On Tuesday, October 20th, Rinku Sen joined our Community Organizing and Public Writing classes for a discussion on immigration and relational formations of race. Rinku Sen has served as co-president of the Women’s March Board of Directors, former president and Executive Director of Race Forward and current publisher of the award-winning news site, Colorlines.
A common theme found throughout class was the importance of creating relationships with others around you in order to build power and support for one another as we advance in society. Relationships are the core of community organizing and power building, but how can these organizations create and maintain their values within systems that prefer hierarchies? Frameworks such as accompaniment and alliance-building have dominated organizational efforts to build movements; however, Rinku Sen challenges alliances as “the wrong framework for us to move forward” and calls for friendship and community as a more promising approach. Alliances can oftentimes resemble transactional relationships where groups working together might not experience the same benefits. Rinku Sen offered that if organizations embodied a framework of friendship instead of an alliance, more organic and withstanding forms of relationality and solidarity can be formed.
Alliances, in this sense, cannot serve as a solid foundation for those involved in direct action within their communities. As the name entails, community organizing requires the centering of community as a whole. When one loses, we all lose. This then requires centering the needs and interests of those most marginalized within the organization because it is only then that the needs and interests of the organization as a whole are best reflected. This dynamic does not simply exist, it must be consistently fought for and action must be taken accordingly. One way this can be observed is in the importance of creating genuine friendships and relationships within members of an organization, because it is only then that community and trust are truly established.
In our post this week, our group wanted to highlight as well the work that Just Strategy and the Communities for our Colleges Coalition is doing for communities of color in the state of Washington. It is through this organization and their practices in organizing students, faculty, and community members from Washington that we have further observed the embodiment of this framework of friendship as opposed to transactionality. Our lead organizer was first trained to not share much information about himself with the communities that he worked with, and as a young organizer, he found that many organizers he worked with did not often share much about themselves with him. Through years of practice, success, and failure, however, he began to understand the importance of vulnerability, relationality, and equalizing relationships within organizations. In our work with Communities for Our Colleges thus far, despite being new fellows, the organizers we work with are intentional in asking about our thoughts, experiences, and ideas–an experience which many of us, as young college students having worked for various nonprofits and organizations had yet to encounter previously. Though our lead organizer himself did not attend community college, in his work he centers the voices of community college students–those who are directly impacted by the issues at play and those who know the solutions best. What truly moves people towards change, he states, is their heart and their values–not politics. In this sense, as discussed by our class and Rinku Sen, the true transformational work of organizing exists not only within the “wins”, but in the strength and power of community, friendship, and solidarity that makes these wins possible. In humanizing organizing approaches and connecting through lived experiences our lead organizer and this organization embody the framework Sen suggests. Vulnerability and authenticity, in this sense, are essential to formulating the friendships and relationships that sustain community organizations.