About UER at LF

The Left Forum is one of the largest gatherings of left activists and scholars and has been held yearly for 13 years early in June. From June 2 through 4 a group of fifteen RCers from 4 NY regions, the majority from Southwest Brooklyn, our sponsor, did a UER project at the Left Forum. We staffed a table, distributed fliers and talked with people, and had a panel/workshop called Reclaiming our Humanity: A Revolutionary tool. Fifteen cocounselors participated in shifts from Friday evening through Sunday morning, staffing the table, giving out fliers, being panelists at the workshop (4), and participants at the workshop. We had contact with many people. We encountered several who had been co-counselors in the past, or had roommates who were cocounselors. One Polish woman remembered RC from Durban. (These are just the examples I know of. We have not yet had a our planned post LF conference call to share highlights and experiences, discharge, and brainstorm about next steps.) We are having an intro for those who expressed interest this Saturday, June 10th. Leading up to the Left Forum we had one meeting to discharge, think, and plan with 10 of us in person and two via video chat, and a conference call with four of us. The early material we got to discharge on in the context of this project was, for many of us, material we hadn't yet worked on. Many of us worked on our histories in the left and the early material this brought up for us.

The panel itself went very well. As it worked out we had almost an exact match of RCers and new participants. There were 14 cocounselors at the workshop including the 4 panelists and 11-14 participants at different points. We were in a small lecture hall with semi circular continuous rows, and chairs that swiveled enough that people could easily face each other during minis, but the furniture couldn't be moved beyond that.

The workshop's goal was to share RC tools that activists could use in their respective areas of struggle. We had about an hour and 30 minutes of actual time. (The workshop slots were 110 minutes and it took about 10 minutes to gather). The first go-round for the panel (Maritza Arrastia, Kathy Martino, Irene Shen, Karim Lopez) was a self-introduction by the panelists during which each of us also introduced specific information. Maritza moderated, and introduced the workshop by saying our goal was to share tools that would be useful to activists to sustain our struggles for the long haul, and that it would be a primarily experiential workshop during which we would try out some of the tools. Kathy explained UER and RC. Irene introduced the tools (listening and discharge, theory, community, focusing mainly on the first 2). Karim explained a listening pair, and the guidelines for doing one. At that point Maritza, as moderator, helped the group set up mini sessions ensuring that every new person was paired with an RCer.
Following the mini-session participants shared their experiences as listener and speaker.
During the second go-round for the panel each of us spoke for 4 minutes about ways we used these tools in our activism. Karim spoke first of how he has used these tools as a political film-maker to sustain his efforts and to make art outside from a liberation and not an oppression lens. Irene spoke of her work organizing workers and how these tools help her sustain relationships and deal with conflict and differences. At this point, the moderator asked the group if any of these struggles as activists resonated and we did a second listening-pair. (Others had joined us so we reconfigured the pairs slightly).
Kathy spoke of her experiences as an activist in the anti war movement of the 60s and later a marxist-leninist party, and how RC itself had become a main political practice for her. Maritza spoke of her experience growing up during the Cuban insurrection and revolutionary victory, how she carried both a sense that our struggles can and do win, and also internalized colonization and how these tools helped her act outside internalized colonization.
We did another listening pair on what we love about our movement work and what gets hard.
Maritza explained group time, another way that we listen to each other, and invited participants to be listened to by the whole group. A young man who had responded earlier about his experience during the mini, was game to come up front. He used the time well, talked about what he loves about his movement work, showed his discouragement and was close to tears then. (He has responded that he will come to the intro on Saturday and plans to bring a friend.)
A second woman who had also responded about her experience during the mini, came up front and shared her love for her union organizing work, and some of what got hard. She also used the group attention well.
At this point it was going on 7 PM and the session was until 7:10.
We did a very short one minute each mini session on how we might use these tools in our movement work. During the share out, the woman who did the demo, said she could see using it with her co-workers to discharge on the challenges and frustrations of their work.
I talked about the intro session scheduled for the following Saturday, and invited participants to sign the interest form (if they hadn't yet), look at the literature (some hand-outs they could take, and some for sale).
We did a one word closing and afterwards many participants stayed to talk with RCers and sign the form.
Before we went our separate ways our working team decided to do a conference call soon to discharge and reflect on what we did. We did a go round of appreciations of the project and the panelists.
This was a great learning and growing experience for us. Among us were the three panelists from last year's workshop at the LF (Irene, Karim, Maritza), and two co-counselors who happened to have been at the LF last year and found their ways to our workshop (Kathleen Ortiz and Tina Nannarone). Our working group this year expanded by 11 co-counselors, and our participants also expanded by 11. Having the table gave us a physical base and visibility. Having more co-counselors present expanded our outreach. We were able to back each other, take chances talking to people, expand the scope of our counseling relationships, learned a lot.