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Issue: 8.3: Summer 2010
Guest Edited by Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert

Adrienne Maree Brown, "Transforming Ruckus: Actions Speak Louder"
(page 3 of 4)

We learned that every member of the community holds pieces of the solution, even if we are all engaged in different layers of the work.

We learned to look for telltale signs that actions were community-based. One indicator that things are off is when impacted communities and people of color get involved, are put in the role of "performing the action," for example, having their photos taken, being spokespeople, or being asked to endorse or represent work they don't get to lead, etc., while most of the background organizing is still dominated by the folks who aren't impacted and won't be around long-term to sustain the campaign or to be held accountable.

At its worst, this approach builds up hope and encourages local communities to take risks, and then abandons them with the results.

At its best, there is a moment of victory. But too often, in spite of their best intentions, those who aren't directly impacted only see the surface layer(s) of the impact, and thus come up with surface solutions that don't address the deep seated multi-pronged need in the community.

We learned that in organizing and relationships, accountability is key for building a lasting base; when folks see change, they feel their own investment is worthwhile. We need actions that build our base, because we must reach a tipping point of folks who are on the side of justice before we reach the peak of what our planet can provide.

To be transparent, while Ruckus was in the midst of this transition, I didn't think of it as a transition from a patriarchal organization to a feminist organization any more than I thought of it as a white organization becoming an organization for people of color. I thought of our story as moving from a reactionary, surface-change direct action organization to vision-based, systemic-change-oriented direct action organization.

Along the way we began to practice principles that felt necessary and powerful to articulate:

  1. Ruckus comes where we're called, respecting local work and building long-term relationships of support. We reach out to and build relationships with groups we respect, to lay the groundwork for being called to frontline work. We do not insert ourselves into people's political or community work.
  2. Ruckus supports action when the community most impacted by a political, social, economic or environmental injustice is the leader of the strategy, vision, and action.
  3. Ruckus supports action that builds strength and holds space for a strong community vision.
  4. In a successful Ruckus action, the visions and solutions are deeper and more compelling than the injustice. (We are calling for a movement-wide shift away from action that isn't grounded in a vision of deep systemic change, as that ultimately is a misuse of our time and energy.)
  5. We submit that no social movement in history has successfully transformed its society without direct action, and we at Ruckus recognize our historical significance and the need for our work in the movement at this time. However, the actions that have had the most impact were uniquely suited to the time, place, and political conditions. We feel the movement has gotten stuck in a tactical rut and that it's time to leap out with actions that address our current political conditions directly (Gulf oil spills, SB1070 in Arizona, global economic and climate crisis).
  6. "Transform yourself to transform the world." —Grace Lee Boggs. We aim to be an organizational model of the change we call for in the world.

Now in hindsight I can see how we have transformed ourselves in a way that makes our work much more relevant as a living resistance to the dysfunctional social system in which we live. Within our small organization we have grown from a kickass, majority white, male-led environmental-issue centered network into a kickass, female-led, multicultural, justice AND environment-centered network.

We lovingly embrace those who brought the skills before us and those to come as part of the same fierce family of fearless activists with lifelong commitments to societal transformation. We are intentional about living our vision in terms of how we operate as a community in order to bring vision-based support to the movement we love. We opt for self-determination and sustainability in everything from our structure to our budgets to our programs.

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© 2010 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.3: Summer 2010 - Polyphonic Feminisms