Category Archives: Organizing

Feminist Journey

I am who I am in part due to male privilege, unearned benefits and opportunities that I’ve had more access to than women and transgender persons. Every day as part of my religious life, I reflect on aspects of my identity and my role in work for justice. This is part of my practice to sustain myself on the feminist journey, to shape my actions and do my best to hold myself accountable.

I’ve fallen down on the path as much as anyone, and don’t deserve any recognition for doing anything more than should be expected of all men. I had some of my biggest learnings first in my Unitarian Universalist youth ministry space in the 1980s, where I was grateful for being able to build meaningful relationships with peers and to learn the outlines of power and oppression. In college in the early 1990s came more serious “ah ha” moments, both from academic and political spaces where I learned the concepts and justice strategies, and found myself actively critiquing and building a commitment to accepting critique of my own sexism.

I had to unlearn a lot of poor and even harmful attitudes and behaviors. How to share space, to understand safety concerns, to check my generally larger physicality, and to develop my ethics as an organizer seeking to build power.

I know there has been a lot of talk, especially in light of the intense misogny and violence against women and communities of color being perpetrated in this political moment, about being visible for gender justice. It also feels easy to distinguish ourselves by what we’re not, but more important to be clear about what we envision.

In my soul, I want to transform myself and others to internalize the deepest values and practices of mutuality and liberation. At the core this looks like all people, regardless of who they are, having the rights, recognition and resources they need to thrive (yes thank you Aimee Santos-Lyons, Western States Center and Forward Together!). From this place, I envision a world.

Each year, I find myself taking on new learning. This year, I’m glad to be a part of internal work in APANO to deepen our gender justice identity as an organization and develop better practices. This looks like ongoing internal assessment, study and investment in change. I’m also grateful for friends and colleagues who lead in so many ways, and fight the wave of sexism with intersectional movement building.

On this International Women’s Day, I’m recommitting myself to the journey, opening myself up to questions and making space to ask questions of other men especially.

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Writing Coming Out Of #Ferguson #EricGarner

In America’s largest city, the judicial branch declined to pursue charges against a security officer who was videotaped in broad daylight choking a man to death. This came less than two weeks after courts in the nation’s often overlooked central region reached a similar decision in the shooting of an unarmed teenager. Both victims were members of the country’s largest minority group, and the killings have set off nationwide protests that have often escalated into clashes between dissidents and the security forces.

You’ve got to love being overseas, and reading about what is happening in America.  You really get a whole new perspective.  This quote comes actually from an American writer Joshua Keating at Slate who writes columns about US events using the same tone & tropes US media does about foreign events.

There has been a lot of really good writing, reporting, reflecting and analyzing coming out of the violent events of #Ferguson and #EricGarner and more.  I’ve had time to read more than I normally do on my mini-sabbatical here in the Philippines.  I still find it difficult to react as quickly as I’d like to, but I’m sending out a deep appreciation to the people who have taken time to do so.  I am particularly drawn to the landscape analysis given my long-term interests in social change, but also have found several very influential portrait posts.  Without must annotation, here are some very good posts worth reading or reading again:

White America’s Scary Delusion: Why Violence Is At The Core Of Whiteness by Dr. Brittany Cooper

Ferguson Solidarity Protests by Deepa Iyer (keynote at APANO Convention 2014)

#CrimingWhileWhite Confessions by Noam Cohen and a response #AliveWhileBlack by Zachary Goldfarb

I find it valuable to have a trove of White folks naming the privilege they’ve received in #CrimingWhileWhite, as a window into Whiteness.  I think this increases the likelihood of reaching other White folks, and comes out of the context of our current US racial context.  This aspect of the twitterverse provides a level of reality check for White America.  I see #AliveWhileBlack less as a “response”, because I don’t think we’re debating right/wrong here, but more as an important continuation of our dialogue on race.

Encounter at Protest Leads To Hug by Gosia Wozniacki

Gosia, who is a friend,  shares this followup personal reflection, particularly in light of the critiques of the photo:

After the photo of a 12-year-old African American boy hugging a white police officer in Portland went viral, it generated a lot of interesting responses on all sides. I’d like to add my thoughts to the discussion, because I’m a photographer and lover of photography. Please note these are my personal views, not those of the AP. I fought hard for the AP to print this photo, secured the rights from the freelancer to publish it, and got in touch with both the officer and the mom of the boy to write the back story of the photo. Many people reacted very positively to the image – they said it was a sign of hope, of much needed healing, and it left them weeping. But some have also criticized the photograph, saying it has shifted the attention away from the problems of racism and police brutality facing our nation. Critics also have said white people grabbed onto the image as an easy excuse that all is well after all. And they’ve accused the photographer of cropping the photo to distort reality and the officer and the boy’s mom of staging the photograph and using it as PR tool for the police. First, let me say that I’m glad this image is generating big emotions and discussion from all sides about race relations and about the meaning of photography. Did this photograph tell the truth, or not? Every photograph in existence is “cropped”. Photographers frame photos in the field by choosing a certain piece of reality and excluding everything around it. They also crop shots using editing software. These are the basic ways photography works. Every piece of photo out there is subjective and selective, because the moment and the frame are chosen by the photographer. Every photo is just a small piece of a much bigger reality and we all know and expect that. But good photographs also have the power to stop time and focus on tiny moments that we might have missed. The placement of photos in newspapers and online is important, and editors need to weigh the importance of what is newsworthy and why – but clearly, this wasn’t the only Ferguson-related photograph published last week. Also, there are circumstances I can imagine where the framing can be deceiving, when key pieces of information are missing. I don’t personally think this is the case here. One of the criticisms is that a lot of people were shooting photos of “the hug”, making the police and the boy’s reactions inauthentic. If you’ve attended any recent street protests, you know that every other activist is holding a cell phone or digital camera and taking photos or video or everything and everybody. Photography and shooting video have become ubiquitous, esp. in times of public chaos. This was a noteworthy moment, and the fact that people were paying attention with their cameras doesn’t surprise me. I wasn’t there to see the hug, and don’t know what the true motivations were, but let me offer this: When it comes to the boy, he was crying before he ever approached the cop, so I believe his emotions were sincere. When it comes to the policeman, we’ll never really know what was going through his head other than what he tells us. In the end, here’s why this photo was so compelling: on the surface, it was a positive image during a week of negative images, the element of surprise. But it wasn’t just a normal hug. What made the image a standout was the expression on the boy’s face and the story behind it. According to his mom, the boy has been struggling with the issue of police brutality and racism against black teens. He was there at the protest, bravely facing the police barricade, tears streaming down his face. And when he was hugging the officer, his face was anguished. That face said everything – it said how hard a black teen’s life is and how difficult and complicated it is to hug (read: to trust) a policeman who should be there to protect you. The struggle on this boy’s face expressed the relationship between black teens and cops. And it’s that face that should lead us all to ask why, in a country where police should work for all citizens, a black boy has to cry when hugging a white officer — and why this is even newsworthy.

 

 

Sense of Place

When I first learned of the terrible injustices inflicted by people upon people I felt very helpless.  I think a part of my life has been spent trying understand these realities in part to sustain my ministry in a more holistic way.

TuleLakeFencepic

One of the rituals I formed as a young adult was to do my best to always consider my physical place and ask about the people who called it their home in the present and past.  I always learn something new.  Another ethos I developed is around only traveling to places where I have a relationship and invitation.  I can’t say I honored this all the time, but it is one that I feel has grown stronger as I have aged and have more class privilege to visit places of my choosing.

Lastly, I have sought to intentionally be present in places where there have been terrible injustices and great transformations.  I make it a point to bring myself to locations that have meaning for social justice – both in terms of remembering our history and to feel my body in the same spot where others have struggled.

Once I stepped out onto the country roadside to look upon the lightly wooded ravine in South Dakota and upon a simple billboard that honored the Massacre at Wounded Knee.  I can still feel the sight of the beautiful murals at San Francisco State University and the sharp edges of the buildings where 1960s students of color went on strike for equity in education.  My partner and I stayed a month in one of the Zapatista Caracols in Chiapas after engaging for years in solidarity work.  Our family took a tour into the Old City of Manila where thousands were killed during World War II.

This winter we may visit Tule Lake Internment Camp where thousands of Japanese Americans were imprisoned in America’s WWII concentration camp.  A place that continued on as dilapidated farmworker housing.  And we will continue to make visits to meet people who are the hearts and souls in our movement building work, from young people in East Portland to elders who share their stories with us around the campfire.

Photo credit – Alex Haas

Grassroots Organizing: A Public Health Model

A core part of APANO’s Model of Change is grassroots organizing, which comes in many shapes and colors.  I think its important for every community to go through a process to define what they mean by grassroots organizing, and its probably a good thing to update it periodically.

APANO developed language around this in 2012, and we’re revisiting, visualizing (see path to social change infographic) and refining through conversations among members at our Statewide Convention, staff and board.  I’ve had the opportunity to consider many approaches over the last 25 years, and am always enjoying new illustrations and deeper analysis on the subject.

I’ve been recently studying this model from grassrootschange.net with a public health frame.  It was shared as part of a discussion around countering bad “preemption” policies that ALEC and big industry have been utilizing to fend off health equity initiatives around the country.

Organizing is Hard

Over the last 5 years I’ve been working with community organizations that are more deeply grounded in organizing as a model of change.  I’ve always believed that everyone is an organizer, to a certain degree.  Parents are amazing at getting their kids to where they need to go.  Young adults plan big parties.  My friends who have “retired” are busier than ever.

Working as an organizer in a professional setting is different, and is probably one of the toughest jobs.  There isn’t a simple model, and there are many intangibles.  I’ve worked in a range of organizing jobs, or jobs where I brought an social justice organizing framework: campus, electoral, neighborhood, faith, multiracial and culturally specific.  They’ve been some of the toughest and rewarding jobs.

Organizing for social justice is hard because the work is at the intersection of the worlds suffering and the deep aspirations of humanity.  Each of these are precarious in the sense that they are both very complex and rarely do a group of people agree.  Yet when they do, great things can happen.

I think there are many incarnations of a good organizer, and no monolith.  There are important hard skills like being able to set goals, manage your time, and have the technical know-how to bring people together.  There are soft skills such as genuinely liking people, being energized by cooperation, and having a strong internal practice of reflection.  There are many other components such as analysis, history, networks, language skills, and more.  

Recently I’ve been contemplating the attitude of a good organizer.  What is the ethical nature of an organizer? How do they adapt to the change they create?  Why do they keep moving forward in the face of opposition, changing situations and limited capacity?  One of my colleagues reminds me about how important it is to cultivate peoples passion.

What is your passion?

Who do you recognize on Earth Day?

As a parent, Earth Day is a chance to bring out the environmentalist in my kids. I love all the people caring for the earth, improving their individual habits, and drawing special attention to the interconnectedness of humankind and the world we live in. This is also a day that perpetuates the misconception that communities of color aren’t engaged in environmental issues. For the record, folks of color do care about the environment, and are critical spokespeople on climate change and the health impacts precisely because as a community we are disproportionately affected here in the US and globally.

Check out my full post on BlueOregon.com

Oregon’s Festival of Democracy

Check it out, one of the most wonderful weeks of truly engaging and honestly authentic community advocates are being brought together by the Bus Project for a damn fun, critically real and pretty inspirational Festival of Democracy.  Something for everyone, from newbies looking to educate themselves about the upcoming elections to seasoned vets seeking something new in their toolbox.  Rebooting Democracy runs through Sunday April 22nd.

I’ll be a part of Sunday’s workshop The Equity Equation: Working to Solve Oregon’s Racial Disparities, along with Kalpana Krishnamurthy of Western States Center and the Oregon Racial Equity Report Card.  Shout out to all the great APANO volunteers helping out, and the continued effort of the organizers to prioritize the issues of communities of color and communities experiencing inequities.