Anti-Oppression Organizing Tools

All of our organizing spaces, whether they’re geared towards social justice reform or creating community, are radical, political spaces. That’s what it means for us – a group of people whom society has designated “not meant to survive”- to commit hard to life. In this work, we strive to dismantle systems of oppression and the intersectional ways in which they affect us. Below are some tips and tools from incredible places that have committed to that work as well.

This list will never be complete and no space will ever be perfect, but it is the intentional commitment to always make the effort that will take us farther than we have been.

  1. Check in with yourself. Everyone has a range of experiences, oppressed identities, and privileges – one does not negate another. Be real about your own – where are we oppressed and where are we benefiting from systems of power? Being queer doesn’t change being middle class. Being white doesn’t negate being disabled. We are constellations. And under these systems of power and dominance, we are all harmed. The first step of anti-oppression work is to understand how they work and how they manifest. Read Everyday Feminism’s has a guide to Privilege 101: A Quick and Dirty Guide.
  2. The day to day work of anti-oppression in your life is the cornerstone of greater change. To cite the radical organizer and change-maker adrienne marie brown, think of this work as one of fractals – where the small mirrors the large. The tiny ways we engage are reflections of the large change we seek.
  3. Don’t just invite impacted voices, see those individuals as leaders. If you want a space that works for folks of color, LGBTQ members, people with disabilities, parents, immigrants and migrants – make sure that this is who is developing the space and making the decisions. People know the spaces where they feel valued and comfortable.
    1. Proactively outreach to different communities as your begin to gather people together to organize. Don’t just wait to see who shows up.
    2. Consider how to you can add to the capacity of impacted voices rather than take from it. Leadership trainings, tangible resources, building on the work they’re already doing–how can you enable involvement rather than merely make a demand for it?
  4. Who is already doing this work? Anti-policing, anti-criminalization, anti-stigma work is not new by a long shot, and sex worker rights is a piece of that on-going struggle for collective liberation. Before you build a new structure, there’s a good chance someone is already out there leading that work in your community. Is there a way to bring the issues of people who trade sex to their group and work in solidarity?
    1. Whose shoulders do we stand on? Learn about the history of organizing and radical work done every day, especially with women of color. Sit down and read This Bridge Called my Back.  Read about the work being done by the Ella Baker Center. Find a screening of Happy Birthday, Marsha. Buy a zine on the Failures of Anti-Trafficking Efforts.
  5. Caucuses mean something. People of Color (POC)-only, queer-only, trans & gender non conforming (TGNC)-only, non-English-speaking only spaces are valuable. It can be hard to overcome power differentials of large groups and numbers. Having a space intentionally set aside for caucuses that make decisions, build solidarity, or just be able to speak a little more openly holds value. Allies should commit to honoring and actively investing energy into creating these spaces and then stepping back.
  6. Have a process for when things go wrong. Accountability isn’t easy, especially after something happens. Proactively set up a way for people to bring concerns to the group before issues come up around dynamics or structures. There is no perfect process, but there are places to start. The Sylvia Rivera Project’s Manual lays out their structure, including their grievance process and Racial Equity Tools maintains a long list of accountability processes.

Resources

Dismantling Racism: A Resource Book for Social Change Groups, Western States Center, This resource book is a compilation of materials designed to supplement a Dismantling Racism workshop. This resource book is never complete. The pages you see here change regularly based on the feedback and critical thinking or workshop participants and others who use them.

Partial Queer History Timeline of the 20th and 21st Century, AORTA.

Resources from Standing Up For Racial Justice, SURJ.

Framing Your Anti-Racist Organizing: 3 Tips from Tyree Scott Freedom School (Youtube Video), Dustin Washington, Community Justice Program Director for AFSC’s West Region, shares three tips for anti-racist organizing based on his experience as an organizer with the Tyree Scott Freedom School. For over 12 years, the Tyree Scott Freedom School has been teaching young people in the Seattle area about institutional racism and community organizing.

Spectrum of Allies, 350 Training, A strategy tool to examine the range of social forces and groups, spread across a spectrum, from those who are the most dedicated opponents to those who are the most active supporters. This tool covers how different tactics can attract key allies, encourage more optimistic mobilization through a realization that it is not necessary to win over everyone to our perspective, and assess where a group needs to do more research related to building coalition.