Posts Tagged social justice

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

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.

 

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Social Justice Organizations Moving from Intention to Practice: the Journey of Minnesota’s Fellowship Organizations

Social Justice Organizations Moving from Intention to Practice: the Journey of Minnesota’s Fellowship Organizations

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

The Minnesota cohort of the Organization Fellowship Program convened on March 24- 25, 2011 in sunny, cold St. Paul, Minnesota.  We were ever so fortunate to be in the beautiful and huge conference room of the Northwest Area Foundation with sunshine streaming through its windows wrapping around two walls.  It is tremendously valuable to be in beautiful, comfortable spaces.

Those who are stuck in thinking all should go just as well or even BETTER if activists are more “authentically” stuck in some dank, dark, dreary space need to get over it.  Why do you think the Rockefeller Foundation keeps up that beautiful villa in Bellagio, Italy and uses it as a place of contemplation, reflection, and strategic thinking for scholars and activists it considers worthy of investment?

So, we were in a space conducive to challenging work, and the creative facilitation by Bo Thao-Urabe and Karen Perkins enabled high energy, extraordinarily focused collective thinking throughout the entire convening. The convening engaged the organizational leaders in sharing and reflecting collectively.

As the groups shared their work, I was first struck by what seemed to be a deepening of openness, honesty, self-reflection, and appreciation for the uniqueness of each organization and understanding of the work.  Each group shared a particular challenge now encountered in their work, and then there were thoughtful, respectful, creative responses from the collaborative

Some challenges lifted by these groups are:

• How to create, articulate, write and incorporate gender equity into policies and practices,
• How to approach concerns about “offending” the community,
• Defining who the organization is accountable to, and therefore, how do we pick with whom to collaborate,
• How to manage the risk-taking component in all of this, including approaching a potential partner/collaborator/ally,
• How to align the conversation of the board and leadership, who are focused on organizational level policies and practices, with the more personal conversations within the community,
• How to handle the practical side of transitioning from a “crises center” to an “organizing center,”
• Here’s a project we intend to launch; give us your feedback.

It became clear at this March convening that the OFP groups now owned its share of this space – no longer are they looking to AAPIP for answers; these OFP leaders are creating answers within themselves and among each other.

Then, extraordinary community organizers – Eun Sook Lee, Kori Chen, and Pakou Hang – challenged each member of the OFP to take the risks of launching itself into actual community organizing.  As each OFP member is changing internally, how will they move that change externally into programming, into base-building, into that community base, and ultimately into the larger community and public policy?

The most telling comment upon the transformation already experienced by the OFP members came when a member commented, “This is scary stuff.  I can hear it now, but I couldn’t hear it two years ago. I’ll face much opposition. It’s scary.  Are we willing to take that risk?” 

And the answer of the OFP groups is a resounding “YES!”


, , , , , ,

1 Comment

2010 Advancing Justice Conference (AAPIs United In Strength) June 23-25 Alexandria, VA

2010 Advancing Justice Conference

Coming up next month!

June 23 – June 25, 2010

“The Advancing Justice Conference is a national civil rights and social justice conference that aims to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders in one place to address a broad range of issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. It serves as a unique forum where researchers, advocates, direct service providers and other leaders can meet face-to-face, talk about their common challenges and find ways to work collaboratively.

The Advancing Justice Conference is a joint project by the Asian American Institute (Chicago), Asian American Justice Center (Washington, D.C.), Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (Los Angeles).”

AJC Workshop Tracks include:

Register online by June 2nd for their early bird discount
http://www.advancingjustice.org/2010/registration

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

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?”

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

OFP Cohort Progress & Learnings – Year One

NGEC JourneyAs part of our ongoing learning and broader community sharing, the NGEC staff is sharing a few key reflections about the 1st year of our capacity building approach, process and tools  from the NGEC  Organizational Fellowship Program cohort.

Knowing that there isn’t “one model” for change, we’re actively documenting the questions, processes and challenges of our cohort that offer “signs of progress.”

See the full text here: http://genderandequity.org/year1ofp

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.