On Relationality

Over the past two weeks, our conversations in Community Organizing Theory and Practice have considered relationality as a driving framework for organizing praxis. Taken together, scholarship on Indigenous resistance and activism by Nick Estes and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and organizer Eveline Shen’s notes on intersectionality in reproductive health activism, broadly illustrates just how generative expansive and inclusive notions of collectivity can be to social movements. In his study of the 2016 protests at Standing Rock Our History is The Future, Estes writes that the #NoDAPL camps “capaciously welcomed the excluded, while also centering the core of an Indigenous lifeworld — relationality” (Estes 253). This sense of relationality drew linkages to other human rights struggles against capitalism and colonialism, such as the fight for Palestinian liberation, but it also highlighted people’s relationship to the land, and the land’s health.

Similarly, Oakland-based organizer Eveline Shen made it clear that intersectionality was the focus of her work at Forward Together. She voiced that folks “don’t lead single issue lives,” and that oppression occurs “simultaneously.” For example, the authors of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice argued that an intersectional lens “advances a definition of reproductive rights beyond abortion” (Ross et. al. 5) to include, among other things, questions of health care access and sterilization. This lens focalizes black and indigenous women of color and queer folks, but it also challenges organizational and political solutions to adopt a diverse and attentive array of initiatives. Shen expressed that this approach generates solutions that work for everyone.

The work of racial capitalism is to promote a logic of anti-relationality, in which our responsibilities and connections to one another and our land, both close and far, are deemphasized (Melamed 2015). It is within those intellectual, cultural and physical gaps that colonial violence accumulates. Indigenous organization and reproductive justice movements offer alternatives to this line of thinking, and demonstrate how foundational a politics and vocabulary of collectivity is to liberation.


  • Nick Estes, Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019).
  • Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (University of Minnesota Press, 2017).