The CISPES Solidarity Model Diane Green introduces the central organization of the movement in solidarity with El Salvador. Four years ago events in El Salvador rocked the Western Hemisphere. On November 11, 1989 the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) launched a major military offensive that included assaults against military strong points all over the country and the occupation by FMLN forces of half the capital of San Salvador. In retaliation, government forces escalated repression against mass organizations, human rights activists and church leaders critical of the regime. The victims of this murderous repression included six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter, and hundreds who lost their lives in bombings of urban areas of the capital by the Salvadoran Air Force. Though the FMLN was eventually pushed back to the hills, their strong military showing convinced the U.S. government that a military victory in El Salvador was impossible and ultimately forced a negotiated solution: the U.N.-brokered Peace Accords that were signed in January 1992 by the FMLN and the government of Alfredo Cristiani. Here in the U.S. thousands responded to the wave of repression and the death of the Jesuits by taking to the streets. Some 50,000 activists took part in a wide variety of demonstrations in over 100 cities. These activists were from CISPES, the religious community, labor, men, youth, senior citizens and among them were many who had never come out to demonstrate before. Their tactics included everything from street demonstrations to sit-ins in congressional offices. Local coalitions developed across the country and numerous groups pooled their efforts and worked in unison. In some cities there was at least one action every day for two weeks. Thousands were arrested. Three thousand people spontaneously shut down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House following the murder of the Jesuits. This was the high point of the El Salvador solidarity movement as it developed in the 1980s and as it continues today in the 1990s. NATIONWIDE ORGANIZATION What made this kind of response possible? What structures, coalitions, organizations made El Salvador into a household word in the U.S.? How was the solidarity here built into a movement with national presence and consequence? The El Salvador solidarity movement was made up of many organizations, coalitions and individuals. Central to this movement, however, was CISPES -- the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. CISPES at its height consisted of over 300 chapters and affiliates all over the country. It was organized by city, region, country, and in some cases by state, sub-region and congressional district. Many of its chapters and affiliates were organized as Central America groups and were also members of Guatemala and Nicaragua solidarity networks. CISPES carried on an active correspondence with the popular movement in El Salvador and in particular with the FMLN, with whom it developed a particularly close working relationship. It often worked in conjunction with organizations of Salvadoran refugees, and its chapters included a broad cross-section of the U.S. progressive community, from the secular left to Church activists. Though a single-issue organization in terms of its focus, at critical junctures CISPES played a strategic role in helping to organize a national response in the mid-1980s to events as they developed in Nicaragua with the Contra war, and in 1991 to the war in the Persian Gulf. Because of its participation in the broader struggles of the left in the U.S., CISPES reaped the twin rewards of membership growth, and relations of respect from the larger progressive community. Three major factors contributed to the success of CISPES as a solidarity organization. The primary one was that CISPES based its program on the needs of the people of El Salvador, not on the priorities of political struggles here in the U.S. There was consultation with Salvadorans and direction taken from them but CISPES still remained an independent U.S. organization. Secondly, CISPES developed its programs by first making a thorough and careful analysis of the situation in El Salvador, Central America and the U.S., then formulating specific objectives and a comprehensive political strategy. The kind of program that would eventually be adopted flowed directly out of those objectives, strategies and analyses. The third factor in CISPES' success was the use of an active, systematic and rigorous methodology of outreach. That methodology was based on the idea that people do things because they are asked to do them. In practice that meant thousands of phone calls, and person-to-person recruiting. CISPES chapters, in other words, didn't just wait for people to come to them, but actively went out and organized people in their own communities. CISPES' ability to respond so quickly to dramatic turns of event was in part due to a decentralized structure of grassroots activists organized into hundreds of chapters around the country. This structure, combined with national and regional "administrative committees," allowed for considerable flexibility in the development of tactics and strategy and for rapid response to events in El Salvador and to shifts in the focus of U.S. foreign policy. Overall coordination was carried out through a process of decision- making which was surprisingly coherent in spite of the difficulties in creating a centralized democratic process for such a vast network. Within this structure regional offices concentrated on information distribution, individual and organizational political development, and training programs in basic organizing and specialized campaigns in which the whole organization participated. The Regional Administrative Committee (RAC) and the National Administrative Committee (NAC) met regularly, often several times a year to plan strategy and develop campaigns. By the mid-'80s, CISPES was holding national conventions every two to three years, holding national elections and determining policy and programs in open debates between delegates from chapters all over the country. Financing this national structure was not easy. Like many left organizations, CISPES attracted members with a great deal of political acumen and organizational ability, but very little financial expertise. Nonetheless, at its height CISPES was able to raise enough money to finance scores of full-time organizers at the national, regional and local levels, and also send millions in material aid to the popular movement, the FMLN, and community development projects in El Salvador. Over the years CISPES worked in conjunction with numerous foundations (NEST, Inc., SHARE Foundation), think tanks (Center for Democracy in the Americas), people-to- people aid efforts (Sister-City and Sister-Parish Networks), rapid response networks (Pledge of Resistance), and lobbying groups (Central American Working Group, National Agenda, Neighbor to Neighbor), in its efforts to participate fully in a broadly-based movement for peace and justice in El Salvador. In spite of clear differences, CISPES worked closely with both the church sector and labor in national mobilizations against intervention in Central America and racism in South Africa. The legacy of good relations with a broad range of organizations and sectors has left CISPES in a strong position to meet the challenge of solidarity with El Salvador in the '90s. This challenge will depend on a qualitatively different kind of solidarity than was seen in the '80s. Changing circumstances in the world and in El Salvador have dictated a dramatically different context for the work of solidarity activists: Anti-intervention strategies have been replaced by strategies of support for democratic rights; material aid to refugees has been replaced by material support for sustainable economies and community development; training programs in door-to-door canvasing have been replaced by seminars in registering voters and monitoring elections. CISPES' latest program, a product of years of internal discussion, is called "Solidarity without Borders," and is designed to address the concern of how to fight racism, sexism and homophobia both internally and externally. Its objective is to dismantle oppressive behaviors in all aspects of society. Behind these changes, however, a common thread can be found: a commitment to serve the needs and interests of the people of El Salvador at whatever stage of struggle they are engaged. This commitment has not wavered in the last 13 years of CISPES history and will continue to be the guiding principle of the organization in the years to come.