I: Letter to The Reader

Dear Reader,

The members of Spring 2014 Women and Gender Studies senior colloquium at the University of Colorado at Boulder present to you this activist toolkit. This toolkit is grounded in our academic work and collective experiences, but it is intended to extend into your community and lives as a tool to use for positive change. We have drawn on our own personal experiences that have shaped the ways we understand these topics. All of us are Women and Gender Studies majors, and are proud to bring to you a compilation of our hard work and passion for activism. We recognize the importance of self-education before embarking on activist journeys, and decided to make an easily navigable way for you to learn about various elements of activism. This toolkit was designed to be used by individuals who are interested in activism, and who may be inspired by similar experiences and academic work. We caution against this toolkit being considered as a fix-all solution to any problems you encounter, but agree strongly that it is a great place to begin for inspired activists.

We hope you enjoy reading/using this toolkit as much as we have enjoyed putting it together. Feel free to add or eliminate things in order to make it more conducive to your activist work. Good luck!

Sincerely,

Senior Colloquium for Women and Gender Studies of 2014

II: Historiography

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Knowing where you came from is important, as an individual activist, as a member of an organization, and as an organization in a larger movement. This type of historical knowledge can help in acknowledging your own activism’s weaknesses, its strengths, and in avoiding burnout. You are not alone. Your work builds upon the work of others. Know that you are likely not the first person to tackle an issue, and will not be the last. Someone has always come before you, whether in fighting the direct issue you are combating, or in frameworks mobilized against another issue that you are adopting in your own fight. Keeping predecessors in mind can help give you strength, examples of what to do and what not to do, and a groundwork, so that you are not also starting from the ground floor, but from a higher story of a structure built by those who came before you. Remembering historical roots is especially important in light of normative (white-supremacist, patriarchal) history, which seeks to ignore and erasure the work, achievements, and existence of under-represented groups.

In putting together this project, our group was working from a feminist framework within a Women and Gender Studies class at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Our department has a strong international focus and tends to be partnered with Ethnic Studies and LGBTQ Studies. Among the class putting this together, students were seniors and juniors in Women and Gender Studies, with some students also double majoring in fields such as Ethnic Studies, History, English, and Film. All of these lenses determined what type of project we would do, and how we went about doing it. In creating this toolkit, we pulled prior information that many of us had from prior classes or activist work, conducted interviews and discussion with existing campus resources, such as Community Health, or found new sites of information and groups to reach out to, such as the University of Kansas’ Community Toolbox

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III: Self-Education

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While much of activism has to do with finding a larger group of people with similar interests and working towards change, focusing on your own understanding of different social problems is also essential. Whether you work with a larger group or on your own, things in the world of Activism can move at an incredible rate of speed and it can be difficult to keep up or even establish yourself in a well-rounded intersectional understanding of the world you live in and the ways it impacts you and the other folks in it. It’s possible that you’ve noticed that there are a few places in activism (or maybe so many places that it becomes kind of overwhelming) surrounding certain identities, experiences, or theories where you don’t know all the answers or even the basics. What do you do?

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IV: Community Impact Survey

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When starting a group or action, it is important to become acquainted with your activist surroundings. Are there other groups either doing the same project or doing something similar? Is it more appropriate to begin a new group or action and ally with another group, or is it more appropriate to join a group already doing the work you wish to do. It can be very frustrating as an activist to be working on a project, only for another group to appear, and without ever approaching you or your group, begin doing a similar, if not exact same project. This can result in burnout, intergroup hostilities in place of ally-ship, and duplication and watering down of work rather than solidification and coalition building.

What follows is a sample community impact survey/needs assessment survey, with sample questions that may help you in starting.

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VI: Coalition Building – (a) Collective

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In order for an organization to reach a particular goal, coalition building can be an important step. Collective action is made up of many different people fighting for the same goal and eventually making change within a larger community/base, which is one of the many reasons why coalition building is very important. Working with many people to make progressive change is often more beneficial than working alone.

 

This section draws from the University of Kansas Community Toolbox – specifically chapter 5: Coalition Building, which can be looked at for further reading.

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VI: Coalition Building – (b) Ally Versus Ally-Ship

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Ally Versus Allyship

In writing this section on allyship for the activist toolkit, I must admit that I struggle in defining my status within feminism.  The reason is because I have continuously struggled with one question; can men be feminists?  Although I readily claim to subscribe to feminist theories and ideals, I have often questioned whether I am feminist, a feminist ally, or simply a person who believes in feminism as an analytical tool.  The following section is my own personal reflection of why I have struggled with my identity within feminism.  My purpose of writing this personal narrative is not to lay out some hard and fast rules of what constitutes allyship, but instead try to practice some reflexivity about my positionality and how it relates to feminism.  By doing so, I hope to encourage you as a reader to question your own positionality and be self-reflexive on how you relate to communities that are different than your own.  Returning to the question of can men be feminists, I recognize that claiming to be a feminist might be a good thing since there exists a large stigma around what feminist are and what they want.  That said, by embracing a feminist identity, I can make the claim that “This is what a feminist looks like,” and in doing so work to combat stigma.  However, in my experience, claiming to be a feminist has not significantly challenged the stigma that surrounds feminism mainly because of the politics of my location.  I am a middle class cisgender male who can pass for being white and straight. So when I claim to be a feminist, people who I come into contact with applaud me and give me praise for being an exceptional or “Special” kind of man. In contrast, friends of mine who identify as women, trans*, or genderqueer are often questioned about who they are and what they believe in when they identify as feminists. These questions often try and find a specific identity, belief or thought that can be used to explain and pathologize as to why a person is a feminist. Since I have never experienced this stigma, can I really believe that I am challenging the stigma of feminism by claiming to be a feminist?

If I am not a feminist, then what am I? For a while I identified as a feminist ally; someone who could not identify as a feminist but who believes in and desires equality between people of differing identities. This idea was informed by people who claim to be allies to the LGBTQ movement but as my feminism studies continued, as I came into contact with groups such as Black Girl Dangerous and the critiques of allyship by people like Jay Dodd, I began to see that being an ally is not an identity that can be claimed. Instead allyship should be seen as a lifestyle commitment that is signified by the acts that we commit, and the acts that we fail to do. In my own experience, I have challenged friends assumptions and beliefs about gender and other identities from time to time, but in truth I do not have much experience in activism or community organizing. For this reason, I don’t think I am a good example of a feminist ally yet, and I currently define myself as a student of feminism who believes in feminism as an analytical tool.  With all of that said, the next section intends to discuss what it means to be an ally vs what it means to practice allyship and how we can apply these understandings to shape our activism.

The useful but incomplete guide to allyship

To start, here are some resources that discuss what being an ally should and should not be.

http://new.oberlin.edu/dotAsset/2012201.pdf

 

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/09/no-more-allies/

How to better practice allyship

  1. shutting up and listening
  2. educating yourself (you could start with the thousands of books and websites that already exist and are chock full of damn near everything anyone needs to know about most systems and practices of oppression)
  3. when it’s time to talk, not talking over the people you claim to be in solidarity with
  4. accepting feedback/criticism about how your “allyship” is causing more harm than good without whitesplaining/mansplaining/whateversplaining
  5. shutting up and listening some more
  6. supporting groups, projects, orgs, etc. run by and for marginalized people so our voices get to be the loudest on the issues that effect us
  7. not expecting marginalized people to provide emotional labor for you

 

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/06/20136178-ways-not-to-be-an-ally/

 

In truth, the first resource is most likely the easiest to accept because this resource talks in a very objective tone when laying out the guidelines of how to be an ally.  However, even though this resource seems inviting and does have some good points, the first resource does have some flaws that can be improved upon with points from the work of Mia McKenzie.  To begin, some of the points that I find particularly useful is to allow yourself to make mistakes and to not allow this fear of making mistakes paralyze your activism.  This is useful is because activists such as Allison M. Attenello who wrote about their experiences in the book Leading the Way reflected on how at times they felt paralyzed by their privilege and desire to not make mistakes which resulted in feeling little was accomplished.   While it is important to forgive ourselves for the mistakes that we do commit, one equally important decision is to try and minimize the harm that we may unknowingly commit by being in conversation with groups and communities that we are speaking about.  At the same time, when we do make mistakes as we are all destined to do, it is important that we work on correcting these mistakes by apologizing, learning some new lessons on what not to do and most importantly listening to the critiques of what we have done wrong.

Refocusing on the first resource, one of the concerns that needs to be raised about this resources is that this resource places too much emphasis on what an ally can do by themselves to challenge stop oppression. This can be seen in statements such as “Knows that it is your responsibility to fight oppression whether or not the persons in target choose to respond.”  The problem with this statement is that by in believing that it is our job to speak on behalf of other communities, we become much more likely to make mistakes.  Examples of these mistakes be seen in the work of Jessie-Lane Metz’s article Ally-phobia, where she discusses of how well meaning individuals can do a lot of harm to communities.  One case example that was offered in Metz’s article was a critique of the famous piece by Peggy McIngtosh on white privilege and how the article in centers itself around the experience of white people instead of the experiences of people of color.  As Metz points out, by centering others oppressions around ourselves, or trying to relate our experiences of oppressions to others outside of our community, there is an erasure of the lived realities of different individuals that serves to obscure the systems of oppression.

For this reason, many authors such as Mia McKenzie fed up with the ideas of ally and allyship because of these terms allow for people who are benefiting from a system to claim solidarity with a group and simultaneously perpetrate acts of oppression.  This is in large part due to the fact that resources like the first communicate a message of “Only you can stop and challenge oppression.”  The reality is that by believing that we should practice allyship by doing things by ourselves without the contributions of the communities that are affected, we are acting in more of a savior role than an ally role which limits how meaningfully we can challenge systemic oppressions.  So what Mia McKenzie proposes is that we scrap the idea of ally and allyship and instead adopt an idea of “Currently operating in solidarity with.” The reason that Mia McKenzie proposes this language is that this phrase is an action that makes people reflect how they are showing solidarity and support for others within that moment.  By shifting the language away from ally which is an identity, Mia McKenzie forces us to reflect and ask what have we currently doing to show our solidarity.

In closing, the point that I am trying to communicate is that person who is trying to demonstrate solidarity with another group should not try and give voices to the voiceless (
an expression that is often used within feminist writings).  Instead, we should practice listening to other communities and asking how we can help.  With all of this said, feel free to challenge and debate what being a feminist is or being and ally entails.  In these debates, I encourage you to ask how your actions signify your status.


 

[i] Black Girl Dangerous- http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/06/20136178-ways-not-to-be-an-ally/

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/09/no-more-allies/

[iii]Mary K. Trigg. Leading the Way: Young Women’s Activism for Social Change. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010.

[iv]http://the-toast.net/author/jessie-lane-metz/

 

VIII: Media Literacy

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An important aspect of activism is to educate yourself and to educate others. This is especially important because the media often portrays people of marginalized status as stereotypes or tropes that label some groups as heroes and others as deviant. I have put together of a variety of problematic and dehumanizing tropes that the media constantly replicates. Next time you are watching television or a movie with your friends, point out the offensive stereotypes you see. By deconstructing these images on a day-to-day basis, we can resist absorbing preconceptions and prejudices formed by the media.

We can combat the media by creating our own representations that resist harmful stereotypes and tropes and offers a more complex portrayal of women, people of color, queer identified people and other marginalized communities. Creating our own media and art is a powerful form of activism. Make your own movies, books, comics and television shows that resist these stereotypes.

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IX: Self Care

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Self-care is important for activism and personal well-being because you can’t engage in activism successfully if you are neglecting your own personal needs.

How are you doing with your self-care practices? What could you be doing better? Find out here![i]

circles

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