Amzie Moore was able to to provide Bob Moses with tons of contacts after they met. How did he make the grassroots contacts that Bob Moses and SNCC were able to use? (More)

Amzie Moore was just someone who had seen the injustices around him and watched them magnified for them as he worked to counter Axis propaganda aimed at black soldiers during World War II. Countering that propaganda changed his pre-war view that perhaps his treatment in the South was truly ordained by God. When he came back then from the war he decided to start attempting to help people to register to vote and seeing through the veil of oppression that they lived.

By 1951 he had created the Regional Council of Negro Leadership to allow blacks to speak with one economic voice in the Mississippi Delta. He often handed out voting instructions when he held these meetings as well as leading a boycott against gas stations in the South who refused to let them use the restrooms.

Just as important was his membership in the singing group the “Freedom Singers,” which toured around the local area singing at churches. After they were done singing, the pastor would let Amzie say a few words, and he would talk about voting rights and black oppression, backing it up using biblical verse. This was essential to his grassroots campaign because of how important black churches were in the South. This was the home of Southern black organizing since post-Reconstruction and allowed him to get to know the neighborhoods. These numerous local contacts were essential to the success of SNCC. Although they used half of their national staff in Mississippi, that was only 41 members. They needed contact lists to help them to have direction on where to go.

As I sat talking to NCrissieB the other day we discussed how we have lack infrastructure in the current progressive movement, especially in states where unions are either not that powerful or non-existent. She argued:

Unlike the conservative movement, we don’t have churches, veterans organizations or retirement homes that naturally allow us to extend our reach.

While I agreed with her that we did not have those easy outreach sites as progressives, it was because we automatically decided as progressives that these were lost causes. But as Mr. Moore and Mr. Moses show us, these neighborhood contact lists were essential to organizing the civil rights campaign later. Finally we also must remember that at the start of the civil rights movement, Mississippi was a true bastion of repression and that most national organizations thought it was not worth spending their resources there.

Perhaps then these are the things that we must take away from the Mississippi campaign the most:

First, we must operate everywhere, even places we don’t think we’re likely to win at first.

Second, grassroots campaigns need local neighborhood contact lists, people we can talk to to spread our message. And we have to go where those people already meet.

Perhaps then, we as progressives need to stop handing over places like churches, veterans organizations and retirement homes. We need to get our message out to everyone even if it won’t be heard by everyone. This isn’t usual progressive territory and they might not be sympathetic to our ideals, but maybe we’ll meet a few key contacts. These places hold our neighbors and friends, they are our link to our community and if we can reach out to them, we are able to hold the card of local trust. What’s more we have to be willing to concede that we won’t be able to agree with them on every issue, but Fred Whispering isn’t about winning on every issue. It’s about helping Fred realize we’re all in this together.

I offer these questions for everyone to think about and ponder:

1. What places in your community do people commonly get together to meet and socialize?

2. Which of those are places you feel are currently territory better suited to conservatives than progressives?

3. In what ways can we reach out into that territory meet progressive contacts, and how can we get our feet in the door? What issues do you think they’re likely to be sympathetic with?

4. What other ideas can we as progressives learn from the civil rights movement to further our own campaign of championing a better society for all of us?