Reducing prejudice and learning to talk to each other

I have been spending a lot of time finding ways into conversations that make me explain my reasoning in different ways, particularly around prejudice.

In the filter bubble age, this is especially challenging at times. I was lucky to go to college with a number of really thoughtful conservatives who would still engage with me though I was an outspoken organizer. They were willing to listen and ask me interesting questions, and they answered my own questions with patience and respect. I reached out to them to ask them what I should be reading now so I can have an informed conversation with more conservative communities. I also started going to church again about 9 months ago so I could learn about faith and how to read/discuss the gospels. In both cases, I’ve learned to examine my decisions in different ways and explain them in new ways. I am expanding the language I have to make my cases and answer questions I didn’t know to anticipate.

But I have a real reason to hope. This talk from TEDxMidAtlantic in 2016 is one I come back to frequently, especially after really hard conversations and times where I cannot find the language to engage with new communities. Deep Canvassing is so effective that this program was written up in Science.

I know this is not accessible to everyone and we each need to do what we can to build civil society together. I recognize my privilege and how I am able to move easily between my different communities and worlds to ask hard questions that may not be accessible to others. I can be a bridge. I don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to do this all day every day, and those that already do are some of the bravest, strongest and most creative individuals I know.

But for those who can, I encourage you to expand your vocabulary and fluency in arguing your case in different communities across the United States. It’s necessary now, more than ever.

An idea exploring Government vs. Civil Society

I am exploring this idea:

If government represents who we are and what we value now, then civil society and institutions are responsible for exploring and articulating visions for what we could be, who we might become as a community.

I would love to hear other people’s reactions to this, especially as I explore it further through specific case studies.

Why it’s hard to record beautiful, hidden moments in labor organizing

Recording history as it happens is much more complicated than it seems. Victories are often celebrated privately and hope grows from these shared experiences with other organizers. I wonder now, how and why are these stories about successful labor organizer harder to find?

The voices of workers provide important feedback on the type of community we want to live in and the type of economy we can sustain together. When it is omitted or skimmed over, we lose a crucial piece of how economies are negotiated and built together. Most importantly,  there is a lot of creativity that goes into successful campaigns for change. Especially when the side arguing to “stay the same” can play to the same “fears of loss” factors that are so powerful.

I appreciate the creativity that goes into successful labor negotiations and the complexity, what it takes to get to the negotiation table and win important victories for workers. But the power dynamics of the work place and the economy makes recording stories from our workers and our organizers challenging. Sometimes part of the negotiation is keeping information, and how things play out, a secret.

While I was researching leads for a story, I ran into a case where the story was so important and inspiring… but the organizer needed to remain in the shadows to organize successfully. I was caught in a tension of wanting to celebrate this story that made me more optimistic about the future of labor… but it’s success depended on keeping private, between negotiating parties.

It made me stop to think about the role journalism plays in recording history, but also the complex partnerships and conditions that have to form to make long term change possible.

Labor is an important part of our community and efforts to silence workers and organizers limit our ability to have honest political discussions. If the only people with a voice are the CEOs and stakeholders, we have a very weird and unrealistic image of what it means to work in the company or the current workforce. And long term… creating a working experience that is only pleasant for the C-suite is not sustainable for the fabric of our communities.

Organizers like Saul Alinsky and Dolores Huerta have shaped how we think about organizing people, from political campaigns to voter turn out, workers strikes, negotiation in many different settings, research methods and so much more. Their creativity and strength lead them through some seemingly impossible battles to come out on top. It also gave me hope that “social structures” do change, we can negotiate. That violence and money as two currencies for dictating the rules are not the only options.

As a student, I learned so much from groups like Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA) in New Haven, which is an amazing organization that supports undocumented workers and protects them when their wages are withheld, they suffer sexual harassment in their work places, and they are not protected by the full extent of their rights as guaranteed by the labor laws of Connecticut regardless of their immigration status.

In the last few years, I am also so excited about the work happening through Palak Shah at National Domestic Workers’ Alliance who is thinking about different ways to protect and negotiate for workers rights. The Worker’s Lab is another group working to improve working conditions through negotiations between workers and their employers. Carmen Rojas, from the Worker’s Lab, gave a talk at Personal Democracy Forum last year about some of the work place conditions improved by direct negotiation.

I spent time talking to other students who later became Union Organizers themselves. Some publicly, and others in a system where organizers work covertly, organizing from within the workforce. Both of these methods are important and offer different methods for negotiating work place conditions.

I, naively, wanted to celebrate both methods for organizing, hoping we could use public discussions to support workers and organizers, and maybe inspire a new generation of organizers who see there are people fighting for better. But I also needed to acknowledge that the organizers who are not public in their efforts are private because the secrecy is a necessary condition for their work.

While I want to preserve their present efforts in history to other students can read about it now and later, to add this layer of complexity and creativity to our labor history, but I cannot do so without compromising their work.

The power dynamic of these work places (typically hotels and other service sector businesses where workers are expected to be invisible or close to it) is that the leadership is set on keeping workers disorganized and afraid. The organizer preserves an alternative and devotes time and energy to helping support internal efforts among workers to organize for their negotiation. The organizer is not meant to be a public leader, the silence is also about being part of the team and not calling more attention to themselves than to the negotiation.

As I can relate from my more recent jobs, negotiation is a sensitive and often quiet process. Victories are often private moments, and failure requires quiet moments of recovery.

I frequently wonder if this covert organizing if the future of labor organizing. In an era where Unions have lost some of the favor they once had, my interest in labor issues usually ends up with the typical derogatory “Socialist” comment (because we have a nasty history here of black listing “communists” and anyone who is sympathetic to workers with a label), and where inequality is seems to only be increasing… Is the best way to protect workers completely off-record, hidden, and perhaps forgotten with time?

I wonder, too, about the role of journalists here. If they play an important role in recording history as it happens, are there sections of history we are meant to celebrate more privately and then lose to time? Or does this story sit in a sort of escrow until enough time has passed to record it, before it’s lost?

I am left with my questions to explore and waiting for ways to support organizers, as they need it.

What’s Going On At Yale? A Reading List.

What you should see: First and foremost, this is what the protest at Yale looked like. Language on their banners read: We are Loved. We are here to stay.

This is not the image of hostility and aggression portrayed by most of the media. One video clip of a student screaming at Professor Christakis went viral and, unfortunately, was used to set the tone for so many of the articles that came out covering the events on campus.

Updated on November 17: President Salovey addressed Yale and the alumni network with his response. He is increasing funding to all four cultural houses, improving training to talk about diversity for students and Yale’s staff (professors and administrators), improving financial aid for low income students, providing mental health providers through the cultural houses (to provide mental health professionals versed in more of the background their students are coming from), and investing further resources into programs like ethnicity, race and migration that offer academic opportunities outside the traditional “Canon.

The students marched to President Salovey’s house on November 12, 2015 and presented their list of demands at 11:50pm. This is the final list of their demands, as presented that evening.

BACKGROUND:

This was the email that students receive every year from the IAC regarding their approach to Halloween costumes.

This is the email about Halloween by Erika Christakis that sparked some of the initial conversations about communities on campus. I suggest reading the full copy, rather than the quotes pulled out of context for several publications online. As of November 18, 2015, the University has confirmed its support for Master Christakis in his appointment to Silliman College.

I kept asking students for a better sense of what was going on and was presented with this list of demands from the community at DOWN magazine (a Yale student publication) as it stands on November 11, 2015.

The order of events in the last week, as presented by a student.

This is the statement issued by the President of Yale Peter Salovey regarding their commitment to a “better Yale,” sent to students on November 6, 2015.

This was the statement sent by Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway on November 6, 2015.

This is another piece on the broader context of the protests by an alum. It is particularly powerful and going viral through the Yale alumni network that appears regularly in my facebook newsfeed (11/11/2015). The Yale Daily News also followed up with several members of the alumni to gather and present their reactions.

I keep hearing from students still on campus that they are afraid and that the organizers face regular threats. That campus no longer feels safe. Today (11/11/2015) the Yale Daily News published a story about racist signs that appeared on campus… apparently from non-students. It doesn’t describe the atmosphere in the same ways that students have described it to me, but we need to keep paying attention.

Maybe the hardest part is reading the headlines every morning. Some are reflective of what the students are saying and asking for… others are clickbait or trying to place the story in a quick context for what else is going on in the US around race relations. This means… the headlines are clunky at best.

For example, this Slate headline, “The Yale Student Protests Are Campus PC Wars At Their Best” is terrible and sounds like it’s going to be a frustrating read, but ends up giving some good perspective.

The Atlantic is being inconsistent (and sometimes needs to do better research before it writes about subjects outside of context). For example, we started with this from them: This article published Monday claims this is all a meltdown about a single email. They followed up with this article on Tuesday to add more context and adding that it was less about the specific email and more about the long overdue conversations about race, class and privilege that were missing on campus.

Those that read only the articles about the isolated email incident have taken to calling Yale students “children” and asking “where the adults are.” Several Yale alumni have published pieces about their own experiences at Yale and their concerns with speakers invited to campus, but their own “restraint” in interacting with these speakers… which again, doesn’t bring the larger context of race and class etc. on campus.

The authors from these particular articles need to read this older piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates and think about the experiences he describes so well here.

I will continue adding to this as I find decent sources.