CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Walking the Talk (tentative title) zine/book project exploring power and exploitation in nonprofit organizations, alignment of our work with our vision, and what role nonprofits have in radical social transformation.
How you gonna win when you ain’t right within? - Lauryn Hill
A clear vision means we do our work differently… keeping this vision in mind while we organize, practice, and reflect means that in our political work today we are planting the seeds of the future society for which we are striving. Some people call this prefigurative politics. The way we organize our resistance, practice leadership and build power now are the kernels of the society we are creating. -APP/LA COIL
Even in the most grassroots and progressive organizations, working on the most radical issues, we may find a deep dissonance between the world we want to create, and what it is like to be working in the organization day-by-day. We live in a hierarchically oppressive world – and though the organizations we work in may have mission statements that aim to change this, “talking the talk” doesn’t necessarily mean “walking the walk” and social justice nonprofits can feel like a mirror of the world we’re trying to change. An organization’s power structure or ways of doing work can create deeply unhealthy and exploitative dynamics within the organization itself and between the nonprofit and the “clients,” “members” or “community” that it works with.
What does it mean to align our vision with our process, our day-to-day work? Already, many people have been exploring the limitations and contradictions of foundation funding, and the deeper organizational accountability that comes with grassroots funding structures (described well in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded). Separately, from small nonprofit organizations all the way to multinational corporations, there’s a growing mentality that healthy workers (e.g. ones with self-care plans, workplace yoga, lunch breaks) are “better workers.” Some nonprofits take this a little deeper and are working to become more transparent, accountable and/or participatory. However, many people continue to experience oppression and exploitation within, and at the hands of, nonprofits.
The contradictions in nonprofits can wear away at us slowly, break our hearts, make us feel too idealistic or too jaded (or both!). Some of us may be grateful that social justice work pays our bills, but if we work in nonprofits, we also struggle in them. If another world is possible, another way of working for social justice must also be possible.
Can we identify and dismantle the ways that structures of power (both social & workplace hierarchies) negatively play out in an organization? Is it possible for nonprofits to “walk the talk?”
To name and give voice to the ways that oppression (such as racism and classism) and exploitation manifest in nonprofits, particularly in ones that self-identify as “grassroots,” “movement,” “community-based” or “social justice” organizations.
To present critical questions about nonprofit organizations for and from people who have a range of commitment to, and experience with, nonprofits.
To give voice to painful experiences directly linked to the structure and form of nonprofits. (These experiences frequently get tucked away under “personal conflicts” or labeled less important than the “real work.”)
To open a conversation about what appropriate roles are for nonprofits, and if—or how—it is possible to really work for social justice from within them.
To share the difficult questions that are usually talked about discreetly—the ones that, if spoken about more publicly, might change the ways we work to change the world.
Who: Anyone can submit. We are most interested in pieces that take an anti-oppressive and intersectional approach, and we will prioritize voices of people who experience structural oppression in the world at large.
What: A zine/self-published book that will be available online and on paper.
When: Submission deadline extended to June 1st, 2011
How: Send all submissions to email@example.com. Please feel free to email with questions, ideas, proposals, and possibilities!
Submissions: Essays, stories, art, poems, comics and interviews are welcome. Written pieces should be under 2,000 words. Get in touch if you have another idea or would like to submit a longer piece!
Please include your name and contact information with your submission. If you want your piece to remain anonymous, please include the pseudonym that you want used.
Some possible topics and questions to explore (just to get you started):
Tell about the little revolution you staged inside the organization at which you were a member, participant, client or worker. Tell your story of attempting to shift dynamics and structures within nonprofits (resistance, reform, restructuring—failures and successes).
Share your experience in a progressive nonprofit that perpetuated the structures it claimed to be fighting (from racism to economic exploitation to unhealthy self-care practices).
Voice your story of a power-hoarding or abusive boss, problematic board, smoke & mirrors, pain & struggle within a nonprofit, and what it has meant to you. Share how you resisted and/or how you are healing.
Tell about superficial change that was worse than no change at all (e.g. lunchtime yoga while oppressive power dynamics were still in place, or falsely “collective” decision-making).
What do you and your co-workers dream of when your boss is away?
Why do you work in the nonprofit where you work? Or, if you choose not to work in nonprofits, why and what do you do instead?
For a generation of people who have come up in nonprofit work, who have seen so much good and so much bad take place in these spaces, what have we learned?
Share your own burning questions!
What is/was your experience of these issues as a “youth participant” in a nonprofit? If you left or graduated, did your perspective change once you left?
Can a nonprofit ever be prefigurative—meaning, can it ever really operate in a way that models the world we want to create?