About Organizing for Power
You can download Lisa’s training notes here
Opening Comments for Trainings
Below are some of the disclaimers I use at the beginning of my trainings. They offer explanations of my thought processes, background, and experiences in the hopes of providing some context for all of this information. These ideas are also being integrated in to the notes.
- Violence and Nonviolence
- Oppression and Liberation
- Direct Action and Civil Disobedience
- Shutting Things Down to Open Things Up
- Culture Building
- Spirit and Energy
Violence and Nonviolence
On issues of violence and nonviolence – I have always been committed to nonviolent action. While my spiritual orientation holds life to be sacred, my commitment is not philosophical but strategic. I was raised in the U.S., which is a very violent culture. I feel that anger that creates feelings of violence within me. I believe we all do. The question is whether we indulge it or not. When there is a conflict our reactions tend to be fight or flight. If we decide to fight, we then need to chose how. Will I engage nonviolently or violently? Throughout history we have seen both kinds of struggles – violent and non-violent. Both strategies have been successful. But there have been more successes through nonviolent campaigns than violent ones. While violence can radically change the balance of power in any given situation, I do not believe it will bring about the kind of change I am looking for in the US. In addition, they have way too many guns and they have shown they willing to kill people if they have to or want to. History is filled with examples from the genocide against Native Americans and slavery up through the labor movement, Black Panther Party and more.
I believe in pre-figuring my world, in this moment, so I make choices and live the future I dream about today.
These questions about violence and nonviolence are HISTORICAL and will always create a debate because there are a variety of perspectives and experience. Some will just never agree; what one may consider violent another may not. What might be violent in one situation may not be considered violent in another situations. Much of the problem that I see is when one group is trying to impose their belief, will, and strategy on another. Instead of arguing, I have been focusing on learning how to develop trust and respectful relationships through building agreements and accountability when all the groups participating in an action are not in alignment on strategy and tactics.
On the question of violence, I work to insure that I have enough discipline in my personal practice to express my outrage in ways that are not harmful or destructive to other living things. I believe that if I do, I have then crossed the line into an abuse of power.
“I have also come to see that violence against other living things is oppression, just as I have come to see oppression is violence.”
Oppression and Liberation
Oppression is when anyone regardless of their race, gender, class, age etc imposes their will against another through harmful acts. Oppression can be systemic, imposed by institutions. These are an abuse of power. Recognizing our own oppressive behaviors and the oppressive behaviors in our community institutions is an important first step in developing into healthy, freer individuals and communities. Developing practices that liberate can build strong and powerful communities.
Working toward liberation on a personal level means working toward the greater good, having a generosity of spirit, using our privilege strategically and using timely and clear communication for what we need and want. All the while restraining those parts of ourselves that want to act out or behave badly. It means understanding history, developing an an analysis of systemic oppression, learning to observe the dynamics of power and developing an internal discipline, where we don’t give those parts of ourselves that are mean, angry, rageful, resentful, racist etc. permission to act out. We need to learn how to communicate constructively with others when they act in oppressive ways.
Working toward liberation is about becoming aware of and taking responsibility for, holding those oppressive parts of ourselves accountable to our values and visions. (As an aside, it is those parts of ourselves, those shadow parts, that make us most vulnerable to infiltration, cooptation and discord.)
As we develop personal practices rooted in a healthy use of our power, we can begin to undo the cultural programming or socialization that makes us racist, sexist, homophobic etc. As we dismantle this internally, within ourselves, our families and our communities, we undermine the oppressive systems and structures in our society. These structural forms of oppression whether it is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, have created a society riddled with unjust institutions and amazing amounts of violence against women, people of color, elderly, queer and trans, and children.
Direct Action and Civil Disobedience
Change is about transformation – personal and political – at an individual, group, community, institutional, national, or international level. I have chosen direct action as my primary strategy for change because it is more effective that any other strategy I have used. It is a rapidly and radically transforming process that has had proven success over the ages.
Shutting Things Down To Open Things Up!
So much of organizing has to do with SPACE — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual space. We can reclaim it, transform it, occupy it, liberate it, shut it down, open it up, shift it or just be present in it. It is the art of knowing when and where to take it, to move into it or through it. Then acting without hesitation, in that moment, because you know that if you do not do it now, the opportunity may not come again. Teaching ourselves to relate to political space in this way is fundamental to transforming power relationships.
The process of change has two fundamental strategies. One is dismantling structures of oppression while the second is creating structures of liberation. If we don’t have something to replace what we take down, we will lose the confidence of those we are trying to wake up. This process of waking up and engaging in consciously liberating action is when we feel most alive and inspired and connected. Whatever issue is a person’s point of entry, anyone who takes on a struggle and organizes goes through a transformative process in which the world is never the same again.
It is the experience of accessing one’s own power and the power of our collective actions. It is the understanding and experience that you don’t have to just obey or believe in that external authority – be it parent, teacher, priest, cop, coach etc; – that you can trust yourself and your community to do what is needed to live full and healthy lives if not exploited or oppressed. When we have liberated our minds from the paradigm of the external authority, we begin to look to and trust ourselves and each other to create what we need, what feels good, what builds community. In this process we are creating culture.
As long as racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism and other forms of oppression exist, we must work to dismantle them at every level. It is a struggle and it is life work. But ultimately, it is how we choose to engage in this struggle and how we live our lives that will pre-figure the world we want.
The Importance of Spirit and Energy Work
When I learned to make a distinction between religion and spirituality, I was able to open myself to the great forces/energies at work in our worlds. With the help of many I have learned the importance of breathing and staying grounded and connected to the earth. Of being anchored to my core self and being authentic in my voice and practice. I’ve learned about the power of intention and the importance of working with allies – seen and unseen. These are powerful tools and practices when one is in the midst of struggle – especially conflict with the State.
I have learned to trust my instincts, my intuition and am training my eye to better see the dynamics of power in any given situation. I have watched again and again, in the midst of heated protest, the pull of spirit and the hunger of so many people to be connected to themselves and each other and to the energy we generate together in the streets. When we are in the midst of all that power, energy and chi we are most fully alive. People are desperate to feel alive and connected to something greater than themselves.