Activism

Time for a Chat

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Hey. (Twin Cities activist community.) We need to talk. For the last five years I’ve been in a teaching partnership which has recently been under what feels like a flash flood of sexist micro-aggressions. I’m proud of the work Molly Glasgow and I have done during that time. We co-founded Restoring Power: Trauma and Resilience for Organizers and have seen over two hundred people pass through our community workshops – in addition to organization-specific sessions we’ve led. Past participants often share how the experience has enriched their organizing lives and their self-care effectiveness.

Let me explain how we started doing this work so you’ll understand the issue I’m talking about. For me it began when I attended a workshop Molly taught on acupressure for activists. This is one of a range of sessions she has led for years that support the resilience of people in struggle. Later, over occasional cups of coffee, we exchanged stories. I learned about her history in the front line struggles for labor, community and racial justice and her path to becoming a health practitioner. My own journey had taken me through a similar and overlapping patchwork of struggles, nourished by the cultural organizing I was exposed to through my work as an artist. From our own personal struggles and activist experiences we’d both come to see the lasting impact of trauma on individual bodies and populations and the usefulness a trauma/resilience lens for social justice organizing.

At some point Molly invited me to co-create a workshop on trauma for organizers. I turned her down because it seemed too huge and I felt under-qualified. But it got me paying attention to how all these new understandings (though often based on ancient ones), that were coming out of trauma research were being distorted and diluted as they filtered into popular and movement culture to the point of becoming mere buzzwords. I got back to Molly, ready to accept her offer and now it was her turn to turn me down. Eventually we convinced each other, and our collaboration began. Through countless hours of sharing knowledge, distilling key concepts, creating effective descriptions, and integrating insights from the wisdom of the body, the practices of organizing and the histories of peoples in struggle, we designed a workshop we could offer our community. We’ve continued to hone, adjust and improve it in the course of over a dozen workshop sessions while producing handouts, developing new exercises, and seeing to the necessary logistical tasks of public education.

It is exciting and challenging to be in a solid collaboration, with a commitment to practicing integrity with each other and the communities with whom we seek to heal. This makes the recent spate of incidents that explicitly or subtly give me the credit for this deeply collaborative Restoring Power work while reinventing Molly as my sidekick or add-on is so infuriating and heartbreaking to me. I can only imagine how it is for Molly. Let me be clear. This work has been a creative and intellectual partnership from the beginning. The workshops are its visible result. To erase that truth – by erasing half the team taht made it so – can only corrode and undermine it. Check this out: the coordinator of a client organization responds to my email seeking information on set-up details after Molly’s have gone unanswered; a progressive media outlet publicizes one of our workshops – listing me as the sole presenter; the director of an organization we’re about to do a training for is introduced to only me while Molly stands right there; a participant (and not only one!) directs eye contact exclusively to me although it’s Molly’s words they are responding to; an activist acquaintance tells Molly how exciting it is that she’ll be “assisting Ricardo” at an upcoming workshop. This is pure poison. There is nothing in the way we design or publicize our workshops that suggests or justifies this sexist distortion of our work.

The work of liberation requires that we model healthy ways of working together – continually pushing back against the many oppressive default settings we have internalized – and support each other’s efforts to do so. It’s ironic, to say the least, that the corrosive effects of micro-level oppressive messages is addressed in our workshop. It is frustrating that these behaviors come from people tasked with counteracting oppression in their communities. I get that we are all conditioned and imperfect. Fine. Now, stop it! This level of erasure and microaggression is not separate from the various scales and expressions of misogyny filling the news cycle and social media feeds. It is the soil in which they grow. It is also the level we can most easily and immediately affect with awareness and commitment.

Last but not least, please DO NOT respond to this by posting about how I’m so great or cool or such a good ally for talking about this. That is not only unhelpful… it is seriously counterproductive! If you choose to engage, do so by addressing the issues it raises. Thank you.

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