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Kayla Santosuosso

nonprofit leader | organizer | brooklynite | twenty-something

Power series, part one: giving fish for votes

I am inspired to write this by a bout of rage, which has blindsided me on a Thursday night when I should be resting, shutting off my politics brain (and certainly my phone), and taking out my anxiety on a slice of Nino’s pizza. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to share some thoughts about power, which are equal parts the result of some recent training and instruction I’ve been undergoing, as well as the nausea that comes from sensing local campaigns starting up before the terrible presidential election has finished.

Let me just first say that I have spent the last two days thinking very deeply about power. I was in a training with the Advocacy Institute, which is full of smart folks who help us to understand how to navigate city and state government in order to win our campaigns. We power mapped Albany and City Hall, we dug into what makes our electeds tick, how to best get the buy-in of legislative staff. It was an inherently cynical process: in order to benefit from the training, you have to first acknowledge how much of politics is rooted in relationships and power dynamics, much less in our social justice values. But once you embraced that fact, you started to figure out how best to work the system to get the outcomes our communities need.

Somewhere in the course of the training, I started to think: why the hell do people go into electoral politics? If it’s often slimy and thankless, gossipy and cutthroat, why do it? To get some press on your name for 2-4 years? Is it worth it? I’m sitting there thinking: all the supposed glory that this involves pales in comparison to the amount of work, the enormous spitballs of criticism that are shot at you each day. Could power really be that enticing?

I thought about the local level, in particular. Where the glory is lowest and the wins are few. I thought about my elected officials (and those who are trying to become them) in my district. I chuckled to myself about the latest fashion around here if you’re running for office, which is rushing to Facebook to give “updates” to friends and neighbors about basic city services, as if it is insider knowledge, as if one owned the information. As if we require unofficial government liaisons to translate things like alternate side parking schedules. I’m reminded of high school lunch rooms – of basic popularity contests, of schoolyard power grabs. Of the deception involved in making people believe that they need you – like giving a man a fish, while holding on to your extra rods, and then just raking in the thank yous till the sun sets. What is it all for?

Of course, you can’t actually knock anyone for having a strategy. Campaigns have been won on plenty more disconcerting behavior than treating your neighbors like children. And ultimately, we leave it up to voters to decide and filter, as we should. But behind carefully executed media strategies, we would do well focus on where one’s power comes from, and what are its checks. And just like the saying goes that you should evaluate a potential spouse by what flaw you can live with, we should choose our electeds based on who they are most accountable to. That is the single clearest measure of what an elected’s term will look like.

For instance, my district comes from a long history of electeds winning voters by doing simple, personal favors for people. Favors that never required an elected or a government aficionado in the first place. Things like: can you tell me where my polling site is? Can you help me get a permit for my event? Can you share my post about my lost cat? Ive seen people ask an elected TO HELP THEM RESERVE THE BACK ROOM OF A FREAKING RESTAURANT. Where hath our dignity gone? Meanwhile, that same elected or elected-to-be won’t fight for more funding for the district, won’t show up for a community during controversy, won’t be the champion on bold issues for justice that *should* be the elected’s priority in the first place. Why? Because this strategy gets them plenty of rosy votes, but leaves them accountable to no one. Their power is based in things like Facebook likes and an age-old favor. Hence why our state senator has been in elected office since 1998 and will run unopposed in November, despite plenty of corruption and wallet padding, and being an outward Trump supporter in a district with a growing progressive base.

 

We need to do a better job of electing leaders who are accountable to a base that represents their district. We need to elect people on substance, not on bells and whistles. And what this would require would be a more careful understanding of the source of candidate’s power and accountability relationships. Are they powerful because of their connections? Are they powerful because of their access to resources? Are they accountable to those they represent? How? Who will be able to take this person to task for the dealings we dislike?

It’s not that power is inherently our enemy. It’s that power which comes from no one, and is accountable to no one, is our enemy. So we must evaluate our candidates thoroughly based on where they came from and who can take them down. To evaluate them by any other means is selling ourselves short.

 

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A Postcard to Funders from My Burnout

Dear Funder,

I had a terrible week. It was the kind of week that probably every nonprofit staffer you fund goes through at some point or another, and hopefully not too often. The kind of week where you find yourself sitting in your office behind a locked door, crying into your coffee and wondering why the hell you got yourself into this mess. Your friends are working for start-ups where they play video games in conference rooms while some ivy league intern feeds them sustainably sourced dark chocolate! Meanwhile, you are cleaning toilets and simultaneously answering phones because your only receptionist is out sick and you can’t afford a cleaning service. And now it’s 10:30 AM on a Tuesday and you have to stop crying because someone is knocking on your door saying we’re out of post-it notes again. That kind of week.

 

It was in the throes of these moments over the past few days that I started to recognize an all-too familiar sensation growing in my heart and body. As I tried to rapidly switch from one task to another – often from the important to the trivial in seconds, and then back again – I found myself losing my words, unable to hold focus, nervously scrolling through my phone instead of listening to the person in front of me. Oh no, I thought. Here we go again. Burnout, my old friend. Welcome back.

I don’t need to tell you that burnout is the arch enemy of the nonprofit sector, and it’s something that we either a) never talk about, because we don’t have the solution, or b) talk about, and then continue breeding like wildfire. Burnout is a hard reality that we have to contend with, because it is legitimately the kiss of death on most nonprofit careers, and consequently, a disease to our organizations. Burnout prevents us from keeping the bright people that walk into our doors, and when they walk out – spurned, exhausted, and forsaking the sector – a ton of institutional knowledge and potential walks right out with them. If it weren’t for burnout, let’s be honest, we probably would have saved the world by now, don’t you think?

Plenty has been written about how burnout can be prevented, but most of it has been intended for a sector that is not based on unsustainable, unpredictable funding streams that require you to do the most you possibly can for a limited amount of money. You can find a million articles that advise bosses to allow for more breaks, make sure there is food at all meetings, and model a work-life balance for their employees. But those solutions are quick fixes for a much more systemic problem. Burnout is inherent to our structure – it’s built into the very idea of nonprofits. As long as we are competing with each other for funding by promising higher and higher outcomes while paying folks as little as possible, we are fundamentally screwed. Folks can create as many ad hoc, dollar store meditation rooms in their offices as possible, but the fact is: we’re not getting healthier until our funding is more reliable and less restricted. That’s where you come in. I have compiled a few suggestions for how you can help us tackle this problem head on.

  1. When requesting midterm and final reports, ask for a paragraph on staff wellness. Beware: this very well may turn into a total venting session for the person writing the report. But at least you’ll get the honest picture of what sacrifices were made in order to run that perfect program with the exact attendance rate you expected.
  2. Require a statement of turnover rate during the application process. It’s the question we least want you to ask. But if you ask it, it’ll force us to replace all that “we love new blood and fresh energy” talk for the honest ask: “we need more money for a duplicate staff position because people are getting overworked and leaving too soon.” See? Was that so hard?
  3. Fund the things that actually keep us in our jobs. This is rarely professional development and staff retreats. More often, we are surviving because we have partners who feed us ice cream in bed while we cry to them about a rejected application, or we have really good therapists, or we took a few vacation days at the exact moment when we thought we were going to have a panic attack. Offer to tack extra dollars onto a budget if the organization will grant extra vacation days to each program staffer. Give the program staff some pre-paid AMEX giftcards that they can use to take their partners on a date. Fund 10 sessions of therapy for managers and executives. Trust me, we need all of the above to recover from that time we found the rat’s nest in the kitchen.
  4. Speaking of – make more funds available to capital projects and renovations of the building, and actually consider them central to the work. Yes, we can all *survive* in rundown buildings with dial-up internet. But our environments are critical to our productivity. Sometimes, a few coats of paint, a regular cleaning service, and a few pieces of art on the wall can radically change the way people relate to their work. Don’t believe me? Maybe we can switch offices for a few days to test it out?
  5. Four beautiful words: multiyear general operating support. If you believe in us, and you support the work that we do, just write us a check and watch magic happen. Over time, of course. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so neither will our youth program.

Despite what we may claim in our glittering reports, we are not superhuman. We cannot run on empty for years on end, sustained only by our passion and last night’s event leftovers. We are bright, competent, driven people who could have taken our talents to any number of places. We should start treating ourselves and our work with dignity, and you can help us get started. Which doesn’t necessarily mean organic chocolate, but I’m not ruling it out.

With love,

Tired nonprofit staffer

 

…Trump vs. Hillary? But who would I vote for?

With Bernie’s delegate count slowing, Hillary pulling ahead, and Trump solidifying his lead last night, a lot of Bernie supporters have been asking me: if this race ends up being Trump vs. Hillary, who do I vote for? Do I even vote?

It’s clear, of course, that many of us Bernie supporters don’t prioritize party allegiance. Automatic support for a democratic party that Bernie is barely a part of in the first place is not something that motivates us. In fact, there are many of us who support Bernie specifically because he challenges that very party’s power. So for us, casting a vote for Hillary is in no way related to casting a vote for Bernie. We’re simply being asked to make too big a jump.

But at that point,  cold, hard logic steps in – or our friend who is a Hillary supporter – and says: but casting a vote for Hillary is the only way to stop Trump! Isn’t this a function of privilege that we’re even questioning this?! Sure, Hillary is no Bernie, but we’ve got a demagogue who will take office! Isn’t this by all means the lesser of two evils?!

…And this can feel like a very compelling argument. It may fall deaf on some ears, but not on mine. We should be seriously considering how a Trump presidency would change our lives, especially if we are immigrants and people of color, or we care about those who are. (This is setting aside the real possibility that Hillary would lose a race against Trump, or that Trump would be unable to enact half of his batshit insane proposals, anyway – which is not the focus of the post.) I think, realistically, we’re going to have to make that call as we get closer to a general election, and as we watch the dynamics play out.

But if in the meantime, a concern for ourselves and for others is what is motivating us to potentially cast a vote for Hillary next year – or, as some have mentioned to me, throwing our support behind a third party candidate, neither of which  I’m advocating against -then I think the problem is that we’re asking the entirely wrong question. 

What we should be asking ourselves, is: how will I continue the fight for the issues that Bernie speaks for? What is my plan to see more candidates like him in positions of power, and better equipped next time? If we are not asking these questions, we are back to square one, and all we will have to show for Bernie’s campaign is a ton of tired organizers and some hilarious memes.

Regardless of who is in office, the issues that Bernie activates us around – free college education, single payer healthcare, money out of politics – are not going to come from voting anytime in the near future. The amount of voter suppression in this election, and the extent to which our electoral and two-party system is likely to block out a candidate who defied the rules so intelligently, prove that. The progress that we want to see,  the kind of people we want to see in office, aren’t going to come from business as usual. Without a ton of sustained grassroots power, we won’t see a candidate like Bernie for decades. And this tells me that my vote next November, without a larger plan to accompany it, means very little.

Your vote should be an honest one. Which is to say, that if half of you doesn’t support the person you’re voting for, you should find a way to acknowledge that in your actions beyond the ballot. If you vote Hillary because of damage control, you’re going to need a plan to help build a stronger progressive party and movement over the next 4-8 years. You’re going to need a plan to help curb her hawkishness if she’s in office. You’re going to need to help build a grassroots movement to get money out of politics, or join an existing one. And real talk for a moment: these fights might actually be more difficult if Hillary is office, and if the establishment Democrats are re-energized by this election. I don’t think this is a reason to not cast a vote for her, it’s just a reason to organize better.

If you don’t vote – which, I must insert, given this nation’s historically low voter turnout, is a norm, not a political statement – and Trump takes office, then yes, the honest fact is that you might have been one of his enablers. But you can outweigh that by throwing your energy behind racial justice movements, or around building up working class energy toward a progressive platform. We desperately need people in that fight, more than either candidate needs these votes.

I still have a ton of possibly naive hope that Bernie will continue toward the convention, and that a third party or independent alternative will contest this two-party election. But in the meantime, I am building up my exit strategy, or perhaps more accurately, my entry strategy, into a new era of grassroots power in American politics. To me, that is the safest bet.

Trump came to NYC, I got arrested.

13002440_10101511562149536_7827932149409026137_oI organize with an incredible, nationally-coordinated group called Showing Up for Racial Justice. We are white folks organizing against racism. And what better target to organize against than Trump, and the people who invited him to speak at a GOP Gala in midtown in April. The Gala, which was full of party elites and all three GOP candidates, was held at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown. My SURJ-NYC crew and I blocked the limo entrance to the Hyatt, seemingly preventing dozens of people from entering the Gala.

Here’s why, as I white person, I decided this was worth getting arrested for:

1) You ever heard the phrase: “come get your boy?” As a white person, I see Trump – and his supporters – as my responsibility. For too long, in both hometowns like mine and in our own personal circles, we have gone without having hard discussions about racism and economic justice. We have let bad systems and false ideas perpetuate, as a default. And our silence has, consequently, emboldened people like Trump and his kind. We have, in some ways, paved the way for them. We need to sit with that, and then we need to go take care of it.

2) I protest people, causes, ideas, policies which are dangerous and which are enjoying widespread support. I don’t protest fringe issues that aren’t worth my time, or in which I don’t have a stake. This is not a fringe issue. Two of my local reps in NY are planning to support Trump if he is the party nominee, and they both represent districts who Trump and Cruz (who is not off the hook by any means) have openly said he would spy on, “crack down on,” and in some cases, deport. Lest I forget the ways they would limit me and my choices. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

3) I don’t know how often I can tell myself and others this: changemaking is never comfortable or expedient. I get shit slung at me every time I protest, by folks who like to say: “protesting is not the way to change minds.” Guess what? I’ve got a whole toolbox of ways to change minds. Some of it is having tough conversations. Some of it is voting. Some of it is writing. And some of it is recognizing that sometimes you just have to shut shit down.

4) Getting arrested is a risk that white people should take as often as possible, as opposed to our people of color counterparts. The fact of the matter is: for us, the risk – of police misconduct, of an escalation to violence, of being falsely charged with misdemeanors, is much lower. During this action, ten SURJ members were arrested and held in jail for approximately 4 hours. With us in the same cell block were activists and protesters of color who were not let out until hours later, or, in some cases, until the following day – some with heavier charges than our own. From the moment we were arrested till the moment we were let out, we were treated with cordiality and leniency. This includes a van ride to jail wherein our accompanying police officers were chatting casually, letting out racial slurs every few minutes.

It is our duty to show up for people of color, and it is our obligation to ensure we do so strategically, and in a way that is often risky, impactful, and at the leadership of people of color. Trump, and the ideas he gives platform to, are not welcome in my city. I think we made that clear.

Why I cannot vote in the NY primary, even though I’m a registered Dem.

Yesterday, I checked my voter registration status in a “just-to-be-safe” moment, gearing myself up for the primary election in two weeks. I did this, knowing that back in the Fall, I had re-registered from unaffiliated to Democrat in order to vote in the Democratic Primary. Feeling confident, I pulled up the New York State Board of Elections website, put in my information, and found this: Not enrolled in a party.

I knew there must be some sort of mistake and called, first, the Fair Elections Legal Network, who told me they had received a flood of similar calls that day. They then directed me to the State Board of Elections, who then directed me to the County Board of Elections, who was finally able to pull up my voter registration card. The conversation went something like this:

BOE: You are registered. But you missed the deadline to re-register your party affiliation.

Me: Huh? But I submitted that almost 6 months ago, in early November.

BOE: Yes, but the deadline to re-register is October 9th. That’s over 6 months ago. You can’t vote in the Primary.

So as it turns out, New York State has the longest change-of-party deadline out of all 11 states with closed primaries. And when I say the longest, I mean there’s no state that comes even remotely close. Florida? 29 days before the primary. New Mexico? 28 days. Maine? 15 days. I mean, in Nebraska, you can change parties the day of the goddamn caucus. A Kansas voter can actually vote in both the Democratic and Republican race if she is unaffiliated on the day of the primary! And here’s the kicker: the longest change of party deadline for any state other than New York is Delaware, and even that is 60 days prior to the primary.

Compare all of this to the fact that New York State is asking us to change our affiliation more than 180 days before the primary. We are the only state in which the deadline doesn’t fall within the same calendar year as the primary date, and we don’t even come close.

Which leaves me with one main question to the New York State Board of Elections, and, to some degree, the DNC:

Doesn’t this necessarily benefit established, hard line party voters? And doesn’t this – by design– prevent political outsiders from gaining a significant portion of New York’s high delegate count?

According to the BOE, this law was enacted because it prevents voters from jumping party lines just to interfere with the opposition’s primary. I can understand this logic. I have to admit that had the Democratic primary not been so interesting, I’d be tempted to cast a vote for Kasich in order to prevent Trump from gaining the nomination in New York. But all of that is made irrelevant by the very institution of a closed primary, anyway! 10 other states in this country apparently share the same fear, and have also instituted closed primaries for the same reason. They just don’t make it nearly as hard to switch parties within that system. New York’s prohibitive party change deadline is like the icing on the establishment cake.

The implications of this stupefying law have perhaps never been as significant as this election year. Based on the outrage reported by the Gothamist, (and – it seems- the number of calls made to the Fair Elections Legal Network yesterday) it’s expected that thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters – read: previously unaffiliated, Working Familes Party, or previously disengaged voters – will find themselves unexpectedly blocked from voting on Primary Day, in accordance with New York State law. And while I’m sure folks will point to the fact that the date that is published on the BOE website, and that the Bernie campaign designed an entire website to notify supporters about this deadline back in the Fall, we have to ask ourselves: what does it mean if New York State wants us to choose our candidate 6 months prior to a primary election? Doesn’t that directly undermine the entire campaign process?

For reference, by October 9th, the first debate hadn’t happened yet. The Working Families Party wouldn’t endorse Bernie for another two months. There was, still , rampant talk of Hillary being indicted for the e-mail scandal. Trump hadn’t announced that he would close down mosques as President. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan hadn’t hit its terrifying apex. This is to say nothing of the fact that primary elections wouldn’t start for another 4 months. Voting according to momentum, deeper knowledge of a candidate’s platform, and the growing viability of an outsider candidate be damned, says New York.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that maze-like election laws like these are the reason that voter turnout is so disastrous in New York state and nationwide. Protecting establishment politics sends the message to unlikely voters that this is a game they’ll never win – even when a candidate is successful at defying so many of the rules. States with high voter turnout and open primaries have been the crux of Bernie’s success so far. If previously disengaged or unaffiliated voters have been kept out of New York’s primary, and those of the remaining high-delegate, closed primary states, I fear this election has already been decided. And maybe that is exactly is point.

 

What Trump has to teach us about social justice movements, and why we fail

We are smack dab in the middle of the 2016 presidential primaries, and as we watch Trumpism – a term that didn’t even exist two months ago – take over the hearts and minds of many lower to middle class white Americans, most of us on the left are perplexed. Where are all these people *coming* from? And why do they think that Trump will solve their problems? Why didn’t they show up in our movements – how did we miss them? The answer, to me, is alarmingly clear. And it says a lot about the unspoken strategy behind many of our social justice movements.

When I think about what has moved white folks into action within our movements, I think of three categories: epiphany, outrage, or direct experience.

The epiphany is the a-ha moment often brought to us via formal or informal education – i.e. I learned about climate change in school, so I protested the Keystone pipeline. It assumes an openness and a malleability, and most importantly, access. This is much more common with young folks, who are still making up their minds about where they stand, and have the time and the support (financial or otherwise) needed to attend classes, watch a documentary, or join a bookclub. For many of us, this constant re-education is part of our lifestyle. But it has its own unique roots in class, education level, and our network of support.

Outrage is often bound to a single event or issue that can eventually unravel into a wider belief system, i.e. Mike Brown’s murder incensed me and I had to do something about it. Outrage has become much more common in the days of social media, and it has been a valuable tool in our movements. But, as a very function of how often we use social media, outrage can also become common. Instead of action, we often see desensitization or distancing. The difference is often a matter of how well-supported someone is in their belief system, or whether or not their social circles are rooted in the values of social justice. In other words, it requires previous epiphanies, or at least, a trusted activist friend.

In my experience, epiphany and outrage are the most common catalyzers among white folks who join movements for social justice. The problem with these two catalyzers is that they place the onus on the individual to find their own epiphany, or to feel enough emotional connection and empathy for an issue that may not be directly personal for them. As such, this often attracts folks who are at least middle class, who come from an educated family, and who are supported in doing the unconventional work of movement building. These are folks who don’t fear being ostracized if they are seen at a protest. In fact, in many cases their involvement may actually build their social capital.

Direct experience, however, is something for which there is no substitution within our movements. Without directly affected folks at the front lines of our work, we fail. People who organize from a place of direct experience are those who can speak with authenticity. Their stories can naturally compel people into action. These are the folks that say: “I lost a loved one in a Iraq, and so I committed my life to anti-war movements.” Not only are the directly affected the soul of the work – they tend to have the longest and most reliable buy-in. They are in it for the long haul, because it is an indelible part of them – for many, to organize was never a conscious choice to begin with.

People who organize from a place of direct experience are unicorns – they are transformative, but they are also hard to come by. For one, this is because it is hard enough to fight injustice as an individual, let alone fight it as a system. We cannot reasonably expect someone who may be struggling to take on additional, probably unpaid work that will be long, arduous, and fraught with failure. (Bringing more joy and victory to our work is something that’s needed, but that’s an entirely different blog post). But I am proposing that, in the case of low income and working class white folks, we aren’t even looking for them to begin with.

For white folks in social justice movements, low-income and working class white Americans are often our family members, friends, and our former classmates – and, coincidentally or not – they are often the people we are the most scared to talk to about our work. We have become very skilled at blocking conservative Facebook friends, deleting comments from our un-woke family members, or only inviting people to the rally that we know agree with us. In other words: we expect the directly affected to also be both enlightened and outraged in order to participate. If they are not, they are probably not our people, and we mostly don’t work with them  – certainly not at the dinner table. It’s easier to organize our kind, so we stick with that, and hope folks walk in the door who have been magically moved to action on their own.

The problem with this, of course, is that it hasn’t worked. Organizing our kind might work well for short-term campaigns, but for long-term change – ending racism, economic justice – we are shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s a strategy that has emboldened the right, and only given credence to the idea that social justice movements are full of self-righteous academics who are disconnected from the real world. It has us perpetually preaching to the crowd, and the crowd isn’t getting any bigger.

But the crowd of Trump voters is getting bigger by the minute, with hundreds of thousands utterly seduced by a populist, outsider approach that focuses on jobs, economic insecurity, and the refusal to be a professional politician. Yes, he has also built an entire campaign on racism and xenophobia, but all you have to do is watch interviews of Trump supporters to see where the priorities lie. Nearly every Trump supporter interviewee will at some point tell an incredulous interviewer that they like him because “he tells it like it is,” faster than they will bring up any policy proposal. But if you remove Trump, the man, from the picture, but kept the “outsider” rhetoric, it would have many of us progressives nodding our heads! Status quo politics? Transparency and honesty? It almost sounds like the pillars of a Bernie speech.

As someone who hails from a town where there are likely to be a good handful of Trump voters, I think we do ourselves a disservice if we assume that racism and xenophobia are Trump voters’ true issue platforms. Instead, most are probably tired, angry, have little access to political discussion outside of TV, and feel historically underrespresented in the political arena. In other words: they are directly affected by shitty governance and policy. This is not to say that white folks haven’t been represented, or that Trump supporters haven’t supported a GOP candidate in the past. It’s to suggest that even those candidates (on the right and the left) and movements who have claimed to speak for low income and working class white folks have repeatedly left them in the dark. And thus, they have paved the way for a much more extreme, much more violent person, to claim the floor. I think we have to acknowledge this as truth, even though it hurts most of us to consider Trump supporters as people who may be suffering themselves.

But because Trump has recognized how to capitalize on this frustration, low-income and working class white folks have now, astonishingly, come to see themselves in this billionaire. Or perhaps more accurately, they feel seen by him. And most tragically, as the very result of this trust, they have come to believe that people of color and immigrants really are the source of their struggle. This is not to downplay how deeply entrenched racism is in our country. It’s to suggest that low-income and working class white folks are humans, who are subject to the information they hear most often. They are not on some irreversible track toward fascism. We know, of course, that Trump is the very enemy that poor white folks should be organizing against. But because of his willingness to convey a likeness, because of his ability to get on these voters’ level and speak to their direct experience, their hearts have already been stolen. I am simply suggesting that we may have something to learn from this.

What if we constantly asked ourselves the following questions when we organize:

  • Who are we the most apprehensive about talking to about our issue? Do we still do it? Why/why not?
  • What level of expertise or knowledge to we expect from newcomers to our work?
  • Do we alienate those who don’t speak our language and/or use our terminology?
  • Do we respect those who are new to the work? Do we acknowledge their struggles? How do we show it?
  • How do we help low-income and working class folks to understand the connection between their personal struggles and our systemic ones? How can we explain this in ways that are relevant, relatable, succinct, and simple?

This is work that I would never expect people of color, who should be busy leading the movements, to be doing. It is often downright unsafe, and it requires a patience and a compassion that would be unfair to require of someone fighting back against racism that affects them personally each day. But I do think it is a job for white folks in social movements. I think we have to invest our time, energy, and resources into going into the very arenas we have historically been avoiding. We have to organize outside of our enlightened and outraged bubble. And we have to make sure that our organizing spaces don’t feel like bubbles in the first place.

If we start rolling up our sleeves in less than “down” neighborhoods, Trump and his kind might be relegated to a brief and unfortunate phenomenon, brought about by a growing working-class disenfranchisement and a brief lapse in intelligent strategy on the left. If we don’t, I fear we are further cementing the idea that the left isn’t a place for working class white folks. And in that, not only are we failing, we are participating in the rise of Trumpism, and effectively putting folks of color (and ourselves) in danger.

 

 

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