The New Left in Government Part II: The VISTA Program as "Institution Building"


The New Left in Government Part II: The VISTA Program as "Institution Building"

February 19, 1982 40 min read Download Report
Walter Berns

(Archived document, may contain errors)


February 1982


(Executive Summary) VISTA "is probably one of the few government agencies estab- lished in the 160s which is both fondly remembered by the Left and still staffed by leftists." This was the assessment of Mother Jones, a magazine published by the Foundation for National Progress, referring to a June 1980 Washington, D.C., conference commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of Volunteers in Service to America., originally part of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." That the journal of a foundation created in 1975 by the far-left Institute for Policy Studies should so characterize VISTA says much about the redirection of the agency during the Carter Administration under the leadership of two principal New Left activists, Sam Brown and Margery Tabankin. It also helps explain both the Reagan Administration's reported decision to phase out the prog-.A-am entirely by the close of fiscal 1983 and the widely-held perception of VISTA as a program which, from 1977 through 1980, was captured by New Left radical activists and used to funnel government funds to organizations advocating programs and strategies basically antithetical to American political and economic usages. It was Brown's view that federal anti-poverty efforts had tended to degenerate into programs that encouraged dependency rather than "self-help" and that what was needed was a renewed emphasis on "citizen participation." Tabankin's view coincided with Brown's. Stressing the need to develop "institution-building" and "networking" at the local level through community organizing programs based on the nationwide network of radical organizations

For Part I, see Heritage Foundation Institution Analysis No. 9, "The New Left in Government: From Protest to Policy-Making," November 1978.

from which activists like Brown and herself had emerged, Tabankin said that "VISTA should work towards more equitable distribution of income and opportunities." The result was the national grants program, whereby 4rants were awarded by ACTION headquarters to national organizations with affiliates in local communities without restrictions imposed by state or regional boundaries. These grants were to be used "in support of citizen participation organization building efforts and the creation/expansion of advocacy systems" rather than for any "direct service for the sake of service (i.e., the end goal is to provide a service)." As noted in the March/April 1978 issue of Working Papers for a New society, another IPS-related publicati@Tn__,Ilthis procedure slded the agency's new direction from the public eye for a while -- an important strategy, as later became apparent." The national grants program emerged from a lengthy "citizen review process" initiated early in 1977. Tabankin appears to have played an especially important role in this process and acknowledged that she had "made up the list" of those who should be invited to participate in a series of roundtable discussions held by VISTA in May and June of 1977. By ACTION's own account, the national grants concept "evolved" from these meetings, in which 100 organizations were represented, among them the Associa- tion of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Campaign for Economic Democracy, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Laurel Springs Training center, Midwest Academy, National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs, and National Training and Information Center. Of these, at least five -- ACORN, FSC, MA, NCUEA, and NTIC -- were among the first twelve recipients of national grants (ACORN benefitting through the Community organizations Research and Action Project, which the ACORN leadership created specifical- ly to handle VISTA funds). Another recipient was the Youth Project, a leftist funding agency for which Tabankin had worked as executive director. One regional ACTION director was quoted as characterizing national grants as "Marge Tabankin's program and all her cronies." As summarized by Representative John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio), "Of the 22 organizations represented at the meetings with which Ms. Tabankin claimed some prior association [exclusive of the Youth Project], 13 ended up as beneficiaries under the National VISTA Grants program." The leadership of these organizations, among them Michael Ansara of Massachusetts Fair Share and Heather Booth of the Midwest Academy, had in many cases been active in groups like Students for a Democratic Society and in annual conferences conducted by an IPS offshoot known as the National Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies, one of several IPS projects funded in part by Tabankin's Youth Project. Subsequently-uncovered abuses in the operation of the national grants program included the use of volunteers in restricted staff-related work, union organizing, and political activity.

Under the ACORN/CORAP grant, VISTAs engaged-in blatantly political activity in Arkansas and Missouri, while five VISTAs were active in a labor organizing campaign in New Orleans. In like manner, under the Midwest Academy grant, two VISTAs worked virtually full-time in Rhode Island in labor organizing among jewelry workers. Training materials had to be withdrawn from use by both CORAP and Midwest because of "intemperate" and excessively confron- tational language.

National grantees were not the only organizations of a radical hue to benefit under the new program. Sponsoring organi- zations like the Illinois Public Action Council, Cleveland Women Working, the California Housing Action and Information Network, and the Institute for the Study of Civic Values also received assistance. Both CWW and CHAIN have been actively represented at "Alternative Public Policy" gatherings staged by NCASLPP or CED; and IPAC, working through a subsidiary known as the Illinois Coalition Against Reagan Economics (ICARE), mounted a demonstra- tion in Chicago during July 1981 to protest an appearance by President Reagan. The Institute for the Study of Civic Values, which was represented at a July 1977 NCASLPP conference, recently produced "The Cruelty Index -- A Guide to Reagan Budget Cuts" and "The Greed Index -- A Guide to Reagan Tax Reductions."

Recently-discovered documentary material reveals that a major training contract was awarded in August 1978 to the Laurel Springs Institute, self-described as a project of a Campaign for Economic Democracy enterprise known as the Laurel Springs Educa- tional Center. As far back as May 5, 1977, Tom Hayden wrote to Tabankin, "We want a voice in the training of VISTAs in California and the definition of their work." The CED staff employee recom- mended to Tabankin by Hayden was among those later invited to the roundtable meetings. Laurel Springs Educational Center was specifically designed to train activists "in the fields of electoral campaigning and community organizing" and to enable participants to "learn more about the way our economic and political systems operate and what CED's alternatives are." It was also designed, in the words of 'Hayden's wife, Jane Fonda, to aid CED in "building a political power base." It is therefore not altogether surprising that assessments of certain VISTA-related LSI programs written by ACTION officials have emphasized that CED and LSI were virtually indistinguishable, that project meetings were dominated by extra- neous CED business, or that VISTAs were pressured to attend CED meetings unrelated to their projects. Of the eleven staff members and consultants originally proposed by LSI, no fewer than nine had been actively involved in CED, frequently in leadership capacities. Laurel Springs training material was pronouncedly New Left in content. It included a training manual issued by the Midwest Academy and a resource list recommending publications of such organizations as the CED-related California Public Policy Center

and an SDS offshoot known as the North American Congress on Latin America. Past workshops dealt with such subjects as "An Overview of Electoral Strategy in Relation To Community Organizing" and a "discussion of the meaning of Economic Democracy as it relates to community organizing." The propriety of government support for such a radical political apparatus is open to serious question, but it may be that the machinery of VISTA itself must be changed if similar abuses under future Sam Browns and Marge Tabankins are to be prevented.



On the weekend of June 13-15, 1980, a conference was held in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the domestic anti-poverty program operated by "the federal voluntary service agency" known as ACTION. At a White House reception to help mark the occasion, Rosalynn Carter praised the estimated 1,000 assembled volunteers for their service to "people whose needs have been forgotten or were never understood -- people in Appalachia, in the Indian nations, the South Bronx, Chinatowns, Hispanic communities, the Ozarks -- in all our states."

Among those attending the reception, as reported in the Washington Star for June 14, 1980, were ACTION Director Sam Brown, ACTION Deputy Director Mary King, VISTA Director Margery Tabankin, and former Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver, who observed that "The fact that VISTA is alive and growing and being celebrated at the White House is ... a sign of its success." Shriver also served as master of ceremonies for an evening awards ceremony and benefit at the Kennedy Center; according to the Star account, "With singers Peter, Paul and Mary and John Denver heading the entertainment bill, well-heeled supporters of VISTA bought $1,500 boxes for the event, and single tickets went for a modest $10.11 The September/October 1980 issue of Mother Jones, a magazine published by the Foundation for National Progress, a creature of the "far-left" Institute for Policy Studies,* reported that an "unusual aspect" of this benefit was the "coughing up" of 11$2,500 or more each" by such sponsors as "AT&T, Atlantic Richfield, the Carnegie Corporation, the Exxon Corporation, the est Foundation and Laurance Rockefeller."

Less than a year later, the administration of Ronald Reagan reportedly had decided to abolish VISTA by the close of fiscal year 1983, a dramatic reversal that has prompted some sharp criticism. The question is, quite simply: Whyi Given VISTA's seeming acceptance since its creation in 1965 as part of Lyndon

*In its financial report for 1976, the Foundation for National Progress is described as "formed in 1975 to carry out on the West Coast the charitable and educational activities of the Institute for Policy Studies." For a detailed examination of FNP, its subsidiary projects, and its ties to both the Institute for Policy Studies and Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy, see Heritage Foundation Institution Analysis No. 14, "Campaign for Economic Democracy: Part II, The Institute for Policy Studies Network," April 1981. The origins, leadership, activities, and institutional perspective of IPS, which was charac- terized as a "far-left radical 'think tank'" in the 1971 annual report of the House Committee on Internal Security, are treated in Heritage Foundation Institution Analysis No. 2, "Institute for Policy Studies," May 1977. Johnson's much-heralded "War on Poverty," what has happened to discredit it so completely in the eyes of the new administration?

The problem, it seems, is not merely budgetary. Rather, VISTA is now viewed as a program so conceptually flawed that, no matter what the intent of its creators, it became during the Carter Administration an instrument for New Left activism rather than an agency to provide "direct service" to America's poor. Indeed, Mother Jones has observed with unusual candor that VISTA "is probably one of the few government agencies established in the 160s which is both fondly remembered by the Left and still staffed by leftists."

The present study is devoted largely to the actual operation of the national grants program through which Brown and Tabankin redirected VISTA along essentially New Left lines; included are representative case studies of alleged abuses and examples of demonstrably radical organizations that were among the program's principal beneficiaries. The appendix provides additional back- ground data on how, and for what ends, these individuals and organizations operated as a closely-knit network in conceiving and implementing the grants program.


The national grants program appears to have evolved from three roundtable meetings conducted by ACTION in Washington, D.C., during May and June 1977. The evidence summarized in the appendix demonstrates that Tabankin played a crucial role in organizing these sessions and that those invited formed a network of like-minded New Left-oriented activists whose predispositions were shared by the ACTION/VISTA leadership. This virtually guaranteed a radical orientation for the new program before the sessions had even been held.

Just how the national grants program operated under Brown and Tabankin is explained in a report prepared during 1978 by the investigative staff of the House Committee on Appropriations and published in the record of an April 5, 1979, hearing before the Committee's Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare. It found that, unlike other grants made by ACTION, all of the national grants approved as of September 30, 1978, "were awarded without formal advertising or requests for proposals." In 'other words, as the report noted elsewhere, all "were awarded noncompetitively." Instead of the previously- followed procedure, "applications were informally solicited by circulating the word about the new program among community action organizations with interstate operations. Fourteen applications were received, and 12 were ultimately approved." Also, "Another 20 local organizations represented at the [roundtable] conference were subsequently assigned VISTAs under the National Grants program."

Implementation of this program resulted in a number of abuses that were discussed at length in the staff report. In general, it was found that "rules governing selection of VISTA sponsors" and 11spelled out in the VISTA policy guidelines" had not been properly observed by ACTION "in numerous instances." Rather, The Investigative Staff found volunteers working in many communities and with constituencies that would not qualify under the Community Services Administration poverty income guidelines for participation in Federal programs designed-to help the poor. VISTA volunteers were also found working with groups whose chances for survival without the continued services of a full-time organizer were poor.... New, less stringent approval policies resulted in assignment of volunteers "to a number of local sponsors who were never incorporated as non-profit organizations" and who were approved in some cases "without on-site visits."* Also,

A combination of poorly trained supervisors and inadequate monitoring has resulted in national grant VISTAs becoming involved in restricted staff-related work, union organizing, and political activities. These situations may not have developed if project supervisors had been better trained to draw the line between proper and improper VISTA activity, and if the State dire'ctors, who might ordinarily have been expected to pick up the violations, had an interest in monitoring the projects properly. The many allegedly improper activities that grew to plague VISTA's national grants program developed in a number of cases. Perhaps the most glaring examples were the Community Organizations Research and Action Project (CORAP) and the Midwest Academy, both of which were discussed at length in the investigative staff report.

THE ACOkN/CORAP GRANT The CORAP grant was awarded in September 1977 and provided $470,475 "for the training of 100 VISTAs, of whom 80 were to be placed with the ACORN (Association of Community organizations for Reform Now) field organization to work with low-income people on a broad scope of local issues" in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, and South Dakota.

*"ACTION State director recommendations for approval or disapproval of projects were often overruled by either the Project Review Board (PRB) or the VISTA director," a problem illustrated by the Midwest Academy grant; see below, p. 10. The ACORN leadership organized CORAP specifically to receive and administer VISTA funds. As noted in the investigative staff report, however, it was

difficult to distinguish between the makeup and opera- tion of the organizations. The officers of both the CORAP board and the ACORN board are the same individuals. The project supervisor and the project coordinator are paid under the grant for full-time employment, but both are also on the ACORN payroll. Training under the grant is provided by the Arkansas Institute for Social Justice (the Institute), another spinoff organization run by two former ACORN organizers.

It appears that the VISTA grant was crucial to the survival of ACORN. The report quoted an ACORN publication's account of an October 15, 1977, meeting of the ACORN Executive Board at which consideration was given to the organization's "policy of taking money from the federal government." It was noted that "In the past ACORN has avoided being this close to federal funds, but our financial situation is such that we can no longer afford to be as distant--unless we are willing to see the organization risk death." The report observed that in states "visited where VISTAs were working, ACORN had no more than 1 or 2 staff organizers assigned as compared with a total of 32 VISTAs" and added that "ACORN had at least 16 organizers who were immediately converted to.the VISTA payroll upon approval of the grant." The conclusion reached was that 11VISTAs supported by the grant probably comprise the majority of the overall organization."

Other adverse findings with regard to the CORAP grant abound, but the heart of the matter is found in certain proscribed activi- ties for which volunteers were allegedly used:*

In May of this year, in connection with the Arkansas primary election, at least one VISTA (possibly more) was instructed by his ACORN supervisor to participate in a mailing of a slate of endorsements to ACORN members, develop and reproduce a flyer endorsing candi- dates to State and local office for distribution at neighborhood meetings, cover the polls and pass out a slate of ACORN endorsements, and distribute endorsed candidates' literature to members.

Also, in Arkansas, the Investigative Staff inter- viewed a VISTA who had been involved in scheduling appointments for the local ACORN Political Action

*It is noted that these questionable "assignments were all made ... well after ACTION's own Office of Compliance had completed an audit of ACORN which emphasized that volunteers were under no circumstances to get involved in the political process." Committee (APAC) to interview candidates running for office. APAC is the political arm of ACORN. In the. St.-Louis area, VISTAs were interviewed who-had been routinely engaged in taking ACORN groups to the.State capital (Jefferson City, Missouri) to meet legis'lator's- and lobby for particular bills. Another area of apparent impropriety uncovered by the investi- gative staff was that of union.organizing:

Section 404 of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act prohibits VISTAs from engaging in labor organizing activities and imposes restrictions on funds appropriated under the act from being used "directly or indirectly" for such purposes. ACORN is involved in labor organiz- ing. At its October 1977 meeting, the executive board unanimously endorsed a motion giving the ACORN chief organizer the authority and responsibility to organize the household workers in New Orleans and other unions along the same lines. The ULO (United Labor Organiza- tions), which was described as-a "separate entity" that ACORN "is helping to get started," shares space in the same building as ACORN in New Orleans. The sign in front of the building says "ACORN" on one side and 11ULO11 on the other. The HWOC (Household Workers Organiz- ing Committee), also located in the same building, was said to be a ULO "subsidiary organization." It was stated that ACORN rents the building and that both ULO and HWOC re'nt space from A.CORN, but the Investigative Staff was unable to verify this arrangement without access to ACORN's accounting records.

Five VISTAs were actively working with the HWOC, reporting directly to the chief organizer, until late this past spring when the ACTION Office of Compliance directed that the assignments be terminated. There is as yet, however, very much of an indirect involvement of VISTAs and the use of grant money in the labor organizing activity of ACORN. First, ACORN has only limited staff resources .... Without the VISTAs to take over neighborhood organizing chores, it is doubtful whether the manpower would be available to mount a credible union organizing effort. Thus, the availabili- ty of VISTAs is facilitating (if not making practicable) the ACORN move into labor organizing. Second, there are no safeguards, of which the Investigative Staff is aware, to prevent membership dues solicited by VISTAs from being used for labor organizing. The dues are used to cover all expenses of the organization, and these expenses would include, for example, the salary of the chief organizer, who, reportedly, has made himself responsible for the household workers organizing project. The Investigative Staff believes the collection of dues, by VISTAs, which go in any part to support this kind of activity is in violation of section 404 of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act.


Some of the problems attributed to the ACORN/CORAP grant were also evident in the case of the Midwest Academy, one of the New Left's principal training facilities. Midwest was founded by Heather Booth, described in a recent, undated Midwest brochure as "the leading social action trainer in the United States" and as a person who "has previously worked as a civil rights and labor union organizer." This source fails to mention her former activism- in the militantly radical Students for a Democratic Society, but it does specify that she "also serves as Executive Director of the Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition." Among "resource people" listed in the brochure are at least two key movement activists invited to the 1977 VISTA roundtable discussions: Robert Creamer, executive director of the Illinois Public Action Council, and Day Creamer, executive director of Women Employed. According to a brief item appearing in the Winter 1974 issue of Working Papers for a New Society,* the "summer 1973 session" was "the Academy's first term" and was "focused primarily on organizing working women, while the fall session was to be more diverse." Midwest "offers classroom work and practical experience where possible in community and group organization, labor union organizing, and political campaigns." Like so many other groups involved in the national grants program, the Midwest Academy has received funds from the Youth Project, a primary radical funding apparatus whose 1977 annual report characterized Midwest as a national training center for community leaders and organizers. Based in Chicago and staffed by experienced organizers and researchers, the Academy holds two-week

*Working Papers for a New Society was described in Beginning the Second Decade: '1963-1973, an otherwise undated publication issued by the Institute for Policy Studies, as "sponsored with the sister Cambridge [Massachusetts] Institute for Policy Studies." According to the same source, Cambridge was one of several locations in which IPS "Fellows encouraged and aided in the development of long-term projects and institutes ...... Martin Carnoy and Derek Shearer, writing in Economic Democracy: The Challenge of the 1980s, describe Working Papers as "created to provide a link between alternative policy thinkers and political activists, and to answer the questions: What is the task of the Left? and What works?" They further characterize it as the "best progressive policy journal in the country" and as "read by congressional aides, columnists such as Tom Wicker, public officials like the mayor of Cleveland, and thousands of professionals, union officials, and community organizers." For a brief discussion of the relationship between Working Papers and certain other segments of the IPS-related economic democracy movement, see Heritage Foundation Institu- tion Analysis No. 15, "The Attack on the Corporation," September 1981. training sessions in organizing and weekend workshops in fundraising and research. In addition, the Academy conducts over 50 on-site consultations and training sessions each year. Since it was founded in 1973, over 6,000 leaders and organizers have participated in these training sessions, including representatives of Massa- chusetts Fair Share, Carolina Action, the Vermont Alliance, the East Tennessee Research Group, Environmen- tal Action, The Gray Panthers, the National Organization for'Women and many other citizen action, labor and women's organizations.

The report also revealed that "in 1977, the Academy initiated several expansion projects" for which the Youth Project provided support. Midwest "played a key role in the development of the National Women's Employment Project by providing staff and leader- ship training for the six working women's organizations involved" and "laid the ground work for development of a national energy coalition [presumably CLEC] and expanded its own program by establishing a Labor Education Division and a Research Division."

A useful insight into Booth's perspective is gained from remarks reportedly delivered to the opening session of the fifth annual National Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies, held at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, Pennsyl- vania., in August-1979 .* As recounted in the August 24, 1979, issue of Information Digest:

The anti-business message was taken up at the opening session by Heather Tobis Booth, director of the organizer training school, the Midwest Academy and of the Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition. Booth forecast a "new level of political activities distinct from the 60's and 70's.11 She characterized the 1960s as a time of "multi-sector movements inspired by a new analysis," and the 19710s as a period of local "digging-in" amidst "popular disillusionment and disunion caused by economic decline." Stating that the new economic crisis was creating a new unity of effort, Booth said that a coalition of labor, citizens groups, women, minorities and environmentalists - which sounded very much like the Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition (CLEC) which she leads - would contest national policies, "organize across sectors," and focus on anti-corporate issues [punctuation as in original].

*The conference program reflects that, in addition to Heather Booth, scheduled speakers included Michael Ansara and Carolyn Lucas of Massachusetts Fair Share and Loni Hancock, described as "Regional Director, VISTA, San Francisco." Other speakers included Tom Hayden of the Campaign for Economic Democracy; Byron Dorgan, former North Dakota Tax Commissioner and now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives; and Marion Barry, a member of the steer- ing committee of the National Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies and Mayor of the District of Columbia. According to ACTION, an initial grant of $432,235 was awarded to Midwest on September 30, 1977. A March/April 1978 Working Papers article stated that "The Midwest Academy's hand --of the grant illustrates how the new system works" and reported that': Midwest'-s "primary consideration" in placing volunteers was "to strengthen 6xisting statewide organizations." The academy gave five VISTA volu'nteers each to a black, Latino, and consumer group in Illinois to help develop the individual organizations and to strengthen their ties with the Illinois Public Action Coalition.... The academy also placed VISTA volunteers with groups that don't necessarily relate to larger organiza- tions, but have the potential to unite in other ways. Volunteers went, for instance, to six new working women's organizations on the East Coast and to two established ones in Cleveland and Boston. Another group went to the Carolina Brown Lung Association, which organizes disabled textile workers in North and South Carolina. Yet another went to the-New Jersey Senior Citizens Coalition, a statewide organization that recently won a compaign to reduce the cost of all prescriptions for senior citizens to $1. The Midwest Academy was responsible for selection and recruitment of its volunteers and, under its contract with VISTA, provided ten supervisors for backup'and ' support. It also coriducted two weeks of training for both volunteers and supervisors. Some training was - done at the academy's Chicago headquarters and some closer to where the volunteers were assigned. The investigative staff report found that sponsors under the Midwest grant were "independent entities" not formally affiliated with Midwest and that the "issues of the sponsors were parochial to the geographic areas they were serving and not part of a nationally coordinated program." The director of VISTA had specified that national grantees "were to have national or multi- regional affiliations" and that they "were to be selected because their projects demonstrated high national impact or addressed a special need/program emphasis area of high priority to VISTA." The staff report concluded, however, that Midwest "does not meet these criteria." Specifically,

All sponsors visited stated they were independent entities and their only relationship with Midwest was for preservice training and occasional consultation with the Midwest advisor. There was no direct supervi- sion by Midwest. When interviewed, Midwest's director told the Investigative Staff that the term "affiliate" had been loosely used'during the early stages of apply- ing for the grant. Training under Midwest's auspices was found to be at best uneven, but the real problem lay in the nature of the organiza- tion's training materials. The staff report concluded that some of the language contained in them "is intemperate and, if taken literally, could encourage VISTAs to take actions not contemplated by the Congress." This problem had also developed with respect to CORAP, which apparently ceased using such materials in its training of VISTAs. ACTION stated that "VISTA ordered Midwest to discontinue the use" of its offending material "in future VISTA training" and claimed that "ACTION officials were unaware such material was included as part of the training materials made available for VISTAs.11 In view of Tabankin's admittedly close relationship with Booth and both Robert and Day Creamer, such an avowal may strike some as being at best disingenuous; a review of several "Direct Action organizing" documents prepared and dissemi- nated by the Midwest Academy certainly indicates that the passages cited by the investigative staff are far from atypical. As ."examples of the questionable passages" contained in Midwest training material provided to VISTA volunteers, the staff report reproduced the following: "The Third Principle of Direct Action organizing is that it attempts to alter the relations ot power between people's organizations and their real enemies. The enemies are often unresponsive politicians, tax assessors, utilities, landlords, government agencies, large corpora- tions or banks. (Emphasis added]

"Give people a 'taste of blood.' Push your opponents so hard you can see them squirm.

"You may want to assign some people to be linciters' and move about to heat up the action getting peoFie angrier and encouraging them to show their anger. You may at other times want some Icalmers' to stand near people who may be disruptive to the focus of the action.

"Make what the opposition is doing or not doing sound scandalous. It generally is scandalous, but the edge may have been dulled by the routine manner in which it is normally treated.

"Your power is your ability to hurt the target or withhold something the target wants. The hurt can be immediate, as in a strike or boycott, or it can be potential, as when bad publicity will cause a politician to be unseated. You should always know exactly what kind of power you are using and how it will work.

"Stunts can help If, for example, a politi- cian won't meet with you, tape a sign across his office which says, 'This Office.Closed to the Public.' If someone won't come into a debate, put a dummy in the chair and debate that for dramatic affect.

"Be ever on the lookout to play targets off against each other, Republican vs. Democrat, Up-State vs. Down-State, In Group vs. Out Group. Your enemy's enemy may be your ally

Civil disobedience is not generally a good mass recruitment tactic. There are some exceptions. A community group found that by having several hundred people cross a strategic street corner at rush hour, cars could be prevented from making a right turn on a red signal and traffic would be backed up for miles. The leadership was unjustly arrested (punc.tuation as in original]." In dealing with the question of how sponsors were selected under the Midwest grant, the investigative staff observed that "A number of the organizations were not serving poverty constituen- cies, and the VISTAs assigned were not working with poor people." In some cases, "State directors advised...that once they had disapproved the sponsors, they were never approached again until after the projects were approved" by higher authority.*

*State directors had "recommended disapproval of some four or five compo- nents" listed in sponsors' project narratives, but ACTION "headquarters person- nel" claimed the projects were approved anyway because subsequently-submitted data "had convinced the State directors of the projects' appropriateness" or because "the Project Review Board had overruled the State director for its own reasons." It should be noted that Midwest's initial application for a national grant was approved by a nine-member Project Review Board. This approval applied to Midwest itself and to "most of the organizations which were to receive volunteers; other organizations were conditionally approved and one disapproved." Shortly thereafter, "the project was again reviewed and approved" in its entirety "by tfie chairman of the PRB and two other officials, without apparent consideration for the PRB disapproval of one project or the recommen- dations of several State directors for disapproval of other proposed sponsors." Interestingly enough, "Of the three approving officials ... the chairman of the PRB was a consultant to ACTION" who was "subsequently put on the rolls as a full-time employee, and another was the executive director of one of the local sponsoring organizations approved to receive VISTAs."

The investigative staff "visited 11 of the local sponsors under the grant." Of these projects, 115 had the objective of improving the lot of workingwomen.11 The problem was that it had not been "established that the workingwomen were poor or the proposed VISTA assignments poverty related." In addition, several were found to be seriously deficient as to staffing. At three sites in New England, groups were found "to have primarily one- person staffs, with that one person being the VISTA volunteer." In Chicago, it was discovered that an organization which "did not exist prior to the grant application" was "even now... a one-man organization, with five VISTA volunteers assisting him." The staff report observed that Midwest had stated in its project narrative

that the local sponsors were selected on the basis of "a past history of success in selecting key issues and getting results; a tradition of good trainee supervision; solid prior funding or * * * a-realistic funding base on which to begin operations; roots in and skill at organizing in a poverty community and a demonstrable need for the volunteers." The Investigative Staff believes that these criteria were largely disregarded in selecting sponsors. Rather, it appears that sponsors were selected on the basis of Midwest's prior acquain- tance with the supervisors of the local organizations, coupled with the agency's desire to supporf a working- women's program.

The staff also uncovered other seeming irregularities, among them the questionable use of VISTA volunteers as staff employees by organizations for which they had performed exactly the same functions before they were put on the VISTA payroll. At the offices of three sponsors, it was even found that "the VISTA volunteer was the only full-time employee."

In Rhode Island, two volunteers assigned to the Rhode Island Workers Association "were engaged substantially full time in proscribed union organizing related activity" among jewelry workers, publishing a monthly newsletter which stated in its first issue that "Although we may be working in different factories, our wages, benefits, and working conditions are the same everywhere they stink (punctuation as in original]" and characterized itself as "the newsletter of the Jewelry Workers organizing Committee (JWOC), a new community group in Rhode Island."* Both VISTAS had been working for RIWA at the time they were placed on the VISTA

*The 1979 annual report of the Youth Project described the JWOC as "a special program of the Rhode Island Workers Association, an eight-year-old organization working with unemployed workers and welfare recipients in Rhode Island" and reported that, "With Youth Project support, JWOC publishes a monthly newsletter featuring articles on legal rights, unemployment and welfare procedures and occupational safety and health." payroll, and neither they nor their project supervisor acknowledged any impropriety. Instead, they argued that "getting workers together is not necessarily union organizing activity; 'confronta- tion' with the employer is the critical factor." The state director of ACTION, apparently aware of the situation, "did not see fit to visit the project or make any effort to stop it." Eventually, ACTION's Office of Compliance reviewed the project and directed that the grantee discQntinue all involvement of VISTAs in activities related to the organizing of jewelry workers, although, "For reasons not altogether clear, the incident was not included in the generally favorable report on the Midwest grant."


Certain other sponsoring organizations operating under the national grantees are of interest because of their ties to the radical left movement. Representative examples include: the Illinois Public Action council, whose sponsorship involves 19 volunteers working to "Continue to provide ongoing research and information to local community organizations; develop consumer energy councils; strengthen current community organizations; develop and train local leadership in skills of research, problem analysis and strategy development." One of IPAC's recent activities was its active involvement in a demonstration against President Reagan during an appearance by the President in Chicago, Illinois, on July 7, 1981. The demonstration was sponsored by the Illinois Coalition Against Reagan Economics (ICARE), a coalition'reportedly organized by IPAC to block cuts in the federal budget under the Reagan program and to advance a "new political program supported by a new political movement" dedicated to "a non-interven- tionist foreign policy, participatory democracy, alterna- tive technology, energy conservation, and full employment." Cleveland Women Working, with two volunteers in a project on "Upgrading the pay and status of low-income women office workers through education advocacy and organizing task forces of working women." In May 1978, several representatives of this organization participated in a conference on "Women in the Economy: Policies and Strate- gies for Change" that was held in Cleveland, Ohio, under the auspices of the National Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies. Other participants included representatives of the "Director's Office" at ACTION, the National organization for Women, Women Employed, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Working Papers, and the Campaign for Economic Democracy. the California Housing Action and Information Network (CHAIN), with a ten-volunteer project in Sacramento "To establish or expand 10 low-income tenant organizing projects in San Jose the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramen- to, Davis and the North Coast areas [punctuation as in original]" and a three-volunteer effort in Laguna Beach to "Work on local housing issues as well as statewide issues such as rent control, ordinances, just-cause evictions, production of low-income housing" and to "organize tenant unions." Members of CHAIN were actively involved in the Second California Conference on Alterna- tive Public Policy, organized by the Campaign for Economic Democracy with major assistance from the California Public Policy Center and held in Santa Barbara in February 1977, and the third annual California Conference on Alternative Public Policy, held in Oakland in February 1978. The Campaigner for Economic Democracy stated in its March 1977 issue that "Cary Lowe, co-director of the California Public Policy Center, is also interim coordina- tor of CHAIN" and further revealed that 'ICED forces are active in CHAIN and related efforts, like the attempt to pass the Berkeley Rent Control Initiative this June." On October 2, 1980, the San Diego Daily Transcript published an article which reported that the California director of ACTION had been informed by his regional director "that there may be cases of Vista [sic] workers involved in voter registration drives in San Diego in connection with the rent control initiative." CHAIN had requested volun- teers and supervisors in 1978, according to this account, and had listed on its organizational chart the San Diego Pair Rent Coalition, active in pushing the rent control initiative. A former VISTA supervisor had filed a quarter- ly report covering the period April through June 1979 in which he had stated his objective as "Achieve rent control programs at the local level" and had reported as an "actual accomplishment" in San Diego the fact that he had "organized petition drive placing rent control on ballot. Result: Still collecting signatures." the Institute for the Study of Civic Values, an organiza- tion whose president, former National Student Association president Edward Schwartz, was an active participant in the July 1977 annual gathering of the National Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies, held in Denver, Colorado, and attended by such other movement leaders as Sam Brown, Loni Hancock, Michael Ansara, and Tom Hayden. ACTION data reflect that volunteers were assigned "TO ENABLE COMMUNITY PEOPLE TO RUN SELF-HELP PROJECTS TO MEET THEIR ENERGY RELATED NEEDS, INCLUDING THE CRISIS OF FUEL AND GASOLINE COSTS." Like the Illinois Public Action Council, the Institute for the Study of Civic Values has also engaged in a campaign designed to fuel opposition to the Reagan Administration's program of budget reductions. In March 1981, the Institute issued an eleven-page publication containing "The Cruelty Index-- A Guide to Reagan Budget Cuts" and "The Greed Index--A Guide to Reagan Tax Reductions." The "Cruelty Index" lists a succession of "hardships" that will presumably accrue "under the Reagan program" to low-income and middle-income families; it is also characterized as "a measure of the hardships imposed upon a community or city by Ronald Reagan's proposed budget cuts in 1982." The ' "Greed Index" is described as "a measure of the benefits that the taxpayers--primarily wealthy taxpayers--will receive under the President's Tax Reduction plan in 1982.11 The "Cruelty Index" lists numerous categories of federal spending programs and records "the funds cut from the federal budget in terms of Cruelty Points." The purpose of the Institute's "Cruelty Index" and "Greed Index" is amply conveyed by the wording of a question at the end: "Is it worth all the suffering the program will cause?"


One case study merits special attention. Recently-obtained documentary evidence provides details of a grant of approximately $200,000 for the training of VISTA volunteers in ACTION's Region IX. The background is established by a letter from Tom Hayden of the Campaign for Economic Democracy to Marge Tabankin of VISTA:


May 5, 1977

Dear Marge,

I'm sorry we didn't have more time to talk the other day.

The CED will view the new Administration by several concrete standards, including how VISTA-type programs work. Either they will go back to effective community organizing, or they should be shut down.

we want a voice in the training of VISTAs in California and the definition of their work. This should not be farmed out to individuals without a base or to tradi- tional agencies.

Sam indicated his agreement with this approach, though I sensed a need to pursue the implications further.

Therefore, I am proposing a) that we in California will brainstorm about VISTA possibilities and b) you should be directly in touch with Bonnie Ladin of our organiza- tion, who was once a very effective VISTA organizer in Long Island (before she ran afoul of the Nixon group). Specifically I would hope she will be invited to any national brainstorming sessions you might be having. She is reachable at P.O. Box 22699, San Francisco, Cal. 94122, (415) 386-8475.

I know you are on a tight schedule between now and August. Let me know how fast we should move, and we will not fail you.

Let-Is get it together again.


/s/ Tom


Slightly more than a month later, on June 10, 1977, Tabankin responded with the following letter:

Mr. Thomas Hayden 152 Wadsworth Street Santa Monica, California 90405

Dear Tom:

I too am sorry we couldn't talk longer when you were here with Sam.

I took this job because I believe VISTA should be redirected to volunteers working for grassroots communi- ty organizations, especially as organizers. However, as you point out, training is very important, as is placement.

You are correct that Sam also agrees with this emphasis on community organizing and training, and I believe that is why I was hired for this job.

I will have (name indistinct), who is dealing with national VISTA programming, contact Bonnie Ladin of your organization to talk about organizational concerns, and to hopefully figure out a direction to move in.

If I can be in California between now and the summer, I'd love to sit down with you folks.

My love to Jane [Fonda, Hayden's wife].

Warm regards,


Marge Tabankin Acting Deputy Associate Director for VISTA ahd AEP Both the Campaign for Economic Democracy and another organiza- tion listed as "Laurel Springs Training Center" were represented at Tabankin's roundtable sessions in May and June'of 1977. These were obviously the "national brainstorming sessions" to which Hayden had asked that Bonnie Ladin of CED be invited. A June 7, 1977, robotype letter to Ladin from Sam Brown demonstrates that she was invited to at least the meeting of June 17, billed as "a wide ranging discussion of the future of our domestic programs" with the aim of generating "new ideas for demonstration projects and for strengthening current programs" maintained by ACTION and VISTA.

The inclusion of the "Laurel Springs Training Center" in ACTION's roundtable meetings is of particular significance. This was clearly a reference to the Laurel Springs Educational Center, one of the Campaign for Economic Democracy's principal enterprises, the nature of which has been discussed at some length in a previous study.* '

The June-July 1977 ced news [sic] reported that the Laurel Springs Ranch, located t-enm-iles north of Santa Barbara, had been purchased to be "used by the Campaign for Economic Democracy" for several purposes, among them 11CED's Organizer Training Institute." A CED appeal signed by Hayden, Fonda, U.S. Representative Ronald Dellums, and United Fkrm Workers President Cesar Chavez spoke of the "opportunity to mdet and get to know political activists from all over the state" in

periodic organizer training workshops -- some in the cities and others at the Laurel Springs Retreat in the mountains above Santa Barbara -- where you can increase your skills in the fields of electoral campaigning and community organizing or learn more about the way our economic and political systems operate and what CED's alternatives are.

CED's view of "the way our economic and political systems operate" is amply conveyed in one of its promotional brochures, which decries the "racism and sexism and joblessness and wars and inflation and ... sugar-coated poisonings of our minds and bodies" supposedly caused by "this source of our ills" and "stink in our midst" that "is called Corporate Capitalism." Its "alternatives" are those of the so-called economic democracy movement, economic democracy being, in the words of one of its principal theoreti- cians, essentially "a euphemism for democratic socialism" that is "also a way of going beyond the usual idea of socialism to ... workers' control and consumers on corporate boards."**

*See Heritage Foundation Institution Analysis No. 13, "Campaign for Economic Democracy: Part I, The New Left in Politics," September 1980., **For a detailed explication of the economic democracy movement's program, see Heritage Foundation Institution Analysis No. 15, "The Attack on the Corpo- ration," September 1981. Hayden's admonition that VISTA training "should not be farmed out to individuals without a base" should be taken in conjunction with a statement attributed to Fonda in the May 26, 1977, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle: "'We're building a political power base,' she said. 'To be able to do this, you have to be able to bring your people together. We needed a land base for that.'" The following passage from the Summer 1977 issue of Santa Barbara Tomorrow is equally instructive:

Although Hayden promised to hold no large political gatherings at the site, he did not attempt to disguise his plans for regular strategy meetings by organizers of the Campaign for Economic Democracy. Nor did he rule out creation of a "training institute" potentially to be financed in part by taxpayer's funds. The insti- tute would be designed to impart organizational skills to CED activists, but also to publicly-supported groups. "We might contract also with community or government agencies or unions," Hayden announced in April, "--people who have staff to train." Hayden's hopes were realized in August 1979 with the signing of a contract awarded to the Laurel Springs Institute for "Curri- culum design and training of VISTA Volunteers in ACTION Region IX.11 A Region IX memorandum to "ALL STAFF" from "Ilona Hancock, Regional Di-rector" of ACTION, announced that "Laurel Springs Institute (LSI) has been selected as the Region IX VISTA training contractor" and specified that the contract was to be in force until October 14, 1980. The total cost of this contract was to be $201,238. Hancock further stated that the contract had been awarded "after a full year of effort" and that "this new VISTA training is one of our most important endeavors as a Region." The relationship between the Laurel Springs Educational Center and the Campaign for Economic Democracy is shown by the fact that articles of incorporation filed by LSEC with the office of the California Secretary of State on July 11, 1977, were signed by three people as "first Directors." They were Sam Hurst, Sr., Sam Hurst, Jr., and Jane S. Fonda. Fonda's role as a principal source of funds for CED is well-known, while Sam Hurst, Jr., has served CED as staff director and was subsequently listed as president of LSEC, with Fonda as vice president and Cass Levison, a CED staff member, as secretary. The relationship between the Laurel Springs Institute and CED's Laurel Springs .Educational Center is shown by the title page of a December 11, 1978, "TECHNICAL PROPOSAL: ACTION TRAINING PROJECT - REGION IX," which bears the name of the Laurel Springs Institute and the wording "A project of the Laurel Springs Educational Center." It is further demonstrated by a May 17, 1979, letter from.Michael Mahdesian of the Laurel Springs Institute to an ACTION Region IX official in which Mahdesian wrote that LSI's "Executive Director, Shari Lawson, is responsible solely to the Board of Directors of the Laurel Springs Educational Center, of which it is a part. The Board of Directors consist [sic] of Sam Hurst Sr., Sam Hurst Jr., and Jane Fonda." The technical proposal listed five individuals as staff and six as consultants, observing that the "staff and consultants have worked together intimately throughout the last ten years on numerous community grassroots organizing projects" such as "farm- workers' organizing campaigns, tenant's rights, anti-war campaigns," and the like. of these eleven individuals, no fewer than nine have been active in the Campaign for Economic Democracy, as shown by data extracted from either the technical proposal or their resumes, which were attached:*

Shari Lawson, Project Director/Trainer, "Campaign for Economic Democracy activist, 1976-present;"

Bonnie Ladin, Senior Trainer, "Member of the 5 person Organizing Committee which founded CED";

Sam Hurst, Assistant Trainer, "Staff Director: California Campaign for Economic Democracy 1976-1979";

Michael Mahdesian, Logistics Coordinator, "Activist" and "Representative to State Steering Committee, Campaign for Economic Democracy";

Tom Hayden, consultant, "Chair, Campaign for Economic Democracy";

Jane Dolan, consultant, "Member, Campaign for Economic Democracy";

Conrado Terrazas, consultant, "organizer, Campaign for Economic Democracy";

Cary Lowe, consultant, "Co-Director, California Public Policy Center" and, according to an account published in the January 26, 1980, Washington Star, "a tenants' rights specialist for the Campaign for onomic Democracy"; and

Ken Msemaji, consultant, "Member of the State Steering Committee of the Campaign for Economic Democracy."

It is not difficult to understand why the State Program Officer of ACTION, in a May 18, 1979, memorandum dealing with three earlier Laurel Springs VISTA-related training projects, wrote that "The distinction between Laurel Springs and CED is frequently blurred and could result in all sorts of legal and/or

*As of a July 26, 1979, memorandum written by Hancock, Terrazas was Senior Trainer, Mahdesian remained as Logistics Coordinator, and an Assistant Trainer was still "to be apppointed." The new Project Director was to be Mary Humboldt, whose resume reflected membership in the Campaign for Economic Democracy and "Political Experience" as a "CED Fundraiser," "Organizer CED Chapter Oakland", and "Member Berkeley CED Chapter." political problems" and that "The leadership of both are inter- twined, which adds to the problem." Also, as the Program officer reported at a later point in the same memorandum, "The Working Women's project has complained that Laurel Springs' meetings were dominated by CED business or the VISTAs were pressured to attend CED meetings of little value to their 8pecified project." A June 21, 1979, memorandum written by the "Grants/Contracts Officer" for Regi 'on IX recorded similar "management problems which have occured [sic] on the VISTA project currently sponsored by Laurel Springs." These "management problems" included, among others named, the "involvement of VISTAs in Campaign for Economic Demo- cracy (CED) meetings, the.appparance of CED and Laurel Springs Institute (LSI) as 'one' entity; i.e., use of CED stationery for LSI business, closeness of staff offices, etc."

Training materials used by Laurel Springs under the contract for Region IX further reflect the Institute's New Left orientation. The Laurel Springs "VISTA PRE-SERVICE TRAINING ORGANIZING MANUAL" for 1979-1980, for example, reproduced in full a manual on "DIRECT ACTION ORGANIZING" published by the Midwest Academy. This document describes one of the "three criteria which any good strategy must meet"* by asking "Does it alter the relations of power between people and their enemies?" and goes on at a later point to state:

*"Strategy is about power and winning specific concrete demands." It 11starts with specific goals and objectives" and "requires an evaluation of the power of your opposition." Strategy "proceeds with an analysis of the weakness of your target which can be used to your advantage" but "must also consider potential alli6s and the organizational needs of your group." Tactics, on the other hand, "flow from strategy" and "involve the use of meetings, picketing, demonstrations, actions, strikes, educational events, press exposes and possi- bly law suits." ("The Action is a staple tactic" which "involves a direct confrontation between the members of the [citizens] organization and a politi- cal or corporate individual." It "centers around a specific demand to which the target... is asked to respond. The citizens organization attempts to figure out what the target would least like to have happen, and then make that threat implicit in the action.") Such undertakings as "the sit-in movement, the freedom rides, the teach-ins and, more recently, the grape boycott and the J.P. Stevens boycott" have unfortunately led to confusion between strategy and tactics because "the media focused so much attention on the tactic and so little on the strategy... that it often appeared that the tactic and the strategy were one and the same." The result was "the false view that social change organizing consists of thinking up a dramatic tactic and then building an organization around it." While tactics "are often dramatic, clever and headline catching," they "should always be part of a larger issue campaign and a strate- gic plan which involves a number of targets and a wider choice of tactics." As stated in the Midwest document's concluding paragraph,

In trying to be creative about tactics, we need to keep in mind that no tactic has any particular significance outside of the strategy of which it is a part. The strategy only has meaning in relation to the specific issues to which it is applied and the issues, while Because the target of an action is always a person, rather than an institution, it is important that the membership be reminded that it is the institution, not the person, which is the real cause of the problem, and that we are about structural change, not just getting nicer bureaucrats to confront. The value of personaliz- ing a target by having the action against an individual is that the membership can see that "important people" are really people like themselves, who-have the same human responses of nervousness, fear or confusion that the rest of us have when put in a difficult situation. This tends to demystify the enemy and makes the campaign seem more winnable.

The Laurel Springs manual's "RESOURCE LIST AND BIBLIOGRAPHY ON PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH" is no less instructive. Heavy emphasis was given to conducting research on "business enterprises" by utilizing the resources of such organizations as the CED-related California Public Policy Center and the North American Congress on Latin America, an offshoot of SDS that has described itself as seeking the support of those "who not only favor revolutionary change in Latin America but also take a revolutionary position toward their own society." The Laurel Springs manual particularly recommended the NACLA Research Methodology Guide and stated:

Published originally in 1970 to assist the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements, this guide was reprinted in 1976 and has useful material in a wide range of topics. About half pertains to imperialism and third world related subjects but about half is pertinent to domestic issues.

The technical proposal stated that "The fundamental difference between past Laurel Springs workshops and those envisioned in this proposal is an increase in the use of video-tape roll-playing [sic] and direct community interaction." In other words, VISTA could assume that the essentials of past Laurel Springs workshops were fairly representative of what could be expected under the new training contract for Region IX, a fact which lends consider- able interest to the "TENTATIVE AGENDA" for a "LAUREL SPRINGS ORGANIZER TRAINING INSTITUTE" five-day session on "The Fundamen- tals of Grassroots Organizing" that was attached to the technical proposal submitted for ACTION's approval. Included in this program were such topics as "An Overview of Electoral Strategy in

important in their own right, should also be part of an overall conception of restoring democracy in our country. Direct action organizing is about bringing power back to people and to communities. It is about restoring that human dignity which is lost when we can no longer control our environment, our community, our jobs and our lives. Relation To Community Organizing" and a "discussion of the meaning of Economic Democracy as it relates to community organizing." On the second day, a session was held on such subjects as a "Discus- sion of Sun Tzu [author of The Art of War)" and 'ICED strategy as it relates to community organizing." The final day included a "Tenants Rights organizing Workshop." On the next-to-last day, a "Film on Unions" was followed by a session described as follows: "Discussion on the Union film. Coalition politics develo


Walter Berns