“Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because s(he) doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” Malcolm X once said those very words and it’s a powerful and challenging reminder of how I show up and engage with others around me. This quote reminds me to check myself and critically reflect if I’m engaging from a place of elitism; a place of exclusivity and superiority. It’s easy to write people off and let’s be honest, many, if not all of us know what I’m talking about.
The eye rolls, light sighs, and head shakes that happen when that certain someone in my class pipes up and suggests rape culture is not real at Gustavus or the administrator that says if we want Gustavus to divest from fossil fuels then let’s stop using computers that are made out of fossil fuels or my family member that claims, “If everyone worked hard then they would be ‘successful’ members of society.” I’m a firm believer in emotional healing and these eye rolls, sighs, and head shakes are a part of that processing, because “I can’t believe they said that” or “How could they think like that?”
I would even go so far as to say this sort of reaction and questioning is healthy, but only for so long. It can begin to eat away passion, suck up emotional energy, and it takes eyes off the prize. Elitism is the very same perpetuation of superiority that allows for oppression to exist. In the long haul, this constant judgment or condemning of sorts is unsustainable for ourselves and the collective movement towards a fair, just and resilient world. I’m not suggesting that we never have those sorts of reactions or thoughts, but my question is, how are we working through it? In what ways are we are working through the very real challenges and barriers to the chance at justice ahead of us?
Building upon my last piece, “Solidarity: A Pathway from Service to Justice,” I am framing the notion of “working for justice” as a way of building collective power together and a way of working for long-term solutions. This calls for deep reflection within our own identities and organizing in and for solidarity. As a refresher, I believe solidarity organizatoin means aligning our work with the voices of the greatest impact, meaning: communities of color, women, the Global South, queers, and the working class.
With this framework in mind, I would like to dive into the questions for this article. Where do we begin with “ignorant” or “misplaced” or “well-intentioned” individuals, groups, institutions, comments, whatever it may be. Some suggest that it is not worth our time and energy to engage with those who directly oppose us, which has validity to it. Yet, I also see the value of having those frank discussions, where opposing viewpoints are shared. I don’t think it’s helpful to have a conversation just to point out our personal points and talk about things. I think this can be a fantastic base to build from, but it can’t be the end.
In what ways are we working through these very real challenges and barriers to the justice work ahead of us? The Spectrum of Allies is a tool innovated by strategist and trainer Daniel Hunter from Training for Change, an activist training organization. Successful movement building often relies on the ability to see a society in terms of specific overlapping networks of relations between people. Some of the most powerful movements in history were successful because of their abilities to mobilize different groups of people.
Who are your allies and where do they stand? What are the ways we are engaging with our allies to gain support for racial justice, divestment from fossil fuels, collective
The Spectrum of Allies can map out a specific campaign like our Divestment Gustavus campaign, or strategize a whole social movement like the climate justice movement. In Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahl Russell’s Organizing Cools the Planet, they explain how it works: “in each wedge you can place different people, groups, or institutions. On the left side are your active allies: people who agree with you and are working for justice along side you. Then your passive allies; folks who agree with you but aren’t doing anything about it. Next are neutrals: who are like fence sitters. Then passive opposition: people who disagree with you, but aren’t trying to stop you. And then your active opposition.”
Some activists and organizers hang out exclusively in the first wedge and often behave as if everyone is in the last wedge and the whole world is against them. I believe there is a place for each individual, group and institution in the movement towards collective liberation and justice.
It’s not easy to imagine, but let us begin to check ourselves and the ways our own understanding of social issues has grown. This will allow us to understand where people are right now and what they need to move towards active allies for the specific campaign or broad movement. Who are your allies and where do they stand? What are the ways we are engaging with our allies to gain support for racial justice, divestment from fossil fuels, collective liberation and justice?