I put ads in the Nation magazine and organized meetings at a loft on Mercer Street in Manhattan. Sometimes as many as eighty people would show up. I had a slideshow I would do; I’d give a pitch, and usually five or six people from the meeting would decide to go.
At one point I got so psyched about the project that I went to an IBM PC-users group in a big auditorium, maybe at New York University. There were like three hundred people in the crowd, and after the speaker gave his remarks he opened up the floor for Q&A. Usually at that point people would ask questions like, “What kind of modem would work best with an IBM AT whatever-the-fuck.” But I raised my hand, stood up, and said, “I just got back from Nicaragua, and there’s a tremendous development taking place there. Computers for the first time ever are being used to promote health and education.”
People started laughing at me. But the guy chairing the meeting called me down to the front and I continued speaking. I said, “This is your chance to use your skills to help change the world for the better.” And at least two or three people from that meeting ended up going down to Nicaragua.
By 1990 or so, we ended up sending about eight hundred people to Nicaragua (including the physicist Alan Sokal, who was a DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] member). For a while, delegations of twelve to fifteen people went every month. And every time a delegation would go down, they would bring about five or six personal computers. For a country that was desperately trying not to waste any money or time or human resources, having a PC, even just to do things like run payroll, made a significant difference.
We started off just organizing programmers, but we quickly diversified to include engineers and machinists of different kinds. This developed into our skilled trades subproject, which involved welders, heavy-duty mechanics, people like that. We raised money to buy parts that were desperately needed in Nicaraguan factories. Then we would send skilled delegations down to train the Nicaraguan workers on how to use the equipment, how to install it, how to repair it themselves.
Let me tell you something: We had every political tendency on the Left going down to Nicaragua in those delegations. They never once fought each other. There was a real “roll up your sleeves and get things done” kind of attitude. We had Workers World, Socialist Workers Party, Communist Party, Maoists, DSA, everybody. They all understood that what was happening in Nicaragua was bigger than their own narrow organizational goals.
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