9 Ways To Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist & More Accessible
I think this is a far better starting point than ‘Why This Radical Leftist is Disillusioned by Leftist Culture’
9 Ways To Make Justice Movements Less Elitist & More Accessible by Kai Cheng Thom
[Edited, full version at http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/social-justice-less-elitist/ ]
1. Welcome People Who Are Trying to Learn
Activist communities can be very loving, but they can also be cliquey and hostile to newcomers who don’t speak the right language or even wear the right clothes.
2. Prioritize Physical and Economic Accessibility
As in, we need to make sure that disabled (I am using disability-first and not person-first language here for these reasons) folks can actually enter and comfortably get around in the spaces we use for work, meetings, conferences, workshops, parties, and every other event.
We also need to ensure that folks with children, people on welfare and fixed incomes, and basically anyone who might not have access to a lot of money and time can participate in community building.
3. Celebrate Age Diversity
Something I’ve noticed is that activist communities tend to be concentrated within an age range of 5–7 years, meaning that there is very little intergenerational overlap between them. This means there is little community memory to guide us. It also means that activism is not necessarily open to people creating and raising families.
4. Make Room for Mistakes and Accountability
Sometimes I get really anxious about writing articles or organizing events about social justice. I’ve been part of one too many vicious Internet flame wars and public debates, and I know how intense and painful being publicly called out for making a mistake is.
5. Value Intention and Action More than ‘Correct’ Language
Obsession with “correct” language plays an enormous part in making social justice inaccessible to many people. Feminist terminology changes practically every day, it seems, and making a mistake with it can be cause for intense social backlash.
And no, I’m not one of those folks who is always moaning about how the “PC generation” is ruining the world. I know what it feels like to be constantly misgendered, to hear racist slurs about my people casually tossed out as a joke.
6. Learning the Art of Calling In vs. Calling Out
When we do confront folks about talking or behaving oppressively, it can be super important to choose between “calling them in” (gently and lovingly explaining why they need to change what they are doing) and “calling them out” (responding with anger and social pressure). Both are equally valuable and necessary tactics, but require judiciousness.
7. Acknowledge and Break Down Activist Hierarchies
A dynamic we rarely acknowledge in activist communities is that there is a social hierarchy based on experience and popularity: Folks who are good at talking and writing usually have the most power, while those who have less experience and are less vocal have the least.
Often, we create miniature celebrities out of our favorite activists and social justice writers, vloggers, and artists: These are the people who get tons of “likes” on Facebook and shares on their blog posts.
When unacknowledged, this dynamic make social activism less accessible because they prevent new activists from being heard. Folks who don’t have the time or ability to lead protests or write articles are excluded from taking the lead, even when the issue at hand affects them most.
8. Value Everyone’s Contributions
The best thing I ever got at a social justice conference was a dishtowel: Embroidered on it are the words “Everyone wants a revolution — no one wants to do the dishes.”
It’s easy to give someone glory and social cred for being an Internet personality or making a speech at a march. It’s easy to get lost in judging other folks’ value by how well they “speak feminist” or how many articles they’ve written.
It’s harder to recognize and celebrate the invisible and unglamorous work like child raising and cooking and cleaning that has always traditionally been done by women, particularly migrants and women of color.
9. Center Love
We get caught up in righteous anger, in validating sadness, in the cold hard realities of violence and abuse. We talk about smashing the patriarchy, breaking the gender binary, shattering the glass ceiling.
This is all important, and very empowering, but I guess I’m tired of running on rage and despair alone.
So here’s my access request to my social justice community: I want our activism to be fun. I want it to be fulfilling, and caring. I want it to be full of love.