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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Fuller, December 14, 1996. Interview O-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Economic justice advocates employed successful strategies to captivate the public

Effective staging tactics and deep concern for and among workers helped to attract the public's attention and sustain the economic justice movement. Fuller asserts that these strategies provided poor people with viable options to free themselves from the throes of poverty.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Fuller, December 14, 1996. Interview O-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

HOWARD FULLER:
So you gotta understand, we came out of this in a very different way. Our method of doing this struggle was to create effective organizations. There were two parts to it. One was practical, and one was philosophical. The practical part of it was things like: you never organize a meeting and get a big room. You never want to have a meeting with this huge room with all these empty chairs. What you've got to do is put it in a small room, so that when people come in there, they're all hunched up, and it looks like you're packed! The TV comes in, and you're packed all around the walls. But if they come into a room like this and there's twelve people sitting in there, they take pictures of all these empty chairs. Think about that. We talked about practical ways of knocking on a door. How do you convince people that they can do what they don't even think they can do? We did crazy things. Like, I remember one night, we killed all these rats. The city council's down there having a discussion. We went down there and dumped these rats right up there on their sacred place where they were talking! It got their attention. [Laughter] We were trying to find creative ways that were practical to develop organization. And while some of you are concerned about enduring organizations, I'm not. Cause some organizations shouldn't endure. In fact, a lot of them endure too long. They get to be supporters of the status quo. There's got to be a distinction between organizations that should remain, and organizations that shouldn't. We used to develop different kinds of organizations and coalitions. Sometimes you've got to create organizations that ain't even there. What do they know? Get you some stationery, you got an organization, and this is what we demand! [Laughter] These are things that we learned. We were trying to develop effective organizations, but more than that, we were creating effective, committed people. People who, today, still see that it's about struggle. The reason why that was important was that the foundation for all of this was a deep love, that's hard to describe. There's a book by Maryann Williamson, called Return to Love. You ought to read this book. In this book, Maryann Williamson talks about the fable of the frog and the prince, and how the princess kisses the frog and turns him into a prince. It's about showing you the dynamic situation that's created by love, and that love creates an environment for transformation. She argues that if you don't love people, you can never understand them. If you don't understand them, you cannot reach them. You can't work with people and say, "These are my clients." What is that?! They teach you in school that you have to have professional objectivity. What is that? You have to feel the pain. If you're going to work with and for people, you have to love those people, you have to feel that pain. You can't be sitting up here observing. If you're going to be an observer, be one. But if you're going to be an organizer, and you're fighting for people's rights, you have to love those people and feel deeply about them. Ultimately, it's about freedom. In Paul O. Frieri's book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in the forward, Richard Shaw was talking about education, and he says, "Education is either the instrument where you train people to fit into the logic of the current order, or it becomes in fact the instrument that facilitates the development of people so that they can engage in the practice of freedom, which is in essence the practice to transform their world." What this is about is, how do you practice freedom? Martin Luther King, Jr., said that freedom is the ability to weigh alternatives, to make rational decisions, and to take responsibility for those decisions. Our mission was to engage, and help others engage, in the practice of freedom. Our mission was to empower poor people to help them obtain levels and levels of power that were previously unavailable to them. What is your mission today, our mission today? Our mission is to empower poor people to help them obtain levels of power that are still unavailable to them.