Win Some, Lose Some

It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling like a great organizer to a terrible organizer in the space of a few hours. I’m trying to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that part of taking risks is also erring and failing and then taking time to reflect on the lessons you learned. So this is me trying to reflect instead of wallow.

In the organization I work with, we do this practice called agitation. It’s a way of creating tension to help someone make a decision to change an attitude or behavior that gets in the way of their building power. It can be a very effective tool in the context of relational leadership development; I’ve experienced significant transformation through agitational training.

But “context” and “relational” are key words here. Agitation is something you plan to do as part of an ongoing public relationship you establish to build power together. You have to understand someone’s self-interest and have clarity around what they need to be agitated on and why. Even in an agitational training, trainers review the reflection forms of trainees and think about where they may need to be agitated in relation to the content.

The point is, you don’t do these things ad hoc, like I did today.

Continue reading “Win Some, Lose Some”

Advertisements

Making space

I’m always trying to figure out how to be “disciplined with my time.”

There’s real value in this. I’ve been realizing over the past several months that I’m always talking about wanting to have time to do the things that keep me healthy, but saying that I can’t find the time. And then I realize: well, I just spent two hours browsing Facebook. I’m pretty sure I could have used that time to write, or exercise, or cook, or any of the things I’m always saying I don’t have time for.

So when I got back from my leadership retreat last week, I was very serious about calendaring. I was very rigorous about allocating time to the things I kept saying were important: for prayer, for writing, for spending time with family and friends, for sleep. It felt a little weird to schedule my sleep and my chill time, but it also felt comforting to know that I had actually set aside that time and that I wasn’t just leaving those things to the whims of however my day went.

Continue reading “Making space”

My America

In my progress from slavery to the present, I only made it to about 1954 today. Sometimes, the weight of history is more than a day can bear.

I did a lot of reading for this week’s blog, but not in the usual sense: it was almost entirely composed of signage in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. This was my first time visiting the museum since its opening last fall. It’s testament to the deep cultural void this museum has finally filled that its entry passes are snapped up almost as soon as they are released – the next batch of tickets, for dates starting in June 2017, won’t be available until the beginning of March. If museums were Broadway shows, it’s like trying to get a ticket to Hamilton.

20170206_123727

Continue reading “My America”

For Colored Girls / When the World is So F*d Up That You Seriously Can’t Figure Out What to Do with Yourself

First off, THANK YOU to all of you who are following my blog during this experiment. It gives me a particular sense of joy to know that such wonderful people will be reading what I write. And the accountability is working – I didn’t want to get to tomorrow morning and have any of you ask me when my first RWR blog post was going to show up.

For those of you who haven’t been connected to me on Facebook: I finally reached that moment where the utility of the platform for sharing and discussing ideas was far outweighed by its soul-crushing, hope-devouring effects. One of my friends shared an article about the Trump campaign’s use of big data that made me feel like I needed to delete all my posts and take a shower. I want to still engage with people about how we live together in this world; I need to still engage with people if I’m going to survive this period we’ve entered into. But I was swimming in a miasma of toxicity, and I was putting back into that environment what I was absorbing from it. I want to bring joy and hope as well as righteous anger to my social media life. And while I’m so glad that the Lord was able to use the things I posted on Facebook to speak to people, I need to find a different way to go about this.

Continue reading “For Colored Girls / When the World is So F*d Up That You Seriously Can’t Figure Out What to Do with Yourself”

What we see

My sister and brother in law have a Subaru Outback. I wasn’t particularly familiar with that make and model of car when they got it. In fact, it kind of surprised me, because the advent of minivans and SUVs had led me to believe that the station wagon – along with my childhood – had largely disappeared sometime in the mid-90s. But there it was, a very handy vehicle; and when my mother’s car was totaled in a horrifying multi-car accident, I found myself driving the Subaru quite a bit.

That’s when a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, I kept seeing other Outbacks on the road. They were everywhere, in every kind of color. I started recognizing different styles, and I started to be able to distinguish between older and newer models. Apparently, these cars had been all around me the whole time; I’d just never noticed them.

Continue reading “What we see”

Be ye transformed

​Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

Additional election reflection: I just had an insight into why this election result, while disgusting me in the extreme, is neither all that surprising nor traumatizing. Many people on my feed are writing about feeling like this isn’t their country, like they can’t believe they live in a nation this racist/xenophobic/misogynistic, like they don’t know how to live in a nation where this is true, etc. Those reactions sounded oddly familiar, and it occurred to me that I already had that moment for myself and my nation: two years ago, after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I said these exact things in a sobbing phone conversation with my mother, as I sat in my front yard in Somerville trying to figure out how I could continue getting up and going to work and living life like the world hadn’t just exploded.

My pro-tips:

  1. It’s OK to be devastated. I was barely functional at work for the latter half of August 2014, trying to deal with the trauma. Don’t try to act like nothing has happened. Breathe, grieve, and give yourself some grace.
  2. Let yourself be angry, but not forever, and not so that it toxifies you. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years in a seething rage. It’s not that I was wrong to be angry; but it was an impotent rage that I had a hard time channeling into productive outlets. I wish I had spent more time processing my emotions through relational and spiritual spaces that allowed me to express what I was feeling, but then begin to heal and refocus on my purpose. Try to find (or create) those spaces for yourself. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IN THIS REGARD!
  3. Let it change your life. Ferguson was the moment that changed everything for me. Within four months, I quit my job and moved from the place I thought I’d live forever to an area of the country I swore I wouldn’t return to unless a family member was dying. I spent 16 months away from full-time, 9-to-5 work, and instead spent most of that period caring for family members. (NOTE: none of those family members were dying, although both my parents gave us some good scares that I’ll thank them not to repeat!! 😛 ❤) That transition was EVERYTHING: it reoriented my priorities and opened up opportunities I could never have conceived, let alone planned for. The vision I had for my future and life’s work is becoming a reality that I’m walking in daily because of that move. Paradoxically, despite the election, today was an absolutely magnificent day for me because I am in the midst of this moment where so many amazing things are blooming for me that I can barely keep track of them all. That trauma was a real trauma – but it was also the doorway to blessings beyond measure.

There is no more business as usual. But the thing is, there never was. Live into that reality, because that’s where all the amazing shit becomes possible.

We can be #strongertogether – but we’re not yet

​My thoughts as I watched the election results roll in…

We need to own that, on the Democrat/left/progressive side, the closeness of this presidential election is the consequence of our collective failure to center #NeverTrump as our shared interest and organize effectively around that. None of us – including Clinton supporters – made that a priority, and so if Trump is defeated tonight, it will be in spite of us doing a shitty job of building a coalition powerful enough to defeat him.
I’ll be completely honest: defeating Trump was never my first priority as a voter. I live in a safely “blue” state where my vote for Jill Stein wasn’t going to have any meaningful impact on the Electoral College outcome. But I also was, and frankly still am, of the opinion that a Trump presidency wouldn’t significantly change the trajectory or nature of the work I do around dismantling structural oppression – and that the shock among both progressives and anti-Trump conservatives at such a result would actually make certain aspects of my work easier. You can disagree with my analysis of the landscape, but a) you’re not viewing it from where I’m standing, and b) whether or not you see what I see doesn’t actually matter. You just need to know how I am seeing this election, and know that the end result was that not only did I not change my vote, I also didn’t devote any real energy to developing a coalition of voters from multiple perspectives who could effectively work together to defeat Trump because I wasn’t sufficiently invested in that outcome.

And this is where we come to what I do have in common with #voteblue advocates: with a VERY limited number of exceptions (which I’m assuming exist simply because there are exceptions to every rule, not because I actually encountered any of these exceptions during my experience of this election cycle), Clinton supporters also didn’t devote any real energy to developing that coalition. Like me, they were primarily concerned with how the world looked from their viewpoint, and they primarily focused on trying to get others to agree that the world was as they saw it. But arguing isn’t organizing, and no matter who wins the presidential election it will represent a massive progressive organizing failure. We didn’t respect or work from a recognition of each other’s self-interest, so we didn’t build the power we needed to avoid this mess.

We are witnessing the entirely predictable result of focusing on positions instead of interests; of not being serious enough about defeating Trump to dedicate ourselves to building the power that would lead us to achieving that end. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it is highly tempting to reject that analysis in favor of believing that it’s somebody else’s fault this is happening. But an organizing training I attended last month has caused me to take a much more focused approach to building power – and a much closer and harder look at the ways that our attitudes and actions in progressive organizing fall into predictable patterns the dominant system trains us in from birth in order to keep us from being able to work together toward our liberation.

The paragraphs below are excerpted from a comment I made earlier today in response to a friend’s post. The context is a rebuttal to the idea that a #NeverTrump outcome could be achieved by anything other than a #voteblue strategy, so the excerpt includes my particular feelings about that as a third-party voter. But in addition to reflecting on how one segment of voters may have responded to Democratic persuasion tactics during this election, I invite folks to focus on the segments concerning self-interest and organizing for power.

I’ve been saying this all year: the only successful way to build a coalition guaranteed to defeat Trump was to engage the interests of those you needed to persuade – not what you think their interests SHOULD be, or what YOU think their interests are, but what THEY say they want and are concerned about. Dismissing someone’s concerns as short-sighted, self-serving, egotistical Hillary hating may be gratifying to your ego, but it is IN NO WAY persuasive for your target audience. It is not only completely disrespectful, but also INCREDIBLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. You might want to believe that people choosing to vote for Clinton despite serious misgivings are being beatifically altruistic; they are not. They found a way to connect a Clinton vote to the things that were most persuasive for them as a voter. But that rationale is not going to be the same for every voter, so you can’t just make the same case to everyone and call anyone for whom that doesn’t resonate an immoral whiny baby who doesn’t deserve to be listened to – at least, not if the priority is organizing for a desired outcome rather than resting in one’s own sense of righteousness.

People organize themselves and their resources in their self-interest: that is, in the ways they see that they can meet both their needs and those of the others they are working with. And contrary to popular belief, being self-interested is a good thing; it means that you can clearly identify the reasons for you to continue working toward your shared goal even when your coalition faces obstacles and conflicts. Our self-interest is our stake in seeing the outcome through. Without it, when things get too difficult or frustrating, people bail, and your coalition loses power. With it, people can focus on the shared goal and find ways to overcome obstacles together.

Basically, Clinton supporters have been telling a lot of progressive voters that the things those voters care about don’t matter, or don’t matter enough to be addressed in any way, and that they should band together with a group of people who look down on them and call them names. That’s insanity; only highly-traumatized people respond to that tactic, and EVEN THEN it’s still because the person has redefined abusive behavior to represent a twisted, demoralized definition of meeting their needs. Thankfully, most of us are not residing in that psychological place (except with respect to capitalism, but that’s another diatribe), so we dissociate from people who treat us that way and go find folks who will treat us with some dignity. But again, that dissociation means you lose potential members of your coalition.

Don’t want to organize with third-party progressives because you really do think they’re whiny babies not worth your time? That’s cool; you don’t organize with everyone. There are people and organizations I definitely write off when I think about food justice organizing, because I don’t respect them and I think the gulf between our interests is way too far. But if I’m going to do that, I damn sure better make sure I have organized enough other people and resources to make up for what I lose by writing those folks off; otherwise I will fail at achieving what is important to me because I failed to do what was needed to build sufficient power. We’ll find out later today whether the Clinton electoral coalition built enough power to emerge from this nightmare with the presidency.