On the Work of Districts and Clubs

 
BY:Evelina Alarcon| September 22, 2001

Opening to the National Leadership Seminar

Sam talked about thinking out of the box. That’s what I would like us
to do related to Districts. I think we should look at this session as
an exchange on what Districts need to be in this new period. We won’t
come up with all the answers this weekend but I want to continue to pose
questions that stir up the pot of our thinking about our future work.
My remarks will continue the debate and add some of my opinions to the
mix.

I think I will present a little different spin than the two other reports
because I am also a District leader and look at things from that perspective.

I think a key question is: Do we in the Districts need to change or
adjust to meet the new situation? I think we do. Sam’s and Elena’s openings
showed that. Changes in our country and in the world are occurring rapidly
and we have to change and adjust with that new reality as well.

Relationship of the National Center to the Districts

One of the first conclusions of the new leadership of the AFL-CIO was
that the Central Labor Councils had to be given a higher priority in the
AFL-CIO structure. They concluded that the CLC’s were the most dynamic
part of the structure. That they were key to moving locals and the members
into accomplishing the new goals of – organizing, union cities, electoral
work, building labor community coalition, etc.

Once concluding this, the AFL-CIO made programmatic and structural changes
which focused their efforts on moving the CLC’s. They even formed an advisory
body of heads of key CLC’s from around the country. This approach had
a tremendous effect on moving CLC leaders and the rank and file in a new
way. It is one of the most decisive organizational decisions that has
made the new labor movement the power force that it is today.

While we are different, I think the Districts have the same importance
and dynamic to our Party’s structure. Districts are crucial to the work
of our party. They play a pivotal role. For the most part, policy is carried
out or not in districts. Districts are closer to the pulse of our class
and people.

District leaders play the decisive role in the District. Things go or
not depending on District leaders, starting with the District Organizer.
District leaders communicate our national policy and national organizational
goals more than anyone else to the clubs and members. We more than anyone
else have to apply national policy to our states, cities and communities.
We are an important communication link between the clubs and our members
with the national center. It also follows suit that District leaders play
a decisive role in the national Party.

Change is needed

I think that for many years we have not been giving the attention to
Districts or District leaders that is needed. We have not drawn on the
thinking and experience of the District leaders enough. That weakness
affected us. I think it slowed our ability to shape policy that reflected
the whole nation and all that comes with that – including the ability
to develop strategy and tactics and priorities which unite a whole nation
– not just geographic segments of it. It affected what issues we projected
as key.

Inadequate relationship to District leaders diminished our collective
ability to draw from the experiences from states and cities both outside
in the mass arena and inside the Party. Without having a good sense of
the obstacles, problems and progress in the states and Districts, both
internally and in mass work, it is difficult to be helpful in solving
problems or to be able to project how to build on progress.

Not enough connection slowed us up from being able to identify the new
and developing. Sometimes the new and developing can reflect itself in
a state or city and if we are not organized to be able to take in these
developments in a timely way, the whole country loses out.

Over the last months there has been a noticeable change, District leaders
are becoming more connected to the national center in various ways. Phone
conferences, e-mail, more travel are closing the gap. The Labor Commission
now insures participation from the west coast and southwest.

This seminar and the other innovations are a great and refreshing beginning.
Not all Districts feel it fully yet but we are moving in a positive direction.

The phone conferences with district organizers has been very helpful.
We exchange our thoughts informally on different areas of work. We hear
a range of experiences which stirs the thinking for our district work.

Districts should be a national priority

The question of giving priority to district building and district leaders
is a bottom line issue for the future of our Party. Look what happened
when the AFL-CIO shifted their emphasis to the Central Labor Councils.

I think that we like the AFL-CIO need to make structural changes which
go in the direction of assisting Districts, of prioritizing the work at
this level. We have to help to build stronger district leaders and district
collectives. Strong functioning districts which are based in coalition
and mass struggle are the key to every aspect of building a mass Party,
YCL and press. That includes the question of shifting to more involving
district leaders in national policy making. This will help us to make
better political assessments. It will make our national plans and decisions
more closely related to the reality of our situation.

A new role for District leaders

It also means that we District leaders have to see our role differently.
We need to take more initiative to share our experiences, our thinking.
To convey the challenges which we face. We need to communicate the labor
and mass developments in our areas.

We have more tools to do that now than in the past. The INTERNET and
e-mail open up the ability to communicate quickly. We should not be afraid
to be wrong or not quite right. As long as our input is constructive and
comradely, there shouldn’t be a problem. The give and take is stimulating.

The national phone conferences with district organizers are a valuable
exchange for all involved. Every district organizer adds a different angle
to whatever we are discussing. We also get the latest experiences in a
given area of work in a timely way.

We are also brainstorming more, kicking ideas around more informally.
There is not a formal opening with everything thought out. There is plenty
of room for creativity and innovation.

I think we have to create that atmosphere at every level of the Party.
Every leader and member need to feel comfortable participating. In districts,
district leaders set that tone. Everyone has a contribution to make. We
district leaders have to find the ways to allow that potential to flourish.
Like we are doing this weekend. Disagreement is not automatically a negative.

That kind of atmosphere also is unifying. Unity within the Party is
something that all district leaders have to work on continuously.

We district leaders who live the life everyday should come up with ideas
for what would be more helpful and what would assist in making Districts
more a total part of our national work. Regional meetings, phone conferences
are part of it, but what else? Are district leader seminars like this
something we should schedule annually? How should our district leader
meetings be structured to be more helpful? Can we use the INTERNET more
effectively to exchange experiences and ideas?

I think their is a new ability for all District leaders to make a more
substantial contribution nationally. We need to be more candid than in
the past.

One thing that I have thought about is that there are times when campaign
mode organized at the national level is appropriate. We cannot be in campaign
mode all the time but certain times merit it. I think that elections 2000
is one of those times. Goals, target dates, concentration areas for making
breakthroughs, weekly check up, are part of campaign mode.

A District Vision

District leaders should have a vision about what we want our Districts
to look like in 5 – 10 – 20 years. I think we would all agree that we
want to have at least hundreds, if not thousands of members in our Districts.
So how do we get there? I think we have to have a different mind set.

I agree that to recruit hundreds of active members, let alone thousands,
that we have to participate in struggles with hundreds and thousands of
people. We have to be participating in labor/community coalitions on issues
at every level of the Party. Whether they be national, state, local or
neighborhood, that is where our emphasis should be.

I also agree that District leaders have to give mass struggle and coalition
building priority in our work. That means, I think, that we have to set
the example for clubs and members by being active in mass struggles ourselves.
In order to build greater credibility and in order to grow, we have to
prove ourselves in mass struggle. There is a lot to learn in these movements
– strategy, tactics, program, coalition building. This experience will
help us to be more reality based in our assessments, program and plans
of work.

Our Party has to more become a party of mass action. I think our district
leaders need to be seen as leaders of mass action that can work within
labor community coalitions, and that can initiate, participate and lead
grassroots movements as well.

I also agree that the potential to do this as Communists – as public
communists and not – are open to us – more than anytime in our history.

We speak often about our influence. We have said many times that our
influence goes way beyond our numbers. This is positive. Our press, Changing
America, our literature and INTERNET work influences thousands. But it
is not enough to influence. We have to learn how to work directly in struggle
with hundreds and even thousands of people. We have to learn to work in
coalitions – work with labor, and all kinds of different forces at every
level of our nation.

Working with coalitions is required to build anti monopoly coalition,
to win Socialism USA. I very much agree with Sam and Elena’s emphasis
on this. We have to be working side by side in action alongside of labor
and mass organizations – not on the sidelines.

Through coalition work, we can participate in leading thousands.

If someone would have asked me one year ago, can my District really
lead thousands? I probably would of hesitated. But today, I say yes, because
a few comrades in my district are literally leading a movement of thousands
in California for the Cesar Chavez holiday. We are a key part of the core
of leaders who are coordinating the whole campaign.

This resulted from our district’s coalition, grassroots and electoral
work over a period of years. In every one of those experiences we were
helpful, hard working, and unifying. We helped shape program and direction
which strengthened the coalitions we were involved in. Based on that work,
we were asked to be leaders. Our action in struggle was the testing ground.
Mass coalition work builds up credibility and resources over time. We
established working relationships with many labor and civil rights leaders,
elected officials over the years. This includes work on the Martinez Jobs
Bill, for bilingual education, get out the vote precinct work against
paycheck deception Prop. 226, anti affirmative action Prop. 209 and anti
immigrant Prop. 187. We now have been able to call on these leaders to
help with the holiday effort and other campaigns.

Our participation has opened many formerly closed doors. The California
leaders who agreed to my being the public leader and state coordinator
of the Cesar Chavez holiday campaign are prominent statewide and even
national leaders. Most of them know that I am a Communist. Has this built
the Party’s influence? Yes. Has it built the Party’s credibility? Yes.
Is it opening new doors to us in other areas of labor and people’s movements?
Yes.

We are invited more than ever to join coalition efforts. The People’s
Weekly World reporters and distributions are more welcomed. Work in coalition
and on issues is changing the district.

This work is also changing the district itself starting with those who
are involved in these coalitions and struggles. We have even won back
members into Party activity that haven’t been around for years.

One comrade was by his choice underground in a county outside of Los
Angeles. He wouldn’t even give us his address for mailings. We had to
visit him when we wanted to speak to him. Suddenly, he calls me. He had
read an article in his local newspaper quoting me as the leader of the
holiday campaign. ‘You have to address our City Council on the holiday,’
he said.

For a leader of the Party to be quoted in newspapers in every city in
the state, the Washington Post and the Dallas Morning News, has an impact
on our members as well as the public around us. In this case, I was not
quoted as a Communist but as a leader of a coalition campaign, nonetheless,
since I am widely know as a leader of the Communist Party, it was just
as significant.

This work has had an impact on our new members. One example is the Los
Angeles April walk-a-thon and rally in tribute to Cesar Chavez where over
five thousand people participated. The Chavez holiday campaign was a visible
part of the event.

On my way up to the stage of the rally where I spoke, a new member who
we hadn’t seen for awhile came running up to me and said, ‘hello Evelina,
I just wanted to let you know I was here.’ I said hello and had to run
up to the stage having been introduced by Culture Clash, a well known
Chicano comedic group. A group of about 20 youth holiday activists from
San Diego accompanied me on the stage. They and other holiday leaders
stood behind me as I spoke. What I remember is the face of the new member.
He was beaming, smiling from ear to ear. He has since attended the regional
meeting on the elections and has remained active.

Our being a visible part of the labor and people’s movements, is proof
to our members that we are able to mix it up. That our ideas, our efforts
can move people into action.

Mobilizing our own members into action.

Part of the process of participating in struggle is to involve as many
members as possible. District leaders need to learn the art of mobilizing
our own clubs and members. It often takes greater effort than just pitching
at a meeting.

For example, besides petitioning, letter writing – what everyone could
do on the holiday campaign, we consciously targeted party leaders and
members to work within the holiday coalition. We had one on one meetings
including with those who do not attend club meetings. A number of these
comrades had not been very active for a long time.

For example, I went to the home of two comrades, husband and wife. I
spoke to them at their kitchen table about the holiday and how they could
help. Next thing I know, two of their sons in middle school, who were
listening to us from the living room, came to the table and said, ‘Why
can’t we help to work for the Cesar Chavez holiday.’ And they did.

They did such good work on petitioning that the Los Angeles Times included
their enthusiasm in an article. One of the youth called me to do an interview
for his class on people who inspire him. Do you think this influenced
the parents to do more in the Party? Definitely yes.

The holiday work literally helped a comrade out of her sick bed. While
she is young, she is very ill and suffers a lot of pain. She appreciated
my phoning her to give her updates on the holiday effort. She became so
enthusiastic that eventually she became involved. I think that the holiday
campaign has helped save her life. She is still ill but she participates
in mass struggle and the life of the Party much more. She has volunteered
to be a club leader and to our amazement, she prepared a meal for the
whole regional conference in Los Angeles.

The point is that our leadership in this campaign and the developments
enthused comrades not only to be involved in the holiday campaign which
they are but resulted in their greater involvement in the work of the
district.

Party life should be centered on struggles not meetings.

People don’t join the Party to sit in meetings. The meetings have to
be connected to struggle or members stop attending. We have to think out
of the box on how to involve each member at their level. We have to connect
social and cultural life to this as well.

As district leaders, we have a lot of juggling to do – it can be maddening
– but I think for this period our emphasis, our priority has to be in
involving the entire Party – every club, every member and everyone we
know, – into the mass movements of our day.

2000 elections

The immediate challenge is the 2000 elections. Our regional conferences
identified our target districts. We need to join coalitions that exist
all around us. Labor led coalitions are the most obvious but their are
also civil rights and community coalitions for voter registration, voter
education and get out the vote.

We have to provide handles for our members (new and old) to be able
to connect to the targeted districts and coalitions as well as provide
sample plans for workplace and community clubs.

At the West Coast/Southwest Regional meeting, I made a proposal that
in the Fall we should have national leaders go to 25 or so clubs around
the country where the clubs invite their contacts to discuss ‘why we have
to get out the vote in November? how do we do it?’ and ask people to join
the Party.

This could be a goal point for the clubs, something to work up to. By
then, hopefully, our target clubs will have participated in electoral
labor/community coalition, voter registration, GOTV and distributions
of the PWW and our literature. They can bring their electoral friends
to the meeting with a national party leader.

Everything can flow out of mass work

I think that most of what we do at a district level should be linked
to and flow out of our mass work … education, club work, fund raising,
tabling, media, party/YCL building, distribution of our press and literature.

Our best PWW fund raising event in southern California flowed out of
our work on the Martinez Jobs Bill. Two members of Congress, members of
the state legislature and City Council and 60% attendance by unionists
made for a ground breaking event.

Our connection to trade unionists both leaders and rank and file increased
qualitatively. Our working relationship to African American and Mexican
American leaders and community activists increased dramatically as well.

Instead of being second, third and fourth on our district and club agendas,
our mass coalition work should come first. Discussing the real live issues,
tactics of struggle, accomplishments and how to overcome obstacles is
more likely to produce involvement by members than assessment discussions
alone or PWW distribution plans alone or fund raisers alone.

We will make better and more accurate assessments when they are based
on our participation in struggles not just observation.

Public role of the Party and coalitions

The public role of the party is one of the questions that we are debating
this weekend. My opinion is that we need to be flexible.

There is an attitude by some that if we are not public Communists at
all times, then something is wrong. That lead has been given to clubs
and members and they basically don’t respond to it.

I think a better approach is to activate comrades into the elections
or other struggle in whatever way they are willing to be involved and
then integrate the party’s public role to that. We tend to reverse that.
Public role first and mass struggle second – if we get to it. In life,
that means that the minimum of comrades get involved.

Public role and visibility should be more than carrying a banner at
a demonstration or tabling. That’s not saying that we shouldn’t do that
or that I am minimizing the importance of that. But, we have to be active
in coalitions, electoral struggles and mass issue campaigns as Communists
– public or not.

Whether we represent the party publicly in a coalition or movement should
be based on time, place and circumstance. We shouldn’t miss an opportunity
if there is one but neither should it be a requirement. We have to use
common sense about it. I don’t think that there are pat answers for all
situations. Public presence should be a consistent objective but how we
achieve that should be a matter of testing the waters.

A life example of leading a coalition of thousands

For example, I mentioned that I do not represent the Party in the holiday
campaign work. But many leaders in the coalition know that I’m a communist.
If I did say publicly that I am in the Communist Party while doing this
work, they would not let me lead this campaign. I think they appreciate
the way we’ve handled it. I’m talking about important local, state and
national leaders.

On the other hand, we are constantly testing the waters on visibility
of the party. I write for the PWW constantly. We distribute the paper
at some holiday events. We even had the pamphlet which I wrote on ‘Bill
of rights Socialism in the 21st Century,’ at one event.

One of the important labor leaders told me, ‘I saw your photo in the
paper the other day. I’m glad to see that you are in the class struggle.’
I realized that he meant the photo of the new national officers that appeared
in the People’s Weekly World.

Other leaders are asking to have private discussions with me about my
being a communist. One leader told me, ‘when I saw that hit piece against
your brother because he has a Communist sister, that assured that he would
get the vote of my husband and I for all time.’ This leader who I had
never met before, walked up to me and said this while we were on a picket
line of hundreds related to the holiday.

In the beginning, there were many comrades who thought my not representing
the party was a cop out. Most don’t think that way now. The fact that
I am leading this movement is a part of public presence and visibility.
Our constituency is growing as a result. And most important thousands
of people are moving into action for a paid holiday to honor a Mexican
American labor leader which if won will make history in our country.

A shift in focus and emphasis

I think consistently testing the waters in coalition work for Party
visibility is basic. We have to try new ways to inject the public role
of the Party. But being centered in mass struggle is primary.

How do we expand our public role in the course of struggles is the way
to place it now. It is a shift of emphasis and focus. That is not a small
thing.

This is not to diminish the public role and visibility of the Party.
At a time when thousands are in the streets of our cities openly challenging
capitalism, it is not the time not to be public. In fact, we have to expand
on our visibility not diminish it.

Sam speaking to college students at Dartmouth, Lorenzo and I speaking
as Communists at Cal State Los Angeles were positive events. More public
meetings of the party are needed. More communist candidates are needed.
John Bachtel’s campaign for School Board in New York was a great example
of how we can run a coalition based campaign. He stated that he was a
Communist also. Denise and Rick’s successful campaigns were also coalition
based campaigns.

We also have to build the circulation of the PWW, Nuestro
Mundo
and Political Affairs much bigger. Our web site needs
to be updated and utilized much more. The INTERNET is a powerful tool
for outreach which we have to use more effectively.

We have to participate and win struggles

As I said before, I do not think that public presence in and of itself
is enough to hold onto members. We have to show that our party can not
only participate in but be a key force in coalition for winning on issues,
in electoral battles, for public office, in shop and union struggles.
If we win the Cesar Chavez holiday in California, is that important for
building a mass party? I think winning struggles is critical.

Our positive work in coalitions in one fight will overlap into other
areas as well. For example, our leading role in the Chavez holiday fight
overlaps into our industrial concentration work related to Longshore.

We have been trying to make a break here for a long time. We distribute
the paper but it hasn’t been enough. It is the holiday campaign work that
has now connected us to Longshore leaders and to rank and file members.
But it goes beyond one area. It has overlapped in our relationship to
the labor movement overall, to the civil rights movement, to the student
movement, to the environmental movement, etc. all over the state of California
and even in other states and with national organizations.

Move clubs outward & establish special district forms

We district leaders have to help move clubs outward into mass struggle.
We have to be more hands on. That means we have to mix it up with our
clubs more. We have to visit them and be helpful in how to set priorities,
how to build up grassroots issue based labor/community coalitions at the
neighborhood and community level as a club focus. Our goal is to build
clubs which are community and workplace centers of mass action.

There are clubs where most comrades are active in one organization or
another. The challenge is how to get all comrades to focus on one given
issue or struggle like elections 2000. And then integrate the press, party
literature, public role, party building to that.

We also have to target mass campaigns at a District level and then help
mobilize comrades into the campaigns. I think sometimes that means we
have to move out the district structure box in order to do it. That means
that we have to develop creative forms for moving comrades who’s club
are not moving outward or not fast enough.

That can include special meetings for those activists who are ready
to move into action on district focus issues or campaigns. It can mean
informal discussion with trade unionists like we talked about at the National
Committee meeting.

In Southern California, we organized a special meeting for Mexican American
comrades and Mexican American contacts. There were over 30 folks in the
room including non party leaders, discussing how to elevate the fight
for Mexican American equality today.

We are also going to experiment with having monthly meetings for new
members at the District level. It could be a home base where new members
will come and connect with the work of the party. This would be another
way of integrating new members especially in the areas where we don’t
have clubs or a club is not following up on them.

These are all intermediary steps that hopefully will lead to strengthening
clubs and building new clubs.

Even though there are mixed experiences with the INTERNET new members,
including negative, I would not downplay those members. In our District
we have met some really good honest people from the INTERNET recruiting.
Some of those INTERNET new members are the basis for new clubs in Orange
and San Bernardino Counties.

The biggest problem we face is clubs that meet but are not active in
mass struggle. They cannot hold onto the new members. So this is pushing
us to go out of the box of district structure. With the agreement of the
District Committee of course, but it is establishing different structure
to meet the new. That includes that we have invited new members to district
committee meetings. I think connecting creativity to reality in district
structure is required as we move to build the Party in the new century.
We also have to have a constant eye out for potential club leaders.

The YCL

There are thousands and thousands of youth all over the country who
are moving to the left in the fight against capitalism, globalization,
third world debt, racism, anti immigrant policy, environmental dangers.
Students are fighting sweatshops and joining strike picket lines.

That means that incorporating the Young Communist League into our District
plans and work is all the more a requirement to meet the upsurge in our
country. The YCL must also swim in coalition waters in new way. We are
partners in that goal. We have to find the forms that help consolidate
all the new YCL members as well.

Part of discussion and debate

As I said, in the beginning, these remarks are meant to stir the thinking
and continue the debate on our District work. Not every experience applies
to all districts. Each district has it’s own specific situation and has
to find it’s own way.

The example of the Cesar Chavez holiday campaign is very unique. It,
like the Martinez jobs bill, was a special initiative of communists. Special
initiatives are certainly needed and in the case of the holiday campaign
is an example of broad labor/community coalition building amongst thousands.

Nevertheless, I think for the most part, working within existing coalitions
and movements will and should be the main framework of our mass work.
We will have to do both things, however.

I also think a positive attitude is important for district leaders.
A negative district leader is an obstacle to moving the Party. We have
to be problem solvers, unity builders, prime movers of collectivity and
better at convincing. I think we have to show confidence and enthusiasm
even when things are not working out. That does not mean ignoring or covering
up problems, being mechanical or not reality based. But we do have a responsibility
to try to inspire forward movement in spite of difficulties.

This seminar and discussion has been refreshing and invigorating. I
hope that these remarks are helpful to the process.

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