Power. Networks. Love. These three aspects of the IISC’s Collaborative Change Lens were not the official theme of the Victory Institute’s 2017 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Leaders Conference, but they were woven throughout everything that happened there.
The Victory Institute works to get LGBTQ people into elected and appointed office. Their annual conference brings together elected officials, leaders, and advocates for three-days. The content of the conference focuses on skill-building, information sharing, and formal and informal networking.
The first gathering of this group took place in 1984 with about a dozen people. Attendee John Heilman, city council member of West Hollywood, described the gathering as “more like a support group” than a conference. It has now grown to a convergence of over 500 attendees from all over the world.
The reclaiming of power is central to the mission of the Victory Institute: “LGBTQ Victory Institute works to increase the number of LGBTQ people in public office and to provide programming, service and other support to help ensure their success.”
Why do we need more LGBTQ people in public office? With characteristic wit and bluntness, former U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the first person in Congress to come out voluntarily, said, “If you are not at the table, you are likely on the menu.”
The data tells the story this way: there is a direct correlation between the number of LGBTQs in elected office and the inclusion and equality of a jurisdiction’s policies.
In traditional ways, conferences tend to have a strengthening effect on networks. At plenaries and breakouts, attendees of the Victory conference had opportunities to connect around shared interests and maybe even to flirt a little. But the conference used the opportunity of the traditional schmoozing times to amplify traditionally marginalized voices. There was a “Leading in Color” reception which lifted up people of color, an International reception, and a Women Out to Win reception. The Institute also strengthened their pipeline for young leaders with the Victory Congressional Internship Meet & Greet.
The feeling of love was palpable throughout the conference. Because of the bullying and harassment we’ve experienced, no one knows better than the LGBTQ community how much humans need to be celebrated and cheered. Whenever someone announced they were running for elected office, the audience burst into applause.
The spirit of love and humility was also present in a frequently repeated quote from Danika Roehm, the transgender metalhead stepmom, elected as the first openly transgender person to the Virginia Assembly – the first to serve in any state legislature actually. Roem won against Robert Marshall, the sponsor of a bill to restrict public bathroom use by transgender people, who referred to himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe.” After the election, when asked if she had anything to say about Marshall, Roem said, “I don’t attack my constituents. Delegate Marshall is my constituent now.”
“We must make just and liberated futures irresistible.”
Toni Cade Bambara (via Adrienne Maree Brown)
At IISC, we are asking ourselves what we are trying to accomplish by helping the ecosystem of organizations, networks, and leaders pursue racial equity. Are we clear what we are fighting for? I believe we need to imagine what a society without oppression would look like in order to be able to explore this question. If oppression were a thing of the past, what would the world be like? If white supremacy and the drive to dominate didn’t ravage our cultures and minds, what would be available to us?
At IISC, we talk about the “Fourth Box,” the box that remains after we have eliminated inequities and achieved human liberation. I believe equity will exist when enough people and structures in societies have successfully dismantled the tools and ideology of oppression. But what is the liberation that follows after the breakdown of oppression? The word “liberation” can get a funny reaction in some quarters because it sounds like a 1970’s throwback civil rights expression, but it’s a deeply important concept.
What if liberation is the personal and transformational freedom that comes when our society is no longer rigged for the few – those who share similar characteristics or benefit from systems to concentrate their power?
What if liberation instead created a society that is centered on the notion that all human beings naturally belong in this universe? A society in which people live with autonomy, resources, creativity, inspiration, love, and human connectivity that makes life joyful, meaningful, and in alignment?
If we were to be fully liberated, what would that look like? I believe we would simply have time for being human. We would naturally spend time with those around us, appreciating their gifts and uniqueness. We would create play, laughter, and art in the ways we did as children but with the knowledge and insights acquired from our adult experiences. We would bring to human beings around us the power of presence – the relaxed unrehearsed connectivity that brings forth love and harmonious existence with all things living. We would build a fortified earth that yields food, sun, beach, ocean, sky, moon, mountains, lakes, clouds, and a vibrant and healthy climate to all.
We will soon be spending time at IISC examining our racial justice approach and methodology. It is my hope that we will start from the premise of the world without oppression and then think about how we can best help our clients and networks discover what that looks like, feels like, tastes like, and sounds like. Let’s suspend time and give people the opportunity to imagine themselves free from oppression and the tools they were taught to dominate others so they can live into practices that transform our world.
What would it look like to design racial equity interventions by helping people envision the end of oppression?
“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand.”
– URSULA K. Le GUIN
Image by Stephen Bowler, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
A note on the quotes below (and the Le Guin quote above): I am grateful for the beautiful piece by Evan Bissel, “Frames for Life, Liberation and Belonging,” which appears in the Othering and Belonging Journal. This piece lifts up some central elements of an emerging and humanizing narrative for our times, with focus on themes such as transition, liberation, belonging, commons, interconnection, abundance, sacred, curiosity, play, and place. I strongly encourage readers to check it out, to sit with the piece and let it soak in, and to share it.
This post follows the thread of a conversation that has been evolving across events I have been involved with the past few months, and a bigger and broader conversation that is clearly informing it. This is certainly not a new conversation, but there seems to be a renewed or perhaps more public vigor to it, at least in multi-racial and multi-generational social change groups and initiatives with which I have been involved.
It has cropped up in a network leadership program where a discussion about the difference between working for equity and working for justice pointed in the direction of the need to pursue liberation, and not simply inclusion and accommodation in fundamentally harmful systems. Read More
A secret I don’t share with many people is that I have trouble reading books. When I went to law school, they made us read so many dense pages of legal reasoning I lost my love of story – until I discovered the podcast. In the comfortable confines of my car I stand witness to stories of personal accomplishment, quirks in our daily lives, and social commentary about our world. The other day one really caught my attention.
It was about Toys R Us, the biggest toy store in America. I love toys and I thought everyone else did, too. So I was surprised to learn that Toys R Us had filed for bankruptcy. Turns out, Toys R Us had invested in bricks and mortar without seriously expanding into the internet sales market. And at the same time, they kept those physical spaces disorganized, stale, and predictable. Amazon swooped in and sold toys at a record pace.
A toy and business analyst said if Toys R Us could have jumped in early and creatively into internet sales they would have avoided their decline. And if they had made their stores places of experience, fun, mystery, and discovery, they could have saved their business that way. He believed they should have created large and open areas where kids could ride around on bikes and play with other toys. He thought another miss was not thinking about how to combine physical toys with technological interactions.
As I was driving on the highway heading into traffic, I started thinking about lessons IISC or our network of clients and partners could learn from this story. Are we missing opportunities for integrating our knowledge and expertise with web-based learning and social media? Are we creating experiences in physical rooms and meetings that kick leaders and participants out of the norm and into experiences of fun, exploration, and surprise? Are we combining online and in-person strategies to more effectively and creatively share learning and ideas around collaboration, leadership, equity, and network building?
IISC is not a for-profit corporation like Toys R Us, and we have different values and approaches from them, but we can benefit from understanding that the way we do our work now and how we do our work may not be the standard for the decades to come.
IISC has started piloting some unique approaches in our workshops, in our consulting work, and through our experimentation with public engagement that use web-based learning, social media memes, and narrative. We are cooking up ways to fashion our training and consulting expertise in modular and less expensive ways so we can share it more broadly. I think that’s an early sign of us growing and stretching. We are pushing ourselves to domore experimenting and I know it’s going to help us stay relevant and live into the power of the future.
What experiments might you try out that will help you live into your future? What’s the risk of not doing so? Supporting leaders, organizations, systems, and networks to engage in social change is never out of date, but the way we as consultants and leaders approach that work might be. We may know at a gut level that something new and different is called for, but are we leaning into what’s necessary to make the leap?
Check out how Toys R Us plans to turn around: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-toysr-us-bankruptcy-brandon/toys-r-us-ceo-sees-future-with-smaller-shops-idUSKCN1BV2Y7
Stevie Johnston from our Belfast, Northern Ireland office reflects on learning from delivering a Training for Trainers in North Carolina.
When we’re teaching Facilitative Leadership for Social Change (FL4SC), we stress that the workshop is made up of leadership practices and – like all things in life (playing the guitar, dancing, listening), if we practice we get better at what we do. The more we use our leadership skills the better leader we become. This fits with our belief that leaders are made not born. Indeed, Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers,’ disavows the idea of innate talent and focuses instead on the “10,000-Hour Rule.” His theory is that to achieve world-class expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practising for approximately 10,000 hours.
Recently, I had the privilege of working with the leadership development team in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, supporting them to become trainers of IISC’s Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop. During the workshop, each of the participants got the opportunity to deliver two of the core training elements. For highly skilled educational leaders such as these, developing and delivering a leadership training piece held no real anxiety. And yet, each of the trainers identified that the delivery of their second training piece was significantly better than their first. As Nicole said, “I was much more relaxed when it came to delivering my next piece. When you have the first delivery behind you, you have much more confidence in how to use the charts whilst keeping the connection with the participants. It means you can concentrate on the materials and the essence of what you are trying to communicate.” When we discussed this as a group, it was clear that performance anxiety can get to us all and that both practice and positive coaching have a real impact on our future performance.
Whilst we may not all reach the giddy heights of being world class, we are presented daily with opportunities to practice facilitative leadership. For example, organising an outing with friends requires collaborative planning and is a great opportunity to think about the actual mental processes we employ when we go about doing something like this. We have to get clear on the types and order of conversations we need to have such as these questions. “Are we looking for the perfect trip out?” “Do we need to think about people’s work schedules first?” “Could we not just grab our gear and hit the road?” We also need to get clear on who is going to make the decision if we can’t arrive at something on which we all agree. This “pathways thinking” about the nature of the conversations we need to have, in what order and how are we going to make the final choice, tends to stop groups from going round in circles and helps them arrive at a decision more readily and with less aggravation.
Similarly, we can employ process thinking when helping a colleague make an important personal decision. Often, we want to rush to tell them what we think they should do: “If I were you, I’d definitely do this.” Or else we will latch on to the first idea they have: “Yes, that seems like a really good idea; I’d go with that one.” In reality, decisions are best made when we generate lots of ideas and talk them through and evaluate the merits of each before choosing the best solution. Sound obvious? It is, and yet often we are not consciously aware of the processes which good decisions entail. So, the next time you’re having coffee with a friend to discuss a decision they have to make, think about how you are going to generate options (open the conversation), evaluate the options (narrow), and choose the best option (close).
Let’s keep on looking for those opportunities to practice and to get feedback and support as we do so. I may not reach the 10,000 hours, but over the course of a lifetime I plan to come close.
After four years of leadership, Ceasar McDowell has stepped down from his position as President of Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC).
“I am thankful for the opportunity to have served as the IISC President for the last four years. I have the utmost respect for the IISC mission and staff, and am fully committed to helping IISC through this organizational transition,” Ceasar said. “The world needs the skill, talents, and knowledge of the Interaction Institute for Social Change.”
Under Ceasar’s leadership, IISC deepened its core competence: applying a collaborative approach to social change, infusing the value of racial equity into all community-based engagements, advancing the practice of network leadership, and harnessing love as the driving force for sustainable change. This work will continue under the leadership of Kelly Bates, who will serve as the interim Executive Director.
“It is an honor to serve IISC in this moment of change,” said Bates. “IISC will continue to offer and expand its portfolio of high-impact services to organizations, communities, and networks to build their capacity for more effective, equitable, and inclusive social change.”
Ceasar will continue his work at MIT in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and we look forward to our ongoing collaboration.
Watching intermittent coverage of the Democratic National Convention my heart softened when I heard New Jersey Senator Corey Booker remind those listening that “Patriotism is the love of country, but you can’t love your country if you don’t love your countrymen.” He went on to define love as ‘being there for each other…empowering each other…finding common ground…and building bridges across differences…’ in pursuit of a common goal. He articulated a beautiful and hopeful vision of a nation of love as a free people, living interdependently. Later on during the convention, Broadway stars gathered on stage to sing the American classic, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
It gave me a feeling of hope, not necessarily in the Party per se, but in the power of love to captivate the collective imaginations of millions of people who believe that another world is possible, and we can make it a better one for all of us.
The discipline of mourning takes on new depths today. I mourn for the lives lost in the past week at the hands of police. I mourn for the lives lost in Dallas overnight. I fear for the lives of peaceful protesters who will be painted with the same brush as the Dallas snipers. I wonder how we will recover from this latest development and how we will keep it from spawning an escalating cycle of violence. Praying for wisdom, peace, justice, healing.
How can democracy result in an equitable, sustainable society?
New animation produced with Nimblebot explores turning patterns of exclusion into Big Democracy.
People’s participation in our democracy is hindered by unequal access and structures that are hard to navigate. In Big Democracy the public sets the agenda, society designs solutions for those most in need, and institutions are directly accountable to the public.
IISC presents a new animation which explores Big Democracy from multiple vantage points. There is a mayor, firm in her belief that people know exactly what they need to solve the problems of today. There are newly engaged residents, reluctant to trust that their participation will result in changes. And there are people, moving through the city, experiencing the triumphs and failures of the system.
Today marks my last day at the Interaction Institute for Social Change. This has been my professional home for the last 10 years. IISC is the community that has shaped me and my capacity to fulfill my life’s purpose. I am eternally indebted to this place. This is the platform that has allowed me to make my contribution to our quest for liberation. I leave with love, appreciation and commitment to our evolving relationship. Read More
The following is a slighted edited version of a post that first appeared on this site about three years ago. IMHO, its core question remains essential to work for social change.
“Are you a sophist?” This remains a very live question for me, ever since Carol Sanford offered it to me. Carol points out how many in the “helping professions” fall into the habit of trying to provide well-intended inspiration and advice to others at the expense of diminishing their capability. She likes to tell the story of Socrates’ awakening. Socrates observed what often happened to those in Athens who listened to the Sophists preach. Members of the audience would often leave full of wisdom and inspiration, and they kept coming back for more. At a certain point, however, many of these “followers,” after seeing no further progress in their lives, became demoralized and convinced that they would never be able to reach the heights that were suggested in the speeches they heard. Watching this, Socrates took a different tack. He sought to help others grow by asking questions that helped them to move and take control of their own development and destiny. Read More
I posted the following about five years ago on this site, and have been actively thinking about and experimenting with its core lessons ever since. I have only become more compelled by the need to bring a living systems orientation to work for social change. Curious to hear reactions and what you are already doing to apply insights from and living systems.
Last week I was in the presence of a master. For more than 25 years, Lauren Chase-Rowell has skillfully and intuitively cultivated the land around her house in Nottingham, NH to the point that it exists in great harmony with the beautiful farm house, people and fauna occupying that space. Lauren is an ecological landscaper, organic farmer, and permaculture design teacher. Her home, Dalton’s Pasture Farm, is a vibrant classroom and testament to the possibility of practicing “earth-centered living.” Read More