Rising Up: Critical Awareness and Common Ground
Within each Cycle we offer Key Ideas and Tools to support you wherever you are in your movement building journey. Are you just starting out or are you in the heat of a shaking up moment? What is emerging in your context and what do you want to do? What kind of capacity do you have? Have you thought about risks and safety? These Cycles can be used as a framework for Movement Builders—both experienced and new. So start collecting your tools and store them in your We Rise toolkit.
Rising Up is about discovering the power within us, the common ground that we share with others, and the potential we have together to change our lives, our communities and our world.
Safe Space Creating respectful places for dialogue and listening where we can speak our truth, share stories about our lives, question taboos and resist the shame and stigma that silence us; and where we can tap our own knowledge and know-how.
Heart Mind Body Affirming our wholeness and worth as an act of love and resistance given the toll that violence and oppression take on our spirit; caring for our bodies, health, sexuality, emotions, and intelligence in order to foster vitality and love in our lives, organizations and communities.
The Personal is Political Understanding and connecting the struggles, pain and power dynamics we face in our private lives to injustice in the society as a whole. Recovering and reinterpreting our individual and collective histories with this new perspective.
Common Ground and Community Finding common ground with others around similar experiences, problems and hopes, and together forging common cause.
Power Within Affirming the transformative and powerful knowledge that rises within us, that our lives matter and that we possess inherent worth, ideas and ability.
Speaking Out—Freedom and Expression Speaking out, using theater, art, writing and other means to give voice to what matters and what we have lived through; overcoming fear to imagine possibilities and make different choices in our lives.
A safe space is a process. It’s about creating a respectful place for dialogue, and listening to find where there is sensitivity and recognition about differences among people, where stereotypes and the reproduction of social hierarchies that tend to either privilege or silence individuals are consciously avoided. A safe space is a place where we can speak our truth, share stories about our lives, question taboos, and resist the shame that silences us. A safe space for dialogue allows for critical thought and meaningful connection between people to find common problems and solutions that tap into our know-how. By creating a safe space for reflection we are able to question the order of things, trace our paths of life, and build confidence. This process is key to developing deeper political consciousness and analysis.+ Read More
“It was JASS who came in and asked us what was burning in our hearts, and then we started addressing the issue of deformation from ARVs [Antiretroviral drugs]. JASS has taught us how to put our voices together for collective action in order to name and shame the government, as well as to lobby for better quality ARVs. We wanted our dignity back.”―Tiwonge Gondwe, Malawian Activist
For feminists and many social activists, change begins with personal lives, and with the lessons and insights about the power that is embedded in the ways we have made change under difficult circumstances. Safe spaces build an environment of political trust where we can be open and honest in discussing fears, risks and conflicts outside of us and between us. Safe space must also include processes of relaxation, artistic expression, dance, laughter and other elements to recover from the burnout and violence experienced by activists. In some contexts, physical, emotional, and psychological violence can undermine political participation and silence women in particular.
“Safe spaces enable women to deal with their fears and sense of guilt, and to begin putting their wellbeing at the forefront.”―Malena de Montis, JASS Mesoamerica
At its core, safe space allows people to examine how power plays out in their lives, and supports their efforts in building positive power (power within, power with, and power to). We create safe spaces that build solidarity, a shared contextual analysis, and an understanding of the gendered nature of power. We begin to recognize how negative forms of power, such as restrictive policies and norms, affect their lives. In the same vein, they also begin to step into their power by understanding that they are worthy and valuable, and that their voices and experiences matter. This consciousness-raising process builds their confidence and gives them a new lens with which to examine their lives—not as victims, but as people with the capacity to lead and mobilize for change.
Setting up a safe space incorporates many components including the actual physical space. We need to ensure that the physical space is comfortable. For instance, if there are chairs, placement in a circle can be helpful to avoid creating or reinforcing power dynamics. The more welcoming the space is, the better.
Once the space is arranged appropriately, participants collectively agree on the principles that will govern their space. Core among these principles are the issues of confidentiality and consent, and of methods to deal with sorrow and pain. Participants have to trust that they can share their experiences freely, and that their stories will remain completely confidential unless they give consent.
Tools For Creating Safe Spaces
Heart, Mind, Body
Heart-Mind-Body (HMB) is a political analysis and practice – inspired and shaped by many different people and groups – that puts our bodies, knowledge, feelings and safety at the center of how we understand inequality and how we build transformative change. For feminists, HMB reflects a bold, even radical, affirmation of the value of women’s lives—from basic safety and security to self-care, wellbeing and resilience—as a foundation of movement building.+ Read More
Heart-Mind-Body is about understanding and affirming our wholeness and worth as an act of love and resistance given the toll that unequal and violent systems take on bodies and spirits. Caring for our bodies, health, sexuality, emotions, and intelligence is central to political work as it fosters vitality and love in our lives, organizations and communities.
“Heart-Mind-Body is also a framework for good community organizing and political action. If our strategies and communications engage people’s hearts, minds and bodies—with inspiration, joy, smart information, opportunities to shape the agenda and ways to move with us—they will join our justice cause and stay with us.”—Lisa VeneKlasen
Much can be learned from women activists about what it takes to sustain our social and political change efforts. In response to the insecurity and risks women and women activists often face, many groups have recognized that wellbeing is critical to collective strategies that make women safer and stronger politically. The Heart-Mind-Body approach acknowledges the profound impact oppression, inequality and violence have on our bodies and on our sense of self. HMB centralizes strategies for safety, wellbeing, self-care, and renewal to sustain women’s vital organizing efforts in complex political contexts.
“One of the great contributions is self-care, which means putting your body as a woman defender at the center of the debate. Your body is political territory. It’s one of the first spaces for constructing freedom... for defining how to exist as a woman, a human being, a citizen in this struggle.”—Honduran Activist
Prioritizing the wellbeing of individual women is essential for nurturing stronger organizations and real, sustained change. Integrating HMB into ongoing work means including in our analysis of power and specific issues their impact on our bodies and emotions as well as on our communities. How we feel about difficulties in our communities is often something that really connects us to others. Indeed, emotions like frustration and anger which can be transformed by hope are key to organizing social change.
HMB also involves sharing simple practices and skills for self-care with those who have survived violence and/or burn out. It means thinking proactively about security and safety planning. It also involves using HMB as a means to build solidarity within communities, organizations and even families, to work together to build strategies for safety and strength.
“Prioritizing our wellbeing as activists is crossing the line.”—Shereen Essof
There are different HMB approaches that reflect and affirm the vital connection between the heart, the mind and the body that is a critical foundation for change. In working with women, conversations about how power operates in women’s lives identify forms of power that oppress and subjugate them, as well as forms of power that can liberate, connect and build solidarity among them. These learning and reflection processes energize and challenge women, allowing them to appreciate their individual struggles and talents, to name and analyze the common barriers they face, and to come together to make a difference.
“I came here feeling like I would not belong. I was very nervous because women look badly on sex workers. But here in the circle I have found my space and my hope. I spoke to a lawyer and she helped me. I came here with a heavy heart and spoke to a counselor who helped. I did not know this circle would give me a chance and change for my life.”—Sex Worker and Activist, Zimbabwe
Tools for Heart Mind Body
The Personal Is Political
The “personal is political” is a well-known feminist adage and rallying cry coined in the late 1960s. At its core, it asserts that inequality and the social structures and beliefs that are the foundation for power and privilege begin at home and are reproduced in our families. For women, the personal arena is a site where structural violence and inequality play out vividly. For example, domestic violence—an issue which was long viewed as a private matter—remains at the top of women’s rights agendas because—while laws have changed—police, the justice system and family institutions around the world continue to treat this issue as a private matter.+ Read More
Feminists have mobilized women and men globally through direct action and many creative media tactics to communicate to the world that domestic violence is a crime and a public health problem.
The “personal is political” is a guide to formulating political agendas and communication strategies, and to organizing tactics for women and for everyone. Addressing deep inequality should include—and often start with—ourselves and the context in which we are living, because our perceptions about ourselves, our social roles and what is happening in our families are all shaped by larger political and social structures.
At JASS, we believe that real transformation cannot be achieved by solely changing laws or policies. Fundamentally addressing inequality involves more than putting a few more resources or a little extra income into women’s hands. We know that to achieve freedom, dignity, respect and the wellbeing of all human beings and the planet requires a deep and profound transformation of social and political institutions. This kind of change does involve the redistribution of resources. However, most importantly, it simply cannot be completed without transforming our family structures and ourselves—the hearts and minds of women and men.
The “personal is political” is a useful framework for popular education methodologies and strategies. The basic guide is to start with people’s experiences at home, even when dealing with seemingly big topics like militarization and consumerism. These problems infiltrate and shape our lives. In many ways, the personal impacts not only give us clues about the structures of power, which is key for consciousness-raising, they also help us identify great communication and organizing strategies.
Tools for the Personal is Political
Common Ground & Community
Common Ground and Community is about finding what we share with others as the basis for building collective power. Effective organizing demands safe spaces and open dialogue to identify similar experiences, issues, hopes, and alternatives to forge a common cause and to begin organizing.
Finding community and common ground with others is an essential starting point for any change process. It can be liberating to discover that you are not alone with your problems and that you can work with others to change them. Often, people come together through the identification of common needs—from clean water to decent schools, from protection from violence to access to jobs and land. It is this self-interest that is transformed into a shared commitment with a group of people which sparks and sustains organizing efforts. As critical as identifying common concerns is to the organizing process, finding the values and dreams we share with others is equally important. A process of examining our experiences, identifying common needs, understanding their systemic root causes and exploring how best to address them is an essential part of developing and embarking on a political mobilization strategy. Our common values and dreams for solutions and the future is what holds us together and sustains our organizing efforts through thick and thin.+ Read More
“If done effectively, organizing unleashes and empowers activists and leaders. It surfaces and generates knowledge about common heartfelt problems, and begins to weave the relationships essential for joint strategies and action to solve those problems.”—Lisa VeneKlasen
Vital to building common ground is the creation of safe spaces to share worries and stories, to identify common challenges and to look at their causes, and to develop common solutions. These spaces enable people to talk about how they feel about these experiences, and also to imagine the kind of solutions that would make a difference. As they talk and hear from each other, common themes emerge. When they begin to analyze the root causes, they come to recognize the patterns of inequality embedded in the systems and the ways we think about social and political institutions. They also realize that they can address these problems if they work together. This process is the foundation for building a common political agenda, strategies and organization to effect change. As people imagine alternatives and solutions, it is important to bring to the surface – and affirm – common values, principles and dreams, which form the essence of what connects us to others despite our different circumstances. These dreams are key to our long-term political agendas and to persuading others to join us.
Tools for Common Ground and Community
Power within is about a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge. It is the capacity to imagine and to have hope. It affirms the universal human quest for dignity and fulfillment. Power within is strengthened by an understanding of power and the common good. To sustain the power within, we must continually question and challenge assumptions. When our power within is activated, it can transform our minds and our hearts.+ Read More
"I want to see change in the issues that affect women and their lives. I want to see the government put things in place to protect women and transform these situations. When I realized that I have the right to my life and when JASS helped me to realize that I have the power to claim my rights, it was a major turning point for me. I believe in the power within me and the power I have with my support groups." —Mirriam Munthali, Malawian Activist
Power operates on many different levels and affects our lives in many ways. In order to achieve lasting social change, we have to understand power in its various forms, seen and unseen, and we have to recognize the power we ourselves have to transform the realities around us. Change strategies focused on information, conventional lobbying and one-size-fits-all interventions are simply not enough. Our work seeks to uncover and confront the underlying interests, institutions, and ideologies that marginalize, silence and discriminate. And we aim to promote alternative ways of seeing and building positive forms of power (including power within) that can effectively challenge oppressive power, and the violence that sustains them.
Recognizing and bolstering power within acknowledges the effects of oppressive power and the need for people to feel empowered, confident, fired up and connected. To tap into alternative forms of power, such as the power within, strategies must address the psychological and social dimensions of oppression and subordination which—because of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation and other factors—leave people feeling inferior, isolated, cynical, and often angry.
Storytelling, poetry, music, dancing, spirituality, community, humor and critical reflection on our experiences can affirm people’s knowledge, feelings and sense of confidence, in other words, our power within. This experience in itself can serve as a nourishing force, helping people appreciate their personal worth and affirming their dreams and aspirations. All these expressions of life-affirming power are fundamental to harnessing one’s agency—or power to—the creative human capacity to act and to change the world.
Tools for Power Within
Freedom & Expression
Freedom and Expression is about the ways that we learn together and organize ourselves, tapping into all the different manners by which we express ourselves, using theater, art, writing and other means to give voice to what matters when words fail to capture what we feel and dream. It’s about having the freedom of movement, association and autonomy in decision-making including about our bodies, thoughts, sexual expression, choice and reproductive autonomy.+ Read More
We believe that unleashing voices takes a small step toward liberation and triggers change. Stepping out and speaking up has a multiplier effect: it inspires others to do the same and inspires each one of us to keep going. And because women’s voices are often not heard, the process must ensure that women’s voices are included in the heart of the broader struggles and agendas for justice.
“There is no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” – Arundhati Roy
In many of the places we work, there are deeply internalized social barriers to the freedom of expression. In Indonesia, for example, fundamentalist political and religious influences promote the belief that a woman’s role is in the home, that women should be protected and controlled. Fear of stepping out of these roles is silencing women, dictating how they may act and what they can wear. In response, FAMM-Indonesia, a young women’s alliance, is developing underground strategies for challenging shame and taboos about sex and sexuality, and for ending discrimination against young people. In Malawi, HIV+ women have overcome the silencing effect of shame and social blaming through in-depth work that affirms their stories and bodies. It was this work that gave them clarity and courage to demand respect as full citizens and to insist on better medicines, eliminating the old ones that were distorting their bodies. In Zimbabwe, our partner—Katswe Sistahood— is supporting young women to challenge taboos surrounding sex, sexuality, and women’s bodies through theater and dance. The violent and repressive context in which they live discourages these young women from talking about their basic needs and dreams, much less from demanding respect, safety and freedoms. Katswe uses performance arts to unleash young women’s voices and courage to resist traditional roles and to break their silence. As Rudo explains, “saying the word ‘vagina’ in Shona is considered shameful in itself. Re-learning how to claim parts of our bodies as our own is a vital step in a strategy to politicize women’s personal experiences.”
These examples hold universal lessons about breaking down the social barriers that prevent us from talking about certain subjects that may be critical to our rights and our lives. Overcoming fear and shame are key parts of the individual and collective empowerment processes, which enable women to speak out, contribute freely, and to create a better world.
“How do we transform silence into voice? How do we transform the horrific into something that reclaims a sense of beauty that can catalyze other people in their journeys?" —Shereen Essof
Activists use various strategies, including social media and creative arts (e.g. dance, storytelling, poetry), to access information, debate and create forms of mobilization.
Tools for Freedom and Expression