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Deborah Meehan's blog

Leading with Collective Care




Amidst the daily bleak news and suffering around the world, I am heartened by action being promoted and taken on behalf of shared responsibility for our collective health. Most people who have passed by a TV screen or looked at the news are now aware of the need to #flattenthecurve. We all have to change our behaviors and practice social distancing if we are to slow the spread of a very contagious disease in order to limit a spike that would overwhelm the medical system. This means that even people who are low risk need to adopt behaviors that require some sacrifice so that they are not spreading the disease. If we are to reduce the spread and mortality of Covid-19, we need to take a hard look at the cost of individualism and inequity that are ingrained into life in the U.S. 

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Super Tuesday... Yikes!


During this morning’s staff check-in I confessed to having Super Tuesday jitters. I can say, without expressing specific political views, that I felt it was a ‘high stakes’ primary and I have been sitting with that for hours, and really the irony of it. For many years now I have been haranguing against the ways in which individualistic culture has corrupted our understanding of leadership and how change occurs…. and it’s not through the ‘heroic, white male leader’ out front leading the charge!


I have been reminded of several things by my discomfort! Oftentimes, in my movement work I have been more motivated by what I was against, what I loath, and not nearly enough by a clear vision of what I am standing for. This is not to say that the season has not raised important issues, and indeed, I am for free quality health care and free education for everyone; and when I say everyone, it’s with recognition of who is denied these things in this country and why. So, yes, the fight is bigger and way more expansive than what is happening this year. 

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Talking about Liberation and Equity



Talking about Liberation and Equity

by Deborah Meehan


One of my favorites parts of Creating Space Oakland, and there were many, was the Catalyst Conversation with Asia Alman from ACLU Northern California, Liz Derias-Tyehimba from CompassPoint, and Jamina Ovbude from The Greenlining Institute.  The conversation was facilitated by Patrick Brown of The Greenlining Institute. He kicked off with a juicy question that has had me thinking ever since, “What is the difference between equity and liberation?” In the words of our first catalyst, Liz, “Equity is about redistribution that is proportional to those most impacted by harmful systems to make sure they get more. Equity is about staying in the system and liberation is about dismantling the system and moving into a space that is really unclear, and it will require that those who have been able to control the system will no longer be in that role.”

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Lessons in Leadership from the Social Justice Labor Movement


Last month I connected with an old friend, Kent Wong, Director of the UCLA Labor Center. It was a total shot in the arm to hear him talk about the labor movement in Los Angeles taking up social justice under the new leadership of people of color, women and immigrants (and we definitely need to celebrate all good news in the current political environment). As I listened to Kent talk about Janitors for Justice and car wash workers organizing in L.A.. it occured to me that he would be the perfect catalyst for our virtual Creating Space Session. We were able to record his short presentation here, so if you happened to miss it, you can still listen. Here are a few of the highlights for me:


  • Who leads is important

  • We need intentional strategies to support leadership (rank and file workers/community)

  • We need to support people in context to build power

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Centering Equity in Networks: Tools and Processes We Have Tried



Networks are not inherently more equitable or democratic. They operate within the same dominant white supremacist culture that undermines equity in our organizations. Besides talking about culture, power and equity a lot, we wanted to share three practices which we have implemented to better distribute leadership and decision making to create more equity in our networks. They are early experiments, and we would love to hear about what you are doing in your networks.

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What's Next?



On Sunday, I hosted a reunion brunch with a handful of folks who had participated in a program called “What’s Next.”  It’s a program for EDs, and as the name suggests, it’s for EDs who think that they may want to leave their organization in the next 5 years to help them think about managing that transition. I participated in What’s Next  for a number of reasons: I did imagine leaving LLC within 5 years, not necessarily because I am done with leadership work or really going to retire, but because I know that LLC needs to be led by people of color to solidly center equity in the field; I also wondered if I might be able to inject a point of view that the transition of leadership provides an opportunity to bring an equity lens to diversifying leadership of the non-profit section (and I tried); and truth be told, it was being held at Chaminade with gorgeous views of the pacific and yummy food. 


The program provided some interesting materials on transitions that were both philosophical and practical. I know that folks in more traditional organizations found the materials useful. One of the folks at our brunch mentioned that he has shared them with his board and staff. There was a lot of talk about ‘when’ and ‘how’ you tell your board, your staff, and your community. I found myself feeling especially grateful to be part of an organization like LLC where we are able to have transparent conversations about leadership and who needs to be leading.

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What We are Learning from Our Work with Networks: Part II




In an earlier post I began to share our reflections as we asked ourselves at LLC, “How are we applying what we are learning from our work with networks to our own effort to become a network?” I described three key take-aways from our network building work: Support Self-organizing; Focus on Place; and Create a Communications Ecosystem. In the last post, I talked about Self-organizing, and this week I am going to talk about Focus on Place.


Focus on Place: In a number of our network building projects we have developed a healthy respect for place. Leadership programs that focus on specific regions or localities have an easier time organizing alumni networks for several reasons: the participants have greater access to each other and can meet up more easily; even when working on different issues, and for different organizations people and groups are more likely to intersect with each other around citywide issues; people are able to bring their local connections to a network effort in their own city; and participants share a sense of place that is often enriched by different perspectives and histories. In a recent network building project, we found that local meetups brought more energy to the network, and were more likely to activate self-organizing. When you are trying to shift systems, bringing people together across a city can also create more opportunities to work at the intersection of issues. 


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How do we know if leadership programs are making a difference?










This is a question that people who fund and implement leadership development strategies grapple with, and there are no easy answers. Afterall, it’s tricky to isolate the leadership supports as the thing that made a difference when there are so many other things happening in people’s lives, and in the world. Still, for all of the time and resources we invest in developing leadership as a critical strategy for advancing equity and justice, we want to know that this is a good investment, and that we are doing our best.

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Leadership and Governance

Leadership is at the very heart of the ways in which we work, the processes through which we act and learn. We talk

about what it means to center equity in leadership and this week I had the opportunity to delve more deeply into

what this actually looks like with a wise group of people tackling questions of governance, for us the context was networks, and yet the questions are real for all justice loving people.



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