As Working on Our Power closes, we wanted to reflect on the programme’s purpose and journey, and share the reflections that have come from the past four years, looking back on our process, mistakes and learnings. We believe that every process has its own life cycle, and there is an importance in reflecting on the gifts and insights from the past four years. As Octavia E. Butler shares “All that you touch you change, all that you change changes you, the only lasting truth is change” And in that spirit we believe that seeds were planted that are yet to grow within different projects and people.
On this journey we have been confronted with challenges, and we continue to sit with questions that were also raised in the programme’s external valuation:
- How do we, as founders, shape the structure, culture and relationships of an organisation’s DNA beyond our own involvement?
- How could we have been more responsible and deliberate in decision-making? How do we show up with full commitment to relationships that enable liberation while not self-abandoning?
- How do we learn with integrity and intentionality, and ensure space and time to adapt once a mistake have been identified?
- How do we create community-owned and community-led infrastructure to nurture future projects in a way that centres the community’s needs and vision in a sustainable and interconnected way?
- How selection processes reflect a Capitalist culture of identifying privileged individuals/ “charismatic” founders, which interrupts the formation of shared responsibility?
- What happens when community work gets professionalised?
- What role does the funder play in influencing the pace and the depth of community work?
We know these questions are not new, and are also mirrored in work such as “The revolution will not be funded” by INCITE.
The greatest lesson we take with us, which we recognise was not present for us when we began Working On Our Power, is moving at the pace of the community rather than responding to external expectations. We commit to allowing for conflict to arise, which might feel disruptive but can be generative when held with intention. We have moved through conflict in WOOP and are grateful for the labour, wisdom and care taken in the process by team members, which you can read about here. Through this, we have been reminded that liberation is relational, and the work of liberation needs to focus on the quality of our relationships—not the quantity.
In sharing this message, we are returning to our initial intention of reflecting on our journey and learnings. We built this project with the BIPOC queer feminist movements that are present across Europe, and in leaving we hope to give back to others these lessons and insights for the future.
Jamie & Guppi
The concept for WOOP emerged as far back 2015, when Guppi and Jamie met at a European civil society workshop entitled “Why are we failing?”. At the time Guppi used to work for the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) as the European Lead Organiser and Jamie was leading the European Network for People of African Descent. They began to explore the concept of leadership in social movements, and by no surprise were the only two asking the question “How can leadership practice embody anti-oppression principles (rather than taking on oppressive cultures that hold us back from systems change).
They decided to pilot a training with a mixed group in Berlin, inviting ( white) mainstream “leadership” practitioners and marginalised People of Colour racial justice leaders. They learnt a lot from this experience! Working on Our Power ultimately came from the recognition that non-binary, trans and cis women of colour in Europe bring a unique gift to social movements, that is being pushed to the margins and ignored by mainstream movement culture. We are convinced that we can achieve more, faster, if non-binary, trans and cis women of colour are leading the way, especially when oppression is placed at the forefront of our political analysis, enabling us to do deeper, more integral work.
What resulted from this experience was an ongoing conversation for over a year, designing and dreaming about what a space for non-binary, trans and cis women of colour would look like, and how we could make it happen. Throughout this process, we were also growing as organisers and trainers, feeling more confident in ourselves to do this work. And finally, while we are inspired by US organisations such as Movement Generation, and Standing in Our Power, we wish to acknowledge, centre and support the work of non-binary, trans and cis women of colour in Europe who are doing it for themselves.
From existing relationships with Open Society Foundation, and a connection with Yvonne at Ubele, we built the perfect partnership to host and fund the beginning of Working on Our Power. WOOP is currently launching its second phase of the programme, from which we are of course hoping for it to grow into something more substantial, long-lasting and powerful.