To be completely transparent: I’ve been writing, re-writing this post since I led the workshop last Friday. I find Anti-oppression to be difficult to write about and agonize over every single word trying to make it the best possible. I’ve decided it’s just time for me to be human- I can’t be prefect, so I hope that y’all understand that I did my best and I hope my desire for solidarity, justice, and understanding comes through in this post.
After attending COP18 in Doha last year, I was left feeling like I hadn’t properly shared one of my passions, Anti-Oppression (AO) work, with the other youth that I interacted. The reason why I am so inspired to work utilizing AO is that I believe that in order to make any sort of change we must all have the ability to be heard, to act, and to make the differences that we are called to. Climate change is a particularly large problem. It interacts with every part of our lives and, as such, means that we must remember that everyone is affected by climate change, but some more so than others. In this workshop, we discussed the role that privilege and oppression take within the environmental work that we do at home and then further discussed how these concepts are seen at the COP. Even though we had youth from nine different countries, we agreed that there were vast inequalities in terms of resource distribution between countries, the sharing of leadership roles by men and women, minority groups’ communities being used as grounds for energy extraction and production sites, and also the dynamics that come into play when we consider who is able to participate in this process.
By exploring these two concepts, we started a dialogue about how to make the International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) a more inclusive and thoughtful group of activists. I really wanted to emphasize that tokenization (a common and unfortunate trend in environmental work) of others should be avoided at all costs not only in our media work, but in our personal interactions. In addition, I felt it important to discuss how by saying “if only more people from the global south were here” and “why don’t more people speak up” is a tokenizing experience in itself. In order to have the strongest, most justice-oriented movement as possible we must first change the systems of oppression within our structures and create more open spaces for more voices and experiences to be heard. Why would those whose voices are only asked for when people need a spokesperson for one’s identity (or assumed identity) and not accepted as a necessary participant in all conversations?
This was the point of the training: to open a dialogue about privilege and power dynamics and to emphasize that we should not wonder why people are not in spaces, but actively work to change the way people with more privilege take up space. Seeing that impacted communities are regularly tokenized, our workshop was to explain a) what tokenizing is b) how people can recognize and check their own privilege and c) discuss simple ways to make space.
One individual rightly asked why our workshop was targeted towards folks from Western countries and whose primary language (or are comfortable using) English and did not have marginalized peoples in the space to direct the conversation and say what their needs are. I personally think that it is not the job of a person facing discrimination or oppression to constantly give answers or lead these conversations. Why should someone be constantly confronting the various levels of oppression in their life and having every conversation revolve around it? Another fear- when talking about these systems, isn’t it helpful to remove those with privilege from the opportunity to tokenize someone by asking them for their opinion as a spokesperson for their identity or to attempt being validated as not being [insert word here]-ist?
These are my own opinions, experiences, and approach. I realize that there are many other valid ways of going about anti-oppression within and outside of the U.S. . If anyone has experience with AO at an International level and has an ideas or would like to collaborate, please let me know. (sidenote: Power Shift CEE/COY 9 was primarily composed of people from the “Global North” is this contextualizes the conversation about tokenization)
We ended with this quote: “The question is not just about what unearned privileges we have been walking around with but also about what it would take to change the systems that gave us these privileges in the first place. We must move beyond acknowledgement and guilt, panels and conferences, and start living, working, organizing, consuming, and loving differently.”
I firmly believe that it’s important for us to create an equitable, just, and powerful climate change movement. We need to take all of our experiences and knowledge to inform the changes that we’re making to get the best results. So the intention of the workshop was to open a discussion to discover how we can actively amplify the needs of those most impacted by being good allies that give space for others to speak and act, rather than us doing it in their place.
To see the handout from this workshop click here.
Workshop photos by the wonderful David Tong (thanks!)