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August 26, 2019

Mike Miller Papers: Curating Change

The Mike Miller Papers—processed with funds from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission (NHPRC)—is a treasure trove that contains timely records on labor history, community organizing, race, and leadership, and correspondence between the women and men who toil and persevere behind the scenes to demand justice and dignity.

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Mike Miller Papers: Curating Change

Unsung heroes. Hope peddlers. Active listeners. Leaders in the true sense of the word. These are some of the characteristics found in the organizers and the people they support who struggle every day in order to forge a more equitable path for their communities. The Mike Miller Papers—processed this summer with funds from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission (NHPRC)—is a treasure trove that contains timely records on labor history, community organizing, race, and leadership, and correspondence between the women and men who toil and persevere behind the scenes to demand justice and dignity.

Mike Miller is a community organizer, prolific writer, educator, and volunteer. He essentially created an archives containing historical as well as contemporary records in various media that document the work that is organizing. As the director of the San Francisco-based ORGANIZE TRAINING CENTER! (OTC), he has provided support to diverse, multi-issue community organizations, including the Citizens Action League, the Office of Urban and Rural Mission of the World Council of Churches, the Service Employees International Union, the California State Employees Association, and the Women’s Action Training Center.

“The Role of the Organizer;” Mike Miller Papers, MS 4139; box 119, folder 3; California Historical Society.

Mike Miller’s writings and archives convey a breath of knowledge that comes with experience, research, and understanding of the various actors involved. In a 1994 article for The Ark titled “Racism in America: Deep or Shallow,” Miller advises us to “start with people where they are; have confidence in the capacity for decency and growth… create experiences in which people see the need to work with one another.” He concludes that “the challenge of today is how to develop a movement in which there is unity with diversity, togetherness with the celebration of uniqueness, majority coalitions with full respect for the minorities that make them up,” while reminding us that this work is already underway, but because this work is local, it escapes the attention of the major media outlets since “organizing is not as telegenic as riots, nor does it usually make good print copy.”

Processing the Mike Miller Papers made me feel inspired by the undaunted passion and hard work that organizers have accomplished and continue to do—their reach extending across the continents from Asia to Central America. Optimism in the face of massive challenges sing through these records reminding the reader that “the old adage is true: in unity there is strength” and allaying doubts with the assertion that “Leaders develop. A new sense of self-confidence emerges.” “The skills necessary to negotiate, plan campaigns, run meetings and otherwise act in the world with power are developed” when people transform from non-participants to actors and participants. This is what brings about change. Witnessing and studying these records and the people who struggle is itself transformative and a reminder that a more equitable society is possible but even more so—that change is imperative if we are to thrive as a species.

The California Historical Society (CHS) is delighted to announce that the finding aid to the Mike Miller Papers is now online. This important collection documents Mike Miller’s activist work with a number of significant civil rights and community organizations, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mission Coalition Organization (MCO), La Guardia Tenants’ Organization, the Tenderloin Senior Organizing Project, and the many labor unions and religious organizations with which Mike worked intimately over a 50-year period.

The collection was processed by Isaac Fellman and Lynda Letona with the generous funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).