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Building Up: Shared Issues, Organization and Leadership

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.

Building Up

Building Up is about the power to, coming together with others to find solutions to shared problems and developing our skills, leadership and organization to make change.

  • Understanding Power Examining how power is wielded over us in many ways but also how we can develop our own forms of power to make needed change.
  • Constructing Our Own Analysis Constructing our own evidence and understanding of our context, history, rights, experiences and the current moment.  Using this as a foundation of shared political analysis and to inform an alternative vision and action plan.
  • Issues and Organizing Focusing on issues that matter to us, getting others involved, figuring out solutions together and organizing action steps.
  • Collaborative Leadership, Organization and Skills Organizing ourselves to work well together; adopting feminist models of collaboration and leadership, democratic decision-making, distinct roles, mutual accountability, safety, trust, communication.
  • Choosing Alliances and Building Solidarity Forging ties and acting in solidarity with other organizations and individuals who share similar goals, increases our collective power, support and reach.
  • Navigating  Difference and  Building Political Trust Deepening trust among us by dealing honestly with conflicts that arise, learning from one another, and addressing how differences of identity, position and privilege (e.g. race, gender, ethnicity, class, age, sexuality, ability) can reproduce inequalities and divide us.
  • "Power properly understood is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political or economic changes. In this sense, power is necessary in order to implement the demands of love & justice."—Martin Luther King Jr.

    Understanding Power

    Understanding Power examines how power over—the power of domination and oppression—operates, and how we can develop our alternative forms of power to make social and political change happen.

    Power is essential. We cannot talk about improving people’s lives, protecting the planet or achieving social change—and certainly not about movement building—without talking about power. Simply put, power is about the institutions, structures and beliefs that determine who has privilege, who has access, who sets the rules, whose voice counts, and ultimately, who and what matters and is valued.

    One way to measure power is through the degree of control exercised over resources: material, human, intellectual, and financial. Although institutions, policies and beliefs take a lot to change, the good news is that power is dynamic and always changing, shaping the social, economic, and political relations between individuals and groups. It affects our lives at every level, from the most intimate—how we view ourselves or how our families work—to all public arenas. Power is neither positive nor negative in and of itself, it is how power is used that matters.

    Most people associate power with power over—that is, the ability to control and make decisions for others, with or without their consent. Power over—embedded in discriminatory institutions and belief systems – can take on oppressive and destructive forms, and is perpetuated by threat or use of violence.  For example, legislature, military, police, implementing institutions such as the UN, IMF and World Bank. This abuse of power is based on the desire to control finite resources and follows the maxim: “If you get more, I get less.”

    If we want to change how power impacts our lives and communities, we have to understand how it is exercised. Many advocacy, social change and human rights strategies focus on only the most visible forms of power over, those exercised through laws, policies, courts, and governmental bodies. While these forms are certainly important, power over also comes in subtler and more insidious forms. These aspects of power, if not understood and addressed, can make any policy victory elusive. For instance, hidden or shadow power operates through actors and organized forces that work behind-the scenes or “under the table” to control what gets on the public agenda and to prevent new ideas and alternatives from gaining ground. Corporations and other non-state actors, like religious groups and organized criminal organizations, for example, use both money and might to manipulate decision-makers and policy agendas, to further their own interests.  In many parts of the world, these actors actually control the policy process, a phenomenon called “state capture." The third form of power, which we call invisible power, is made up of the beliefs, customs and values that determine social norms, legitimize or delegitimize ideas and behavior, and shape how we see the world.  The forces of invisible power are also ideological, meaning that fears and assumptions about what is right, “normal” and wrong are shaped by the media and messaging from those in power. 

    Both visible and hidden power forces employ invisible power strategies to legitimize priority agendas and decisions, and to maintain control of public opinion and aspirations. For example, in the United States, conservatives and liberals have long promoted the idea that government is inefficient at service delivery, and that “markets”—or the private sector—can do it better, thereby promoting privatization of healthcare, education and many other services. Similarly, we see how the fear of crime and violence has been manipulated to such a degree that voters in many countries will elect former military generals or will agree to restrictions on their own basic freedoms in the belief that doing so will increase their security. We see that value systems are deeply internalized through socialization processes found in schools, religion, traditions, and/or in the media, advertising, etc. These cultural and educational institutions are most often shaped by those wielding the most power.

    “JASS focuses on power not only ‘out there’ in the world, but power within us and between us. Our overarching strategy is to be attuned and responsive to contexts, so that issues we work to solve emerge from organizing, rather than issues driving organizing, as is often the case. We mobilize and negotiate individual and institutional relationships as the context and our strategy demand.”—2011 Crossregional Gathering Participant, “Paths are Made by Walking”

    Because many people, and certainly most women, have had negative experiences with the abuse and misuse of power, we can feel paralyzed at the idea of taking a closer look at it. And yet this apprehension puts us at a considerable disadvantage in creating the change we want for our communities. Behind questions of inequality, exploitation and oppression are the dynamics of power and privilege, and if we want to change these realities, we have to become smart navigators of power as well as builders of our own power.

    While the dynamics, boundaries, and actors shaping our daily lives constantly shift, the struggle for power continues to stem from control over and access to resources. Those who hold ownership can establish who gets what, who gets left out, and why. Today, the fierce rush to control and exploit resources—from land and forests to technology and human DNA—is a quest for power. It is a fight to determine whose voice will count and what issues will dominate local and global agendas.  Throughout this struggle, discrimination and oppression—based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, location and other factors—play heavily (Lisa VeneKlasen Introduction, Making Change Happen 4: Malawi).

    Women’s seemingly "micro" struggles for access and control of resources within the household, family and community are shaped by “macro” dynamics at both national and global levels. Organizing for women’s political and economic empowerment demands an understanding of how power operates in these distinct realms. To further our understanding of the power dynamics behind access to and control of resources we must delve deeper into macroeconomic policy and challenge conventional principles and “truths." We must question racist and patriarchal systems, and associated ideas, values and beliefs that are embedded in all institutions and which shape the choices and attitudes of both men and women. As we seek alternatives for a more sustainable future, much can be learned and gained from how women and other groups on the margins tap into many kinds of resources, utilizing alternate methods to improve lives and promote reciprocity, community and well-being.

    To help leaders and activists more effectively unpack, understand, navigate and build power, JASS introduces and applies a power framework co-developed with scholars at the Institute for Development Studies that analyzes the three interactive dimensions of power over. This framework can help us recognize the power dynamics operating in our context on specific problems we are facing, and assist us in determining our strategic and organizing response, given the opportunities for change. These forms of power range from the more formal and visible kinds of power to that of shadow actors that operate behind the scenes to the invisible power of social norms, ideology and values. While the various aspects of power are presented separately, in practice they interact and reinforce one another. We ultimately work to examine power holistically to better form integrated strategies that challenge the webs of discrimination and subordination present in power over.  We also introduce people to positive forms of power (power within, power with, power to, power for), which create prospects for forming more inclusive agendas, equitable political relationships and social structures to transform power over. By affirming people’s capacity to act creatively, these alternatives provide some basic principles for constructing empowering strategies.

    Tools for Understanding Power

    Moving Beyond The Tool...

    Listen in to Adelaide Mazwarira, Lisa VeneKlasen, Malena de Montis and several JASS participants—all part of the JASS community of staff, activists and allies—reflect on power and how understanding it fully, in all parts of our lives and in its ever-changing dynamics,  is critical for activists to make an impact.


    1. Can you talk about why you think it’s important to understand power?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    2. One of the most important parts of understanding power is appreciating how power and privilege work. And recognizing that we’re not alone, that it’s not our fault that we’re poor, or have no resources, or we’re living in a violent environment. That can give us a sense of power together, which itself is crucial to movement-building.
    3. Power operates in all aspects of our lives - both the public and private realms - experiences within our families, in the community, in any decision making. It is a RELATION between persons, social classes, genders, ethnic groups, generations, territories, states, and institutions. That relationship can be expressed as a form of power over in which some can seek to control or dominate others. This often gives rise to resistance, confrontation, transgression and negotiation. Power also can be based on relations of equality, an expression of transformative power.
    4. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      How can we see the impact of power?
    5. Currently, policymakers tend to look to (Western) science and technology for all answers. But, although these are all critical, power plays a greater role in legitimizing which knowledge counts. Who has privilege, who has access, who sets the rules, who matters, who has a voice—these are all determined by the power dynamics embedded in any society and in political institutions.
    6. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      Can you give an example of how understanding power can help us?
    7. Take climate change. One of the greatest impediments to governments moving forward on alternate forms of energy is the extraordinary power of the fossil fuel industry. Large corporations really shape the public and policy dialogue and determine what issues reach the public agenda, what role science plays, and how policymakers act. And yet activists are organized now in ways that are impacting these powerful players.
    8. Power is dynamic. It’s always changing and there are always contradictions. It’s important to recognize that with all our strategies.
    9. I want share what some other JASS activists have said about understanding power:
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    10. I was reminded again of the many dimensions of power and its impact on women's lives. I was unaware of the power that my family and community can have in influencing the way I think. This session increased my level of critical awareness.
    11. I was very enlightened by the power analysis where there's a lot of invisible power beneath everything. One phrase that stuck with me was the "internalization of values." It had profound meaning to me. I realized that fundamental change came with changing values.
    12. Women-only spaces make us strong. We come together and become friends. We understand the problems in our lives. We see how power works, those with power over us and the power within ourselves. We see together that we have the collective power to make change in our lives.
    13. The school also broadened my understanding of power. I realized that, beyond the negative forms of power—for example, oppression—there are also positive forms. I learned about the power I have within myself, and the power I have with others to create change. Altogether, these experiences helped me realize that we need to work together through movements. They allowed me to understand the capacity and power I have to change the world.
  • “Women are knowledgeable about the issues that affect them. They should always be consulted on every project conducted on their communities.”—Lillian Namukasa

    Constructing Our Own Analysis

    Constructing Our Own Analysis is a key step in building collective power and a joint agenda. It involves constructing our own evidence and understanding of our context, history, rights, experiences and the current moment. The process also involves weaving together our own knowledge with new ideas and information that we gather throughout our organizing. A shared analysis is the foundation for good strategy and an alternative vision of the solutions and the world we want to create.

    A change strategy begins with a deeper understanding of the problems and contexts that need solving. Building our own analysis by understanding the local, national and global politics and policies shaping our issues and their solutions is a key part of leadership development and organizing. It enables us to identify a possible issue that could serve as an entry point to tackle a bigger agenda. Sometimes these “entry point issues” emerge in very informal settings. For example, our work in Malawi, where women are more affected by HIV/AIDS, the issue that emerged in informal gatherings, as women let their guards down, was how outdated ARV drugs were deforming women’s bodies, and yet were still being distributed. In Southeast Asia, informal evening sessions with young women revealed how fundamentalist groups controlled how women are supposed to behave including what they wear – a subject that had never come up in an open dialogue. In Mesoamerica, informal safe space revealed that women activists feared the verbal attacks that labeled them “bad mothers” as much as other threats, such as physical harm.  

    There are different ways to build our own analysis. This usually involves exploring and identifying the root causes of a problem, including who the key players are, what their agendas are (both stated and unstated), what the dynamics are and how they are affecting different people. This helps to determine the impact of the problem to be solved, and the particular forces, systems and trends at work in a given society.

    Women involved in our movement-building processes learn to use a power framework—and other tools and methods of reflection and analysis developed by scholars and popular educators—to assess their contexts and key issues, and to understand key historical moments as the foundation for developing strategies and solutions to their problems.

    Other methodologies we use in our processes include creating a timeline of political and economic changes, and of the responses by social and women’s movements in those particular contexts. This exercise often enables activists to appreciate the advances that have been made by others before them, and also to understand how change is often not linear.  

    Tools for Constructing Our Own Analysis

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Hear what Lisa VeneKlasen, Adelaide Mazwarira,  Hope Chigudu, Everjoice Win, Anna Davies-van Es, Marlien Elvira “Vivi” Marantika, and Sui Sui—from JASS—have to say about Constructing Our Own Analysis. They reflect on the importance of creating our own analysis—based in our deep knowledge, experience and data gathering—to inform meaningful solutions and strategies.

    1. In one of our trainings, a woman from Uganda said: “Women are knowledgeable about the issues that affect them. They should always be consulted on every project conducted on their communities.” How does that relate to constructing our own analysis?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    2. We encouraged story-telling in our process in Malawi because we knew women would be comfortable with it and it would portray a much richer picture of their lives. As well the stories were used as a context for a broad discussion in which the opinion of each person was taken seriously. The discussions shed light on the women’s context, culture and experiences in relation to shifts in power and relationship.
    3. We want to move away from calling ourselves “trainers” because our approach to knowledge is much more political and dynamic. We’re not delivering knowledge to those who don’t know; we are generating knowledge collectively from personal and political experience, with new ideas and how-to’s woven in. The process forges relationships between women that are critical for movement-building, and the knowledge guides our collective action.
    4. One thing I saw in the context [Southern Africa] is that there had not been deep enough conversations on sex, sexuality, sexual autonomy and bodily integrity. We had opened the door on LBTI women, and that’s powerful. But we also needed to talk about what it means to be female, to have a female body and a vagina.
    5. The Body Mapping exercise was a way of getting to much deeper stories about what was happening in the women’s lives. Their pain, the stigma (of HIV status), the intimate reality of their bodies and their survival strategies. So much came to light.
    6. We went beyond stories too. The [HIV positive] women were reporting problems with access to treatment and the prescription of old toxic drugs. But what we had was anecdotal, not rigorous evidence we could take to the Ministry of Health. No one had that data. So we decided we had to gather it ourselves. Using participatory research, 60 women we trained generated 900 interviews documenting what was happening.
    7. Mapping the shared experiences and problems faced by indigenous women both in Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica was one of the most valuable lessons I learned from JASS. It showed me that even though we as indigenous women are not part of formal decision-making processes at many levels, we bear much of the burden of its impact. Building from the collective power of indigenous peoples’ local experience, organizing indigenous women is not only strategic—it is imperative.
    8. From other organizations, we learn concepts. But, these concepts are very heavy and hard to follow. With JASS, we don’t go too far too fast. JASS feels it out with us and helps us to express ourselves by letting us determine what is suitable to strive for in our own community.
  • “Every human being has the capacity to rebel and transgress, to cross the line of oppression but usually a catalyst is required to invoke and politicize the spirit of rebellion.”—Hope Chigudu

    Organizing & Issues

    Organizing & Issues is about the process of coming together with different people who share a common set of problems, talking through those problems, imagining solutions together, and developing strategies and action to achieve those goals while also getting others involved.  

    Organizing is old-fashioned, face-to-face relationship-building. It is action-oriented at a community level, one person at a time.”—Lisa VeneKlasen

    Activists often confuse organizing and mobilizing—they are actually two inter-dependent elements of movement-building. Organizing is the process of dialogue and collective analysis through which people are able to find common ground with others and take leadership in finding solutions. Organizing is the deep essential component of anchoring a change strategy with the people most affected by a set of issues, whose knowledge from living with those problems is a key ingredient in the solution. Mobilizing refers to the sets of actions taken to garner attention and to pressure for change.

    A misconception exists that only issues that directly relate to rights and justice are strategic. In most communities directly impacted by inequality and injustice, the work of political rights cannot be done without organizing to address practical needs. In fact, organizing around practical needs is often the most strategic entry point for long-term movement-building. For example, in a context of poverty, for women—given their care-giving roles—collectively addressing some of their survival issues, from food to childcare—is key to providing the freedom and the organizational foundation for taking action for rights over the long-haul.  

    Long-time labor organizer, Jane MacAlvey, helps explain the "how":

    Organizing isn’t rocket science, but it is a serious skill and a craft. We have to build an army of people in the field who can actually contend with capital on the local level. The steps to a good organizing conversation […] it’s 70/30: 70 percent listening and 30 percent talking. Even the 30 percent talking is really agitational; it’s a series of specific questions that allow people to begin to self-analyze the crisis in their life. No one walks up to a worker and says, ‘You know what the problem with capitalism is? Your boss is really f’in you.’ Workers know their boss is screwing them!”

    MacAlvey goes on to say, “The framework of the conversation is so important. People have to engage in self-discovery through face-to-face conversation. It’s not Facebooking, it’s not tweeting, it’s not any of this crapthose are mobilizing tools. Organizing tools and an organizing conversation are literally about a process of self-discovery. People begin to systematize and analyze what’s going wrong in their life. So it is people’s own experience, moving toward something broader, that can then bring them out together.”—Jane MacAlvey and Michael R, Jacobin. “The Big Difference Between Organizing and Mobilizing: How Unions Can Win in the Future” Alternet, October 21, 2015.

    JASS’ organizing efforts begin through the creation of women-only safe spaces where women come together and share experiences from their lives. These spaces make them strong as they build relationships and solidarity in their shared struggles. By understanding power first through the lens of their lives, women recognize and gain hope from the power they have. It also provides an opportunity to dream and imagine alternatives for themselves and their families.

    Tools for Issues & Organizing

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Join a conversation with Adelaide Mazwarira, Alexa Bradley and Nani Zulminari—from the JASS staff and community of activists and allies—as they talk about the deep step by step work to build relationships and trust,  and activate people around issues they care about, all the while being strategic about risk.

    1. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      What is organizing about?
    2. Organizing is really about helping people come together, to be actors in their communities, to join their power with others and to create change. Usually at the start, people identify the immediate issues that matter to them, the problems to tackle straight away. We also know there are more ambitious things we want to change too.
    3. In our work with PEKKA, we start from zero, talking one by one with each woman to find out her primary concerns. Women always start with the problem of money. So we begin with a group savings project as a practical way to bring women together. By pooling these small earnings, they are able to invest in joint economic endeavors. As individuals, they become more independent; as a group, they begin to understand the potential of their economic and political power.
    4. We should always think about how our short-term work is helping us get closer to our bigger goals too, helping us develop our skills, build key relationships, alliances, to learn how to be strategic, how to work collaboratively. That is what organizing is about. You start somewhere, and you build.
    5. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      How do you get others involved?
    6. In organizing, you have to think about how to make an issue compelling and relevant to others. How can we make this fight worthwhile to people so that they will take a step they have never taken before? Why should they feel impelled to join this fight? What speaks to them and their situation? Does it feel safe enough to them? What feels powerful about it to them?
    7. As we set up democratic cooperatives, women also gain experience in leadership, decision-making, and democracy. One woman, one vote, equal rights. This system fosters more practical and emotional independence. Of course, this work takes lots of consciousness raising and capacity building. We don’t attach women to an existing cooperative. They build their own together.
    8. What are the challenges in organizing?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    9. You don’t want to create an organizing strategy that suddenly puts people’s lives at risk. When we organize, we build our capacity together. We build our tolerance for risk. We build our strategy. Though we can’t always win, we can’t recklessly dive into a problem when there are risks of imprisonment, repression or violence. And we never want to knowingly lead people into defeat. So we need to look at our ultimate goal, and systematically identify steps we can take that let us accomplish something. We want to foster a positive experience of power, not reiterate a negative experience.
    10. Economic organizing actually enables us to work under oppressive governments. We tell governments that we’re working in savings and credit, and then the authorities leave us alone. Interestingly, over time, our experience has shown that women will promote their own leaders to become village head or members of the village parliament. From there, they have greater influence, gain more power, and can make bigger changes.
  • "In our work with democratic cooperatives, women also practice new leadership, decision-making and democracy: one women, one vote, equal rights. This leads to more practical and emotional independence."—Nani Zulminarni, PEKKA & JASS SEA

    Collaborative Leadership, Organization & Skills

    Collaborative Leadership, Organization and Skills describes one of the most fundamental aspects of Building Up—the coming together of a group of people to organize themselves to achieve something more than any of them could achieve alone. This collaboration can take many forms—the creation of a community group, an organization, a network, a cooperative, etc.—but involves a decision to work together in a sustained way around a shared goal or effort.  

    Along with this comes the need to determine what model of leadership and decision making will serve them, how members will be mutually accountable, how they will manage whatever resources they have and who will do what. Forming an organization is not just a set of technical decisions, but a simultaneous process of relationship and trust-building on the one hand, and skill and capacity development on the other.

    For women and others who have often been systematically excluded from social leadership roles, one of the first hurdles is being able to see oneself as a leader and decision maker.  While many have held significant responsibility in families and households, because those roles are in what is considered the “private” realm, they are not afforded the same value or are invisible.  And unfortunately, the most common models of leadership they have experienced, as with most people, are top-down and patriarchal. Establishing an organization that truly invites the leadership of everyone involved requires deliberate choices, consciousness and specific skill development—both to work against the social and cultural barriers that reinforce damaging social hierarchies, and to cultivate alternative and collaborative practices of leadership.

    Organization is about collective power at its core.  Together we can be heard, we can do more, we can protect ourselves better, we can challenge injustice and make change more readily. Collective power is not just about outcomes, however. It is also about emboldening ourselves, about creating the space to reimagine and envision alternatives and solutions, about the practice of collaboration, leadership and democratic decision-making—all essential to the future we are working to create. We don’t just demand equality and democracy, we practice it.

    A movement building approach to building organization recognizes the need to take great care in how we build and the patterns we form. Activists cannot expect that the experience of being excluded prepares people to become inclusive, collaborative and democratic leaders. In the absence of alternative models and relationships, people often will repeat the patterns of power with which they are familiar, at times “imitating the oppressor.” New skills and forms of leadership, decision-making and conflict navigation must be explicitly defined, taught, and practiced in order to create democratic forms of power. As part of this process, the underlying values of the organization need to be regularly clarified and operationalized, reclaiming those that support justice, equity and compassion. 

    We begin with safe space, a place for women and those generally silenced to come forward with all of who they are —their experiences, struggles, dreams—and be seen and heard.  Using feminist popular education affirms and develops people’s existing knowledge, know-how and analysis of their context. The seeds of collaboration are planted in this process of discovering acceptance and common ground with others. Moving from isolation into community opens the doorway to working together, often starting with tackling simple issues and solutions close to the daily lives of those involved. It is this convergence of a sense of power within and power with others that energizes collaboration and the development of a new organization.  Support for taking on new roles and building effective organizations is very important so new leaders don’t get overwhelmed or recreate divisive or oppressive power dynamics and structures.   

    Tools for Collaborative Leadership, Organization & Skills

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Hear some reflections from the JASS community—Adelaide Mazwarira, Valerie Miller and Nani Zulminari—as they discuss why building collaborative leadership and decision making skills are essential for feminist movement building that can weather conflict and tap women’s strengths.

    1. Building leadership is a step-by-step process. When we start out working with the women they have never seen themselves as decision makers. So we build decisions in from the beginning. For example, at our first meeting of the new collective, they have to name their group together. This is their first decision outside their family.
    2. Valerie Miller Face
      We have been educated in a model of leadership that is very individualistic. I remember when the women in the Alquimia workshop first drew their idea of leadership—it’s was this huge amazing woman on top of a podium with tiny women at her feet. That’s our traditional vision of leadership, heroic or domineering leadership. We have to go beyond that.
    3. How do you overcome that top-down individualistic model and get to collaborative leadership?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    4. From the beginning, we transform the thinking of the women from “we are poor” to “we have something, we can do something." There is power in this. We open women’s eyes—there are options, other paths. We challenge explicitly the attitudes about widows and help unpack them. We are not perceived as strategic, yet we are building power.
    5. What we’re really trying to do is bring together the energy, the intelligence of people we work with, so that it creates this giant synergy, this incredible fire, this incredible power. It catalyzes the strength of other women. It sparks their creativity, it sparks their intelligence. You’re creating a larger force that’s both collaborative and creative.
      Valerie Miller Face
    6. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      How do you encourage new kinds of leadership?
    7. As we build PEKKA, we focus on women’s experiences of leadership and working together always. We are not just about savings collectives, that is just where we start. With every step of the work, we look for how we can develop women’s leadership skills from how to run a meeting to how to keep the books to how to impact the courts and media. They learn the value of working together, of democratic culture, and it keeps growing.
    8. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      What about conflict?
    9. Clashes and internal conflict often arise within participatory democracy; people always resist leaders and doing things differently. Some will want to take control. That is why we have a leadership change every three years. We support this growing grassroots movement of women. We strive to build women’s capacity to manage conflict, to engage in basic business, and to further their planning skills. Then, gradually, they can use their collective power to influence local politics.
  • “If we want change, we have to be a little more open. We have a lot to learn from allies, because we cannot solve the challenges we face on our own.”—Patricia Ardon

    Choosing Allies & Building Solidarity

    Choosing Allies and Building Solidarity are the first steps in finding and creating relationships with groups and individuals who can come together to create the collective power needed to advance a social and political change agenda. Potential community and national-level allies and friends can be found across many borders.

    Your allies may not be organizations and people who agree with you about everything; they may just agree with a specific issue or demand you put forward, or they may share your vision. We may choose allies because they bring a vast constituency to participate in change or because they have influence with powerbrokers. We may choose an ally because she shares our vision of the future. Solidarity is an essential element because it ensures mutual respect and empathy.  Solidarity is about valuing other human beings and respecting them as individuals regardless of their circumstances or how different they are from us.  

    “The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fueling that 'throw away' mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered 'useless.'" Pope Francis

    The forces of inequality and violence demand that we work together in our communities and across borders, identities and issue-specific agendas to create a sufficiently powerful counterweight and alternative. Alliances and solidarity networks are not just our source of power for change; with some smart organizing, they can also be our safety net and source of hope. 

    Alliances are a necessity and a key ingredient in social justice organizing and movement building. They can amplify our influence, offer additional resources, open doors and enhance our legitimacy. They ground our efforts and, without question, extend our reach. Our work, and in turn, our partnerships, are driven by the priorities of locally organized constituencies of the people most affected by inequality and violence, most often women. Rather than building small, isolated, micro-level movements, our goal is to create “meshworks,” or webs of diverse alliances and movements working in different places with common values and vision. Most importantly, though, “meshworks” are anchored by the leadership and experiences of the communities and people most affected.

    “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”Winston S. Churchill

    Below are some guiding principles for building successful alliances:

    1. Effective alliances are only as strong as the individual members and the relationships between them.

    Evaluating potential allies:

    ·       Relationships and trust built on direct experience and effective communication over time (i.e., building trust is a long-term, ongoing process)

    ·       Compatibility around vision, values, political orientation, style, and institutional maturity

    ·       Shared contextual analysis

    ·       Complementary strengths and resources

    To be a successful ally requires:

    ·       Clarity about identity, role and responsibilities within the alliance

    ·       Investment in the goal of the alliance and its success

    ·       Organizational self-awareness (ability to communicate vision, values, objectives, etc.)

    ·       Dedicated point person to ensure consistency of communication and relationship building

    ·       Commitment to transparency

    ·       Realistic assessment of the time and resources required and capacity to mobilize those resources for the duration of the alliance

    2.     Successful alliances operate on the principles of solidarity, mutual benefit and accountability, and reciprocity.

    In practice, effective alliances:

    ·       dedicate adequate time to get to know each other; surface potential differences (e.g., in strategic assumptions); and make explicit agreements about the nature and scope of the relationship

    ·       acknowledge power differentials and difference, e.g., geopolitical location, finances)

    ·       commit to constructive processes and safe space to negotiate and resolve conflict

    ·       ensure fair distribution of resources, responsibilities, credit, and visibility

    ·       establish realistic time frames and expectations

    ·       operate with complete transparency

    ·       plan for and manage risk

    ·       balance structure with flexibility and agility

    3.     Successful alliances pay attention to the details, devoting time to negotiating explicit agreements on the purpose of the alliance and how it will operate, specifically:

    ·       goals, objectives, and outcomes

    ·       roles and responsibilities

    ·       the nature of the alliance (e.g., short- or long-term, strategic or tactical, formal or informal)

    ·       decision making

    ·       funding, i.e., if and how the alliance will seek funding, how funding decisions are made, how funding is distributed, when and how to engage donors

    ·       resources, i.e., who will contribute staff time, office space, expenses, etc.

    ·       spokespeople, i.e., who can speak on behalf of the entire alliance, in what context(s), and when

    ·       communication, e.g., how often will the alliance meet/share information, how quickly should individual members report back on activities or progress, etc.

    Tools for Choosing Allies & Building Solidarity

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Hear what JASS activists, new and experienced have to say about choosing allies and building solidarity. Shereen Essof, Maria Mustika, Sophorn Yit, Lisa VeneKlasen, and other members of the JASS community share thoughts on how the power of solidarity and alliances makes us stronger, safer and bolder.

    1. We really need to understand what it means to build trust. To build trust is a long-term process. There are no short cuts. There is no formal model to replicate, there is always deep histories of organizations, feminist movements, and that’s one thing to acknowledge.
    2. If we can activate alliances with unexpected partners, there is a lot of energy in that. In our work in Southern Africa, power comes about from creative and unusual partnerships. We bring together sexual and reproductive health rights activists, religious leaders, HIV positive women activists and dynamic communicators to maximize the impact of our work. If you’re able to traverse all of that—contradictions and complexities—in order to do work, it’s powerful.
    3. Through JASS, I learned that I am not alone—I have so many sisters, and suddenly all of their problems become mine and mine become theirs. Recently, an activist friend of ours was jailed because the government was trying to silence her. It became all our fight, and our voices together got her released.
    4. Standing up as a feminist activist in Cambodia is not easy. But with inspiring women who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe is right—it can be done. Together we rise in solidarity!
    5. How do you explain the magic of JASS’s Alquimia Leadership and Training School? The School provides truly miraculous moments of collaboration, creativity and critical inquiry—all focused on building and strengthening women activists and their movements for justice. Add some good music, dancing, singing and a few bad jokes and—abracadabra—wonderful synergy and solidarity.
      Valerie Miller Face
    6. At the start of the training, I noticed that the people from JASS organizations are different—costume, color and behavior. I see that your background, countries and customs must be different and also the belief system might be different but I see that you can all work together. So I want to know—which practice is pushing you to work together?
    7. In our indignation, we must stand together, in a collective scream to say no more, to expose the powers that allowed this to happen, and demand that those responsible are held accountable.
    8. The most important thing is to keep building our solidarity with each other. That's a source of our power.
  • “When feminism does not explicitly oppose racism, and when antiracism does not incorporate opposition to patriarchy, race and gender politics often end up being antagonistic to each other and both interests lose.”—Kimberley Williams Crenshaw

    Navigating Difference & Building Political Trust

    Navigating Difference and Building Political Trust is a critical ingredient for forming strong organizations and alliances. We must deal honestly with our differences in identity, position and privilege (e.g. race, gender, ethnicity, class, age, sexuality, ability), and with the conflicts that occur when those differences are not acknowledged and responded to openly. Conflicts result not just from questions of identity; misunderstandings are inevitable when politics come into play.  

    When organizations work together, discord often arises due to four big issues: resources (funding, time, expertise, opportunities), visibility (who gets credit), decision-making, and values.  

    Our society is driven today by so much ethnic discord. We have Black Lives Matter, which I praise and celebrate. We have the demagogues stereotyping Muslims and resurrecting racist stereotypes they used to visit on us. The larger goal is to show that we are all the same, we all come from Africa, and we all have the same larger family tree. It's about the fundamental unity of the human community.”—Henry Louis Gates

    When we live in deeply unequal systems, there are many stresses that divide us and prevent us from seeing our common humanity. However, to build a sufficiently powerful counterweight to challenge inequality and violence, we have to come together across many divides. While identity and common circumstances can connect us, ultimately we need to build relationships despite differences. Creating new kinds of communities, organizations and connections around a shared vision is essential both to tap into the power of people’s numbers, and to keep activists safe from attack. 

    "Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”—David Gaider

    Conflict is an inevitable part of forging common ground and collaboration across different people, issues, circumstances, movements, and organizations. Rather than avoiding or ignoring conflict, it is important to create processes within organizations and among allies to name and address the conflict directly, including creating safe spaces for tough negotiations and structured dialogues. Honesty and transparency are the cornerstones in any relationship of trust. Ensuring a continuous space for dialogue and practicing open communication are essential for political trust to flourish. It will not grow if there are un-named conflicts and questions about power, decision-making and resources.

    Different strategies and fundamentals exist to surface and address conflict. Putting assumptions and fears on the table is key.  For example, JASS’ Heart-Mind-Body political strategy was designed to re-build connections across organizations in Zimbabwe, a place torn apart by years of divisive, violent politics. By entering the conversation from the question of how the political context impacts each of us in our hearts, minds and bodies, common ground is easier to find than if we enter by talking about issues. The process is helping individuals surface and breakthrough assumptions and fears, find common ground amidst shared personal experiences, and build trust and solidarity in safe spaces. This system has enabled greater collaboration between more mainstream women’s groups, such as the domestic violence community, and more marginalized constituencies, such as LBTI women, women in informal settlements and sex workers.

    Tools for Navigating Difference & Building Political Trust

    Moving Beyond the Tool...

    Hope Chigudu, Alda Facio and Adelaide Mazwarira discuss approaches to building trust,  particularly across lines of difference, and how to deal with distrust and conflict directly as a normal part of organizational life.

    1. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      Can you give an example of how you start building trust?
    2. Since trust and confidentiality are critical, participants were asked to reflect on and answer this question, “If you had a secret that you wanted to share, what kind of person would you share it with?” We agreed that life involves risk taking and we have to learn to take risks and to trust if we are to build a movement. At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that to share a secret, a person should be trustworthy, honest, non-judgmental, patient, caring, respectful, and understanding. We were all asked to embrace these qualities, and be the kind of person we would confide in.
    3. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      What about when there is distrust in the room?
    4. During our discussion, sex workers were accused of being "bad women" because they do not behave the way society expects "good women" to. We paused and engaged in a conversation on what it really means to be a "good" woman? How easy is it for any woman to live up to society’s expectations? Who has the power to set these expectations? Should women strive to meet these expectations, even when they are oppressive and limit them from realizing their full potential? How do sex workers perceive themselves? We made it clear that if we continue to divide women into good and bad, we shall not move together as women fighting for the same thing. A movement can’t be built on stereotypes.
    5. We also need to ensure that our movements are multi-generational. This is not simply about women of various ages being in the same movement. Partly, it is about building respectful relationships of trust, and of learning, and teaching based on a long-haul approach to movement building. But, as with other power relations, it is also about raising our awareness of age-power relations.