Posts tagged solidarity
Dichotomy of Advocacy

Sympathy to Solidarity Part II

Last week we started our Sympathy to Solidarity series with "when the tears no longer move you".  This week we are talking about advocacy!  Its an interesting topic because of its complicated layers. Advocacy can serve as a launching pad or a tar pit. Its dichotomy lies in its ability to be waged for common good or coddled for self-serving means. 

When we find ourselves so broken by the issues around us that doing nothing is no longer option, we are immediately launched into the advocacy stage. We are finding our voice. We are synthesizing all the information we gathered in the sympathy stage and linking it to real work, real stories, real experiences. We are testing the waters- attempting to discover if we can truly make a difference. We are writing. We are speaking truth to power. We are marching. We are fundraising. We are traveling. We are taking increasingly larger risks to speak truth to power. In many ways this is a stage of transformation- you are now an advocate, linked to a cause, specializing in a particular area, known for speaking up and speaking out. You are in a word- credible. And it feels good. 

Advocacy is an uplifting process, a collection of meaningful successes that outweigh experiences of resistance. Advocacy requires a sense of longevity because trust and credibility are not easily won. But. If advocacy does not become a launching pad into solidarity, it easily morphs into seductive self -promotion. 

[By self-promotion I don't mean what we do to sell books, tweet our posts or giving commercials when we speak. I don't mean that our work should never be discussed or our story told. By self-promotion, I mean that advocacy work can become more about ourselves than the people we're supposed to advocate for.] 

We've all heard the phrase 'knowledge is power'... Well, knowledge also gives power. Consider, it used to be that when you spoke, folks would correct you, or add to what you said. You would write a piece and then be pulled aside, told how it could be better. You would work all day and intentionally ask the experts how you did. But then you became the expert. You gained the acquired knowledge to be credible and as a result you are offered power and position. Few things are more seductive- even in social justice circles. And this is when the dichotomy of advocacy becomes real. Following are just three ways advocacy can quickly become about the promotion of self:  

1. The Savior-Complex: believing that the reason things got done is because you were part of the efforts. Instead of being an advocate for the people, you slowly become a paternal dictator- explaining to the people what must be done and how, inserting yourself into every decision making process, all thanks to your expertise and experience, of course. 

The one who stands in solidarity lives in humility. Happy to be a part of the group, the process, the planning, the executing, but resists individualizing their work. They are vigilant to remain aware of how their contribution is connected to the group. Without the group, their contribution would be null. 

2. The Voice of the People:  The seduction of power easily leads to the belief that the marginalized cannot or should not speak for themselves. They might mess up, go too far, ask for too much. They might undo all the work you've been doing on their behalf (behind closed doors). You must be the spokesperson, the bridge, the translator, the center that brings both sides together. <--- 'danger, will robinson, danger' if you find yourself the center. 

The one who stands in solidarity is constantly determining how the marginalized can speak truth to power themselves. They seek positions of power for others- creating new positions on the board, the leadership, the panel, the committee, the speaker line up, the acquisitions list, etc. Or give up their own position. They use creativity not to speak on behalf of the people, but always with. Always with the people. 

3. Resting on Your Laurels: Achieving position and power sometimes makes it harder to participate in the work of the people on the ground in the trenches. Position and proximity to power can color how you interpret what's happening in the lives of the marginalized. This removal from the work is dangerous. Losing touch with the people means losing credibility. The expectation that work done in the past earns the right to be trusted in the present will eventually prove to be unreasonable. What have you done for (others) lately?

Solidarity is important because its forward looking. Accomplishments of the past are to be celebrated for sure. But there is more work to do. Solidarity seeks connection- not from the past but always in the present.  

Advocacy is not inherently bad. It is an exciting time of gaining confidence, trying out your voice, synthesizing and applying the information you're learning to the world. But if you find yourself rising in power, being seduced by the savior complex, needing to speak for the marginalized, or resting only on endeavors of the past... You might be stuck. 

Getting yourself unstuck requires a great deal of humility. it requires love of neighbor as much as you love yourself. It requires being a lifelong learner and collaborator. As advocacy begins to uplift us into positions of power, solidarity asks us to choose the downward path. The path that leads to the oppressed. 

Talk to me. What have you gained from your advocacy work? And what dangers have you discovered? 




Sympathy to Solidarity

Part 1: When The Tears Don't Move You

It happens to all of us racial reconcilers. That one day when you think to yourself, "Its finally happened. This work has crushed me. I am a terrible person. I should quit." It's the moment when someone- your pastor, your supervisor, your friend, your coworker, your professor- bursts into tears for the umpteenth time in the middle of a conversation about justice and reconciliation. You almost know the words by heart, you've heard the speech so many times. At the end comes a series of "but I really want to"s and "if I could only make you believe how much this matters to me"s and "maybe if you could just"s. You sit. And stare. And for the first time, you are unmoved. 

When you began this work, you lived for these moments when the dam breaks and the emotions flow. You left the table emboldened. You left the table believing. Believing that they are in it with you. Believing in their ability to do better. Believing that if you just [fill in the blank], you can move this thing forward. It made you believe in time. 

But now you sit across from them, handing them a tissue. Trying desperately to determine why you aren't feeling anything, especially when you believe them. You believe in their sympathies for racial justice. You believe their heart is broken. You believe they want to do better. And yet, this performance before you deserves no applause. 

No, you are not becoming a terrible person. You have not just taken a small step toward hell. You are not suddenly an unfeeling person. You are a savvy one because you are learning. You are about to experience a great growth spurt. You about to discover the very real difference between someone who has sympathy for racial justice and someone who stands in solidity with you to accomplish racial justice. The difference is immense.

And its a lesson you have to learn if you are to stay healthy in this work. You cannot expect that everyone who is sympathetic will stand in solidarity. You will know the difference. This moment. The moment when emotions are erupting around you, and you are clear headed, unmoved, wondering whats next is the moment you know the difference. 

Sometimes the work of racial justice feels very much like a well. A constant digging deeper to see what lies below. There are some who though sympathetic, will never go deeper than this. Their bucket will go down into the well of emotions and always only come back twenty-five percent full. In it you will find some key phrases, a couple intense stories and very real tears for the muddiness, the racism, the injustice around them... in them. And you will watch them let down the bucket, and bring it up. And let it down, and bring it up. But always, it is filled only with sympathy. And you can believe them, sort of. Truthfully, it gets harder and harder to believe them. But initially you will. You will believe that the sympathy, the tears, the expressed desire to do better is real. But you will not invest. You will not invest any more than handing them a tissue. This will surprise you. Because you are used to doing much more when someone gets emotional about racial justice. And this time you won't. You will let them sit and talk and empty the bucket. And then you will move on with your day (hopefully not wondering how you became such a horrible person overnight!) 

Your reaction (or lack of one) is only because you know the difference now. The difference between sympathy and someone who is actively moving toward solidarity. Those who are moving toward solidarity just look different. There is not an emotional difference. People in solidarity are quite emotional. But the bucket is different. It is filled with more than just sympathies. It is filled with actions. It is filled with an ever growing list of books, articles, podcasts. It is filled with "stupid" questions (they will call them that; you never will). They will let down the bucket and when it comes back it will be filled with repentance and revelation. They will ask hard questions of people, of institutions, of groups they love, respect. They will risk both the love and the respect because they will expect more. Mostly, they will expect more of themselves.

Those in solidarity, or at least working toward it, will help you see that you've not become unfeeling. When they cry, you will hold them. When they have revelations, you will cheer. When they get angry (a very common emotion among those in solidarity) you will react- nod, explain, shed light, direct the anger. You will get to work. And you will love it. Its the work you've been called to. And part of the work is recognizing those who are moving and those who are sitting. 

So don't panic. You're okay. You're just seeing the difference. You're determining how much to give. When to give. You'll figure out what you can give to someone who is spinning in sympathy. So don't be alarmed when the first time, its nothing. It may not always be nothing. You might have a go to resource, or go to quote. You might have a standard question or perhaps even a suggestion. Sometimes, all you will have is tissue. Its okay. As long as you remain open to the move of the Holy Spirit. You never know when someone's bucket might go deeper than they realized. But trust that you'll know when its happened. 

So keep paying attention to these small changes within yourself. Because you, my friend, are growing.