Catalyst Project

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Catalyst Project "a center for political education and Anti-Racism for Collective a center for political education and movement building based in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are committed to anti-racist work with mostly white sections of left/radical social movements with the goal of deepening anti-racist commitment in white communities and building multiracial left movements for liberation. We are also committed to creating spaces for activists and organizers to come together to develop relevant theory, vision and strategy to build our movements. Catalyst programs prioritize leadership development, building grassroots fighting organizations and multiracial alliance building."

Catalyst is a project of the Tides Center, and is close to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.[1]

Challenging White Supremacy Workshop

"Catalyst began as a project of the Challenging White Supremacy Workshops in 2000. CWS was founded by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger in 1993. Sharon and Mickey are long-time white anti-racist organizers who were politicized by the Black Freedom struggle in the Civil Rights, Black Power and Anti-War movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which played a leading role in defining the political developments of the period, put forward an analysis and strategy that white people needed to organize other white people to challenge racism as a central barrier to building a multiracial movement for justice. Sharon and Mickey, along with thousands of other white people at the time, committed themselves to that work. CWS was started on the basis of that strategy.
"Sharon and Mickey founded CWS after they went through a People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond workshop in New Orleans. The African-American led training program moved them to do similar workshops with white people. The purpose of the CWS workshop was to ‘train principled and effective grassroots anti-racist organizers’ and welcomed all activists who wanted to work for racial justice and challenge white privilege in all their social justice work. CWS believed that anti-racist training for white activists complements and supports grassroots organizing and leadership development in communities of color. Both kinds of work, they maintained, are necessary to help build radical, mass-based, multi-racial social justice movements.[2]

Catalyst Project Emerges

"From 1993 to 1998 Challenging White Supremacy led two 15-week-long sessions a year in the Bay Area, working with hundreds of social justice activists. Shortly after the mass actions in Seattle that rocked the WTO, Elizabeth Martinez encouraged Sharon to develop political education specifically to work with the growing Global Justice movement. Sharon recruited younger generation left/radical anti-racists to build a new phase of CWS called ‘Anti-Racism for Global Justice’. While continuing to run the 15-week workshop series, the new project that became Catalyst quickly developed into a national training program. Over the next 5 years over 5000 participants from local groups and national networks went through Catalyst trainings. Catalyst developed through intergenerational mentorship and a commitment to non-sectarian left/radical movement building. Intergeneration mentorship has been a process by which we have connected to the lived history of social movements before us to draw lessons and inspiration for our work. In addition to sharing insights, movement veterans have been mentors supporting us to reflect on and draw lessons from our work. They have helped us to believe in ourselves, while also providing long-term perspective. Through such mentorship and our own political practice, we developed our commitment to a non-sectarian movement building framework committed to bringing forward the best of many left/radical traditions. We are committed to a praxis-based approach to political education and organizing. Sharon Martinas, Elizabeth Martinez, Paul Kivel, Nisha Anand and our other advisers supported us – Clare Bayard, Ingrid Chapman, Ari Clemenzi, Chris Crass, Amie Fishman, Kerry Levenberg, Missy Longshore, Molly McClure, Betty-Jeane Ruters-Ward, Alia Trindle, Becca Tumposky, Josh Warren-White.[3]

Four Key Political Developments

"The political development and work of the Catalyst Project has been shaped by four primary factors since 1999. We focus on these factors here to root ourselves both in the historical conditions in which we work and in the social movements from which we come from and work with.[4]

Building the Global Justice Movement

"First, the mass direct actions and mobilizations of the Global Justice movement at the turn of the century. From Seattle ’99 through Washington D.C. ’00, Los Angeles ’00, Philadelphia ’00, Quebec ’01, and Genoa ’01,where the ruling class gathered to advance their globalized profit before people agenda, growing people’s movements in the Global North, led primarily by movements in the South, confronted them. The Zapatistas in Mexico have played a major leadership role in developing the political framework of the Global Justice movement. Not only did they spark a new level of resistance to global capitalism with their uprising in 1994 (the day NAFTA went into effect), but also they brought together thousands of activists from around the world in the late 90’s for gatherings/encuentros against neo-liberalism and for humanity.
"Out of these mass meetings, People’s Global Action formed in 1998 as a network of global collaboration and coordination among movements with a majority of participating movements coming from the South. PGA identified world economic summits as a strategic site of struggle and called for militant direct action against the WTO in particular. The mass convergences in Seattle and so on brought together many organizations, campaigns, social movements and sectors of society under the common themes of “Globalize Liberation not Corporate Power” and “Our World is Not for Sale”. Running throughout these convergences, which captured headlines and imaginations around the world, was a growing anti-capitalist politic and an ethic of global solidarity.
"Members of Catalyst were either in organizations that played a leading role in the emergence of a Global Justice movement in the U.S. or were radicalized in the organizing of the mass actions themselves. In particular, we were rooted in the anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizations that advanced the call to “Shut Down the WTO” and used innovative, democratic strategies to make it happen. We thus approach our work from the position of U.S.-based grassroots activists in a global struggle for justice, self-determination and empowered people’s democracy. We approach our political education and movement building work grounded in the complex reality of building grassroots organizations in a time of Right-wing political reaction and neo-liberal economics. We approach our work deeply inspired and moved by the mass convergences of organizations, campaigns, social movements and different sectors of society demonstrating our critique of what is and beginning to practice our visions of what can be.[5]

White Supremacy and Movement-Wide Discussions on Organizing

"Second, the vital critique of white privilege in the Global Justice movement that was initiated by Elizabeth Martinez in her essay “Where Was the Color in Seattle”. That essay and others that followed it made race and power burning issues throughout the movement. The debate quickly became a much wider discussion about the historic role of white supremacy as a fundamental organizing principle of the U.S. political and economic systems, as well as how white privilege has strategically been used by the ruling class to cement alliances between white people of all classes and divide and conquer the majority of the people under a profit before people agenda. Out of the mass action convergences a powerful intergenerational dialogue, with people of color and women’s leadership at the center, brought issues of white supremacy, anti-racism, strategy, organizing, leadership and vision to the forefront.
"Catalyst members were deeply influenced by these debates and played active roles in both furthering them and working to implement anti-racist strategies in mostly white sectors of the global justice movement. With mentorship from older generation left/radicals, we joined with other activists and organizers of our generation – of color and white – to struggle with the analytical and practical questions before us. We thus approach our work as white anti-racists using political education to ground current activism in history, strengthen vision and strategy and support/develop leadership in mostly white communities to stand for racial justice as core to an overall liberation agenda. We have come to understand the many ways in which leadership operates and we have committed ourselves to support younger generation left/radical leadership rooted in organizations and communities working for justice. We have come to see anti-racism based in a collective liberation analysis and multiracial alliance building based on shared politics as catalysts to building powerful movements for justice.[6]

U.S. Imperialism and the Resurgence of the Anti-War Movement

"Third, the ‘permanent war’ launched by the U.S. government in the wake of Sept. 11th and the resurgence of the worldwide anti-war movement on a new scale. With the nation recovering from the tragedy of Sept. 11th, the Bush administration launched war against Afghanistan and then Iraq and gave a green light to Israel to intensify its war against the Palestinians. In the U.S., detentions of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians intensified, rationalized by government officials as a strategy of counter-terrorism. Meanwhile Democrats and Republicans passed the Patriot Act, which is an assault on baseline constitutional rights. Together, the ruling parties mobilized a traumatized society, using fear and revenge to justify racial profiling, torture of prisoners held without charges, pre-emptive war, violation of international law and slashing funds for health care, emergency preparedness and schools so as to pay for occupation of other countries.
"In response, millions of people around the world have taken to the streets against war. The largest anti-war mobilization in history took place in February of 2003, with coordinated actions of over 15 million people around the world. In San Francisco, the day after the war on Iraq began, over 20,000 took over and shut down the Financial District using non-violent direct action. At the Republican National Convention in 2004, the largest protest at a presidential convention in U.S. history took place with over 500,000 people in the streets of New York City. As the corporate agenda has increasing become defined by U.S.-led imperialism, a growing anti-imperialist consciousness that links white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism and the state is developing in the grassroots movements for racial and economic justice, for global justice and against war.
"We thus approach our work as white anti-imperialists committed to building community power by strengthen our economic, racial, gender and environmental struggles for health and justice in the center of empire. We reaffirm our belief that organization is key to the struggle for liberation. We believe left/radicals have a responsibility to join and strengthen existing organizations and/or build new ones to further our goals. We see organizations as structures to develop shared understanding of the world, shared meaning of one’s role and relationship in the world and a shared culture of justice to make change in the world. We believe organizations are not just a utilitarian tool to get work done, but that grassroots fighting organizations can support people’s political development as leaders and serve as a space to practice our politics while working to transform society. We believe that relationships of respect and accountability built on principles of justice and democracy are the foundation of effective organizations. We therefore approach our political education work as a component in supporting organization-building and developing dynamic and democratic leadership rooted in relationships of respect and accountability.[7]

White Supremacy, Capitalism and Building Grassroots Power After Katrina

"Fourth, the man-made disaster in the Gulf Coast of the United States as millions of poor people and people of color struggled to survive in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Social spending, won through a long history of working class struggle in the U.S., has repeatedly been cut and redirected to corporate profits through war profiteering. The basic infrastructure of society is deteriorating, and the broken levees in New Orleans broke open the mainstream consciousness of institutional white supremacy as foundational to the political economy of our society. With poor Black people were left to die in the flooded city of New Orleans, the Bush administration and the state on all levels prioritized protecting property over poor people. The people of New Orleans relied on one another to survive. The stories of people opening their homes, of people risking their lives for one another, of families coming together were ignored in the corporate media. Instead, poor Black people struggling to survive were described as looters and criminals. The systemic poverty and racism of this society, all of which was supposedly ended by the Civil Rights movement in mainstream white consciousness, was up for the world to see.
"In the aftermath, community organizations and people in the communities most negatively impacted worked to rebuild. From Community Labor United, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, Critical Resistance, the People’s Institute and the Common Ground Collective, grassroots relief efforts led by longtime left and radical organizers clarified the tremendous need for social movements of millions of people to create institutions, communities and systems which foster and sustain economic, racial and social justice in our day-to-day lives.
"We believe that working-class people, people of color and poor people are the leading forces in the struggle to build a just society. We work to support and join with community-based organizations building power in these communities. We believe that leadership of working-class people, people of color, poor people, women and queer people is central in the overall process of building the infrastructure of liberation. We also believe there is tremendous need for anti-racist leadership and organization in white communities and we work with other white anti-racists and organizers of color to develop this kind of leadership and organization.
"We thus approach our work by prioritizing anti-racism work with mostly white sectors of the left with a focus on the global justice and anti-war movements and economic and racial justice movements. Catalyst works with a strategy that prioritizes leadership development, building grassroots organizations and multiracial alliance building. In this we focus on supporting the leadership of those most negatively impacted by the systems of oppression we are fighting. Catalyst works within an informal network of hundreds of anti-racist, anti-imperialists, with the majority of the leadership coming from women, people of color trans and genderqueer folks, working-class people, Jewish people, youth, and leaders from other marginalized and oppressed communities.
"We believe in the power of organized communities to make history. We understand that it is often a long and difficult process building effective, healthy organizations along with powerful and democratic social movements. We approach our work grounded in respect for those who have struggled before us and love for the people we work alongside today. We join with millions around the world organizing to build democracy and socialism.[8]


As of 2015;[9]

Advisory board

As of 2015;[10]

Study & Struggle

Catalyst Project "Study & Struggle" sessions range from small, intimate, study series, to public panel discussions and presentations. Past sessions have included:

Reclaiming Revolution: A study of the history and lessons of STORM (Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement), a multi-racial, internationalist, left cadre organization based in the Bay Area from 1994-2001.

Empire and Multitude: A discussion with Michael Hardt, co-author with Antonio Negri of the influential book Empire and its recently released sequel Multitude.

Resistance in Brooklyn: A discussion with Matt Meyer, one of the founding members of Resistance in Brooklyn, a long-standing white revolutionary anti-imperialist group.

Beyond the RNC: Building a Multi-Racial Movement Against Imperialism: A panel discussion in New York City leading up to the Republican National Convention, featuring immigrant tenant organizer Maria Poblet and Catalyst member Chris Crass along with Heidi Reijm of the Ruby Affinity Group, Vanessa Moses and Greg Hom of the anti-imperialist delegation Siafu Kirpanski and Marc Kirpanski of Immigrant Justice Solidarity Project.

Lessons in Revolutionary Anarchism: From Network, to Federation, to Cadre Organization A presentation and discussion session with author and organizer Joel Olson on the history of the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, and Bring the Ruckus.

Towards Land, Work, and Power: A study with organizers from POWER People Organized to Win Employment Rights on their new book, Towards Land, Work, & Power, looking at the political economy of the Bay Area and building an anti-imperialist movement based in working class communities of color. Presenters included Jason Negron-Gonzales, Marisa Franco, and Jaron Browne.

Revolutionary Healing: A workshop with Mordecai Cohen Ettinger introduce the tools of somatics, mind-body medicine, the impacts of trauma, history of U.S. medical establishment and how this knowledge can help us reflect on and strategize about how an ecological and socially just future is possible in the present.

Outlaws of America: A panel discussion on the history, politics and lessons of the Weather Underground. Ex-Weather Underground members along with radical historian Ron Jacobs and long-time anti-racist activist Dan Berger presented an key lessons for today’s anti-war and social justice movements. This event was co-hosted by AK Press and Freedom Archives.

Lessons from the Global Intifada: A discussion with members of the Left Turn editorial collective about the global social movements and local struggles that influence the magazine and what lessons they draw as anti-authoritarians doing non-sectarian movement building work. Rayan Elamine, Francesca Fiorentini, Sasha Wright and Max Uhlenbeck presented.

Bolivia: On the Brink of Electoral Revolution A presentation by Mateo Nube on the historical development of Bolivia’s political economy and peasant and worker based resistance movements. Analysis of contemporary left in Bolivia. Co-hosted with the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL).

Solidarity Not Charity: a discussion on roles of white activists in the multiracial movement for justice in New Orleans. Strategy session with New Orleans based activist/doctor Catherine Jones and Philadelphia based activist/educator Molly McClure.

New Orleans: Organizing on the Ground A conversation with Kali Akuno and Ingrid Chapman from People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition and the Anti-Racist Work Group of the Common Ground Collective.

Lessons from Anti-Racist Activism and Parenting in the Mid-West A discussion with Laura McNeill from the Groundwork Collective in Madison, Wisconsin.

Prefigurative Parenting A workshop led by Rahula Janowski, a working class mom with the Heads Up Collective, on the convergence of radical politics and parenting.

Mexico: the Other Campaign, the Elections and the Repression A presentation by Mexico City based anti-imperialist organizer Marisol Ocampo who works with Committee Pedrogales. Co-hosted with the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL)

Burning Questions: What is it going to take to get Revolution out of the Air and Onto the Ground? A discussion with Max Elbaum on lessons from the New Communist Movement and the strategic role of United Fronts. Followed by Rahula Janowski from the Heads Up Collective, Claire Tran from Freedom Road Socialist Organization and Steve Williams, an organizer with POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), on left organization, strategy and movement building. Co-hosted with the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL).[11]