Women of Color Reflect on Election

On Tuesday I had the honor of being one of four speakers at the Women of Color Resource Center Brown Bag Lunch: Beyond Elections. (I’ve been trying to blog it ever since but this service has been down, so here goes!)

The speakers were myself, Linda Burnham (the founder of the Women of Color Resource Center), Leila Salazar (Agribusiness Campaign Director of Rainforest Action Network) and Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont (Director of Oakland Rising). I wanted to capture the main points of the conversation here, off of my notes, because the conversation was so rich.

We all started off speaking about what we did during the elections. Here are some of the major points each of us made:

Me –

– We allow a broken system to continue if it yields the results we want.

– People were responding to the positive message as much as, or because of, or in spit of race.

– The Obama campaign, from an outside perspective, ran the most feminine campaign this election. It appeared inclusive, collaborative, nurturing, vulnerable, ground-up, and process oriented. This is the emerging leadership many of us have been cultivating. I have immense respect for Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente as I say this. I am not talking about platform, I’m talking about the approach, the spirit of the campaign.

– Locally, new people, non-organizers, appear to feel opened up. All we have to do is meet them where they’re at without judgement.

– I am excited about this moment because people are open to vision. At Ruckus we’ve spent the past three years refocusing our efforts on actions that show our vision. We have been practicing actions that we hope are more effective than mass marches or symbolic protests.

– The accountability part is crucial. FDR is rumored to have told organizers, “Ok you convinced me. Now go out and put pressure on me.”

Linda then spoke about how after the disappointment of 2000, she’d gone to the South to work in 2004 and seen the amazing effect of the Southern Strategy, how Democrats gave the South up. She said in this election she watched Obama be brave enough to go there – the turn-out showed the impact of this, and it impacted downticket races. He broke the conservative right stranglehold on th country, we couldn’t do it, so we can thank him for that. And he made viable a Southwest strategy. She said something about how early in the primaries, mainline feminists broke off, and there is a vacuum now. Also, there is a readiness in people to proclaim post-race! The high numbers of white folks, especially white youth, who voted for Obama , are a good sign, but we need to do nuanced work on facing this moment in race. She said this was time for long-range thinking, 20 year visions of where we want to go.

Leila Salazar-Lopez, the Agribusiness Campaigner from RAN noted that there was a backlash around voting for alternatives cause folks felt so traumatized by 00 and 04. She saw a localized effort and community bonding during the election. And she works with people outside the U.S., in South America, where they know that it’s not necessarily the work local to their countries that makes the change, it’s what happens here…they were all like “When will you change your country?” Now those folks have been calling from around the world, so excited – Es moreno! They want to know how we are feeling. She compared the people who came out to the Democratic vs Republican national conventions – she was there protesting both. She laughed about Palin bashing community organizing, and then asked the question that’s been on a lot of people’s minds: “What will we do with those lists of people?” We must be hopeful and accountable. 7000 new people will be filling the administration – what if they are our people? She said immigration was a big issue for her. Then she spoke to how we must challenge false solutions like clean coal, nuclear and agrifuels – we can convert every space, destroy every rainforest and plant corn there, and we’d only meet 10% of our needs.

Esperanza then brought it home with an inside look at the Obama campaign – it was the old union model, teams of 7 on the ground long-term, phone bank, volunteer coordinators, etc. They split cities into 7 areas. Pyramid scheme, but amazing and very different from what has become the usual model of campaigns (parachute in organizers, plaster flyers all over, ignore social justice folks, leave and leave nothing behind). The Obama model was different, with online managing of fundraising and outreach, lots of messages to people (“we love you” messages). They reclaimed the house party, using abstract concepts to engage people in a conversation about what change meant for their “hood”. Organizing became cool again, and it was all about the personal story.

She broke down that in terms of who could work for the campaign, where the salaries were negligible, were young white and college educated folks; that most of the community organizers who we would most want to be lined up to influence the administration couldn’t make the financial sacrifice to drop it all and work on that campaign. That means the 7000 mythical jobs that will be filled for the Obama administration may show a disconnect in resource understanding and in racial justice. Race was NOT talked about.

Additional thoughts that emerged during the conversation:

– the fundraising of this campaign shows that even in a recession we have $ ready to flow in our communities towards change/hope message. the scope was appealing to folks, the idea that all the suffering could be done top down.

– could we get the Obama campaign to matchmake it’s list to something like Future 5000, a database of organizations that need volunteers?

– can we resist the urge to be hyper patriotic, and see this as a human advance, not just an American thing?

– we need to celebrate! a lot!

– we need to look at our biggest dreams during the bush administration and now dream even bigger.

– watch the instinct to resist. resistance is to acknolwedge the frame of your opponent and start there, instead of living and forging ground for alternatives.

– some folks may think its an old paradigm – combining community organizing and electoral organizing; but we must be more successful if we want to have transformational results.

– poor people were absent (although i heard this morning at facing race an analysis on how they were just pulled under the umbrella of middle class).

– we all agreed that 501c3s as a structure are limiting, make it nearly impossible to build real political power. solution: alliance for justice.

there was more, and it was really just a wonderful session that i was HONORED to be a part of.