August 29th, 2013
I get to work often with groups who want to bring others to the table, wherever that table might be and whatever the people around that table might be doing. Usually the folks they want at the table are different from them in some notable way. They’re often younger. Maybe they have a smaller income. Many times the people with the table have pale skin and the people they’d like at the table have some shade of brown skin.
Increasingly, I’m challenged by that idea of bringing people to the table. I see a couple problems with it. First, it presumes that the people being invited don’t already have their own table that is just as good that you’ve just never seen. Secondly, it keeps the host in the host role. There’s no marriage of equals here. One person/group owns the table. The other is a guest.
We live in a world filled with unhealthy power dynamics around class, race and ethnicity, age, gender, and the list goes on. If we want our organizations and our organizing to not be a reflection of the sickness of the world, we have to do something different.
Step away from the table. Meet the people that you want to work with on shared turf. What are your shared needs and concerns? Know that you may be turned away for a myriad of reasons. Some of those reasons will have to do with your personal actions and some with all the stories of histories of oppression. Show respect. Show a willingness to learn. Show a willingness to fall and get back up again. Know that it will take a long time, maybe forever to build a trust.
Get a new table, one that isn’t yours or theirs, but instead that you fashioned together out of shared dreams. Know that this table will look different than your old one. Maybe it will be stronger and maybe it will be a little off balance. Who knows? It will be larger and have many carvings of great stories hard and beautiful.
How do you step away from your table? Here’s just a couple quick pointers that I’ve found helpful over the years:
1. Diversity of whatever sort isn’t a side issue. It is THE ISSUE. Being welcoming, supportive, and representative of all people that you want to be together at the table has to be central to everything you do.
2. Look at whatever you are working on from many angles. Why might others care about this same thing? Why do you care about it? What do you share with others?
3. Keep looking at yourself and your own actions. We are all products of history. We all need to hold ourselves accountable to act in ways the future can be proud of
4. We are all learners, teachers, and leaders. Allow yourself to be each of these with everyone.
5. Be there. When you are called to be supportive to those you want to work with and who are struggling in whatever way do so in whatever way you are able.
That’s a short clip, no where near the whole story. But, maybe there’s something there to consider. Mull it over and share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.