Saturday, July 19, 2014

Towards Collective Liberation

Several months ago, I started hearing lots of folks talking about a new collection of essays put together by Chris Crass--- Towards Collective Liberation. It's a book that focuses in on stories and experiences on fighting racism and sexism, while building power.

While the book is interesting upon it's self, the most interesting and exciting part about it was reading it with some friends. About once a month or every section-ish, we'd get together on a video chat and talk about it. To make that even better than it sounds, those friends were EK, Bex, and Cole.

I enjoyed reading it, and more so talking about it-- but I have to say: I didn't love it. More particularly, I wasn't that found of the parts the Crass wrote--- there's something about white guys writing about anti-oppression that feels like... not that great. I did find valuable insight, and we had some interesting discussions, but overall i was underwhelmed by it. I think that's mostly because I had high expectations and that so many folks seems to be saying it was a great book. It was fine, I'd even recommend reading it--- but--- not highly recommend it.

What I Liked About it...

There's one section where Crass talks opening about some of the things he does, in his daily life, that are sexist as all get out. It was actually hard to read ("... i know that my instant reaction is to take men's opinions more seriously... almost never having zoned out on what a gender-privileged man is saying because i was thinking about him sexually... etc. from Going to Places that I'm Scared of, p 124), but i gained a lot of respect from the honesty that was said and laid out. As someone who also (like all people, if i dare say) has thoughts or actions that don't match up with what I want in the world, it feels really compelling to see someone owning that-- not apologizing or explaining-- but owning it and working to make it different.

I loved having space to think about the ways privilege and skill sets intersect with expectations and power consolidation (Food Not Bombs essay, p 78) and the complexity of sharing the skills we do have (Going to Place that Scare Me, p 118). Of course, the ideas of structurlessness came up in many ways, all of which I ate up (and let it feed my righteousness? yes, probably).

Towards the end of the book there was a lot more essays and interview style writings from folks who were not Crass--- and I was more excited and pensive about those sections. It felt less theory based, and more... just how it is. Groups like the Rural Organizing Project blew my mind with how they've moved folks along, ways in which they prioritize collaboration with organizations that focus and acknowledge privilege and oppression, and individual and collective experiences (A struggle for Our Lives, p 204) and later digging in more about how "to hold the complexity, historical knowledge, and pain when people of color we're supporting act out intersecting forms of oppression (p 248). 

I have found myself thinking a lot about a section that talks about the ways we change and feel powerful when we put our bodies on the line. It made me reconsider the ways i look at 'direct action'  in the day of a digital world--- how getting a petition signed can actually create meaningful change in a person, if they do it person to person, face to face. (Leading with our Vision, p 244).

Good On Ya, at least mostly...

While I wasn't all that into what Crass had to say- or maybe the way he said it- I do really appreciate the book and his writings. I think folks who step up and take leadership to educate others about oppression are great. Sometimes we don't do it right, and we make mistakes, or we say things that make folks uncomfortable (not in a good way), but I can (metaphorically) applaud taking a stance and stepping into that role. If I were to ever meet Crass, I wouldn't say he opened my mind or showed me the way or even represented the struggles of women (since that's the one I have first hand experience with) well-- but I would say thanks. An honest, sincere thanks for writing a book to bring folks along, to share experiences and know-how, and for stepping it up. 

Take home Message...
reading and talking about challenging ideas with friends is way better for me than reading by myself and leaving it be. 

{sometimes EK and Bex would be in the same place-- which was always notably not ohio}

Friends Rule. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

recognize ---> intervene

Something like a month ago, I went to a workshop lead by Training for Change- called Whites Confronting Racism. It was a 2 and half day workshop held in Philadelphia. A nice bonus of the workshop was two dear friends of mine also attended- Bex and Eli. The three of us share some common experiences (and have a lot of divergent experiences, too)-- since we all worked and lived together doing anti-mtr work in Appalachia. 

I went in thinking I didn't have expectations- and I was totally ready and open for whatever they sent my way. That's somewhat true, I was open and ready for what they had for me, but I also had hopes and expectations. Per usual, those expectations were unrealistic and ungrounded (things like: 'I'll leave the workshop feeling clear about ways I can best utilize myself to fight racism.'). What I got wasn't so clean- but it has been useful and the longer I sit with it, the more I feel the impacts of that weekend seeping into me. 

We set the stage to understand that white supremacy is systematic and large--- it's not just about us. But we do exist within a world that runs its self on the combination of white supremacy and racism, and so we do have a role and a say in the process. And I can choose to act in a way that is in line with my values and works to build the world we want. 

We looked at ways that white folks express racism. There was a list that we spent time working through called "examples of white group-level behavior/privilege' that listed common behaviors people of color experience from whites. There were a lot that I really identified with-- which-- was both unsurprising and a little shocking at the same time. Two that really stood out for me in my life; a tendency to give 'perfectly logical explanations' for racism (rather than acknowledging the systematic patten that any given circumstance fits in) and not listening to feedback, and rather explaining my intentions. 

I also really appreciated an activity designed to help us see our true 'core' selves and find ways to allow who we are to guide our actions. (Which, felt well paired with a lot of the work I've been doing with my coach- Zo. who is great.) We looked at ways our actions,  ways we want folks to see us, and our fears hold us back from being able to... well... be who we are. 
{our actions and sometimes the way we want folks to see us, are just the tip of the iceberg. But there's a lotta stuff going on under the water--- and if we're not intentional, our actions and core self might not match up}

I also found myself really struggling with how the forms of supremacy and oppression we were talking about apply to other oppressed people, too. For me, being a woman felt really present. A lot of what we talked about hit home for me-- but not because of my skin color. In some ways, I'm glad to see the connections--- but I am also weary of 'using' the oppression i feel as a shield to avoid talking about ways i benefit from white supremacy. 

We spent a fair amount of time talking about ways to intervene-- to call out and disrupt the flow of racist bullshit that happens all around us. There was lots of useful things around that, but one that I'm excited to talk about was a role playing activity. That I liked. (I literally can't think of any other role plays that i enjoyed being a participant in- so it's sorta a big deal.) Basically, we talked about something we'd like to do (around racism) and had our partners push us and criticize us--- while the other partner reminded us about who we are at the core. 

I decided I'd ask my housemates if they were willing/interested in being part of a discussion group about whiteness and racism. My biggest self doubt is that I'm not a skilled facilitator in this area and won't be able to guide us to somewhere useful and that folks will feel like I'm wasting their time. Through the role playing activity, I got to realize I had that fear and therefore am able to prevent it from disabling me. 

Several of my housemates have said they'd be into a discussion group, and we're going to start with picking a reading and talking about it. We haven't started yet, and I still feel really concerned I'll do a shitty job, but... we will start. 

When considering my unstated expectations (feeling clear about how to best fight racism), this feels pretty small. and insignificant. and maybe even stupid. with some reality check on myself (and my self doubt) I can see that it is small- but it is worth doing. The next step can be bigger and better, but starting here is real. And without this workshop, I never would have suggested it, and my household probably wouldn't do some of this work together. 

ps: there is another training this may, and i certainly recommend it. I also have a few solid and great resources/reading lists that i'd be happy to share with folks, so let me know if you'd like that. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mesoamerica Resiste and the Transpacific Partnership

Over a span of 9 years, folks gathered stories, understood connections, created metaphors, drew images, and then... ta-da! We've got a poster. (simple, easy, just like that! right? uhh. sure...)

Recently, I've been working with a bunch of really smart bees to figure out how to story tell and share the newest graphic: Mesoamerica Resiste (including having the narrative done, if ya haven't had a chance to read it yet it's on the left sidebar of our site). Today, a group of folks have gotten together to build shared analysis and do some planning, which since I'm at home, I admittedly feel jealous of. But also totally stoked and excited that we're doing that. And I'm ready to spend some time doing story sharing over here in Ohio.

As a story teller, this is some of the most exciting and interesting stuff I getta do-- find ways to make sure the stories we share are impactful, meaningful, and ideally- inspire action or movement from folks we're connecting with. Though I don't think we can claim much credit with the timing of MR! being released, it does align in a moment when the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement similar to others like NAFTA, is at a pivotal moment in our country. A moment in which it's possible to stop it.

 The issues addressed with the MR! graphic and the TPP have similarities that are both powerful and devastating. We can look to previous trade agreements and other neoliberal policies to see how history repeats itself. This time, if the TPP passes, it will be bigger and badder than ever before-- as it encompasses 40% of the global economy, making it the largest trade agreement--- ever.

{for more on the TPP, here's a good article to check out--- though I havta say, it's not the 'americans' receive the short end of the stick- it's that people do. We all do.}

On my most recent tour, Kyle and I built upon what we'd (the royal we, not just kyle and i) already developed to incorporate more information and build our stories and analysis to share what we know about the TPP.  After being back here in Ohio, I got to do a workshop with some students from across the country who are doing organizing work against the TPP with United Students for Fair Trade. We delved into a lot of the images on the front of the graphic to explore connection to the TPP, as well as jumped into the center hear stories of resistance.

Through doing this, I not only got to hear some perspective of those I was with, but also had a chance to hear more direct feedback--- and gained a sense of what stuck out to folks and seemed to engage folks the most. These two stories really came to top and look at two different perspectives on why agreements like the TPP are not for or by the people.

On the left side of the poster, there's a double helix highlighting the story of farmer bee. There are many steps that farmer bee takes- from communal farming to displacement that leads to working in a sweatshop in a Free Trade Zone or being forced to emigrate to another country.

In the first few scene, we see farmer bee working and living in a hive- a communal land holding. When the Mexican constitution was enacted after the revolution, it protected communal land and prevented it from being parceled out.

However, as NAFTA pushed forward, the constitution was changed in order to align with free trade policies. Suddenly, those land holding could be broken.

and they were. Here, farmer bee goes to get a loan and a deed, in order to farm her own little plot of land. 

Luckily, she knows a lot about the land and growing food, so she has a really productive season.

However, when she takes her produce to market-- she realized she simply can't compete with global corn prices. The truck from the United States is dumping highly subsidized and industrialized corn into the market scales.

Farmer bee simply can't make a living given global trade. And at the end of the season, she's breaking open her little piggy bank. Despite scrapping it together the best she can, she doesn't have enough to pay back her private loans, and is forced to sell her land-- and emigrate out of the place she's from.

Under the TPP, more communities will loose their autonomy to decide what will best govern their people. NAFTA undermined the hard fought agreement for communal land, and if free trade expands, so will the consequences.

Settled into the front and center of the graphic- there sits a table. It's a celebration-- of 500 years of colonialism-- as industry representatives try to take the biggest piece of the cake as they can. (The cake is shaped like Mesoamerica). While these folks have been pulling the strings of free trade for a long time, under the TPP it's gotten even more extreme. The agreement has over 600 official corporate 'trade advisors,' meanwhile folks in political positions (congress, for example) and folks like you and i- are barred from seeing it. We can't see it, and they get to draft it.

Wait? Who's this agreement for again?

Fortunately, Wikileaks has struck again and has been releasing the very long and complicated documents. Even more fortunate, other folks are reading it and summarizing it for us. So far, we know that despite preventing SOPA from passing last year, it's included within the TPP. One of the most harsh previsions I've seen so far- also falls under the umbrella of 'intellectual property.'

One of the industries sitting around the table above is the pharmaceutical industry (frog mask, dna vessel). Under the TPP, generic medicines will be under threat, as corporations will have more freedom to attach governmental patent regulations that allow for generic medicine to exist. Tons of people rely on the life saving access to cheap (ish) generic medicine. Even AARP (which, ya know, is always standing in line with the radical left on issues- right?) has come out to say the TPP is bad news.

{a photo of kyle- sharing the stories from MR!- in Baltimore at 2640}

Ok- that's some rough news. It's terrifying. It's heartbreaking. It's awful--- but it's real and it's happening AND it can be stopped. I'm really glad to be able to use this fancy drawing to talk about things like this- and real glad to be able to take action.

The first step in this fight, is to prevent the Fast Track legislation from moving forward-- and preventing Obama (who loves free trade and the TPP) from being able to unilaterally pass trade agreements.

Expose the TPP has a whole slew of ideas on how to put in wrench in this whole charade. Everything from hosting a teach in, calling your rep, bird dogging, and pulling together a rally.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

you, me, and the CLT

First things first: I happen to know some seriously amazing people. Some of whom have been getting a Community Land Trust off the ground in the bottoms: a neighborhood in Columbus which is being set up for major gentrification. The baseline idea here is that by creating a land trust, folks who currently live there and want to live there, can keep living there rather then be forced out by higher rents, over policing (with potential 'programs' like Eliminate the Elements, which we have here in Weiland Park, for example), and cultural white washing.

I recently had the opportunity to help facilitate a short weekend retreat to help this group move towards decision making and planning. I'm really excited I had an opportunity to contribute to the work they are doing and to use my skill set to create social change.

As with many consensus oriented groups, moving beyond discussion and into decisions and action can be daunting. My biggest role was sitting back and waiting for when discussion had moved us to where we needed to be, and where making proposals was the next step. It's easier to see this dynamic from the outside (rather then by a member of an organization), and I think I helped add clarity to what needs to happen next.

{we stayed in a CLT members family cabin in SE ohio- which was so lovely. The 'backyard' is Wayne national forest. beautiful place to get away and concentrate}

On a meta level, many folks in the group were feeling anxiety about the CLT as a project that would fight gentrification. It seemed people were having a hard time sorting out if and how this will prevent displacement for folks in that neighborhood and what ways it could contribute to it.

Sitting in a circle in a nice open grassy field, we started mapping out the fears and excitement folks had around the project, and ways it would reach the goals of the group. Relying on their mission statement and stated goals as a background for understanding, we built a fairly loose mind map (a go to in my book) that plotted out where folks were at. This provided structure for folks to say the things they have had on their mind and allowed for new ideas to pop up as things were said.

{Community Land Trust Mission}
To meet the basic need and combat displacement in the Bottoms through resident-controlled, permanently affordable housing.

This did not get the group to a place to make a decision, but it did help lay the foundation for folks to realize they were on the same page and that the group does know what its doing and why its doing it. The many hours of meeting, sharing, and thinking that came next (which, was delightfully broken up by meals, campfires, and some hiking) were stronger and more cohesive then they would have been if we started with 'logistical' agenda items from the get go.

After the retreat was over, many folks asked how I thought it went. My answer was more or less the same every time, How did you think it went? If it went well for folks in the CLT, then it went well for me. If folks make proposals based on our discussion and follow up on the lists and ideas we developed, then it went even better.

{ps: mattie particularly encouraged me to write about this as a way to reflect. I'm glad he suggested it, and glad i followed through. You can see his blog about life, facilitation, and more here}