Knowledge is a matter of science, and no dishonesty or conceit whatsoever is permissible. What is required is definitely the reverse — honesty and modesty. Mao Tse-tung
People’s Research is a method of research which arrived in the United States in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It arose out of movements for social change, specifically the African American people’s freedom movement (known by mainstream culture as the Civil Rights Movement), the other freedom movements of minority nationalities — Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native Nation People’s and Asian Americans — the women’s movements, and movements of other sections of the population who began to address their sense of marginalization in this society, such as people with “non-traditional” sexual preferences, people who were differently-abled because of physical illnesses, people who were morally opposed to war, and others.
People’s Research is associated with a discipline in academia which arose at the same time (to be accurate chronologically, in the wake of People’s Research) which is called Participatory Action Research (PAR). PAR arose as the response of the education industry to the demand that education meet the needs of the people.
People’s Research is radically different from most forms of academic research by virtue of the fact that it did not originate in, nor is its practice based in, academia.
Responding first to the national liberation movements for independence from colonial rule in Asia, African and Latin America in the 1950’s through 1970’s, and then following this with the world wide phenomenon of the women’s movements, People’s Research has been used as a way to involve large sections of the population of a given country, city or targeted population, in gaining the necessary knowledge to collectively change their living conditions, and to change power relations. Much of the work done with this method has been focused on effecting changes in existing political power dynamics.
People’s Research is rooted in Liberation Pedagogy and bases itself on the following five major principles derived from Liberation Pedagogy, principles which furthermore, distinguish it from traditional academic research:
(1) The people make history. When studying or researching a social problem for the purpose of resolving this problem, People’s Research involves the broadest possible spectrum of the population under consideration, for this participation is central to gaining the kind of information necessary to effect change. The self-knowledge of the population under consideration is at the center of their ability to effect the changes they seek.
(2) People’s Research relies on the experiences of the people, on the knowledge we carry in our bodies, passed down from generation to generation. People’s Research posits that this knowledge has at least as much claim to scientific validity as do the stories of those in power which are generally regarded as “the truth,” as recorded in the “official” history and public school social science tracts.
(3) People’s Research is in the service of the people. People’s Research takes sides. The kind of work done with this method is consciously and avowedly done in the service of the oppressed, and for the purpose of ending oppression of whatever kind.
(4) The method and process of People’s Research are dialectical and holistic: Being dialectical People’s Research starts with the people as we search in our communities to discover the inner logic of events and circumstances, and thereby, identify the keys to our social progress. Being holistic, these keys, or the techniques, and strategies we the people employ, help us to locate the connection between our legitimate immediate needs, on one hand, and those of human well being in general, on the other.
(5) People’s Research implies a social movement for its context, and for the content of its research. By linking theory directly with practice, People’s Research is activated in the context of the needs of a people’s movement. This research is part of a people’s movement for social change and cannot be implemented outside of this context.
1. The People Make History
Liberation Pedagogy and following it, People’s Research, sees history as the people in motion, in large groups, working together or in struggle with other large groups of people, in collective and conflicting efforts to take care of the needs of large groups of people — nations, peoples, classes, genders, countries, etc. The stories of all the people combined constitute what we call history (Lynn, A., 1999, p. 75).
When studying and researching a social movement or social problem, People’s Research does not seek to study this or that important individual or to rely on the word of certain people in positions of paramount economic and political power and presumed authority. This method seeks to unearth the perspectives of the people most affected by the problem or most involved in the social movement. Furthermore, in seeking information from as broad a section of the population as possible People’s Research relies on research techniques which will involve the subjects of inquiry in the collecting of data themselves.
Guinea Bissau is a country on the West Coast of Africa. In the 1950’s the people were suffering greatly under the yoke of Portuguese colonialism. Portugal itself was one of the poorest countries in Europe, and exploitation and oppression of the people of Guinea reflected Portugal’s stature. The peasant farmers of the country, representing at least 90% of Guinea’s African population, were literally slaves. The wage earners of the urban areas faired little better. There were neither healthcare services, nor education for the people. The few literate people of the country undertook a study of what could be done to save their country. A hypothesis was developed, based on much experience, that colonialism was the immediate and number one problem; that subjugation to a foreign power which exploited all the wealth, both human and material resources of the country, such foreign power which cared not a bit about the welfare of the people they were exploiting — this, they concluded, was the problem they must take up for immediate solution.
The question then came: How? After a few years of discussing the problem, the initial group gathered together 2,000 people who had a couple of things in common: they were literate (they could read and write), they were wage earners, and they understood that Portuguese rule must be swept from their country. The first thing these two thousand cadres did was to do a massive nationwide research of the people to find out what would be necessary to impel the populace to move against the Portuguese oppressor.
They discovered many things by talking with the people nationwide. One thing they discovered was that many people did not know they were enslaved because they had never known anything else (Cabral, 1969). It was the people in the urban centers, who had most direct contact with the colonizers, who were most capable of comparing their situation with that of their masters. These urban wage earners were the ones who formed the liberation army to overthrow Portuguese colonialism. This research process, as a matter of course, enlisted many more patriots into the ranks of the freedom fighters.
This nationwide research led to a correct conclusion with regard to who they needed to focus their attention on first. With this initial group, the next, larger, group went out to all corners of the country, educating the people about colonialism and what a liberated country would mean. This was a research process. In order to teach the people, they had to discover the immediate needs of the people, needs which could be met by throwing off the yoke of Portuguese rule. As this liberation army — the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) — learned the needs of the people, and began to meet these needs for food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and community building, the people joined the liberation struggle.
In less than ten years of mobilizing the population in this way, the Portuguese were defeated. The process was at every turn imbued with the tools of People’s Research. The people themselves uncovered the laws governing the development of their liberation movement, applied them to practice, corrected their errors as they went along, and went back into practice to raise their efforts to a higher level, all the way up to nation-wide victory and the eradication of colonial rule over their country.
Amilcar Cabral was a community teacher of the highest order
Amilcar Cabral was one of the founding members of the PAIGC, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde. He is credited with having envisioned, devised and brought forth the guerrilla army which defeated the Portuguese military rule over their peoples.
In an article written by two Cape Verde students at Madison Park High School in Boston, Maria Goncalves and Elisandra Viere establish the esteem with which the Guinean and Cape Verde people hold Cabral. (Love In Action, November, 2006)
The Leadership Style of Amilcar Cabral
… Cabral was able to convince the people that if they were running their own country, it would not be hard for a people’s government to deal with environmental issues [such as drought, and famine which were devastating the country]. He explained that these environmental disasters were political, and not merely environmental, in nature. It was because the Portuguese occupiers were interested only in milking the natural resources of the country, that they did not care about the welfare of the people, that such disasters as drought and famine were destroying our well being.
It was evident to the people that Cabral and the PAIGC cared about the people and were waging the liberation war in order to serve the basic needs of our people. In the words of one of the activists in the PAIGC:
Cabral had everyone’s confidence, not as a boss, but as a comrade who directed the struggle and made it progress. He always made it a point to take a personal interest in everyone and to help. He didn’t limit himself to political work; he wanted to be a source of support to people. This characteristic was extremely important for mobilization. (quoted from Patrick Chabal, Amilcar Cabral, Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, African World Press, Trenton, 2003, p.63)
Amilcar Cabral was the ultimate patriot, devoting all of his energies to uniting his people, explaining to us how we could defeat the enemy; meticulously studying the conditions necessary for total victory; making sure that we, the people, understood his strategy; convincing us that power in the hands of the people would bring about a much better life than the one we were living under the criminal rule of the Portuguese colonial dictators; and finally arming the entire Guinean population, making our ultimate triumph assured.
Amilcar Cabral was a revolutionary. He was assassinated by the Portuguese in 1973. Soon after his assassination, national independence was declared and all the nations of the world recognized Guinea and Cape Verde to be a sovereign country.
One of the most important contributions of Amilcar Cabral was to revolutionary theory. This is to say that, in the context of our theory being wholly dependent upon, and never separated from our practice, Cabral stood against all who would, from outside, impose their “correct” theory on the Guinean revolution or on the African revolutionary movements.
Ideologues would confront Cabral with the question: “Are you a Marxist?” or in another phrasing it would come as a demand: “You must declare whether or not you are socialist.”
To this Cabral would insist that the demands of the revolution in his country, and indeed, the overall demands of human progress, rule out an adherence to an ideological blueprint over the sober scientific analysis of the concrete conditions under which the fight is taking place. Cabral was a brilliant tactician and used the most advanced political science tools of our times, the tools of historical materialism and class analysis, to guide the effort.
In an informal talk made in New York City with 150 African American revolutionaries, Cabral responded to the question of which was more important, being a Brother or being a comrade. His answer is a most down to earth explanation of the difference between a nationalist and a communist.
Naturally if you ask me between brothers and comrades what I prefer — if we are brothers it is not our fault or our responsibility. But if we are comrades, it is a political engagement. Naturally we like our brothers but in our conception it is better to be a brother and a comrade. We like our brothers very much, but we think that if we are brothers we have to realize the responsibility of this fact and take clear positions about our problems in order to see if beyond this condition of brothers, we are also comrades. This is very important for us….
While this prejudice regarding ideology as being more important than real human beings engaged in winning their way back into their own history — that is, unshackling themselves from the yoke of a foreign power or a dominating oppressor class — was held by many would-be “revolutionary” Leftists, it clearly was not held by the ruling classes of Portugal and the United States. They assassinated Cabral in the clear knowledge that a leader with a vision as far reaching as his was a death knell to the current social order. They had to take him out.
Cabral’s revolutionary theory must be studied. Check out The Revolution in Guinea, or Our People are Our Mountains, or Return to the Source, or Unity and Struggle — these are all great books. Check out these pieces, “Identity and Dignity in the Context of the National Liberation Movement,” “The Weapon of Theory,” or “National Liberation and Culture.”
Start by checking out one of these pieces. It will do you no harm. When I was a budding activist and revolutionary in my early twenties, Amilcar Cabral was one of my great inspirations. Let him be yours too.
In Roxbury, Massachusetts, center of Boston’s African American community, a local youth organization named Free My People developed a survey with regard to the crime and violence in the community. This survey exemplifies principle number one of People’s Research. As the authors of the survey explained it:
Free My People has conducted a public opinion survey on the violence in our community that we call From the Community, To the Community, because it is being formulated and conducted by people of the community. The subjects of the study, our people, are the only respondents. In other words, we are not consulting police files to find out our opinion. We are asking ourselves our opinions. Finally, the results of this survey are for us: the people of this community, and we are making these results available for all of our people who want to know them… (Free My People, May/June, 1993, p.2)
It was necessary for the group to distinguish who the respondents were because, in their words:
The accepted sociological definition of “gang” is: Black and Latino youth who are friends and spend time together outdoors. The sociologists rely on police files as their principal, if not only, source of information on “gang” activity, crime and violence in the urban African American and Latino communities. The police, in their turn, determine the criminal element by referring to these sociological “findings” (p. 3). *
With this “analysis” as a backdrop, the social service agencies were exempted from serving young Black males on the grounds that they are criminals. This close-ended circle between the police, the sociologists and the social service agencies, left the people out and victimized the youth of the community (p. 24).
The following account explains how they went to the people:
The sample population of 600 was derived through the setting up of tables at which sidewalk passersby could sit down and fill out the surveys. The tables were set up in the major squares in the Black community. The group also went door-to-door throughout the community. The surveys take about 20 minutes to complete, and required engaging people in filling them out. People who couldn’t read had them read to them. The experience of the group in conducting the survey was that our people, the experts on what is happening to us, felt they were being respected and taken seriously… (Lynn, A. 1997, p.34).
This survey unearthed views about the origin of the drugs, crime and violence that had not been published anywhere for this community. The survey process was part of a community campaign against the violence. The role of the largest banks in New England in laundering drug money was uncovered. The widespread knowledge of the role of the local police in overseeing the drug trade was made public. A class action lawsuit was won by members of the youth organization against the Boston Police Department for their unconstitutional practice of police brutality which was exposed as victimizing the victims of crime in the community. Through organizing of which this survey was an integral part, the people were able to set up what they called “liberated zones” from drug activity and crime.
* All of the following researchers and studies use the above-described close-ended construct in analyzing crime and violence in the urban of Color community. Malcolm Klein, Cheryl Maxson and Lea Cunningham, “’Crack, Street Gangs, and Violence,” in Criminology, vol 29 no 4, 1991, p.636; Joan Moore, “Gangs and the underclass: a Comparative Perspective,” in Ibid; Hagerdorn, P.5 Ibid; Klein, p.634. See also David Altschuler and Paul Brounstein, “Patterns of Drug Use, Drug Trafficking, and Other Delinquency Among Inner-City Adolescent males in Washington, D.C.,” in Criminology, vol29, no 4, 1991; D. Northrop and K. Hamrick, “Application of Principles of Community Intervention,” in Public health Reports, May-June, 1991, vol 106, no 3; and Jeff Grogger, “Arrests, Persistent Youth Joblessness, and Black/White Employment Differentials,” in the Review of Economics and Statistics, April, 1991 (From the Community,” 1993, p 2)
Narcotics Anonymous, an international association devoted to helping people recover from drug addiction, uses principle number one of People’s Research for its literature and outreach. The “Big Book” of Narcotics Anonymous (1988), also called the Basic Text, was written through the following process (Basic Text History, 1993):
Beginning in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s NA members and NA Groups contributed writings for what was projected to meet an agreed upon need for a basic text. In 1979 the work on this text began in earnest. Nine literature conferences were set up in the course of the next three years, and these literature conferences utilized workshop formats throughout the United States. These rotating writing workshops were open to all NA members and groups and lasted from between two to four days.
From workshop to workshop the text took form. Each workshop was a central editing mechanism. In other words, each workshop was presented a draft from the workshop before it, so that in each workshop the entire text was being edited and filled out. This was a mass collaborative writing project. In this way literally thousands of “common sufferers,” recovering addicts around the United States and from other countries, were able to share the lessons of recovery, their experience, strength and hope. They were able to contribute to getting the message of recovery out to millions of people addicted to drugs, who did not know about recovery.
People wrote their experiences and the principles which had successfully guided their recovery. The principles and experiences which carried the stamp of universality — that is, those lessons which thousands of people seemed to agree were common to them all — were included in the first draft of the book.
By January of 1981 a review draft (called the Grey Review Form) was circulated to every NA Group in the world. They edited input from one more year of local workshops. The result was the Approval Draft, produced in February of 1982, which was, one more time, circulated to every NA Group in the world. Literally thousands of recovering addicts had the opportunity to make their contribution to the richness of the text being formed.
At the World Services Conference in April 1982, the Approval Draft was presented to the representatives for final approval. In the NA fellowship two/thirds vote is required for any literature to become official NA literature. At this conference an overwhelming majority of the representatives approved the final version of the text.
This text book, its fifth edition published in 1988, is used every day in recovery meetings all over the United States and many other countries, with recovering drug addicts learning about the process by which literally hundreds of thousands of addicts have been able to put their disease in remission and live drug free lives. This book is the concentrated expression of the experiences of thousands of people, the chronicle of their living victory over drug addiction. This editing process and the use to which the book is put, are at the heart of People’s Research.
(2) The Knowledge We Carry in Our Bodies
The women’s movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s took the scientific research community to task for its exclusion of the stories of women, the experience of women, and the expertise of women on burning issues facing millions of people. In addressing issues ranging from workplace discrimination, domestic violence, the political economy of war, and equal access to education, to issues of women of Color assuming roles at the head of their national liberation movements along side of the men, the women’s movements challenged the male originated theory of knowledge, and offered their own theory of knowledge.
By virtue of their experience, work, and dedication to struggle, women’s experience, their stories, had to be honored. Women began to challenge the White male dominated “ivory tower” of the universities and research centers which held a monopoly on the dispensation of “truth,” through text books, scholarly journals, and through the established and mainstream media outlets.
The women’s movements asserted that the stories of women, passed down from generation to generation, from grandmother to grandchild, were valid, reliable, and were valuable information to the same degree, if not more, than the stories coming from rich White men in positions of economic and political power. This knowledge, passed down from generation to generation, the knowledge we carry in our bodies, was held up as a reservoir of truth which the people themselves must actively honor, as the dominant culture could not be counted on to include this in their studies.
In a recent session of a college African American history class, one student inquired about the concept “when slavery ended…” She wanted to know what people in the class meant when they used this phrase. This student was from “the woods of Mississippi,” a very rural area, where her family worked on a plantation for her entire 26 years while she lived there. Everything which she was learning in the African American history course, about the slavery of the 15th to the end of the 19th centuries — the work in the fields, the lack of rights, the lack of educational opportunities and the absence of health care — she told the class that all of these were the present day circumstance of her family.
She explained to the class that her entire family worked on a plantation from sun up to sun down — in the 1970’s through the 1990’s — for a collective wage of $30 per day. She told us that having come up to an urban Northern city five years ago, that she now is paid $30 per hour as a nurse. She said that the owner of the plantation sits on the porch of the big house with a shot gun, the same way his father did before him, and his father did before him. She said this is the only life many of her ancestors knew. Her mother died of heat stroke in the field eight years before this classroom experience.
The way of this class was the way of People’s Research. The student was encouraged by the class to expose the slave system still existing in some parts of the rural south. Other students volunteered to help her with the research.
Our scholar went back home and conducted interviews with her family — her family is the extended family in the way of African America, comprising the folks of her town. (In traditional academic research this type of investigation is called “ethnography” or “field research”.) Many family members were distrustful of the effort, asking “What? Are you writing a book or something?” Ultimately she sought and was given the knowledge which these people carried in their bodies, the scars of centuries past, and of present days of abuse, neglect, denial of rights and suppression of dignity and hope. These scars were being torn at, as our researcher tried to get inside. Gradually people began to open up and tell their stories.
“I come from a place where when people talk about field work they literally mean field work — work in the fields — not ethnographic research…” Canon, p13
The telling of these stories is part of what is necessary for the people to overcome this tradition of slavery. This person’s story, and those of her people, is at the heart of principle number two of People’s Research. The process by which she got her information, and the publishing of and dissemination of her findings, are each elements of what is ultimately necessary for the people to honor themselves enough to finally dismantle this slave system.
In the mid 1970’s, while the city of Boston was being rocked by the chaos involved in the implementation of forced bussing, tenants at one of Boston’s Black community’s most dilapidated and largest housing projects, Bromley-Heath, were engaged in a form of People’s Research. The walls of their apartments were leaking, their toilets were broken, the paint was peeling and they couldn’t protect themselves from drug addicted neighbors searching for money.
They were organizing against their landlord, the local Tenant Management Corporation, which worked alongside of the Boston Housing Authority. The tenants contracted an activist lawyer who helped them research for themselves their rights with regard to redress of their grievances.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, tenants at “D” Street projects in South Boston were going through the very same problems. While the Boston Globe reported lurid scenes of these tenants lining the streets to throw rocks at little Black children who were being bussed in to school, these tenants worked in factories in South Boston and East Boston with some of the tenants from Bromley-Heath.
Eventually, some of them made the connection between their problems and a meeting was set up. A bus load of tenants from Bromley-Heath in Jamaica Plain, Latino and African American, went to South Boston to meet with the tenants there. After much discussion it was agreed that “Our rats are bigger than yours, but your roaches are bigger than ours.” While this was a humorous way to make a point, most residents had no trouble getting a few points: (1) the common landlord, Boston Housing Authority, was remiss in its job; (2) given what these two sets of tenants had in common in their housing conditions and working conditions, there was no legitimate basis to the fighting against each other along racial lines. The two sides agreed to go on rent strike together.
The tenants studied their rights. Many of them were on welfare, and therefore, the same City government which was denying them a decent place to live was also the one providing them with the money for rent. It was discovered how to hold even welfare check money in escrow, and therefore to withhold the rent payment from the same City government which gave the tenants their income.
In this way the tenants of Bromley-Heath Housing Development won the first ever rent strike in public housing in the history of the state of Massachusetts. It was the process of honoring the experience of the people, which made it possible to overcome the propaganda pitting them against others who shared common interests with them.
In the aforementioned example of the survey on drugs, crime and violence, the youth of the community placed their own experience in the center of the study, as they were the paramount experts on the subject. Some of them came right off of the corner to participate in the anti-drug campaign. These were young people who had been dealing crack from the corner, were picked up by the police, only to have their vials of crack taken away and themselves dropped back on the corner to repeat the same experience.
These young people were able to point out which police were responsible for overseeing the crack house down the block, ensuring the smooth prosecution of the drug trade in the neighborhood. The group sought information from Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Drug Interdictment Committee of the U.S. Senate, to the effect that the primary way in which cocaine comes into the U.S. is through U.S. military transport planes.
This youth organization hosted community activists from the cocaine producing countries of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru (‘Just Say “No,”’ April/May, 1992, p. 3). These activists were taken on a tour of Boston’s African America, and particularly of the contested zones where the drug trade was affecting the quality of life of our neighborhoods. At each stop on the tour, both sides, from these two different continents, shared their stories and experiences. These stories and experiences are the meat and potatoes of People’s Research.
By making their voices heard, and by insisting on their expertise, this section of the population, our youth, which the dominant culture was trying to theorize out of existence as degenerate criminals, were able to contribute to our understanding of the underlying social laws governing the drug trade in our communities.
In 1990 a woman who had been caught up in the behavior pattern named in this culture as prostitution came to a local health center seeking counseling. After interviewing her, the counselor directed her to a self-help group which was addressing sexual compulsivity. This person began to identify her prostitution practice as a form of addictive behavior.
She broke with the behavior pattern and undertook a study of the social and personal factors underlying this pattern for her and other prostitutes. She began working with other women and they brought other prostitutes with them into a recovery process.
After nine years of this work she sat down to write her experience, strength and hope. She interviewed many prostitutes and applied the disease concept of addiction to their stories. The pattern of early childhood abuse and/or sexual molestation in childhood kept resurfacing, and the compulsion to resolve their earlier abuse in adulthood through the controlling behavior termed by this society as “prostitution,” began to unfold.
Now in graduate school, and the director of a local university’s Women’s Center, this ex-prostitute and present scholar has authored a published study called Prostitution and Recovery (Reyes,2000), which is being used in recovery circles, human services agencies, and college classes to understand the social illness of prostitution.
(3) People’s Research is in the service of the people.
General Electric and South African Apartheid In the mid to late 1980’s, the labor union representing the 14,000 workers at the General Electric plant in Lynn, Massachusetts, was organizing around a number of pressing union-to-company issues. Among these issues was not the primary issue at General Electric: the fact that GE only produced for war. It’s supposed household products — toasters, refrigerators, irons, and so on — were not made by GE, but were out-sourced to non-union vendors. The GE paid these vendors to stamp the GE label on them, to keep up their image which was codified in their ad campaign slogan, “We make good things for living” (INFACT, 1988). In fact, GE produced only for death. They made military equipment for both sides in every state-to-state war on planet earth in the 1980’s. Trident nuclear submarines, F14 and F16 fighter jets, missiles — GE made profits wherever there was war (Lynn, A., Recovery and Revolution,1999, p. 5).
There were many White radical activists working in the plant from different radical and socialist organizations — what some workers termed the “alphabet soup groups”: SWP, RCP, the OC, CPUSA and so on. While the union leadership never addressed the burning economic and political issue of the GE being in the top ten largest corporations in the United States, which only produce military equipment, the White radicals would bring up some international issues, such as the war in El Salvador, or the Iran hostage crisis, or other issues of priority to themselves such as the gubernatorial campaign of one of the “socialist leaders,” or the struggle of the United Farm Workers in California. However legitimate each of these issues were, the rank-and-file union workers generally did not pay them much attention.
It was at this time, 1986–87, that the workers of Color, a small minority at the plant, began to organize around pressing issues facing them. Endemic discrimination, the lowest pay and most difficult, dangerous, and dirty jobs were reserved for the workers of Color. It was very hard for these mostly Black and Latino workers to get into the GE and promotions were even more difficult to obtain. Disrespect at work came not only from the bosses, but from some of their White union “brothers” and “sisters” as well.
Under these circumstances, the of-Color workers formed an organization and began researching labor law regarding their situation. They began collecting data with regard to employment and promotion rates. Workers of Color were fired at a rate many times greater than that of their White counterparts. A discrimination suit was considered.
At the same time, the revolution against apartheid in South Africa was at a high peak. GE was one of the top three contributors of arms to the White settler government. The organization of workers of Color investigated the situation, made contact with representatives of the South African liberation movement, and asked how they could support the struggle. The answer came back emphatically: Stop GE from sending fighter jets and bombs to the apartheid rulers.
The of-Color workers organization rightly saw this issue as directly connected to their issues, and took up the campaign as their own. The question was how to get the majority of the workers who were White to support the cause.
The of-Color workers went back into investigation and study of the situation. To force GE to divest from apartheid would require a nation-wide effort of the union. They started contacting other union locals around the country and found that some were mounting campaigns to strike South African parts coming into their plants. In other words, some union locals were debating whether to shut down their plants at the sight of parts being produced for South African apartheid. The Lynn, Massachusetts workers group adopted this tactic as a goal.
But again, how could they get the White workers to participate? These latter workers had no recent history of supporting any causes except for those concerning their wages and immediate working conditions. These workers generally ignored the White radicals on most subjects, so it didn’t make sense to rely on the White radicals to win over the rest.
After much deliberation, the Black and Latino workers came to the conclusion that this issue was in fact personal. It was not some foreign, abstract political subject. It had to do with basic respect. The White workers labored right next to the Black and Latino workers, on the machines next to them. These same White workers lived right next door to the Black and Latino workers, in the neighborhoods of Lynn. There were friendships and family ties.
It was decided that the Black and Latino workers would appeal on a personal level to the workers on the machines next to them. It was about respect: to be half-starved, malnourished, to have your natural resources stolen, just because of the color of your skin — the Black workers took this personally. The White workers heard this from their Black and Latino neighbors and friends. The fact that the GE was a major supporter of these atrocities, and that the apartheid regime could not survive without this support — the White workers heard all this and were moved.
The issue was brought up at union meetings for discussion, and finally at one meeting it was brought up for resolution — a vote was conducted on whether or not to strike South African parts. While a couple of even the White radicals thought that it was imprudent to call for a strike, the overwhelming majority of rank-and-file White workers voted with their Black and Latino union brothers and sisters, to strike the GE over the issue of apartheid.
GE Lynn was the first GE local to take this step. Seattle workers followed suit two weeks later. Within a month after these votes General Electric Corporation announced their divestment from apartheid.
People’s Research takes sides. In this instance, this educational method was used to defend the human rights of workers thousands of miles away, and to uphold the dignity of the of-Color as well as White workers in GE Lynn.
People’s Research was used against the death-for-profits program of General Electric. A political labor union strike, in other words, a strike not over higher wages or better benefits for themselves, but over a moral issue, over an issue of human rights, is the highest form of labor union activity. Two years after this vote, and GE’s divestment, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. He is now President of South Africa.
In this effort GE workers, of Color and White together, took a stand for humanity, they took a stand in this instance for themselves as dignified, powerful and righteous human beings.
Free Breakfast for Children Program Breakfast for children today is a public school federal law. Where did this federal policy come from? As we presently face a wave of recent federal policies, and proposals for new policies, aimed at cutting back funding for public school programs, questions like this become relevant for people who employ Peoples’ Research to their issues. Let’s look into this example for a moment.
By the second half of the 1960’s the Black Panther Party had risen to the stature of the most powerful organization in what was then called the Black Liberation Movement. Academic research and public school history text books today speak of the “Civil Rights Movement” and of Martin Luther King. For those of us who were there at the time, the African American people’s freedom struggle was increasingly identifying with struggles common to ours, around the world, particularly in Africa, where wars of national liberation were raging all over the continent. The name of our movement, the Black Liberation Movement, came from these connections we were making.
The Black Panther Party was learning from these revolutions, was learning the method of People’s Research in the service of the liberation movement, and was learning how to implement people’s programs involving the oppressed in concerted collective actions to free themselves from oppression. One of these programs was the nation-wide Free Breakfast for Children Program launched in 1968.
In concert with academic research (Participatory Action Research) of which the Panthers availed themselves, which was providing statistics linking hunger to poor school performance among Black children, the Panthers did their own, much more broad and in-depth field research. People’s Research was an integrated part of the Panther method from the inception of the organization. They went to the people and polled them extensively with regard to their pressing needs. Children going to school in the morning hungry, this was a problem which they recognized could be solved by mobilizing the population to take action.
They took this action and the results are now American history. To get food for the programs, residents went to large shopping centers, food outlets, like Stop and Shop in Jamaica Plain* (which sat right next to Bromley-Heath Housing Development spoken of earlier in principle number two), and asked for donations of food. In the case of Stop and Shop, management did not want to help. The Panther’s representatives (mothers from the housing project) explained that Stop and Shop made all their money from these people — that it was an act of human decency to help. Stop and Shop said, “No.” So, the mothers explained that the community was going to have to boycott the store. Stop and Shop waived them off. So the Panthers set up a picket line outside Stop and Shop. Then Stop and Shop said, “Yes.”
At Bromley Heath alone, between 100 and 300 children were fed breakfast every school day. Over breakfast Panther mothers conducted political education classes, beginning with this lesson of how they got their breakfast!
People’s Research is subversive in that it undermines oppressive relationships of power. It sides with the people.
When the FBI, under the Director J. Edgar Hoover’s instructions, militarily wiped out the Black Panther Party, one of the stated reasons was this nation-wide Free Breakfast for Children Program. It is today a matter of U.S. Congressional record that Hoover declared the Free Breakfast for Children Program as “the most dangerous threat to internal national security” facing the U.S. government at that time (Churchill, 1990). A few years after the Panthers were eliminated Congress passed a law which requires all public schools to serve all students breakfast.
Telling this story is part of the method of People’s Research, in that this story helps us understand how we can effectively respond to the erosion of our rights to education, our right to organize, and our right to food!
(4) The method and process of People’s Research are dialectical and holistic.
In this model the researchers, the researched, and those for whom the research is being done are all coincident. By dialectical we mean that People’s Research sees that the logic of overall societal problems is contained within each specific situation, and by examining the specific problems deeply, the laws governing the general societal ills can be discovered. Dialectical method links the particular to the general, views social development organically, and consciously ties form/style to content.
By holistic we mean that short-term goals as well as long-term goals are approached by methods which match these goals. People’s Research seeks to match the goals of the particular community with the needs of human progress in general. Where pragmatism takes no account of anything beyond the immediate situation, People’s Research endeavors to bring specific goals in harmony with overall social/human progress.
* A Boston neighborhood
Organic Social Development At a local health care center in Boston’s African American community, the people — the staff, the clients and residents in the surrounding community — were trying to deal with the effects of a new management system. This new system had been instituted by a new management team running the health center. This was in the first half of the 1990’s, during President Clinton’s first term of office, and managed care was the new management system. No less than eight years later, wide experience of the people of the United States taught that managed care had nothing at all to do with care, and that “managed profits” speaks much more to the intent of this initiative. The research which went into creating managed care had motives other than people’s needs: (1) how can the pharmaceutical conglomerates make more money?; (2) how can the largest health care establishments take over the small ones?; (3) how can we package this program, how can we market it, to make it appear that it is addressing people’s needs? Traditional research takes sides also. It generally is not honest about this fact.
A campaign of People’s Research was launched by an organized group — starting with the health care workers, and their clients, who eventually reached out for help to community organizations in the area. Ultimately, a large group of people went out into the broader community with a question: “What is the origin of the community health care centers?” Dialectical method (at the heart of the way of People’s Research) teaches us that by knowing the origin of a thing we can uncover the laws governing its growth, development and passing away. The process of the coalition which came together to address the problem was described as follows:
In our first meeting we decided to use this principle as our guide to action: “In order to recover the lost or stolen power of the community health centers, we must go back to their origins” (Owens, 1997).
In the course of this People’s Research they uncovered the genesis of six or seven community health centers in Boston’s African America. These health centers came into existence through similar community processes and also during a specific time period. During the late 1960’s to early 1970’s the Black Liberation Movement was focused on developing and instituting self-determination programs. The people were taking over the land, buildings, and resources of the community and putting them in the service of the community. Again, in the words of the researchers:
[A] younger Brother said he was related to one of the five Black women who started a clinic out of a store front in the old Zayre’s Mall. “It was definitely a community project. They got their support from neighborhood residents. That’s how they started it, and that’s how it grew. Today it is called Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center,” the second largest health center in Boston’s Black community (p. 41–42).
At a speak-out community residents recalled the origins of the health centers: Speaking of the Black Panther medical van in 1969, a forum participant recalled,
At one point they had a power failure. He happened to be good with electricity so he hooked up the power generator that was donated to the Panthers to a city electrical pole outside the van. ‘And that’s how we kept the electricity going’…” (p. 41).
Another resident added that her father worked on the free medical van:
Free sickle cell anemia tests; free high blood pressure screening; minor health care and whatever else people were able to provide — 24 hours a day, seven days a week…(p. 43).
Through their research the residents were able to “globalize,” or generalize their results: The local health centers came about as part of a general movement for self-determination. The modern (present day) community health center phenomenon arose from the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960’s — early 1970’s, and today community health centers in White suburban communities like Swampscott and Ipswich owe their existence to the Black Liberation Movement.
This analysis is invaluable because, as the monopoly pharmaceutical corporations form coalitions with the insurance companies, the federal government, and the giant hospital conglomerates, the people have to know what has worked for us in the past. It was a people’s movement for self-determination which created health care for us. It must be a people’s movement, which utilizes the power of the organized people to re-institute affordable, quality health care for all.
In accordance with their organizing, the workers at the health center launched a union drive to protect their rights against the encroachments of the “managed care” moguls. The people of the community who had participated in the campaign published the results of their research in a booklet called Mattapan Commodity Health Center (1997), which became one of the first in-depth exposures of the ill effects which managed care was having on the provision of health care services.
Linking the Particular to the General At the time of this effort at the health center, the people of Haiti were in the midst of a nationwide campaign to free themselves from a military dictatorship which the U.S. government had helped to install in their country. The military was killing people and people were fleeing to the United States. This health center was located in the community of Boston with the largest population of Haitian refugees in New England. Because of their experience in their own people’s movement, the Haitian workers and clients at the health center were at the center of the activism — it was part of their personal experience and traditions. For the rest of the community, these Haitian community activists were able to make the link between the particular issue at this health center, on one hand, with a world-wide fight of poor people for health care rights, on the other.
Similarly, the tenant movement at Bromley-Heath Housing Development took place in the late 1970’s. At this same time the U.S. military and CIA were waging war against poor peasants in the Central American nation of El Salvador. Salvadorans were streaming out of their country trying to avoid the bloodshed. Some of them found themselves in Bromley-Heath. These tenants, because of their experience of struggle, played a role which far exceeded their percentage in the overall population of the tenants. They were at the center of the tenant organizing and in its leadership. In response to their contribution, the tenant organization regularly published articles in its newsletter about the war in El Salvador, and in these articles made the link between the particular housing rights effort in Bromley-Heath and the general fight for human rights around the world.
At the time of the fight against apartheid depicted above — the late 1980’s — the people of Eritrea were waging their own war of national liberation from colonial rule. They were actually fighting aggressors representing both the United States and the Soviet Union at the same time. People were fleeing this country and they also came to Massachusetts, and got jobs at GE. These Eritrean workers, again, because of their experience in struggle, were at the center of the organizing of the of-Color workers organization, contributed to the fight against discrimination in a way which far exceeded their numbers in the worker population, and were in leadership of the divestment from apartheid campaign. They were one of the bridges from the particular to the general which made the anti-apartheid campaign successful.
Our scholar, who began organizing common sufferers to heal from the unhealthy behavior pattern called prostitution, undertook an examination of what she termed the “sex industry.” She identified an international business of the selling of little girls and women to rich men as sex slaves. She made the connection between poverty and the demands of this sex industry, and further connected these to the wide-spread pattern of sexual molestation of children in the United States. By digging deeply she was able to uncover the social basis for the sex industry and the connection between this and the psychological disorder which leads so many women into a life of prostitution. She linked the particular to the general.
In general, she found, the scandalous disparity between rich and poor in the world, was the socio-economic basis for the social illness which some rich men have of finding pleasure in abusing little girls. This is the social basis for the power difference which enables these men to carry out their sick fantasies. Back to the specific, by unearthing this social basis, this information can be used to prevent the perpetrated little girls from growing into adulthood, trying to reverse the verdict on their past abuse through the unhealthy behavior pattern known as prostitution.
The Black Panther’s Free Breakfast for Children Program became so popular an example of People’s Power tactics that Puerto Rican organizations, particularly in north eastern cities, and Chicano organizations from Texas to California, replicated it for their people, reflecting the rising tide of national liberation movements inside the United States. A Chinese organization name I Wor Kuen, based in New York City’s Chinatown (Lower East Side of Manhattan), produced a breakfast program in 1970 for the children of their community on the basis of the principles of the Panther program, and an organization in the South Loop section of Chicago’s south side, representing White working class people, the Young Patriots Party, put on a program for the children of their community. The lessons of the Panther’s organizing were generalized, and even though the Black Panther Party, the originator of the program, disappeared, the fruits of their labor remain in the form of a federal law protecting children’s right to food.
In a magnificent expression of the dialectical method of People’s Research, Eldridge Cleaver, then Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party, explained the universal lessons of serving breakfast for children:
Breakfast for children pulls people out of the system and organizes them into an alternative. Black children who go to school hungry each morning have been organized into their poverty, and the Panther Program liberates them, frees, them from this aspect of their poverty. This is liberation in practice…. If we can understand Breakfast for Children, can we not understand Lunch for Children, and Dinner for Children, and Medical Care for Children? And if we can understand that, why can’t we understand not only a People’s Park, but People’s Housing, and People’s Transportation, and People’s Industry and People’s Banks? And then can’t we also understand a People’s Government? (Quoted in Foner, 1995)
In the example of Guinea Bissau, the PAIGC had to teach the people the concepts of colonialism, and imperialism. In the course of this teaching, they had to learn for themselves that Portugal, their colonial master, was not itself an imperialist power. They were a go-between. While Portugal was committing genocide against the Guinean people, they did this representing more powerful forces. Portugal did not possess a giant arms industry to support the prosecution of their colonial war (Cabral, 1969). They got their weaponry from the United States and other large capitalist powers. The people needed to learn about the imperialist system in order to learn how to fight, and whom to fight. In order to understand these underlying political and economic motive forces, the people had to study.
As a byproduct of teaching these lessons, so that the people could learn how to fight, the people moved from illiterate to literate. This same process is central to all People’s Research. The people gain literacy in the course of the work. The people are generally never called upon by the powers-that-be for their expertise. People’s Research calls on us, the people, to find our expertise — we are the experts on what is happening to us — People’s Research calls on us to become articulate about this expertise so that we can share it, and educate others.
Perhaps the best example from the history of the United States is that of the Citizenship Schools originating during the heart of the civil rights movement from the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. In these schools education was used a as weapon; the goal was to combat and overcome white supremacy, segregation and racial discrimination. Septima Clark was trained at the Highlander Folk School to develop a literacy campaign which eventually reached tens of thousands of people all over the South.
As Septima Clark explains it, the Citizenship Schools were multi-service agencies devoted to addressing the denial of rights of African Americans all over the South. In these schools thousands of people attended workshops on subjects ranging from community services and segregation, registration and voting, community development, integration in the public schools, care for the indigent sick, housing, and merit employment, to juvenile delinquency. “Each participant left with a burning desire to start their own Citizenship Education Schools among their own communities”. (Clark, 1964, p. 113) And they did. But before they could do this, for the vast majority of trainees, the rudiments of literacy had to be gained in the course of learning how to gain their rights and power in all of these other areas of their lives.
Septima describes the process of the citizenship Schools: “The first night at Liberty County Center [one of hundreds of schools built all over the South] we would always ask people to tell the needs of the people in their community. The first night they gave us their input, and the next morning we started teaching from what they wanted to do” (Clark, 1990, p. 64). After getting their input the teachers would then, with the students, develop a plan of action. It was on the basis of the research, that is, the interviewing of the people, finding out their needs and problems, that the plans for change were developed.
It was a people’s literacy program, and because of this method they spread to remote corners where people had previously been left with no rights at all. “There were 897 [schools] going from 1957 to 1970. In 1964 there were 195 going on at one time. They were in people’s kitchens, in beauty parlors, and under trees in the summertime…” (p. 69). In this way tens of thousands of community activists were trained to carry out the mission of the civil rights movement.
“It is my belief that creative leadership is present in any community and only awaits discovery and development” (1964, p. 118). This “discovery” is part of the way of People’s Research. Septima tells us, “One time I heard Andy Young say that the Citizenship Schools were the base on which the whole civil rights movement was built. And that’s probably very much true…” (1990, p. 70).
Again, these schools were ostensibly places where people went to learn how to read and write, to learn basic math and science. This is what took place in these schools. But this literacy development was a means to another goal. Literacy was the means, liberation was the goal, power for the people was the goal. A universal byproduct of People’s Research with large populations has been to increase the level of literacy of the people in the course of organizing for social change.
Naming Reality There is a ubiquitous tendency with Western “scientific” research to speak from the perspective that the researcher(s) has gained all or most of the available knowledge on the subject, and therefore, they are now privileged to speak for humanity on the subject. People who use People’s Research name reality differently. We consciously link form (e.g., names) to content. The Black Panthers did not claim to be speaking for all humanity. They were trying to feed hungry Black children, and then other people all over the country began to follow their example. Amilcar Cabral, spokesperson for the PAIGC of Guinea Bissau, says he is speaking from his experience as a patriot of his country, and he invites others to take a look at this experience (Cabral, 1972, p. 3). The research study called Prostitution and Recovery does not claim to speak for all women or for all humans. It sums up experience and makes suggestions for what may have universal applicability.
The large majority of stories in this chapter that you are now reading come out of the African American experience. This is because I am African American and I have expertise with regard to my experience and the experience of my people. My intention is to present that kernel of truth from my particular stories which seems to me to have universal significance. The proof, the measuring rod of whether or not I have succeeded in this, can be discovered only through the reactions, of people with different backgrounds, to this information: Can you, the reader, find identification points in your own experience which lead you to positive action? This is the measuring rod.
People’s Research practitioners who work in human services define human services (we name human services) in a way which serves the needs of the people. The dominant culture names those agencies, organizations, or institutions as human services if they, first of all, are affiliated with federal, state or local governments, or other institutions already sanctioned by the government. This holds true for educational institutions as well. They must be certified by the government in order for them to qualify as legitimate educational institutions.
The Citizenship Schools were not sanctioned by the government. In fact the original one, the Highlander Folk School, far from being considered a human services agency, was closed down by the government because they were addressing the basic human rights of the people’s of the community at that time. Because Highlander was addressing these needs, it was facilitating the overturning of the existing relations of power between the white supremacist local, state, and federal government, on one hand, and the people, on the other. People’s Research defines this type of activity as human services activity, the dominant culture does not.
Furthermore, the dominant culture periodically adds new nomenclature, such as the recent phraseology associated with “multiculturalism,” to change forms without changing power relationships. According to the parlance of “multiculturalism” it is now OK to add to the sociological discourse mention of Soul Food, Salsa and Tae Kwan Do, or even the Citizenship Schools, such mention allegedly facilitating inclusion of everyone.
Conversely, those of us who adhere to the method of People’s Research identify the social movement involved in creating the hundreds of Citizenship Schools all over the South during the Black Liberation Movement not as something to include as a footnote to what we call human services. The federal law (1965 Voting Rights Act), which followed upon this movement of the people, was a reflection of this human services action taken by the people (the people’s action to create and carry through the work of the Citizenship Schools). The increased voting rights, and the improvement of the services for the people, were results of this people’s movement, the results of this human services practice.
People’s Research sees the people’s efforts to serve our needs as the motive force and defining element of human services: humans coming together to serve their own needs — this is how People’s Research names human services.
Traditional social research says that People’s Research does not have a methodology. Again, when naming reality, People’s Research breaks at root with traditional academia. The name “methodology” is overused in academia, usually as a way of making people’s eyes glaze over. Methodology is the study of method. In other words, methodology is the study of one’s way, the logic of one’s “how to,” the system in one’s technique.
The tract you are now reading is a study of the way of People’s Research. Therefore, this is a methodological tract. In this section of this chapter we are focusing on method. Our method is dialectical and holistic:
· We connect the particular to the general;
· We are concerned with finding overall human progress inside of the specific issue we are taking up for solution;
· We seek to unearth the origins of social issues in order to chart their development and plan for their future;
· The way we name reality is consciously from the perspective of the subjects of study, ourselves, we the people.
The other day I was watching TV and a commercial came on for “Pull-Up” diapers. I have a three-year old daughter, and she is making the transition from diapers to panties, from being changed to going to the potty. The advertiser explained that “research has proven” that when toddlers go back and forth from diapers to panties it severely retards their development, causes trauma, and wreaks havoc on their intellectual and emotional well being. Pull-Ups, a diaper which is put on like panties, eliminates the trauma associated with this transition period. That a small box of these Pull-Ups costs $15.00 (a comparable box of disposable diapers costs $5) lets us know just how important this product is….
We live in a capitalist economic system. This is the economic system sanctioned and protected by the political system, that is, the laws and apparatuses of the State known as the United States of America. Research, in 99 out of 100 cases, is in some form or fashion, connected to the profits, to the growth of the capital, of one or another business or corporation. In this case, the producers of Pull-Ups commissioned social researchers (doctors, psychologists, social scientists, psychiatrists, therapists, medical researchers) to “prove” that their product would play a role in the elimination of childhood trauma.
The method of People’s Research denies “objectivity,” “standing outside of” the objects of study. In the case of social research, the “objects of study” are humans. Social research examines humans, that is, subjects.
People’s Research differs from traditional social research in that it is honest and conscious of its subjectivity: People’s Research is conducted by the subjects of study, to serve the needs of the subjects. People’s Research asserts that all genuine knowledge begins with direct experience, and that the researcher who stands outside of the subject of her study cannot possibly acquire the richness of knowledge with which the action researchers begin, by being at once the subjects of their research, and at the same time the investigators.
People’s Research practitioners are the people of the community
· Defining their issues
· Gathering information from community residents, community organizations, and community institutions;
· Learning how to use traditional research, to access information from the library, government information banks, and now the internet;
· Critically evaluating the information procured from the above sources;
· Sharpening their ability to communicate — becoming more articulate with regard to their own experience and expertise;
· Using research data to pursue strategies for change;
· Learning, through their concerted collective action, how to gain power.
There are five principles (methodological premises) elucidated in this chapter. Each one is enunciated through stories which explain in detail how action research, People’s Research, is conducted. The chapter is through and through, methodological.
Everyone reading this tract is invited to compare the principles laid down, and the experiences illustrating the principles with your experiences and your understandings. To the extent that you find points of identification, we encourage you to use this method, participate in the people’s cause more fully and help others to understand the method that the people have used (“how to,” methodology) to effect desired changes. This is the essence of People’s Research. People’s Research awakens in people their self-expertise, draws from this self-expertise, and utilizes each-on-teach-one to spread knowledge of our ability and authority to change our world.
(5) People’s Research implies a social movement for its context.
People’s Research adherents are social activists who are committed to making a better world. The research we do is done shoulder to shoulder with the people of our community. Whether we define our community geographically, such as “Boston Public School parents,” or whether it is an affinity group, such as “the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community,” or “the international working class,” or whether we categorize ourselves politically — as does a group of Native Americans who name their liberation movement with a word which comes from their common history, such as the Seminole nation (a name which contradicts the way in which the dominant culture names them, as “tribes” or “sub-racial groups” or “populations,” as the U.S. and Canadian governments have chosen to name these peoples) (Churchill, 1994, p. 327), in all these instances the People’s Research adherent is joining a movement of the chosen community to make a better world for themselves and to contribute to human liberation in general.
Every story in this account is an example of People’s Research rising up in response to needs of the people’s movement for social change. In the example of the youth survey on violence, and the youth exposure of the police and U.S. government complicity in drug running — this effort was part of a movement called Hip-Hop (African American youth cultural movement). Free My People raised this cultural movement to a political level when they challenged the dominant culture’s stereotypical images which portrayed Black youth as criminals, drug addicts, and baby making machines. In its turn the Hip-Hop movement was informed by Free My People, and other similar initiatives of African American youth began to erupt around the country.
In the example of Narcotics Anonymous, this association itself is part of a people’s health care liberation movement known as the Recovery Movement. The dominant culture’s mental health industry in particular, and the health care industry in general, have been able to provide no relief for people suffering from all manner of psychological, social, physical and spiritual disorders. The Recovery Movement has stepped in and is providing this relief. The literature, and the research process associated with it, arose organically in the service of this people’s movement.
Our author of “Prostitution and Recovery” stood on the shoulders of the previous accomplishments of the women’s movements. Without these accomplishments, fruits of these women’s freedom movements, this woman would not have been able to organize her sisters into recovery groups, she would not have been able to institute programming to help women break with the unhealthy pattern of prostituting themselves, and she also would not have learned how to become the agent of her own recovery.
Long before the term Participatory Action Research became common in the academic world, Septima Clark of the Citizenship Schools observed that, “the demand for adult education is on the increase. The number of people working in the field of adult education is growing…. We should continue our own education. We must take a look at where we want to be. We need to get so excited about our programs that we even participate ourselves.” (Clark, 1964, p. 122)
The first major world historic liberation movement of the twentieth century (by “world-historic” we mean a people’s movement which had a major impact on people all over the world), the socialist revolution in Russia, freeing millions of people from the horrors of World War I, was led by the most literate working class in the world. It is true that the Russian working class was perhaps the most economically backward of all the working classes of the industrialized world at that time. It is also true that this economic backwardness was paralleled by a reactionary political system which, for one, provided an extremely stunted educational system for the people of the country. Combining these two phenomena, it would be hard to argue that the Russian working class was the most literate in the world by the standards of the present standard makers from academia.
The international workers movement was at a high tide throughout Europe. This movement needed, and in turn gave rise to a vast literature explaining to the working people the tasks of the movement; explaining to the working class its role in stopping the imperialist war, a war which was sentencing millions of people to economic ruin, starvation and death. Inside this movement there were many differences regarding the way forward.
The working class of Russia was intensely engaged in the debate: How do we free ourselves from this madness? What kind of social system will give us a better life? No, it was not standardized testing which brought literacy to these people. In the definition of literacy enunciated by Liberation Pedagogy, it is not reading and writing as quantifiable entities, separated from the real world, which determines literacy. Genuine literacy is gauged by the owner’s ability to make a contribution to the making of a better world. It is gauged by the level to which the people’s communication skills contribute to successfully prosecute their liberation movement.
It is in this context that the Russian proletariat (working class) was the most literate in the world. They voraciously devoured all the literature regarding the imperialist war and the socialist revolutionary movement of the time. The debates raged, and the debated strategy and tactics mirrored the character of the movements which produced them. Inside Russia, the Bolshevik Party, the party of the revolutionary working class of Russia, placed the highest importance on getting this debate, the literature from Germany, France, Great Britain, and other countries engaged in revolutionary movements of the time, broadly distributed to the masses of the people of Russia. This was because they adhered to the principle that the people make history, and that an informed and intelligent people will make a positive, powerful history.
This Russian working class was able to draw from this literature the kernel from each which mirrored their experience, and helped to shed light on the way forward. This literacy development was an absolutely central ingredient in the first successful socialist revolution and in the establishment of the first workers state — the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
People’s Research does not arise because this business wants to make some money or in order for that university to get another government grant. It arises in direct service to a people’s movement, and in no other context.
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