How now down brown, Take 4: Strategies for change

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We were asked a question about how do we know what strategies for social change are effective and after thinking long and hard about it, the first coherent thought we put together was, “This is such a big, hard question.” There are so many ways to dissect this issue (by strategies, by institutional type, by types of change). The person asking the question was mostly interested in larger, societal change, and not necessarily changes within college campuses or particular institutions so we decided to use this space to think through some of our ideas within that broader framework and offer suggestions for reading and resources about strategies for change.

At the broadest level, when we look at historical social movements, the strategies that seem necessary to make possible change are naming the status quo, interrupting it in visible, audible, material ways, and, to some extent, suggesting possible pathways forward. A lot of times, it’s easy to stop at the naming stage, because we expect that as soon as we name the problem, everyone will get on board with us and brainstorm solutions. But, of course, the status quo is the status quo for a reason: it works, mostly, and for most people. The naming strategy could work for those who benefit from the status quo but are empathetic to those from whom it doesn’t. But that strategy won’t work for those who cannot see or do not care to see the inequities. This is where interrupting the status quo matters because these interruptions make life difficult for those inhabiting and benefitting from the status quo. To be really effective, the interruption has to fit the particular ill being addressed; for example, segregation and policing of public space demands an interruption and eruption onto spaces not thought of as public. Finally, the common critique that is made of social justice movements is that they do not get to that third part–the suggestions of possible ways forward that will lead to substantial changes in the status quo. But, of course, movements often DO have action plans–but they might not be articulated or framed or visible in ways that are legible to those who benefit from the status quo (for example, this critique is leveled at the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, even though there are many concrete policy recommendations made by the group).

With shifts in technology (from broadsides to newspaper to radio to the internet and social media), different ways of gathering support and communicating actions and goals are available. But we’d argue that these changes in technology haven’t shifted the strategies meaningfully. Naming of the ways in which the status quo harms people in our communities still needs to happen publicly. If naming doesn’t receive an institutional response, there still needs to be interruption. Interruption gains strength by numbers. And having suggestions for change allows for the possible imagining of better, more equitable futures.

One great resource to get a sense of the diversity of types of interruptive actions is the Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College (shoutout to Anita’s alma mater!) . You can search the database by protest strategy here and in the various cases, you can find out more about how successful the particular method was. It can be a great resource to learn more about the great range of strategies used around the world to try and effect change. As this database shows, there is no ONE strategy that makes sense for all possible types of changes we are trying to effect in society (well, other than the fact all of these are nonviolent forms of protest.)

Neither of us is a scholar of social movements. But we’ve both participated in them and care deeply about ongoing movements…and from that perspective, we’d caution any of us to not attempt (always) to use the idea of “effectiveness” as the only or most important measure of the value and outcome of specific strategies. Sometimes there is a clear line between action and result, but most of the time, there is not. Rather, actions have ripple effects, and those waves often end up shifting values, hopes, and determinations in any number of unpredictable ways, making for circuitous routes back to the centers of power.

We have a few readings/case studies that we hope will also be useful:

Our colleague Dev Gupta (political science) recently published this great overview of the study of social movements.

Sekou Franklin (2014). After the rebellion: Black youth, social movement activism, and the post-civil rights generation.

Contemporary youth activism: Advancing social justice in the United States (2016). Edited by Jerusha Conner and Sonia M. Rosen.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.

 

 

Power to the (young) people

Image by Lalo Alcaraz

As all of you likely know, last Wednesday, on February 14th, a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 people and wounded 14 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.   This school shooting is the 18th in 2018, which, as Amy Goodman points out, means that there has been a school shooting every 60 hours so far this year. The ongoing death toll is painfully large: since 2012, when 26 people–including 20 first graders–were killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide and 138 deaths.

While young people are vulnerable to gun-related injury and death in many spaces beyond schools, due to the general proliferation of guns in U.S. society [1], school shootings provoke a painful cycle that we’ve now seen many times: outrage and sorrow; thoughts and prayers; calls for more gun control; no change in gun control laws; shooting forgotten till the next one happens.

What might make a difference and break the cycle in this case is that the young people directly affected by this latest shooting are organizing and demanding change, and they’re being joined by young people all over the country. Emma Gonzalez, whose impassioned speech inspired the photo above, called out politicians for their inaction and declared:

We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting. Just like Tinker v. Des Moines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students.

Students have organized themselves to ask for change on the state and federal level: marching to Tallahassee, having a die-in at the White House, and walkouts and rallies on February 21st, the one-week anniversary of the Parkland shooting. More actions have also been planned: rally on the March 14th (one month anniversary of the shooting); a March on Washington on March 24th; and another walkout on April 20th (April 20th, 1999, was when the Columbine school massacre occurred.) There are a number of sites that are working to keep track of all the planned actions; March for our Lives’ FB page is one of those.

We are inspired by and stand with these students as we stand with all the young people who have long been organizing for change in their schools, including demanding more equitable funding; safe and supportive spaces for transgender and gender non-conforming youth; and culturally relevant curriculum including critical ethnic studies courses.

Footnotes

  1.  As Lindsay Nichols, the federal policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, puts it: “Children are also at risk in concerts, in movie theaters, and often very times at home. We have a epidemic of murder-suicides in this country, that are often preceded by domestic violence. And we need to look at that in that larger context and remember that schools are just—are actually, overall, relatively safe places for children to be, when you talk about the larger impact on children and on all members of our society.

P.S. If you’re a teacher or a professor, you most likely have your retirement funds invested with TIAA-CREF. Please consider signing this petition to ask TIAA-CREF to divest from gun manufacturers.

A White Supremacist Walks on to a College Campus…

Image: Students at Harvard University protesting a speech by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (source)

and $600,000 gets spent on security.  When we read that, our immediate reaction was, “what else could we do with  $600,000?”

  • scholarships for low-income students;
  • a series of lectures by prominent historians of color, focusing on what really led to the Civil War;
  • supply needed books to the Carleton Textbook library;
  • laptops and other techy needs for students who don’t have the means.

In other words, this particular recent incident at the University of Florida had us thinking about how we might and should respond if, say, Richard Spencer were to speak on our campus, as well as about how our institutional and collective responses extract costs from our campus community–financially, emotionally, and otherwise–that are important to consider.

Truth be told, we went back and forth about whether we should write this piece, even though we have frequent conversations about the topic. We know that it’s a lot easier to diagnose and critique when you’re not in the middle of the fracas. So we don’t see our views as a critique of what other universities and colleges and student bodies have done; rather, what we do want to do is to remind ourselves of our core goals as an educational institution and then imagine what tactics match up with them. We do think that sometimes our tactics damage our causes, and that’s not useful for any of us as we fight against white supremacy, historical revisionism, and hate. To that end, we hope that readers will comment and add their thoughts and questions.

As we’ve said before, in general, we believe that more speech is better than less speech. For example, if Charles Murray wants to come speak to your campus about the supposed correlation between genetics and race and class inequality, perhaps you could also invite Lani Guinier to discuss how SAT scores correlate with wealth. In the case of Richard Spencer, perhaps you invite Daryl Davis to speak about his work getting KKK members to leave the group. This kind of response, we believe, affirms the goal of colleges and universities to provide opportunities for the contest of reasoned, evidenced arguments.

Sometimes it might seem like a responding speech will not be heard or respected. And sometimes there are no reasoned arguments to be made in the face of hateful, vile speech. We like the way Son of Baldwin puts this: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” In these scenarios, we think that getting creative might be the way to go. We loved the way that the University of Florida professor Laura Ellis made sure that the school carillon tower bells rang out “Lift Every Voice” when Richard Spencer arrived on campus. And we couldn’t help but appreciate the way that Wunsiedel, Germany made sure that a neo-nazi march raised money for an anti-extremist organization; they made sure that the neo-nazis’ exercise of their free speech rights brought with it some measure of reparations.

We also wonder: when is silence a useful tactic? Silence on its own might be read as consent. But we were struck by how Bethune-Cook students organized a (mostly) silent but deliberately very visible response to Betsy De Vos’s commencement speech. They turned their backs on her and eventually some walked out, making a strategic statement about the value of her speech and their refusal to cosign.

In the end, though, we think that any of strategic responses against these singular performances of extreme white supremacy should not overshadow the work we have to do against the everyday forms of white supremacy that pervade our institutions. For example, it does us no good to shout down Charles Murray or turn our backs on him if we don’t question our institutions’ continued reliance on standardized tests as one way to measure our students’ potential. We worry that these individual events take so much energy that might be better spent on efforts to create inclusive, anti-racist institutions.

Shoutout to St. Olaf students

Students sitting in at Tomson Hall, St. Olaf College. Image source

Last Friday, videos of a student protest and rally at St. Olaf College started popping up on our Facebook feeds. As we watched the livestream and checked in with faculty friends who teach there, we were quickly impressed and inspired by the students’ organization and determination. Led by students of color at the school, the protests were sparked both by recent events (notes left on students’ cars that used racial slurs and threatened violence) and by longstanding experiences of marginalization on a predominantly White campus. With today’s brief post, we want to spotlight the students’ statement of their experiences, their demands, and their terms of engagement with the administration.

Here are some links to the mainstream local and national coverage of what was happening on the campus.

Minnesota Public Radio

New York Times

Washington Post

Supporting student activism

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We know we promised you Part III of our Feminist Formations series this week, but something came up that we really wanted to highlight: a fund that was created by Carleton alums of color to support the activism and organizing of current Carleton students. [We will post Part III next week!] We think they offer a terrific example of how alums can provide emotional and economic support to current students; we’re impressed by how they gathered together to make their gesture possible.

We have these alums’ permission to share with all of you the message they sent to our current students–we loved this concrete gesture of solidarity and support!

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Dear students:

These past few months have been extremely challenging as we see members of many minority and immigrant communities targeted due to fear, hate, and ignorance. A group of alumni have come together because we want you to know that we are here to support your efforts and the efforts of other students of color/international students. We want you to succeed and thrive at Carleton College.

Being a student is challenging. We know that many of you already juggle a full course load, spend hours on assignments outside of class, and engage in various co-curricular activities. Staying focused becomes difficult in times of frustration, anger, confusion, and despair.  But we also know that there is renewed energy building around opportunities for student activism and engagement.

Part of Carleton College’s mission statement reads, “Carleton develops qualities of mind and character that prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges.” As you go forth in doing what is right, voicing your opinions and frustrations, and breaking down systems of interpersonal and structural oppression, we want you to know that we support you. Your actions matter. If you feel silenced or unheard, we want you to know that we see, hear, and value you. And we want to support your efforts to make a difference on campus and beyond.

To do that, we want to offer resources for students of color, international students, and the student organizations representing you. We have donated $900 dollars in gift cards to the OIIL office to fund student organizing. You can apply to use a gift card toward food or supplies needed to bring together other students in order to connect and mobilize around the causes that are most important to you.

Maybe you want to organize a group to be trained as grassroots organizers. Maybe you want to help canvas in the Northfield community. Maybe you want to bring an alum to campus to help you create a plan for action. Whatever makes sense for you, we want to help you get started. To request student activism funding, fill out this (short) form: https://goo.gl/forms/cXrcMoh1kB5ttooe2.

We have also set up a google spreadsheet where you can let us know more about your passions and how we can help. We want to connect students to alumni who have expertise in areas of importance to your student community. Whether your interest is in criminal justice reform, immigration policy, raising the minimum wage, sexual assault legislation or something else, there are likely alums of color and international alums we can connect you to.

We hope that these small steps can help create new conversations between students and alumni, and help students on campus stand together and work together as a community.

In solidarity,

Amina G. ’06, Bes K. ’12, Brittney ’13, Catie G. ’10, Hiyanthi P. ’15, Isabel R. ’12, Jini R. ’09, Katie J. ’04, Marlene C. ’06, Melissa M. ’04, Nimo K. ’11, and Song L. ’05

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If you’re a Carleton alum and you want to help this stellar group of alumni out, let us know and we’ll put you in contact  with them. If you’re a current student, we hope you’ll take advantage of this offer of emotional, intellectual, and financial support.

P.S. We are working on surveying some women of color alums about their experiences at Carleton–stay tuned for a future blog post on what we learned from them!

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Resiliency and allyship

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At Carleton’s MLK event this year, one of the student speakers asked the audience if they were engaging in self-care, making sure that they were getting enough sleep and eating well, etc.

That speech got us talking about how that this notion of self-care can be extended to thinking about how we build the resiliency and emotional strength to react in productive ways when we are being “called out” for something we said or did, particularly around issues of identities.

We wanted to share first a couple of examples of how we have reacted in the past–sometimes well, sometimes not–when we were challenged about something we said or did.

Recently, Anita was talking with a friend who is biracial about the Whitewashing phenomenon in Hollywood (and hey, check out our post on this topic if you haven’t already!) and, at the end, she jokingly said, “Yeah, you’ve got to get your people to get their act together.” Her friend said, “What do you mean ‘my people’?”

Anita: “Well, I mean, you have a White parent, you grew up with mostly White family members.”

Friend: “But they’re not ‘my’ people. I don’t get seen as White.”

At this point, Anita should have just stopped talking. Instead, she tried to defend her statement: “I know but they’re your people in a way they’re not mine because you grew up with them.”

Friend: “But so what? That doesn’t make them my people because you and I are more ‘people’ together because we’re both not seen as White.”

And so on. Eventually, Anita admitted that perhaps she was wrong and the friend graciously moved on, and even joked about White folks being “their people” a few days later.

One lesson that we took from this: Anita’s need to defend her not-so-well-thought-out joke become more important in this moment than respecting her friend’s right to name their own experience, community, and identity. Her comment reinforced essentialized notions of racial identity, which can serve to reify and naturalize racial categories. As two of our favorite theorists Omi & Winant note, “‘Essentializing’ race is always possible–treating it as a fundamental, transhistorical marker of difference can reduce race to a sort of uniform people are made to wear, thus reproducing–however consciously or unconsciously–the stereotyping that characterizes racism itself” (p. 261).

Adriana’s experience occurred at a retreat a few years ago where everyone was talking about their racial, cultural, and gendered identities. It’s probably important to know that there were several black women, a few Latinas, a few Asian American women, and several white people. Adriana found herself–naturally, in her eyes–bonding with the other Latinas and feeling close with the other women of color. She wanted to, and did, affirm their experiences openly.

On the third day of the retreat, after the group had gone through a few highly-emotional scenarios, including a discussion of colorism and prejudice, one of the women of color confronted Adriana during a full group discussion, demanding to know why she could identify as a woman of color while presenting as someone so white. She was angry, and in pain. Adriana didn’t know how to handle it at first; her instincts were to shut down, or to leave, or to be angry in return. Whose instincts would be any different? But instead, using a couple of the skills learned in the workshop, she stayed and listened. And then she asked the woman to ask her a question, which she would answer. And then she did.

It’s not that important to know exactly what the woman asked. But it matters that, even though it had been a while since Adriana had been confronted about her whiteness directly, she had a long history and practice of thinking about what her whiteness meant for how she was perceived and how she could and would build trust within communities of color; she knew she couldn’t expect any individual or group to accept her just because she said she belonged. And she was willing to be vulnerable and share with the room her story of who she had learned she was so that they might be willing to trust her.

That moment was hard, but Adriana’s willingness to take a deep breath and listen through the understandable anger opened up the possibility of building connection by being honest and acknowledging her white-passing privilege. This move then made space for the woman to hear Adriana’s truth.

While it seems difficult in the moment to step away from one’s own feelings and logic, it is possible to do so as Adriana’s example beautifully illustrates. And we’d argue that it is not only possible but also necessary to do because we need to be aware of how we might be contributing to discourses and practices that perpetuate inequality or oppression.

We’re not saying it’s easy nor are we saying that it’s not necessary to process one’s own emotions in such situations. Clearly, it’s difficult to let go of wanting to defend oneself, the impulse to say “hey, no, this is what I really meant to say,” because, well, we’re human. We are suggesting, however, that perhaps that emotional processing should not happen with the person who has been brave enough to say something to you or ask a question about how your actions, words or ways of navigating the world are complicit in reproducing discourses, practices, structures or systems that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or classist.

Thinking about how to build and practice resiliency in these situations led us to a few overarching suggestions. First, we think it’s important to recognize your privileges, so that you are better able to listen to and validate people’s experiences when they don’t have those same privileges.  Second, we both endorse the deep breath method. When you’re challenged by someone else’s emotional truth that counters your own, you’ve just received a kind of shock that might shatter your perceptions about yourself and what you take for granted. So take a deep breath, and let your whole system adjust to this new reality. Finally, like any other skill–and we both see resiliency as a skill–it gets easier with practice.

Resources

Sally Huang-Nissen, 1999, Dialogue groups: A practical guide to facilitate diversity conversation (Los Altos, CA: Corner Elm Publications). Chapter 2.

Michael Omi & Howard Winant, 2015, Racial formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge).

Katherine Roubos, 2016, “Cultivating Resilience: Antidotes to White Fragility in Racial Justice Education.”

Saroful, 2017, “How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101,” Crossknit.

Jamie Utt, 2016, “Learn about common ally mistakes,Everyday Feminism.

The Another Round podsquad gathered ideas from their listeners about how to be better allies and, of course, listening is listed as one key move. While they were focused on racial allyship, we think their ideas apply more broadly.

 

Standing with and Understanding Standing Rock

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Decolonizing Thanksgiving

The last time we wrote about what’s happening at Standing Rock and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the unarmed water protectors (the term the Indigenous folks there use for themselves) had been attacked by dogs and pepper spray. We are writing about what’s happening there again after more violent attacks on the water protectors this past week with water cannons and concussion grenades. What’s happening there has been getting more mainstream coverage, assuming The View is relatively mainstream. We wanted today to highlight two resources to learn more about what’s happening in Standing Rock currently and to understand the historical, social, and cultural context of the protests:

  1. Dr. Adrienne Keene visits our favorite podcast to speak about her visit to Standing Rock (before the water cannons and concussion grenades) and describes what’s happening there and provides a larger context for the protests, explaining terms such as settler colonialism. Dr. Keene writes the blog, Native Appropriations, which you should all check out. (Anita was lucky enough to attend her convocation talk earlier this month at Carleton.) (Adriana is jealous, but plans to watch the video soon.)
  2. Check out the #NoDAPL syllabus created by a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and activists to understand the current resistance against the pipeline in the long history of colonialism and racism.

Education matters, but action should follow. Here are concrete ways for you to take action to support the water protectors:

  1. Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200. See phone scripts here.
  1. Donate items from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List: http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
  1. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414.
  1. Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf
  1. Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903
  1. Sign petitions asking President Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Here’s the latest – https://act.credoaction.com/sign/NoDAPL
  1. Write to the 17 banks funding the pipeline and consider moving your accounts if you have any at these banks:

http://www.commondreams.org/…/how-contact-17-banks-funding-…

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