Intersectional Techniques for Grassroots Activism

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Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Here's a working list of effective practices for activism groups.

Resources for Grassroots activism is hard. Can open source help?

  • reduce barriers to access
    • For physical meetings
    • Avoid jargon or overly-technical language.
      • The Resistance Manual writes at a 5th-grade reading level
      • When you do use unfamiliar terms, define them and provide resources help people learn - for example, this page on Intersectionality
    • Provide information in multiple forms, taking into account people who don't have a computer (or don't want to do politics online), people who don't have a smartphone, people with vision and mobility problems and other disaibilities, people who really like email or Facebook and spend all their time there
    • Accommodate people with different amounts of time availability and different skills
      • Make sure to have tasks that only take a few minutes, and/or can be done on evenings or weekends
      • Schedule group meetings at different times. Some people can't make it on a specific night, or have a hard time making weekday evenings in general; some people have a harder time with weekend meetings.
      • If your group serves a large geographical area, schedule meetings in different locations so that over time everybody has an easy-to-attend option.
    • Remember that not everybody is an expert at everything so provide good onboarding and training. Examples:
      • a Web page that all volunteers (and potential volunteers) can read with information about the organization's purpose, values, and guidelines
      • a Slack Bot that welcomes people and tells them where key information is
      • a video explaining how to edit a wiki
      • training for moderators *** link to training video coming soon ***
      • definitions of key terms like intersectionality
      • "office hours": scheduled times with experienced people available to answer questions.
        • in-person, cafes can work well; many libraries and community centers have small rooms you can use, although typically you have to sign up in advance
        • on a teleconference or video chat
        • in Slack
      • "pairing" with somebody more experienced
  • institutionalize intersectionality at every step of the process. Examples:
    • incorporate intersectional diversity in the group's vision, values, and strategies
    • highlight disparate impact of issues on different dimensions ([ Resistance Manual)
    • groups (or Slack channels or email lists) for people with intersectional backgrounds and/or for allies
      • for Indvisible Plus Washington State (Indi+), these groups were set up and are led by members, not the admins or moderators for the main groups
    • test your web sites' accessibility
    • Listen to disabled people and accommodate their requests
    • daily action groups add links to a call to action with background from multiple dimensions (gender, LGBTQ+, economic justice, disability) and diverse perspectives within a dimension
    • provide other options besides phoning when asking members to call their representatives
    • a diverse (in multiple dimension) set of moderators with a commitment to an intersectional approach
    • people or roles charged with highlighting intersections between issues. Examples:
      • Moderators flag possible opportunities to cross-reference content across policy areas (Resistance Manual)
      • Volunteer copy editors look for opportunities to add links to other policy pages (Resistance Manual)
      • to highlight intersections (and avoid creating silos), route information to people looking at it from multiple perspectives. For example: Resistance Manual guidelines say that when people come across something that they’re not sure where to include, they route it to multiple team leads (folks who’ve volunteered to track specific policy areas), who then ensure it’s in the right place as well as being cross referenced appropriately.
      • relatively-experienced people who can help guide conversations even without having moderator powers
    • look for ways to reach out to people outside your usual circles. Examples
      • print leave-behinds for cafes, community centers, bulletin boards, ...
        • consider multiple versions: QR codes are great for millennials; a small amount of information in relatively large print, with a URL to get more info, is better for seniors
      • Facebook promotions/ads to reach demographics underrepresnted in your current organization
      • offer to help other groups
  • help people learn - and take on larger roles if they want
    • provide training, resources, and discussion in anti-racism, microaggressions, bystander intervention, call-in culture, etc.
    • provide mentoring
    • avoid relying on unpaid labor (especially from people in marginalized groups). Offer to pay trainers and facilitators for their time

Best practices for improving diversity and inclusion in organizations

Adapted from a list in Observations from TechInclusion16 summarizing best practices for technology companies.

  • align diversity and inclusion efforts with the organization’s goals
  • treat it as seriously as other priorities
  • prioritize and drive from the top
  • start early
  • focus on creating an inclusive culture (including training on unconscious bias and microaggressions, and keeping people with disabilities in mind) as well as getting diverse representation
  • approach it intersectionally, focusing on race and gender and disability (including invisible disabilities) and age and LGBTQ+ people and cognitive differences and other dimensions of diversity
  • broaden the recruiting pool by looking for people from non-traditional backgrounds and creating relationships with diversity-focused organizations
  • consider accessibility, both online and off
  • remember that not everybody’s online! - and that for many people who are online, it’s not a safe place to do activism