When: April 13 – meet at The Other Side on Genesee Street (across from the Uptown Theater) this Saturday, April 13 at 2:30pm for a carpool heading to Colgate University for a 3:30 peaceful protest.

On Saturday April 15 at 5:00pm, Colgate University will host former Mexican president Felipe Calderon as an honored guest and speaker. Calderon came to power in what was largely viewed as a stolen election in 2006. He waged a failed and bloody “war on drugs” that resulted in the torture, forced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings of up to 120,000 people.

He violently repressed the democratic political movements in Oaxaca and the indigenous Zapatistas in Chiapas. In 2011 he was charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court mostly for his handling of the drug war. His disastrous economic policies pushed millions of Mexicans into poverty while only the wealthiest in Mexico and a number of U.S. corporations profited.

Unfortunately, Colgate is not alone in applauding the policies of Calderon. The former president was awarded a fellowship at his alma mater of Harvard. Protests erupted in response, both in the street and in the form of a petition.

Calderon’s ability to speak at prestigious U.S. universities unfortunately comes out of the long history of the U.S. government supporting human rights violators and dictators that do the bidding of U.S. big business. A change in policy is long overdue.

Sign the petition to appeal Harvard’s decision to grant Calderon a fellowship.


Today the movement is in a state of impasse. Perhaps by turning to history, exploring the experiences of movements animated by similar values and confronting similar roadblocks, we’ll find some guidance on how to move forward.

On February 1st, 1960, four Black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at the counter of a local Woolworth’s, refusing to leave until they were served. Unaware that their actions were to ignite a movement that would radically shake the nation. Similar to Occupy Wall Street, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged out of a wave of direct action that spread almost spontaneously across the country, reshaping the national conversation around inequality and providing space for a new generation of radicals to find each other. The Civil Rights Movement, which had for sometime been stagnating, was given a fresh infusion of new energy. But as the wave passed, the young radicals found themselves in a moment of confusion: the initiative was firmly in their hands, but they were unsure of what direction to go in or how to move forward. Having perhaps reached the limit that style of activism had to offer, they began to shift gears to the longer-term work of community organizing.

Broadly speaking, the Civil Rights Movement can be thought of as containing two distinct traditions of movement building: community mobilizing and community organizing. The former focused primarily on large-scale, short-term public events. This is the Movement of popular memory, best associated with the legacy of Dr. King. The organizing tradition, on the other hand, was animated by a sense of freedom eloquently summed up by Septima Clark as “broadening the scope of democracy to include everyone and deepening the concept to include every relationship.” To this end, more emphasis was placed on the longer-term work of cultivating a sense of leadership, agency, and power of everyday people. The success of campaigns was judged more for how they facilitated the personal transformation of those involved than if they met particular tactical goals. The movement became a kind of training in democracy.

As they would arrive in town, SNCC organizers were often ignored or avoided by local people, often dismissively referred to as “dat mess.” Even folks initially sympathetic to the movement simply had too much to lose by publicly affiliating with it. But the organizers dug themselves in, engaging the community, getting to know people and their struggles, building relationships. Slowly, impressed by their ideas, actions, character, and courage, some local people chose to cast their lot with the movement. Within a year, they would have the capacity to mobilize an entire town; even conservative local leaders felt obligated to express their support. When SNCC organizers would leave town, they left behind lasting autonomous organizations led by local people, who otherwise would never would have thought of themselves as politically engaged. They transformed the South.

SNCC organizer Bob Moses was once asked how you organize a town. “By bouncing a ball,” he responded. “You stand on a street corner and bounce a ball. Soon all the children come around. You keep on bouncing the ball. Before long it runs under someone’s porch and you meet the adults.”

SNCC often thought about organizing and building relationships interchangeably. Canvassing was the prototypical organizing act. It was the first step in engaging and developing relationships with those in the community not already sympathetic to the movement. Anyone who showed interest would be asked to become involved in a single, concrete task. This could be helping to plan a workshop or going canvassing themselves, but it often meant attending a mass meeting. Mass meetings were the means by which curiosity was cemented into commitment. Mass meetings borrowed their form from the Black church. Strategy and tactics were discussed, internal problems aired, educational lectures given, gospels sung, updates given on what was happening with the movement elsewhere. One of the major components of the mass meeting was folks publicly narrating their life story. Mass meetings helped break people out of their sense of isolation by showing them how many of their neighbors had also come out. Citizenship schools aimed to raise people’s basic literacy skills to prepare them to register to vote, but they were taught using a radical pedagogical style that emphasized structural critique, Black history, “community problem solving” (ie, direct action), and ultimately, subjective transformation. Other major tasks of organizing a town were locating co-optable networks (social networks already predisposed to movement values),  and developing informal leadership (those in communities already holding informal leadership roles). Ultimately, this organizing allowed SNCC to move communities of ordinary people into sustained political action.

Much of what has become common sense in Occupy Wall Street and contemporary anarchism has its origins in SNCC. Skeptical of traditional organizations, SNCC experimented with consensus decision making, horizontal structures, and group-centric leadership. They developed a kind of independent radicalism, untethered by dogmas or established political ideology. They developed a try-and-let’s-see style of organizing, open to experiments and learning from experience. To borrow a phrase from the Zapatistas, SNCC attempted to “walk while asking questions.” SNCC found their way out of their own impasse by shifting their emphasis from dramatic events to the steadier work of community organizing. It seems today that a similar shift is needed: toward radical community organizing.

Shyam Khanna

Originally published in Tidal.

The Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc., a multi-issue economic justice organization, is requesting your help in organizing a news conference next Monday (March 11) to discuss the impact of sequester on our community. We will invite area residents and leaders of local human services agencies to highlight the significant cuts to programs and services that will occur if Congress does not take action. Those gathered will discuss how these automatic cuts to domestic spending will have a devastating impact on our local community.

We need your assistance to make this event a success. Please contact us if you or your agency can speak and share information on how these cuts will cripple serves for our most vulnerable citizens. We are also compiling data on the possible impact of these cuts.

The Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc. will be providing in the next day detailed information as to the location, date, and time for the event. Please let us know if you can serve as a speak or know of individuals and clients who can tell their stories of how federally funded programs have made a difference in their lives.

We also need help in the following ways: making posters, conducting a short survey of local groups, making calls to invite individuals and groups to attend.

Please respond to the following email address: You can also call me at 315-725-0974.

Thank you for your support.


John Furman

John Furman
Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc.
P.O. Box 411
Utica, NY 13503-0411

Dear community member,

Rev. Jeff McArn, Chaplain of Hamilton College, has initiated a Community Book Read and discussion on the topic of mass incarceration in America. These discussions are based upon the work of Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow, the book which all of us will be reading. There are two groups underway on the Hamilton campus.


You are invited to join a Utica reading/discussion group to be held at the Refugee Center at 7PM on March 12 and 26th. Attorney Michelle Alexander will speak on the Hamilton campus April 17th during this spring semester. With your registration an e-book can be made available to you, free of charge, and there are a few hard copies available as well.

Michelle Alexander’s new book offers a new understanding of the continuing problem of race in America. Just as the institution of slavery ended and the brutality of the KKK developed to establish Jim Crow segregation and the further economic exploitation of Black Americans, in the same way, the waging of the War On Drugs, exclusively in poor Black communities has created a new Jim Crow society.

The pervasive conviction of Black men with drug felonies in the American judicial system tacitly relegates them to second class citizenship status where their right to vote, ability to hold certain jobs, acquire school loans or receive scholarships for higher education, visit with their children, the right to serve on a jury and access to housing are all greatly diminished. The impact upon the Black family has been disastrous.

The cultural construct which has established this racial caste system will be discussed through a discussion guide provided by the Unitarian Universalist Church with an ultimate intention of dismantling the same.

Please join us for this important community conversation for two sessions in March and a joint session to convene all community book readers after Attorney Alexander completes her remarks on April 17 at Hamilton College.

Please contact: if you are interested.

Harlem’s historic Riverside Church where Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech was packed with hundreds of people who came to listen to a panel about mass incarceration on September 14, 2012. It was the second annual gathering at the church where the theme of the night was ending mass incarceration and closing Attica Prison.


In 1971 the world witnessed the Attica Prison uprising which started in response to the targeted assassination of Black Panther and prisoner George Jackson at San Quentin Prison by guards. Jackson, sentenced to life in prison for stealing $70, was a leading voice in the prisoner movement of the 1960s-70s. This movement included the organization of prisoners’ unions, prisoner strikes and the support of celebrities like Pete Seeger and Muhammad Ali. The demands of the Attica prisoners included an end to slave labor at the prison and religious freedom among others.

The uprising ended with the tragic killing of 39 people, including 10 prison guards and employees, at the hands of NY State Police sent in by Governor Rockefeller. After the prison was recaptured a number of white officers were heard yelling celebratory chants of “white power!”

The uprising marked the height of the prisoner movement of the time but the conservative Right soon dominated the narrative over the prison and criminal justice systems. The emphasis was now on law and order, maximum sentencing and the extensive use of cheap prison labor for profit.

At the time of the Attica Prison uprising the US prison population was roughly 200,000. That number reached   1.2 million by the early 90s and through the draconian policies under the War on Drugs is currently over 2 million and growing. While the US has 5% of the world’s population, it claims 25% of the world’s prison population.

The Justice Department recently proved that the War on Drugs has absolutely nothing to do with ending the sale and use of drugs in the US in their decision to not criminally prosecute anyone from HSBC after it was revealed that officials in the bank laundered millions of dollars to narco-traffickers.

The San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb proved this in 1996 with his award-winning coverage of the crack-cocaine epidemic. He uncovered a damning story that revealed the proliferation of crack-cocaine in poor urban communities started with the CIA and the rightwing paramilitary Contras in Nicaragua working together to bring the drugs into South Central LA. Drug kingpin Ricky “Freeway” Ross sold these drugs to gangs in LA who then sold them elsewhere. The rest, as they say, is history.

Drugs have taken a heavy toll on Utica. But while the ones who bring drugs into the community remain above the law, those caught with minor possession are thrown in prison. In the New York Times bestseller “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” written by Michelle Alexander, the author argues that the criminal justice system  acts as a form of racial control and has created, in part through the War on Drugs, a caste-like system in the US.

Alexander shared the stage with Angela Davis, Cornel West, Jazz Hayden and Marc Lamont Hill. They all spoke of the movement now forming to end mass incarceration. It was no coincidence that the event in Harlem took place 41 years and a day after the Attica uprising. It is important to not just reflect but also act to ebb the rising tide of mass incarceration, not just for Black people but for all that are affected by this prison nation we live in.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

Facing foreclosure, Mary Smith of 53 Cutler Street, Rochester, NY 14621, is pledging to stay in her home and not let American Tax Funding put her out of her longtime home.  Take Back the Land Rochester is pledging to support her. Mary and her community are prepared to nonviolently resist attempts to displace if necessary.


Her house is scheduled to go to auction 10am February 26 at the Monroe County Office Building. A petition circulated both by door-to-door canvassing and online posting is calling for ATF to call off the auction and negotiate. Over 525 signatures have been received to date and the number continues to grow.

Mary Smith has lived at 53 Cutler Street for 30 years, raising six children. She paid off her mortgage to ES&L 12 years ago. She is the Vice President of the Cutler Street Plus Block Club and has been a commanding force in the community for decades. She is affectionately known as the “Mayor of Cutler Street,” who has severed hundreds of hotdogs to neighbor kids at kickball games. In her dining room she displays a large promotional poster featuring her as a poster person for volunteerism.

Although Mary has a long history of paying her bills, serious health problems have fell on Mary and she fell behind on her taxes.  Although she always tried to catch up it seemed she was only paying off the interest. To make matters worse, the City of Rochester and the County of Monroe sold her tax liens to a for-profit company in Florida called American Tax Funding (ATF).  A predatory privatization scheme, American Tax Funding charges usurious interest on the liens of Rochester residents going through financial hardship even though it buys the liens from the City and the County from .43 to 49 cents on the dollar.

After having serious health problems that often left her unable to work, Mary has now qualified for disability, has steady income, and is willing and able to pay off her liens to American Tax Funding.  However, despite repeated attempts to set up payment plans and, to work out a settlement.  ATF will not answer her lawyer’s calls and is planning to auction off her house for as much profit as possible on February 26, 2013.  Mary is courageously and defiantly standing up against American Tax Funding and we stand will her.  An auction protest is scheduled for 10am at February 26 at the County Building and a community eviction defense is planned if ATF (or an investor ATF sells the house to) tries evict the Mary from her home.

On Monday, February 11th, Mary and a dozen supporters from Take Back the Land Rochester hand delivered a letter pleading her case to the local law firm, Phillips Lyttle, representing American Tax Funding.  There is an early but preliminary indication of movement by ATF as a result of the letter.  You can stay updated at

“Strike Story”, a play based on the events of the Little Falls 1912 Textile Strike, will be presented on March 2, 2013 at 7 PM at the Masonic Temple in Little Falls. First produced for the Strike Centennial in October, the play uses newspaper reports, government documents, and personal memoirs to tell the story of the strike in the voices of the participants.


The readers’ theatre format makes the immediate connection between the original language and the story of the strike. Written by Angela Harris of Little Falls, the play is directed by Matt Powers, also of Little Falls. Among the cast are local residents Katie Drake, Laura Hailston Powers, Tom Stock, Frank Wilcox, and Robert and Barbara Albrecht, and former resident Jeanne McAvoy.

The Strike began on October 9, 1912, with a walkout of women mill workers in response to a reduction of weekly wages. Lasting three months, the strike involved Polish, Italian, Slovak, and Slovenian immigrant workers who were assisted by national union organizers, including Matilda Rabinowitz, Big Bill Haywood, and Ben Legere. Helen Keller contributed to the strike fund. The Strike brought a national spotlight to the city; and locally, one hundred years later, there are still strong feelings about the implications of the strike for the long term economic health the area.

March is Women’s History Month, and “Strike Story” presents a piece of Little Falls history that shows the role of women in cultural, social, and economic history of the city.

Tickets are available at $5 at The Mustard Seed in Canal Place. Tickets will be available at the theater door, starting at 6:30 on Saturday, March 2 before the performance. The Masonic Temple is at 5 Prospect Street, Little Falls.


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