For Women to Be All That They Can Be

This is the second of a two-part blog post by Barbara Phillips on her observations at the April 2011 convening of the California cohort of the NGEC Organizational Fellowship ProgramClick here to read Part I of the post, and Barbara’s initial reflections focusing on gender democracy and the roles often assigned to women that were part of the cohort’s discussion.

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The April 6th and 7th conversation at the OFP convening of the California cohort reminded me of a billboard I saw recently advertising the value of a particular community college.  The image presented a single Mother and two children, and the text exhorted her to attend this college so that she could become “the backbone” for her family.  This troubles me because there was nothing on that billboard about her intrinsic value, her dreams, her goals.  Her further education was presented as something of value only in relation to her ability to serve her children.  By comparison, let me mention that slogan of the Army targeting men – “Be all that you can be!”  I say this understanding fully that the toughest place to work and the toughest work to do is challenging the culture within our own communities – especially around issues related to gender.

Let me recommend two pieces of reading.  Check out the article “Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom” by Corey Robin in the April 25, 2011 issue of The Nation.  He makes the case for an explicit, progressive argument relevant to why we should engage in policy advocacy by re-positioning the role of the State as an instrument of freedom:

Without a strong government hand in the economy, men and women are at the mercy of their employer.  When government is aligned with democratic movements on the ground, it becomes the individual’s instrument for liberating herself from her rulers in the private sphere, a way to break the back of private autocracy.

Perhaps he offers some answers to our struggles with engaging policy advocacy, and crafting an analysis of the role of the State and the relationship we should have with it.

Another good read is a beautiful, provocative, and small book by Leela Fernandes, an activist/scholar entitled Transforming Feminist Practice: Non-Violence, Social Justice and the Possibilities of a Spiritualized Feminism (Aunt Lute Books, San Francisco, 2003).  Her ideas speak to our struggle against replicating that which we oppose and our sense of impotency in the face of the powerful systems of the status quo. Fernandes offers the possibilities of spiritualized social transformation that gives us the tools to create alternative forms of practice that do not replicate problematic structures and privilege, and which support participatory democracy.  Her tools challenge all forms of injustice, hierarchy and abuse from the most intimate daily practices in our lives to the larger structures of race, gender, class, sexuality and nation.

At its core, Fernandes’s work makes the case that a deep understanding of and adherence to non-violence should begin with understanding that compassion, humility and love are not just feelings but are practices.

She discusses the transformative power of these practices in daily life and especially in the realm of “public” practices – within our organizations, with our colleagues and collaborators, our communities, and even our oppressors. See if her ideas contribute new possibilities as the OFP cohort works through the struggles discussed during the April convening.

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