Archive for category movement building

There is Nothing More Difficult

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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.

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California OFP Cohort Explores Challenges to Movement Building and Gender Democracy

This is the first 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 Program. In Part II of the post, Barbara offers additional reflection on gender democracy and the roles often assigned to women, as well as suggested resources to inform a deeper analysis and richer discourse.

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On April 6th and 7th, the California cohort of the Organizational Fellowship Program convened in San Francisco and struggled with some of the most significant and enduring challenges of advancing social justice and movement building. While sharing their organizational development and programmatic work since the last convening, the participants brought their years of organizing experience to enrich the conversation with explorations such as:

• How to translate gender justice analysis into organizational culture and, thus, into structure, operations and programs;

• How to engage with competing cultural values and reach hearts and minds both within the community and in the larger society;

• What does cultural competence look like in gender democracy work?;
The challenges of sustainability;

• How to engage with the State – does community empowerment replace the need to effect policy change;

• When the status quo is so powerful, can we rationally believe in our power to effect change;

• How to raise our own consciousness about aspects of the status quo detrimental to equality and democracy with which we are comfortable and have no will change; and

• How do we not end up mimicking that which we oppose?

There are no easy “answers” to any of these challenges and each one requires constant reflection and risk-taking.  But it is essential that we engage these struggles if we are to have any chance to create the world in which we want to live.

As I listened to these progressive organizers wrestle with how to make their work more powerful by moving gender equity/democracy to the core, I was struck by the pervasive placement of women within the context of family.  Even as the participants noted aspects of the community’s cultural values antithetical to gender democracy, the participants themselves often placed/valued women only in relation to family and children.  The advocacy on behalf of women tended to be couched in terms of how the family and/or children would benefit.  Even when the discussion turned to the difficulty some women had in participating in meetings due to the husbands’ expectations that the wife should be attending to domestic duties, the response was to schedule the meeting earlier so that the wife could meet this cultural expectation.

I encourage OFP participants to reflect upon the need for further struggle.

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Daring to Do What the Spirit Say Do

Daring to Do What the Spirit Say Do

By Barbara Phillips, Social justice activist and former Ford Foundation Program Officer for Women’s Rights and Gender Equity

Moments of the day with the Minnesota NGEC fellowship organization’s kept poking at me.  So when Peggy Saika shared that it is racism within philanthropy that led to the creation of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), and while AAPIP never intended to be and is not a “funder” it seized the opportunity to create the space for the National Gender & Equity Campaign of which the OFP is a component.

Peggy Saika grounded the OFP work in the initial conception of NGEC, describing NGEC as an example of what’s possible when philanthropy actually undertakes a collaborative, respectful partnership with the community.  NGEC should be understood as a bold experiment in building democratic philanthropy that requires the creative engagement of all the partners.

The OFP groups are making the road by walking it – an over-used phrase, but in this case the most accurate shorthand description of what is really happening.

The OFP groups’ thoughtful struggles keep coming to mind:

* We are managing the issue of “offending the community,” and it compels thoughtfulness about where we stand.  Do we shirk from offending some community members who are unable, yet, to respect the full humanity of others?

* It takes courage to have honest conversations about an organization’s new vision and mission that is grounded in social justice.

* We are exploring what gender looks like in the LGBTQ community and building respect for inclusion.

* We value re-setting aspirations – now we understand our work to be about social change with four core strategies and we need a new structure to implement our new vision.

* We are changing our definition of success from the amount of the grant dollars received to how much change is effected and the duration of that change.

* We’ve altered our identity, structure, and strategies – we need to look for solid connection between intention, practice and impact.  We’re trying to change who are the decision-makers in the community.

* We consider art a strategy for social change and we need diverse artistic expression and perspectives.

* We are building our base, measuring change, and staying accountable.

* I think about the tremendous courage required to embark on this challenging new venture of community organizing within the context of also continuing internal transformation.

First, I meditated on the notion that there’s going to be lots of discomfort and tension along the way.  But, comfort is really over-valued.  It is struggle, not comfort that generates creativity, transformation, energy and ultimately the world in which we want to live.  And sometimes discomfort /tension is not a problem to be solved.  Sometimes the solution to that condition is evolution of a new consciousness that appreciates the condition as an incubator of new vision and new ideas.

Second, I think it is important to make friends with your fears.  Sometimes it is a very smart thing and quite rational to be afraid and to stay afraid.  But, don’t let that stop you.  Advice to “just don’t be afraid” never worked for me.  If I had waited for my fear to subside, I’d probably still be waiting. I learned, instead, to hold the hand of that fear and to take it with me – to “do it” anyway.

I’m reminded of an extraordinary evening several years ago when Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund invited a bunch of college age organizers to spend an evening with veterans of the Civil Rights Movement at Haley Farm in east Tennessee.

The legendary SNCC organizer Bob Moses and several of his colleagues sat around one end of the table and the students sat around the other end and spilled into the room.  Conversation was pretty stiff as the students seemed awed and intimidated by the veterans.  Finally, Bob Moses asked them about what issues grabbed their passion and the students focused upon the prison-industrial complex and its specific impact upon the Black community.

Bob Moses listened attentively and then explored their analyses, strategies, and tactics.  The students shared their experiences and frustrations, contrasting their condition of often being uncertain with the clarity the veterans had brought to the Civil Rights Movement.  The veterans erupted into laughter.  Really.  They did.

And then they explained, “You think we KNEW what we should do?  We so often didn’t know what to do that we even had a song for it!”  And with that, the veterans launched spontaneously into the song, “I’m Gonna Do What the Spirit Say Do.”  And explained that when stuck on deciding what to “do,” they would sing that song in a SNCC meeting or a community organizing Mass Meeting, and then they would do what the spirit say do.  Together. The students were astonished and – finally – real conversation commenced.

I’m gonna do what the Spirit say do

I’m gonna do what the Spirit say do

What the Spirit say do, I’m gonna do Oh, Lord

I’m gonna do what the Spirit say do

I’m gonna fight when the Spirt say fight

I’m gonna fight when the Spirit say fight

When the Spirit say fight, I’m gonna fight Oh, Lord

I’m gonna fight when the Spirit say fight

I’m gonna march when the Spirit say march

I’m gonna march when the Spirit say march

When the Spirit say march, I’m gonna march Oh, Lord

I’m gonna march when the Spirit say march

This is a participatory song and is adapted to whatever conundrum faced the community.  The verses were modified depending upon the circumstances with which the community was wrestling.  It could be pondering alternatives of “fight,” “march,” “pray” – whatever – the song allowed the community to name all the possible alternative actions.  But the closing verse always repeated the first, “I’m gonna do what the Spirit say do.”

We can be immobilized by uncertainty and the fear of doing the “wrong” thing.  But, the response to uncertainty is not to wait for the Angel of Certainty to whisper in our ear.  She won’t be coming and those who are certain are the most dangerous people there are. The response to fear is not to wait for it to subside.  We are challenged to trust ourselves and our communities, to take risks together, to learn together as we move with those risks – to do what the Spirit say do.

 

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Reflections from the OFP Convening – Gender in the Social Justice Movement By Barbara Phillips

NGEC OFP Guest Blog

Reflections from the OFP Convening:Gender in the Social Justice Movement

By Barbara Phillips, Social justice activist and former Ford Foundation Program Officer for Women’s Rights and Gender Equity

Barbara Phillips with the NGEC OFP Cohort in Los Angeles, Nov. 2010

 

I arrived in Los Angeles on November 18, 2010, knowing only that I would be in the presence of diverse innovative institutions and individuals attempting to build a national movement for social justice through transformative analysis and work placing gender equity at the core.

At the invitation of Peggy Saika, a dangerous woman because she is a visionary with fierce organizing, executive, and leadership qualities, I was to have the privilege of hanging out with community-based organizations representing Asian American communities convened under the Organizational Fellowship Program (OFP) of the National Gender & Equity Campaign to reflect upon past work and establish goals and plans for 2011. Undergirding the whole thing is AAPIP’s BRIDGE (Building Responsive Infrastructure to Develop Global Equity), a framework for building and strengthening social justice movements through organizational transformation.

As I joined the group for dinner – a stranger to all but a few – to get my first glimpse of these social justice activists, I was engulfed by spirited camaraderie as participants greeted each other with affection and filled the evening with caring about the work and each other.

To capture the moment, I jotted words that came to mind as I sat there eating great food, being welcomed by those around me, and listening to the chat around me and brief organizational check-ins:

• Affection • Community • Engagement • Commitment • Passion • Connection • Understanding/knowledge • Insight • Compassion • Hope • Belief • Culture

The next morning, the work began in earnest at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Each group reported upon their work during 2010. The breadth and diversity of the organizations ranged from long-time dedicated advocacy troops to a remarkable Minnesota organization that recently transitioned from years of social services to now social services and advocacy putting gender equity/gender democracy first in all its work. And the age range seemed to span from 20s to 60s and then some. I was as engrossed as everyone else who listened respectfully to the presentations of each group.

I was struck by the honesty of the reflections, the openness in sharing challenges and self-critique, and the empathy and insight of questions. Presenters shared the experiences of discerning what “gender justice” actually means at all levels – internally with respect to organizational culture, policies, board and staff composition and practices, as well as externally in engaging members and constituents in the conversation and shaping the work in which the organizations engaged. In the words of one presenter, “This is a process of on-going work around gender, race, and oppression.”

There was no rote recitation of ideology; rather the entire conversation was a living definition of what we dream of when we aspire to practice informing theory and theory informing practice. Here were activists sharing, for example, what it means to bring LGBTQ issues into their work – learning to say “gender matters” as effectively as they have said race matters for positive social change. Eventually, I noticed a bunch of missing elements (elements that are ALWAYS in evidence when social justice activists get together):

• no dysfunctional personalities

• no weary souls sunk in despair

• no unrealistic young organizers

• no older organizers who knew everything

• no bumps, landmines and potholes in communicating across all the diversity in the room

Really, not a single quibble over process. Not a single eruption of warfare over the meaning and appropriateness of a word. Are these people for real??? True. The thoughtfulness and thoroughness of preparation for the convening was obvious. The facilitation by Bo Thao-Urabe, Beckie Masaki, and Alice Hom was exquisite.

In my over 40 years of activism, I’d never experienced a meeting in which each organization was itself engaged in deep internal transformation across such diverse, challenging, and innovative work And each organization was also contributing to a collectively determined vision, framework and work. Complicated and challenging. The pace was unrelenting, but no one seemed exhausted; to the contrary, the room buzzed with energy.

As I watched the incredible productiveness of these social justice activists, I realized BRIDGE and the transformative power of placing gender equity at the core of the work were responsible for what was amazing about this convening. It is through the tools of BRIDGE that these activists and organizations are undergoing internal transformation while developing the capacity for a different realm of vision and work – building a powerful, sustainable, broad-based social justice movement .

I observed that November weekend in Los Angeles, and find reason to hope. My son tells me there were thousands of young people at the U.S. Social Forum in 2010, ready to join in common cause. In Los Angeles – convening in one room for a brief moment – was the wisdom, passion, organizing skills and fortitude that the BRIDGE will channel and strengthen into a stronger, more effective social justice movement.

These organizations are making the abstract into reality. Their experiences show that through placing gender equity/gender democracy at the core of social change and utilizing the tools of BRIDGE, social justice organizations in the U.S. can transform themselves internally and can develop the capacity to create a powerful movement.

My hope is that other social justice organizations take a serious look at this work and make it part of their own; that funders realize activists have created an effective framework called BRIDGE for movement building; and that organizations and funders form meaningful partnerships in building the social justice movement that will bring about the change for which we have struggled so long.

I left the convening thinking of my favorite proverb, “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interfere with those who are doing it.”

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Call to Action: California API groups mobilize for Arizona May 28-29

compiled by Dana Kawaoka-Chen, Capacity Building Manager

The passage of Arizona S.B. 1070–a bill that gives authorization to police officers to stop any person they think is undocumented—last month has prompted national outcry.  Many of the organizations in the National Gender & Equity Campaign’s Organization Fellowship Program are actively involved in efforts to repeal SB 1070 and stand in solidarity with targeted communities in Arizona.

This weekend–May 29, 2010, people of conscience from throughout the United States and Phoenix will march in the tens of thousands to the State Capitol to demand justice in the face of legalized discrimination and hate. They will demand that President Obama stand on the right side of history and take immediate and concrete action to stop SB1070.

At least two API delegations are being organized from California—from the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and there are a number of local actions being planned.  Below, please find more information about how you can get involved:

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How would organizational effectiveness be different from a social justice movement frame?

Reflections from the 2010 GEO conference from Bo Thao-Urabe, BRIDGE Director about organizational effectiveness using NGEC’s framework.


Social Justice Movement Building diagram

How would organizational effectiveness be different from a social justice movement frame? - By Bo Thao-Urabe, Director, BRIDGE (Building Responsive Infrastructure to Develop Global Equity)

Recently I participated in the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ (GEO) national conference.  The participants were mostly people from foundations, but there were some representatives from consulting firms, affinity groups and community nonprofits.  Being a newbie, I chatted with a few participants about why they came.  For most, “organizational effectiveness” of nonprofit groups being funded seemed top of mind.

On a very basic level, organizational effectiveness is a seemingly apolitical term used in the nonprofit sector to demonstrate how successful an organization is in achieving its stated goals.  This has translated into tools and methods that help groups develop measurement units of their work — like demographically naming the population being served, counting the number of people served, and showing the level of satisfaction of those served. But these are very contained, focused, logical, short-term, and absent a worldview.

For me, just using the “organizational effective” paradigm alone misses a more dynamic beginning and evolution of organizations that helps us understand and answer the question of, “So What?”  or “Organizational effectiveness for what?”

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NGEC OFP Peer Learning Session with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities

http://www.caaav.org/images/global/logo_lg.gifOur latest OFP peer learning call featured Helena Wong from CAAAV:  Organizing Asian Communities.  Helena shared her perspectives and experiences on building collective leadership, cross-generational community involvement in their organization, and their work on intersectional issues in the NYC context.

(We’ll be posting additional insights, reactions and learnings from our guest & participants…  so stay tuned!)

CAAAV was founded by Asian women in 1986 as one of the first to mobilize against anti-Asian violence in NYC.   CAAAV focuses on institutional violence affecting immigrant, poor and working-class communities such as worker exploitation, urban poverty, police brutality, INS detention / deportation, and criminalization of youth…

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Creating Community Identity – Ideas + Questions Inspired by New Orleans Convening

OFP participants at New Orleans convening

(Sharing some reflections from our recent convening  – written by Megan Powers, NGEC’s Capacity Building Manager in Minnesota.)

A question bubbled up among many during NGEC’s recent OFP cohort convening in New Orleans: How can a group help to create and harness a community’s identity?

After viewing “A Village Called Versailles”, visiting with New Orleans residents and organizers, and much discussion, cohort participants noted that part of the success of the neighborhood’s organizing work can be attributed to a strong sense of community identity.

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“Justice Rising: Sparking Dialogue for Democracy” NGEC video & Guide

“Justice Rising: Sparking Dialogue for Democracy”

The intended audiences for the video and the guide are individuals and organizations who are exploring the meaning of social justice in their work. The following clips from the NGEC’s Justice Rising video offers various definitions and organizational strategies for advancing social justice in communities. It focuses on the importance of giving meaning to social justice as a concept and a framework, and shares tangible examples of how some groups have responded by creating programs and carrying out specific strategies.

Justice Rising – Video Discussion Guide

Justice Rising NGEC

Download .pdf (1.1 MB)

PART 1 of 2

PART 2 of 2

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Sample Exercises + Team Activities from NGEC’s Social Justice Capacity Building Program

NGEC OFP’s Sample Exercises and Team Activities

The exercises and activities we list below were initially developed for use in NGEC’s Organizational Fellowship Program with our 12 Asian American partner organizations in Minnesota and California.

Although they represent just a sampling of what we do in our intensive 3-year capacity building program, NGEC shares these resources in the spirit of making them available to wider audiences.

We hope folks find them useful and applicable to other areas of work.  NGEC welcomes and appreciate your feedback as we continue to refine and update these tools as they are tested and adapted by the community.

“Exploring Our Values” Exercise

“Fictional VRC Role Play” Exercise

“Organization Alignment” Exercise

“Organizational Transformation Role Play” Exercise

“Zooming In and Zooming Out” Exercise

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