I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the middle of 2006. I don’t remember exactly where, but somewhere along the way I met a woman activist there named Kate Raphael. I’ve always been impressed by her thoughtfulness and insight when I’ve interacted with her in meetings and trainings. I’ve always really respected her, and included an interview with her about direct action when I was working as a producer on the KPFA program Against the Grain. You can hear the interview here. I’ve learned a lot from her, even though we’ve only interacted indirectly.
Last week, she made a post on her blog called “Rethinking Leadership Paradigms.” Here’s a bit of the beginning:
The other day I was reading an article by Merle Woo, which laid out the following proposition, “…the most oppressed shall lead in the movements for radical social change because being at the bottom, their perspective is the most clear, and, out of necessity, their conscious vision is a militant and collective one.” (Merle Woo in Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray)
Running across this bold statement made me reflect on the paradigm embraced, or at least espoused, by most of the groups I have worked with over the last 20 years or so. I myself have taken the position articulated by Woo as pretty much unquestionable. But recently, I’ve started to think about whether one, this really IS our working paradigm, and two, whether in fact it should be. I want to stress that I’m not trying to attack anyone or misrepresent what is said or what’s meant by it, and I am not saying that this is necessarily not what we should strive for. What I am doing is looking back on some of the work I’ve been involved in, and asking myself what I’ve learned. I’m not at all interested in turning my back on the analysis of power and privilege within our movements, as well as in the larger world. I am interested in refining how we use that analysis to create movements that are powerful and sustainable.
She goes on to dissect this idea, discussing the role of white people in movements and organizations. Like, does this push capable/smart/radical/aware white people out of movements? Is it an effective way to organize? does it put an undo burden on people of color or other marginalized/oppressed groups? It’s really fascinating stuff.
You can read the rest of the (long) post here. I’m glad that she is blogging more frequently, and I look forward to more of her insights.