Insights from organizer Myles Horton
Publisher: Connexions Information Sharing Services, Toronto, Canada
Year Published: 1990
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX3928A
Abstract: From Myles Horton, the civil rights organizer who died in January 1990 at the age of 84:
I think it is a terrible mistake to assume that people's self-interest and group interests are only economic. When it comes down to it, if you don't have enough to eat to live, then you have a problem. Ultimately there is an economic base. But most problems are not that closely associated with economics. People have real values. I was organizing textile workers in the thirties in South Carolina. They were some of the lowest paid workers in the country. I was talking to them about their families, about the future of their children, about their responsibilities as citizens. Some of the other organizers said, "Talk to them about economics, talk to them about wages. That's all they're interested in." But I found that wasn't true at all. I found that people have a wide range of interests and too often organizers limit the people they are working with to their own value system. I think workers are often way ahead of organizers in terms of the way they think about life.
Too many organizers think that groups can't deal with anything other than a tiny, easy problem and so they take adults, poor people who have struggled and survived for years, and treat them like little children, as though they can't deal with tough problems or take on challenges. If people have the information, and it's an outgrowth of their experience, then there's no limit on what people can think about. Don't whittle them down to your size.
Looking at the history during my lifetime - the only thing you can say with assurance has made a difference has been civil disobedience. In the early days of the labor movement, we had to defy all the laws because there were laws against organizing and meetings and picket lines. In the civil rights movement, if we hadn't defied the law we would never have gotten anywhere. In the mass demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, where people said, "No, we're not going to be stopped. We're going to go to jail," they were the things that got results.