Low Intensity Organizing (LIO) is an organizing paradigm rooted in mobilization examples from national liberation movements. Contained within the national liberation model is the idea social change comes directly from political education and cultural development that is not myopically focused on single issues but rather on developing a critical analysis and critique of the colonial situation. The main goal of LIO is to build broad politico-cultural fronts reconnecting sections of alienated parts of society to each other in the struggle against colonial oppression.

Low Intensity Organizing focuses on long term change. Change does not happen overnight.  The ability to confront entrenched beliefs and attitudes about each other takes long-term education. 

Low Intensity Organizing rejects single issue organizing. Single issue organizing is at its core reformist.  While it can be effective in terms of addressing a problem i.e. traffic lights, union drive or an electoral campaign what inevitably ends up happening is the build up of energy is allowed (encouraged in the case of electoral campaigns) to dissipate until the next round of issues is raised. 

Low Intensity Organizing is educational. Because the focus is not on generating action, the main purpose of LIO is to develop long-term educational programs within communities.  Programs that focus on strategies for challenging not only apathy but also that create opportunities for popular education campaigns.  Education produces analysis and critique.  These things can only be produced after prolonged discussion and political activity. 

Low Intensity Organizing builds community. Transformative organizing schemas like LIO begin with the belief those organizing share the fate of the community where they live and work.  The problem with issue based organizing is that it does not put individuals in true ideologically conflict since compromise is the stated goal.  LIO builds community through the production of theoretical knowledge and its application - PRAXIS.

Low Intensity Organizing builds dual power structures. Building effective and lasting institutions is important any struggle for liberation.  One of the reasons organizing and organizers have a bad rap is its inherent power to build movements that not only challenge the status quo but plan for long term change.

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I am Xicano, maybe Xicanx, it looks cool. I am also a fervent Aztlanista. I believe in Aztlan and the political potential of that concept. I have spent my adult life working to see that potential realized. I am a revolutionary nationalist. I say this as the spouse of an Anishinaabe woman, father of four, the grandfather of seven, a three decade organizer, former Brown Beret, founder of the Xicano Development Center, college professor and Marxist. Being Xicanx and my belief in the political possibilities of Aztlan are important to how I’ve lived my life, the way I’ve raised my children, the things I tell my students in class.

I have no rants about whiny millennials or bratty gender warriors who make people say their pronouns. I like millennials (my kids are millennials) and honestly, what kind of person are you, if you can’t address someone how they want to be addressed? Get over yourself and your grammar/language rules. It’s all made up anyway – ALL OF IT.

Currently, there are multiple social media conversations on Twitter and Facebook asserting the “movimiento” meaning the Xicano movement belongs to the youth. This idea of ownership is absurd, in an existential sense (wildly unreasonable). It was absurd in the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, and 1960s. The Chicanx/Xicanx/Latinx/IndigenousX (insert word) movement (?) does not belong to the youth, nor is it youth led. The Xicanx movement is and always has been an intergenerational effort to secure independence from the settler colonial system. The only people who believe the Xicanx movement is a youth led movement are (possibly) “the youth” whoever that might be and older professionals, mostly it seems college professors, who I know for a fact don’t actually believe it but are, capitalizing on the kamikaze actions of students encouraging them to “revolt” while simultaneously distancing themselves from the carnage, remaining silent once the battle is begun by hiding behind mortgages, and tenure bids. Which is exactly I believe what is happening right now with the MEXA name change, older intellectuals using younger activists to settle old scores and vendettas, a magnificent coup years in the making and brilliant in its patient execution.

It is through this abdication of movement building responsibility in declaring or fixing the responsibility for social change solely on “the youth” that in spite of the non stop declarations of its arrival, the reality is, a youthful leaderless movement will never arrive. It is imagining politics in the same way small children are assembled on a playground by their parents - ruckus ensures, friendships and alliances are formed instantaneously and then everyone goes home for dinner. This surface analysis of leadership and power enfeebles the wielder on the same level as when we accuse each other of being ideologues. We are all ideologues. Ideology is the garbage can from which we eat. Chicanx/Xicanx/Latinx/ IndigenousX positionalities couldn’t even have a dialogue about political futures/possibilities sans ideology. So, thanks for playing.

Xicanx/Latinx/IndigenousX activists who think they are building leaderless pre-figurative movements are for the most part without a working analysis of state power, in a real sense they place the actions, feelings, and well being of the individual at the fulcrum of change, rather than the need to build mass movements that challenge the state. This focus on individual identity is especially ineffective when confronting state power/settler colonialism/neoliberalism, because whether the proponents of this position realize it or not, they have been “ideologically” co-opted by contemporary anarchism which was itself co-opted by Christian pacifists in the 1930s. As multiple scholars and revolutionaries have shown pacifism protects the state, it is a manifestation of white supremacy. writes Kristen Williams, anarchist and author of the pamphlet “Whither Anarchism”.

In my opinion and experience the type of prefigurative politics performed by MEChistas at the recent MEChA National conference is a perpetuation of hegemonic white segregation, a perverse color blindness that gate guards indigeneity through a blood quantum and documentation from the settler government. While simultaneously attacking a political idea, Aztlan, that serves and has served as a space for imaging Xicanx national liberation for the past 50 years. Aztlan has gaining notoriety to the point it is referenced on national newscasts and by right wing pundits in the early 2000s as the “reconquista” and currently as illegal immigration.

Contemporary Aztlan has little to do with the pre-Columbian myth. Aztlan, in the present exists primarily as an irredentist, political attempt by a strata of the Xicanx community in the United States, the same strata that has over the past 50 years overwhelming emerged from MEChA/MEXA. Aztlan is the main vehicle by which Xicanx people have declared a state of conflict with settler colonialism. Aztlan was and still is the only demand of the Chicano power movement not rooted in civil rights reform but categorically challenges white settler society by demanding political sovereignty. Aztlan is also the only demand from the Chicano Power Movement that has not suffered outright defeat and complete dismissal by the forces of settler colonialism, Aztlan remains an imminent challenge whose danger lies in not in the past but in future political possibilities.

Rupert Emerson writes in his book From Nation to Empire that nation can be defined as a “terminal community – the largest community which, when the chips are down, effectively commands men’s loyalty, overriding the claims of both lesser communities within it and those which cut across it or potentially enfold it within a still greater society.” In response to this definition, I argue, that Xicano Nationalism has brought about a space, that we call Aztlan, that is big enough to hold and nurture all the dialogues that have so effectively challenged misogyny, patriarchy and homo and transphobia in the Xicanx movement while simultaneously maintaining an umbrella Xicanx identity.

Many might chaff under this assertion but as the argument begins let us agree on one thing - the challenge to patriarchy, misogyny, homo and transphobia, those resistance narratives certainly did not happen under the mercifully contrite direction of settler colonial structures. Are their those who call themselves Xicano/Indigenous nationalists who embody hurtful and dehumanizing practices – yes. But they hardly represent the totality of the nation. Just as supporters of Donald Trump hardly represent the totality of citizens in the United States.

Aztlan as it stands is a political, intellectual, social, economic, spiritual, and possibly armed challenge to US settler colonialism. If the idea of Aztlan seems fantastical, it is fantastical in the same sense as all indigenous sovereignty, because settler colonial education has consigned Indigenous people (re: Xicanx people) to history as political failures. Professor Juan Gomez Quinones, in his book Indigenous Quotient/Stalking Words writes,

“according to denial politics, Indians have no politics. Instead of governance, Indians were said to have authorities; instead of laws, chieftains; instead of resistance, violence. Europeans often argued that Indian bellicosity remained unorganized and that most Indian groups lacked even tyranny as a form of governance. Hence, by their own failings, Indians could not be the beneficiaries of rights. This argument not only underlined Indians alleged inferiority, but in addition allowed Europeans to order them.”

Latinx proxy political narratives, on behalf of native people, seem natural because whether Latinx youth understand their own motives or not the infantilized political position of indigenous people within the settler colonial context has been internalized - Indian people have no politics. What other reason could possible impel a group of Latinx students to paint the idea of Aztlan - the one surviving anti statist political project of the Xicano movement as imperialist and colonialist? Imagining they are providing a protection for native people, because according to the settler colonial narrative Indian people have no political voice of their own, they are unorganized and as a result of this these students feel it is their duty to “order them”. I ask all of you to consider who in this equation are the ones carrying forward the agenda of settler colonialism?

The first US census was taken in 1790 and only counted white and black persons. In 1848 when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed there were between 70 to 90,000 persons who remained in the former northern mexican territories that could be legally counted as citizens of the United States. In the 1930 census, the first and only time the question Mexican was used on the census their were three million Mexicans living in the Southwest United States. By 1970, one year after Alurista introduces the concept of Aztlan to the Xicano movement there are 9.1 million. According to a 2010 Pew Hispanic Center report,

“As of July 1, 2008, there were over 46.9 million Hispanics residing in America and this number is only looking to increase exponentially over the years ... In 2010, Census projections are that 47.8 million people (33 million or so of those being Mexican American) will self-define as Hispanic, but in 2050, only 40 years from now, that number will grow to an astonishing 132.8 million people, constituting approximately 30 percent of the overall U.S. population at that point.”

The growth from 1970 to 2050 represents a 1359.34 percent increase over an 80 year period. If I am still alive in 2050 I will be 84 years old. My youngest child will be a mere 42 years old. A full decade younger than I am today. I point all this out because it is important to understand that this is all happening within the course of your lifetime and mine. It is a brown repopulation of Turtle Island. There is no escaping the impact of that brown bodied growth in politics, culture and the search for sovereignty. By 2050 one third of all the bodies in this country will be descendents of indigenous survivors. What does that mean though in terms of present political development? Professor Gomez-Quinones writes,

“Being Indigenous is the conscious experience of Native descent and lived culture historically situated in the Americas; of a historical memory related to awareness of a Native group membership; and of an ethos that recognizes exploitation and discrimination, past, present and future. Indigenism involves understanding the convergence of history and the present, and gaining from this understanding a motivation to change the present.”

Understand this critical point, Aztlan as a political and cultural idea has survived because settler colonialism continues to thrives. Abandoning the politico-cultural hope of Aztlan is one stage of the final surrender. As the descendents of indigenous people we inhabit and navigate a dystopic and apocalyptic setting unimaginable by our ancestors. People that certainly understood being conquered or conquering but mostly likely had little conception of systematic intentional extermination centuries long.

For the past 500 years Indigenous people have literal been hunted and murdered on sight. When after 400 or so years the practice of mass human slaughter fell out of favor we were remitted to the worst geographic areas - euphemistically called reservations or ghettos - locations that are often polluted beyond reason and unsafe for occupancy. Fences and walls are erected to stop our physical movement, the government mobilizes vast armed forces against us, regular citizen do the same, Our citizenship and loyalty is constantly questioned and suspect. We are under educated and left jobless in a world that requires us to exchange our labor for survival (work).

Our native languages are dead and dying. We are denounced as murderers, rapist and thieves, on a daily basis from the bully pulpit of the most powerful person in the world. Asymmetrical war is our constant companion and all around us even in our safest moments the whoop whoop of the a police siren is an immediate reminder of how close death always is. This is our 500 year extinction scenario. And yet as we speak the one political challenge to the settler colonial state is named imperialist and colonising toward other indigenous peoples by Xicanx youth because it articulates a desire for political sovereignty by Xicanx peoples?

The 2010 Census, reports 194, 949 Mexican-Americans self identified as Native American making Xicanos the 3rd largest grouping of native people in the country. Nation is a self identifier, it is by definition the largest grouping that commands the loyalty of the people the differences within that grouping range from the extreme far left to the far reaches of the right. I believe in the return to history, through the end of settler colonialism and that, this end, can only be brought about by a protracted national liberation struggle that joins the cultural with the political.

Asad Haider in his book Mistaken Identities: Racial Politics in the Age of Trump writes this about the Black revolutionary nationalist, “What nationalism meant was a political perspective: black activists organizing themselves rather than following the lead of white organizations, building new institutions instead of seeking entry into white society.” That is the essence of the irredentist political project called Aztlan.

I submit to those assemble that current US immigration policies are in reality and practice anti-indigenous counter insurgencies measures designed to stem the growth of potential anti-colonial resistance in the United States. Psychological operations, also know as PSYOPS are underway across this globe. Intelligence gathering reaches into the some of the most remote areas of our world, and it is naive to assume that the same long term low intensity disruption is not happening among the fastest growing indigenous population in the United States. Cholos can understand Morrissey but not Marx or Mao? The undermining of direct action, pro-sovereignty, anti setter politics in the Xicano community is perhaps the biggest clue to the active recruitment of Latinx intellectuals on college campus’ by the colonial settler state. How can we even begin to imagine only white professors are recruited by the FBI and the CIA for domestic matters.

I am today the same as when I was born, a brown person. However, I chose to walk a path of indigenous resistance. I have devoted my life and my family's fortune to the struggle against settler colonialism.

I have done my time in MEXA. As a member of Michigan State University Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan (MSU MEXA) for the decade of the 1990s, and after that as an advisor for countless iterations of MEXA at Michigan State. I know about the challenges student organizers can face. Today as a college professor, and human being, I also understand the developmental issues young adults are going through. The need to tear down idols, it might be a pain in the ass but it is Punk as Fuck. I’ve been there, I get it.

And yet, like any grassroots political project, the power of Aztlan, lies in the complicating of Aztlan, in the complicating of what it means to be Xicanx, believing we will arrive at the material truth only through a deep investigation into the internal contradictions.

Racially, my life has been a mass of those contradictions, a white mother, a mexican father, a black step father. The cultural-political decisions I’ve made are constantly informed by embracing the contradictions those three world views brought to my awareness. Holding these three pieces of my identity, who I am, in my heart and then coming to the conclusion I am Xicano and believe in Aztlan not because my biological father is Mexican, but because it represents and articulates my political and cultural desire: the total dismantling of the settler colonial state and by proxy the end of capitalism.

Nation, by definition is not exclusionary. It is by definition the largest grouping of people that can command loyalty. Aztlan is not exclusionary it is open to all who will allow it to command their loyalty.

I leave you with the words of Apaxu Maiz from his book “Looking for Aztlan: birthright or right for birth,”

“We can no longer hide behind poems, songs, dance, talk, articles fantasy and maps. The concept of Aztlan as it stands among Xicanos today is frivolous fantasy. It is time to graduate to real solutions and real actions … finally, I believe the challenge is not the discovery of Aztlan and the birthright it magically would give us, but the challenge of building Aztlan, because it is right for birth.”
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Updated: Feb 10, 2019

In the beginning, I just wanted a way to make money. I did not always want to be a journalist or a writer. As a young man of twenty-two in the early 1990s, recently married with two small children I just needed money and a break. Nevertheless, like so many other young brown men, I had no skills, no training, and no prospects for the future. It seemed the only job I could get always involved a mop and a broom.

Growing up the way I did, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1980s, education beyond high school was never encouraged. After high school, I became a full time unpaid minister of the good news for two years.

I moved from job to job during those years. I worked everything from slaughterhouses to construction sites. I washed windows and got paid to used sticky cheesecloth to wipe down the inside of ovens that baked enameled paint onto Fisher Body’s finest cars as they roll down the assembly line.

If there was a job that paid, I did it. Those were long, hard, and frustrating days. I was never satisfied. I never felt the sense of belonging; the feeling of satisfaction one imagines somebody feels at the end of the day, when you look back on everything you’ve done and think to yourself, “I did good work today.” I felt trapped, useless. As if I was disappearing, wasting away. I believed myself destined for something more than cleaning the inside of industrial ovens but the lumpen reality of my life told me otherwise.

I began to think that perhaps I was deluding myself; maybe I was not as smart or special as I had imagined. I began to give up and give in. All around me from every corner the whispers of the well meaning got louder and louder. “It’s okay – just accept it. Don’t try to succeed in this world. God will reward you in the next.” As much as I tried and wanted to believe – I never found those words comforting.

Then one day it all changed. I was walking out of Meijer with my wife and two children when I ran into an old high school friend of mine Josie Mendez. She had finished her program at Michigan State and was working at a non-profit agency called Michigan Economics and Human Development (that agency went defunct when the executive director was arrested for embezzling state funds).

Their mission was to help migrant workers who wanted to get out of the migrant stream settle down and find employment or job training. Josie asked me what I was doing with myself and as my wife Vivian walked to the car, I told her how I was struggling to make money. I had just gotten back from working with my father in Iowa de-tassling corn over the summer.

She was shocked and immediately asked me what the hell I thought I was doing? “Why are you doing work like that? You’re too smart for that!” she said. She asked me if I was looking for a job. I told her I was and she said she had money for a job-training program at El Renacimiento, which was the monthly Xicano newspaper published in Lansing that had been around for about 20 years but recently fallen on hard times.

They were looking for someone who could handle the office work and she was having a hard time finding someone she thought could handle the job. I told her I did not know anything about working at newspapers. She told me that did not matter – that was the purpose of job training programs, to train Mexicans.

Now to be clear, I was not a migrant worker. My father’s family had come to Michigan in the migrant stream but I was never a part of that world and because of that there was a part of me that felt guilty about taking the job but at the same time – I started to get excited.

My first day at El Renacimiento was like magic. I discovered a world where people tried to meld ideas and words. Where things were happening – people stopped by to talk and they thought what you had to say was at least mildly interesting. In that dingy little storefront reeking of hot wax and dusty paper, I was initiated into the secret world of community newspapers.

I worked there for three months. My life changed forever in those three months. When it was over, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. To spend my life telling stories, spinning yarns, turning a phrase. I was in love with the possibilities. Journalism brought that to my life and I wanted more.

Many decisions were made during that time. Going back to school was the biggest one. I knew the only way I could be a reporter was to go to college and so I went down and enrolled at Lansing Community College. While I was there, I started reading a copy of the school newspaper the LCC Lookout. I noticed they were looking for editors for the fall. Feeling full of confidence in my newly acquired paste up skills I applied for the job and was hired as the news editor.

My knowledge of journalism began and ended with the things I had learned at El Renacimiento: Newspapers existed to serve the community. Our job was to inform, educate and if necessary prod our readers to action. I worked hard at my new job at the college paper and through my association with our advisor Louise Wirbel I began to understand certain things: Journalists never reveal sources, journalists never make up sources, journalists defend the downtrodden of our society. We ask the questions they will never get the chance to ask. We have a duty to perform and we cannot allow ourselves to be bullied out of doing it by those in power or with great position.

What I did not realize at the time was how narrowly the ‘ethical’ tenets of journalism were interpreted in a corporate media setting or the price anyone defying those definitions would pay.

As my experiences at that small community college, newspaper expanded so did my awareness of the world around me. I was beginning to hear new ideas, listen to people challenge authority and the words used to uphold that authority. A critical view of the world began to form in my mind. All of a sudden, I really had something to say. I left for Michigan State and the journalism program, after an extremely successful second year at the Lookout had brought national Pacemaker awards and honors from local professional media when my staff and I broke the story of the recently retired athletic director’s year of embezzlement.

I was welcomed with open arms into the local journalist community. Scholarships were coming my way, stringer jobs for the local daily were offered and accepted, I was on the fast track to everything I had ever wanted. All I had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.

The trouble began with the stories I wanted to do about events happening in the Xicano community. The first Gulf War was raging and I found myself drawn to the protests and other activities, I wanted to write about them and the students organizing them.

On campus, all of the books I had been reading began to make sense and I started to see the world in a much different light. I also started to believe more and more in the power of the word, my ability to write about, expose and drag out in the open for everyone to see the horrible injustices of the world. However, nobody wanted to let me write about that. They wanted me to cover flower shows and write about Fourth of July parades or doggy poop laws. Because I could not write about the things I wanted to, I began to speak out about them.

That is when thing got weird. “What are you doing?” My advisors would ask. “It is unethical for journalist to take side in an issue,” I was told repeatedly. “We must maintain objectivity. A good journalist never takes sides.” Nevertheless, I found the more I read about racism, and economic oppression and the more I wrote about those subjects the more I needed to speak out. I could not stop and I did not want to.

My future’s gatekeepers drew a line: stop talking politics, stop organizing rallies, stop being the story - be the storyteller. There is no place in journalism for radicals. Radicals cannot be real journalists because they have opinions they cannot keep to themselves. We are an institution judged on the content and context of our perceived objectivity. Radicals need not apply.

That was the state of journalism in the 1990s. Things have certainly changed.

Therefore, my ethical dilemma came to an abrupt end. So did the internships, scholarships, and money for support. I decided, with a heavy heart, I would never be a journalist and I left for Detroit to work as an organizer for the United Farm Workers. I did not then and I still do not believe it is unethical for journalists to take sides. I do think it is important to say you are taking a side if you have one. Anything less would be a purposeful deception.

Journalists then and more so now are neither impartial observers nor conscientious objectors to the struggle of society furtively recording the happenings of this world.

We are players, movers, and shakers. We draw out from people their hopes, fears and aspirations and then reassemble them for others to consider and ponder. Who we are, what we know, what we believe is as much a part of the story as the name and age of our subject.

Because we are trained to ask questions in order to seek truth, we are ethicists by training. That we have abandoned the great tradition of question and action is merely an indication of our misunderstanding of our role in society. It keeps us from asking the most important question of all; why am I thinking this?

When we say it is unethical to insert ourselves into a story or a situation then we forget the very real fact that we are actually there. Our duty is to witness, record, and the moment we arrive on the scene, we have “inserted” ourselves into the story. We become a part of the story. Throughout the countless millennia of humanities existence on this planet the storyteller has been the progenitor of the story.

It is unethical to impose silence on anyone. Whether they are the subject of the story or the storyteller, to make someone choose between defending their beliefs with either actions or words is not a course of enlightenment nor is it ethical. It is a breeding ground for apathy.

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