Guest Post: Dustin Washington
Do We Really Value Equality?
By Dustin Washington
The dreary and rain filled Northwest winter months provide a lot of time for me to reflect on the state of our world. I often find myself in front of my fireplace or at a coffee shop pondering who we are as a nation and who we could become.
In 2012, it is clear to me that our nation is not living up to the principle of “and justice for all.” We as a nation have not yet found the collective will and courage to eradicate the evils of systemic poverty and systemic racism.
In America today, 27 million workers make less than $8 dollars per hour, child poverty has increased by 18% since 2000, and at the current rate it will take African Americans 581 years to reach economic parity with Caucasians.
By 2017, we will have more African Americans incarcerated than were enslaved at the height of slavery in 1863. We as a nation are 5% of the world’s population but incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners, and we spend 6 times as much on incarceration as we do on higher education.
These statistics call me and should call you to question the fundamental nature of our values and our level of developed compassion as a people. It has been said that “I cannot be free until all others are free’. The great spirits are calling each of us to work for a greater freedom grounded in equity and care for our brothers and sisters. Political modernity will suggest that we must accept the world as it is, but I must argue that we can create the world our ancestor’s dreamt of, if we organize. A new world is possible.
Leadership for the Long Term
Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity; Carl Jung developed the foundational understanding of the unconscious mind; and Dr. Jim Dunn and Ron Chisom developed the principles of anti-racist community organizing of the People’s Institutes for Survival and Beyond.
The People’s Institute believes that for us to do effective social change work, we must internalize the following principles:
- Internalized racial oppression
- Understanding militarism
- Learning from history
- The importance of culture
- Analyzing power
- Understanding the manifestations of racism,
- Leadership development
In today’s blog post, I will focus on the principle of leadership development.
I have often heard Ron Chisom say that most activists tend to develop a disease called issue/crisis syndrome. When the police shoot someone, activist march and make emotional driven demands, the next day the same activist will be at a rally for fair housing in the morning, at city hall protesting budget cuts at lunch, and speaking at a forum on drone attacks in Yemen in the evening.
Now, all of the issues are worthy of our consideration, but usually the ways we as individualistic oriented activists approach these issues tend to not produce any real and lasting systemic change or relief of oppression.
Jumping from issue to issue and crisis to crisis is often an indulgent act of self-importance and being “oh so busy” serves as an excuse for not having time to develop comprehensive strategies to bring forth meaningful change.
While issues are important to address of course, we must also be guided by a long-term vision of building and sustaining a movement. As anti-racist and humanistic organizers, we must develop new leadership, young and old, who will carry the movement into the future when we are gone. The side benefit of having a cadre of new leaders is that established veteran leaders can stay fresh, spend time with family, and live healthy balanced lives.
Through my work, I have tried to make leadership development a primary focus. The Tyree Scott Freedom School and Youth Undoing Institutional Racism exists to develop the next generation of leaders who will go out into the world having internalized the values and principles of anti-racist organizing and do their part to continue to transform our world for the better. We seek to give these young leaders an ongoing education and opportunities to apply principles of organizing in their communities, schools, churches, etc.
For more information about the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, please visit PISAB.org. To learn more about the Tyree Scott Freedom School, see the video below.
Don't Look Away: Analyzing Power
In the nonprofit and social justice world, we all too often seek to “fix” oppressed individuals, but rarely do we help oppressed people challenge the power of institutions.
The People’s Institute (introduced in last week’s post) believes that true liberation movements must be grounded in and guided by a critical analysis of institutional power.
The Power of Institutions: A Step-by-Step Look
As anti-racist organizers, we must:
- Work with our constituencies to understand the history of each institution that impacts their community.
- Work with our constituencies to develop clarity about how the policies of a myriad of institutions in their community contribute to keeping their community poor and in an oppressed state. (As we analyze systems with our constituencies, they will begin to see how every policy, program, etc. for their community is ultimately controlled by those in systems outside of their community. For instance, how the community is policed, insured, educated, housed, given services, etc. is often set up by outside paternalistic forces in ways that perpetuate exploitation.)
- Challenge this power dynamic/relationship and begin to give community control over the institutions that govern their lives. This is key to oppression being lifted.
We also believe it’s important for communities to understand that no institution operates in isolation and that the collusion of multiple institutions creates a web of oppression that must be deconstructed.
An Example of Analysis
In Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR), we have spent the past few months analyzing the relationship between corporations and neo-liberal economic policies of our government that serve to economically devastate their communities. Together we have looked at how corporations–in the pursuit of profit–have outsourced high-wage union jobs overseas; pushed for austerity measures, including the cutting of government-funded social services, privatized schools, and prisons; and increased spending on instruments of repression, namely the criminal justice system.
Later this year, YUIR will analyze in-depth the collusion between the food industry and the health care system. They will learn how food industry sales lower quality and how genetically modified foods help create food deserts and over-market fast foods in poor communities and communities of color. YUIR will then explore how these actions create higher levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lower life spans, and many other race- and class-based disparities in poor communities and communities of color.
This cross-system analysis will prepare YUIR members to do more conscious and transformational organizing work not only now, but for the rest of their lives.
While organizing work is very much an art, we must also try to ground organizing in as much critical analysis as possible. Engaging with our respective constituencies in rigorous analysis of systems and institutions is one useful step in that direction.
Changing the World: Skills of an Organizer
In my final blog post, I want to outline the skills and traits a strong organizer should internalize. I have included thoughts on organizing from The People’s Institute, Van Jones and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
The ability to educate others.
As organizers we must first educate ourselves on the issues impacting our communities and our world. We must have a strong grasp of the historical and contemporary construction of Racism and other manifestations of oppression. It is not enough for us to just have a baseline understanding of oppression. We must commit to a continuous practice of keeping up to speed with various policies and trends that affect the constituencies we serve.
As we engage in a lifetime of study, we must also develop communication skills so we can help our constituencies better understand the world around them. Knowledge is truth and truth leads to a community demanding better conditions.
The need for a long-term vision.
All too often we as organizers engage in the addictive but futile behavior of running from crisis to crisis, but never investing the time to plan. It is incumbent upon organizers to take ample time to develop a strategic vision of where we are taking our work, and the tactics that will get us there. We must also build in an ongoing commitment to honest and objective reflection upon the work we do.
The forces of oppression we are up against surely take time to plan, and we must also. Having and articulating a shared vision will also hold all participants in an organizing effort accountable to the collective goals.
From Van Jones’s Noah Principles
Deal with our inner demons.
As organizers we are not immune to the soul damaging impacts of oppression and trauma. We all too often tend to bring our past baggage, pains, hurts and unhealed wounds into our work in ways that often stir turmoil and destruction.
We MUST develop mechanisms in our collective organizing that not only encourages healing but demands healing. We all need to focus on our diets, our spirituality, our physical health and our unaddressed emotional scars as a path towards collective liberation. As Dr. Kimberly Richards often says “when you organize from your pain, pain is what you produce.”
From Kingian Non-Violence
Change systems, not people.
Dr. King believed it was misguided to focus on removing certain people from power or addressing individual acts of evil. Instead, we must focus on changing the nature of systems that allow individuals to act in oppressive and anti-human ways.
Transform our enemies.
We must never demonize individuals. We must always hold the potential for people to become better. To create the Beloved Community we must see that everyone has the potential to change. When we demonize another of God’s children, we demonize a part of ourselves as God is in all of us.
One tactic Dr. King suggested was for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the “other.” If we were socialized differently or born into a different class or race, we probably would act in very similar ways to that which we object to.
About the Author: Dustin Washington is Director of the Community Justice Program at AFSC and Core -Trainer with the Peoples Institute NW.