Shift Material Resources
“I don’t think there is one mainstream agenda anymore.”
I’m from Brooklyn NY. I grew up in the city. I had two parents, a mom and a dad, who divorced in the seventh grade. I had a brother and sister ten years older than me. I grew up in a gentrifying neighborhood and we moved around a few times. I went to high school at a place called Stuyvesant, which was a competitive weird high school environment, and I was involved in political organizing in high school, starting with more queer justice organizing, doing some stuff around campaign finance reform. I was around for Occupy Wall Street -- my high school was a couple blocks away. I was radicalized by that. It was cool to see something that was the complete opposite [of] a heavily institutionalized school environment geared to get people ready for the market to be producers, a place where folks were confrontational, not for the sake of confrontation, but for the sake of seeing something we want in the world.
When I was a junior in high school, I joined a group called Queer rising, it was mostly people older than me, who I found through our school’s GSA [Gay Straight Alliance]. This wasn’t directly part of our campaign, but it was one of the things that I was more leading on—we did a vigil in Union Square after there were two trans women in Texas who were killed, which made national news. We held a vigil around bringing light to violence against queer people, as a still ongoing thing. This was right after gay marriage passed in New York, and the narrative out there was just like “everything’s fine for queer people now.”
I don’t think there is one [mainstream] agenda anymore. I think when gay marriage was a thing, everyone was rallying and that was the mainstream agenda, but a lot of us had problems with that. It was gay marriage and ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, just giving us access to institutions like marriage and the military. I think there’s a lot of mainstream focus on acceptance and cultural change, that’s what tends to get out there in mainstream media. Even in progressive media, there is a focus on changes in vocabulary like saying sex worker instead of prostitute, things like that, instead of material change. Like housing. I think healthcare for all would make more of a difference in lives than people using our pronouns. I want to see actual shifting of material resources toward queer people and guaranteeing of basic human necessities be a more core part of the agenda.
"I don't think there is one agenda anymore."
Fighting Corporate Power
I feel like I never was like coming to this from wanting to be an environmentalist or wanting to save the planet. When I was in school in undergrad, I was involved in fossil fuel divestment student movement in Berkeley, and also active in the national movement. I helped coordinate campuses around California for a few years. So that was my first involvement with climate or environmental organizing. I think it’s because I came to that from thinking about corporate power and how to influence corporate control over our institutions and democracy, and looking for organizations that were trying to challenge that -- that’s how I came to that.
It moved from a bunch of campuses working separately to founding the national fossil fuel divestment student network. That’s one shift that was big and I was part of making happen. Another was that a bunch of campuses launched a reinvestment part of the campaign, not only would we be asking our campuses to divest from the fossil fuel industry but demanding that we reinvest in community solutions that are accountable. So not corporate solar but community solar, which is how I first learned about APEN [Asian Pacific Environmental Network], where I’m working now.
Faulty Tactics Lead to a White Bougie Movement
“People who quote unquote support the work we were doing,
drowning women and people of color in the room.”
The tactic of Divestment—like, I’m glad I was a part of that movement, but I have some issues with the tactic because I don’t see how it materially impacts people who are suffering. Outside of the reinvestment piece, I don’t see how it actually moves resources to communities of color and low income communities that are hit hardest by pollution and climate change. It’s kind of a faulty tactic that leads it to be a white bougie movement [where] the action is mostly symbolic. [It’s] thinking a lot about messaging that will bring in low income people of color, as opposed to, “is this tactic or movement even in the first place showing up for low income people of color?” I think too often we come with messaging that we adapt from the environmental movement, around climate or saving the environment and try to adapt that to communities of color, rather than meeting people at their basic needs, like clean air and housing and stuff like that.
This is more Berkeley specific, but there are a lot of movement-y old white dudes with really aggressive opinions who take up a lot of space in Berkeley movement spaces who have been around for the 60s and 70s. We had some of that, folks who were not students, people who quote unquote support the work we were doing, drowning women and people of color in the room. I did a lot of emotional labor my last six months being part of that movement, trying to change that social environment or culture. Basically pushing those older white dudes out of the movement because they were making it harder to organize. And that was a lot of work, it was hard.
Finding Self-Interest; Finding Solidarity
“I don’t come to this from a place of a white person trying to be an ally with people of color. I start from the ways in which I feel like my oppression is tied with that of folks we’re working with.”
I think personally in terms of how I approach that work [of balancing actual solidarity and your own needs] as a white person in a racial justice organization is… I think this is how my queerness comes in. I don’t come to this from a place of a white person trying to be an ally with people of color. I start from the ways in which I feel like my oppression is tied with that of folks we’re working with. I come from the queerness first and not the whiteness, so I think that makes me a better organizer.
A lot of that we learned explicitly from this organization called People’s Action, a network of community organizing, racial justice organizations who trained a bunch of leaders in the student divestment network, including me. That’s where I get a lot of inspiration from that approach to organizing, centered around self-interest and our experience in trauma and finding solidarity in that. At APEN, we use a system called generative somatics, which is partially about digging into your own trauma and discussing how that conditions you to act in relationship to other people. A lot of organizations have developed different techniques for how we connect our own personal experiences to the work we do.
Culture Around Queerness and Feminism
APEN’s definitely changed and become a more explicitly gender and queer justice focused organization than we used to be. It’s been a mostly internal process [of intentional change]. A couple years ago we had a self-assessment where we had folks anonymously submit assessments, and one of the things that came up was gender and power imbalances, that APEN was not addressing gender in a productive way.
[There’s] the internal piece and the external piece. Starting with internal, and some of the things that are important in general, [is] just crafting internal policies and organizational structures that creates space for women, queer, and trans people to live fuller lives. Having generous healthcare that covers surgery, like gender surgery. Having family friendly work environments. There’s a whole lot of policy things that matter. There’s cultural practices. Like having people, including cis people say their pronouns at the beginnings of meetings, having it more an organizational norm so it’s not up to trans people to insert that. Gender neutral bathrooms—that kind of thing—for having spaces to bring stories and our queerness and transness to the work.
An organization that I admire a lot is BYP 100 and they talk about how they organize through a black queer feminist lens. A huge part of the work they do is political education with membership weaving those together. Just having that culture around queerness and feminism even if you are primarily a racial justice organization is pretty huge and in a space of self-evaluating how you’re doing on that.
In terms of externally, that can show up in a lot of ways. In terms of what policies you prioritize showing up for. When our people are in gendered spaces, how they are challenging those? Like we have folks in Sacramento lobbying, and a lot of those spaces are super patriarchal or super straight. How are we empowering their staff to act within that? Are we creating space, when we have women or queer staff going to spaces like that, where they have space on either side to chill out and do self-care? But showing up in terms of turning out members or educating members when other ongoing movements for queer and gender justice … things like that are external strategies we’re working on.
The World I Want…
is one in which people I care about can live full lives, where we don’t have to fight every day to eat and pay for healthcare and pay rent. Where we have autonomy and feel like we have dignity in the world. I think that doesn’t happen until people are secure in terms of resources. That’s what I want, one where resources are managed collectively for collective good and where people are free to live the lives they actually want to live.