Organizing for radical change means building relationships and networks. It is natural that we start building with the ones we already have. We don’t need to start from scratch. And connections built on years of shared experiences are probably going to be stronger than ones based just on philosophical beliefs or political aims.
The thing is, in a world that is so divided by gender, age, race, religion, class, culture, geography, and so many other things; our networks are often filled with people very much like us.
Sometimes that’s o.k. I don’t think it is a huge tragedy that a punk collective is mostly white dudes. And sometimes homogeneity is absolutely essential. An organization of people returning from prison is going to reflect who is targeted for criminalization. A day laborer collective is going to be made up of day laborers. If those kinds of organizations are run by a bunch of people who don’t have those experiences, then they are guaranteed to turn into a shit show.
But if you are trying to do something bigger, you can’t be in an echo chamber.
I posted a comment in my last Things You Might Have Missed about the amount of white dudes in ZNets new International Organization for a Participatory Society. I was going to leave it at that and never think about the organization again. But someone tweeted me that I should tell people about it because “more diverse membership is essential.”
Yes. If their aim is worldwide revolution – if they claim to be “anti-sexist” and “anti-racist” and “bottom-up” – then they should have a membership that actually reflects the world. When they got together and saw that their limited network didn’t get close to bringing in even a teeny sampling of perspectives, they should have Stopped Right There. Because they are clearly not ready for the project they are trying to take on.
This isn’t just about “diversity” as some feel good, warm fuzzy bullshit. It is that each of us has experienced the world in a very different way. And if you are trying to do something on the scope of worldwide revolution, you better damn well make sure that you are hearing and speaking to as many different experiences as possible right from the start.
It does not matter how many books they read or how much internal work they have done to combat their inner racist or inner sexist. It is next to impossible to create an organization that will reflect or attract people who they don’t really understand. It isn’t just that I look at all those dudes and roll my eyes. It is that their limited experiences do not give them the tools to create something that is going to make me want to join them.
That would be fine if they wanted to start a punk collective or Kropotkin reading group. It isn’t fine for this.
This isn’t the first time I have criticized organizations for this kind of thing. Invariably, there is somebody who tells me that I should jump in and make it better. So I shouldn’t be surprised that I was asked to publicize this project so that they can get more diversity.
Not going to happen.
I don’t believe something that starts off fundamentally wrong can be fixed so easily, probably not at all. More importantly, I am sooooooo tired of people asking for those of us who are not white dudes to spend all our precious time fighting through their organizations. How come you think you get to sit around planning the revolution, but my time is supposed to be spent making your shit more “diverse?”
That isn’t how I am going to spend my time. I’m going to be here working through my own limitations and privilege. I’m going to work on strengthening the networks I have and building relationships across all those divides. Maybe someday, with enough patience and humility, I might be able to think about taking on something with the kind of grandiose goals that IOPS has.
Any of you who want to step out of the echo chamber and join me are more than welcome.