Research as Organizing Tool

Jay Taber

Research as Organizing Tool
[ The following report is the result of a series of phone interviews conducted in the summer of 2001 by Jay Taber The survey itself comprised the senior pro!ect of the author" and was incorporated in part in his 200# boo$ %ar of &deas ' &(TRO)*+T&O( ,rom 1--0.1--/" & served as a public interest advocate and community organizer in 0ellingham" %ashington &n the course of my wor$" which included a stint as e1ecutive director of the %hatcom 2nvironmental +ouncil" and a subse3uent association with the 4ublic 5ood 4ro!ect" & became embroiled in conflict with the radical right" including %ise *se agent provocateurs" fundamentalist +hristian activists" and +hristian &dentity 4atriots engaged in militia organizing The convergence of these movements throughout 4uget 6ound had created a political climate severely hostile to participatory democracy" seriously disturbing electoral" legislative" administrative" and !udicial processes 6ince 1--#" & have struggled to understand what too$ place" and where it came from" in order to develop preventive strategies and tactics" that would help ma$e communities less vulnerable to obstruction or subversion of self.governance Through a series of interviews of leading researchers who investigate the ,ar Right in the *6" & e1plored community.based research" hoping to learn how it is carried out" and if it could be further developed as a progressive organizing tool The following comments and reflections constitute my attempt to summarize the most salient points of these interviews

The respondents:
4aul de 7rmond" Research )irector 4ublic 5ood 4ro!ect 0ellingham %7 +hip 0erlet 4olitical Research 7ssociates 6omerville 87 )evin 0urghart" )irector" 0uilding )emocracy &nitiative +enter for (ew +ommunity +hicago &9 Tarso 9uis Ramos" )irector R7+2 and 2nvironment 4rograms %estern 6tates +enter 4ortland OR

Survey questions:
1 %hat types of groups as$ you for assistance: 2 %hat is the nature of the assistance re3uested: ; )o you provide research training as well as education: < &f not" do you thin$ it would be useful: # &f so" do you teach opposition research" propaganda analysis" or investigative techni3ues: = >ow has this training ?or education@ affected community organizing: Opposition behavior: 8edia coverage: A >ow could grassroots groups use research ?or education@ more effectively in recruitment" advocacy" and conflict: / %hat do grassroots groups need to become more capable of conducting independent research" analysis" and investigations:

The Interviews:
4aul de 7rmond" Research )irector of the 4ublic 5ood 4ro!ect" a national research" analysis" and investigative networ$" says most of the people who contact him for assistance are individuals" not representatives of organizations" who locate him through his website Outside the occasional human rights group" law enforcement agency" media reporter" or good government organizations li$e 9eague of %omen Boters ?usually interested in one of his briefing papers to help put the far right into perspective@" most of his CclientsC are people having trouble from anti.democratic groups 7s 4aul puts it" Cfor somebody being harassed" going it alone is not only very tough" itDs also real ris$y C 4aul is 3uic$ to point out that anti.democratic activities are not solely the domain of the ,ar Right >e also assists neighborhoods" affinity groups" and individuals having difficulty with government institutions that behave as though theyDre above the law" including official corruption or abuse of public process One particularly challenging aspect of 8r de 7rmondDs wor$ is getting agencies li$e the ,ederal Trade +ommission or ,0& to do their !obs 7ccording to 4aul" white collar crime, mostly financial fraud, is what finances the political activities of Far Right groups Eet it is never really addressed because CThe ,eds hate prosecuting fraud" and theyDll do anything they can to pretend it doesnDt e1ist %hich of course ma$es it all the more easy for there to be a lot of fraud out there C

4aul also observes that thereDs an Ce1traordinarily high incidence of people in the e treme Right who have suffered organic !rain damage from head in!uries..traumatic in!ury that turned them into dangerous $oo$s C This ma$es it all the more frustrating when liberals" presumably confounding free speech with unopposed speech" go out of their way to protect hate mongers 7ccording to de 7rmond" CEou $now" they want to protect people who arenDt being attac$ed" and they want to ignore people who are That way they can feel virtuous without incurring any ris$ whatsoever C 7s for protecting the public from domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction" such as used in O$lahoma +ity" 4aul notes that the conclusion of him and his colleagues is that the high level of concern !y Federal agencies is essentially a !udget scam" 7ccording to de 7rmond" C9aw enforcement has always reacted and will do absolutely nothing until thereDs a crime to prosecute & mean crime prevention is fran$ly a !o$e when it comes to political violence ThereDs absolutely no effort at prevention whatsoever Then" of course" if itDs a totally fictitious and non.e1istent threat from The 9eft" then there will be enormous effort in preventing something thatDs not going on at all [resulting in' cops engaging in political activity under the guise of enforcing the law C *sing amicus groups" such as anti.%TO" engaged in political advocacy" as an e1ample" de 7rmond notes that around the world CTheyDre responding to needs that are intentionally left unaddressed as part of an unstated political agenda 3uite fran$ly from malign neglect C +onse3uently" in trying to see people apprehended for wrongdoing" or to prevent trouble" 4aul wor$s primarily through a networ$ of individuals" Cbasically local concerned citizens..who are ta#ing on an activist and advocacy role !ecause of a failure on the part of government to assure people !asic human rights li$e..being safe from attac$ C The assistance re3uested most fre3uently of 8r de 7rmond is for informationF re3uests for prior research or analysisG and sometimes for advocacy or organizing" which he doesnDt do >e does" however" consult people as to what others have done that led to good results" such as wor$ing with churches &tDs also rare for him to get into an investigative role &nitial contacts are usually trying to figure out what resources they have available and what they can mobilize 9ater it may shift into research and maybe an investigation" which is considerably more detailed and involves fieldwor$ The ne1t step from there is intervention 4aul notes that typical advocacy groups are afraid to get involved in interventions They may" after getting burned by anti.democratic groups" such as the 0uilding &ndustry 7ssociation in %ashington 6tate" stic$ to their position on an issue" but only conduct monitoring to a very limited e1tent" the reason being the model they !ring to these situations are models that don$t wor#" CThereHs a tremendous amount of essentially or even [that needs to be done' &f people didnDt have counterproductive models in their

heads %sually they don$t actually do any research at all They have what amounts to an ideological response to the problem in a complete vacuum of information &tDs very rare for people to actually go and collect information TheyHre almost always reacting to whatDs almost a fantasy initially C C7s such"C notes de 7rmond" Cliberal groups 3uite fre3uently try to get into a negotiating situation with people who have no interest in negotiating with them essentially diplomacy or political negotiation" and [it' is 3uite fre3uently inappropriate %hatDs to negotiate with a >olocaust denier or a gay basher:C Referring to e1tremist demagogues" de 7rmond says theyDre so into show business" itDs real easy to get a lot of people to be involved in a community response" but itDll usually be ineffective because they donDt $now what theyDre up against COpposition research"I he says" JdoesnDt even occur to liberal organizations They #now nothing !ut their own ideological stance and these fantasy pictures that they !ill to the opposition They start reacting to that fantasy and the opposition !ust runs right over them C 4art of the problem" according to 4aul" is mainstream media Reporters interview somebody who doesnDt have a clue" basically saying things they read in some newspaper article 3uoting some other clueless person who didnDt $now what they were tal$ing about C0ut because it showed up in the newspaper" it ends up very circular and itDs e1tremely hard to brea$ C >aving attended many meetings of right.wing groups" 8r de 7rmond observes that most of the people who showed up were perfectly all right CTheyDre in the process of getting bamboozled theyDre running with some bad company" but they arenDt any more misinformed than the rest of the country C Referring to some of this bad company" he says that if people were only able to find out the facts..basically dig up the dirt on them..theyDd be totally scuttled &nstead" most people engage in wishful thin$ing" deluding themselves into believing that by ignoring bullies" theyDll eventually moderate their own behavior &n reality" !ust the opposite ta$es place Re3uests for bac$ground on political opponents or community disrupters" he notes" are e1tremely rare C&f people have figured out thatDs whatDs necessary" itDs not all that hard to dig up The thing is that they donDt figure out thatDs necessary C C7s for people who are actual targets of violence or threats"C he says" CThey never $now how to respond because they see this stuff on TB that there will be this benevolent law enforcement that is courageous the whole mythology is spelled out in Mississippi Burning & mean" it doesnDt wor$ that way %hen law enforcement tells people to ignore the threats or to buy a gun" that gets people really upset They become completely adrift They get really scared C &tDs often at this point when 4aul first encounters them &n 1--=" 4aul developed a research training course for a university class" that involved

going through letters to the editor to try to establish numbers and identify the locus of anti.socialKanti.democratic activity The students categorized letters that advocate depriving people of their civil liberties or civil rights" or stripping them of the protection of the law" or ma$ing them 2nd class citizens The letters were all very consistent that these people did not deserve the full protection of the law..that there should be allowable transgressions..and that those transgressions should be criminally prosecuted if they occurred against someone else The letter writers who advocated criminal violence against people because of how they were perceived were the same people over and over again The students" using their three te1tboo$sF The Investigative Reporter and Editor's Handbook, Manual on Opposition Research, and Get the Facts on Anybody" then did full bac$ground chec$s on the hate.letter writers 7s 4aul points out" though" most advocacy groups are strictly oriented to public policy" not the process They do not do opposition research on anti.democratic groups opposing their policy through intimidation" harassment" and violence" because they do not engage in opposition activity They are engaged in the political diplomatic model 6o in terms of the training he does" itDs been personal" not institutional C&ndividual reporters" individual members of non.profits" once converted from the ideological pro!ection model"C he says"Cwhere you imagine what the opposition is and respond to your imagination" actually get into research" analysis" and interventionC..what 4aul calls the public health model 7ccording to 4aul" the spread of this model has been very slow" happening with individuals" not with organizations The four basic models typically used to combat anti. democratic groups are law enforcement" political diplomacy" military intervention" and pressure group (one of them wor$ for this type of conflict &n his mind" pressure groups tend to ma$e things worse >owever" when people start acting from the public health model..which is to loo# at the causative mechanism, how the !ehavior is transmitted, and what sort of interventions can either prevent or modify it" they see how effective it is &deologically driven intervention" the political diplomatic model" tries to alter peopleDs beliefs in hope theyDll modify their behavior 0ut" as he says" the behaviorDs the problem.. the pathology of violence and intimidation must be stopped" and it may re3uire violence to do it 4aul says weDre nowhere near the threshold of sufficient numbers of people" to be pursuing a public health model" for intervention in anti.democratic activities and political violence" to have an institutional change &nstitutions" he notes" are made up almost entirely of people who believe in the four ineffective models +onse3uently" he observes"CThereDs no movement for a public health model & mean" it is so far away from being any sort of a collective phenomenon 0ecause both the problems and the analyses of those problems have been around for such a long time C These unrealistic models" he claims" are Cself.perpetuating" self.sustaining" self re.enforcing particularly the pressure group model where the institution is committed to advocacy of a particular position whether or not itDs related to reality..but itDs saleable if it changes its model of interacting with the world.. [it' also loses its funding C 8r de 7rmond recalls a lot of prominent groups used the militias as a fund raising vehicle without ever really addressing the issue

>e ac$nowledges that some of the regional human rights research and education organizations have done very good educational wor$" but that their training has been in community organizing along the lines of pressure group tactics" as opposed to intervention The beneficiary organizations often end up functioning as 3uasi. governmental agencies" or bureaucratic grant machines Observing what happens when hate mongers arrived" these groups would showboat" engaging in public moral theatrics" but the instant the provocateurs leave" CThe real hell will brea$ loose and all those people will melt away li$e snow in a heavy rain They see themselves as some sort of..& donDt $now" un.involved do.gooders or something C Recognizing their contribution toward legitimizing human rights as a local concern" as well as training and education devoted to tolerance" 4aul laments that these groups view their wor$ in building contacts with law enforcement as educational" when" in fact" they are often !eing used as an intelligence source..for political intelligence )evin 0urghart" previously with the (orthwest +oalition for >uman )ignity in 6eattle" presently wor$s in community organizing" education" and research training at the +enter for (ew +ommunity" which has two essential pro!ectsF faith.based community organizing" and the broad.based 0uilding )emocracy &nitiative ?0)&@" which brings together religious and civic groups to build effective moral barriers against hate Operating in 1= states in the 8idwest" and three foreign countries" 8r 0urghart" as )irector of the 0)&" focuses on research and monitoring of white nationalist activity 2ncompassing everything from neo.nazis to +hristian patriots to the Lu Llu1 Llan" white nationalism" says 0urghart" re3uires a broadly anti.racist and anti.fascist local response that includes young adults" religious organizations" media" government civil and human rights commissions" and law enforcement >e says" C&tDs been a tactical flaw that traditional progressive organizations have had for 3uite awhile in not reaching out to broader constituencies" particularly those which are targeted for recruitment by the right C (oting that itDs always a challenge for conventional activists and moral authorities to get beyond stereotypes" )evin says" CThe rewards clearly outweigh any $ind of wor$ that it might ta$e to do that %e found people very responsive to coming together" particularly dealing with these issues" to wor$ towards common goals C %ith a 20 year history of organizing farmers and the religious community to deal with the collapse of family farms and the decline in rural 7merica" the +enter for (ew +ommunity" says 8r 0urghart" tries to create moral barriers" to $eep out [violent" hate. mongering' groups li$e the 4osse +omitatus COften" itDs finding leaders who are initially willing to spea$ out" and then having those leaders spea$ in a rhetoric which resonates with the particular constituency have them develop the rhetorical strategies C &n response to re3uests for assistance from groups see$ing to understand whatDs going on in their communities" 8r 0urghart says his organization believes the way to most effectively deal with it is through e1posure" education and organizing CTo e1pose white

nationalist activity for what it is" particularly here in the 8idwest" where youDve got to lift the veil of denial which e1ists out here" where everyone thin$s this activity only goes on in northern &daho or down in the deep 6outh C )evin reports that 0)& presently trac$s over ;=0 different white nationalist groups" in order to educate fol$s about what it means" how it can impact local communities" and what they can do about it This" he says" includes not only the short.term response" such as when the Llan comes to town" or when a militia group is having a march" but also for the long.term" to deal with the larger structural 3uestions of racism" anti.6emitism" and other forms of bigotry >e says that in addition to re3uests for information" technical support" and training" usually around either organizing or on how to conduct research" 0)& gets calls all the time from individuals loo$ing for guidance or advice CThey want to spea$ to someone who has e1perienced some of the same problems that theyDre going through in their local community" and can possibly tal$ them through some of the different things theyDre dealing with C The training conducted by 0)&" says 0urghart" involves a mi1ture of opposition research" propaganda analysis" and investigative techni3ues" depending on the needs and the interests of the people involved and what theyDre facing in their community" as well as putting it into a framewor$ of how to loo$ at the situation" and what good research can do for them The training" he says" has helped 0)& establish a regional networ$ of organizations that $eep an ear to the ground doing local research" while continuing to develop themselves organizationally This !ase of people, trained in research" he notes" allows &'I to loo# around and strategically target new pro!lem areas, using locally generated incident reports" 0urghart emphasizes that" C %e do organizing in a way that respects the importance of research" which means you have a different dynamic going on in these groups 0y wor$ing in a respect for the importance of research and analysis within groups" it helps reach a balance between the individuals and the thin$ing of the group as a proactive organization" which promotes unity and diversity in a community" as well as part of the group" which wants to spend more time doing the reactive anti.fascist wor$" responding to white nationalist activities & thin$ the two are complementary" and as long as you build in that respect and the importance of research from the early going" you can maintain that balance C %or$ing with primarily churches in rural areas" and more broad.based coalitions in bigger cities" as well as small community groups" )evin observes that" while itDs difficult to sustain a high level of activity ?such as seen in the 12# tas$ forces organized by the (orthwest +oalition for >uman )ignity@" 0)& tries to ma$e sure groups in the 8idwest are as self.sufficient as possible One continuing education program theyDre involved with loo$s at white power music" used by white supremacists to recruit young people CThe thing about the younger generation tooC" says )evin" Cis they donDt $now where to focus their alienation or their anger %e try to help channel that a little bit 6ince )ecember D--" weDve done wor$shops and presentations for about 22"000 young people %eDve got a youth organizing pro!ect weDve started here in +hicago" and weDre hoping to model that

in 6t 9ouis and Lansas +ity in the ne1t year C +ommenting on the interaction of mainstream and fundamentalist churches on the issues 0)& addresses" particularly +hristian &dentity" 0urghart says that leadership coming entirely from the religious community" such as in Muincy" &llinois" has been able to turn away fol$s li$e 4ete 4eters" to completely $eep them out of town C*sing the issue and research we provided them" theyDve been able to successfully tal$ about this issue to a broad swath of the religious community" even bringing in some of the fundamentalist churches where there hadnDt been any $ind of dialogue for well over a decade They at least could come together on this issue and say no to organized violence coming into town C &n addition to building bridges" 0urghart notes" this research !ased organizing has also helped !ridge gaps !etween primarily white and !lac# congregations %here there is intentionality about ma$ing sure white religious leaders stand up in the face of such things as cross burnings and other hate crimes" he says" blac$ congregations have seen this as a sign that has led to them developing and strengthening their relationship 7c$nowledging the difficulty of getting religious leaders from different spots on the spectrum to set aside ideology to focus on civic behavior" 0urghart observes that C&n the case of +hristian &dentity" it was particularly useful to show fundamentalist churches how they were also singled out by identity doctrine" to certainly drive as much of a wedge between fundamentalist teachings and identity as possible C 8r 0urghart also notes that having a networ$ in place" and having the research to support claims, has !een an essential component of !uilding trust and credi!ility as a media source C&tDs allowed people in local communities to establish a relationship with the media and to help frame the story in a way in which they see as more appropriate than the other side C Observing that religious authorities are treated differently by media than" say" professional activists" 0urghart says he also tries to ma$e sure that spo$espeople represent a wide array of bac$ground and opinions an represent large portions of the community &n &owa" for instance" where heDs dealing with a lot of anti.immigrant activity" 0)& tries to ma$e sure there are spo$espeople from the religious community" from organized labor" from the environmentalists and others &n these circumstances" )evin considers the solidarity by organizations of faith essential..CThere needs to be a common voice out there" where itDs not !ust people relying on the traditional targets of these $ind of attac$s to spea$ out" but people who can spea$ with a $ind of moral authority C 8r 0urghart claims research is essential for several reasons C&y #nowing your opposition, you not only #now whom it$s going to !e impossi!le to wor# with, !ut also which constituencies those groups are out there trying to recruit 0y figuring out those two things" you can employ a strategy to isolate the source of the hatred inoculate those constituencies which are potentially vulnerable and help them understand the issue before the other side does C

C+onse3uently"C says 0urghart" Cyou can do the education and organizing wor$ you need to do for the long term to move beyond that problem C C7dditionally"C he notes" C&t also can show you where youDre wea$ and allow you to do better advocacy 0ecause youDll $now in advance the arguments that the other side is ma$ing" you can refute them effectively &t can also help you plot a better course in dealing with conflict when you $now what the opposition is up to C &n reaching out to communities dealing with organized hate" 0urghart and 0)& employ a well.worn strategy of giving e1amples of other communities where itDs happened" showing how in particular instances" specific constituencies are vulnerable" and listing the negative things that have happened as a result CThe important thingC" says )evin" Cis to first identify those constituencies *nless you have a fairly broad.based group" initially" that has feelers into those different communities" then you wonDt $now 3uite often C Recognizing the value of this learning techni3ue" 0)& ma$es sure" at every one of their conferences that there are wor$shops given by those people who have dealt with these problems They film peopleDs stories" ta$e people on the road" and write about them in their monthly action report )iscussing ways grass roots groups can become more capable of conducting independent research" analysis" and investigations" 8r 0urghart emphasizes they first need to develop an organizational respect for the role of research C4eople often thin$ that research is something that gets handed to them in the intelligence report" or something that they can find on the &nternet for free" which is simply not the case Eou have to have an organizational understanding that itDs important to conduct research and to respect its findings &tDs not something someone hands you or you pic$ up in the local ta$es a lot more than that to do it effectively C C7dditionally"C he says" Cthey need to do a better !ob of e1panding their overall internal institutional memory" to $eep the information they bring in through research and analysis" and disburse it throughout the organization" developing the organizational respect re3uired to internalize it enough to $eep the information flowing beyond any single personDs involvement C C9astly"C he says" Cthey need to develop some financial and organizational stability" so that groups arenDt !ust popping up on an ad hoc basis when an incident arises C C0y being engaged with regional and national organizations"C 0urghart says" Cyou can brea$ down that barrier of isolation and share information across borders and e1pand your scope" and and also ma$e sure youDre not the only ones who have that information C C0ecause sometimes"C he says" CyouDll find in one particular community" one little !it of information may not !e important to you, !ut it may mean a lot to someone else C 7s he observes" C&t also helps" conversely" to brea$ down the $ind of myopic e1perience of when people who tend to do research can sometimes thin$ that their local community

is representative of the entire world &t helps to maintain perspective C Tarso 9uis Ramos" )irector of the R7+2 and environment program at the %estern 6tates +enter in 4ortland" Oregon" conducted the %ise *se 4ublic 21posure 4ro!ect for %estern 6tates from 1--2 to 1--- )uring this timeframe" he was considered by his colleagues as one of the leading researchers" educators" and organizers" particularly by environmental and organized labor groups" in developing strategies to deal with the %ise *se 8ovement in the *nited 6tates >is current wor$ focuses on racial !ustice issues from a capacity building" research" publications" and organizing perspective %estern 6tates +enter is an independent non.profit research and education and training institute that wor$s in the eight (orthwest states" to help strengthen !ustice organizations and to help build a multi.issue" multi.constituency" multi.racial movement for progressive social change The public e1posure pro!ect" that 8r Ramos was hired to do research for in the 1--0s" was initially built on a formal collaboration between %estern 6tates and the 8ontana 6tate 7,9.+&O" in a partnership around opposition research and organizing strategies to defeat what they mutually understood as a political movement with strong resource" industry" and corporate support that was anti.labor and anti.wor$er" as well as anti.environmental &n this capacity" 8r Ramos and %estern 6tates assisted grass roots groups" environmental organizations" freelance activists" local unions" central labor councils" as well as news organizations and government agencies 7s such" %estern 6tates was one of the $ey organizations people turned to for information and analysis on the %ise *se 8ovement One of its most noteworthy accomplishments was in helping establish the &nstitute for %ashingtonDs ,uture" a coalition of labor" environmental" and church organizations brought together to deal with !obs versus environment $inds of conflicts" particularly in the timber country in %ashington state &n those days" most of the re3uests for help received by 8r Ramos were out of the blue calls" typically from grass roots environmental organizations which were under the gun" figuratively" although occasionally literally Their members were being targeted or harassed or simply out.organized by people" in many cases" on the corporate payroll 7s he describes these people" loo$ing for any help they could get" not $nowing anything about the %ise *se 8ovement" what it was" what it represented" never mind how to succeed 8r Ramos reflects that C Often times" & thin$" somewhat unfortunately, (they were) loo#ing for a silver !ullet in the form of some #ind of intelligence or information we could offer that would so discredit their opposition that it would shrivel up and wither away C &n addition to re3uests for bac$ground on %ise *se field agents" li$e +huc$ +ushman" callers in distress wanted to $now what other communities had done to blunt their effectiveness &n response" %estern 6tates did a fair amount of original research" as ll as convening organizations to tal$ about strategies that would meet the needs of both organized labor" representing timber sector wor$ers" and environmental communities The research %estern 6tates did to galvanize the relationship between labor and

environmentalists was complemented by their organizational development and capacity. building wor$ 7ccording to 8r Ramos" %estern 6tates was fre3uently called on to provide public education" through spea$ing engagements and interviews with local reporters to do a level of e1pose through an e1pert perspective" occasionally to produce specific reports on local situations" as well as training on how to run successful organizing campaigns >aving learned from these earlier crises" %estern 6tates now provides" in addition to research training" training in such areas as fund raising" organizational development" leadership" and training on particular issues 8uch of this is done at their annual conference" where" says Ramos" CThe demand for research training shot up strongly %estern 6tates +enter was seen as a research training resource and to some e1tent an informational resource" particularly on %ise *se" but also in relation to the +hristian right and some white supremacist organizing as well C &n the 1--0s" says Ramos" %estern 6tates didnDt have a program that was focused on doing field training" i e going out and wor$ing with groups in the field" specifically around building their research capacity C%e did a lot of ad hoc helping particular organizations thin$ those 3uestions through on the phone" sometimes in person" but it was not as part of a coordinated training program C 8any of the organizations he was wor$ing with were not engaged in community organizing >e notes" C,or e1ample" the environmental organizations we were wor$ing with & would really characterize as advocacy organizations that were not focused on building a membership base and leadership base that became the source of their strength and power [organizations' that often times relied much more on legal and media strategies C Reflecting on the difficulty these groups had contending with %ise *se and other right. wing forces" Ramos says" C[This is' one of the reasons weDve sought to combine research and education assistance with organizing training assistance in an attempt to convey to these organizations that they in fact needed to re.e1amine their overall strategy for building power and succeeding on their issues" not simply to incorporate some new information into their media or legal strategies &Dd suggest that most organizations we wor#ed with failed to do thatG most were e tremely reluctant to re*thin# and reconsider their fundamental strategic approach C +ommenting on the wishful thin$ing of these organizations" Tarso says" C7 very mista$en notion of power" but a prevalent one" is that $nowledge is powerG that correct information is enough to discredit illegitimate arguments or organizing efforts Our e1perience has been thatDs simply not true C &n a fair number of instances" Ramos observes" the organizations %estern 6tates wor$s with became much more effective at doing their own opposition research" albeit at a relatively modest scale" involving things li$e subscribing to the newsletters" and attending the meetings of their opposition 8ore importantly" in his mind" these groups broadened their view on who potential allies could be" finding opportunities with human dignity

organizations that werenDt necessarily committed to issues of resource management or the natural environment but were Cconcerned about human rights implications of some of these %ise *se organizations C 9oo$ing at the needs of grass roots groups" Ramos notes that very few of them have the resources to support a researcher position on their staff 0elieving that itDs critical for community.based organizations to develop some level of research capacity" he says they need access to research training and then follow up support for e1isting staff or leadership C& thin$C" says Tarso" Ca large challenge is wor#ing with organizations to determine how much of their resources should !e allocated to research, and arriving at a specific plan they stic# to in relation to that & thin$ most organizations will see the value of research" if they donDt already" in a relatively short period of time C >e soberly ac$nowledges" though" that C8oving from there to an actual" wor$able program is something that most organizations need help in figuring out +eft to their own devices, often times, the research aspect will !e short*lived", Related to his concern that too little attention is paid to recruitment and building a strong membership base" Ramos says research is an essential component C7lthough the nature of the research is only sometimes related to opposition research" [it' can be useful in terms of identifying the other targets or adversaries of your own opponent who could potentially become members or interested in your cause or mission C 7dditionally" he states that CThere are other $inds of research that & thin$ organizations need support in developing in relation to region.based building" [such as' community mapping research [and' 5&6 mapping [that' can be incredibly useful for our regional door. $noc$ing activities There are many different research tools that are easily replicable that can be used by community organizations for recruitment and outreach C )iscussing some of the limitations of research focused responses to anti.democratic movements" 8r Ramos observes that many of the organizations doing this wor$ have research as a large" primary function of their wor$" and do less well on ma$ing that research truly applied" that is" useful as tools for community based organizations to answer the 3uestions they need to answer to move their agenda forward (oting that many research organizations have chronic problems in terms of getting their research out in a timely fashion" and ma$ing it available in an accessible form that supports and is related to organizing strategies" he says that they are often called upon to assist in that way CThereDs a tendencyC" Tarso notes" Cboth among research organizations and community organizations under fire" to want to collect more and more information as opposed to thin$ing strategically about what information is sufficient for them to ma$e decisions about moving forward with their wor$ C 7s such" he says" C%hen we do research trainings" we do trainings around what we call Daction researchD C The other problem organizations encounter" says Ramos" is in ma$ing the research more strategic" by which he means lin$ing it to strategy development" defining research needs in relation to that strategy

&n terms of the most practical development of community based research capacity" 8r Ramos says that since organizations focused in some other arena" such as electoral and legislative research" may not see grass roots organizing as an area for monitoring" C-eople who are in some way organic researchers"""the #inds of people who #eep newspaper clippings, who may!e attend meetings, who try to dig up information on what$s going on in their community that$s !othering them"""e ist in many communities and are incredi!le resources &tDs been important to me as a researcher to identify people li$e that C &n closing" Tarso proposes that in order to build collective power" itDs necessary for individuals of this sort to become connected as leaders within organizations" even if the primary function of those individuals continues to be research" as opposed to trying to get them to do organizing 7s he astutely observes" COften times researchers and organizers have really different s$ills sets and you shouldnDt try to do both things 0ut & thin$ ma$ing those connections is vital C +hip 0erlet" arguably the premier researcher on the ,ar Right in the *nited 6tates" wor$s with 4olitical Research 7ssociates ?4R7@ in 6omerville" 8assachusetts 4R7" a non. profit thin$ tan$ that studies the anti.democratic tendencies in various *6 right.wing groups" focuses primarily on systems of oppression" loo$ing at structures and systems and institutions of power 4R7 identifies the four ma!or systems in the *6 as racism" se1ism" homophobia" and anti.6emitism 7ccording to 8r 0erlet" most of the groups that study the right.wing tend to study some specific form of oppression To his $nowledge" 4R7 is about the only group that studies the full range from the right wing of the Republican 4arty to armed neo.(azi terrorists 4art of 4R7s mission" he says" is to get people to see that there are differences between those various groups" so that when they develop a strategy" they $now what theyHre really loo$ing at 8ost watch dog groups" in his e1perience" are not interested in loo$ing at the systems of instituitions of power or privilege %hat they do" he says" is personalize politics" loo$ing at bad" if not evil people who do terrible things JThey have a very difficult time loo$ing at institutions of power or privilege that are pretty mainstream I 8r 0erlet notes" however" that in spite of resistance to change by the leadership of these groups" younger staff are beginning to say Jthis model doesnHt wor$ I Journalists who call 4R7" observes 0erlet" usually after some news event" want to 3uic$ly understand a group or individualHs ideology" what motivates them" how they see the world" and where they fit into different parts of society ,or more in depth research" 4R7 maintains a huge referral directory" including a lot of reference boo$s They also have a big list of people that they refer fol$s to" e1perts that range from academic researchers to grass roots activists who have e1perience coming up against a particular $ind of group 4R7" says 0erlet" sees its ma!or goal in life as to put people in touch with each other They stay on top of what fol$s are doing" and when they get an information re3uest they note it" following up by contacting someone who can provide the caller with advice

4R7 also provides training sessions on strategic research and investigative reporting in con!unction with N 8edia &nstituteHs annual wor$shops +uriously" after twenty years in the field" 4R7 doesnHt have any other mechanism for this service The dilemma" says 0erlet" is there doesnHt seem to be a lot of venues available %hile the wor$shops they conduct at various conferences train people on how to see the right wing as a comple1 movement" most of these wor$shops are !ust introductory interviews" a $ind of preliminary to actual training on research and investigation Oddly" he says" there has not been much interest in that That said" 8r 0erlet notes that people do get e1cited about the products of serious research posted on 4R7s webpage" which includes information" resources" and lin$s on studying the Right" as well as tools li$e propaganda analysis" which 4R7 also teaches in wor$shops &n addition to reviews of the different forms of propaganda" 4R7s webpage also has a section which tal$s about the problems of conspiracy theories as pseudo research ,inally" thereHs a section on research s$ills and how to get started )ue to the nature of their wor$" 4R7 tends not to serve grass roots activists directly" but rather staff of organizations that are fielding activists" involved at a more strategic level of developing effective responses 8r 0erlet has" however" done trainings with groups of parents in towns who want to ta$e bac$ their school boards from the +hristian Right 5iven 4R7s e1tensive history of assisting groups across the country" & found it amazing that in 1--<" unable to get funding" they actually made the decision to shut down ,ortunately" a number of fairly high level activists went to their foundations and e1plained that one of the reasons they were effective is that they could rely on -R. for strategic research 4erhaps the fact that 4R7 does bac$ground research that helps staff" directors" and policy analysts get up to speed" theyHre not as visible as the activists themselves 8r 0erlet pointed out that 4R7 also has three activist resource $its availableF )efending 4ublic 2ducation" )efending Reproductive Rights" and )efending )emocracy" which loo$ at how the right wing constructs ideasG the $inds of rhetoric they useG the arguments they useG and who has been effective in countering them &n developing these $its" he says" 4R7 involved local activists at every stage of the pro!ect" bringing them in for conservations before starting the pro!ect" bringing them bac$ for a study circle to review and criticize their drafts" and substantially rewriting everything based on their input 7 lot of times" says 0erlet" pac$ets of information they put together are based on phone calls or e.mails they get on a particular topic ,or instance" after the selection of 4resident 0ush" they added webpages called Resources for 6tudying Right %ing ,unding and 4olicy 8a$ing 7nother page developed in 2001 shows how mainstream foundations are funding right.wing thin$ tan$s" and how in turn these thin$ tan$s are ma$ing mainstream policy &n response to my 3uestion about how grassroots groups could use research to be more effective" +hip observes the dilemma is that there is not really good coordination among the various levelsOnational" regional" and localOnot enough interaction in either

direction ,or the most part" he says" a lot of grass roots activists don/t even #now where to start to loo# for information that would be helpful to them They donHt $now how to frame the 3uestions" or how to find groups that might be helpful 7 good 3uestion for public interest foundations" notorious for not funding research" conferences" or media" is J>owHs a movement supposed to grow:I 7s he notes" what the right wing did was fund conferences" media" and research" along with grass roots activity 4rogressive foundations could ta$e a lesson from their adversaries 8r 0erlet notes J&tHs very hard to have conservations about strategy over the phone or over the internet That can only happen face to face *nfortunately" itHs not valued I &n the mid 1--0s" when the right wing was ma$ing dramatic headway" 8r 0erlet was involved in organizing a series of conferences with the 0lue 8ountain 5roup" leading human rights professionals from around the country" to get some interaction going between researchers from different perspectives &n his opinion" +hip says that a lot of needless effort was being wasted because of a lac$ of ability to tal$ to each other about strategy" tactics" and ideasOJwhere we were going and what we were doing wrong I These conferences came out of some fairly awful e1periences in fighting homophobic initiatives in +olarado and Oregon where there was tension between people of color organizers and gay and lesbian organizers 8r 0erlet and his colleagues" felt it was imperative to pull together a national leadership on these 3uestions in order to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication that was damaging other groupsH ability to carry on their struggle The problem" according to 8r 0erlet" was that beltway spin meisters had developed a campaign that pitted urban against rural people This trend" at the time pushed heavily by funded organizers out of (ew Eor$" 6an ,rancisco" 97" and +hicago" he says" was pushed over the severe ob!ections of the local grass roots groups that suffered the repercussions &n circumscribing political violence" so that dialogue on public issues can ta$e place" 8r 0erlet has wor$ed with both mainstream and fundamentalist congregations and groups &n fact" at the time of this interview" he had !ust returned from spea$ing at a fundamentalist conference" where" he says" JThey were very open to hearing that demonizing each other in disagreement on 3uestions of abortion and gay rights was wrong I The important lesson" says 0erlet" is that these people arenHt out to destroy 7merica JThatHs very differentI" he notes" Jfrom the $ind of direct mail rhetoric that you see from a lot of liberal groups" where they portray the fol$s theyHre organizing against as stupid" irrational" lunatic fringe" or e1tremistObasically pretending that issues of oppression are not woven throughout this society I 6ounding a note of hope" 8r 0erlet observes" that in his travels around the country" he has found a lot of local people are good with research s$ills 01hat we need to do2, he says, 0is 3ust get fol#s understanding that you need to pass on those s#ills"2 Two things that worry 8r 0erlet in terms of grass roots organizing are conspiracism and

lac$ of logic >e says itHs easy to slip into irrational conspiracist points of view" as well as to fall for propaganda which isnHt logical 6o many people in the 4rogressive 8ovement" he laments" see the world through conspiracist lenses that effective organizing is seriously compromised 7s he observes" J&tHs not li$e twelve white guys derin$ing bourbon on %all 6treet enforce racism Racism is an ideology that is woven throughout the fabric of society &f you individualize the problem" youHre not going to get to the root of it" which is much closer to the mainstream and its traditions than the more e1otic militant groups out on the fringes I &n his concluding remar$s regarding foundation propensity to fund activism" not research" +hip recalls that J7ction Over ThoughtI was at one time a slogan of &talian ,ascismO food for thought +O(+9*6&O( The four respondents" interviewed in this survey" while filling different niches in the *6 pro.democracy movement" were remar$able" both for their insight" and the level of agreement on essential strategies" if not approaches Their varied e1perience" in combating organized hate" has led them all to appreciate the value of organic" applied research..research tailored to strategic needs of local well as research on broader trends and movements" encompassing regional and national perspectives" in order to put the local issues in conte1t &n the course of their wor$" they have all come to recognize the structural limitations of advocacy organizations in dealing with hate groups" as well as the essential involvement of moral authorities %hether to influence or modify behavior through appeals to conscience" or to fear of the conse3uences of misbehaving" churches" and religious leaders in particular" appear to be in a uni3ue position to help guard the democratic process from attac$ The view e1pressed by the respondents" that hate and violence" based on ignorance and fear" must be treated as a social disease" re3uiring research" education" and organizing strategies of prevention" as well as intervention where outbrea$s occur..using the pu!lic health model..reenforces their insistence on the need for functioning networ$s" that lin$ local concerned and involved citizens with regional and national information and training resources The difficulties pointed out in wor$ing with and relying on government agencies" law enforcement" and media" to build tolerance and !ustice" or to constrain intolerant behavior" if not thought" place all the more burden on the groups and individuals who commit themselves to this very special purpose The need to develop respect for research" in order to act and organize around information" rather than ideologyG the need to train others in the methodsG and the need to develop institutional memory within the groups organized for this purpose" is both daunting and e1hilarating The only thing worse than facing a formidable challenge" & suggest" is living with despair over not $nowing what to do

Jay Taber .. recipient of the Defender of Democracy award .. is an author" columnist" and associate editor of Fourth World Journal httpFKKwww lulu comKspartacus

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