(I also have scattered in random photographs - for some strange reason, it never occurred to me to be posting photographs earlier, so I'm putting things up to give some feel for the environment - they aren't really related to each paragraph.)
Structural Oppression (-isms) as Tools
Perhaps the most overarching gift is the clarity that all structural oppressions (sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, able-ism, etc) are tools used for the same purpose – to maintain economic injustice: to keep wealth in the hands of a few. They are wedges used to drive people apart, people, who if united, would be working together towards a more equitable distribution of wealth. Racism keeps whites from working with blacks, and keeps blacks from working with Latino/indigenous immigrants. Sexism keeps men from uniting with women. Homophobia keeps straights from working together with gays. Classism keeps middle class folks from uniting with working class people. The success of capitalism depends upon these divisions – capitalism would not work without these divisions! People only accept low paying jobs because they are taught that they are competing with someone else – usually of a different race – who will do the job for less.
One clear example for me is around the massive labor movement of the 30s. So much was gained – 8 hour workday, minimum wages, breaks, etc – for most industries, and it could have been for all laborers – but unions, who most often were white men only – compromised – and let farm work and domestic work be specifically excluded from labor laws that covered all other industries. Why? Because farm work and domestic work is work for women, for blacks, for immigrants – and racism taught the white union men that they could only benefit at the expense of others.
The Fish Finally Sees the Water
One of the hardest things I think for people living within domination, is that we often can’t even see that the systems we are living under are just one possible way of being. We learned to see how the culture we are familiar with – one of individualism, competition, and perfectionism – is not universal, but particular to a white and male supremacist capitalism – and that other societies don’t have that same culture. Or that Christianity has taught us to view everything as good or bad, and to see as part of our mission the need to convert people to our way of being. I was like, yeah, but don’t all religions lay out good vs. bad as a cosmic battle, or believe in converting others to their religions – and people had to sit me down, and be like, no, actually they don’t. Think of animism, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, or other native spiritualities – nowhere in there is the need to dominate and convert other people. A friend who spent time in Cuba kept talking about basic values there are different in a way she never could have conceived – things she had assumed were universal were, indeed, not – and that not being capitalist gave people a whole other way of seeing each other.
I can’t change the destructive aspects of my culture if can’t see them. I can’t say that I can totally see all the particularities of our culture, but they are becoming more perceptible. And those who are not part of my culture can easily see them – and those perspectives are extremely important.
Class is for Real
A major lesson for all of us in Braden was to understand our own class background, how that has shaped us, and how class dynamics work on a national level. In most countries, class is the most major factor dividing people – yet in the U.S., race is the most major factor. We have been taught that class is not important, and even, that class doesn’t really exist. So many of us, whether working class or upper class are taught to see ourselves as middle class, that it is rude to talk about money or ask someone’s salary, and that differences in class or wealth is due to an individual’s actions or lack of action. I learned about how class perpetuates itself, and if we don’t acknowledge class, we don’t really see how people are tracked for incorporation into the economic system.
Organizing vs. Activism
I think it dawned on me the difference between an organizer and an activists. An activist takes action on something, an organizer brings together many people to take action on something. Bringing people together to take action goes much much further than inviting people to planning meetings or actions – it’s the education and paradigm shifting that precedes someone even being interested in a meeting; it’s the slow development of honest and true relationships (activist and non-activist) that really reconstruct a new society and draw people into a politic they might not otherwise be interested in; it is listening to people’s concerns and passions and creating the space for those in the social movement, so that the movement really meets people’s needs and interests; it is helping people find a role that is both valuable and compatible with their lifestyle. One of the clearest lessons I got from Catalyst and my mentor, Rahula Janowski, is that we need a revolutionary movement of a MASSive scale – and if our definition of activism or movement work doesn’t include highly valued roles suitable for parents, career people, people with mental health or addiction issues, youth, etc – then 1. we’ll never reach the massive scale we need to truly succeed and 2. the movement won’t be responsive to the needs of all those types of people, who are a majority in the world. Changing the world is not going to happen quickly – we are each moving change along as much as we can during our generation.
Leadership by the many, in many ways
Accountability is Three-Pronged
Lean in closer vs. move away
Place for honesty, vulnerability, love
In trying to undo male and white supremacist culture, we need to actively learn how to incorporate an ethic of love into the way we work, how to allow space for emotions, how to be honest about our strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerability.
So these are the major lessons I learned through the Anne Braden program, which has also affected me in ways too subtle to enumerate here. Thank you to everyone who has read along with this blog, to everyone who has supported me materially or morally during this journey, and to everyone who wants to nourish the seed of change within themselves.