Supporting Nonviolence and Social Justice Since 1974.
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Muste Notes Winter 2008Muste Notes
Vol. 15, No. 2 — Winter 2008

Dear Friends
VAMOS Unidos Organizes Bronx Street Vendors
A.J. Muste and J. Edgar Hoover

New Grants, September 2007
Counter Recruitment Grants, September 2007
NOVA Travel Grants, August 2007

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Past editions of Muste Notes are here

Dear Friends,

Your contributions to the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute are counted as “charitable gifts” by the IRS, but to the projects we support, they are much more than that. They are real, tangible demonstrations of solidarity.

We believe in the power of our grantees and sponsored projects to build a better future through grassroots organizing, education and activism. Your contributions are investments in that future.

Please help us do more. Increase the amount of your donation. Tell a friend about the Muste Institute. Share this newsletter with co-workers. Pass along our web address to your email lists.

On behalf of the Muste Institute and all our grantees, sponsored projects and tenant groups, we thank you for your solidarity.

In peace,
Murray Rosenblith
Executive Director

New Sponsored Project:
VAMOS Unidos Organizes Bronx Street Vendors

VAMOS Unidos became the Muste Institute’s newest sponsored project in mid-October 2007. This article was written by VAMOS Unidos organizer Rafael Samanez.

Our rapidly growing membership comes from many countries including Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and Puerto Rico. Many have migrated to the United States in the past ten years as a direct result of international policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) which have severely crippled their local economies, particularly in agriculture and small business. At the same time, immigration laws here in the U.S. have forced migrants into an underground and invisible workforce where they have no protections as workers. Members of our community are often forced to work in sweatshops or do domestic work. They endure abuse because they are threatened with deportation, which means separation from their families. Our community is forced to be the backbone of service industries that dominate the local and global economy.

Children of street vendors always accompany their parents at meetings, forming a strong multi-generational organization. Photo by VAMOS Unidos

Street vending provides an alternative, allowing workers to increase their income and giving them flexibility with their schedules so they can care for and be present with their families. Many vendors are single mothers who would otherwise would have no source of income.

Corporations and business interests consider vendors to be a threat to the existing system. Local and federal laws protect these interests and undermine informal workers, making street vending one of the most marginalized sectors within New York City’s economy. Street vendors work with fear of being arrested, having their merchandise confiscated, or receiving a summons. One of our members, Juan, was arrested with his wife for selling without a license. Juan and his wife repeatedly told the police officers that they had children coming home from school and needed to make a phone call to set up childcare. The officers told them they had no rights in this country as immigrant workers and did not allow them to make a phone call. Arrested at 6pm, they were not released until 9pm the following day. Their children remained home, scared and not knowing why their parents did not come home.

Members of VAMOS Unidos march in the Bronx to protest deportations and the separation of their families. Photo by VAMOS Unidos

VAMOS Unidos began organizing and has managed to stop arrests in three precincts by meeting with community affairs officers, sergeants and captains, and community councils to publicly hold them accountable. Street vendors report a noticeable decrease in abusive treatment by police once they begin engaging them at meetings.

Together with the Brooklyn-based Latin American Workers’ Project, VAMOS Unidos is organizing to build a strong street vendor coalition to lift the caps set over 20 years ago on food cart permits and general merchandise licenses in New York City. This would allow street vendors to sell with dignity and without fear of being arrested.

A member reads the VAMOS Unidos opening creed at a meeting, giving strength and direction to the group's work. Photo by VAMOS Unidos

Our members understand that workers’ rights and immigrant rights go hand in hand. That’s why VAMOS Unidos is an active part of coalitions like the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) and here in New York, Immigrant Communities in Action (ICA), working to create grassroots-led, progressive agendas to win full legalization, prevent a new “guestworker” program and reject enforcement, policing, and militarization of immigrant communities.

VAMOS Unidos seeks to be a part of the broader social justice movement as we develop a strong, empowered base and leadership of low-income Latin American immigrant workers who are politically conscious, economically self sufficient, and able to win change on local and national policies. Our vision is grounded in the importance of understanding the root causes and connection of our struggles with those in other communities.

—Rafael Samanez

A.J. Muste and J. Edgar Hoover

This article was written for Muste Notes by Tyler Whitmire, a student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

In her biography of A.J. Muste, Abraham Went Out, Jo Ann O. Robinson observes that Muste was “trusted by many people who did not share his politics,” and aided by many people who “hated Musteism and loved Muste.”

As part of my work on a senior thesis in history, I recently combed through the thousands of pages of A.J.’s FBI files which the Muste Institute obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

In early 1957 FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made a public statement about Muste’s attendance as an invited, impartial observer at a Communist Party convention. A.J. Muste has “long fronted for Communists,” Hoover said, adding that “Muste’s report on the convention was as biased as could be expected.”

Hoover’s comments spurred a barrage of letters in support of A.J., leaving the FBI tied up with myriad “Inter-Office Memorandums” on how to deal with these irate Muste defenders. In the end the FBI’s strategy was to conduct extensive background checks on each writer and obey the “NO ACK” (no acknowledgments) mandate which Hoover scrawled at the bottom of each letter.

Muste’s supporters, many of whose names were blacked out in the files, ranged from a septuagenarian former YWCAstaffer in Kentucky named Mary Dingman, described during her background check as a general “do-gooder,” to the famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, to a high ranking member of the Methodist Church, to a Christian vocation professor at Yale Divinity School. Almost every letter came from individuals who loved Muste and trusted his integrity, yet often disagreed with his most basic beliefs. Niebuhr, whose support of ‘just war’ clashed with Muste’s strict pacifism, described himself in his letter as “a person who has long challenged what I regard as Muste’s rather simple-minded pacifism.” Still, Niebuhr called Hoover’s claims about Muste “a grave error, to charge any patently honest pacifist… with Communist leanings, when everything that they write and do proves the contrary.”

Another example of the respect Muste enjoyed can be found in a September 1956 file. The FBI wanted to spy on Muste, believing he might participate in a broader socialist coalition being set up by the Communist Party. After weeks of trying to find someone close to Muste to spy on him, the disheartened Bureau finally admitted: “This file review failed to reflect the identity of any person who could be approached with security or who might be willing to assist the Bureau.”

To me, the FBI files highlight the greatness of A.J. Muste’s life work. A.J.’s colleagues cite his almost superhuman work ethic, his intelligence, and his steely passion as reasons for his success. But no quality of his seems to stand out more than his simple but unique ability to retain lifelong friendships with, and engender feelings of loyalty among, such a diverse array of individuals.

—Tyler Whitmire

Counter Recruitment Fund Grants, September 2007

The Muste Institute’s Counter Recruitment Fund supports grassroots efforts to inform young people about the realities of military service, help them protect their privacy from recruiters and refer them to non-military education and employment options. Our next grant deadline is February 8, 2008. Guidelines are at www.ajmuste.org/counterrecruit.htm.

Historic Peace Churches of Columbus, Columbus, OH: $500 for a project reaching out to guidance counselors in Columbus public schools, educating them on alternatives to military service, including vocational and educational resources for their students.

NC Peace Action, Raleigh, NC: $1,200 for the Alternatives to Military Project, educating low income youth and youth of color in the Wilkes County, North Carolina area about the realities of military service and about educational and vocational alternatives.

NJ Peace Action Education Fund, Bloomfield, NJ: $1,250 for Youth in Motion: Creating a Movement to Resist Military Recruitment, a campaign for a uniform statewide policy for informing parents and students of their right to opt out of having their personal information released to military recruiters as allowed under the No Child Left Behind Act.

BAY-Peace: Better Alternatives for Youth, Oakland, CA: $1,500 to educate Bay Area youth about the realities of military service and non-military educational and vocational opportunities, and to build the capacity of young people to educate and organize their peers around these issues.

BAYPeace Youth Action Team members in front of their new Oakland office. Photo by Lori Hurlebus

New Grants, September 2007

San Leandro, CA: $2,000
The Oakland Chapter of CEDP was formed in October 2006 by activists coming out of the 2005 mobilizations to save Stan “Tookie” Williams. California executed Williams in December 2005, but the state’s anti-death penalty movement has gained strength, and a recent legal challenge to lethal injection has led to a de facto moratorium on executions. This grant goes to build networking among family members, friends and allies of prisoners at San Quentin. www.nodeathpenalty.org

January 2007, San Francisco: Campaign to End the Death Penalty members rally in support of death row prisoner Kevin Cooper. Photo by Josh On

Washington, DC: $2,000
GHRC/USA was founded in 1982, at the peak of a “scorched earth” campaign in which US-backed Guatemalan security forces massacred some 132,000 civilians, destroyed at least 440 Mayan villages and forced over a million Guatemalans to flee their homes. With violence again on the rise in Guatemala, GHRC/USA continues to document abuses and educate the public about the situation. This grant goes to expand the use of new tools for educational outreach and urgent action response. www.ghrc-usa.org

Austin, TX: $2,000
This grant goes for “Blind Spots: Real Life Inside Texas’ Youth Prisons,” a documentary film seeking to expose the conditions of confinement for youth January 2007, San Francisco: Campaign to End the Death Penalty members rally in support of death row prisoner Kevin Cooper. incarcerated in Texas’ state-run juvenile prisons. After its release, expected in January 2009, the film and its interactive website will be made available as organizing tools for prisoner rights activists.

Miami Lakes, FL: $2,000
Unite for Dignity was born in 2002 out of the union organizing victories of nursing home workers in South Florida. The organization is now a major force among immigrant communities from Haiti, the English-speaking Caribbean and Latin America in the Miami/Dade County area. This grant goes to expand “Workers on the Move,” building leadership capacity among UFD members through training and internships. www.unitefordignity.org

The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute makes small grants to groups engaged in nonviolent education and action for social justice. Our next deadline is February 8, 2008. Guidelines are at http://ajmuste.org/guidelin.htm

NOVA Travel Grants, August 2007

In its August cycle, the NOVA Travel Fund made 15 grants totaling nearly $8,000 for more than 40 grassroots activists from Chile, Guatemala, Argentina, Panama, Canada, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico to participate in seven regional meetings in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and El Salvador.

There wasn’t enough space in the print version of our latest newsletter to list them all, but we have included them here:

$640 for Exequiel Estay Tapia and Maria Arriagada Sanmartin of the Agrupacion Recolectores Ecologicos Independientes La Serena, a self-organized group of recycling collectors in La Serena, Chile, to participate in the First Forum and International Congress on Recycling Policy in Urban Areas held Sept. 27-29 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

$500 for Juan Aravena Lara and Andrea Sepúlveda Zúñiga of the Centro Laboral de Acción y Desarrollo Social Recolectores de Peñalolén, a self-organized group of recycling collectors from Santiago, Chile, to attend the same recycling forum in Buenos Aires.

$900 for Jorge Mario Sub, a popular educator from the Unión Verapacense de Organizaciones Campesinas (UVOC, the Union of Campesino Organizations of Verapaz) in Guatemala to participate in the Meeting of Popular Educators of Latin America and the Caribbean held Oct. 5-7, in Guararema, Sao Paulo state, Brazil.

$600 for three members of the Popular Education Team of Pañuelos en Rebeldía, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to participate in the same popular educators’ meeting in Guararema, Brazil.

$800 for Bernardo Jiménez, an indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé activist with the Comité de Lucha de Cerro Pelado contra la Minería, a committee fighting a mining project in the Cerro Pelado community of Panama, to participate in the popular educators’ meeting in Guararema, Brazil.

$350 to Asociación Crecer con Esperanza (Grow with Hope) to take four at-risk young people from the association’s day center in Resistencia, in northeastern Argentina, to the Youth for Cultural Diversity 4th Iberoamerican Festival of Short Images held Oct. 5-11, 2007, in Buenos Aires. The youths worked collectively to produce human rights short films being aired at the festival.

$400 for four indigenous Mapuche youths from the CEMOE school in Junín de los Andes, in southwestern Argentina, to participate in the Youth for Cultural Diversity Festival in Buenos Aires, where short films they and their classmates made are being aired.

$1,200 for a group of indigenous youth and elders from the Secwepemc Nation Youth Movement, based on Neskonlith Indian Reserve in British Columbia, Canada, to travel to the Indigenous Intercontinental Conference for 2007 held Oct. 11-14, in the community of Vícam, in Yaqui Territory, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

$600 for a delegation from the Coordinadora de Mujeres Territoriales del Presupuesto Participativo de San Joaquin, a neighborhood women’s group in Santiago, Chile, to participate in an international seminar on the “Future of Participatory Democracy” held Oct. 25-27 in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil.

$800 for human rights activist Evarina Victoria Deulofeu Zamorano from Havana, Cuba, to participate in the 4th Latin American Forum on Memory and Identity held Oct. 25-28 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
$200 for a delegation from the Community Action Foundation (FUNDACCO) of Managua, Nicaragua to participate in the Doctors for Global Health (DGH) 2007 General Assembly “Community to Community: Collaborating for Healthy, Peaceful and Just Societies,” held Oct. 25-31, 2007, in San Salvador.

$200 for a grassroots delegation from the Association of Campesinos for Human Development (CDH) of Cacaopera municipality, Morazán, El Salvador, to participate in the DGH Assembly.

$300 to A.P.S. - Atencion Primaria en Salud, based in Managua, for a delegation of grassroots health promoters from different areas of Nicaragua to take part in the DGH Assembly.

$200 for a grassroots delegation from the Asociación CoCoSI Committee Against AIDS of Cabañas, El Salvador, to participate in the DGH Assembly.

$300 to ODDECIA, Development Organization in Autonomous Indigenous Communities, for a delegation of grassroots health promoters working out of the San Carlos Hospital in Chiapas, Mexico, to participate in the DGH Assembly.

The NOVA Travel Fund helps grassroots activists from Latin American, Caribbean and indigenous North American organizations to participate in regional meetings. The next deadlines are December 1, 2007, and February 1, 2008. Guidelines are in Spanish at http://ajmuste.org/novaintro.html. The full roster of NOVA Travel grants from calendar year 2007 is at http://ajmuste.org/viajes2007.htm