Moving From Inclusion to Collaborative Solidarity

October 22, 2015 5 Comments

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Lilla Watson


Last week I attended a gathering of network funders and practitioners in Oakland, CA hosted by Leadership Learning Community. Surrounded by so many bright lights, it was hard to get enough of any given individual or conversation. That said, one interaction that continues to stick out for me occurred with Allen Kwabena Frimpong and June Holley of Movement Netlab. Allen, June and I share an interest in supporting collaborative platforms (virtual and in-person) that can help to facilitate resource movement and exchanges of all kinds among diverse actors for the benefit of structural change.

At one point, Allen offered that it is time to move beyond “inclusion” in change networks to what he called “collaborative solidarity.” He noted that this term was coined by Elle Hearns, Aaryn Lang, and J Mase, “all Black trans activists within our movement to describe what they desired in their relationships in building with Black cis-gendered activists.” 

This concept of collaborative solidarity really resonated with me and a number of my IISC colleagues. Inclusion has a lot of baggage attached to it – in the worst cases, it smacks of perfunctory outreach to people, especially those most negatively impacted by issues, that often does little if anything to significantly change outcomes.

Inclusion can often mean inviting someone to your party, but the party remains yours.

Collaborative solidarity is about respecting the agency, resource-full-ness and interests of others, while looking for common ground as peers. This resonates with what we at IISC are calling Big Democracy. In a demographically complex world, inclusion may have less currency than wrestling with the question –

“How can we build the will, skill and platforms of an increasingly diverse public to collectively create just and sustainable societies?” 

At IISC, through a Big Democracy lens, we see a future in which we are “all in;” all in providing the information and knowledge needed to understand the issues that affect us; all in making decisions that impact us; all in, and especially those who are most often left out and negatively impacted. And we are interested in supporting and hearing stories of communities taking on this challenge.



  • Thanks Curtis for this post and Allen for adding as well to an important conversation about inclusion and collaborative solidarity. I like the way in which this is being connected to Big Democracy as a frame. At Leadership Learning Community we having been promoting leadership that is more inclusive, networked and collective, a short hand way of trying to get at some pretty complex ideas about leadership. Your post has gotten me thinking more about ‘democratic leadership’ two words which for good reason raise suspicion but perhaps need to be reclaimed. I look forward to this conversation.

  • lefery says:

    Beautiful quote of Lilla Watson.

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