By Al Giordano
Indivisible Westchester & the School of Authentic Journalism Invite You to Eight Hours of Skill Sharing
"'Keep one foot in the system and one foot out,' my teacher Abbie Hoffman told me when I was a young community organizer. The April 22 Resistance Training is designed to help us do both." - Al Giordano
Email Today to Reserve Your Space:
(The Training is Free, but the Space Is Limited.)
(NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the newsletter, Al Giordano's América, on Sunday, March 26, and is published again here for a wider public.)
On Saturday, March 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) held a nationally live-streamed event billed as “Resistance Training” from Miami and broadcast to more than 200,000 people gathered at 2,300 house parties. Masterchef/Top Chef culinary superstar Padma Lakshmi was one of the headliners at the anti-Trump event.
Before I point out the obvious, let me declare: we love the ACLU. We love the resistance to the Trump regime! We love training! We love Padma! But in the end the workshop offered by the national rights organization did not offer training. It did not share any of the skills needed to win at the work of resistance. IT WAS NOT A RESISTANCE TRAINING WORKSHOP!
It was a collection of speeches – very good speeches! – but the event offered nothing, absolutely zero, in terms of training people in the skills we want and need to mount an effective resistance.
So many groups and individuals are using words like “resistance” and “training” to describe so many different kinds of activities that the words are in danger of losing their meaning.
This must be urgently corrected and that task begins four weeks from now, on Saturday April 22, when the School of Authentic Journalism and friends team up with Indivisible Westchester and others to offer the first full eight-hour training session in civil resistance of what we bet will become many more.
Training as a Rendezvous with History
In Issue #37, on February 7, I wrote to subscribers of my América about the nonviolence training sessions pioneered by the Rev. Jim Lawson for the 1960 Nashville sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters. And I referred you a cinematic portrayal of those trainings from the motion picture, The Butler:
Lawson, as a young man, traveled to India to study the methods that Mahatma Gandhi deployed to gain his country independence from the British Crown. Upon his return to the US, he met young Martin Luther King, Jr., in Ohio, who recruited Lawson to come south and help build and train a grassroots movement.
Forty years ago this spring, at the age of 17, I attended an eight-hour workshop that changed the course of my life. What was billed as a “Nonviolence Training Session” was required to be able to go to New Hampshire and get arrested for blocking construction of a nuclear plant. In my final semester of high school, I dragged about twenty of my classmates to the workshop.
I didn’t know, at the time, that this workshop was a direct descendant of that which Lawson and his colleagues had invented 17 years prior, when they trained youngsters like John Lewis, today a member of Congress. Its lessons didn’t convert me to ideological pacifism – they weren’t intended to indoctrinate – but they did arm me with skills that I have deployed pretty much every day since. Here are the lessons I learned from that first training session:
ONE: That if you are going to do anything in public space, especially in front of the news media, you need a very detailed plan for what exactly you are going to do before you go out and do it.
TWO: That if you are going to do it with others you need to practice and rehearse your planned steps again and again before you go out and take them. You need to anticipate what other kinds of people are going be out on that field – police, members of the news media, infiltrators or provocateurs, or random crazy people or plain old banal human error within your own ranks. You need a plan for how to deal with each type and have to rehearse how to do it before going out and doing it live.
THREE: You need to make maps of the battlefields upon which you plan to step. Those include not just the geography, but also charts that show the “pillars of power” that prop up the adversary you oppose as well as the “spectrum of alliances” – both those on your side, those on the other side, and those sectors of society still up for grabs – in order to not be walking blind into the traps that those in power are expert in placing before every kind of protest or march.
FOUR: You and your friends need to divide up tasks: Not everybody can do the same exact job! Some of you may be willing to be arrested, but you’ll need a support team committed to avoiding arrest to track you from the outside. You’ll need a designated media spokesperson or two to field reporter questions without allowing them to distract the entire group from its mision. You’ll need another kind of spokesperson to interact with all the other cell groups (back then we called them “affinity groups,” each of 10 or 20 people) formed around the same action.
“Troublemaking” sounds like the easiest task in the world. Society tells us that “delinquents” are those who make it. The terminology implies that just by goofing off and slacking we are somehow bungling up the works of the system. But the truth is that the best kind of trouble – that which wins and achieves its goals – is not slapdash or spontaneous at all. It is in no way lazy or laid back. It is, rather, a masterpiece of planning, rehearsal, preparation, military-level precision and teamwork.
But sometime during or after the No Nukes movement of the 1970s and its effective use of nonviolence training to build authentic organization and discipline, some activists began cutting corners. The standard eight-hour minimum training session fell victim to the hurried yuppie zeitgeist of the 1980s and ‘90s. By the preparations for a 1999 protest in Seattle outside a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, “express trainings” of three or four or even two hours gained popularity to “train” people for civil disobedience actions.
Eight hours really is the minimum for a training session that both shares skills and builds the teamwork and trust among participants that foments their working together effectively going forward. Today, if a group calls for a full eight-hour training session, complaints erupt almost immediately: “Can’t you make it shorter? It conflicts with another protest that afternoon!” The fulltime “activists” who flit from event to event – who want to see and be seen at every march and meeting – can’t commit to an eight-hour training! Besides, many of them think they don’t need training, that they’re “expert” enough already at protesting.
And yet insisting that a training last the full eight hours creates the first filter that weeds out those who are not serious enough about their own needs and desires to learn the skills of effective resistance. A full eight-hour session also requires planning and preparation to feed the participants, and the bonding that goes with a group of people who break bread together.
By calling for this eight-hour training on April 22, by insisting that to attend one has to agree to arrive on time and stay for the entire day, and by adding other minimal guidelines to which all participants must state our agreement, we’re bringing back the best of the lineage of training started by Gandhi and Lawson, evolved by the No Nukes movement and later resurrected in this century by “Camp Obama,” with training sessions designed by United Farmworkers organizer Marshal Ganz and his module known as “The Story of Us.”
Facilitating this training will be my first public appearance in 2017, but I’ll have plenty of help! School of Authentic Journalism graduates, professors and friends as well as our hosts at Indivisible Westchester – and other personalities to be announced – will share in the teaching.
Don’t expect an activist meeting full of speeches. This won’t be one of those. It might seem more like a scene from one of the “Now You See Me” movies! Since part of what we teach is that a successful civil resistance puts on a better show, we plan on doing that as integral to the training. “Show, don’t tell,” applies to good training even more than it does to good writing.
To Get an Invite to the Training, Carefully Follow These Steps:
1. Send us an email expressing your interest: ResistanceTraining2017@gmail.com
2. Do it TODAY. Space is limited and reservations will be first come, first serve.
3. When you receive our email in response, REPLY to it answering each of its few questions and typing “I AGREE” to the training session guidelines.
These Are the Guidelines to Attend the Training Workshop:
We ask you to agree to arrive on time (by 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, in New Rochelle, New York – just one block from the train station) and to commit to staying for the full eight hours until 5 p.m.
We ask you to register under your legal name and to bring proof of identity with you to gain admission to the workshop. (We believe this is basic to establishing mutual trust in any kind of venture.)
We ask you to agree that the training workshop is not a decision-making body or debating society, and that no resolutions will be voted on. It is only a space to learn skills and not to argue about ideologies.
While class is in session, you agree to keep laptops closed and cell phones “off” or on “airplane mode.” There will be regular coffee breaks during which you can check and respond to messages but not during the skill sharing sessions when such devices are an annoyance.
Likewise, while the School of Authentic Journalism will videotape the training workshop – and by stating “I AGREE” to the guidelines you consent to being filmed, audiotaped and that your image, voice and likeness may be part of documentary and promotional materials stemming from the workshop, use of cameras or recording devices by attendees will be limited to one or two “photo opportunities” but prohibited during most of the training.
Bring a pad and pen to document the classes instead. We don’t want the distraction of photographers and microphone wielders jockeying for position. If you’re at the workshop, you’re there as an individual seeking to learn, and not in the role of a news reporter or media employee.
We ask you to agree to treat everyone you meet at the training with respect and good will, and to agree that event organizers may eject any disruptive or distracting person or persons at any time for not adhering to the guidelines.
Once you reply to our email with the words “I AGREE” we’ll send your invitation with instructions on how to get into the workshop the morning of April 22. Again, the email to request your invitation is:
The workshop is free. We ask that you donate whatever you can afford to help pay the costs of your meals (we’ll pass the hat at the event), the materials we provide and the other expenses of putting on this event. All participants who remain for the entire eight-hour workshop will receive a diploma – and an invitation to the after-party later that evening.
This workshop was made possible in large part because of the success of the recent Kickstarter drive for the School of Authentic Journalism. We're paying many of the expenses of it out of the extra funds raised beyond the campaign's $30,000 goal. If you can't attend the workshop but still want to support it (and more like it) please consider making a tax deductible donation to the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism at this link.
But mostly we hope you will make the time to register for the workshop and show up to learn the skills it teaches. We believe strongly that this expansion of organizing and resistance skills is the most urgent priority for the spring of 2017 and hope you will be a living, breathing part of an authentic resistance.
At Our 16th Anniversary Celebration We’ll Watch Our Old Rival Donald Trump from the Other Side of His Wall
By Al Giordano
Mental health professionals are warning about the stresses, and depressions likely to afflict many people – and not just North Americans - over the possibility that Donald Trump could get his tiny little hands on the most powerful job on earth. Some have noted that the week of the GOP convention, July 18 to 21, will be particularly hard on many.
Not to worry, América: The doctor is in!
Since this is the online newspaper that already defeated Mr. Trump once before – when we sent him and his Miss Universe pageant packing from Oaxaca, Mexico in 2007 – the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States is no mystery to us here. We made a careful study of his strengths and weaknesses and used them against him by wielding the power of authentic journalism.
The cure we offer for the stresses of having to watch him ascend to a major party nomination will come during those four days in July on a pristine Caribbean beach in Mexico, in a small “drinking village with a fishing problem” not far from Cancun and its international airport.
Admit it: You’re probably going to watch that damn convention anyway, so you might as well do it among friends rather than alone in your room from between your knees (the way many people watch horror films). Invitations to this four-night gala fiesta are strictly for supporters of the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism who pay their own travel, lodging, food and drink, who don’t want to build a wall (nor make Mexico pay for it), and who agree to the event guidelines. Once you’ve checked those boxes, you get your party invitations complete with amazing discounts offered by the Mexican people, their hotel and restaurant owners & workers, fishermen and respected guests.
And if watching the four nights of convention proceedings still irks you, we’ll raise a Trump piñata and hand you a stick for your therapeutic opportunity beet the hell out of him in effigy.
This is a politician, after all, who called Mexicans “rapists” and has vowed to deport millions of them. If you don’t like him, believe me, you’re going be among friends south of the border when you attend this party.
(Very soon we will make these authentic Made-in-Mexico Trump Piñatas - this is a prototype, but we're going to make the skin a bit more orange - available as a mail order gift for donors in the United States and elsewhere: Stay tuned!)
I’ll give you more details in a moment about our plans and the special hotel rates being offered (we’ll hook you up directly with trusted providers, and we won’t even collect a percent off it), and more. In past years we’ve held the Narco News anniversary celebrations in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Mexico City and elsewhere. But we’ve never done it until now at the beach.
The dates are Monday, July 18 through Thursday night July 21. In the evenings, you’ll be invited to the exclusive happy hour to mix and mingle with graduates of the School of Authentic Journalism and others. We’ll watch the prime time proceedings of the Republican National Convention together in a fine restaurant that offers great food and drink at economic prices, and afterward offer some entertainment and analysis of the evening’s news events we’ve just watched together. The party will surely go as late as folks are up for it.
During daytime hours, you’ll have free time: to hit the beach, go on boat trips, snorkel, scuba dive, visit the region’s underground springs, nature reserves, indigenous communities, fine restaurants and other tourist activities, or just read a book, and each afternoon we’ll convene by 5 p.m. for the evening’s festivities. Of course you’ll meet other great attendees who may well want to do those daytime things with you, and we’ll introduce you to bilingual guides who we trust to aid you with anything the region offers.
Confirmed special guests at the event include (so far) author and publisher Susie Bright, artist Jon Bailiff, and performance artist Alexandra Tatarsky who will premier parts of her one-woman show about Trump and the US elections during these events. And of course yours truly will be there as well to offer nightly analysis of the news content of the convention speeches and events.
How to Obtain an Invitation to the Fiesta
It’s easy. Just follow each of these steps in order:
1. Invitation: Donate $150 to the Fund for Authentic Journalism
You can do that via its web page: authenticjournalism.org. Your donation also gets you a rest-of-2016 gift subscription to my newsletter, Al Giordano’s América. NOTE: If you’re already a subscriber, and read Monday’s issue, you know that you enjoy a major discount from this donation level, and so does any guest you bring with you who registers before June 18, one month before the event.
2. Manners: Agree to the Event Guidelines
Once you have made your donation, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, copy and paste this next paragraph, and then type “I agree to the event guidelines.”
“As a supporter of authentic journalism I request an invitation to the ‘Not the GOP Convention’ four-night gathering in a Mexican beach town, and agree to the following guidelines: I understand that neither the Fund for Authentic Journalism nor Narco News nor any of its members are a vendor of any services and that I am responsible for my own travel, room, board and costs to be paid to the vendors I choose, who may or may not be recommended by the event coordinators. I indemnify the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism, Al Giordano and anyone else associated with the organization from financial or other costs associated with my travel and stay in Mexico, including personal injury or loss of property due to theft or breakage. I agree to be kind and respectful to everyone I meet through this event, including hotel and restaurant staff and other vendors. I agree to tip staff at least ten percent on meals and drinks. I will respect the rules of the establishments I patronize and understand that some may allow tobacco smoking and I will be tolerant toward smokers. I understand that these four nights of events are not a debating society, a decision-making meeting, or anything that involves group process. I agree to be nonviolent, not to annoy or harass others, and understand that failure to meet any of these guidelines can result in withdrawal of my invitation at any moment with no refund of my donation. In sum, I agree to be nice.”
Again, copy and paste that paragraph in an email to email@example.com and add “I agree,” and you’ll receive direct access to the special discounts on lodging that supporters in Mexico have added to this event.
3. Travel: Book your travel tickets to Cancun
You will fly to the Cancun Airport on the Caribbean peninsula of Mexico. There are direct flights from Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington DC, and connecting flights from almost everywhere else through one of those.
From most of those destinations you can find a flight for those dates for under $400 round trip.
To take a taxi from the airport to our fishing village would be about $43 dollars, or there is a passenger bus from the airport to town for about five dollars if you want to do it on the cheap. We can also make arrangements to have a trusted driver meet you at the airport.
A return taxi to the airport is about $20 dollars.
4. Lodging: These Deals Are Available on a First Come Basis
Prices listed are per room per night for one or two people. For a third or additional people add $20 per night per person.
One block from shore, ceiling fan, breakfast included:
1 double bed: $75
One block from shore, air conditioning, breakfast included:
2 queen beds: $75
Rental Home in same area:
3 bedrooms, pool, air conditioning, breakfast: $150
One block from shore, with pool, air conditioning:
Two bedroom suite: $120
One bedroom $95
Also one block from shore, air conditioning:
2 bedroom: $130
1 bedroom: $80
3 blocks from shore (Motel style), air conditioning:
Two beds in same room: $50
It is possible to get these same prices arriving days early or staying extra days, if the room is available.
Once you’ve donated at the above-mentioned levels and emailed me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will put you in direct contact with the renters and hotel websites and give you the code to obtain the discount where applicable. You’ll be responsible for booking your own lodging. I urge you to read the information about your room carefully (on amenities, rules, etcetera) before booking your room so that there are no surprises when you arrive. All said, these are very nice rooms! Most also include kitchenette, coffee maker and refrigerator. All have internet and cable TV. But, again, make sure to confirm each of those amenities when booking your rooms. We’re not the vendor or agent here, and we collect no percentage of the business. We’re simply introducing you to those who have offered these special prices so you can deal directly with them. All speak English and Spanish.
There will likely be some group activities available during the day, probably at least one large buffet brunch. If you have specific interests in any of the aforementioned daytime activities and want to book tours in advance, simply let me know. It will also be easy to book them from there with a day’s notice.
Our presenters and I will be mainly available to everyone in the evenings: before, during and after each night’s convention watch festivities. For those of you who wish to blog or tweet about the events, there will be wi fi. We will purchase extra bandwidth so hopefully there will be enough to go around.
In Sum: Come to the “Not The GOP Convention” Fiesta!
I can’t think of a better way to watch the Trump coronation than from Mexico among friends. If you feel the same, donate $150 to authenticjournalism.org (or if already a subscriber to Al Giordano’s América, consult recent issues for information on your discount).
Or you can simply donate $70 to subscribe today and take advantage of the offers therein.
The registration fee is per person (but subscriber guests also receive a discount).
The key thing about this invitation is to support the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism, the work and training of independent journalists through Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism. Head on over to the website now, donate from there, and then follow the instructions above to get your invitation to the four days of convention watch fiesta on the Mexican beach, where we'll also celebrate the sixteenth anniversary of this publication.
Here's the link to donate: www.authenticjournalism.org
See you there. First drink is on me.
By Al Giordano
April 24, 2016
This is an essay I published last week exclusively for subscribers to my newsletter, Al Giordano’s América. Many of those subscribers have urged me to share it more publicly. It was an introduction to my projections for Tuesday’s New York primary results and tells the story of the South Bronx neighborhoods where I first learned, as a boy, about community organizing and politics.
Donors of $70 or more to the Fund for Authentic Journalism receive the irregular newsletter (four issues came out during 2015, but 14 have already been sent in 2016 in large part because, as in 2004 and 2008, I’m sharing mathematical projections before the vote on the results of the presidential primaries – Democratic and Republican – in the United States). The newsletter has brought hundreds of new supporters to our work at Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism.
If during 2016 you’ve already donated $70 or more and have not yet requested the newsletter, simply email me at email@example.com and I’ll put you on the list in time for tomorrow’s issue with projections for the Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware primaries. It will include an essay that relates what I learned in my organizing days in Pennsylvania as a young organizer learning from Abbie Hoffman and others.
If you’ve not yet donated $70 you can do so via the authenticjournalism.org website.
Meanwhile, here’s an example of what subscribers are receiving. My NY projections – as with 30 of 32 Democratic primaries held so far – were accurate, including my claim that the Bronx would deliver the highest margin in the state to Secretary Clinton, largely for the reasons spelled out in this essay, which is made available free for all today.
NY Primary Projections Issue (April 18, 2016):
A Ten-Year-Old Takes Over this Issue & Says…
¡Bienvenidos al Bronx!
“Father Louis Gigante, the fighting priest of Saint Athanasius, had also joined the race. On a rotten, rainy day he staked himself out in front of a Hunt’s Point lot strewn with cannibalized cars and old garbage and declared his own candidacy, thereby becoming the first priest in New York State to run for Congress.”
- from South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of an American City, by Jill Jonnes (Fordham University Press, 2002)
A couple of weeks ago the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called its supporters to a rally in the South Bronx.
Over the course of the afternoon reports cluttered social media that the 2, 5 and 6 trains on the New York City subway system were filled with people headed to the Sanders rally from outside the Bronx. “I’ve never seen so many white people on this train,” commented a friend.
Soon many of those folks posted photos of the mostly Caucasian Sanders fans streaming toward St. Mary’s Park in the Mott Haven neighborhood. Many posted photos of themselves with their homemade Bernie placards or performance art get-ups. And when a photo included maybe one or two or a lesser number of black or Latino people they’d exclaim that they’d never seen such “diversity!”
The Mott Haven neighborhood, according to the US Census, is only 1.7 percent white. Most of the residents are Hispanic, the bulk of them of Puerto Rican, which of course includes many afro-Latinos. I thought, well, maybe this could be a good thing. Maybe these Sanders fans will learn something of the story of these neighborhoods, and from how they organized and won.
From here in Mexico City I turned on the live stream to watch the rally via Internet. The warm-up speakers were a Coney Island-born Latina Hollywood actress, a Puerto Rico-born musical talent, and an African-American film director from Brooklyn. If any of them knew anything about the sacred ground they were standing upon they made no mention of it.
They were followed by a candidate who seemed equally oblivious that he was a visitor in a place of history: a collection of neighborhoods that pulled themselves out of ruin and forced the city, state and national governments to serve them instead of the same special interests that the candidate said he opposed.
Nobody from the South Bronx, or anywhere in Bronx, was passed the microphone to tell its story or their own to the visitors. And nothing of substance was mentioned about them.
I have long considered the credo that “All Politics is Local” to be the promise of democracy, and campaigns to be the best opportunity for people at the most grassroots level to be heard by political candidates.
Readers of this newsletter know that last spring I had warned that Sanders’ form of economic populism carried in its DNA a dangerous undertow of white supremacy. I’m not sure that many really “got” that at the time. But on March 31, as hipsters carried placards into the neighborhood more than a few of which proclaimed “the Bronx is Berning,” they unleashed in me a repressed memory from those streets associated with a smell: the suffocating odor of the burned out buildings in those same neighborhoods when I was a boy of nine and ten years old: the pestilent scent of arson, neglect born of racism, economic and physical violence and the misery imposed by them.
Before I give you my projections for tomorrow’s New York Primary, I want you to know the story about the South Bronx that nobody from that Sanders rally stage appeared to have a clue about as it used this proud Latino neighborhood as a prop.
The passage, above, about the 1970 announcement of a campaign for Congress in the South Bronx is not something I first read in a book. I was there that day on that vacant lot. I was ten. It was my first political campaign. The next stop that day was the steps of St. Athanasius parish for a campaign rally where schoolgirls a few years older than I in their plaid-skirted uniforms performed a cheerleading dance for Father Lou Gigante, the candidate. I stood next to Father G on those steps, along with his campaign manager, whose name you might know, Al Giordano: Not me, my dad.
Father G had been ordained into the priesthood in late 1959. I was born on the final day of that year. When I visited him in his South Bronx office three years ago to record his story, Father G told me that I was the first child he had baptized (something I never knew). He and my pop, two Italian guys from New York, had met in college and had organized together there to stop the practice of hazing by fraternities, a bond that continued when they returned to New York.
Two years later the Church assigned a 29-year-old Father G to St. Athanasius, first sending him to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish in an immersion program designed by the philosopher priest Ivan Illich. He had been thrown into a neighborhood – Longwood, next door to Mott Haven – that had been increasingly abandoned by the most basic public services and inflicted by absentee slumlords. The idealistic young cleric from Greenwich Village in Manhattan, a former basketball star at Georgetown University, plunged himself into the problems of his parishioners: buildings without heat in the winter, without water – not even in the fire hydrants – and with landlords who did not maintain them.
The South Bronx Rising book ably relates the details: Many buildings went up in smoke, displacing families, due to faulty wiring and firetrap construction, but a commission appointed by then Mayor John Lindsey found that many had also burned down due what it called a conspiracy to arson by landlords to collect on lucrative insurance policies.
The pitch smell wafted permanently into the apartments of the neighboring buildings that were still standing. When some of the blazed buildings were demolished the vacant lots became garbage dumps and breeding grounds for infestations of rats throughout Longwood, Mott Haven, Hunts Point and the rest of the South Bronx. The children of the neighborhood suffered high rates of illness, infection and asthma. In the cold weather months, the permanent smell of gas mixed in with that of charred wreckage, since the only heat that many apartments had came from the oven, door kept open, so as not to freeze.
Into this chaos drug dealing grew as an economic power in a place where few had money. Dealers formed gangs, who terrorized the neighbors in manifold ways. Members of the Latino middle class began to flee, leaving the poor to fend for themselves. “White” was not the only flight in the 1960s in New York.
By 1967 schoolteachers in Longwood were petitioning the city to fix the miserable conditions in which their students lived. Father G had seen enough, and one night organized the neighborhood residents to empty the burned-out buildings of anything flammable. They set fires in barrels in the middle of the street in protest.
These events soon pitted the upstart radical priest and his Simpson Street Development Association, run out of a storefront near to St. Athanasius, against the area’s rising political boss Ramon Velez. A neighborhood ally of Gigante was murdered, and most believed Velez had orchestrated it. Velez, who saw Father G as standing between him and political control of the neighborhood, taunted him as a carpetbagger and “missionary.” One night he called the priest a “maricón,” an anti-gay slur, and the people’s priest decked Ramon with a punch that remains legendary in New York political lore.
One had to be tough to survive in Longwood, and tougher to organize in it. That Gigante’s three brothers were notorious and reputed organized crime figures in Manhattan – his brother Vincent, known as “the Chin,” would rise to the highest rank in the Genovese crime organization – dogged Father G in the tabloid media but also gave him a street cred with local youths, the original authors of his “Father G” nickname.
Once when bringing South Bronx teens by subway to a basketball tournament in Brooklyn – Father G used his sports acumen effectively to organize – he told the kids, “If you cause any trouble where we’re going, I’ll kill you.” And the kids believed him! Eventually many of those same youths organized to kick the gangs out of the neighborhood because police would not or could not.
In 1969, Gigante organized a campaign called Summer in the City. If the government and landlords would not clean up the neighborhood, the people would do it themselves. He called on Catholic churches from outside the South Bronx, including in the suburbs, to send volunteers. St. Philip Neri parish, where he’d baptized me, in the Northwest Bronx, and Saints John & Paul in the Westchester County suburbs of Mamaroneck, where I then lived, were each well represented. Entire weekends were devoted to taking out the trash from the vacant lots, fencing them, painting and doing the overdue plumbing and electric work on apartment buildings. I was nine and these Summer in the City weekends were my introduction to organizing life.
Mainly I’d play with the other kids. One of the innovations of Summer in the City was the installation of water-conserving sprinklers on fire hydrants so on hot summer days when they were opened in lieu of swimming pools they wouldn’t deplete the area’s water supply. We laughed and played under their showers. I learned my first words in Spanish from kids named José and Diego. At the end of each day a gigantic chicken barbecue would feed the residents and volunteers alike. I ate rice and beans and fried platano tostitos, and was introduced to my lifelong love named hot sauce.
One vivid memory, hard to forget, was overturning a decayed piece of sheetrock in one of those lots to find a very large mama rat breastfeeding a litter of pink rodent babies. She jumped to her fours and snarled at us and we kids ran screaming from that lot!
Looking back, I really must credit my parents for letting this nine-year-old kid run free on those streets with the kids who lived there. They trusted in Father G – a regular guest in our home - and trusted the neighborhood residents. I was not micro-managed as a child, and I like to think that’s made all the difference in the world. My own trust in organized communities, born there, would define my entire life ahead of me. My first lessons in civics began there: on Fox Street, Simpson Street and Kelly Street. On 149th Street, where Longwood ended and Mott Haven began. Painting buildings alongside the kids who lived inside them, signing our names to the murals, it was the first time I tasted the ecstasy of being part of something bigger than myself, and with a ripping salsa soundtrack.
The following spring my pop would regularly bring me with him to the campaign headquarters and I’d run with the local kids while he managed the campaign. “Your dad did everything,” Father Lou later told me. “He ran it. He organized the petitions to get me on the ballot, made the strategy, told me where to go and who to see. I didn't understand politics. I was just using the gimmick of a priest running for Congress to bring attention to the South Bronx. Your dad understood it. And we almost won."
(Almost wasn’t enough: pop never did an electoral campaign again. He fell on some hard times – my folks became pioneers of the 1970s wave of divorce – and he moved back to the Bronx where he lived out the rest of his years, most of them driving a New York City taxi.)
In that June 1970 Democratic Primary that pitted two machine politicians – former Bronx Borough president Herman Badillo and Peter Vallone, a judge’s son from Queens – against aspiring boss Ramon Velez, Gigante came within 2,112 votes of winning, but Badillo triumphed. Significantly for the years to come was that Gigante got twice as many votes as Velez, who soon fell from grace and Father Lou filled the vacuum to become the undisputed political leader of the South Bronx. In the mid-70s he was elected to the New York City Council and he formed SEBCO – South Bronx Development, Inc. – which would change the trajectory of all the neighborhoods there.
During the Carter administration, Gigante organized South Bronx voters into a force to be reckoned with, and secured generous federal funds to build low-income housing for the largely Puerto Rican population. The middle class returned. They built thousands of housing units, many of them one- and two-family homes to be owned by their occupants. That concept was at odds back then with almost all existing projects of public housing.
Today, the South Bronx is a rarity: a peaceful, safe and thriving urban neighborhood that did not cave to gentrification in order to revive itself. It remains a Latino barrio with a thriving middle class. The streets are clean and tidy, much more so than in any gentrified neighborhood of New York. People who live there take pride in it. You might even call it “democratic socialism.”
As Father G and I strolled through the neighborhood three years ago, a man walking his dog told him that he has been offered “obscene” amounts of money for his home. “I’m never going to sell,” he said. “I will die here.” That guy had been one of the street kids in his youth who Father G organized to chase out the drug gangs. A land where people feel that kind of pride can never be sold or gentrified.
I honestly believe that had Father Lou not been tailgated by the media so constantly over his brother’s criminal activities he would have risen to become mayor or governor or US Senator. His political skills and instincts are that good. In the books, like the one quoted above, about this story, he is credited as the singular figure that through sheer force of will and insistence on building homes local residents could own saved the neighborhoods. I can identify. He shepherded my own life’s path, too.
So I beg, kind reader, your pardon when I tell you that an invading horde of day-tripping white hipsters from Williamsburg and the East Village came into the South Bronx last month with their disgusting “the Bronx is Berning” signs, taking selfies next to a black or Latino person here or there screeching that it’s the most “diverse” experience of their lives, yes, that does stick in my craw. (And if that’s their idea of “diversity,” they need to get out more.)
Sanders’ visit to the South Bronx was never about winning the votes in 98.3 percent nonwhite Mott Haven or the similar demographics of next-door Longwood. Local residents were not invited to tell their neighborhood story to the visitors. They were not even mentioned, not by the Hollywood starlet, not by the pop star, not even by the presidential candidate. The movie director urged the Sanders supporters to “register to vote,” five days after the deadline had passed. Nobody has to tell the people who live there to register and vote! They know from their own experience that it is what protects them from a return to the real “Bronx is burning” years.
The simulacrum of “diversity” served up by the Sanders campaign in Mott Haven, far from being an earnest attempt to dialogue – or even to “hispander!” - with its 68,000 residents, or the 40,000 in Longwood, or the 50,000 in Hunts Point. Sanders merely used their park as a prop to assuage his own overwhelmingly white supporters’ guilt and let them gullibly continue to ignore that the campaign is a dangerous exercise in white privilege wrapped in “progressive” or “socialist” costume. It wasn’t a campaign event. It was a field trip by people of privilege who felt cool “slumming it” for a day and headed back downtown. Most will never set foot there again.
My projections take into consideration the knowledge that my own feelings of pride for that corner of New York, though strong, don’t compare to those of its residents, those who raised families there and were raised by them, who are preparing a statement tomorrow to be made at the ballot box. The results in the Bronx and the South Bronx in particular are going to be brutal for the Sanders campaign and manna for that of Clinton. A good chunk of the delegate differential statewide is going to come out of the Bronx. The Mott Haven toe-touch rally was insulting to the people. And when you see the results tomorrow evening, I ask that you take this backstory to heart, on behalf of a ten-year-old boy whose memory I have tried to honor in all the years since.
By Al Giordano
111 Heroes Have Pledged to the Kickstarter Campaign but We're Running Out of Time
"In the New York Supreme Court in 2001 we invented an idea called the School of Authentic Journalism. Older, and hopefully wiser, I know now more than ever how important it is to pass these skills - and the power that comes with them - on to the next generations."
Fifteen years ago – after Narco News and its journalists won press freedom rights for the entire Internet in the New York Supreme Court – we created the School of Authentic Journalism to train new generations in the skills and strategies of communicating to change the world. If you’ve already pledged to make the 2016 school happen, thank you.
If you haven’t yet made a pledge we’re running out of time and I plead with you to do so right now at this link:
Last year hundreds of readers, graduates and supporters did rally in the last week to get us to the $25,000 goal. We held a great school in November, the best yet (every new school has been better than the previous ones). But it turned out to be a bit more expensive than we had budgeted which is why we’re forced to seek $30,000 for the 2016 school.
One need only look at how the news media has elevated Donald Trump to become the presumptive Republican nominee for president in the United States to be reminded how urgent it is to train better journalists. Commercial media’s constant search for “ratings” to be able to charge more money for advertising has been what made a monster out of Trump, a man who calls Mexicans “rapists” and promises to build a wall around the country. They’ve given the man hundreds of millions of dollars in free airtime because he brings them those ratings. Yet of more than 500 graduates of the School of Authentic Journalism not one that I know of has participated in that charade. Instead, they’re out there doing the work that reporters are supposed to do, bringing attention to corruption and voice to the voiceless.
It boggles the mind to think that in this media environment – in which everybody knows the media is at fault – it’s still so hard to persuade good people to make even a small pledge to the only project on earth that trains the kinds of journalists and communicators this world so desperately needs.
If we don’t make the goal by March 4, not only will that kill the 2016 school but could cripple it for years to come (remember we were unable to hold the school from 2005 to 2009: objects at rest tend to stay at rest). We’ll have to also seriously assess whether the project of Narco News and the other important projects of the authentic journalism renaissance will be able to continue at all.
I know you’re busy, that your time and resources are valuable. But I also know that you don’t want to wake up on March 5 to hear that this wonderful school – the most important and vital project of my lifetime and that of my colleagues – has ceased to exist because not enough of us made any pledge at all. Even if you have only a very small amount to spare the Kickstarter page lists the number of pledges and as that number grows it creates momentum and encourages others to do the same.
In eight days the School of Authentic Journalism will either march forward to meet the demand of young journalists and communicators who are thirsty for its knowledge and tools, or the school will die. The answer to whether something so extraordinary and necessary will live or die next week is literally in your hands.
It takes only a few seconds to click this link and make a pledge. If we don’t meet the goal your card won’t be charged. If we do succeed it will only be charged after March 4:
The School of Authentic Journalism tells the people who are the future, “Young people, do not give up hope. Here are the skills and the tools to make the world yours.”
I’ve devoted my life to them for the past thirteen years. Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser) I know more than ever before how important it is to pass these skills and the power that comes with them on to them. I don’t believe you’ll let them down either.
From somewhere in a country called América,