SOUL

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SOUL...-School of Unity and Liberation is a San Francisco based activist school. It is closely linked to the now defunct STORM-Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement.

SOUL is modeled[1]on the Highlander Center in Tennessee.

Staff and board

Staff, as of 2015;

SOUL Board:

Staff, as of 2009[2]

Board:

Beginnings

The Summer Of Unity and Liberation (SOUL)[3]grew out of the 1995 student movement at the University of California-Berkeley to support affirmative action.

Proposition 209, the California ballot initiative that banned state universities (among other entities) from making race a primary consideration in regard to admissions and contracting, was[4]the catalyst.

Modeled after the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), SOUL was founded by four women--Rona Fernandez, Harmony Goldberg, Tho Vinh Banh and Amanda Enoch--who were directly involved in the Berkeley campus organizing. They agreed there was a need to create a program that would address the challenges within multiracial coalitions that organize for social change as well as develop links between college campuses and community organizing.

Socialist orientation

Harmony Goldberg and fellow student Rona Fernandez founded SOUL[5]to train young people of color in "get out the vote" work against Prop. 209.

We had correct information, but it didn't matter," Goldberg remembers. "I became revolutionized through the course of my experience of trying to change things electorally, trying to change embedded racism. I concluded that to build power we needed to liberate our own people, instead of trying to convince people in power to do it.
"We studied the Third World movements of the 1960s and 1970s, here and abroad: South Africa, Cuba, China, Chile. We studied the [revolutionary] classics, the histories. We decided to commit to an organizing method, not just direct action or ideological organizing."

The women made SOUL a political education center, as distinct from a political party or an issue advocacy group...Goldberg distances herself from the traditional leftist labels of Marxist, Leninist, Maoist, and Trotskyist while acknowledging an affinity for socialism: "I am not an 'ist,' merely a revolutionary, with identity as a socialist."

Program Operations

SOUL began as a summer training program in 1996. The first summer program focused on organizing to support affirmative action in the University of California system. The second summer focused on welfare and economic justice organizing. The summer program has two parts: the Community Organizing Internship and Political Education and Evaluation. In the Community Organizing Internship, young people are placed into 4- to 8-week internships with organizations working for racial and economic justice in low-income communities. Organizations that SOUL has worked with include Californians for Justice, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, Coalition on Homelessness and Berkeley-Oakland Support Services. In Political Education and Evaluation, the interns meet three times a week to study, evaluate their internship experiences and build group unity. They study issues such as racism, poverty and sexism, as well as the history of several social organizing movements.

Funding and activism

SOUL hires itself out[6]as a consultant to left-leaning groups, teaching them how to incorporate as nonprofits and how to seek grants from major philanthropic foundations.

In a few short years, the school's staff, and its graduates, have become a force in the arena of leftist politics in the Bay Area, leading activist groups working for welfare and immigrant rights, prison and police reform, tenant protection, affordable housing, and a cleaner environment.
But there is irony to spare in the funding sources that have made those inroads possible: A score of gold-plated, capitalist foundations regularly pump large sums of money into Mandela Village, even though SOUL promotes anti-capitalist ideas -- including redistribution of the world's wealth to the poor -- that, if made real, would mean the end of private property, not to mention philanthropic foundations.

SOUL is supported by private foundations -- the Vanguard Public Foundation, Resist Inc., the Tides Foundation, and the Active Element Foundation -- that are, in turn, funded by donations from wealthy families and individuals. SOUL also takes money from the Zellerbach Foundation, capitalized originally by profits made in the paper and pulp industry, and from the Levi Strauss Foundation, operated by Levi Strauss & Co.

SOUL's fiscal sponsor, the Youth Empowerment Center Inc., a nonprofit holding company headed by Goldberg, raised a total of $1.4 million in 2000 and 2001 from private foundations.

The school's share of the Youth Empowerment Center's take in 2001 was about $250,000. SOUL's six staff members received salaries of $27,000, health insurance, and paid sick days and annual vacation time. The balance of the center's money went to funding four artistic and community organizing groups that shared SOUL's political goals and office space and into a hefty savings account.

In summer 2002 SOUL paid each student $2,000 to take leadership classes at the school while interning with a nonprofit such as the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a "living wage" advocacy group, or Filipinos for Affirmative Action, which is trying to save the jobs of noncitizen security screeners at Bay Area airports.

Robert Sherman, is director[7]of the Effective Citizenship program for the Surdna Foundation in New York City, which is directed by the fourth-generation heirs to a mining, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and real estate fortune.

"We support the efforts of young people engaged in direct action and educational reform," says Sherman, who awarded SOUL/Youth Empowerment Center $75,000 in 2001 and $110,000 in 2002.

Education initiatives

SOUL traveled to high schools, colleges, and community organizations with a series of educational programs that deconstruct the world system of capitalism in accord with a Political Education Workshop Manual that lays out detailed lesson plans on topics ranging from racism to homophobia to "why the rich get richer." The loose-leaf, bound manual comes complete with icebreakers to use at the beginning of class, fact sheets quantifying levels of poverty and social inequity under capitalism, and Socratic questions intended to guide the school's young students toward a SOUL worldview.

SOUL's three dozen full- and part-time teachers have reached more than 3,000[8]people in 150 workshops.

Outcomes/ accomplishments

Former SOUL interns work in a variety of fields around the Bay Area. One young woman is working on housing development issues in the Mission District of San Francisco and another is the editor of the African American student newspaper at Berkeley High School. Several interns remain active in student organizing around the Bay Area (e.g. University of California-Berkeley, San Francisco State University, California State University-Monterey Bay). Other interns are still working with the organizations in which they were placed for the summer. Rona Fernandez and Harmony Goldberg later extended SOUL into a year-round political education and organizer-training program for young people in the Bay Area. The program will continue to deal openly with racial and economic inequality and work to bring young people together from many different communities to build a common vision for social justice.

Staff and alumni

Around 2002 Genevieve Gonzales, later Genevieve Negron-Gonzales took over as SOUL's Bay Area director, freeing Goldberg to expand the organization at the national level.

Maria Poblet is employed as an organizer for St. Peter's Housing Committee, an agency that counsels immigrant tenants in San Francisco's Mission District.

After training[9]with SOUL Nicole Lee became the salaried director of Let's Get Free, a nonprofit that works to reform the juvenile justice system in Oakland. "SOUL taught me practical skills, like public speaking," she says, "and the history of The Movement."

Adam Gold received technical assistance from SOUL when he founded a white youth group to combat racism in Contra Costa County. Later, he went to work as a fund-raiser for the Youth Empowerment Center and was elected treasurer of its board of directors.

Connections

SOUL worked closely with other Bay Area radicals, many of them connected to Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,[10]is an internationally respected historian, a human rights observer for the United Nations, and a professor of ethnic and women's studies at California State University, Hayward.

"I talk to the young people at SOUL all the time," she says"I keep bringing up the problem. The reliance on nonprofit funding is frightening to me because of what I've seen in the past. It's hard not to become dependent, to be undermined by the foundations. It's like an invasion of the body snatchers.

"In the '60s, we intimidated liberal funders into giving us blood money, so we wouldn't come and kill them," she says "Abby Rockefeller used to write checks without asking what it was for -- sometimes it was for weapons.

References