Posted 4 months ago on Oct. 29, 2013, 10:32 a.m. EST by grimwomyn (35) from New York, NY
I’ve always maintained that communities and individuals are the key to their own liberation. The next step is collectivizing the efforts, to grab each other arms and pull towards the surface in harmony. Action becomes liberating, non-hierarchical and generative effort, if it begins by each individual acknowledging their own truths. Steps cannot be skipped for the sake of efficiency or urgency, as we see from the failures of the charity model, gift giver economy studies, and of course, intentionally constructed “mass” movements.
When I first started working in fair housing advocacy in January 2013, I had no idea the directional shift that was just ahead of me. My boss asked, based on my prior political experiences, if I would help with litigation on behalf of the Boise refugee community. Not being sure of the details, I hesitated for more than a brief moment. Ultimately, I was unsure of her definition of “outreach,” which was being used quite often in the details of her vision. Choosing my own words carefully, I explained my understanding of the archetypal white American citizen “reaching out” to poor people of color.
It turned out that the job description was pretty straightforward. It involved calling all of the refugee families who had open cases and interviewing them for damages. I agreed to help, as it was the refugees themselves who were filing cases. Everything seemed consensual, and I was more of a logistic facilitator for a process the families themselves were initiating. Even with my analysis of the justice system being what it is, I put my own politics aside. Several thousand dollars in damages goes a long way when you have next to nothing, or have had everything taken from you. It would never solve the whole problem, but it would help put food on the table.
For months, I listened. My job was to listen to people talk about their experiences; to hear their difficult stories of resettlement. The situation, of course, is violent and grave. Many people described unfair evictions, neglectful practices, ableist programs, bigoted undertones, intentional segregation, mysterious debts, downright financial exploitation, and much more than can be included here. All of these issues became illuminated for me within the span of a few weeks.
My boss had been continuously asking me what I thought ‘we should do’ or if there were any ideas to take things further. If I was hearing needs, then I should feel welcome to give my input. But the needs were constant and deep rooted in a system of neglect and exploitation. I was hearing needs – but not only was I unqualified to “take care” of those needs, it didn’t fit within my political analysis to do so.