Flexible formations for networks

Thinking about co-design embedded within a network presents additional challenges. Ideally a design team creates many spaces to engage in co-design – both online and in-person – that allow for maximum input and creativity as well as respond to shifting levels of availability/capacity to participate. What follows is a brainstorm I did with my sister Licia of the list of formations (groups within a network) that enable this. Furthermore, these formations can be organized from a central group, like a design team, or self-organized as they emerge from network members.

FormationDefinition
Advisory group
Small group that lasts for the length of the project to advise and provide context for the design work; similar to design team but broader
Ambassador
One person does a one-on-one, then takes on work to do other one-on-ones, or takes information to broader group; “train-the-trainer” might fit here
Conference
Large group comes together with potential breakout groups, usually in-person
Design team
An ad hoc group that meets throughout the duration of the project (or sub-scope within it) to provide planning insight
Innovation fund
Selected group of projects that are funded for specific outcomes
One-on-one
A conversation between two people
Ongoing focus group
A representatively diverse group of people assembled to participate in a guided discussion about a particular product before it is launched, or to provide ongoing feedback on a political campaign, television series, etc.
Outreach team
Spreads the word about design process and reflections to rest of network
Pop-up focus group
A representative group of people that meets once to provide structured feedback on a specific topic
Seek external expert
Someone reaches out of core network for advice or thought leadership
Small group experiment
An ad hoc group that meets to engage with and provide feedback on a project, product, or part of it
Structured interview
A one-on-one with very specific outcomes
Webinar
An online lecture with potential Q+A
Working group
Small group of people who meet regularly with specific outcomes in mind; could be called a committee.

Land as Investment

This post was originally written while I was part of Regenerative Finance.

Take-away points

  • Remember to broaden frame of investment/wealth beyond cash assets
    • SRI and impact investing will tend to focus on cash.  Continuing to ignore other types of assets is colonial.
  • Investment in land seen as “safe.”
    • Doesn’t depreciate, doesn’t require maintenance, tangible asset
  • Investing in land is reliant on historical and continued genocide, forced assimilation, colonization.

Commodification of nature

Capitalism rooted in colonialism erases or downplays the importance of land and “natural resources” as foundational to growth.  One of the major ways to turn land into a natural resource is called commodification — or the process of turning something into a commodity by converting it from its original form to a value that can be measured in dollars.

Take a tree for example, a complex living being that can do many amazing things: turn what we breathe out into oxygen; produce a huge variety of delicious tasting fruits, nuts, syrup, and berries; provide a home for birds, mammals, and other animals; can induce a sense of awe in us if we pay attention (see: redwoods, live oaks in the south of the U.S., bristlecone pines that are 5,000 years old); I could go on.  In his book Cradle to Cradle, architect William McDonough illustrates this point too:

“Imagine this design assignment: design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates microclimates, changes colors with the seasons, and self-replicates.

Why don’t we knock that down and write on it?”

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that trees are – for a variety of reasons – magical.

Capitalism takes these magical beings and turns them into something that can be traded on a market – paper, lumber.  Occasionally, economics can understand “environmental services” – more of the things that McDonough was getting at – the valuing of sequestering carbon, and then complicate the tree’s value, as well as make a stronger economic argument to keep it alive and healthy.

By the way, this is all reliant on a lot of separations within nature.  Trees are separate from birds that live in them, separate from the soil and water and fungal networks that nourish them.  We are separate from them.

So…commodification turns parts of nature into things that can be traded on markets, and made money from the sale of, based on an agreed upon value.  “Raw materials.”

This relies on separating us from nature, from our other ways of relating, and the interrelatedness of its parts.

Other related ideas include water investment and privatization, carbon trading and treating land itself as property.

If you’re interested in any of these things, I highly recommend watch Tom B.K. Goldtooth’s video on Youtube:

History of the land under the United States

United States history is different than the history of the land that the U.S. currently occupies.  Who was here before the “start”?  How is their deep history erased by current narratives that start history at 1776?  How does our understanding of the U.S. as one nation erase the hundreds of other sovereign nations that also currently inhabit this land?

Here’s a quick timeline to illustrate the 1.5% of history since European settlement of the land as contrasted with a conservative under-estimate of total human habitation of the land, 20,000 years ago. It also includes what our current timeline calls “0.”

“Counter to the western stories that we’ve been here 12,000 years, we’ve been here over 60,000 years, likely over 100,000 years, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that,” says Paulette Steeves, director of the Native American Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A more complicated understanding of history that many of us did not receive in school is necessary to understand the depth of relationship that indigenous people have had and many continue to have with this land currently called the United States for thousands of years.  In contrast, the colonized period of this land is relatively small, a few percent of total peopled time.

Land as Investment

Investing isn’t just about money.  All capitalism relies on commodification of nature and land and the genocide required to do those things as well as direct investment in land.

Wealth redistribution tends to focus on dollars and donation of money.

International land grabs are kind of a big deal too.  The Oakland Institute has some great resources on that topic.

It’s imperative that our interpretation of investment be broadened to also encompass land.  Investment in land doesn’t have to look like owning a real estate property, there are lots of ways to invest.  And certainly all of capitalism happens on land anyway.

The process of commodification – turning trees into paper, into an abstract commodity that can be bought and sold – is the process of disconnecting ourselves from place, of literally uprooting ourselves and nature and abstracting it into something else.  In its very nature, this is colonial — it is void of a sense of place, a sense of context, history, and connection.

There’s a strong connection to present-day gentrification and displacement – these are not new concepts.  This is also super connected to the gentrification that’s happening around the country (and many parts of the world) as people move around.  The idea that people are movable, easily displaced, that a value connected to a place will drive people out of being able to live there — rooted in racialized colonialism.

Land Reparations

Land is not arbitrary.  Things like “equal redistribution of land” or “land as commons”  are colonial concepts that continue to erase deep relationships of indigenous people to *specific* places.

For a really basic idea of what I mean here, think about a place you call home.  About how it smells, about the plants that live there and how they change over the course of a year.  About all the people you are connected to in that place.  That place can’t be anywhere, it’s a specific place to you with many histories.  Multiply that by 20,000 years and then it might be similar to indigeneity.

One example of a land reparations project I’m familiar with locally is an indigenous women led project called the Sogorea Te Land Trust. It asks settlers on Chocheño Ohlone land to pay a “tax” to fund the purchase of land to be stewarded and used in ceremonial practices.  There are several other indigenous led land trusts around the country.

Finally on a related note, it can’t be left unsaid that this country’s histories of slavery and (forced) immigration complicates our relationship to land in the present.  (For more on this, see my summary of an academic paper called Decolonization is not a Metaphor.)

I’m going to leave you here with a few resources, some questions to consider, and let you know some of the questions we’re currently holding as Regenerative Finance.  Want to be in conversation with us?? Far out!  Drop us a line.

Some Resources

Questions to consider

  • Do you have investments in land? What does that look like? REITS, a home you live in, homes you don’t live in, relationships to real estate developers, buildings, infrastructure, …?
  • Do you have investments that are involved in the commodification of land?
  • Whose land are your investments on or in? What’s your relationship to those people? What’s your current relationship and ideal relationship?
  • What has your family’s historical relationship to land been?
  • All of our wealth was extracted from land, what were the steps in that process, and how does that feel? What are you going to do about it?

Questions we’re dealing with as Regen

  • How does land fit into regenerative investing?
  • If a project we work with is not indigenous-led, what would it need to do to be decolonized?
  • Given that so much wealth is accumulated through direct investment in land, what are we doing about that?
  • How do we take this message as settlers to other settlers?  How do we continue to bring this topic up in the impact investing scene?

On words: “inclusion”

A few days ago, I posted an idea on Facebook that I’ve been toying with. I felt it was a bold statement that spoke about power in a way that isn’t often talked about and about a word I hear frequently. Here’s the post:

The post garnered more traction than most of the thoughts, photos, videos, and shares I usually put up.

Two people asked a question kinda like this: if this isn’t the right word, what is something like this that we can do to achieve a similar purpose?

I hear that. There’s an underlying theme in inclusivity that I can get behind in the context of histories of marginalization: making sure more people are being heard. Recognizing this is based on: 1) an acknowledgement that the people in the room don’t represent the broader group and 2) a determination that this should be the case. Not only are two heads better than one, but more difference at the table can bring about different relationships to problems, solutions, and systems.

On the other hand, inclusivity presupposes that the existing set-up is completely fine and the only issue is that certain people either aren’t aware of the metaphorical table, aren’t educated enough about it, or for some other reason can’t make it. This assumption erases oppression and power.

By framing the question as [ why aren’t certain people here? ] rather than [ is there something about our underlying structure/dynamic/agenda/leadership that turns certain people off? ] locates the problem and thus the solution in totally different places.

The following 2 women of color have also blogged about the word in ways I’ve found useful in developing my thinking around it. I’ve culled some of the key quotes.

I first turn to a piece provocatively titled “How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion” by Kẏra, a Chinese-Amerikan trans woman working to create space for radical racial justice through technology where progress has been limited to liberal white feminism.

She writes,

“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded.

So why do so many people seeking racial justice, female empowerment, and queer liberation still choose to advocate for “diversity” and “inclusion”? They appeal to liberalism. They prevent oppression from being named. They prevent us from speaking truth to power. They make progress sound friendly to those in power.

The only way to prevent that is to name oppression for what it is; to speak truth to power. If a group is dominated by whites, men, and other privileged classes, don’t let that be reduced to a diversity issue.

When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily position marginalized groups as naturally needing to assimilate into dominant ones, rather than to undermine said structures of domination.

As a web developer / techie / nerd myself, I’ve frequently found myself in spaces dominated by nerdy, white, cis-, straight men. Possibly because of this, becoming acutely aware of who is in the room, who is taking up space, and who isn’t is something I do by default. In response to Kyra’s point of not “reducing it to a diversity issue,” there are very well known and documented reasons that women aren’t equally represented in technology. To say that the conference organizer (for example) just didn’t know enough women, or the women were busy, etc, fails to recognize systemic ways in which women have been excluded from tech, forced out of it, harassed while persevering in it. (Perhaps that’s why more women are freelancing.)

Next, let’s hear from Virgie Tovar, MA is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. Here’s what she says on her blog about inclusion:

The word “inclusion” is a buzzword in political organizing that typically indicates some vague understanding that something just isn’t right here. The idea of inclusion is typically thought of as an innocuous way of discussing the perceived lack of meaningful engagement by people who are experiencing the greatest impact of the political issue at hand. But I don’t think it’s an innocuous idea. I think there’s a lot embedded in that word, and so I wanted to give you three reasons to rethink the idea of inclusion.

Here are snippets of Virgie’s reasons:

  1. First, embedded within the idea of “inclusion” is a kind of white supremacist/heteropatriarchal/thincentric/ableist framework or epistemology – the presumption that thin people need to create space for fat people […]”
  2. Second, any movement that engages heavily with reinscribing dominant aesthetics – or respectability politics – is not going to be of interest to marginalized folks who see that dominant aesthetic as problematic and violent.”
  3. Finally, and – in my opinion – most importantly, is that the word “inclusion” presumes the maintenance of that movement’s current leadership with the understanding that these “included” people will become absorbed into that movement without any radical rehaul of its current hierarchy.”

At the end of her post, she poses 2 amazing questions for people who see inclusion as a need:

1. What do the people who see inclusion need or want from the inclusion of people who are not well-represented? I think this is an incredibly important question for organizers to ask themselves. We all kind of know that a lack of poc or big bodies or trans folks is an indication of a failure, but do organizers desire their inclusion simply as evidence that they are not failing or is there some greater desire to be in service to people who are experiencing the greatest impacts of marginalization?
2. Is the individual or group who is seeking “inclusion” ready to change up the agenda, the political tools they use, or the hierarchy of leadership?

So. What do you think – is inclusion a word you use frequently and a process you undertake? Or do you think it reeks of a liberalism that seeks to maintain existing power structures?

Here is a cat-related meme to get you started:

Network Mapping and Power

To the extent we are concerned about ushering in a future that looks different than today, we must not only understand how power operates, but seek to shift and democratize it. (I’m using this handout from powercube.net to ground my understanding of power.)

Network mapping inherently illuminates power.

Network mapping and/or analysis inherently seeks to bring to light several kinds of power. Here are several ways it can include power:

  • Demonstrates where capacity and resources exist in a group of entities
  • Visualizes previously invisible patterns, structures, and dynamics that existed but of which we were unaware
  • Elucidates relationships and pathways for exchange; help understand how things flow through a set of entities (and where they don’t flow)
  • Surfaces gaps like who’s not being represented by providing an overview of a set of entities
  • Supports an understanding of these things as they change over time so we can reflect transparently (rather than anecdotally) on improvements or regression

Network mapping is different and broader than power mapping.

My understanding of network mapping differs from power mapping (for example, see MoveOn’s Community Power Map Guide) in a few ways:

grid from Danielle.
MoveOn’s power grid
  • It’s not necessarily about a campaign victory; network mapping can address power over the long-term in heterogeneous communities
  • Doesn’t have one/few explicit target(s); rather, takes a broad approach to understanding power dynamics within a larger group of entities
  • Network mapping is broader than only looking at power. Taking an example of clustering for power mapping from MoveOn’s page, we can think of several other useful ways of understanding a network, and view those side by side.

Network map credit: Valdis Krebs, copyright 2013 from http://orgnet.com/contagion.html.

Thoughts, questions, and responses to “Decolonization is not a metaphor”

“Decolonization, which we assert is a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects, is far too often subsumed into the directives of these projects, with no regard for how decolonization wants something different than those forms of justice.” (pg. 2)

Reading this article shifted my perspective in 3 ways:

  • Really? Beginning to think about how decolonization is different and not overlapping with other social justice frameworks.
  • Beginning to think of how I and we want to alleviate our guilt – or “move to innocence” – around the violent issues that come with being a settler, benefiting from it, and continuing to perpetuate settler colonialism.
  • Learning to hold incommensurability, unsettling as it is.
cactus flowers in arizona, hopi land

First: Understanding our “moves to innocence” is part of interrogating our privilege

“Directly and indirectly benefiting from the erasure and assimilation of Indigenous peoples is a difficult reality for settlers to accept. The weight of this reality is uncomfortable; the misery of guilt makes one hurry toward any reprieve.” (9)

Understanding our own privileges often brings up a lot of guilt associated with our part in oppression. As part of human nature, we want to alleviate this guilt – to get to a state of cognitive consonance – we want to feel better! Things like developing a critical consciousness (ahem) of privilege/oppression, donating money to a cause, dedicating your career to it, claiming a distant (perhaps not real) native ancestor, are actually “diversions, distractions, which relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility, and conceal the need to give up land or power or privilege.” (21)

These are what Tuck & Yang call “moves to innocence,” ways we can rid ourselves of this pesky thing called guilt.

“Settler moves to innocence are those strategies or positionings that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege.” (10)

However, these strategies don’t actually remedy the thing we’re feeling bad about.

In particular, we can see our moves to innocence, engage with them, and transform them:

“We provide this framework so that we can be more impatient with each other, less likely to accept gestures and half-steps, and more willing to press for acts which unsettle innocence…” (10)

In other words, our guilt carries potential. Guilt is actually good in that it tells us that we know something’s wrong! However, most of our strategies to alleviate guilt claim to be finite — I donated, I’ve done my part, now I can resume whatever I was doing — and don’t really address the wrong we feel. On the other hand, the uncomfortable position of guilt is home to rich discussions, new ideas, and hopefully, transformation. It reminds me of a quote I just read:

“Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody.” – Susan B. Anthony

Learning to embrace these very real feelings that come with privilege is important and necessary in moving toward decolonization.

redwoods in california, miwok land

Second: Decolonization is not a subset of social justice: “incommensurability is unsettling”

“The promise of integration and civil rights is predicated on securing a share of settler-appropriated wealth (as well as expropriated ‘third-world’ wealth.)” (7)

Tuck & Yang point out that much of social justice is based on the existence of a settler colonial state. Often, remediating the wrongs done to many people of color, rely on colonialism.

In particular they point to three movements that neglect decolonization or turn it into a metaphor. Here are simple summaries:

  1. Third world decolonizations we often forget about what is happening and has happened here (where ever that is) in order to focus on imperialism/colonialism globally or abroad, elsewhere.
  2. Abolition of slavery and deconstructing the prison industrial complex rely on taking land from natives to give to previously enslaved peoples.
  3. Critical pedagogies like place-based knowledge situate our experiences upon land but do not move to include land itself as active, only as receiver/passive.

For each, Tuck & Yang provide the start of a “bibliography of incommensurability.”

Further, they suggest that real solidarity and collaboration arise from acknowledging our differences rather than smearing them together in order to construct makeshift coalitions:

“We argue that the opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable rather than what is common across these efforts.” (28)

“We offer these perspectives on unsettling innocence because they are examples of what we might call an ethic of incommensurability, which recognizes what is distinct, what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization in relation to human and civil rights based social justice projects.“ (28)

prairie in illinois, winnebago land

Third: Now what? Holding incommensurability, guilt, and other unsettling feelings

“An ethic of incommensurability, which guides moves that unsettle innocence, stands in contrast to aims of reconciliation, which motivate settler moves to innocence. Reconciliation is about rescuing settler normalcy, about rescuing a settler future. Reconciliation is concerned with questions of what will decolonization look like? What will happen after abolition? What will be the consequences of decolonization for the settler? Incommensurability acknowledges that these questions need not, and perhaps cannot, be answered in order for decolonization to exist as a framework.

We want to say, first, that decolonization is not obliged to answer those questions – decolonization is not accountable to settlers, or settler futurity. Decolonization is accountable to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity. […] The answers will not emerge from friendly understanding, and indeed require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality that un-coalesces coalition politics – moves that may feel very unfriendly.”

So:

How can we start and hold spaces within ourselves for this unsettling feeling without moving straight to a way to alleviate our guilt?

How can we hold spaces that are problematic at a group level that create discussion and do not end with something that claims to be a solution? In other words, how can we create spaces that also hold unsettling discussions, and even the “dangerous understanding” that comes with it?

Moving Beyond Marx: Some introductory resources and actions on decolonization

Intention

This document was created to serve as an introduction to the ideas of colonization and provide a glimpse into what decolonization means.  In particular, it is useful in broadening our thinking about classism beyond Marxism to also include indigenous people and their struggles.  It’s not exhaustive.  Please (please!) share your thoughts, questions and suggestions!

A little by way of background

Generally, in social justice circles, I hear Marx’s ideas as one of the primary and fundamental ways of understanding class-based oppression.  To put it simply: classism exists because certain people take advantage of others by exploiting their labor.  That profit is only possible when labor is under- or not paid.

However, this perspective continues to invisiblize native struggles: it ignores how nature and land get turned into natural resources and commodities to be traded.  These are huge parts of how profit gets generated within capitalism!  Furthermore, the violent transition from nature to natural resource isn’t a quick and easy shift, but rather often requires dispossessing native people, severing connections with land that have (in many cases) existed for several thousand years, and constructing histories that do not include these struggles.  For example, in thinking about any natural resource, is it part of our consciousness to include just where it comes from?  Where did the tree live that became a piece of paper?

For work around undoing classism to be successful – to move to a more just, equitable society – we must not only think about how people are turned into workers to be exploited, but also how trees must be turned into natural resources to be exploited and how natives must be erased to control land.  What follows are a few entry points into further understanding about these dynamics.


First steps

1) Learn about which people lived where you do before you did.  What are they called now?  What name(s) do/did they have for themselves?  What were their crafts, social structure, homes, types of food?  Are there any descendants still around your area?

2) Check out: Decolonize Myself & Shit people say to natives for some young people thinking about liberation

3) What thoughts, feelings, sensations do you have about living on land your people aren’t from (i.e. being a settler)?


Sensitizing readings & media

sen·si·tize: to make (someone) more aware of something


Indigenous media/information projects


Indigenous groups to get involved with or “follow”


UPDATE: A Google doc with more resources

Here is the link.

Collaboration, Coalition, Networks: What’s the difference?

I’m sure you’ve heard of these three words, but what do they mean if they’re used interchangeably? Read on to learn the key differences between collaborations, coalitions, and networks.

At its most basic, collaboration just means working together. In non-profit lingo, collaborations generally include things like information sharing, program coordination, and joint planning (source 1). Two or more organizations get together and have a limited interaction, achieve a mutually beneficial goal like jointly planning an event or learning from each other. Key characteristics of collaborations:

  • a few organizations
  • limited in time
  • not necessarily formalized in any way
  • may be around a shared, specified goal

Can you think of any collaborations you’ve recently been part of or heard of?

Usually formed for a specific, common goal, a coalition involves a group of organizations that get together, share responsibilities, and may disband after achieving their goal. Coalitions exist to bring broader attention and action to a large goal that affects many stakeholders. For example, if a coalition formed to pass or prevent legislation, it would have more leverage than an individual organization, because it can reach more people, access greater resources, and bring different perspectives to the strategy. Often, coalitions are short-lived and end after successfully accomplishing its goal. Key characteristics of coalitions and alliances:

  • multiple organizations
  • usually limited in time
  • usually have a specific goal
  • varying levels of formalization
  • may have a specified convener or facilitator

What goal, larger than your organization’s mission statement, would be best achieved by a coalition?

A network is a set of organizations with diverse relationships, strengths of relationships and trust between them. One way to think about it is like an ecosystem – there are different types of actors, but they work together – some more closely than others. Collaborations and coalitions happen within larger networks. As June Holley writes, in her Network Weaver Handbook: “networks are different than organizations: there is no boss who can fire members if they don’t do their job, there are no weekly staff meetings to ensure that communication and learning are taking place, and there are no teams or departments to organize the work and distribute funds.” Key network characteristics:

  • multiple organizations,
  • no necessary convener,
  • evolve over time and persist beyond goal,
  • not necessarily formal or intentional, but can be,
  • may exist for specific goal, or for broader support function

Armed with the knowledge of the differences between collaborations, coalitions, and networks, what is a good next step for your organization to strengthen its relationships? Will you choose a time-bound partnership, facilitate a group toward a common goal, or get to meeting and greeting new peers?

List of sources used: 1. La Piana Consulting, The Partnership Matrix 2. June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook