Freedom School

What is the Freedom School? As part of SpadeWork, the Freedom School profiles key strategic campaigns that altered the course of history not as an academic exercise, but as an important part of training organizers. SpadeWork places its lineage alongside the rich history of freedom struggles around the world. We are inspired by these examples of courage and deep love of people. The Freedom School underscores an essential organizer practice: study, reflect and learn from movement victories and mistakes. Then apply… rinse, repeat…

We’ve asked friends (and friends of friends) to be presenters because they have personally taken part in these movements. They speak from the heart. But they’ve also reflected on the key lessons that these campaigns can teach us in our collective path to liberation.

But apologies, in advance. We recognize that these are complex stories squeezed into a short webinar. Shortcuts will cause consternation but that’s inevitable. Time and space for discussion will be maddeningly abrupt. Still, we’re endeavoring to make each session as engaging as possible, including provision of a simultaneous interpretation into Spanish and English. It will not be perfect. But what campaign is?

In any case, it’s free but you have to register.


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South Africa Divestment Campaign

April 26, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: Global movement to dismantle apartheid in South Africa; boycott strategy and corporate targeting; racial solidarity and national liberation.

The U.S. government collaborated with European colonizers as part of the cold war struggle, and supported white minority rule in southern Africa.

Opponents began organizing as soon as apartheid was implemented in 1948. By 1951, the N.A.A.C.P. president Walter White was working to oppose World Bank loans to South Africa. There were protests against the shipment of South African goods and demonstrations targeting bank loans to South Africa. In 1970 African-American workers at Polaroid protested the company’s involvement with the apartheid pass system.

During the 1970s, activists began a Boycott Gulf campaign to protest the oil company’s support of Portuguese colonial rule in Africa. Union workers around the country began refusing to unload ships carrying Rhodesian chrome. But, aside from diamonds and gold, there were few consumer products from South Africa to boycott.

Divestment began to affect South Africa as corporations let apartheid leaders know that it had become too expensive to continue operating there. Nelson Mandela and all the other political prisoners were freed from prison in 1990. As apartheid was dismantled, Mandela was elected president in 1994. It was the end of a long struggle in which divestment played a role, although certainly not the only role. (Excerpt from: Divestment Was Just One Weapon in Battle Against Apartheid, Cecile Counts, 2013.)

Presenter: Prexy Nesbitt, Presidential Fellow in Peace Studies, Chapman College.


Respect for Mother Earth Beats Big Oil

May 4, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: strategic alliances; environment; Native spirituality and organizing worldview ; prospects under a Biden administration; big oil

On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order cancelling the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. It is the result of years of relentless work and dedication from tribes and grassroots organizers in a strategic alliance with white farmers and ranchers and environmental groups. What a traditional elder said during one of the darkest periods of the struggle in 2017 prefaced the victory that was to come nearly four years later:

“What began as a struggle to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and sacred sites grew into an international movement to protect the water for the 17 million people who live, work and play along the shores of the Missouri. Along the way, we were joined by thousands more from all around the world….As we believe, we’re all related, and that all we do in life, and nature has an impact on every one of us…we can act on the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors, and protect future generations from destruction if we work strategically. We must lead with love for humanity, for community and for Mother Earth.

We must plan and organize, not just politically, but also with the prayers that will give us the strength and courage to do what we need to do to stop this pipeline. Tribal leadership and Native communities are the keys to winning this struggle.” (from “Native People and Allies Pledge to Stop Keystone XL”, Native Organizers Alliance, 11/27/17)

The heart of this struggle and the Native and grassroots political power it built propelled this campaign to victory. But there is more to be done.

Presenter: Judith Le Blanc is a citizen of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), a national Native training and organizing network.


Justice for Janitors Campaign

May 10, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: organizing strategy in a “gig economy”; revival of the labor movement; conscientizacion and the immigrant base; expanding the organizing terrain beyond the workplace

At the University of Miami, janitors fasted for weeks as part of their lengthy and winning strike. Workers in wheelchairs, weakened by the fast, surrounded the university’s president, Donna Shalala and chanted in Spanish, “Union or death!” In Houston, 5,000 Janitors won a first-time union contract in a “right-to- work” state, despite the fact that bail was set at more than $20 million for people arrested for non-violent acts of civil disobedience in the city. Workers in cities across the nation went on strike in support of the Houston janitors, and allies in Europe occupied buildings. Finally, pension fund trustees in charge of $1 trillion in workers’ pension fund capital adopted “responsible contractor” procedures—committing to invest only in office buildings where janitors were treated fairly.

The Justice for Janitors campaign succeeded because it relentlessly went after the building owners and financiers at the top of the real estate industry—the people who truly had power over the janitors’ livelihood—not the cleaning companies who were powerless subcontractors.

The campaign also exposed an economy that was increasingly using sub-contracting and other schemes to separate and isolate workers from the corporations and companies that were actually in control of their wages, benefits and overall working conditions. Justice for Janitors became much more than a “union organizing campaign,” it grew into a movement. Its influence and impact extended far beyond the people directly involved in the campaign’s actions. Its success was rooted in its ability to pit the needs of an entire community against the wealth of the real estate industry. (Excerpt from: J4J: Inside an Epic Victory for American Labor, Javier Gonzales, 12/11/20)

Presenter: Salvador ”Chava” Bustamante, Director of Latinos United for a New America, and former First Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877.


A Way to Organize People for Survival

May 17, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: Mutual aid as an organizing response to a natural calamity; establishing cooperative structures; a weak state and alternative governance structures

2017 was a momentous year for Puerto Rico. After several decades full of austerity measures, Hurricane María reveals what already existed: a colonized people, poor and abandoned. Deprived of energy, water and supplies for months, the communities were cut off and without rescue. The negligence of the state was so much that the official numbers of deaths in Puerto Rico were 64 deaths, while studies added 4,695 deaths. Using the political organizing experience to respond to needs that Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico has practiced (est. 2013) along with allies such as Urbe Apie who reclaim space for cultural use, we were able to respond quickly with the creation of the Center Mutual Support in the town of Caguas. A way to organize the people for survival.

Arguably, the political disaster tested, on a larger scale, the ability of people to respond with different forms of mutual support. More than a campaign, organized communities and activists from all over did not wait and began to work on the most pressing needs they were experiencing: community kitchens, reconstruction and cleaning brigades, coordination of transportation of supplies from the diaspora, among many other things. Many were able to understand the collective experience that “Only the People, Save the People.” We are part of an emerging movement in PR. After the CAM was established in Caguas, similar models spread to towns such as Humacao, San Juan, Lares, Las Marías, among others. To this day, several of these collective structures continue to exist as a means to organize the poor and those affected by these calamities.

Panelists: Paola Aponte Cotto & Marisel Robles Gutiérrez, Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico


Prison Abolition Means Transformation

May 24, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: abolition versus reform; defund the police; historical roots of abolition work; Black Lives Matter; organizing systems involved folks and their families

Abolition: A radical response to harm and the unraveling of the world we know – in order to build anew.

During this workshop we will take a journey through prison abolition campaigns over the last two decades – exploring not only their strategies, but also their lessons on accountability and addressing harm without mimicking state violence.

From Critical Resistance, to Survived and Punished, and on to this summer’s mass call to defund the police – we will delve into understanding the organizing successes that not only thrust movement forward, but also prepare us for the internal shift that must occur – a shift that paves the way for transformative change beyond ourselves, beyond our locales, and into new realms of existing.

Presenter: Leslie Turner helps coordinate the Mass Liberation Project Nevada to end cash bail and reinstate voting rights for formerly incarcerated people.


Urban Poor Organizing in Ecuador

June 7, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: Privatization of public utilities; organizing urban poor communities; integration of service, cultural work, policy advocacy and grassroots organizing.

In October 2000, a local Bechtel subsidiary, Interagua, signed a 30-year concession contract to run the water and sanitation services in Guayaquil. Concerns and complaints mounted over broken pipelines, floods due to malfunctioning sewage systems, exorbitant water rates, poor water quality, and environmental damage due to the lack of wastewater treatment during this first five-year period. Lack of investment in storm drainage forced many residents to suffer the health effects of constant flooding. In 2002 the company was treating only 5% of the sewage and releasing the rest, including fecal material, and domestic and industrial waste directly into the local river. Bechtel has delivered water not suitable for drinking, refused to expand access to services, cut off water to those unable to pay, and neglected responsibilities to provide wastewater treatment compromising the local environment and public health.

The Observatorio Cuidadano de Servicios Públicos is working tirelessly to organize and demand that water and other public services be locally and publicly owned, controlled, and managed with active citizen oversight and participation. Observatorio Ciudadano de Servicios Publicos from Ecuador was founded on May 5th, 2005. Based in the city of Guayaquil, they bring together organizations from urban poor communities, unions and ethnic groups, among others. (from “Who Controls Ecuador’s Water?”, 12/31/07, Food & Water Watch)

Presenter: Cesar Ramirez, Executive Director, Observatorio Cuidadano de Servicios Públicos, Guayaquil, Ecuador.


Grape Boycott of the United Farm Workers

June 14, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: secondary constituency organizing; labor movement; creative tactics; race, culture and identity.

In September 1965, Filipino and Latino farm workers joined together and walked off the job, beginning an historic five-year battle against grape growers in California’s Central Valley. Filipino workers, longtime veterans of organizing campaigns against rich landowners on the West Coast, were members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. Larry Itliong and other leaders were able to persuade Cesar Chavez and the leadership of the National Farm Workers Association to strike together and eventually merge into what became the United Farm Workers (UFW). The struggle combined the tactics of a strike with a massive boycott effort that eventually led to victories over the largest growers in California.

The Delano Grape Strike and Boycott lasted from 1965-1970, combining innovative tactics with relentless organizing in the larger fight against exploitation both in the fields and in other areas of the lives of farm workers. When the workers finally won concessions in 1970 and signed union contracts that led to better pay, benefits, and safety protections, the era of “organizing the unorganizable” was fully underway. Inspired by the victory, later actions would lead to the steady improvement in the lives of workers and their families–and provide important lessons still relevant today.

Presenters: Alfredo DeAvila, UFW Boycott organizer and worked at the Texas Farm Workers Union; Andrea O’Malley and Carlos Munoz, UFW Boycott in Boston


Development & Displacement in The Philippines

June 21, 2021
Time TBD

Key Topics: anti-dictatorship struggle; land and indigenous culture; structural adjustment policy in third world countries; World Bank.

In 1974, the Marcos regime planned on installing a massive dam along the Chico River. The dam would have been a 1000-megawatt hydroelectric power plant funded by the World Bank. It was planned that the structure would cover 1,400 sq. kilometers of rice terraces, orchards, and local graveyards. The administration thought it would meet little resistance from the indigenous tribes, even if it would displace over 100,000 people from their homes.

The people found their voice in Macli-ing Dulag. Though he was not formally educated, Dulag found the right words to defend his people: “Such arrogance to say that you own the land, when you are owned by it! How can you own that which outlives you? Only the people own the land because only the people live forever. “

Recognizing the critical role that he played, government soldiers murdered Dulag in his own house, surrounding it in the night and showering it with bullets. News of Dulag’s death spread all over the country and even abroad. The World Bank withdrew its funding, and eventually, the government withdrew its plans for the dam on Chico River. The indigenous tribes kept their homes. (Excerpt from: The Heroes Who Fought Martial Law, Martial Law Museum, Philippines)

Presenter: Joel Rocamora, former Director of the Institute for Popular Democracy in the Philippines and former Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission under Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.


SNCC & Freedom Summer

June 28, 2021
10am – 12noon (PST)

Key Topics: Building grassroots infrastructure; leadership development and organizing; race & the electoral arena; organizing is spadework

In 1963, violence aimed at halting civil rights struggle in Mississippi was intensifying. The federal government continued its reluctance to intervene. And most of the nation was largely unaware of the terror and denial unfolding in Mississippi.

The ten weeks that comprised the “long hot summer” centered around several goals: to establish Freedom Schools and community centers throughout the state, to increase black voter registration, and to ultimately challenge the all-white delegation that would represent the state at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Freedom Summer included more than 44 projects, grouped by congressional districts across the state. These projects ranged in size and scope. For example, Hattiesburg had more than 50 volunteers and staff while some projects had as few as two workers. Most projects built upon existing movement activity and relationships with local Black leaders. The summer project also made it possible for the Movement to expand into areas of the state that had experienced little civil rights activity in the past. Issaquena County, located in the southern Delta region, had no registered Black voters despite being a majority Black population.

By the end of Freedom Summer, there had been 6 known murders, 35 known shootings, 4 people critically wounded, at least 80 volunteers beaten, and more than 1,000 people arrested. Except for the case of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, the FBI failed to take further action when it came to state violence towards civil rights workers and local communities. For many volunteers, the summer would mark the beginning of a life dedicated to social justice. More than 200 volunteers decided to stay in Mississippi at the end of the summer, some quitting their jobs or dropping out of school. (from “Summer 1964: Freedom Summer”, Digital SNCC Gateway)

Presenter(s): Unconfirmed


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