By Barbara Phillips
“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.”
And so, courageous social justice warriors convened as the Organizational Fellowship Program September 16 – 17, 2011 in the Bay Area to reflect upon their collective journey to initiate a new order of things within themselves, their organizations, their communities, the broader social justice movement – across the U.S. and beyond. The weekend was about sharing the stories of that journey and, more importantly, learning from those experiences – lifting up struggles with terminology, theory and practice and appreciating that context matters. As one participant said so eloquently, the weekend marked not the end and not the beginning, but “The end of the beginning.”
It was so appropriate that the convening of September 16th was at the site in Oakland where the first convening took place almost three years ago. My hope for those who were returning is that they were flooded with raw, unfiltered memories of that first experience – not just their thoughts, but their feelings about jumping into the unknown. One participant spoke with particular openness and honesty about the panic that swept through him as he pondered, “What do we do now???” – after being a part of the OFP.
My hope is that these social justice warriors embrace the reality of the unending repetitiveness of that query, “What do we do now?”
The answer will come to them as they continue their collective struggle. And if they are lucky, the answer will never be definitive. They will never know for sure that a particular course of action is “right.” They do not need the false certainty of being “right”; all they need to move forward is the intention to struggle honestly and with compassion and to continue reflecting, thinking critically, learning as they go, and sharing all of that with the community.
There will be many times when the way is not certain. That is the nature of initiating a new order of things. The civil rights movement embraced the reality of those recurring moments with a song, “Do What the Spirit Say Do.” The community sang that song over-and-over until there was a collective decision. These courageous social justice warriors will create their own unique response to these moments because they are initiating a new order of things. And for that we should all stand in grateful solidarity.
How NGEC’s Organizational Fellowship Program Built Our Organization’s Capacity to Achieve Gender Equity
By Vincent Pan, Executive Director, Chinese for Affirmative Action
When we consider change, our mindset is typically to reflect upon the past and then imagine a different future. This is a necessary approach, but it is rarely enough.
Instead, sustainable change requires us to look inwards – at our own beliefs, biases, and behaviors – so that we critique and transform our whole way of being.
In many respects, this is the true challenge of capacity building. How do we, as individuals and as institutions, intentionally shape our own evolution even as we attempt to shape the evolution of our communities? How do we do this to achieve a more wholehearted and healthy version of ourselves?
The three years that Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) participated in the National Gender & Equity Campaign (NGEC) was part of our attempt to answer these questions. Through philosophy and through practice (and more practice) we sought to improve how we understand and live our commitment to gender democracy, gender equity, and gender justice.
At times, even plans were profound. For example, re-organizing our offices to be more physically open encouraged sharing space and subsequently power. The creation of unexpected teams across work areas, and the rotation of responsibilities within teams, broadened our perspectives and deepened our empathy for one another.
Those steps were part and parcel, and precursor, to the explicit address of gender. In many ways, gender equity became both a means and an ends. It was an open challenge as each insight spawned exponentially more pathways to pursue. Each measure of growth revealed more horizons to explore. I can better see the pursuit of gender equity as a living, breathing process that must continually surface and resurface in our politics, in our policies, in our programs, in the lives of those who participate in and with our efforts.
Today we live in a time of great danger. Recorded poverty in America has never been higher even as our capacity for materialism surges unbounded. Two wars abroad and the domestic war on our civil liberties drain our moral and financial reserves. Fundamentalists exploit the lack of a coherent system of ethics in our country to further divide and oppress people using class, color, gender, and identity.
Yet it is also a time of great hope. A new generation of activists has within its grasp the ability to achieve a new universal consciousness. It is a consciousness that does not circumvent or freeze identity, but instead marches with it towards social justice. It is consciousness based on love and compassion, and on fairness and freedom. It is a consciousness that asks what it means to be a human being in the twenty-first century.
Ultimately, this campaign was about us re-engineering our DNA. This is as it should be, because only by transforming ourselves, as deeply and inwardly as possible, and as individuals and as institutions, can we begin to create the consciousness and fulfill the hopefulness these difficult times demand.
Vincent Pan is the executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a community-based civil rights organization in San Francisco.
Ending at the Beginning: A Reflection about the Final Convening of Organizational Fellowship Program
By Iris Shiraishi, Mu Performing Arts
“We end at the beginning” – that was my first thought walking into Nile Hall at Preservation Park in Oakland, California last week. Three years ago, walking into the same hall, I had so many questions as we embarked on our collective journey in the Organizational Fellowship Program, a project of the National Gender & Equity Campaign (NGEC). I can’t say that all those original questions have been answered, but I can say that they’ve been supplanted by those that come from a deeper understanding of the issues as we work towards gender and equity.
I loved meeting up and hearing from folks across both the MN and CA cohorts. I loved seeing past staff join the convening. It is from these deep and lasting relationships that I hope I/Mu/all of us can begin at this ending and continue on our work with renewed focus and passion.
AAPIP’s plenary session on Philanthropy and the Economy on Saturday was awe-inspiring! Each of the speakers communicated their purpose and dedication from such a deep, honest, authentic place; you could not walk away without feeling energized and inspired. I will know to conjure up their presence whenever I get discouraged or too bogged down in the mire of the work.
And that was a rockin’ reception and dinner! Those little scallop things melted in your mouth; the liquid refreshments flowed oh so freely and I was able to laugh a lot with more folks throughout the evening.
Thank you AAPIP for a great convening; thank you for all your support over these three years; thank you for helping me do my work!