And I need you now tonight / And I need you more than ever.
From the draft archives. I started writing this in the summer of ’09 in preparation for my position as an Associate at the Gender & Sexuality Center. I think the post was intended to be a lot longer than this, but I have no memory of where I was going, so I’m keeping it as a reflection on movement leadership.
You’ll have to forgive this post, I love to intellectualize activism and rather than sitting down to a pleasant novel this summer, I’m reading a gigantic anthology about gender and sexuality. The set of readings were collected by the Gender and Sexuality Center in order to prepare someone to work on these issues. The very first reading is entitled, Tools for People Working for Social Change in a Society Based on Domination and is simply a list of things to do or think about as an activist working for social change. What I like about it, and particularly that it’s the beginning of the anthology, is that it follows the model of starting something the way you want to finish it. If you are attempting to create a structure to change power dynamics in society, you have to address power dynamics within that structure first. An organization which privileges groups already in power, cannot hope to reverse power dynamics in a larger society. Much of the advice seems to be addressed towards leaders, and what they can do within the operations of their own activism to create social change. I think it could be easiest put as “meta-activism”: learning to allow more voices in the group to contribute, recognizing others’ contributions to your work, making sure you’re getting feedback and asking others’ what they think needs to be done. All of it is valuable but one tip especially seemed to be looking straight at me demanding my attention:
Think about and struggle with the saying, “you will be needed in the movement when you realize that you are not needed in the movement”.
My first reaction is the gut response I get when anyone calls out my privilege – that of feeling picked on. The pouting-“It’s not my fault I was born into this situation, I’m doing the best that I can, I HAVE ALL THE BEST INTENTIONS”. Now, having had the experience of being slapped in the face repeatedly with my own privilege, and learning to understand it, and do my best to confront it – I figured that I could, like with all these challenging statements, eventually “get it” and begin working to incorporate it into my activism. And I do think I get it – it’s important to know that the movement is “bigger” than you, and especially as a someone who is often put into the position of “leader”, you have to get past your pride-what you think is best, what makes your event look most successful, what satiates your guilt the most.
Looking back at this same quote now, in 2011, what sticks out to me is how much I have needed the movement myself. Not just the message of body sovereignty, but also as a way to feel active & connected to a community. I’ve lived in 4 different cities in the last 2 years, but this activism is something I’ve always come back to and been a place where I feel at home. I tend to be pretty quick to step into leadership roles – maybe it narcissism, maybe its a role that best suits my personality – but I find myself perpetually on an organizing committee or board, and that’s where I wanna be. It keeps me active, inspired, impassioned… and gives me a sense of having a home base.
It seems pretty clear to me now that I’ve always needed the movement WAY more than it has needed me. And that’s kind of the beauty of activism, isn’t it?