A Timelapse of people walking on a crosswalk on a busy street during the day.
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Identifying Your Role in the Movement

A role, to me, isn’t a job title. It’s a way of being that you choose to hold yourself accountable, regardless of your challenges. This isn’t always easy, and it may mean facing and addressing discomfort along the way. But necessary work is rarely easeful.

And if we expect accountability from our community, we have to stay accountable to ourselves and the space we take up in the work. How can we hold ourselves accountable for progress if we’re not willing to identify our roles? Understanding our individual contributions only strengthens the whole. It resources everyone to be better community members.

Each person has a unique role to play to shift any situation – some might be in a good position to support the person harmed, whereas others might be in a better position to cultivate accountability with the person causing the harm. Some might have material resources to offer, others might organize community support, and still others might offer perspectives on the underlying roots of the violence. With more people, any situation can shift toward healing, accountability, and transformation.”

Ann Russo in Guest Post: Strategies for Cultivating Community Accountability by Ann Russo via Prison Culture

There are many ways to define your role, and I encourage you to look closely at the language used by local organizers and community leaders to guide you. But I appreciate this framework created by Deepa Iyer from Building Movement Project. Learn more about the map and definitions for each role (both PDFs linked are via the website).

TAKE ACTION

• Choose an issue that matters deeply to you and consider:

– What are three strengths you can bring to the issue at hand?
– What are three areas of growth for you?
– Of all the roles outlined in Iyer’s work, which two resonate most with you? Why? Why not?
-Think about a friend or colleague that you engage in this work with. What would you guess their role would be, based on what you know about them? How did you get to that decision?

You don’t have to follow a framework to identify your space. In fact, you may already have a definition, perhaps based on your occupation or volunteer efforts. Or maybe it’s not explicit, but a role you’ve already assumed in how you show up for your community. Either way, start by analyzing what you’re already doing. How have you contributed to this work? Where have you contributed: Politically? Socially? Economically? What has felt most generative to you? What has caused the most burnout?

Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project. SM, © 2018 Deepa Iyer

Also, analyze your privilege. And think beyond racial privilege (although that may offer significant leverage in anti-racism work). Do you have the privilege of having a broad audience on social media? Seniority at your job? Are you the friend and family member people go to when they have questions? How does your social location influence your capacity to make an impact in each of these roles? How may it detract?

In addition to selecting a space to lead from, consider how you can “grow into” other spaces that feel less familiar. The goal isn’t to become an expert in all things; that’s more likely to lead to fatigue and burnout than making an impact. But identifying micro ways to lean into these spaces may help you resource yourself as the work continues. It will also help you connect more deeply with others leading from that space. It may even add context when you’re looking to bring more people in with those skills. 

For example, you might not be a healer, but you can identify ways to ensure you’re still healing as the work progresses. You might not consider yourself a visionary, but perhaps vision mapping is a powerful way to stay connected to your dreams. 

Remember, you may find that your role evolves. You might find yourself with access to new power or privilege or in a different community that calls for a different set of skills. You might also evolve into another as your journey progresses. Welcome these shifts if they help you stay accountable for the work.

As you define your role, consider who else you can recruit to be a part of your efforts. Who are the storytellers around you, and what resources do they need to advocate for equity and solidarity? What experimenters do you know that apply their skills to the tasks at hand? And how can you lead from your strength to help activate them? Consult your physical or virtual pod if you’re struggling to identify where to start. Don’t have one, or are you unfamiliar with the term? Here’s a helpful overview.

With the midterm election ahead of us, there’s much to be dismantled and reimagined. Although we can’t possibly prepare for the unexpected, we can certainly start with what we know – and who we know – and strive to make an impact, one day at a time.

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