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September 21, 2022

Announcing: Communities of Practice for Workshop Participants

IISC is delighted to announce the launch of our online networks for participants of any one of our three workshops: Facilitative Leadership for Social Change, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work, and Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations

All past workshop participants are invited to join a facilitated LinkedIn group to connect with others. The groups will be a place to share successes and challenges, exchange resources, ask questions, and support each other in continuing to apply and practice the workshop frameworks and tools. 

In addition, all group members will be invited to attend quarterly online gatherings hosted by a talented lineup of IISC facilitators. These gatherings will be a space to connect with others and to continue to build on the content and experience of the workshops. 

IISC has long dreamed of creating these communities and we are delighted to launch this project with the support of The Kresge Foundation. 

If you have attended a workshop and are interested in joining us, please complete this short survey. Survey respondents will receive a link to join the LinkedIn communities. We are excited to welcome you into the IISC community in this new way as we grow our network of social change practitioners. 

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August 22, 2022

“Entangled” Social Change: From Inter-action to “Intra-Action”

“What is at stake with quantum theory is the very nature of reality. Should reality be understood as something completely impervious to our interventions, or should it be viewed as something responsive to the very existence of human beings?”

Christopher Fuchs (physicist)
Image by Kevin Dooley, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

A mark of a good book for me is one that challenges my thinking, moves my heart, and also resonates in my body. That has been the case while reading Karen O’Brien’s You Matter More Than You Think: Quantum Social Science for a Thriving World. I want to give a big “thank you” and shout out to Fabian Pfortmüller who made this recommendation to me during a rich conversation a few weeks ago.

O’Brien’s book makes the case for bringing a quantum physics lens to the social sciences and to thinking about social change, even as she acknowledges the doubters and detractors who see this as an inappropriate move. Indeed, in posting about the book on LinkedIn recently, I was a little surprised to see a couple of comments attacking the idea of importing quantum considerations into the human realm. In anticipation of this, O’Brien notes that while quantum and classical physics, as well as the “hard” and social sciences, may have different applications, they are not totally separate from each other. Furthermore she writes:

“… given the nature of global crises, maybe this actually is an appropriate time to consider how meanings, metaphors and methods informed by quantum physics can inspire social change, and in particular our responses to climate change.”

So I have been doing what she invites – playing with these different ideas and concepts from the quantum realm and seeing what they stimulate. One I want to lift up here is the notion of subjectivity versus objectivity, and specifically that we are always participants in the world, never simply “detached observers.” This is not simply meant in an emotional sense, but that our very act of observing is actually an embodied intervention and can change what we see and also how we see the world. This “entanglement” (meant more metaphorically here, rather than in the formal scientific sense) asks us to consider how we are already connected, or part of a larger whole.

O’Brien spends some time exploring beliefs as being central to both what is possible and what is actually realized in our lives and world. If we believe we are completely separate from one another, for example. what do we and don’t we consider possible or worth while? If we believe we are more tied or woven, then what might we be inclined to do? The work of Karen Barad is referenced in this respect, pointing out the difference between talking/thinking about “inter-actions” of separate entities versus “intra-actions” among entangled elements within a larger whole. This is not just about a difference in language, but a difference in perceived and acted upon futures.

Photo taken at The Gennie in Craftsbury, VT

What comes to mind is a mantra of sorts that Valarie Kaur puts forward in her justice work focused on addressing the dynamics of othering and oppression, as well as in her book See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love

“You are a part of me I do not yet know.”

Similar to this spirit, john a. powell offers the following in Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society:

“There is a need for an alternative vision, a beloved community where being connected to the other is seen as the foundation of a healthy self, not its destruction, and where the racial other is seen not as the infinite other, but rather as the other that is always and already a part of us.”

I am also reminded of the peace-building work of John Paul Lederach, and this from his book The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace:

“Time and again, where in small or larger ways the shackles of violence are broken, we find a singular tap root that gives life to the moral imagination: the capacity of individuals and communities to imagine themselves in a web of relationship even with their enemies.”

If we treat the so-called “other” (whether human, other animals, plants … ) as apart from us, or as in some sense fundamentally threatening (“the enemy”), then where does that lead? The point here is that reality is not just “reality out there,” it is also what we make of it. We have a say. We matter. What we believe matters. What we do matters. Embracing “a bigger WE” matters. We can “bring forth worlds,” (to quote Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s Santiago Theory of Cognition) at least to a certain extent. And whether this is about imagining or re-membering, acting “as if” we are joined in something larger can seemingly create tangible results, while also acknowledging that dynamics of power and privilege are important to consider in terms of who may be inclined to make first gestures and how these will be received.

“Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But, now that I look, where is that line?

This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale me into not-me.

If the air and the waters and the soils are poisoned, I am poisoned. Only if I believe the fiction of the lines more than the truth of the lineless planet, will I poison the earth, which is myself.”

Donella Meadows, from “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World”

* * * * *

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a benign tumor on my left acoustic and balance nerve (an acoustic neuroma). As the tumor continued to grow, albeit slowly, I made the decision to have radiation treatment two years ago (six months into our new COVID reality). What was presented as a fairly straight-forward outpatient procedure turned into quite an ordeal as I had a strong reaction to the treatment. What followed was dizziness, terrible tinnitus, poor sleep, muscular pain, headaches and occasional “nerve storms” in other parts of my body. After a few months of extreme discomfort I went to see a very adept acupressurist and holistic healer who made the observation that I seemed to be trying to separate myself from that part of my body, tensing against it, rejecting it, and the result was further exacerbation. With her help, over several months, I gradually got reacquainted with that sensitive area (really getting to know it for the first time), and through slow and steady integrative body work, began to relax and reclaim that part of me in a way that has brought greater ease to my overall system and life.

Image by  Joe Le Merou, “Peace,” shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

The very energizing thing about that work with this healer is that it has helped not simply to address discomfort in one area of my body, it has positively impacted other parts that I did not even realize were misaligned and/or listless until this crisis occurred. I take it as ontological truth that I am all of my body (though not simply my body), yet for many years (and especially recently) I had not been acting like that (consciously and unconsciously), with real health-related ramifications. Extend this metaphor (separate –> connected, inter-action –> intra-action) to other “bodies” of different sizes. scales and dimensions, and where might that lead?

What excites me here is acknowledging the entanglements that we do not yet know, or cannot possibly hold in our minds alone given the immensity of the world. This is where “thinking and acting in a networked way,” with some faith and conviction, comes into play for me, along with an orientation towards equity. In particular, I think of the encouragement offered in these words from the late long-time community organizer and political educator Grace Lee Boggs:

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”                      

What critical connections and small moves might we make in this intricate, [vast/intimate] and mysterious world that could yield big and needed changes in our communities and lives?

Photo by Gordon M Robertson, shared under auspices of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
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August 15, 2022

From Stakeholders to “Care-holders”

Image by Emily Bergquist, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

“The challenge is to replace practices that distance and disconnect with ones that evoke empathy, caring, and creativity.”

Carol Sanford

In our collaborative change work with organizations and multi-sector networks, we at IISC are adamant about doing thoughtful stakeholder analysis at the start of an initiative, and returning to this work periodically, asking the question, “Who are we missing?” As important as this can be, not everyone loves the word “stakeholder.” It can sound somewhat wonky and impersonal, and I myself have been thinking about the word “stake” and what it says about people.

To have a stake means “to have a share, interest, or involvement in something or someone.” Going back to the early 1700s, a stakeholder was one to whom money was deposited when making a wager/bet. And in the colonizing of what is now the United States, stakes were literally placed on lands that were stewarded by indigenous peoples as a way of claiming ownership of them. What none of this conveys is a sense of care or caring. I don’t mean whether or not someone cares (or is indifferent), but whether there is a genuine heartfelt sense of connection or deep desire to protect, create and/or contribute. Increasingly, this sense of care and caring (along with reckoning and making amends) is showing up as a crucial factor in making the difficult work of complex collaborative (systemic and culture) change happen.

Recently, Anne Heberger Marino tweeted something about translating “stakeholders” to “careholders” in her/their mind to get beyond “detached objectivity.” I really like and resonate with that! And playing with that term seems to raise some interesting possibilities. In general, when we at IISC work with partners to consider who might been engagd in collaborative social change work, we uplift the following categories/criteria (applied to individuals and groups) with respect to a given initiative:

  • Is likely to be impacted by the outcome of the effort/decision 
  • Voices unheard or typically marginalized perspectives 
  • Functions as a connector in or across sector(s)/field(s) 
  • Is in a position to implement the effort/decision 
  • Is in a position to prevent it from being implemented 
  • Has relevant information or expertise (including lived experience)
  • Has informal influence without authority 
  • Is responsible for the final decision

Applying a lens of “caring” or (or even “loving”) to these criteria brings another level or nuance. Beyond functionality and/or positionality, who really connects to and cares about what we are trying to do? This can raise the bar for the analysis and also potentially expand possibilities for the initiative. Farmer, poet and essayist Wendell Berry has talked about the importance of what he calls “the turn towards affection.”  Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human capacity to despoil landscapes and demonize “the other,” he takes a strong stand for deep connection, or affection:

“For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. … By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.”

What if we asked ourselves and others what might be illuminated by people bringing their affection and/or love to the initiative, work, place and/or goal in question? Who already has this? How might we inspire it in others?

I can also see “Cares deeply about the effort/decision” as being its own worthy category/criterion. And in looking at the criterion from the list above, “Is in a position to prevent it from being implemented” (the proverbial “blocker(s)”), bringing a lens of care makes me wonder what otherwise perceived “adversaries” actually care about/love/connect to. Might this kind of curiosity help to build bridges and understanding from the outset?

In addition, recent conversations among a group of IISC staff and affiliates about these categories and criterion have raised important considerations of Indigenous peoples and perspectives. Increasingly we are seeing an interest in acknowledging and addressing harms done, validating indigenous ways of knowing, and working to establish “right relationships” and “decolonize” systems. So we might add another criterion/consideration: “Is indigenous to the lands we are on or where the work is happening.” And perhaps by extension of these notions of indigeneity and caring, we might also consider who: “Speaks for the land” (see the work and writings of Jeannette Armstrong, of the Okanagan people) and also “Speaks for the more-than-human realm.”

Finally, and relatedly, I am reminded of our IISC Collaborative Change Lens, which includes the facet of “love” as a force for social transformation and justice. As we say on our website, “We nurture the love that does justice: the desire for the wellbeing of others, which is central to every social change movement. Love infuses our power with compassion, reclaims our resilience, heals our wounds, causes us to see ourselves as connected, and enables our radical imagination.”

What might care and care-holding bring to your consideration of who and how to engage others in your social change work?

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August 8, 2022

When urgency is actually necessary: Making Change at a Human Pace

“The times are urgent, let us slow down.”
Bayo Akomolafe, The Emergence Network

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

Thanks in part to the work of Tema Okun, Dr. Kenneth Jones, and DismantlingRacismWorks, we have been leaning into the characteristics of white supremacy culture for decades. I find the sense of urgency particularly challenging. Okun and Jones define it as “our cultural habit of applying a sense of urgency to our every-day lives in ways that perpetuate power imbalance while disconnecting us from our need to breathe and pause and reflect. The irony is that this imposed sense of urgency serves to erase the actual urgency of tackling racial and social injustice.”

I struggle with this regularly. In the early days of the pandemic, IISC wrestled with what contribution we could make. I had to temper my desire to move quickly with a sober assessment of our actual human capacity. Even now, on any given day, our team – and the staff and volunteers practically everywhere I turn – ranges from sick, exhausted, and overwhelmed to joyful, optimistic in the midst of it all, and eagerly seeking new possibilities. I continue to remind myself that we can only go as fast as we can go, even if that doesn’t seem fast enough given the conditions around us. 

Therein lies the struggle. The work of making a better, more just world IS urgent. People are paying with their lives every day because of the way our society is constructed. Take health as an example. Healthcare is a for-profit industry and the profit motive drives who gets treated, what kinds of treatments are approved or even exist, and what unhealthy conditions are allowed to persist. Access to healthcare is granted mostly as a privilege for people with certain kinds of jobs, rather than to all people as a human right. People are dying every day because of this. Getting care to people who need it most – people who are unhoused, and/or unemployed, disabled, elderly, or otherwise unable to participate in the paid labor force – is urgent. At the same time, we have to devote attention to the necessary, long-term work of building political will and shifting the political system in the direction of making health care a human right. Otherwise, we’ll be forever doing the urgent work of helping people on the margins to survive. As our friends in public health remind us, we have to “get upstream” to stop the “flow” of people who need urgent support that the system doesn’t provide. 

Generations of warriors for justice have taught us that the struggle for justice is costly and urgent. In my earliest days of political formation, my mentors argued (sometimes explicitly and sometimes by example) that I didn’t deserve a good night’s sleep or many creature comforts because people were suffering and dying every day due to racism and poverty. This led me to an unhealthy kind of self-denial and overwork. While my group members saw me as productive and committed, in the eyes of some folks who I was both critiquing and attempting to recruit, I appeared unbearably self-righteous and absolutely no fun to be around. 

This posture didn’t win over a lot of new people to our way of thinking and it ingrained in me a habit of ignoring my own needs that has been extremely hard to break. While I can say with conviction to others that “self-care isn’t selfish,” and “it’s essential to find joy in the midst of struggle,” I still have trouble taking my own advice sometimes. I’m making progress, though it’s slow! I still hold onto this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” 

Image by 1239652 from Pixabay

One thing I find striking and encouraging about the current generation of racial justice activists is their explicit focus on wholeness, healing, belonging, and restoration – think of emergent strategy and the work of healing justice to name just a few. We are beginning to recognize that we can’t do any of this necessary and urgent work at the expense of people and relationships. And I think we still have a long way to go. 

If we want to make change at the scale of an entire society and beyond, we have to find new ways and rediscover ancient ways of doing both the urgent work of survival and the urgent work of structural change in ways that don’t exhaust and exploit the people doing that work and that make space for new more beautiful ways of being together. At IISC, as we take up this challenge and offer what we can share, I’m trying to remain vigilant so that a sober assessment of the urgent need for justice doesn’t push me toward dominant-culture ways of pressing beyond the capacity of our human community. 

How are you replacing a dominating sense of urgency with an appropriate sense of urgency that honors and cares for people?

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August 1, 2022

Sacred Space

CC0 Public Domain

I went to synagogue last week to support friends who were leading the service and I got a gift in return. My friend Hilary shared some words that really resonated with me. I’ll translate them here as “this space is sacred.”

We create and move through spaces every day and all the time, at work as well as at home and in community. And, we are in times that can feel challenging, frightening, or even dangerous. And so how do we nourish ourselves and find the belonging that is a basic human need? Without being trite, I left synagogue reminded that I am already in those spaces and that I can do more to notice when the spaces I am in have elements of the sacred: belonging, grace, wonder, possibility, joy.

Here are some of the spaces I’ve been in just in the last month that I realize now were sacred, even if only for a moments:

  • At the dinner table in western Massachusetts, surrounded by the laughter of family who have only known one another for at most eight years, creatively weaving our connections as we anticipate the next generation
  • Floating in the ocean, swaying in the waves
  • Recently at a staff gathering where we were together in person for the first time in two and a half years…feeling the presence, seeing more than just the faces.
  • In a zoom room of white anti-racists sharing vulnerable stories of failure and intentions to be in deep partnership and sibling-hood in multi-racial spaces
  • In a zoom room of mostly strangers exploring generative conflict

Perhaps harder to conceive, and problematic if held in the wrong way, I wonder how we can find or create sacredness amidst a world or workplace that feels challenging. One way I saw that was in a beautiful interaction between two clients. One is leaving their job; another, in tears, processing the endless change and loss, spoke to how much they appreciated that person and how in seven months the departing person had pulled them into community and increased their capacity for important work.

I know that I, and many of our clients, yearn for and need wonder and sacredness as we move through a world full of challenges, violence, and fear. And, in discussing how we sometimes choose what we see, I would be remiss not to also name that it is a world full of beauty, changemakers, and organizing, with much to celebrate.

At IISC, we try to bring joy and foster belonging as we work on challenging issues, thereby creating and noticing the sacred space in which to do our work. Please join us and share your stories of sacred space.

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July 25, 2022

Fascists in our Front Yard

When the Patriot Front marched in Boston earlier this month and assaulted Charles Murrell, a Black artist and activist, city officials and residents alike were taken by surprise. The Patriot Front was back in Boston over the weekend, this time in Jamaica Plain, spewing their vile ideology on the LGBTQ community. We can’t claim to be surprised any more. According to the Boston Globe, the Patriot Front has been building a constituency right here, in one of the supposedly most liberal states in the country. And they have spent more time in Massachusetts than other places over the past few years. This isn’t in our “backyard” folks. This is the front yard, where we can’t deny it any more.

I used to think of the visible, vocal, and sometimes violent displays of racism as the death throes of a dying beast. But white nationalism is reproducing itself, finding support among a whole new generation of young people. We’re told that these extremist groups offer the allure of physical discipline, gun-toting machismo, community, and ideological unity. It’s frightening to me, though not surprising, that this ideology has such allure; an ideology laden with hatred and lies that obscure the real drivers of economic insecurity and political polarization and instead scapegoat people of color and LGBTQ people. It’s literally a page from the Nazi’s playbook.

If nothing else, January 6, 2021 should have taught us that it’s time to get behind efforts to prevent and intervene on the radicalization of young white people. Since 911, law enforcement has had a relentless focus on monitoring radicalization of young Muslim men, trampling civil liberties and demonizing whole communities in the process. Police have been monitoring Black and Brown street gangs for generations, also often trampling civil liberties and justifying police violence in the process. When young white men become radicalized, the strategy seems to be “do nothing,”  and to explain away any crimes they commit by focusing on their mental health and social marginalization. I’m not calling for a trampling of their civil liberties, or justifying the abuses of Muslim, Black and Brown youth at the hands of police. But I am calling on us as a society to take the radicalization of young white people seriously. In the words of Wajahat Ali, author of Deradicalizing White People, “I have lost count of how many times I have been asked as a Muslim, ‘Where are the moderate Muslims?’ So allow me to ask, ‘Where are the moderate whites, and what are they doing to combat extremism?’” 

What are we – those of us working for social justice – doing to combat extremism in our communities? It’s not a problem over there, in “red America,” it’s right here, in our front yard.

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July 13, 2022

Getting to the Goods (and Beyond “Folded Arms” Syndrome) in Impact Networks

“Your generosity is more important than your perfection.”

Seth Godin

Over the past 20 years of working with a variety of social change networks, I have observed a common dynamic surface after the initial enthusiasm and launch phase. As happened recently with a place-based network about a year into its development (navigating COVID and political uprisings along the way), some members started to bang the “What have we actually done?” drum. Contextual crises notwithstanding, this is not an inappropriate or unhelpful question. As important as relationship and trust-building is, there can come a time when people want to know … “So what?” Sometimes this comes from what we might call more “results-oriented” people in the network. Or it may come from the more time-strapped and stressed, those from smaller organizations, or those who just genuinely don’t see the return on their investment. When this has come up, and people are either holding back (“folded arms”) or threatening to walk, I have witnessed and facilitated several different ways of moving through the real or perceived lack of progress.

  1. “If you want it, then you better put a ring around it” – In one instance, the convening team of a state-wide network essentially drew a line around all of the network participants and started claiming their successes as network successes. This might sound a bit shady, though it was not done in that spirit. By celebrating “your success as our success,” people felt appreciated and started to turn towards one another and see themselves as a bigger we. They didn’t have to wait to get to mass action. Smaller subsets having success counted.
  2. Get a quick win – In another state-wide network, fraught at the outset by folded arms despite the fact that people would regularly physically show up for meetings, a network coordinator seized upon a timely policy advocacy opportunity that surfaced, which resulted in a mass outpouring and a legislative win. Nothing sells like success. That early victory got people eager to see what else they might be able to accomplish and they settled in for some more relationship-building.
  3. Collect and share connection stories – We know that relationship-building is not just about the relationships. It can lead to new partnerships and projects. Often this happens at the start of a network, but is not tracked. We worked with another place-based network that intentionally set out to track the results of connections made in and through the network, and then shared these with the network as a whole. More about connection stories here.
  4. Highlight the unusual and adjacent conversations – What makes many of the networks we work with unique is that they bring together people who do not often work with each other. Highlighting this and also what emerges out of novel interactions across fields can make “just talking” into exciting explorations and engines of innovation. For a little inspiration on this front, see “Why the most interesting ideas happen at the borders between disciplines” from Steven Johnson at Adjacent Possible (!).
  5. Pump people up, individually and collectively – Let’s face it, in these times (and really all times), expressing genuine appreciation can go a long way. We work with a network convenor who does this wonderfully, tracking and celebrating people for their individual contributions outside of network gatherings, and constantly speaking to the power and potential of the collective. She just makes people feel good! This can make the proverbial “marathon, not a sprint” more enjoyable.
  6. Get a super weaver going – Having a really adept and energetic network weaver can make all the difference in the early stages of a network. We have seen the impact this can have when ample capacity is created to regularly check in with people, listen to them, make connections between different needs and offers in the system, and encourage people to share more with one another. When those exchanges start happening, the “there” there is often more apparent.
  7. Lift up the network champions – Generally there is a small group of people who really appreciate and lean into the value of the network from the get go (gratefully receiving and using resources that are shared, following up with new connections, testing out new ideas, leveraging the network as a platform), making it happen and not waiting for it. Observing this, capturing it, and sharing it with the network can help make the point that the network is what people make of it and give ideas for how to make this happen.

What have you done to successfully navigate impatience and intransigence in impact networks?

Image by Sylvain Raybaud, shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
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July 5, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: All Hands on Deck – A Call to Action for Philanthropy

A message to funders and their staff: 

There’s never been a more important time to claim your full power in philanthropy. We need you – your authentic and most daring selves during these times. This is the moment to relinquish power and exercise deep trust in the field. This is the moment to recognize the important role we need you to play as a catalyst for transformative and progressive social change.

Remove and redefine the boundaries of what a funder or program officer should be.  

Resist rolling out long applications and grant reports again. The field is working and we can’t be overtaxed as we fight the many battles that have been placed upon us. We need you working alongside us, not reading proposals and reports. 

Avoid reverting back to prioritizing program grants. We need unrestricted general operating funds to apply what we are learning each day to what must be done.

Fund movement organizing and capacity building organizations so that we can work together to unlock profound social change during this period. 

Make strategy with us, not for us. Together we must be emergent and adaptable to our challenges and opportunities. Change is not always linear. Like COVID-19, further attacks on social and racial justice will be unpredictable and hate and greed will produce new variants.

Please…come now out of your homes and offices to toil alongside us. You are not apart from us. You are us. And we need you. 

We need all hands on deck. Come as you are, but come, and please do all that you can to make justice easier for us. 

P.S. I share these words as someone who has spent twenty years in philanthropy – leading a charitable foundation, working with foundations, and advising donors. Discard the constraint of what you think philanthropy is and was.  Philanthropy, a Greek word, means love of humanity. That’s your job now – to love humanity – and it’s urgent.

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June 30, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: In the Spirit of Fierce Black Resistance

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

June 24th, 2022 was a dark day in our fight for liberation of Black bodies and for Black power. Reproductive justice is centrally linked to Black liberation: it is our right to know our bodies, make decisions about our bodies, and feel safe in our bodies. Self-determination has been challenged, disregarded, and disrespected. To my Black sisters, trans brothers, and gender-non-conforming kin: I rage with you, cry with you, and continue the work of building a world in service of our liberation with you today and all days. 

The Supreme Court’s conservative decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is a calculated attack on our bodies, our freedom, and our personal sovereignty. This is not the first action taken by the courts in what has been a long history of reproductive control rooted in classism, sexism, and racism. It is class, sex, and race-based violence designed to further oppress, control, dehumanize, delegitimize, and imprison. I stand in opposition to this decision and in solidarity and support of Black Lives Matter’s calls for expanding the court, ending the filibuster, and passing the Women’s Health Protection Act. 

I recommit to centering Black voices, to fighting for Black freedom, and to standing in solidarity with Black organizers, activists, and communities of color. I stand with you.

“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected – those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! – and listens to their testimony.

– James Baldwin
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June 29, 2022

Callings from “Fierce Civility”

Image by Nick Doty, used under provision of Creative Commons attribution license 2.0.

In previous posts (see “Life (and Power) on the Resilient Edge of Resistance” and “At the Heart of Regeneration is … the Heart (and the Gut”), I have written about my experiences with the Weston Network and the Respectful Confrontation training and apprenticeship program and more recently with the Fierce Civility teacher training program, which I began in March of this year. This most recent experience, including a 5 day retreat with a small and racially diverse group of skillful practitioners from around the US, again drove home the importance for me of embodied practice generally, and specifically to manage our nervous systems and engage in interpersonal “co-regulation.” To me, Joe Weston is a true magician, a masterful teacher and coach, and someone that has helped me to develop deeper reverence for my body and its wisdom (along with very adept healers, Dr. Eve Capkanis and Gwen McClellan).

A few weeks ago, Joe gave me a draft of his forthcoming book, currently titled Fierce Civility: Transforming Our Global Culture from Polarization to Lasting Peace, and asked that I do a critical review. I came away with more appreciation for what he and The Weston Network are trying to achieve in these fractured and fractious times. “Civility” has (almost) become a dirty word, seen as naive and impossible by some (at least when considering certain cultural and political divides), and as harmful by others, if “being civil” means not speaking or hearing truths or working for social justice. Joe appreciates all of this (writing at one point – “Even our passivity has taken on a tone of aggression”), and holds the concept of civility in dynamic tension with fierce-ness.

Fierce civility is not about “chronic niceness” or conflict avoidance, but rather advocates for stances of assertiveness (as opposed to aggression) and receptivity (as opposed to passivity). Fierce civility is not about glossing over systemic and structural injustice and oppression, even as it does not shy away from promoting personal responsibility and accountability. This delicate and sometimes difficult balancing act was definitely a topic of conversation this past weekend when our Fierce Civility cohort (whom Joe has dubbed “love ninjas”) gathered on the heels of Friday’s US Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. That is a discussion that will continue, no doubt. Joe writes in his book, “We are technologically overfed and spiritually malnourished,” and encourages people to intentionally change their diets (quality and quantity) as a means of effectively making both personal and systemic change. And best if this is work is done with supportive community.

Four core elements of Fierce Civility and Respectful Confrontation

There is much more to say about the book, as well as the practices that the Weston Network teaches (though better to actually read the book and engage in the practices), but for now, I wanted to share (with Joe’s permission) some particular quotes that struck while reading the draft and that have stayed with me.

“True martial artists would say that they learn how to fight so that they can pivot away from conflict and aggression and prevent fighting, and that is true power.”

“Imagine in a conversation if the goal on both sides was to protect yourself, the other and the conversation itself from unconscious reactivity and the lack of civility that can unexpectedly seep in.”

“When we give the extremes all of our attention, our focus is turned towards them and away from the larger majority of people who hold more nuanced, less reactive views of the same issues.”

“What if the most courageous, revolutionary and impactful thing you could do at this time is to cultivate a daily practice of aligning with your humanity, embody a deeper level of resilience, avoid burn out, as well as maintain and deepen authentic relationships?”

“This is what true freedom is: freeing yourself of unexamined beliefs and biases; gaining confidence to stay regulated in challenging situations; opening your heart in safe and empowered ways, and protecting against any threats to civility and non-violence.”

“Many of us have forgotten that debating issues can be fun, not a life-or-death experience. We have become frightened and turned off by the messiness of human interaction and the process of creating something new.”

“The two halves of the heart pump with and against each other. This dynamic interplay might look pretty volatile to the human eye, but the body knows that that level of assertiveness is necessary to keep the system healthy and vital.”

“We are seeing a shift to cyber and economic warfare. The techniques may change, but the primitive impulse for war has not. And while we may have peace treaties, we are not seeing the global cooperation needed to sustain life.”

“If only hanging out with people who already agree with you were going to solve our problems, we would have already solved them.”

(Quoting Gabor Maté): “Safety is not the absence of danger; safety is the presence of connection.”

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June 16, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Honoring our Ancestors

When I am feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, I remind myself that amidst the violence, many people are leading gorgeous campaigns for change. I also remind myself that there are white people who have done the work for freedom and anti-racist futures over the last 200 years. As white activists and consultants, we don’t always acknowledge or see our own lineages. So, here I name here a few, including some women and Jews, my ancestors, who stood up and took risks for their beliefs, acting in their historical context, often against the grain.  

Peter Norman stood with John Carlos and Tommie Smith while they raised their fists and donned black clothing in support of Black Americans and Black power, and they all wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges (also calling out white supremacy and indigenous policies in his native Australia) at the 1968 Olympics.  

Vito Marcantonio, an Italian-American congressperson from NY in the 1930s and 40s who stood with Blacks and Jews and against anti-communism.

August Bondi, an Austro-Hungarian Jew who was a close associate of John Brown and helped to liberate slaves

Lydia Maria Child, an author who wrote “An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans” where she raised the complicity of the north in maintaining slavery and was a member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, which called for the immediate abolition of slavery (as some call for the immediate abolition of prisons).

Ernestine Louise Rose (early 1800s) who was a Jewish abolitionist and suffragette and (from a short reading of Wikipedia) a general badass who won a court case against a forced betrothal, traveled the world, married a non-Jew and sold perfumed paper.

These are just a few white anti-racists who I found online or had heard stories about. Who would you add to the list? Either white activists or people from one of your ancestries?

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June 16, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Black Joy & Freedom

A personal blog about the power of the Juneteenth holiday to foster Black joy and freedom.

I woke up to a text from my community health center that it was closed for Juneteenth, something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. This started my week of JOY and FREEDOM! I cleared my eyes from sleep and imagined my Black ancestors on the plantation celebrating their freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation reached most corners of the country. 

Black people still experience deep racism and racialized trauma and yet we are living dreams our ancestors could never have envisioned. Running organizations and businesses, taking our rightful place in elected office, saving lives during COVID as doctors and nurses, and seeing our children off to college and on to planes to places in the world our ancestors were forbidden to see. 

This week alone, I walked freely in the streets, sat in the front of a bus, ate at an integrated restaurant, and hugged my husband and child who will never be sold away from me to a white person in the middle of a town square.  

Celebrating at the Embrace Ideas Festival in Boston: Kelly Bates, IISC President, and Sheena Collier, Founder & CEO of Boston While Black

This week I participated in the Embrace Ideas Festival sponsored by KingBoston, a program of The Boston Foundation, one of our racial equity change clients. On a panel of Black leaders of arts organizations, one leader shared that while white people must do the work of anti-racism, what’s really needed is for BIPOC leaders to embrace and experience joy and fun. 

I co-sign this belief so where will you find me this weekend of Juneteenth? I will be wearing traditional African clothing, line dancing with my Black friends, eating scrumptious soul food, kissing my child, and praying for greater forces of justice to prevail in our future.

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