Local Organizing and Seeking Ways to Combat Racism

The early years at CCI taught us that “success” is a word we could seldom use, if ever. “Success” would have to include the elimination of racism, and we soon came to a conclusion that was not going to happen. There were what we called “victories”, and we learned early to celebrate every small one. A reading of the early newsletters reminds one of some of those “victories”, as we expanded our work. In the summer of 1972, a “Western Mass.” branch of Community Change opened an office in the Congregational Church, Amherst. Carol Camp became the coordinator of that branch, supported by a steering committee of eight people from towns near Amherst. They began to do significant work, with a focus of affecting change in classrooms and schools. That lively group brought some of the cherished “victories”, and invigorated the total effort. Much of the focus on teachers and educational systems came from that group.

The first of our graduate credit courses came in 1973, when Stonehill College sponsored a two-week summer course focusing on Educational Systems, The Classroom, and Racism. It was the beginning of several years of similar workshops at Stonehill, bringing people from at least six states, expanding our influence and feeding our hope.

Just as CCI friends gave support to Carol Camp in Amherst, others worked with Ash Eames establishing a Correctional Change Group for CCI, in Worcester, where relatives and friends of the incarcerated could secure assistance as they worked to humanize the system of “corrections”. Building on our experience with the “3$ Justice Case”, here was a growing recognition of a system infected with racism, unable to serve justice. That was when I began to call it a “Criminal System of Justice”!

1974 saw the introduction of our Community Change Players, acting a version of Elizabeth Blake’s forty-five minute play, The Man Nobody Saw. Volunteer actors spent many hours rehearsing, and presented the play quite widely over several years, to community meetings, school assemblies, conferences, college classes, and in one case to a statewide Realtors group! The content of the play brings clearly to the fore some of the ways in which institutional racism functions to limit and devalue the life of a black family. The length of the play made it possible for the actors to engage viewers in discussion after the performance, and many expressions of eyes being opened, brought encouragement to our work.

1974 was also the year of the Boston school desegregation decision, and a review of the CCI newsletters of the next months and years reflects the organizational stance in support of the desegregation order. It is clear today that this was a period when a focus of the organization began to center more on Boston than the white suburbs. It was a time also when more and more women were entering the labor force and seeking work outside the home. It became more difficult to organize suburban groups, when the time and energy of the wage earners was not focused in the town, but in the workplace. After “work hours” outside the home, most people found little time or had little energy to devote to organizing. Increasingly we began to focus attention to the places where people worked, in addition to where they lived.

During this period I found myself running back and forth between our Reading office and Boston, sometimes two or three times a day; it was clear that we needed to be nearer the center of much of the action.

Series Navigation<< Police BrutalityThe Move to Boston >>