Netroots Nation 2011: Power and privilege within movements

PhotobucketThe LGBT pre-conference at Netroots Nation focused largely on issues excluded from the mainstream national gay agenda (ie: not marriage) and barriers to effective organizing. I have much more experience working in the reproductive health/rights/justice movement, which despite being full of queer and trans folks often fails to work intersectionally. So I was struck by the immense overlap with the problems and critiques myself and many others have brought up in regards to the mainstream national reproductive rights movement.

Problems raised included divisions along lines of identity and power. Folks spoke about predominantly white leadership in the larger, more well funded organizations and the exclusion of people of color’s voices and issues. Generational divisions and lack of communication with faith communities were brought up. Folks from the south and conservative states also talked about being left behind and ignored. A number of us spoke about exclusion of trans issues and the problems facing some of the poorest and most marginalized in our communities. These very issues were sometimes replicated in the room, where the voices of cis white gay males with more power and access within the movement dominated, though the rest of us certainly spoke up too.

There was also some discussion of problems with the nonprofit organizing model. I had a number of smaller conversations where folks talked about frustration with national organizations focusing on federal work and lack of funding and action on some of the more dangerous and impactful battles that go on in states. There was some broader discussion around the way funding drives issues and how difficult it can be to bring attention to more marginalized issues in this climate. Folks questioned how strategic nonprofit leadership is and whether it focused on some of the most urgent issues.

Noticing the large amount of overlap with problems in another movement got me thinking about how structural and systemic these issues are. Even within organizing communities broader dynamics of power and privilege play out. Folks who are relatively privileged get to dominate, and their concerns get to rise to the top. I really struggle with problems with the nonprofit model. I think it’s incredibly important for people to get paid to do social justice work – it needs to be sustainable. But big picture issues with organizations speak to the difficulties of working for justice within a fundamentally unjust capitalist system. Nonprofits are the way we know for this work to fit within capitalism, but they often seem to hurt our ability to genuinely fight for justice.

I think it’s vitally important to struggle with these questions and try to vision new ways to make change – organizing strategy can’t be aloud to stagnate or we won’t be moving our movements forward. I’m a big believer in moving the margins to the center. I don’t just mean those with power working on the issues of the most marginalized folks. I mean lifting up the leadership of those who are traditionally excluded, who are facing the brunt of specific systems of oppression, and following their agenda. How do we move to this sort of model when broader hierarchies so easily replicate themselves within our movements?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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