Reclaiming Our Democracy: Resistance and Renewal

2017 WECAN Education & Advocacy Training Recap Blog

Compiled By Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

With remarkable diversity and great strength, women are standing to lead movements to protect people and planet, calling for systemic change and justice on the issues that we know are inseparable – from gender justice to Indigenous rights, from racial justice to immigrant rights, from climate change to economic inequality.

This moment in history demands that we unite across borders and experiences, and take our collective efforts to another level as we work towards a healthy and just planet in the face of oppressive and dangerous political landscapes. Strategic planning, action and solidarity is needed at every turn.

In this context, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network convened a May 2017 online Education and Advocacy training, ‘Reclaiming Our Democracy: Resistance and Renewal’, featuring powerful women leaders who shared pointed analysis and thoughts on how best to organize and pursue grassroots-driven systemic change; make a difference in local and national politics; and much, much more. The training focused on context, processes and examples in the United States, but welcomed the participation of global community members.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the training with a brief contextualization of the first months of the presidency of the Trump Administration, during which we have seen brazen pushes for pipelines; the resurrection of previously defeated and outdated extraction projects and methods; the attempted dismantling of the US Environmental Protection Agency; the appointment of and collaboration with climate deniers and fossil fuel executives; and the violation of international norms and efforts to address the climate crisis. At the same time, the administration has attacked immigrant rights, workers rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights – amongst others.

However as Osprey explained, we are also witnessing the unfolding of a very exciting new chapter of resistance, action and global calls for justice.

“What is really apparent in this insanity is that across the country we are seeing people come together, and this is why we are having this call together today… there is a collective driving force and understanding that we need to stand together for the very future of life on Earth.”

Critically, many of these movements for justice are not just rising to say ‘no’ to violent systems of oppression – but are also offering a bold ‘YES’, as they build solutions and re-vision a healthy world.

Within this upsurge of action, the “power in women rising” has been central, including through the recent Women’s March on Washington, now considered the largest ever march in US history. And indeed, Osprey emphasized, women can and must be at the forefront of the movements to reclaim our power, re-build just economic and political systems, and protect and heal our communities and the Earth – as they are threatened on many levels by the policies and ideology of the Trump Administration. In the realm of climate change, it is women who experience disproportionate impact, be it through the spread infectious disease, food and water insecurity, or structural violence in the aftermath of climate disasters.

In this context, Osprey welcomed training speakers to share their thoughts on how and why women must take back our power; take action for new models of leadership, political participation, collective ownership, and local solutions; and address patriarchy, racism, capitalism as we fight to reclaim democracy and create a viable future for people and planet.

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Training speakers (left to right) – Cindy Wiesner, A’shanti Gholar & Liz Van Cleave

Cindy Wiesner, National Coordinator of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA) and Co-Chair of the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) and the Our Power Campaign, spoke first.

Cindy has been active in the grassroots social justice movement for over 20 years, working previously with groups such as Men Overcoming Violence Everywhere, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Miami Workers Center and the US Social Forum National Planning Committee. She currently represents GGJA on the International Council of the World Social Forum, amongst other roles. Cindy is originally from Los Angeles and is of Salvadoran, Colombian and German descent and is Queer.

Grounding her presentation in her experiences as a Latina, lesbian, daughter of a domestic worker, and member of a family and community that has confronted a long history of impacts, oppression and resistance, Cindy reflected how in some ways, we are indeed living in unordinary times – however in many other ways, we are simply experiencing the latest and most intense manifestation of deep, systemic injustices that have been playing out globally for far too long.

Providing an inspirational example of how we can reclaim community power and protect people and planet – Cindy shared the work of the Global Grassroots Justice Alliance (GGJA), Climate Justice Alliance and #ItTakesRoots campaign, which focus on “movement convergence” and long term capacity and relationship building between frontline communities to support each other around sites of local struggle, and during key national and international mobilizations, which has most recently included direct actions, rallies and education in 25 cities around Trump’s inauguration, the People’s Climate March and May Day.

Drawing their strength from their intersectional focus – the movements that Cindy works within all see and act upon the vital connection between the struggles to address climate change, neoliberal capitalism, war and militarization, patriarchy, racism and fascism.

“Together, we can face the dangers ahead of us and really build the conditions for our collective liberation,” Cindy explained.

To do it, however, we have to ask and answer some serious questions, which Cindy put forth to the audience including – “What it really means to dare to have hope in this political moment?” and “How do we shift fear into power building, combatting that sense of isolation, mobilizing members, supporting and strengthening each other and our collective power?”.

In closing, Cindy discussed “visionary opposition” – and the need to take action on all fronts, including immediate response mobilization and community defense; policy and advocacy to open political space; and hopeful positive visioning and active daily work for a just transition. She also re-asserted her faith in grassroots, ground-up work as the key to reclaiming democracy and protecting the Earth – explaining that litigation and policy have limits and need major resources – which ultimately means that they cannot be successful without people’s movements. The movements must lead, so that the politicians and lawyers can follow or be left behind.

A’shanti F. Gholar, Political Director for Emerge America, spoke next. For 15 years, A’shanti has been a grassroots organizer and activist for women, communities of color, and progressive causes. Prior to her work with Emerge America, A’shanti served as the National Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Director of African American Engagement for the Democratic National Committee, and has also served as the Manager of National Partnerships for United Way Worldwide, as a political appointee in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, and as the Director of Public Engagement for the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee in Charlotte, NC.

During her presentation, A’shanti shared vital background on the current status of women in electoral politics, and why and how women across the US must stand up and step up to fill the gap.

According to her data, women are 51% of the US population but hold only 1/3 of 500,000 elected official positions across the country. For women of color, the discrepancy is even more vast and troubling. Critically, she explained then when they do run, women are just as likely to get elected as men – the trouble however, is that women are less likely to seek office to begin with.

On average, women have to be asked 7+ times (even more for women of color) to run for office before she will consider it, due to worries over qualifications, appearance and responsibilities that most men do not entertain. What all this really means, A’shanti explained, is that we all need to be challenging, encouraging and supporting our female friends and colleagues.

“I am asking you today to run for office – so now you can never again say that no one has ever asked you to run to office….Take the lead – please. You are never going to feel truly prepared, and that is fine.”

A’shanti shared key resources and pieces of advice for women interested in stepping into office, including taking in-depth time to map out and build relationships with the key activists, educators, funders and community leaders with whom you can ally; and “owning” your strengths and our flaws to become the most powerful, authentic and capable candidate for your community.

Liz Van Cleve, an environmental media and outreach communications professional and volunteer with the Indivisible Project, took the floor as the final presenter of the training, sharing the story of the Indivisible Project, which began in December 2016 as a grassroots, volunteer driven, public Google Document of strategies to effectively challenge the Trump Administration through engagement with members of Congress.

The guide, compiled by Liz and other former Congressional staffers as they reflected on lessons learned during their stints working in Washington D.C., has been downloaded over 2 million times since December 2016, and used by 6,000+ community driven Indivisible groups to hold actions and engage in powerful advocacy to effect local and national political outcomes.

One Indivisible guide tactic that has garnered attention and traction is the use of town halls, as a part of which local groups organize community meetings and invite their congressional representatives, who most often fail to show up for their community obligations, providing local advocacy groups with a powerful opening to exert pressure and call out the injustices being perpetrated by elected officials who are following the Trump Administration agenda to the detriment of the health and wellbeing of their constituents. [Click here for an excellent read about women mobilizing Indivisible groups in the Southern US].

“Be methodological, be vulnerable, be prepared,” Liz implored, sharing tactics from the guide including best practices for holding face-to-face meetings with representatives; getting the attention of the media; and harnessing tools to tell your own story as you speak out to disrupt business as usual and demand action by political representatives.

Bringing the training to a close, Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN thanked participants and speakers, and emphasized once again that the best and only way to take back our power is to work intersectionally across communities and across strategies as we engage in politics through strong citizen advocacy or pursuing elected office; build and join grassroots direct action; and support visionary leadership and positive solutions building.

Click here for more information about other past and future Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) Education and Advocacy Trainings.

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