Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Building Radical Racial Solidarity: One QPOC's review of the USSF

ussf reportbacks

As I read over everyone's blog entries, I am encouraged and simultaneously saddened. I am glad to hear of the power of the experience for some, and sad that my own experience did not feel as encouraging and fruitful. Perhaps it was the cancelled flight on my way there and the night on the airport floor, or my missed flight back and 14 hour bus ride instead, but either way I am exhausted and less ready to jump up into action again.

I'll give a few critiques and feedback so then I can really focus on what worked and what I liked.

Organization V. Intentional Planning
The conference was well organized, but not well planned. There were so many workshops and many of them overlapped in discussion topics. Some people I met wanted to cancel their workshops because they had no idea so many people would be covering the topic, others were cancelled because there were not enough participants. It would have been more beneficial (though harder and more complicated in terms of prearranging agreements, organizations making contact pre conference) to have more panels and co –lead workshops. I understand that this is more difficult for facilitation, but it would have added a huge networking element that was lacking. Organizations would not necessarily have to agree or run a meeting together, but for the non-interactive and more informative type workshops it would have added a large coalition building element to the conference.

"For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." -audre lorde
I heard that the Starbucks in the Westin Hotel lobby broke its sales record two days in a row during the conference!! Hearing the discussions around anti capitalist perspectives, it was shocking for corporations to have such a large presence at the USSF. I understand that they were willing to give discounts, as well as individuals have specific needs for lodging, but I saw little money going into the local economy. Perhaps the conference could have been partially held in hotel conference rooms, and additional space could have been rented from local businesses, churches, community establishments. At the Civic Center, there were only four or five food vendors that consistently sold out of goods, this would be another opportunity to support Atlanta.

The Plenaries

By far the best: diverse panelists, well spoken and prepared, relevant and on point topics. Yes, Andrea Smith rocked (as she always does) and so did many others. What I was most impressed by was the woman who spoke at the end of "Gulf Coast Reconstruction in the Post- Katrina Era." 62 years old, born and raised NO, activist, feminist, self empowered black woman- what she said was more concise than any feedback I have heard or read on NO: 'Stop analyzing me, guessing and assuming what I need, and coming to help me.' I remember her powerful voice resonating through the Civic Center as she REFUSED to give up the mic "Don't come to New Orleans! Don't come to New Orleans!" This woman had a reason and a voice worth listening to, her demand that white people deal with racism in their own communities speaks to what many people are afraid to say and admit to after Katrina: It's glamorous to travel and think that you are saving someone. It’s a lot less glamorous to deal with it in your home and realize that you are systematically dominating and destroying people of color.

Workshops Schedule Reportbacks

Session 2
Harm Reduction and Transformative Justice, Part 2: Young Women's Empowerment Project
cancelled due to no show (another Harm Reduction Workshop happening in another hotel same time)

Organizing w/ Imprisoned Domestic Violence Survivors for Freedom, Justice, Healing:
Legal Services fore Prisoners with Children

I stopped into:
Stopping the Rail to Jail: the US' Addiction to Incarcerating Youth of Color: the community Justice Network for Youth

Session 3
From Alternative Sentencing to Transformative Justice: Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project
the TGI Project gave a briefing of the work they are doing as Trans people in the Bay Area. Very overworked, I was impressed to hear of the negotiations they are able to achieve in alternative sentencing., mainly through their lawyer, Alex Lee. They found that bracelets (home stays), rehab programs, and aftercare programs are most helpful for actually reintegrating after incarceration. They create awareness and demand visibility by holding Trans 101 trainings in local community center, police stations, etc.

"The TGI Justice Project serving the Transgender, Gender Variant, Gender Queer and Intersex Communities through: Breaking Cycles of Poverty and Prison. Helping TGI people avoid prison by connecting them to social and economic services that address the root causes of poverty. Community Organizing and Leadership Development: Supporting the leadership development and capacity building of the TGI communities to become leaders in the movement to protect human rights of prisoners, and to build a truly just and safe world with no need for prisons."

I stopped into:
Immigrant Youth Organizing Against Enforcement in School: DRUM Desis Rising Up and Moving
I already knew DRUM rocked. I was even more impressed by the youth movement within DRUM, self empowered and well spoken. They are working hard to create spaces and programs that address the threat of violence against young Desis and simultaneously analyzing/ dismantling the US' obsession with violence.

Session 1
Another Politics is Possible
Alliance between and members from: Catalyst Project, Sista ii Sista, Center for Immigrant Families, Garment Workers Center (LA), Coalition of Immokalee Workers
A well- facilitated discussion with these groups, it would have been nice for more of the USSF workshops to focus on this kind of coalition building!

How do you practice leadership development when you are trying to implement a horizontal structure and politics?
Many people say that non- heirarchy collective sounds good, but they ask: is it efficient? Is it more of a luxury for folks who aren't experiencing immediate oppression and perhaps have more time?

How do you understand the idea of 'intersectionality' and the way it relates to your work? How do you practice it and build it into how you resist?

Living the Vision
When and how do you decide to make demands of and organize against dominant institutions, or build an alternative to that institution?
When you say a principle is "living the vision" what do you mean by this, how do you practice it and what are the challenges in this practice?

Larger Social transformation:
Given this 'others politics' that people are talking about, how does this change the methods of work: campaign, organizational strategy? How does it change the way you think about broader social transformation?
What's the relationship of some of the politics we are trying to articulate an the broad revolutionary theories of socialism, anarchism, etc...

Session 2
Surviving Desire: QPOC talking love, sexuality, and our Cultural Legacies: Mangoes with Chili
This looked awesome, but I never found anyone there and I think it got cancelled. There was another workshop going on at the same time"HomoHop: Queer Hip Hop Artists Talk Back" and I know a few people who were torn on which to go to. (Just another e.g. of too many workshops)

Making Another RURAL World Possible: Strategies for Rural Movement Building: Rural Organizing Project, Alliance for Excluded Communities
What are we good at? What are our strengths?
community building, personal relationships, direct communication, long term presence (look for e neighbor after 20 years and you can still find them)

Where do we need help?
difficulty in contact, geographical distance between neighbors, lack of access to communication modes, keeping youth engaged and involved, offering options to youth movements even when we are not in urban areas, engaging in dialogue/ asking for what we need from urban folks

The people in this workshop seemed dedicated to leadership development and grassroots work. I still have questions as to accountability (see questions below), especially in rural spaces where there is less visibility and awareness.

"ROP: Strengthening the skills, resources, and visions of primary leadership in local autonomous human dignity groups with the goal of keeping such groups a vibrant source of democracy."

What I want/ What I have to give to continue rural organizing:
What I need personally, and it is a need for me to continue this work, is similar to what many people have said about finding the coalitions in the racial divide, figuring out how to make people of color and our organization more visible. What I need in that struggle in building alliances with white allies, is an ability to have humility around the issues. Many people in this workshop expressed the same desire to have those alliances, but it requires a strong anti racist intention and call for accountability than can be damaging and hurtful. What it requires, from all perspectives, is an ability (and space) to make mistakes, be wrong, and humble, and the commitment to continue past 'conflict.'
I can bring my own willingness to learn and softening of my own ego, as I try to learn about my own feelings, and find constructive ways to express them.

Session 3
Sexuality and the Left: Queering the Public: NYMAA/ RHA
Thanks to the folks from Tran justice at the Audre Lorde Project who spoke up as participants in this workshop. There was so much assumed knowledge/ unrecognized privilege I couldn't believe it. THIS IS NOT ABOUT FINDING WHAT STRUGGLE IS MORE IMPORTANT OR WHO IS MORE OPPRESSED. THIS WORK IS ABOUT RECOGNIZING PRIVILEDGE, DIFFERENCES, AND SIMILAR SUFFERINGS AND SEEING WHERE WE CAN CREATE ALLIANCES TO BUILD "OTRO MUNO POLITICO." It is unfair and undermines our projects to try to define some else's experience. If someone who is queer experiences violence, whether or not we think it is 'real violence' it is up to us as allies, to support them in their struggle. If a survivor of domestic violence feels fear when in the presence of those who identify as men, is it up to as allies to support them, not by 'protecting them from all who identity as men' but by creating spaces where their voice is heard, while simultaneously challenging what their assumptions about gender norms may be. But it has to be in a supportive environment. It is not helpful to a sustainable movement to tell someone who is oppressed that their situation is 'wrong' or 'imagined.' All oppressed peoples need relationships of trust to speak our fears and also be challenged. That’s all the comments I have on this workshop.

Session 1
Organizing in the Shadow of Slavery: Domestic, Farm, and Low Wage Workers in the South: Domestic Workers United

Another awesome and inspiring panel. The first ever alliance of domestic workers was formed over the USSF. This panel, made up of immigrants and people of color, made it clear how, while marginalized groups needs support and resources, they do not need guidance and leadership development. Each panelist was inspiring and self determined.

Session 2
Organizing Community Accountability in Communities of Color: Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA), Sista II Sista
Alisa, Sandra, Priscilla, I knew you all rocked, but thanks even more for this. There was an opportunity for discussion on "agree/ disagree/ not sure" on statements about community accountability. What I recognized the most was the need for accountability to start BEFORE an act of violence within a community, and while an assault or specific instance can be a catalyst, it is also a reflection on work that can happen independently of an act of violence, i.e. stronger community ties, more transparent communication.
We then broke out into smaller groups to discuss different scenarios. There was not enough time in this session to discuss specific strategies.

What was most apparent about this workshop was they need for people of color to come together and talk about violence in our communities. This is what struck me in a very personal way: that most of the focus of my life, thoughts, writings, organizing, jobs, and work has been with building relationships with other people of color, sharing similarities and differences, and learning from one another.

Challenging White Supremacy
As we left this workshop, someone had posted (under our posting "people of color only")

"Is this racist?"

It was aggravating for some. It made me sad to know that some people have not considered the need for self determination for people of color, even though SO MUCH of the topics surrounding USSF are about racism in the US post Katrina.

One of the responses was "If women want to have a place outside of patriarchic spaces to talk, is that sexist? Think about it."

Why do we have to still use feminism as the analogy just to get people to see inequality of race issues? Sad.

Session 3
Trans Feminism: SOUL (The School of Unity and Liberation)
Done in a popular education format, we started by charting a herstory of trans people before and after the arrival or the conquistadors. It was fascinating to learn about the largely unwritten herstory of trans and gender variant peoples, as well as see how much knowledge was in the room. From here the facilitators directed us with a few questions that asked us to challenge the role of capitalism in Tran justice issues: "naturalism" as a system to justify power in sexism and racism. We looked at the gender binary roles in the working world (sexual division of labor), discussed where gender variant and non conforming people systematically end up (sex work, the underground, unemployment – 70%, or working for liberal non profits), what gv&nc people face when they do not conform (violence, prison ic, police brutality, deportation) and what are the resources needed for trans people who want to pass ( money, documentation, citizenship). We then broke out into groups to discuss the situation for the future, how to move forward in the struggle for Tran justice.

Here are the groups I am interested in learning more about, if anyone has info and feedback:
Women of Color Resource Center
Young Women's Empowerment Project
Make the Road by Walking
Project South
Here are questions I came away with:

ACCOUNTABILITY- What does it mean and how and where do we find it? How do we hold ourselves and others accountable? Specifically:

What is the power dynamic in organizing with immigrant communities/ undocumented workers/ citizens of the US? I heard some groups talking about the valuable alliances they were creating with local immigrant groups in their 'communities' but how are the actions of these groups, how are the leaders held accountable when there is such a strong element of fear, assimilation, inherent power by the informed structure of US immigration? I did hear organizations speak of leadership development, issue identification, building from grassroots, but even with these ideological values, who is there to check to power system?

With allies: I heard people ask for feedback on the Tran justice workshop. I also saw people address themselves as "white allies" or "anti racists" in the struggle. But what does it really mean to have relationships across race of accountability? I know we WANT it, but what does it look like and what are the power dynamics that we struggle with (because there WILL be some when those who benefit from white privilege want to build solidarity with POC)? How do we form these alliances, especially when the role of POC is not to be educators?

My answer to these questions is to continue to build movements and relationships with other POC. An ally once said to me that he could do the work of anti racist organizing, but he needed to know that we are working towards the goal of working together. My answer to that is I am less concerned with trying to structure a movement to build with allies, and am more focused on self determination, and in this struggle, if my vision for a better and alternative world meets someone else's vision, I hope that we have the respect, common language, and some knowledge with which to build together, not in a glamorous pilgrimage to the gulf coast or the 'global south,' but in a way that requires building and dealing with the ugly at home, in your own neighborhood of mistakes.


Anonymous said...

This is great to read - I really wish I'd been there. I'm glad to here the critiques as well as the high points of the forum.

Out of curiosity, why is the name of Alex (the trans prisoners lawyer) in quotes? Is it because he's trans? I don't know if you meant it that way, but it implies that it's not his "real" name. It is. His name is Alex Lee. Just thought you might want to know...

prof black woman said...

thanks for this. I am linking it to my blog as I took different tracks than you and tried to focus on the positives (of which there were many). Your critiques, particularly about the local economy (which given the conference location would have been fairly easy to impact) and Starbuck's sales are invaluable & your suggestions about using conference panels as a way to further the stated networking goal of the USSF should be forwarded to organizers as it not only speaks to how overwhelming the scheduling was but offers a needed solution.

alicia said...

"Alex" was in quotes becuase I couldn't remember if that was his name or not! Bad edit, should have changed it before I posted. Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for writing this! we have been processing accountability and what it means in our community and its great to read others thoughts.

you can find the young women's empowerment project at http://www.youarepriceless.org

sadly, our workshop was cancelled because a DRUMMING workshop was scheduled next door and we couldnt be heard over the amazing sounds!

you can email me directly at shira@youarepriceless.org

in solidarity