We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns

Most young people, most middle-aged people, most old people do not stand up. But there will be a fraction who will . . . and their having done it changes everything. ~ Tracy Sugarman

Based upon the events of the last week, you would think that a book titled We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns was coming out this fall.

It was published a decade ago, and is based on events that occurred a half century ago.

In the summer of 1964, now known as Freedom Summer, a thousand volunteers – mostly white college kids – boarded buses headed for Mississippi. Their mission was to register black voters; only 6.7% of black Mississippi residents who were old enough to vote were registered, and they wanted to change that.

Before those students boarded buses headed for Biloxi, the struggle for voting rights was largely ignored by the national press. The lynchings, the church burnings, the violent intimidation – all were absent from the evening news consumed by mainstream America. Meanwhile, civil rights workers were arrested by J. Edgar Hoover’s Justice Department under the auspices of combating communism.

So in the long summer days of 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC – or “snitch”) invited volunteers to come down south to register voters. They advertised mostly in college campuses. Maybe with young white college kids at their side, the mainstream media would finally start paying attention.

We think of the Freedom Summer volunteers as bright-eyed, young, naive students teeming with passion, but having little experience with the darkness of humanity.

But not all of the volunteers were students. And not all of them were strangers to the darkness of humanity.

Traveling to the Delta with those college students was a 43-year-old white man named Tracy Sugarman. A WWII veteran, Sugarman was an illustrator and writer, and wanted to lend his skills as a reportorial artist to the movement. He believed in the power of people – even in the power of young, inexperienced people who had never been far from home. On D-Day, he saw just what 18 and 19 year-olds are capable of, and saw the same courage and conviction in Mississippi that summer.

He was more afraid in Mississippi than he had been on D-Day.

Sugarman used his talents as an illustrator to depict life in the Delta during the Freedom Summer. Later, he wrote two books detailing his experience, including his memoir We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns, ensuring that the actions of those brave volunteers and community members live on.

He wasn’t young. He wasn’t a student. He had a job, and a house in Connecticut. He wasn’t the typical Freedom Summer volunteer.

He went anyway.

Later, he recounted what a fellow activist said to a church filled with anxious community members back in 1964:

What’s happening today is real, not something you’re reading about. It’s happening right here. You are doing things that people before you could not have dreamed of doing. You are here. You won’t say I heard about it or somebody told me. You’ll say, ‘I was right there. I saw it all. My feet were in that place when history was made.’

Friend, the time that you and I are living through is historic, unprecedented and dangerous. We shouldn’t minimize or normalize it. We should act on it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a college student or a 43-year-old white man with a mortgage and a career. Alice Walker once said “[t]he most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Whether you exercise that power by picking up the telephone or lacing up your shoes, don’t think for one second that you don’t have any. You just have to decide to use it.

And when we come out on the other side, which we will, you will look back and say: I was right there. I saw it all. I didn’t look away.

I resisted.

Let’s get to work.

Tuesday: Call Out Your Representative on Social Media

On Saturday, Paul Ryan tweeted: Our hearts are with today’s victims. White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.

Still, to this day some of our representatives have not spoken out. The silence of ANY Congressmen/women is unacceptable.

If your Congressman/woman has not yet spoken out against white supremacy, join me on Twitter (@smalldeedsdone) to tweet directly at your Rep and let them know you notice their silence. Here’s a 60-character draft for you to cut and paste and personalize (don’t forget to tag your Representative):

@SpeakerRyan denounced white supremacy on Saturday. Your silence speaks volumes.

Here’s a list of a few local Congresscritters that haven’t made an official statement (as of Tuesday, 8/15):




Wednesday: Tell Your Congressman/woman To Support H.Res. 257

Back in April, the Senate passed a resolution condemning hate crimes. A similar resolution has stalled in the house. Call your Representative and ask him/her to co-sponsor and support H.Res. 257

Script: My name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ____. What happened in Charlottesville this weekend is horrifying and tragic. It’s also the logical outcome when leaders like Congressman/woman ______ do nothing in the face of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. The Congressman/woman asked us to put him/her in a place of leadership, and it’s time for him/her to lead. House Resolution 257 – which simply denounces white supremacy and terrorism – has sat in the House Judiciary Committee since April. There are only 24 co-sponsors. Why, exactly, is Congressman/woman _____ not cosponsoring this legislation? What is it in that legislation that he/she does not agree with? I would like a personal answer to this question. You can reach me at ________.

Thursday: Give a Smile to Life After Hate

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued an intelligence report in May  warning of the spike of hate crimes – particularly from white supremacy groups.

In response, the Trump administration doubled down on their aquiescence of white supremacy, and rescinded grants to 12 organizations that combat violent extremism, including Life After Hate.

For background, in January 2017, the waning Obama Administration announced the recipients of the Countering Violent Extremist grants – grants that are intended to go to groups that are combatting violent extremism. One of the groups receiving funding was Life After Hate, which was founded by former members of the violent far-right, and works “with individuals who wish to leave a life of hate and violence or help[] organizations (community, educational, civic, government, etc.) grappling with the causes of intolerance and racism.”

Basically, Life After Hate counsels current far-right extremists who want to leave. They are unique in their focus, and their experience – as former neo-nazis and skinheads – is particularly specialized.

Be that as it may, in June 2017, the new Department of Homeland Security announced a revised list of grant recipients. Life After Hate was one of 12 groups whose grant was eliminated altogether.

Even though the FBI and DHS agree that domestic terrorism is caused predominantly by white extremists, the Trump administration decided to change its focus to target Islamic terrorism – and to prioritize groups that work specifically with law enforcement.

Accordingly, the Trump administration rescinded $400,000 in grant funding that was earmarked for Life After Hate.

We can replace that funding, and it won’t cost you a cent.

If you shop at Amazon* and are not already using smile.amazon.com, then let me introduce you to one of the simplest, easiest ways to support charities like Life After Hate. Through the Smile program, Amazon donates .5% of the product’s purchase price to your chosen charity. Just go to www.smile.amazon.com, choose a charity from the more than 1 million available, and use Amazon as usual. Your donations are automatic – and free to you. (Just remember to bookmark the site so you will remember to use the smile.amazon.com site rather than amazon.com.)

Life After Hate is one of the 1 million charities that participate in the Amazon Smile program. By using Smile, and choosing Life After Hate as your charity, you can help replace the grant that the Trump administration rescinded.

You can also go here, to donate to them directly.

(*Note: Amazon.com is boycotted by Grab Your Wallet and other progressive organizations, because it continues to sell Trump-branded products. This action is intended for those who have decided to continue using Amazon.com, and IS NOT an endorsement of Amazon.)

Friday: Demand That the Budget Include Funding for CVE Grants

If you joined me last week to get geeky on the budget, you recall that once Congress comes back from recess they’ll have precious little time to get a budget passed.

The Trump budget cut funding for Homeland Security Grant Program that funds the Countering Violent Extremism grants (discussed above). Although the House Budget Resolution that passed through the Budget Committee before recess doesn’t get into that level of detail, it takes a meat axe to funding for “non-defense discretionary programs” – and that includes CVE grants.

At this point, it’s clear that we should be doing more – not less – to combat violent extremism. Call your Representative and tell them that you want to make sure they protect funding for those critical programs.

Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling because I’m concerned that the House Budget Resolution cuts to non-defense discretionary programs will decrease funding for the Countering Violent Extremism grants. Those grants fund groups working to end violent extremism of all kinds – including the white supremacy we saw in Charlottesville. I know that when you return from recess you will be working hard to pass a budget. Please tell the Congressman/woman to support the CVE program and to protect its funding.

Special note: here is a list of Representatives that are on the House Appropriations Committee – Homeland Security Subcommittee. They are particularly close to this issue – if you are a constituent call them early and often to let them know they should protect CVE funding.


  • John Carter, Texas, Chairman
  • John Culberson, Texas
  • Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee
  • Andy Harris, Maryland
  • Steven Palazzo, Mississippi, Vice Chair
  • Dan Newhouse, Washington
  • Scott Taylor, Virginia


  • Lucille Roybal-Allard, California, Ranking Member
  • Henry Cuellar, Texas
  • David Price, North Carolina
  • C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland

Let’s get to work!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, send this pep talk to a friend or two!

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.


2 thoughts on “We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns

  1. Michele: Wowee! What a wonderful call to resist! I am taking a breather between postcards and letters-and an email to the White House–and I nearly exploded reading these words. It matters, it matters. Back to it! And thanks!!!

    Claudia Smith



    1. Oh – thank YOU, Claudia! All of your postcards, letters, calls and e-mails show that we’re paying attention and not going anywhere. Your work and and your words matter. (And your comment made my day!) Best~ Michele


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