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 one in which people feel they can bring their ‘full selves’ and engage in open conversation and mutual learning. Creating the conditions for safe space requires attention to physical, emotional and political safety.
Safe space is a place where we can speak our truth, share stories about our lives, question taboos and discuss sensitive topics without fear or shame. A safe space invites listening with respect, compassion and curiosity, and it pays attention to the differences, inequities and power dynamics among participants that will privilege some and silence others. And safe space requires awareness and mitigation of any risks (e.g. security, confidentiality, surveillance) that come with activism and or exist in the context.+ Read More
By creating a safe space for reflection and dialogue, we foster not only meaningful connection and understanding, but also deepened political trust – the foundation of collaboration and solidarity. It is from here that we can identify common problems, find solutions, navigate conflict and make decisions together.
“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
Conditions for Safe Space
The nature of the physical space matters. The space needs to be comfortable and private. The more welcoming, the better. Natural light and windows are ideal. Sitting in a circle can help avoid or interrupt power dynamics.
Creating agreements among those in the space helps define safety—including about confidentiality, consent, respectful communication and dealing with emotion in the space. Participants have to trust that they can speak freely, and that what they share will remain completely confidential unless by consent.
Fostering safe space often includes relaxation, artistic expression, dance, ritual, laughter and other elements to support activists dealing with stress, fear and violence in their contexts. The integration of the heart, mind and body supports well-being and allows different experiences and ways of knowing into the conversation.
Structuring conversations about difficult topics allows multiple perspectives to surface and discussions to go deeper. Everyone should feel that their voices and experiences matter, and that collectively they are engaged in a process that will strengthen their ability to stand in solidarity and mobilize for change.
“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
Tools For Creating Safe Spaces
Heart, Mind, Body
“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
Heart-Mind-Body (HMB) is a political analysis and practice that puts our bodies, knowledge, feelings, and safety at the center of how we understand inequality and build transformative, sustained change. HMB radically affirms the value of women’s lives as a foundation of movement building. How we care for ourselves and prioritize our individual and collective wellbeing is political work that nurtures our bodies, lives, organizations, and communities.+ Read More
Oppression, inequality, and violence take a toll on our bodies, spirits, and sense of self, and so embracing our whole selves is an act of love and resistance. Women activists have much to teach about wellbeing as a collective practice to make women safer and stronger, as strategies for safety, wellbeing, self-care, and renewal sustain their vital organizing efforts in complex political contexts.
“Heart-Mind-Body is 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
Integrating HMB into ongoing work means including in our power analysis the impact on our bodies, emotions, and communities. Our feelings about the difficulties we face often connect us to others. Emotions like frustration and anger, which can be transformed by hope, are key to organizing social change.
HMB builds solidarity within communities, organizations, and even families who work together on strategies for safety and strength. It involves sharing simple practices and skills for self-care with those who have survived violence and/or burn out and thinking proactively about security and safety planning.
“Prioritizing our wellbeing as activists is ‘crossing the line.’”—Shereen Essof
Different HMB approaches reflect and affirm the vital connection between the heart, the mind, and the body as a foundation for change. In working with women, we identify how power operates in their lives – the forms of power that oppress and subjugate them and those that can liberate and connect 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 rallying cry coined in the late 1960s. At its core, it asserts that inequality and the social structures and beliefs that make up 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. Laws may have changed, but the police, justice system, and family institutions around the world continue to treat it as a personal issue, rather than a crime and public health crisis that feminists have long galvanized the public to recognize.+ Read More
“The personal is political” is a guide to formulating political agendas, communication strategies, and organizing tactics. It is a useful framework for popular education methodologies and strategies. Since our perceptions about our social roles and what is happening in our families are all shaped by larger political and social structures, addressing deep inequality should include—and often start with—ourselves, our homes, and our contexts, even on big topics like militarization or consumerism. When we start there, we see that 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, but also help us identify great communication and organizing strategies.
At JASS, we believe that real transformation cannot be achieved with laws or policies alone. Freedom, dignity, respect, and the wellbeing of all human beings and the planet require a deep and profound transformation of social and political institutions. This kind of change involves the redistribution of power and resources, but importantly it also requires shifting social norms, beliefs and behaviors within our families, communities and ourselves.
Tools for the Personal is Political
Common Ground & Community
Common Ground and Community is about finding what we share with others as an essential starting point to building collective power for change. When we identify similar experiences, issues, hopes, and alternatives, we can forge a common cause and begin organizing.
It can be liberating to discover that you are not alone with your problems and that you can work with others to change them. People often come together by identifying common needs—from clean water to decent schools and protection from violence to access to jobs and land. It is this self-interest—transformed into a shared commitment with a group of people—that sparks and sustains organizing efforts. Discovering shared values and dreams with others is an equally important part of the process, holding us together through thick and thin. Examining our experiences, identifying common needs, understanding their systemic root causes, and exploring how best to address them—all of these actions are essential ingredients to develop and embark on a political mobilization strategy.+ 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 that enable people to share their stories and concerns and to imagine alternatives that would make a difference. Through open dialogue, common problems emerge. People begin to analyze the root causes, and they recognize patterns of inequality embedded in the systems and social and political institutions. By identifying shared challenges, they realize that they can address them through collective action.
This process is the foundation for building a common political agenda and strategies to make change. As people imagine alternatives and solutions, it is important to bring to the surface—and affirm—common values, principles, and hopes; these connect us to others across our differences and potential fault lines. Common dreams not only attract others, but sustain us for long-term movement goals.
Tools for Common Ground and Community
Power within is about a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge. Sometimes referred to as “personal empowerment”, it is the capacity to value oneself, think independently, challenge assumptions, have hope and seek fulfilment. Power within is rooted in a belief in inherent human rights and dignity.
JASS refers to ‘power within’ as a form of transformative power because when it is activated, it can transform our minds, our hearts and our sense of possibility. Effective grassroots organizing efforts help people affirm personal worth, tap into their dreams and hopes, and discover other dimensions of transformative power: power to, power with and power for.+ 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.
Underlying JASS’ conception of transformative power is an understanding that layers of oppression – based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability - keep people subordinated, isolated, and feeling resigned and powerless. Efforts to awaken transformative forms of power, such as power within, must intentionally address the experiences and impacts of that oppression, and unleash the anger, hope and creativity that leads to change.
Experiences that affirm people’s knowledge, feelings, dreams and sense of confidence, coupled with experiences of belonging and community nourish power within and are the basis of 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 are vital to liberation – personal and collective. Movements cultivate and are nourished by both – as expressions of freedom and freedom of expression.
At a personal level, expressing ourselves and claiming our freedom – through art, murals, written and spoken words, theater, and direct action – is about having a voice and refusing to conform, be complicit or be silenced. It’s about having the freedom to speak our mind, but also the freedom of movement and association, and about autonomy in our bodies, thoughts, and sexual expression. Stepping out and speaking out has a multiplier effect: it inspires others to do the same.+ Read More
Women’s and other marginalized people’s voices, often ignored, also animate and embolden broader struggles and agendas for justice. By insisting on our visibility and freedom, we challenge repressive social norms and make social and political demands for change.
“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 where JASS works, there are entrenched interests and deeply internalized social barriers that restrict freedom and freedom of expression. In Indonesia, fundamentalist political and religious influences promote the belief that a woman’s role is in the home and that women should be protected and controlled. Fear of stepping out of these roles silences women and dictates how they act and what they wear. FAMM-Indonesia, a young women’s alliance, is developing under-the-radar strategies to challenge shame and taboos about sex and sexuality, and promote young women’s leadership.
In Malawi, HIV+ women have overcome the silencing effect of shame and blame through in-depth work that affirms their stories and bodies. This work has given them the clarity and courage to demand respect as full citizens and to insist on replacing medicines that were distorting their bodies with better alternatives.
In Zimbabwe, JASS partner—Katswe Sistahood—supports young women to call out taboos surrounding sex, sexuality, and women’s bodies. Katswe uses performance arts to unleash young women’s voices and courage to resist traditional roles and demand respect and safety.
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.” —Zimbabwean activist Rudo.
Overcoming fear and shame enables women to speak out, contribute freely, and create a better world. Through strategies that include social media and creative arts (e.g. dance, storytelling, poetry), activists can access information, debate ideas, offer counter-narratives, and mobilize to express themselves freely.
“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
Tools for Freedom and Expression