Self-care isn’t enough!

Take a nap, do a face mask, order a lot of food on UberEats – all elements of the self-care prescription you can find anywhere on the Internet. The meaning of self-care is evident in its name, but the repercussions of its incorrect use are deeper seated than many of us realize. 

Twitter (and other social media platforms) have normalized discussions of mental health and self-care. Twitter is a breeding ground for information and online community, which I have felt and been moved by many times. I am inspired by the way online communities can make a home for those who may have none. The baby-boomer era despises technology and social media as a destructive force – it kills our everyday social interaction, makes us “obsessed” with our phones. Social media’s impact on the younger generations of those who use it is quite the contrary – it has taught us how to build community, how to organize, and how to support one another. It creates a shared feeling of connection between distant strangers and can even save lives. Twitter is a fun way to pass the time when procrastinating, but its ramifications on concepts of community are powerful. 

The community Twitter has created is not exempt from the deeply embedded neoliberal individualism that the world suffers from today. Even within online communities, “self-care” has transformed into many things and almost none of them are what it should be. You’re a narcissist, you’re problematic, or you’re asking others to perform too much “emotional labor” for you. Self-care is purported to look easy when in reality it should be hard, as it requires the inner dismantling of the oppressive structure of individualism that permeates all aspects of life. Self-care should create community, not isolate those who may be struggling. Self-care can be interpreted in so many different ways that we have lost touch with what it should really look like, and thereby have negatively impacted the community we have worked so hard to create.

What does it mean to perform emotional labor? Twitter may tell you that a friend asking to talk about their hardships requires monetary compensation. Or, Twitter may tell you that setting appropriate boundaries between yourself and others is okay, even encouraged, within the self-care movement. The (mis)use of self-care has led us to unknowingly devalue our own community that Twitter has created. It is exactly through the Internet community that neoliberalism has penetrated, harming the way we view ourselves and others. Self-care and community are intertwined, but the transformation of both their meanings results in a cognitive dissonance that many, including myself, struggle to reconcile. 

Self-care is not enough. Even in its purest form, it is accompanied by radical, shared care and trust in one another. We are only as strong together as we are apart. True self care is not selfish, nor is it simple, nor is it individualized. It is a radical feminist practice, allowing us to strengthen ourselves and thereby the movement. As Audre Lorde so eloquently stated, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

(Image Credit: The Mindfulness Journal)

Educate, Agitate, Organize!

Dining hall workers have never had it easy at the George Washington University, but in September 2015, the University announced things were going to get worse for those workers. In response, George Washington University’s Progressive Student Union organized a Fair Jobs GW campaign, using the Jobs with Justice values triangle as an organizing tool.

First, we were clear on our values: we were an organization that worked to build student and worker power on campus, and valued dignity and respect for those who were working and learning at the university.

Second, we were building relationships with other people and organizations that shared our values: other students and student organizations, staff members, faculty members, university-employed workers, and workers in outsourced positions, faculty and staff associations and unions.

We were clear that it was in all of our collective self interests, the tangible manifestation of our values, to make demands that administrators commit to retention of workers, cease outsourcing, and stop the increasing precarity in staff and adjunct faculty employment.

Bringing together different groups — students, faculty, staff — built the power that we needed to make those demands of administration. If power is organized people and organized money, we didn’t have organized money, but we could organize people. Even so, we had nowhere near enough power to fight GW’s plan to lay off cafeteria workers.

So we went back to the values triangle. To build the necessary power, we had to use agitation to find others with shared values, and through accountable, reciprocal, and transparent relationships work to connect values to our broader self-interest, around specific events and issues. Effective one-on-one agitation meets people where they’re at.

We started agitating harder than we had before – reaching out to other students, understanding their values, and challenging them to take action in alignment with their self-interest. We tripled the size of our coordinating committee, going from seven or eight members to over 25 in order to effectively run a campus-wide campaign. We built relationships and connected those values of dignity and respect to others’ self interest. In addition to fighting for basic dignity and respect that was not being afforded to workers who had spent anywhere from ten to 50+ years as employees of the university dining program, this was a fight against the corporatization of higher education. As students, it was in our self-interest to ensure the jobs at the university – be they dining, facilities, staff, adjuncts, already outsourced or not – be high quality jobs that allow anyone in those positions to live fulfilled lives. This in turn impacts the quality of higher education as a whole, and the quality of jobs many students work as employees of the university as well. Allowing any position to be outsourced or restructured with little to no input from students sets a dangerous precedent, one that has emboldened administrators at GWU and elsewhere to make damaging cuts to programs like the Music Program or staff in the University Library with relatively little fear of pushback.

With an expanded coordinating committee to run the campaign, we were able to rally the support of over 2,000 students, staff, faculty, and workers at the university to demand full retention of all workers employed in the university dining program with the Fair Jobs GW campaign. Over 80 people marched on the administration building to deliver these demands along with the 2,000 signed pledges, including newly elected members of the Student Association. Ultimately, administrators at GW ran out the clock on students, holding their final closed-door meetings in late July to avoid mass protest. The company that was awarded the new dining contract – Restaurant Associates – made concessions to have GW dining workers placed in other locations of theirs around the city. Of the workers that weren’t placed at other positions within the university dining program, many were relocated to other positions throughout D.C. The campaign wasn’t a clear cut victory, but it did provide an indication to the university that the community would not idly watch as administrators pulled the carpet out from underneath those who work and learn there. It created lasting relationships between students, workers, staff, and faculty that endure and will be ready for the next fight. And it agitated people, allowing others to stop believing the myth of their own powerlessness, which served as a mask for our unwillingness to sit with thoughts and feelings that challenge us.

Agitation, ultimately, is about encouraging others to find the alignment of their values and their self interest – about being clear on their values to then inform where their self interests lie – thinking, how can we motivate ourselves and others in our community to take action to achieve a shared vision for a more just and inclusive future? Start with the values triangle and get organizing.

(Photo Credit: Fair Jobs GW / Facebook) (Image Credit: Jobs with Justice)

Woke in progress

Hello, I’m a feminist—actually, scratch that, I’m an intersectional feminist. Wait, no, hold on. Hello, my name is Lilly, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I’m an intersectional feminist with Socialist leanings. Okay, that was almost perfect, but I forgot to add in that I’m white, bisexual, cisgendered, and able-bodied. Should I mention my relative income privilege? What about my personal connection to gun violence? Does it matter whether or not I justify my use of the word “bitch”? Let’s try this one more time.

Hello, my name is Lilly and I’m a human, woman, and feminist in progress. Using the word progress, of course, implies that I’m working towards a foreseeable end, perfection, an epitome. I should clarify that I’m not. Feminism is a process, and there are certainly ways for the movement and the people who are involved in it to improve their actions, but there is not one right way to be a feminist. Furthermore, there isn’t an absolute value, a pure and distilled version of feminism that is the absolute ideal version of the movement.

Everyone involved in the feminist movement, whether they choose to label themselves or not, will expand and improve the ways in which they practice their activism. As we grow older and wiser, so too do we grow more inclusive. For some of us, it will take years to incorporate intersectional identity politics into our doctrines. For others, we may be marrying diverse ideas when we are still young and fresh and inexperienced. Everyone grows at a different rate and in a different way.

When we reach a new intangible step up the feminist ladder, we are usually tempted to criticize those who are below us on the invisible path to enlightened activism. Maybe we want to do this to mark our own progress. After all, if we’re able to point out the problematic elements of other people, doesn’t that prove our own social consciousness? Constructive criticism is certainly important. Pointing out the harmful or problematic ideas of another person may very well be a valuable learning experience. At the same time, however, we should also remember that we were once in their spot. They’re still growing, and so are you. As feminists, our potential to hone our activism is limitless. We’ll never be the best versions of ourselves, but we can certainly take some steps in the right direction.

(Image Credit: Everyday Feminism / VAL3NTEA)

Organizing one-on-one is essential, but what is organizing one-on-one?

Organizing one-on-one works, but what is one-on-one organizing? In fact, what is a one-on-one? A one-on-one is a conversation that one person schedules with one other person in an organizing context. 30 minutes to an hour, in the other person’s home, a coffee shop, etc. The Midwest Academy defines six parts of a one-on-one:

  1. Be Prepared: Think about what you know about the person, run through the next five steps. Take some notes. Call/text to confirm–getting stood up sucks.
  1. Legitimize Yourself: A one-on-one flips the script. After some casual conversation, set the tone that this isn’t just two people hanging out.

If you don’t know them: “Thank you so much for taking time today. As I said on the phone, I’m Anne and I’ve lived in Louisville since 2013 working with faith congregations. Recently, I’ve been meeting with folks to talk about our personal experiences with healthcare, especially with all the changes coming. I had a great talk with [mutual friend] Donna last week, and she suggested I talk to you because you’ve been a nurse. I’d love to hear about how you decided to become a nurse!”

If you know them: “I know this is different from our usual thing, but I was really shaken up by the election, especially with my health and the healthcare changes coming. So I’m talking to friends like you who are affected, too, about what’s going on and what we’re doing next. So, how are you holding up?”

  1. Listen: “Draw people out, identify their self-interest, clarify their concerns, establish rapport. If you are whizzing along telling your story, you won’t be able to do any of this.” –Midwest Academy.

Ask why questions, ask for stories, share of yourself (⅓ sharing, ⅔ listening). Pay attention to what motivates them: their “self-interest.” Here are four categories of self-interest:

“I want,” what they want/don’t want for a good quality of life: “I have 60K in student loans.” “My mom has Alzheimer’s and it’s been hard.” “I don’t feel safe when I walk home at night.”

“I believe,” a value that drives them: “Everyone deserves a second chance.” “God calls me to love my neighbor.” (Ask: Where does that belief come from?)

“I am/want to be,” an identity: “I’m a leader,” “I’m someone people can count on” (You may infer this. If they told 8 stories about their kids, is being a parent is an important identity? Yep!)

“I love/respect,” a key relationship: family, a group, a role model

  1. Agitate: Many people won’t describe their feelings about a sick parent as anger. But should they feel angry if their parent lives in a nursing home with crappy facilities because the good facilities cost too much? Yes! Here’s your job:
    1. Connect those self-interests, the way they want the world to be: (I want to be debt-free, I want everyone to have a second-chance, I want to be independent, I want my kids to be okay)
    2. …with all the things in the world that purposely make that hard: (student loan companies, the prison system, not getting paid enough, unsafe schools, etc.)
  1. Get a Commitment: So, here’s what we’ve learned:
    1. We want things.
    2. Systems are set up to make getting those things hard, and we’re angry about that.
    3. What now? Let’s go home feeling fatalistic! Nope.

This is the moment of hope! “This problem is real. It hurts both of us. So we’re going to solve it. Here’s the first step: are you in?” Join a committee, come to an action, get together Saturday to plan next steps. (Have an ask in mind ahead of time!)

  1. Follow-Up: Call them, remind them about the next thing, check in on how they’re doing. Encouraging people to share their pain, connecting it to a giant system of exploitation, promising them that you’ll fight together to end it, and never calling back is a shitty thing to do.

That’s the outline. Getting good means practicing. I have a great job that makes me do 10 a week and I still have surface-level one-on-ones. I still chicken out on asks. But I’m way better than I used to be. So here’s my advice: pick 5 interesting people and do a one-on-one with them, and go from there.

There is nothing in the one-on-one outline about privilege. White people, men, cis people, etc. have privilege. But organizing around privilege is lower-hanging fruit organizing. If we help a white person recognize the extent of their privilege, they will feel guilt that may push them out the door to a protest, or to their checkbook, to the verses in Scripture about feeding the hungry. All of these actions are good.

Real higher-hanging fruit organizing pushes people who already see themselves as privileged to see themselves as harmed. This works whether they articulate privilege by saying “I benefit from the harmful forces of white supremacy,” “I’m #blessed,” “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps,” or “I am white and proud.”

It starts with agitation! What do you want your life to look like; what systems are stopping you right now? A bad healthcare system? A culture that teaches you to be afraid of people of color all the time? The privilege conversation doesn’t allow room to say what you want. Only when you do that do you recognize how comparatively little you give up when you check your privilege and enter into movement work.

To have good relationships with Black leaders here in Louisville, I have to give up some privileges that I really like, like dominating meetings and bossing people around. But that’s peanuts compared to what I gain: relationships that reflect my values and who I want to be–a friend and support, not a white lady on the bus clutching her purse.

If acknowledging privilege pushes us to read the world differently, good agitation pushes us to imagine the world anew: to envision what we, individually and collectively, want our lives to look like. It doesn’t encourage guilt. It doesn’t encourage racism and scapegoating. It encourages anger: anger at systems, not people of color.

Guilt fades, anger doesn’t. Here’s how to get to anger: admit that you want your life to be different. Admit that you want your mother not to have Alzheimer’s. Admit that you want to feel more when you walk into church on Sunday. Admit that you want respect. Look hard at what system stands in your way. Start there.

(Photo Credit: Resilience Circles)

From Louisville and beyond, organizing one-on-one is essential


Organizing one-on-one – a conversation that one person schedules with one other person in an organizing context – works, but, as Mariame Kaba says, if you’re preaching organizing, show the receipts from when it worked. So here goes:

Receipt #1: Last week, I had a 1-1 with a white leader to talk about my organization’s new healthcare issue. First, I asked her about what privilege she had related to healthcare, and she had this eloquent statement about having good insurance because of having education and a job with good benefits, “but so many aren’t so lucky.” All 100% true, all coming from a 100% good place. 0% new information.

I wasn’t going to motivate her to step up more based on something she already knew: I needed to push her to see herself in a new way. So after the privilege thing, I asked how she is harmed by our healthcare system, and she had no idea what to say. No idea. I will not tell the details of this 1-1 to respect her privacy, but here’s the spoiler: she is harmed. She is a victim of a crappy healthcare system just like the rest of us. But it was hard for her to say that, because no one likes seeing themselves as a victim.

I have tried this on myself, family, friends, and other organizers. All of us easily talked about the advantages we’ve had, and all of us tried every trick in the book to get out of telling stories about when we felt like a victim, when we feel scared and angry and hopeless.

NO SHIT. Who likes talking about when you were a victim? I like talking about when I’m awesome and productive and #blessed. Isn’t it just easier for us white people to let the people of color do the work of being victims and send them a check?

Receipt #2: Last year in Louisville, we started challenging people in 1-1s about their own stories around affordable housing, not just how sad homelessness is. That was work. At first, no one – black or white – wanted to talk about their housing problems: embarrassing stuff about their adult kids living in their basements, affording assisted living, crime in the neighborhoods that they had lived in their whole lives.

As of today, we’ve collected 500 stories about affordable housing from across the county. All of a sudden, if you had an adult kid in your basement, you knew a dozen other people who did, too. So that experience of telling your story wasn’t one of complacent privilege, and it wasn’t one of embarrassment. It was one of anger: at a city who would let an affordable housing crisis spiral this far out of control.

We told those stories, over and over again, at our congregations, to our public officials, to the media, and we won $2.5 million for our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. And we’re going back this year for $10 million annually, because our people – black and white – were in no way satisfied with $2.5 million. They had too much skin in the game.


(Editor’s note: With this, Anne joins other organizers to launch a series on organizing by organizers, where we will collect and share organizing and organizers’ experiences as well as skills. In her next intervention, Anne will explain what exactly a one-on-one is. If you want to share your experiences as an organizer or explain a key organizing skill, contact Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Center for Community Change)

Calling On White People to Organize Other White People

For many white folks the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States elicited shock, disbelief, confusion, and outrage. Conspicuously missing was the realization that the impossible had long been possible and that many of us either weren’t aware of or didn’t want to acknowledge that. For many waking up in a Trump America, it was never in doubt as to whether or not the seemingly impossible was possible. The country was founded on stolen land and genocide, whose system was designed from the start to protect the interests of the wealthy, landed, slave-owning white males who created it; centuries later that system continues working as planned. Deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States are biases, prejudices, rationalities and tools of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They were here long before the 2016 election, and won’t be addressed by voting in a new administration. So, where do we go from here?

With the holidays upon us, many articles are suggesting how to avoid the ‘difficult’ conversations with family members at the dinner table, how to sidestep `those’ issues. What we need now is not a guide on how to sidestep conversations, but rather a path for engagement. The answer lies in organizing.

Bob Zellner, son and grandson of members of the Ku Klux Klan, recently shared his experience organizing for civil rights deep in Mississippi in the 1960s. When he and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were told, “You can’t organize in Mississippi,” they replied, “Okay, that’s where we’re going, we’re going to Mississippi, because yes we can organize there and we’ve got to take this terror of lynching away from the enemy. We’re not afraid, we know that we may die, but we’re going to go ahead and do it anyway.” Using a model of organizing he was taught by Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, Zellner recounts, “So we were working with [Ms. Hamer], and she says to us, ‘Well a lot of these people you have to work with them on a material basis: They need a job, and they need their kids to be taken care of. And so whatever they feel about race, that’s secondary to whatever they need.’ We extrapolated that to, if people need a good union, a good strong union, they’re going to have to work Black and white together to get that.”

This isn’t new, and doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. Organizers have long been implementing strategies to organize in spaces that are often written off as impossible to reach or too entrenched in their ways. Having a strategy, being able to actively listen, drawing connections between shared experiences, speaking to matters of material needs, and allowing others to engage critically with what you’re discussing rather than turning the conversation into a tirade or a lecture can plant a seed. Instead of responding, particularly in anger, delegating the response back to the person you’re speaking with can allow them to articulate their positions – maybe for the first time – and reflect. Challenge them to see how their story connects on a broader scale with stories from communities of color and other marginalized communities.

A key point of differentiation to focus on then is, how do you benefit? For instance, white neighborhoods get better public services, more affordable housing and less segregation could threaten that. Are you willing to give that up for your vision – of more affordable housing, quality education, healthcare, or whatever the issue may be? We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know that our communities need to be radically different than they are at present and that much work needs doing. In the era of the endless election cycle, it can be hard to break free of the idea that a candidate for elected office will be able to deliver sustained and meaningful change for a community. More than ever, we need to be affirming that movements for justice and dignity are not leaderless, but as Barbara Ransby says, leader-full and that we are the vanguard of change we seek for our futures.

Mariame Kaba, an organizer, educator, and writer whose work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development writes, “I really am 100% in favor of white people stretching their hands out in love & solidarity with their white cousins. Please go to it. What you should not expect is for me to do this? It makes no sense. A Black Muslim woman traipsing to West Virginia to organize white folks there is bonkers. It doesn’t make sense at all. White folks, yes.”

Building these relationships is most effective when done on a local level, addressing something issue-specific, and where a relationship is preexisting. While the work of engaging white people on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, and so much more can be mentally exhausting, emotionally damaging, and physically perilous, white folks are in a unique position to leverage the privileges and powers that we have been the beneficiaries of under white supremacy to engage with the difficult work of organizing our own communities. If it’s a starting point you need, look to your own community, be it municipal, familial, faith communities, student organizations, coworkers, or other forms of association.

This is a call to engagement, not disengagement; to strategic action; and most importantly, to organizing. Begin educating yourself and those in your community on the building blocks of organizing. Attend trainings – and if there aren’t trainings available where you live, collaborate to bring them there. White folks, we need to be doing the hard work of organizing our families, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers – regardless of who won in November – the work has always been there, and continues to call us to do it.


(Photo Credit: Kairos Center)