Political Education as Anti-Racist Practice

A core question the Closing the Gaps Network (CTG) team has been holding over the past year and a half has been, How might we test and practice the work that we are expecting of public servants who take part in the CTG network? This has led us to shift our performance measures to track our own behavior change alongside network members’, among other shifts that we outlined in our Ending White Supremacy Culture series. Another significant part of this work has been challenging ourselves to practice anti-racist organizing, as we expect of network members, and to be grounded in political education with each other as an organizing tactic. 

In recent months, we have been hearing more and more inquiries about the topics we’ve been exploring as a team through this political education journey. As part of our commitment to learning in public, we are sharing some reflections and resources on this part of our work. We encourage you and your team to utilize them to deepen and align your own analysis, and to let your analysis-building transform your work. 

Credit to Hafizah Omar for developing the reading lists and discussion questions for the first three political education resources linked below. 

Political Education Topic 1: Political Organizing History & Practice

This session was grounded in our team’s commitment to practicing the anti-racist principle Understanding History. We learned about the Mississippi Freedom Struggle and Ella Baker’s organizing strategies, and through this learning we were given an example of how organizing, more than anything, is about building community and extending mutual support to each other. 

That learning was reinforced by an interview between Eve Ewing and Mariame Kaba, two Black women organizers who grounded their reflections in a critical power analysis. Because power dynamics are always present, Ewing and Kaba remind us, engaging with conflict and discomfort is essential to our ability to build collective power.

Storytelling was another topic that came up in our learning. Without deep relationships and a practice of transforming harm, we learn that shifting narratives can only do so much. We need each other. And we need each other in accountable, growth-oriented relationships.

Check out our Political Organizing History & Practice resource here for readings & discussion questions.

Political Education Topic 2: Policing & Carceral Systems

We cannot reckon with the history of race in U.S. cities without acknowledging the insidious nature of carceral systems. A culture of punishment is in the air we breathe in this country, and avoiding that reality does a disservice to racial equity work. 

Because carcerality is so commonplace in our lives, we had to start by getting clear on our definitions. What, exactly, is policing? The carceral system and prison industrial complex? What is reform versus abolition? We don’t all need to agree on strategies, but to work as a team, we need to be moving from a place of shared language and definitions. 

Carcerality shows up in our mainstream media and popular culture so much that imagining a world beyond it can feel impossible.

Another important element of this political education session was to find a balance between reckoning with history and reimagining the future. Carcerality shows up in our mainstream media and popular culture so much that imagining a world beyond it can feel impossible. Engaging with poetry and art helps us break out of the norms and gives our imaginations permission to run free. 

We didn’t land with a common analysis on the path forward, but we did come to common ground on what it is that we’re talking about when we discuss policing and carcerality. We also have a common set of tools and frameworks to reference when having complex conversations about how to move with a lens of transformative justice and healing rather than punishment. 

Check out our Policing & Carceral Systems resource here for readings & discussion questions.

Political Education Topic 3: Power Mapping

Learning about the history of organizing is key, but we also need tools to ground our practice. Power mapping is both a tool and a process. It helps us capture and align with each other on how power exists in an environment at a moment in time. The more we engage in this process, the more readily we can make an assessment of power dynamics in real time, trust each other to have a similar assessment, and move strategically based on that. 

Check out our Power Mapping resource here for a tool that can support your team’s process.

Political Education Topic 4: Emergent Strategy

Managing a network that centers the work of reckoning with history and transforming ourselves to transform our cities is highly adaptive work. Across the many cities we work with, dynamics are constantly shifting, and our work–like that of so many people and institutions’ work–is to meet the ever-evolving needs of local organizers and communities. Yet, most of us have been trained by academia and the nonprofit sector to think and work in very linear ways. We want to check off a list of tasks and see that change has occurred. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. So we looked to adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy to guide our growth in this area. 

Through reflection on this essential text, we acknowledged the importance of resisting urgency, slowing down (“birds coast when they can” is a phrase we remind each other of often now), and finding trust in ourselves and each other. We committed to being transparent with each other across hierarchy and power dynamics; as one team member said, “there is nothing inherently wrong with hierarchies, only when capitalism assigns different value to where one falls within a hierarchy.” So, how might we value each other — financially, emotionally, and otherwise — outside the norms of capitalism? How might we prioritize care for ourselves and each other, knowing from the “fractals” lesson that what we practice in micro-dynamics has a direct impact on macro-dynamics? 

how might we value each other — financially, emotionally, and otherwise — outside the norms of capitalism?

This was one of our richest conversations of the year, and there’s no way to summarize it as beautifully as adrienne maree brown lays it out in her best-selling book. So, dive in! 

Check out our Emergent Strategy resource here for suggested excerpts and discussion questions.

 

There are no “right” answers for how to do political education, but these four topics shifted our ability to collaborate as a team and we’ve found that the lessons we gleaned from them have been widely applicable to many kinds of work. We hope you find them useful. 

In conclusion, we’ll leave you with a compilation of haikus created by our team members, inspired by Emergent Strategy.

 

things aren’t stuck this way 

let me see that other you

take in the full me

 

it is still my breath

exhaling is not the same

as holding it in

 

open up, dear self

pause, breathe in wisdom; exhale

care, love. embrace we

 

if I should rise steady

and cannot too pull you forth, 

what heights could I reach?

 

to live is to love

love your neighbor as yourself

perfect love drives out fear

 

life’s meeting is love

of God, family, neighbor

interdependence

 

I practice making

a poem, a meal, a collage 

this is where I dream

 

Image credit: Melanie Cervantes, sourced from Just Seeds




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