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 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.
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.+ Read More
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
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.+ Read More
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
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+ Read More
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 crap—those 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
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.+ Read More
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
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.+ Read More
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:
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
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.+ Read More
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