 20, you're down, right? and, is so, we ran, we did go down to south l.a., got on the bus, we were proud to say, we, the chicanos are going to be on the back of the bug.
and the caravan going over there was tremendous, every night was a rally, black, native americans, whites, it was exhilarating, it was like wow, phoenix, we're having a big rally, with the farm workers, everybody's eating, so happy, we're starting to bond and other chicano organizations that were there, going to el paso with the tents, it was the texas rangers, you know, it was a lot more repres repressive, police weren't able to shut us down at the l.a. convention center. it was welcome brother, welcome brother. but another chicano guy, he said, no, you're not my brother. i said what do you mean i'm not
your brother? there were still some blacks and chicanos that were prejudice, but albuquerque, the native american movement, going out to colorado, more the urban chicano, the crusade for justice. where was it when we took over the mississippi river? i remember one time we were marching over a bridges, and we said, we're going to sit down on this bridge, you mentioned africa a what state was it? missouri i don't know how it happened, it was spontaneous, you know. the older sclc were there--they shut it down for a little while. so we were getting all pumped up, and we respected sclc and martin luther king, we don't advocate violence as the brown berets, we started to become
more politically conscious because we were about walkouts and stop police brutality, but when they did the great raid, they said, hey, he wants the land back. it's not just about better schools, stop police brutality, it's about taking our land back and chicano power. i know a lot of republicans in arizona are afraid of that. that's why they keep shutting us down in arizona. so let me get back on the poor people's campaign. so, yeah, eventually we got to the hawthorne school, roke, it was just an empty school, cement, it wasn't no luxury, we're all getting bunk beds and where are we going to eat? it was fun, but they were native americans, blacks, whites, and
that's where i saw poor whites, poorer than us in l.a., and i go, oh, my god, and puerto ricans, and so i say little by little, the white man's not the enemy, it must be the economic system. so we started evolving, it was a struggle against capitalism eventually and give me a time thing. i'm glad you showed the march on the supreme court. i remember, support the natuive american s, land rights, fishing rights, and i remember we were mit marching up to the stairs, right? oh, i got ten minutes? to we were marching up the stairs and we walk in there, and the native americans, we're going to lead this march, so we're marching up behind them. as soon as they get up to the supreme court, what do they do?
the big giant door closes on us. and we walked up and started banging on it. let us in, let us in, let us in. i bet the security guy saw us coming and closed the door or we would have gone in there and sat down. but they were denying justice to is native americans, all this genocide, so we surrounded the whole area and we had pictures of that, we surrounded the whole thing and we had a rally there and -- oh, here's one of the poor people's campaign. so that was exhilarating, but consciousness raising, the native americans, learning, for me, about the land rights, the fishing rights, the treaty rights. i don't even remember when this happened, somebody e-mailed this to me and said you're in there. did you take that one? you took that one? all right, all right. thank you. thank you. so i didn't know, i think it was raining that day, so i don't
know what the issue was that day? we're going to march, let's march, and it was windy and rainy, every day was exhilarating, i don't know why. but i'm in there, if you can figure out where i'm at, you get a prize. because i totally don't look like i look today. but another one that i remember, when we were there, we were indicted by the l.a. county grand jury for conspiracy to disrupt the school system. we said, we're going to be arrested, we should get our beret out and get under cover. so we're like let's march to the attorney general's office and demand amnesty for us. we said, yeah, let's do it. we marched on ramsey clark, they had a delegation saying give us amnesty, i already have a
warrant for me. so we were outside, and corky, i don't know who else went in in, i don't know if you know who went in -- they came out and said ramsay said, hey, cool, but he's got no jurisdiction, but we said we're going to have sit in outside, by that time the young people are like, we like abernathy, we like jesse, we started to relate to the young plaq blackses and the young puerto ricans, so we said we're going to have a sit in at the attorney general's office. and yeah, we're going to fit in, all blacks, we started over sit in, no preparation, no nothing. so then a little while later, they send jesse, this is where i learned my lesson about classes.
i just have some pictures that i have continued to work in the community in the struggle with black liberation movement consistently all my life. so jesse shows up, young elegant speaker, black power, yeah, yeah, yeah. i said, okay, he's going to be solid there with the sit in, and he gets everybody riled up, what we're going to do now, we're going to march back to resurrection city, and i was going, wait a minute, wake, we're having a sit in. that's when i realized, i love jesse, but i saw him as a poor working class, and they used him to kick us out, to kind of diffuse that anger there.
i wanted to show that real quick. kind of digressing, jump and hit a little bit. a year or two ago, they invited me to speak at the south l.a. power coalition, building black unity. and it was ron karanga, how many of you know him? he was there and i was there. and we talked got building black unity. and by the way, thanks to the library of congress, and the library staff, i wanting to thank you for getting this out. so i have to bring in bunchey carter. because they wanted me to talk about the history of black latinos, i was like, hey, you guys kill me.
and then, you know, i know with the fbi pro and tell thing. so back on hawthorne school, to what was the other big -- okay so then jesse jackson, the -- and another big march that i really loved was jesse, i don't know if it was the department of housing or agriculture or food, which one was it, we're going to march, we're going to protest, okay, let's go. so we all marched into the big giant federal building, we're going to go eat. let's go eat, right, so we wind up in the cafeteria and all the cafeteria workers were black, they said get your food achkd go up there and don't pay. and it was not just me, there was a bunch of us. hundreds of us. we get our food, we get up there and the poor african-american lady is ringing it p up. we're like just go give it to
jes jesse in the back. we're not going to pay. the issue was food. every day was a different issue, i guess it was food. we were starving there's no food, powdered milk and all that. i'm telling you, the staff was there with us. but it was a big media thing. so the -- you know, we did bond with the other chicano organizations, the welfare rights organization, the crusade for justice, long lasting relations which builds the chicano liberation movement. because after that we went to the mountains, we visited up in, learned about the struggle. said we're going to introduce you to our sheriff. no, i don't want to meet the sheriff, this is our own government, i was like oh, shoot, i'll meet him.
their own mayor. so the crusade, so we continued to have relations with the black panthers, i had the pleasure of meeting with john pratt after he got out of prison. erica cousins, kathleen cleaver, myself and geronimo before he passed. and the struggle for fbi repression that continues today. i mean we continue working together, i had the pleasure of reading fred hampton jr. a year or so ago. but, you know, and in some ways the poor people's campaign was informative, i learned that word the other day, we used to say it bl blew my mind, so it was the white power structure and the
capitalist structure and we have to learn about the political prisoners of puerto rico. i don'ted protesting. i was real active in kind of summing up here, one of the things i'm proud of is the l.a. rainbow coalition for justice in which black and chicano families got together to protest police murders a a s and we worked wi johnny cochran, and i was a delegate, i was latinos for jackson, i was at the democratic convention, if they ain't going to do it, we need jackson, and we new mondale was going to go down, so we supported jesse in '84 and '88. i can go on and on and talk about solidarity's struggle that we worked with in african-america.
the southern coalition -- but go ahead, i'm finished. >> and i got newspaper of the fight back news.org in the back, you can check out. thank you very much and we have time later today, there's a little video clip. take this off. okay it's supposed to be a panel, right, i'm so excited. >> go ahead and give me. >> right. >> thank you. of course, this is a problem listening to engaging speakers. have a bunch of questions written down and they go right out of your head even though we have them written down on notes. >> i'll start with you, gordon and give carlos a chance to catch his breath. the word transformation or i'm going to reintroduce blowing my
mind back into my lexicon i think, i like that better, can you talk a little -- elaborate on that a little bit because you go to some lengths in your book which by the way is on sale out there in the lobby. a shameless plug for gordon's book and for all the other author's books. he'll sign it for you at no extra charming. so, please. >> at least you made the plug and not me. so, the question is about how it was a transformative moment. yeah, i mean, as i said, it was the demographics i guess of the poor's people campaign skewed young so you had a lot of teams, 20 somethings like carlos who were there, who were coming to washington for the first time oftentimes, and so going to the nation's capital, the heart of it all, and meeting all these folks, that they really didn't have a chance to interact with very much, and -- and i was struck by all the oral histories that did i and how many folks independently brought up the
white appalachians that they met from eastern kentucky and west virginia and the coal fields there. and they were struck at how desperately poor many of these folks were. materially in particular. the moments where it's like -- a white coal minor says, well, i'm interested in land rights, and being able to control my own land rather than having some coal company own the mineral rights underneath their homes, and -- and chicano activists and native american activists saying i'm interested in the same thing, and seeing that these issues bonded folks, you know, across the country, maybe in different contexts to a certain extent, but not completely, right? and this is one of the reasons why i think the advocate for the land rights struggle, a flawed advocate, not as much an
organizer as he was an order, and yet he built a really vibrant organization and coalition in new mexico in particular that inspired folks from across the southwest for sure, and even the rest of the country for several years around this idea that land should be restored to people that it was stolen from, and, you know, in the wake of the u.s.-mexican war and so, yeah, for a lot of these people they come. they meet people that they had never met before. they had conversations with folks they never met -- you know, that they never would have had a chance to before, and what i think is so interesting about the poor people's campaign and instructive about it, as i say, it's not some grand success at least in the way the media would define, you know, the criteria they would suggest, but living with folks day in and day out, standing in line whether it's for food or for the bathroom or for what have you, trying to stay dry, you know, in this
really wet spring. those are the kinds of conversations that you build relationships from, and i -- i think the march on washington was very inconspiring in '67 and yet it was a one-day real, and i think that there's a big difference, you know, through the kinds of relationship, constructive relationship-building that you can do, you know, over six weeks and two months versus one day or three hours for that matter. >> perfect. >> i'm glad that you brought the land grants in because i do want maria varella to weigh in on that a little chance later on in the conversation. carlos, does that jive with your own? you started talking about that consciousness raising. >> it did. i remember the appalachian families, talking to them and looking at them, how they were dressed and how they talked and about where they lived, and i was saying, like they are poorer than us, at least in l.a. in east l.a. at that time, you know, my father was, you know a -- he was in the carpenters
union, assembly lines, you know, and the fact that there was a union there, at least, you know, had not really good money but, you know, we had health care and rented a house and moved and i could see they were poorer than us, you know, an here they were with us, you know, and then also the black, young blacks from d.c. and from the south, talking to them and -- and then, you know, hanging out and marching together and going to get food and clothing. we'd go and have some free clothing down the street we'd go. let's get this and let's get that. you're right. sometimes you would meet people at a real or event, network for 15, 20 minutes an hour and then you're gone and then you exchange e-mails but being there day after day and then getting arrested. one thing i forgot to mention, the young folk, we rebelled. we'll have our own march. we marched on the white house, and there was young plaques, chicanos and native americans,
and we got busted, and they got us from the back and grabbed us and shot us down and one thing i'll never forget is the young black brother they got. they busted his head. he was bleeding, and i know they got me and had me down, and i had a beret. maybe i didn't bleed, but they threw us in the pead wagon, right? literally picked us up and threw us in there, so, you know, like you said, being in jail and getting busted together with blacks, whites, chicanos, you know, that bonded us in the poor people's movement. >> yeah. i was interested in hearing you talk about transformations in two different ways, you said at one point, correct me if i'm wrong, i was a mexican and i was becoming chicano and the other one was the transformation of your consciousness talking about kind of a racial or ethnic identity, all of a sudden you see structural problems and everybody across sort of racial lines faces.
is that a fair way to describe the experience? >> absolutely, absolutely, because, you know, a little mexican kid, growing up in south l.a. and listening to chuck berry and fats domino. >> do you know who that is? >> you know, rock 'n' roll, you know, the beginning of rock 'n' roll and soul music, i don't know if it was the beginning, and i remember another one, we would go to one of the local shows when elvis presley "jailhouse rock" came out and a bunch of young kids, chicanos and blacks in the little theater on saturday afternoon like rocking it out. and people out there in the aisle, tried to imitate elvis presley and i was like, whoa, you know. it was fun, you know, but it bonded, and then going to school together and one of my first girlfriends in the high school when i moved to east l.a., african-american and so -- so -- so i became chicano, you know. i was no longer mexican because my culture and my language and
my point of reference is difference, you know, seeing the racism, and the schools and the community, you know, and then my language and my music, you know, and then in east l.a. i was more into cruising music, the santana sound, urban chicano sound and picked up on the soul music and had our own flavor. carlos santana, everybody remembers him. >> sure. >> so it became a chicano culture and then the political part was, yeah, the white man not the enemy. the system is the enemy that's keeping us down, keeping the vietnamese down in vietnam and here in the u.s., so i -- so i was more like a class solidarity, you know, and then the rainbow coalition, you know, brought it out as well as the panthers. the panthers not the enemy, carlos, it's the system and here, read the red boar, you know, and then the cuban revolution, so we started
becoming more anti-imperialist. >> does that jive with you? >> yeah, definitely. one thing can i say is i'm struck by the role of culture that if politics don't bond people, which, you know, folks have their different political strategies and you see a lot of that on display in the poor people's campaign where there are big personalities, there's strategic differences. the question about does selc allow other folks to real be part of the decision-making or is it just lip service? mean, not everybody is a fan of ralph abernathy. a lot of people are very critical of him and yet i think he had an impossible position that he was placed in, and part of i think the mistakes he made, of course, was that he tried to step into dr. king's shoes directly rather than be his own self, but even when the politics breaks down, and the differences become heightened even if the
commonly tis and similarities and their positions and the issues are still there, i mean, it strikes me how much culture bonds folks together, and there's a lot of -- i think there's really good scholarship about how music and i keep on coming back to this in the resurrection city and the hawthorne school is that -- that it was often the way the folks started talking with each other, and then it would heed to other things so they would share some food and share some music and -- and then that would lead to other things, so i would -- i think it's -- it's a transformative moment to go back to your initial question for a lot of these folks, and it took -- you know, they only had to travel 3,000 miles here to do it. >> right. >> you say something that was interesting to me. you talk about seeing a struggle in coalition building across not just the various dimensions of
race or class or gennady but it's not either/or, it's both and, and where does gender enter into your particular perspective, and i'm reminded of what maria said earlier this morning about what is -- what is the role of, you know, women in this particular, you know, set of coalitions that you guys are talking about? >> you know, great question. so in a lot of ways a poor's people campaign works as much as it does work because of the women that are there, and i think, you know, a lot of this is on display on solidarity day where it is women that are the most prominent and focusing on -- i mean, i recall martha grass who is a native american or mother of 11 children in oklahoma. plays a prominent role in the solidarity day rally, and speaking about, you know, the challenges that she faces as a
mom in the middle of the country and that poverty, you know, impacted women and children more than anybody else, right? and so in a lot of ways the campaign highlighted the -- it was -- it provided a space for women who did not see themselves as exactly part of the feminist movement which was unfairly or not seen as white and middle class so you see a lot of issues on display that african-american and chicano women, native american women with working class and others are able to stress in this space of resurrection city and hawthorne school here in the capital. >> how does that jive with your recollection? >> no, absolutely. i remember, you know, the leader and organizer of poor working plants in chicano, working rights organization, we bonded and continued to work together.
strong woman, you know, no college, but militant organizer and her daughter elishia and the other woman who was there and the other woman who was with us and also i did notice that anita gonzalez, the family and daughter, and i saw the difference with the wife and corky's wife were for quiet and submissive behind the scenes. get the food and the lodging and the younger woman, she was different and in it all the way, but the younger women were being active, marching and wanted to speak and so there was this -- you know, that gender imbalance, and, you know, when we got back to l.a., alashia scolante wrote me and said she wrote the book before i came and found out i was coming. continued the long struggle of
activism and then the brown berets that led to us challenging the leadership and you can't have a male dominated one guy running the show. we've got to have quality here, so -- so, yeah, but the young woman that marched with us on a daily basis, you know, i didn't cover a lot of it when i was speaking. >> one thing i would add is, that you know, the policy changes that did occur, a lot of that was due to the work of marion wright, sue to be marion wright edelman who then funds the children's defense fund a few years later. she's constantly working behind the scenes and making connections with federal bureaucrats that in a way that wouldn't have happened otherwise. abernathy is in front of, you know, the cameras, behind the telephone and other folks in josefa williams and jesse jackson. folks like marion wright that was actually make some changes, at least policy-wise. >> i think what i'm going to ask
is if we could actually get our microphone passer outers to pass out the old mike phones and turn the question and comments to the audience. like you said, a number of bheem have been involved in the struggle from the delta all the way over to the southwest and on to the west and, please, by all means, we really appreciate your comments and interventions. i know we've got a long afternoon ahead of us, but i wanted to get back to maria to talk to you if you had some times, wanted to say something about the land grants movement. would that be okay with you? >> put on the spot. >> put you on the spot. >> or do you already have another question in mind. >> i think -- i was pretty critical. can you hear me with this? first of all, i didn't want to do this -- i already had been through stuff with the sclc. this thing about jesse turning everybody around. that's exactly what happened in selma. >> in selma.
>> i didn't know that. >> exactly, and it was like i did not want to do this, but the folks i was working with, which was reyes and corky, they felt it was important so kind of like the way we did in snic, what people wanted is what we did and so i did go. and i didn't have like -- i think the most important thing that never was able to take off was the poor people's embassy. >> yes. >> can you explain that a little bit. >> which at some point i would love you to explain, gordon. so here you are together and doing all this work but when it really gets down to the potential of being pretty effective here in d.c., over the long term, where people could continue then to lobby, because you -- you know, you know how congress is, this had great potential, and -- and it was a shame, and because you had -- i
mean, anita -- ganz les corky's daughter was involved in it, and the idea was that the embassy would be here in d.c. and continue whatever people who returned back home wanted to continue to pressure congress for, that the poor people's embassy would do that. so could you explain it a little better, gordon, in terms of. >> yeah, this is definitely one of the -- had a lot of potential. a lot of folks after the resurrection city was knocked down in mid-july, you know, in late june of '68, by mid-july, this idea of a poor people's embassy that emerged was we'll find an office space here. we will have a presence that will continue to lobby congress, and -- and, you know, they had written up several grant proposals, i mean, but as you said there was -- there was not a lot of interest by the foundations to support something
led by reyes lupis and that was a key person in -- behind us. he really wanted to sustain this idea. anita jo gonzalez, one of corky's daughters was involved as well as several other folks, puerto rican, annabelle sullivan, and eventually what happened, and it seems obvious now. huge strategic blunders that they move the office to new york, and -- and in someone's apartment, and -- and didn't look legitimate, wasn't able to get the funding for a variety of reasons, and then -- and so the idea of basically it just petered out by '69, but you see people meeting and trying to get this thing going as, you know, a -- a sustained presence here in the district here to lobby congress, and as i said, i mean, it was welfare rights activists
who were involved with the national welfare rights organization as well as chicana rights activists like alicia scolante who were more successful because they were able to get the ear of bureaucrats who were still around, you know, after johnson administration left and the nixon administration began. they were more successful, and if you remember, president nixon actually embraced welfare reform, not the kind of welfare reform necessarily you saw in '96 under president clinton, but something that did cut everybody a check who fell below a certain income. now, the devil's in the details. the details weren't particularly friendly to welfare recipients, but there was at least a conversation going on between this conservative republican administration and welfare rights activists, and a lot of that really comes out of the poor people's campaign moment. it doesn't succeed, of course,
but, yeah, yeah, the poor people's embassy was a missed opportunity, and there's definitely some errors that were made in the process. >> yeah. thank you for that. >> carlos. >> what did i want to say overall is that there were some gains and victories that we got in the '60s out of that whole movement, and in terms of affirmative action, ethnic studies, you know. we supported bradley and his first mayor campaign, brown berets, oh, you know, and eventually won. so there were gains, you know, that the system, you know, gave. in california, you know, the welfare and education and the food stamps and jobs, still blue collar jobs. they are all gone now, so we were able to move, make many gains in welfare, education, jobs, but -- but the other thing we faced was the repression, the counterintelligence program, the disruptions, people were killed, assassinate, forced to flee. hi to leave the country for seven years. i was on the run for seven
years, and then the -- so then -- the system -- you remember the other thing the war on poverty program that a lot of people had jobs, and they were giving us all this money to keep us working and keep us from organizing, you know, because a lot of people got all these jobs and war on poverty and people running proposals and getting grants. man, you know, like -- so, you know, i -- anyway, we had some gains, but then we went back, right? >> that's certainly like part of the strategy behind, you know, rockefeller/ford foundations is to provide money but for very particular -- for how they saw -- you know, they wanted to channel that energy in a particular way. >> we have a question. >> first off, thank you so much for your presentations, fantastic. my question has to do with the role of puerto ricans and the young lords and i'm wondering if you all can speak to their
participationed in poor people's campaign. >> yeah. >> carlos. >> yeah. >> want me to start it out. that's where we met and would say what's up, you speak spanish, and a whole difference experience? i'm from mexico, east l.a., never left l.a. so the whole experience meeting all these people we related, you know, in a different level because they are spanish-speaking, right, even though -- you know, another blew my mind, but you're black and also latina, white or latina, the culture and sals ann, and some into cumbia. purple berets, we had brown berets and black berets and the puerto rican, you know, all bonding, cultural bonding and political bonding and learning about the colony of the spanish-american war and it was all blew my mind, right?
>> blowing my mind right now. >> so we went to new york, and we didn't want to get busted so we hung out in harlem, not just the young lords, other puerto rican organizations, so another long bond and we invited the young lords to come to l.a. and we'll go to new york so it gave us an historical perspective of imperialism, you know what i'm talking about, right? >> and becoming more radical, you know, and then so, you know, che didn't look too bad at all. we were victims of red baiting, red, red, red, you know, bad, bad, bad, but after a while we said it's okay, you know. and the young lords helped with that as well as the panthers, you know. >> you want to talk about -- >> i would say great question.
puerto ricans were definitely present in the poor people's campaign. much smaller numbers, but you had certainly a contingent from new york and chicago and philadelphia there. they had their own kind of separate rally rather than during solidarity days. solidarity day was during the middle of the week so puerto rican organizers in new york said, well, we can't come during the week, but we can come on weekend so they had their own sort of separate rally which i guess you could see the optics of it, were, you know, very practical reasons for it but there's -- they are having their own rally that corky gonzalez and rea lopez. the chicano youth liberation conference in '69 in denver hosted by coaching gonzalez's organization, the crusade for justice, invited young lords so you had the young lords from chicago and young lords from new
york again and in particular who went to that. yes. the issues are not quite the same. there's -- and the story in their history is not quite the same, but they were able to find some common ground, right? >> thank you. >> any other questions? >> i had one, and this is interesting because carlos, you're talking about, meeting up with other chicano activists and gordon you've elaborated beautifully in the book how class and race and all these things come together and then you're talking very clearly against the notion of any hard and fast binary between black and white and all these other ways to complicate the question of solidarity. and you said something that struck me about this notion between urban rural because the whole notion of land rights didn't enter your consciousness at the beginning but then all of a sudden becomes very much part of the whole, you know, becomes critically important to you. is that -- can you talk about
that? >> yes. growing up in l.a., the urban setting, the issues were education, police brutality, stop the drugs and then, you know, the military recruiting, but when they led the raid in june 7, '67 and they came to speak, raised the whole issue of the land so then we started studying, you know, and the first book i read on chicano studies history was north of mexico carrie mcwilliams and that again blew my mine. think of a different term. raised my consciousness, right, so learned my real history, and, map, this is our lap. it was ripped off, and i remember why when we were little kids, showed the alamo and nobody clapped, right? we didn't know what was going on. didn't know that they would clap to that, right? you don't know, right, you know,
but you sit in a room and it goes all dark. we ain't going to clap on this here. anyway, so the -- the land, it revolutionized us. it was a combination of the black liberation struggle, viatnamese struggle and then the raise the land question. not just a struggle for civil rights but a struggle for self-determination, declaration of human rights, u.n., what is dev determination, political power in a political economic control over your own land. >> right. >> and then when he introduced me to the sheriff, they had their own little self-government, and i said why don't we -- you know, and then -- then, you know, the crusade for justice, the chicano youth liberation conference, we put out the plan where we called for our own nation. it was a little bit spiritual, but then later on when we started reading, there are struggles throughout the world where people want their own
land, you know. puerto rico, how big is puerto rico and how many people live in puerto rico? how big is puerto rico, you know, and you look at whole southwest. >> right. >> the brown masses, you know. we have the right to self-determination, so it took us -- i still -- i still advocate and me of that, right to south determination. >> parallel to naft american struggles to reclaim ancient lands in the south and southwest and the southwest. okay. so i'm going to bring this to a close. >> can i get a photo op. can we get a photo. can you take a photo? >> of course. >> whoever the photo guy is out there. >> i'll have to do it myself. >> is there a photo guy out there that can take a photo. >> i think we've taken photographs. >> i want one of my own. >> do my phone, please, please, please. >> all right. >> so while we're waiting for the photo-op to develop, i was going to say that we should try to -- thank you.
we should try and make our way to lunch. we are about 10 to 15 minutes behind but we'll make it up, and we've got padding here and there to take care of our food needs for now and come back and be prepared to go for this afternoon's session. many of the themes and the comments that you've heard here which have been so brilliantly set up by maria and gordon and carlos montes -- another one? >> take a couple. all my friends told me take a lot of photos. >> i took like five. >> oh, thank you. >> while i was talking. >> there's a young lady. >> just to remind people that several of the books written by our presenters are on sale outside. >> right. >> during the lunch period. they will also be on sale i believe during the break in the afternoon. and then you have some interviews. >> correct, and we're going to also -- we're going to come back -- when you come back from break, you can bring your lunch in here and eat, but eat neatly, if you would, and you can also watch right back on the monitor
some of the chrp interviews. we're live with an online connection so come back and be prepared to go and i don't have a schedule. 1:15, yes, correct. so 45 minutes, be back and we'll >> featuring president george h w bush and reaction from leaders george mitchell and bob dole. that galvanized letters and the free world. ont is tomorrow at 8:00 american history tv. >> c-span is touring the cities across the country.
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