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April 30, 2012

Identifying Our Philosophy and Methods

“It is an axiom of social change that no revolution can take place without a methodology suited to the circumstances of the period.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a few weeks, I will give birth to my first child, a son. Because of the pregnancy I did not travel with the rest of the MEV Pilot Cohort to India. Instead, I followed their journey through this blog and their messages home. I have also checked in with some colleagues one-on-one as they processed the experience and shared how they are bringing their lessons learned back to the U.S.

In a recent conversation with unassuming and sage-like cohort member Priscilla Gonzalez, she commented on how impressed she was that everyone the cohort met with in India strove to embody the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence in their work at all levels. This ranged from their high-level philosophy to their practical analysis, which included the last, most marginalized person in their program and policy design decisions. Priscilla then went on to reflect on fact that we don’t have that same sort of common grounding in our movement work here in the U.S. She pointed out that while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. serves a similar inspiration, we have not integrated his wisdom in the same way that our activist colleagues in India embody the values that Gandhi lived and taught.

I agree.

One of the reasons MEV traveled to India was to see the roots of our Civil Right Movement’s use of non-violent direct action in Gandhi’s work and legacy. This, in turn, is giving us all an opportunity to pause and consider our own social justice movement legacy here in the U.S.

What do we have to draw upon?  What are the values that undergird our approach to ending violence against women and girls? What values support our approach to deeply valuing girls and women? What is our theory of movement building and from where are we drawing our lessons?

Or, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for our movement, we need to identify “a philosophy and a method worthy of its goals.”

It strikes me that we still have much to learn from the Dr. King’s activism, life and example. Our challenge is to figure out how those lessons relate to our current political reality. As he states, “It is an axiom of social change that no revolution can take place without a methodology suited to the circumstances of the period.”

We have the wisdom of the civil rights movement, including many traditions of community organizing and community building work, to draw upon. We have the innate wisdom of our communities. And we have what we have learned so far in our work to address violence against women and girls. And we can, and must, have the courage to honor both our successes and our failures with love, compassion, humility, conviction and humor. From this place we can move forward to design, experiment and redesign, allowing us to be bigger and bolder in our change work.

However, none of us was so immodest as to feel himself master of the new theory…Human beings with all their faults and strengths constitute the mechanism of a social movement. They must make mistakes and learn from them, make more mistakes and learn anew. They must taste defeat as well as success, and discover how to live with each. Time and action are the teachers.

In this process of learning, we also need to identify and speak out about what divides us as a movement and prevents us from moving ahead with energy and innovation. The role of men? The role of the criminal legal/justice system? Locating the voice and center of gravity of the movement – in survivors, in coalitions, in our communities? Professionalism? Perhaps more importantly, we need to solidly identify what unites us.  What are the values, philosophies and methods that will spark a flame – and irresistible force – that will inspire individuals, communities, and the country to end violence against women and girls? Around what vision are we aligned? Or can we become aligned?

The hard truth is that the unity of the movement is a remarkable feature of major importance. The fact that different organizations place varying degrees of emphasis on certain tactical approaches is not indicative of disunity. Unity has never meant uniformity….When the cry for justice has hardened into a palpable force, it becomes irresistible. This is a truth which wise leadership and a sensible society ultimately come to realize?

My motivation for this justice is long and deep. It came first out of my experience as a woman, a woman who has been affected by violence, and as a community activist that sees how so many violences affect my family, friends and neighbors.

My motivation now is expanding to include my new and impending role as a mother. My greatest hope for my son is that he can simply be – himself. A leader, warrior, worker, poet, philosopher, strategist, or some combination of these and other things he might imagine. I hope and will work so he can live in his full humanity in a family, community and culture that will be free of or at least function in resistance to the social constructs that limit our humanity based on gender, race, and more.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

I do this work because I deeply believe that each of abilities to live in our full humanity, my son’s, mine, yours, are connected to the liberation of the last, most marginalized person, the last girl.

Art by lizar_tistry