Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Final Reflection on Major Lessons Learned

As I sit here in the post-“the holidays”/pre-new year, post-San Francisco/pre-Florida calm/limbo, I look over my blog entries and all that I learned over the months in the Anne Braden Program. I want to hold on to this transformation, to remember what I learned as well as remember that I learned it, that I didn’t always know it, and that other people can learn these things, too. 
(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

Related to this expanded view of movement building is an expanded view of leadership.  There is a tendency among anti-authoritarian cultures to renounce the idea of leaders, but leadership always exists and is needed, so instead of denying it, why don’t we make structures of leadership more visible? Why don’t we share and rotate defined leadership? Why don’t we recognize that each person has some leadership capabilities, in any number of different styles and arenas? Why don’t we work to build up the leadership in every person?  Leadership skills are resources that are gained often via the influence of white, male, or class privilege and need to be intentionally shared. Instead of doing something because you do it the best, actively teach others to do that thing – so that overall capability is multiplied. The more leaders we have, the more we can accomplish.  And sometimes building up someone’s leadership is as simple as building up their confidence - listening to their ideas and saying “hell yeah, go for it!” And sometimes it requires more support, such as helping them figure out how to go for it, and sharing what skills and resources you have.

Accountability is Three-Pronged

My understanding of accountability was expanded to include accountability to your organization (following through on the things you said you would do), accountability to constituents/impacted people (talking about what you do with the people it affects and being open to their perspective, opinions, criticisms, and suggestions), and accountability to your politics and mission (staying true to your larger mission and guiding principles even when it is hard or in conflict with the above).   Especially as people working from privilege, our own perspectives on what we are doing are not accurate and complete – we have to constantly seek out perspectives from people affected by what we do or don’t do.  We also must continually evaluate whether our actions are staying true to our political mission.  A clear example for me was when Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance talked about their controversial stance over the “justice” of a police killing incident.  Many of CR’s members were outraged with the killing of another innocent young black man by police officers, and wanted to see the cop prosecuted and sent to prison.  But CR’s purpose is to abolish the prison system – so saying that justice is sending someone to prison as in direct conflict with their politics. In this case, how do they stay accountable to both their members and their mission?

Lean in closer vs. move away

We spoke of the tendency of educated, and anti-racist whites to distance themselves from “ignorant” or “racist” whites.  While, of course, I never intend to stand with a group of racist whites and be seen in support of their politics in order to “build meaningful relationships” with them – I need to not just run the other way or focus on how I am superficially perceived – I need to stay committed to those people and invest in their education around racism and related issues – just as people stood by me and believe that I too could learn and grow.


We really looked at the assimiliationist impact of foundation or government funding to social movements, and came to clearly understand that no, the revolution will not be funded.  Foundations were specifically created to shield rich people’s money from taxes (and thus take it out of the public budget where theoretically the public control it) and are systematically used to lure people away from radical, revolutionary movement and into less threatening arenas – like how the Stonewall riots (of mainly poor, transgender women of color) became the birth of the “gay rights” movement which is currently wrapped up in mainly white, middle and upper class gays and lesbians looking for marriage rights. I’m not against marriage rights, per se, but will they radically shift privilege, wealth, or personal safety for queers and transgendered people in this country? So much foundation and government money and energy goes into the fight for marriage, while poor, transgender women of color are still being murdered on the streets in frightening numbers with little to no attention.

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.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hear it for Yourself

One of the awesome things Catalyst organized for us were panel discussions with major movers and shakers in the social justice world. Now, these sessions are recorded for your pleasure!  We had three major ones, and here are video and audio links for two of them (the third is coming through).

Anti-Racist Organizing Strategy Panel

A panel discussion on Strategies for Anti-Racist Organizing with Linda Burnham longtime leader for racial, gender, and economic justice, Dawn Phillips of Just Cause Oakland, Alicia Garza of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), Carla Wallace of the Fairness Campaign and Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.  Panelists ground current anti-racist work within a legacy of long-term social movements, share strategies for building working class power in communities of color in Oakland and San Francisco toward systemic change. Panelists layout what those big picture strategies look like in practice. They share lessons and strategies for anti-racist organizing with white people and ways white people can be part of efforts to build vibrant multi-racial movements for justice.


Indigenous Resistance Panel 

Panel discussion with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Randy Burns, Ras K’dee and Cathy Chapman.  The panelists discuss the historic process of European colonization of North America and indigenous resistance struggles historically and today.


Monday, December 14, 2009


So our closing ceremony was on Saturday. It's official - we're not racist anymore!!!  Just kidding. It's never been just about us being racist or not, it's been about how to fight the structural racism within our society which lives on still even if many individuals don't hold racial prejudices!

Anyways.  So it was beautiful.  Many participants spoke about the impact of the program on their beings and their work.  We heard from two speakers who really tied together the significance of organized, anti-racist whites allied with people of color led movements.  Two groups of participants presented stories of white resistance to racism via songs:

Participants of Irish Heritage sang a song about the St. Patrick’s Brigade. Irish immigrants to the U.S. that had been recruited to fight in the war against Mexico in the mid 1800s. These Irish people saw how the U.S. fighting Mexico was just like England’s war against Ireland, and actually defected from the U.S. army to fight on the Mexican side. They were later captured and executed by the U.S.

Participants of German Heritage (including me!) sang a German song of freedom of thought, which was used in many anti-censorship protests, as well as taken up by resistance to fascism and Nazi Germany.  One group in particular that used the song was the White Rose, a student group that spread leaflets against Adolf Hitler and his particular breed of violent racism. One member, Sophie Scholl, played the song (Die Gedanken sind Frei) on her flute outside of Ulm Prison, where her father was detained after speaking out against Hitler. Six members of the White Rose were later arrested by the Gestapo and executed.

And here's the 2009 graduating class of Anne Braden:

Staying Committed to White People and Organizations

A long noticed tendency is for white people who are following an anti-racist path to step away from and distance themselve from whites who have not worked to undo their racism. To not be associated with those racist whites and never talk to them.  But this is counter productive to the goal of really transforming society. Especially as white people, we must stay committed to developing the anti-racist perspective in other whites.  Someone took the time with us, and we must do so for others.

Tendencies of Some Educated Anti-Racist Whites
Anne Braden, whom this program was named after, was someone who really took the challenge of organizing and educating other whites seriously.  She noticed the tendencies between anti-racist whites towards not-yet-anti-racist whites and suggested another way.

Tendency: Lean Back
Suggestion: Move in Closer

Tendency: Monitor and fear
Suggestion: Use vision-based, historically grounded assessments (understand why people are the way they are based on systems of domination and oppression)

Tendency: Police and control (the behavior and words of "racist" or "ignorant" whites)
Suggestion: Supporting and developing the bigger picture strategy (working with them to becoming anti-racist)

Tendency: Critique from the sidelines
Suggestion: Leading and developing leaders to move from the center (from within the community)

This is not saying to sign on with racist things that people are saying - no you must stay true to your politics, but instead of abandon people to their racism, engage them in debate as their community member. Stick with them and help them move forward instead of leaving them behind.  We speak so much about how capitalism has taught us individuality - that the important thing is for you to get ahead. We want to transform ourselves to be thinking, how can we all get ahead.

Your leadership is Needed

The phrases "your leadership is needed," and "thank you for leadership," have been tossed around so much they went from being meaningful, to being a joke, to not even being funny anymore. But there's something there.

Anti-Authoritarian Leaders
What we looked at in our final sessions was what it means to be a leader and how to call forth the leadership in each and every person. In anti-authoritarian circles, there is this desperation to assert - there are no leaders! We are all equal.  But as Chris Crass's article, "But We Don't Have Leaders" points out by evaluating tendencies within Food Not Bombs, this claim masks the truth that some people are leading, and not being able to identify the leaders shields them from accountability as well as hinders other people from seeing how to step up their own involvement. It also prevents other people from truly being able to share the responsibilities of leadership.

Betita Martinez says "As organizers, we need to reject the idea of leadership as domination, but without denying the existence and need for leadership. Denial can lead to a failure to demand accountability from our leaders. That demand must be embraced, along with anti-authoritarian methods, in leadership development. Accountability takes the measure of a person's responsibility; it means being accountable to one's fellow organizers, to the goals of one's collectivity, and ultimately to the people one claims to serve."

What is suggested instead, is the recognition that all people have the potential to be leaders and that organizations work best when many people are taking leadership in different areas - and then sharing skills and rotating those leadership positions.  A key here is the skills sharing.  I have come to see that the skills I possess in certain areas are actual resources that I need to share with others.  That my real job, if I want to move from being an activist to being an organizer, is not to take on a project and do it because I'm the one who best knows how to do it, but to train someone else to be able to take on that project. We need to shift the expectation and the culture from "Just do it" to "Each one, teach one."

The idea here is COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP.  We looked at the model developed by Sista II Sista as they stepped away from non-profit structure and into a volunteer-run collective focused on developing leadership among their communities.  They say "Although we do not promote individual leaders, we recognize the uniqueness of every individual involved.  Our experiences continue to show us that real and long-lasting change comes through collective leadership and struggle."  There are clear leadership circles within the organization - for accountability and clarity of responsbility - but people are rotated in and among those circles of leadership as new people are trained and encouraged.

Another key is encouragement.  It is egging people on to step into something (and then providing support and training when they do!). It is listening to what they want to do, and telling them that they can do it, then helping them figure out how. It is building the confidence of others! And this doesn't always happen in a formal way, it can happen all the time within a friendship or authentic relationship.  That work counts!

Heres are a couple definitions of a leader:
* A leader helps everyone understand that their role is necessary.
* A leader is someone who takes someone else somewhere they wouldn't have gone alone.

Leadership Styles
A fun thing we did is look at this article on Leadership Styles, learn about the variety of ways that people lead others, and graph our own leadership style out. I encourage you to do it!  The styles that are laid out are:
  • Idealist - the person who keeps clarity of the ideals that motivate the work
  • Mentor - the person who focuses on developing the leadership of others via coaching, etc
  • Achiever - the person who focuses on getting the team to get tasks done
  • Innovator - the person who brings new ideas and methods into the group
  • Synthesizer - the person who analyzes the situation and sees patterns
  • Partner - the person who likes to team up with peers to do things together
  • Enthusiast - the person who infuses energy into the group and keeps people excited about the group's mission
  • Advocate - the person who will do anything to keep the group staying true to the group's mission and getting everyone involved
  • Diplomat - the person who are genuinely wise about working with people and their various needs, mediating, and respecting individuals
10 Key Commitments of Leadership:
Challenging the Process
1. Search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve
2. Experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes

Inspiring a Shared Vision
3. Envision an uplifting and ennobling future
4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams.
Enabling Others to Act
5. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust
6. Strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support.
Modeling the Way
7. Set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.
8. Achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.
Encouraging the Heart
9. Recognize individual contributions to the success of every project.
10. Celebrate team accomplishments regularly.

Jacob, a participant in the program said, and I paraphrase, : If you want to build a ship, you don't just ask people to help you put lumber together, you strive to make them long for the endless beauty of the sea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tracing the Money

Let's talk about money. I have $15,000 in the bank. Me, who grew up on welfare and mac & cheese, and who scraped together odd jobs off craigslist to make my living.  Where did I, of all working class kids, get this?  I inherited it from Uncle White Supremacy.

You see, a few years ago, word was spreading about a friend of ours who got this amazing job that was paying crazy well and how they needed to hire someone else.  My friend Abby took it on, and in a matter of 5 weeks, she had $5000.  Selling drugs you might ask? Marrying wealthy foreigners who wanted US citizenship? No - mentoring poor, black and latino/mayan kids in public school.  Wow, that sounds pretty noble and even almost anti-racist, huh?

The next year the job had multiplied to four positions for 18 weeks for $20,000.  My friend, a white man from a middle class background, encouraged a bunch of us to apply.  I don't even think they formally advertised the position anywhere - just word of mouth among a white man's friends - and somehow we all got in. It was a white man, a man with a Jewish Israeli background, and two white women.

So I went to work "mentoring" about 15 immigrant kids in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) - half of them Haitian, half of them Guatemalan or Mexican, with a couple other kids tossed in. They had been placed in a vocational program to learn HVAC technology (heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration).  They had an HVAC teacher, and I was supposed to be in class with them, to help reinforce and support their learning in there, and then have my own class with them around - get this - issues of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, personal economics, and gang violence.  I have also failed to mention that this program was put together by Junior Achievement, which is where local business people come in and teach kids how to fit in to capitalism. These were the people I remember who in third grade had us create our own pen assembly factory - teaching us to fall into assembly line.

What ended up happening is that the HVAC teacher for that school was out sick all year - the replacement they found was the school district HVAC maintenance man who had no teaching credentials.  The HVAC program at the school was a four year academy - the ESOL kids were getting half a year. The HVAC substitute didn't give a fuck about these kids, and barely taught them anything. Then I had them for my hour and talked to them about balancing check books and CPR. Eventually they kids were so frustrated and felt so lied to about this program they were in, that I ended up taking home the HVAC textbook, reading one chapter at a time and teaching them HVAC myself.

You may ask yourself - Lynne, did you know anything about HVAC to be teaching anyone about it? Lynne, were you trained in ESOL techniques? Lynne, do you understand enough about what black and latino/mayan immigrants are facing when they come to this country to be their mentor?  Lynne, what were your supervisors saying about the way the program was going?

No, no, no, and jack shit. I didn't know how to best interact and guide these kids. There was a supervisor who was supposed to be in the room with me at all times, but she was happy to disappear unnoticed.  And Junior Achievement didn't seem to really care how well the program was going, just how well it met funding requirements. And where was this funding come from?   A little program called TANF:
Under the welfare reform legislation of 1996, (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act – PWRORA – Public Law 104-193), TANF replaced the welfare programs known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program. The law ended federal entitlement to assistance and instead created TANF as a block grant that provides States, territories and tribes federal funds each year. These funds cover benefits, administrative expenses, and services targeted to needy families.
So let me break it down: 
  1. The government takes money away from low income people (which is a multi-racial mix with the highest percentage of welfare recipients being white) and hands it over to the state to offer as grants to local governments and non-profits. This strips away a level of self-determination from low-income people.
  2. Junior Achievement, an explicitly capitalist non-profit, wins this grant and does the bare minimum to look like they are fulfilling the grant mission.
  3. The administrators take a huge chunk of the money and are willing to overlook the qualifications of their applicants. 
  4. The site supervisors are also willing to overlook the performance of the "mentor-teachers" or how the program is being carried out because they are getting paid and can disappear. 
  5. As a mentor-teacher, I don't fight too hard against the administrators or supervisors because I'm young, lacking in confidence, don't totally see what's going on yet, and am getting paid $100 an hour!!! - accumulating an amount of money which, having grown up poor/working class - have never seen in my life.  I'm not saying I didn't fight hard to make the program be its best for my students - I struggled every single day - but the truth was I not trained, did not have support, did not have major decision making power, and was inexperienced dealing with extreme structural hierarchies like existed via this program. As a white working class person I was exploited -  given access because of my whiteness (my educational background and relationship to other whites) and lured by money which I needed
  6. The kids, coming from Haiti and Guatemala - where the US and other colonial racist powers have totally wreaked havoc - got almost nothing out of the program, except some steel-toed boots and other work clothes. 
The administrators got the highest chunk, the supervisors probably a fair deal, the mentor-teachers an amount that was nothing they'd even seen before.  Nothing trickled down from the money that was taken from the hands of the poor.

And that legacy sits in my bank.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Puttin' Your Shine on It!

In response to Radym's question of how to "bring your whole self" into something and encourage others to do so:

One of the more useful phrases i've head on that, and this comes from a Alicia Garza, a young black female leader at a group called POWER, is "put your shine on it" - whatever it is that you're doing, put your unique shine on it. Don't just do it efficiently, do it the way that puts your flair into it.

Here are some examples, both coincidentally about fundraising:
  • At my job at EBASE, which is a progressive left pro-working people multi-racial non-profit organization , I was asked to take over leading the phone banking sessions. Coming into this job, I was trying to take a lot of clues on how I was supposed to act, how to dress, how to be "professional." The office manager, a young black woman, was really enthusiastic and always celebrated people whenever something good happened, putting on the intercom and wildly shaking this hand clapper thing. AND she dressed well. This encouraged me to not just host a boring, "efficient" phonebanking where I gave people call lists and guided them on what to say, but I thought about, what would make this fun for me? I made playlists of music around themes of "money" or "phone calls" - really silly stuff, even just some general pump you up C + C Music Factory stuff - and blared the hell out if when it was phonebanking time - and danced people into the conference room. Then we played some silly games before we moved on to the call lists and spiels. If you know me, I'm all about fun music and dancing and this was how I "brought my whole self" into my 9-to-5 office job. And people LOVED it!!!!
  • During our first weekend in the Braden program, we were told to close our eyes. Someone guided us through a meditation about being at the bottom of the sea, and i was like, where is this going??!! When we were told to open our eyes, there were three of our leaders dressed in glimmery mermaid costumes and wigs! Then they talked to us about how fundraising was going to be a part of the program. Throughout the program, whenever it was time to talk about fundraising, they pulled out the mermaid themes and created a glittery ocean board to post our experiences with fundraising. Sure they could have just passed out some papers with what we would be doing fundraising and given us a motivational speech. But they were all queer and loved sparkles and dressing up and mythical creatures and they sure as hell put their shine on fundraising!
So those are some examples - they are both ones abo. Key points to me are:
  • Verbally encouraging it in the culture! Noticing when professionalism is reigning unnecessarily!
  • When people do it in a small way, thanking them and encourage them to bring it out more!
  • Recognizing people's particular flair or strong points or that they are a good emotional barometer or whatever.
  • Leading by example! When one person starts "bringin' it" it makes it easier for everyone else. If something's really on your mind but you think it "shouldn't" - freakin say it because maybe it's on other people's minds too!
So those are some thoughts.