U.S. Left Opens $2.7 Million Psychology & Cultural Center
By Jacqueline Salit
National Alliance Newspaper, 1989
The New York Times’ real estate section described it as a “hands off condo conversion” in a front page story last April. The property is 500 Greenwich Street in the far west section of fashionable Soho. The newly renovated second floor of the imposing old brick building—it was once a U.S. post office—is now the headquarters of a stunningly beautiful therapy and arts complex
Located in one quarter of the floor’s 9,000 square feet is the East Side Center for Short Term Psychotherapy. A series of richly designed, jewel-like rooms—each one a different size and a different shape, walls hung with the paintings and photographs of the artists across, the way—is where the therapy gets done.
The East Side Center (it used to be located on Manhattan’s Upper East side and kept the name when it moved) is a partnership of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists trained in the radical discipline known as Social Therapy. In the early 70s Dr. Fred Newman, the founder of Social Therapy, applied a series of theoretical breakthroughs he made in the nature of human emotionality to the development of a progressive clinical approach now practiced at the ESC. The effectiveness of Social Therapy in treating the emotional problems of patients from all class, racial and ethnic backgrounds and the business acumen of its practitioners has turned the social therapeutic movement from a mental health alternative on the outskirts of the psychotherapeutic mainstream to an operation which grosses nearly $45,000 a month, $35,000 of which is income directly from the practice of Social Therapy. The additional $10,000 derives from educational and training activities designed to reach both the public at large and mental health professorial with aspects of the social therapeutic approach. An evening seminar on “Friendosexuality,” conducted by Newman in New York this month, drew an audience of 200 and grossed $3,500.
The lion’s share of the second floor—about 6,000 square feet—belongs to the Castillo Cultural Center, a multi-disciplinary collective of radical artists.
Castillo is a color-lavished, high-spirited and totally serious work-place reminiscent of a giant Tinker Toy constructed to reveal, rather than disguise, the process of production that is Castillo’s cultural work. It was designed and produced by architects Wilton Duckworth and Doug Balder and a team of highly skilled crafts who—as members of the independent political community to which Castillo belongs—were in love with their task and, working in close collaboration with Newman, built accordingly. It expresses at every moment, in every joining of wood and iron, space and light, the passion and playfulness, the seriousness and joy, the ongoing working class love affair that gave rise to it. The formal opening of Castillo in October (the East Side Center held its own opening March) will unveil this extraordinary revolutionary architectural achievement, whose price tag came to nearly $1 million.
Under the direction of Newman (he is a playwright, director, actor and painter in addition to being a psychotherapist), these actors, directors, painters, journalists, photographers, graphic designers, researchers, comedians and architects operate an art factory, a workshop, a theater, a darkroom, and a publishing house that produces two bi-monthly magazines—Stono, An International Journal of Culture and Politics; and Probe, The Intelligence Magazine of the Working Left—and a weekly newspaper, the National Alliance.
Through its range of activities—including a nightly door-to-door canvassing and street fundraising operation, the sale of advertising space in its publications and a telemarketing system which sells subscriptions to both performances and publications—Castillo grosses in the neighborhood of $55,000 a month, or nearly three quarters of a million dollars annually. It expects to raise, an additional $40,000 in contributions and revenues for its premiere season—A Festival of Revolution—a theatrical, artistic and political statement on the viability of American revolution in the face of the stalemate between international capital and the socialist bloc and the continuing struggle for revolution in the underdeveloped world. The centerpiece of the festival is a tetralogy of theatre pieces: the American premiere of The Task, by East German avant-gardist Heiner Müller; Müllerschmerz, by Castillo Collective member and African American dramatist William Pleasant; Carmen’s Community, based on the opera Carmen by Bizet; and No Room for Zion, by Fred Newman.
The dazzling complex at 500 Greenwich—which combines the highly profitable social therapeutic center servicing a surprisingly multi-racial, multi-class, gay and straight clientele with a controversial cultural collective that has flourished without benefit of government, corporate or foundation funding—has already established itself as a unique and provocative location on the art and psychology scene.
But even more unusual than the combining of the two, and even more controversial than either Newman’s social therapeutic discoveries or Castillo’s cultural statement, is the fact that, this highly visible and profitable enterprise is a project of the major left tendency in the United States of America.
There’s an old Left joke that goes, “What do you call three Trotskyists in a phone booth?—a left political convention.” This is one of those jokes that is more tragic than funny in that it offers a remarkably apt description of the vision of the American Left: ultra small and ultra irrelevant.
But to the traditional U.S. Left—the Communist Party USA, the Democratic Socialists of America and the various sects and sectlets that periodically pop up across the political landscape—marginality is a virtue and poverty is next to godliness. For the U.S. Left, being poor means you’re down with the masses and that you haven’t been bought.
But even a child knows that in the U.S. of A. things cost money. Big things cost big money. And you don’t have to be Ché Guevara or V.I. Lenin to know that if you’re making something as big as a revolution, you’re gonna run up some pretty big bills.
In 1983, with the first four successful years of the New Alliance Party behind him, Fred Newman turned his attention to making money. NAP, on whose executive board he served, had gone heavily into debt off its first attempt to win permanent ballot status the year before. It was clear from NAP’s 1979 Bronx run, the 1980 and 1981 Dump Koch campaigns, and from the 1982 ballot status race that there was a palpable responsiveness from both working class and middle class communities to independent politics and to a grassroots challenge to the monopolization of the political process by the Democratic and Republican parties. The problem was money. Reaching masses of people with both message and organization was expensive.
To begin, Newman turned to the Social Therapy centers—then called the Institute for Social Therapy and Research—which he had helped to launch in 1977. Therapy was the one activity of the political network of which he was the architect that generated a financial surplus.
Through an extensive financial reorganization including the closing down of several centers that dramatically reduced the Institute’s overhead—Newman and a business consultant, Deborah Green, upgraded training and supervision of the therapists, standardized and professionalized fee collection and produced a dramatic upturn in the profitability of each practice. In turn, the social therapists, all political activists as well, contributed a large portion of their enriched partnership draws to fund a long term research and development project directed by Newman. He assembled a team of grassroots organizers—he called them Community Social Workers—who began going door-to-door with a portfolio of community-based service organizations, soliciting members and contributors. The experiment was oriented towards creating a mass-production, mass-organizing model that could turn the practice of political organizing into a money-making activity which could in turn fund the expansion of the mass organizing. This was the key to building a mass-based, large-scale, independent political movement in the United States.
“There was a great deal of resistance to this expanded reproduction model,” recalls Deborah Green, MBA. “The mass organizers were impatient, they didn’t want to give the model any time. They kept falling back on personality organizing or subjective explanations for what was—or wasn’t—going well. The challenge was to objectify the whole process and thereby discern how we could move many people to do just a little bit financially and politically, rather than focusing on getting a few people to do something big by way of participation.” The work proceeded slowly.
When the Rainbow Lobby—the independent, pro-democracy Capitol Hill lobbying office—was opened by one of Newman’s colleagues in 1985, the door-to-door canvassing operation began to experiment with reaching into middle-income communities with the Lobby’s message. The results were startling. Within weeks the canvassers were raising between $50 and $100 in one evening shift. That money went to the Lobby to support the expansion of its activities on the Hill and its capacity to educate greater and greater numbers of people about the erosion of American democracy. Canvassers collected consistently large amounts of money while explaining that legislative, political and legal initiatives have to be supported at the grassroots in order to combat the overriding and anti-democratic influence of the Far Right. Nearly 35,000 people have joined the Lobby in the last four years and an additional 90,000 have contributed to its cause.
By 1988, the Lobby had dozens of canvassers in the field, was running a telemarketing operation to reach contributors for follow up donations and grossed $548,000. In 1989 the Lobby has put 60 canvassers in the field and projects that it will gross $1.2 million.
The success of the Lobby canvass had far reaching implications. The scientifically proven responsiveness of broad, cross-sections of the population to a door-to-door appeal for more democracy gave Newman the data he needed to design the groundbreaking matching-funds drive for African American independent Presidential candidate Dr. Lenora Fulani—whose cornerstone campaign issue was the need for more democracy. In 1988 Fulani became the first African American woman in history to qualify for federal primary matching funds. Over 66,000 people contributed to the drive. Her campaign raised a total of $2,757,548—$938,798 of which was the matching grant from the federal government.
A large portion of that money was used to finance the ballot access drive that placed her and the New Alliance Party on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—the first time in American history that a Black and woman appeared on every presidential ballot in the country. The media coverage of Fulani’s fight to get on the ballot—while by no means comparable to the billions of dollars’ worth of free advertising afforded George Bush and Michael Dukakis—was nonetheless substantial. Millions of Americans heard her demand that the inequalities in the presidential electoral process—which effectively disenfranchise the vast majority of the American people—be rectified. A quarter of a million people voted for her, and the New Alliance Party emerged from the election as the fourth largest electoral party and the largest progressive party in America.
“And now there is a national election with the NAP candidate, Lenora Fulani, on the ballot in all 50 states, with federal matching money and national media coverage, a feat not achieved by the Communist Party or other left, third-party challenges. We keep asking, where does the money come from, and how does it affect other leftists’ struggle to operate in some connection to the electoral process?”
Radical America, September/October 1987
From an introduction to a
series of four articles attacking
the New Alliance Party,
Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman
The tired and cynical remnants of the establishment U.S. Left, like the editorial board of the magazine Radical America, keep asking: “Where does the money come from?” Interestingly, the right wing is provoked by this matter too. An article in the July 17 edition of the Belgian newspaper, La Libre Belgique, stated that Mobutu Sese Seko—the fascist dictator of Zaire—claims that the Rainbow Lobby is financed by diamond merchants from Antwerp. Mobutu has been a prime target of the Lobby’s international legislative and educational campaign for democracy and human rights, and his reputation was badly damaged by a hugely successful national media blitz spurred by the Lobby during his recent visit to the United States. After the trip, his backers in Washington, DC told La Libre Belgique that “they doubted that contributions from American citizens could cover the expenditures of the Rainbow Lobby.” In the Belgian newspaper Le Soir an anti-Mobutu journalist who has exchanged information with the Rainbow Lobby was accused by the Mobutu government of being “funded by Jewish diamond merchants.”
Both the Right and the Left disingenuously insist that they can’t figure out how the network of political, psychological and cultural organizations engineered by Newman is funded. How do they get their money? They do it the revolutionary way. They organize committed people to ask people for it. And the political, or cultural, or psychological statement that is intrinsic to the organized activity of asking is so relevant that people—hundreds of thousands of them—give.