The New York Creating Space event was filled with reflection, as well as focused attention on practical application. LLC and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development were happy to host such a thoughtful and rejuvenating conversation. Together we concentrated on three key ways to structure our work to shift power for justice, and then workshopped concrete practices to help us achieve this goal. (Click here for Part I of this event recap)
Leading with Love and Rigor: As a group, we asked ourselves “How do we do our work in ways that align our actions with our values?.” We collectively unpacked what it means to truly support leadership through a lens of love, while simultaneously retaining the rigor our critically important work demands. Many useful ideas were generated, some of my favorites include:
People are sometimes too afraid of being criticized to try new things. The group suggested that we occasionally take time to put critique of each other on hold in order to create space for innovation.
We won’t always agree with each other, so we must find ways to stay in community even when we are not in agreement. The group suggested that we practice learning to disagree amongst ourselves and explore generative conflict, conflict which generates reflection and new thinking, and can preserve relationships rather than conflict which shuts down conversation and damages relationships.
The group spent a lot of time interrogating common non-profit/movement workplace practices, including salaries, benefits, and workloads. Participants were specifically interested in ending the martyrdom cultures which exist within many organizations, suggesting that we instead create cultures that value well-being, celebration, and appreciation.
Interrupting and disrupting oppression: Together we explored ways of structuring our work so that we are interrupting oppression, rather than replicating the oppressive practices we were taught by the dominant culture. We also recognized that individually and institutionally we’ve absorbed these lessons, and to effect change we must intentionally transform the way we engage with ourselves, our peers and our organizations. While we obviously did not conclude the Creating Space convening with a “Silver Bullet,” we did produce a number of helpful ideas. Some of the most applicable included:
Learning to respond to oppressive practices and action in real-time, and treating the interruption as a priority rather than something which can be set aside while we pursue “the real work.” This requires us to invest in tools, training and resources so that folks will have the capacity to interrupt intentionally and effectively.
Encouraging folks who bear the brunt of oppression to practice self- and community- care as an act of disruption. I can’t help but draw clear parallels between this concept and Audre Lorde’s quote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I think it is also a reminder that the burden of acknowledging, and correcting oppressive practices should not fall only on oppressed people.
Holding space for different strengths: The group expressed a lot of concern about the way in which dominant culture has taught all of us to appreciate only certain types of knowledge, certain ways of being, and certain skills and strengths. This valuing of a narrow set a contributions limits the leadership development opportunities made available, and to whom. Replicating the same inequitable access to leadership opportunities that has existed in the past, and continuing the narrative that all of us who do not fit the dominant mold are defective and inadequate. Collectively, the group imagined a far broader view of the contributions individuals can make to movement work. Solutions developed included:
Celebrate all labor, “not just the high-profile stuff.” This requires all of us to actively appreciate, value and compensate all of the labor which make our efforts possible, not only those which are commonly recognized by the dominant culture.
Welcome different ways of communicating and presenting oneself. This requires us to address the implicit bias which can be present in our assessment of communication capacity. Often, what is perceived as a communication deficiency in a person, is really just an indicator that a person is anything other than middle-class, white, male, american, cis, straight or otherwise privledged.
Host skill circles where individuals can both teach and learn from each other on equal footing so that all of our contributions can be recognized and utilized.
Think critically about our application processes for both Leadership roles, programs and jobs, to assess if qualification requirements are excessively exclusive, constantly questioning if we are acting as bridge builders or gate keepers.
In addition to the strategies we workshopped, we also unearthed many unanswered questions that folks were eager to continue exploring., Some of the remaining questions include:
What does wholeness really mean? The participants expressed a deep desire for wholeness, to be in real connection with each other and with themselves. We identified two challenged with this: 1. In many of our work or movement spaces, we tell people to bring their “whole selves,” however, rarely do our actual practices truly encourage people to really do so; 2. Simultaneously, folks struggled with competing desires, the desire to have distinct boundaries, and the desire to bring their whole selves to various spaces, the balance of having personal boundaries with the desire to show up authentically.
Do we just need more connections and relationships? Relationships are a bedrock part of movement work. I know I am constantly suggesting that we need more relationships and more connections, but at Creating Space New York, participants questioned this assumption, asking if we just need more connections or if what we really need to do is look at the relationships we currently have, exploring the challenges and opportunities, tensions and connections that already exist, in addition to building new relationships.
How do we deal with our trauma and “broken bits”? Over and over again, participants at Creating Space New York expressed a desire to be in spaces where they can be weak, imperfect and vulnerable, and where that vulnerability will be held gently and protected. As one person said: “I want to be able to break down and recover” in movement spaces. How do we create spaces that allow for this courageous vulnerability?
I am so grateful to everyone who joined us at Creating Space NY. I look forward to the ongoing efforts participants are taking on, and am really excited about LLC’s growing investment in regional work.
Many thanks to the Creating Space New York attendees, our facilitator Cathy Dang, network presenter Yasmin Yonis, as well as Emily Goldstein, Melanie Breault, Malika Conner, Aixin Li, Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen, staff of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, as well as our hosts, The People’s Forum, for making this such a wonderful event. Please stay tuned to hear more about our learnings from Creating Space Series, and the subsequent Creating Space conversations. Click here to register for Creating Space Bay Area, CA.