This paper is presented as part of the Papers series for COMM-ORG: The On-line Conference on Community Organizing and Development. Copyright is held by the author. To cite, use: [author] [date] [title], paper presented on COMM-ORG: The On-Line Conference on Community Organizing and Development.

Local and Global Organizing after 9/11

By Autumn Leonard, Tomás Aguilar, Mike Prokosch, and Dara Silverman

United for a Fair Economy, 37 Temple Pl. 2nd floor, Boston MA 02111





A. Questions and Answers

B. What is happening for each wing of the movement?

C. Recommendations for movements

D. What strategies can the movement best pursue?

Appendix: Who we talked to



"[O]ne part of the deep mourning I feel is for the global justice movements as they were before those planes crashed into the Twin Towers: steadily growing in scope and influence, increasingly occupying a central place on the global stage. We were blown off that stage on September 11, and the context for our ongoing activism is now utterly transformed." 

LA Kauffman, Free Radical #19, September 17, 2001

"Local grassroots organizing is the radical other to globalization. What is restraining globalization is local activism. It is local people organizing in defense of place, culture and values against the onslaught of globalization and it is where we see the most life-affirming activity. Often people from the local communities are the targets. I would not mistake mass protests as the only movement that is challenging globalization." 

Shea Howell, Detroit Summer, Detroit MI

After September 11, United for a Fair Economy called over 50 activists and organizers across the country and asked them, "What is the state of organizing now?" We talked to a range of people from direct action organizers and prison justice activists to labor union members, immigrants, youth of color, queer activists and community organizers dealing with globalization in their front yards. We see a larger movement emerging that can pull all these movements together.

Overall, we heard that:

 The issues are still there. The partners are still there, so are the issues that pushed us into action, so are the changes in consciousness that movements have achieved. Most people we talked to plan to keep working on the issues they were already focused on, though some have added anti-war mobilizing to their plates as well.

  September 11 "hit the pause button" for some key partnerships, tactics, and campaigns, but also opened the way to building new ones.

 It is a teachable moment. It is a hard time to oppose official policy publicly but an excellent time to bring a deeper analysis to mainstream society.

 Movements need to reframe their work because the new moment highlights the need to have a race, class, and sexuality analysis. (Gender analysis is important as well , but we didn't ask specific enough questions about it.) Initiatives based on a broader analysis will help pull together movement partners and strengthen the alliances that already exist. (see related article, "Reframing the US globalization movement")

We will summarize what people told us; list some strategies that people proposed; then finally try to assess where new partnerships are taking off. For related articles, please see This new organizers' website will look at race (leadership by people and organizations of color), "localizing" (building a movement where people live, work, and organize), and strategies that pull together the partners for a broader globalization movement.

A. Questions and Answers

Who we talked to: This article is based on 54 interviews with global and local activists across the country. 31% people of color 11% queer and 55% women.

1. What moment are we in? How would you and your organization describe it?

"Every person of color is at risk now."

Rep. Byron Rushing, Massachusetts House of Representatives, Boston, MA

"This is one hell of a teachable moment. Globalization is on everyone's minds now." 

Jerome Scott, Project South, Atlanta, GA

"I am a little frustrated with the mainstreaming and sudden, popular interest in public safety, in the sense of vulnerability. That is really a middle class phenomenon…to suddenly have a call for safety is a slap in the face. I have been terrorized for years. Two days after September 11, a fourteen year-old kid got shot and killed on his bike. My partner is coming home, is he going to get shot? This stuff doesn't stop for us and it makes me angry. That is what I think of the political moment."

Kai Lumumba Barrow, Critical Resistance, New York, NY

"Labor is focusing on the recession. There are already a quarter million layoffs."

Fred Azcarate, Jobs with Justice, Washington, DC

"Clearly Arab-Americans are being victimized and attacked here in Chicago. They are afraid. They won't go to an anti-war rally or anything like that. It is a time when they must sit back and let others work because they are so scrutinized right now. Anyone can be picked up and held for anything. It has paralyzed our ability to campaign and work on local issues."

Louise Cainkar, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Chicago, IL

"Many [of our staff] are poor and working class, they have people in the military, there are issues that have to be taken care of."

Si Kahn, Grassroots Leadership, Charlotte, NC

"In three or four weeks the recession will supplant terrorism as a national issue."

Tim Costello, Campaign on Contingent Work, Boston, MA

"I hear people saying everything is different now, but I see that there is a lot that is not so different."

Gabriel Sayegh, Prisoner Within, Olympia, WA

2. What issues are you working on now? Whom are you working with? What has happened to existing coalitions and what new coalitions are forming?

"The organizing [that our members are doing] is documentation [of] civil rights and human rights abuse by police, civilians and immigration [the Immigration and Naturalization Service]."

Eunice Cho, National Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Oakland, CA

"The war is not going to divide us at all because we're really still focused on the reason that brought us together. It's not disintegrating, not at all. But it has definitely added to the discussion. People here are more excited than ever about working on globalization. It's kind of like after the World War [II] when people said if we don't start to equalize power, we're going to see more of this happen."

Kristi Disney, Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network, Knoxville, TN

"Work on state-level issues like the budget hasn't been affected much. But work on national issues like Fast Track, Social Security privatization, and the mobilization for global justice is pretty derailed. We were trying to get people moving in North Carolina for the first time [on global justice issues]. Now that didn't go anywhere."

Cathy Howell, AFL-CIO NC and SC, Wilmington, NC

"September 11th has actually made it pretty clear that our organization [a multi-issue queer group] is not involved in the same communities as the white queer communities and made it clear who we want to be working with. It has strengthened [our] connections with low-income organizations and other social justice groups led by folks of color."

Shawn Luby, NC Lambda Youth Network, Durham, NC

3. What openings do you see for organizing in the short-term?

"The opportunity for global economy work is there more than ever but now there's a temporary gap between education and action. The opportunity for education is greater but for action less."

Jeff Crosby, North Shore Labor Council, Lynn, MA

"We have been called by law enforcement asking us where we stand, threatening our funding, employers stop giving us orders for employment. We have also been contacted by funders saying they want to help with the educational process. We have been at the epicenter because we are the most well-known."

Ismael Ahmed, Arabic Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), Dearborn, MI

"Racial targeting is a huge inroad. Among people of color, it makes this our issue." 

Jerome Scott

"We can't just be protesting any longer. Have to think about how we can develop programs, to bring people back to the community."

Grace Boggs, Boggs Center, Detroit, MI

September 11 was a setback for the global protest and immigrant rights movements in the US and it is particularly a time of danger for immigrants, prisoners, people of color, organized and unorganized workers.

B. What is happening for each wing of the movement?

Organized labor

Russ Davis, a labor organizer with Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, said a week after September 11, "The labor movement's pulling out, students will go off to form a new antiwar movement, and community-based groups will go back to local organizing. I don't know if there is a movement now." The AFL-CIO and some member unions were joining forces with other wings of the movement and planning to participate in fall IMF-World Bank protests. They pulled out, but reaffirmed their commitment to long-term collaboration on the global economy. Service unions are preoccupied with disaster relief and with supporting their New York members who have lost jobs. In the medium term, all unions will have to deal with the recession as it hits their members. There is little space for discussing the war within unions.

Youth of Color

Youth of Color have linked opposition to the war to the assault on low income communities and communities of color in the U.S. Strong coalitions led by African-Americans and Latinos have helped frame the issues, chosen the tactics and re-focused the nascent anti-war efforts into an urban peace movement. There is no way this could have happened without the long-term institution building that has developed a base of active leadership, and a global and local analysis. Young people, especially young people of color, do not necessarily identify with the traditional symbols of the U.S. peace movement and are creating new ways to express opposition to the war through art, culture, and dialogue.

White Youth

Many white youth have thrown themselves into creating an antiwar movement, or an antiwar-antiracist movement. That has taken some of the youth base away from anti-corporate and globalization campaigns. Some white youth have taken on " double duty," adding antiwar work to their global or labor activism. Students are continuing anti-sweatshop campaigns, living wage campaigns, and other campus-based economic justice campaigns which bring them together with organized labor and, potentially, community-based organizations.

Faith Based Organizing

While we did not talk to as many people working in religious communities as we would have liked, a few themes emerged. We heard stories of antiwar pastors clashing with their congregations. We heard Rev. Dr. A.J. Pointer say, "those people who are openly haters need to be dealt with in America." We heard about mosques opening their doors open for educational events. The American mainstream has demonized or ignored Islam for a long time, making this a unique opportunity to educate people about the basics of the religion. People of faith are coming together to give solace and support to their communities.

Community-based organizations 

"People are still getting kicked out of their houses and people are still getting kicked off welfare," said Galen Tyler of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. Community groups reacted in different ways to 9/11. Some paused, adjusted, and moved on. Depending on which issues people were focused on, their work had to adjust in different ways (see immigrant organizing). When global organizers start to build connections with local organizing, they will see that there are a lot of people who have been fighting globalization locally for a very long time. But many local organizations led by folks of color are being undermined by the fallout from 9/11. Foundations and nonprofits are channeling funds toward New York and DC, leaving local groups' budgets in doubts. Even in New York and DC, community organizations are asking whether any of the relief money will go their communities.


Immigrant amnesty was on the political agenda because U.S. business needed immigrant labor, unions needed to organize them, and immigrant voters could swing an election. September 11 "set us back five to ten years," said several organizers. Racial attacks and new laws restricting immigrant rights hit this sector harder than any other. Immigrant day laborers are being cheated of their wages, but are afraid to organize for fear of deportation. Some immigrant communities have decided to protect themselves by expressing fervently that they are Americans. Two well-publicized polls found a majority of African-Americans supporting racial profiling of Middle Easterners. These polls capitalize on legitimate fears in the Black community and are used to divide people of color. Coalitions of young African-Americans and Latinos are opposing the targeting of immigrants, but their partnerships with Middle Eastern and South Asian communities is limited.

Border Communities

The Border patrol has gained support since 9/11. They have become even more aggressive and organizing is challenging under these conditions. In border towns like Laredo and El Paso, many workers from Mexico cross daily to work in US-owned companies (at lower wages than US workers). Since 9/11, they cannot cross as freely and often not at all. Mexican workers have lost jobs and local US businesses are forced to either close down or hire US workers at higher wages.

Queer Organizing

Scapegoating, harassment, verbal and physical abuse are nothing new for queer organizers, but now many are working much harder to make connections with low-income communities and communities of color. Some organizers said that in order to defeat anti-gay legislation you need to have the support of communities of color.

Prison Activists

Activists described the swift, severe crackdown on prisoners, the most socially controlled population in the US. Many prisoners lost visitation rights and their mail was even more carefully searched. Inmates in one prison told Angela Davis that they fear all prisoners will be left alone to die slowly in their cells. Prison activists are worried about the effect of a stronger police state on people opposing racial profiling, unequal sentencing, and other forms of criminal injustice. Some groups are examining possible alliances with people in the new antiwar movement, yet staying focused on prisons.


Many environmentalists thought their work would grind to a halt. After a short recovery period, their activists are clamoring to keep at their corporate targets, like CitiGroup and Staples. Many environmentalists' focus is to act bio-regionally, within their local area. As one activist said, "trees are still going to get cut down," and Congress is trying to use "united we stand" sentiments to push through anti-environmental legislation like drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refugee.

Mass movements abroad

Two days after President Bush's address to Congress, the militaries of Mexico and Central America met and declared a war against terrorism, with the #1 target "ethnic groups." The militarization of Chiapas has returned to its highest levels, while indigenous and grassroots organizations have been threatened in other countries. But sister movements abroad are not pulling back now, and are horrified that the US globalization movement would even consider it. "They have always called us terrorists because we fight for land and bread," said Berta Caceres of Honduras. Many countries see similarities between the World Trade Center attacks and what they encounter regularly.

C. Recommendations for movements

"It's good you're in a listening mode and not falling into the white male culture of having an answer."

Shea Howell

It doesn't come naturally. The work of middle-class white folks often gets more media attention which allows them to jump in, take charge, and not look around to ask, "is anyone here more qualified than me?" That behavior pattern is defining the new peace movement in many places, and it will keep that movement from broadening.

White activists have enormous contributions to make to movements: passion, brains, resources... but please, don't just take charge and assume you have a corner on the market. Form alliances with community-based groups. Listen, learn, and support. Build relationships, build trust, and become accountable. Help build a movement where those most affected by globalization are framing analysis and solutions.

D. What strategies can the movement best pursue?

It should pick strategies that build partnerships -- which pull together the forces that belong in the movement. Often they will already be working on a given issue. If not, it's in their interest to work on it. Here are some examples.

There are also some elements that belong in any strategy:

Appendix: Who we talked to

Ismael Ahmed, Arabic Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS),
2651 Saulino Court Dearborn, MI 48126
(313) 842-8380
Jennifer Allen, SW Alliance to Resist Militarization (SWARM)
PO Box 384 Tucson AZ 85702
Francisco 'Pancho' Arguelles, National Organizers Alliance
2002 San Sebastian Ct #1311 Houston, TX 77058
Betty Ahrens, Iowa Citizen Action Network
506 Kimball Road
Iowa City IA 52245
Tim Atwater, Jubilee USA
222 East Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20003-1036
Fred Azcarate, National Jobs with Justice
501 3rd St Washington, DC 20001
Kai Lumumba Barrow, Critical Resistance,
460 W. 128th St, New York, NY
Juliette Beck, Global Exchange,
2017 Mission Street, room 303 San Francisco, CA 94110
415-558-9486 x254
Grace Boggs, James & Grace Lee Boggs Center
3061 Field Street, Detroit MI 48214
Carolyn Bninski, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center,
3210 Darley Avenue Boulder, CO 80305
Kim Burden,
Cincinnati, OH
Louise Cainker, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
36 S. Wabash Suite 1425 Chicago, IL 60603
Lois Canright, Puget United for a Fair Economy
1712 32nd Ave. S Seattle, WA
Candace Carpenter, Texas Observer
307 W. 7th St Austin, TX 78701
Josefina Castillo, AFSC
1304 East Sixth Street, #3 Austin TX 78702-3355
Eunice Cho, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
310 8th St Suite 303 Oakland, CA 94607
Laura Close, STARC Alliance
831 N. Watts Portland OR, 97217
Jeff Crosby, IUE/CWA Local 201 and North Shore Labor Council
100 Bennett St Lynn, MA 01905
Tim Costello, Campaign on Contingent Work
33 Harrison St. 4th floor, Boston, MA 02111
Russ Davis, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice,
3353 Washington St Boston, MA 02130
Kristi Disney, Tennessee Industrial Renewal Network (TIRN)
1515 E. Magnolia, Suite 403 Knoxville, TN 37917
Joleen Garcia, Xicana/Xicano Education Project
131 Adams #2 San Antonio, TX
Cathy Howell, AFL-CIO - North Carolina and South Carolina
Wilmington, NC
Shea Howell, Detroit Summer
4605 Cass Ave Detroit, MI 48201
Minsun Ji, Colorado American Friends Service Committee
901 West 14th Avenue, #7 Denver, CO 80214
Si Kahn, Grassroots Leadership
1515 Elizabeth Avenue, PO Box 36006 Charlotte, NC 28236
Susan Knight, Coalition for a Humane Economy
1506 Elm St. Cincinnati, OH 45210
Shawn Luby, North Carolina Lambda Network,
115 Market Street Durham, NC 27705
Doralina Luna, Coalición De Derechos Humanos
PO Box 1286 Tuscon, AZ 85702
Rebekah Lusk, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights,
36 S. Wabash Suite 1425 Chicago, IL 60603
Will MacAdams, City Kids
560 Ella T. Grasso Blvd New Haven, CT 06510
Alma Lilia Nava Maquitico, Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project,
715 Myrtle El Paso TX 79901
Jeff Milchen, Reclaim Democracy
PO Box 532 Boulder, CO 80306
Ethan Miller, Maine Global Action Network
217 South Mountain Rd Greene, ME 04236
Wendi O'Neal, Highlander Center
1959 Highlander Way New Market, TN 37820
Rev. Dr. A.J. Pointer, Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle
930 E. Myrtle Ave Flint, MI 48505
JP Pluecker, Ada Edwards Campaign
PO Box 667307 Houston, TX 77266
Patrick Reinsborough, Rainforest Action Network
221 Pine St. Suite 500 San Francisco, CA 94104
415-398-4404 x315
Molly Rooke, Campaign ExxonMobil
6139 Stichter Ave Dallas, TX 75230
Rev. Charles Roots, Cannon Baptist Church
910 E. Galespie St Flint, MI 48505
Gabriel Sayegh, Prisoner Within
Olympia, WA
Jeremy Simer, global justice activist
PO Box 12421 Seattle, WA 98101
David Solnit, Freedom Rising Affinity Group
POB 18773 Oakland, CA 94619
Rev. Susan Starr, Applied Research Center
37 81 Broadway Oakland, CA 94611
510-653-3415 x 319
Jerome Scott, Project South
9 Gammon Ave. SW Atlanta GA 30315
Alex Tapia, Campaign ExxonMobil
611 Congress, Suite 200 Austin, TX 78704
Felicia Trevor, Stepstone Center
1119 Woody Creek Rd- POB 336
Woody Creek CO 81656
Galen Tyler, Kensington Welfare Rights Union,
POB 50678 Philadelphia, PA 19132
Mary Zerkel, Praxis Project, American Friends Service Committee
637 S. Dearborn, 3d floor Chicago, IL 60605
312-427-2533 x 15