Nurturing the next generation is a political project — Diary of a Baba
Posted on January 23, 2018
I’ve been thinking about all the people in my life who invested in me from my youth and college years to the current “yelder” years. Like many, I was pretty awkward and confused (pictured above). I grew up in an immigrant family in San Francisco then moved to Fremont, a pretty middle class suburb in the Bay Area, where I encountered the KKK and other racists growing up. (A story for another day and complicated, to say the least.) If I were to combine the cost of the investment in me – the mental, emotional, and other kinds of labor – it would be priceless. Yet, there is an actual financial cost to all of this.
“If I were to combine the cost of the investment in me – the mental, emotional and other kinds of labor – it would be priceless. Yet, there is an actual financial cost to all of this.”
I’m grateful for all the people who believed in me and saw my future self. I was fortunate to get involved in many youth leadership programs in the Bay Area. To me, nurturing the next generation is not just a good or nice thing to do; it is a political project that is integral to our future. Some of these reflections also come from last week as Seeding Change announced our new leadership and the movement conversations with good people over the weekend. Most of us are in the movement because someone mentored us or invested in us. Someone, too, invested in them, and so on.
If we were to take seriously the task in front of us fighting trump and trumpism, what would it take to train and develop the movement “workforce” for the resistance, our “rebel alliance”? What kinds of roles do we need? How many people would we need? Who is really going to carry this work forward and lead us in the 21st and into 22nd century?
Here are some reflections that keep me grounded:
Deeply listen and give tough love: The best mentors I had listened and gave me real talk, real loving feedback. No joke. Love and rigor all the way. Someone had to be very patient with me in the 1990s, with my rage and my righteousness. Our organizations and people (yelders) need to make time and space for young people. This labor has traditionally fallen on women and queer folks, what would it look like if we all took it on?
Building “infrastructure” is about people AND institutions: Many think of infrastructure as “structures” and “systems” but infrastructure is actually 100% a living human thing. Our infrastructure(s) need to be people centered, dynamic and constantly adapting to the time, place and conditions. We also need more people and organizations to invest in organizing trainings and mentorship programs, and start much younger.
“Many think of infrastructure as “structures” and “systems” but infrastructure is actually 100% a living human thing.”
Learn from past movements and international struggles: This is not a new idea. Ella Baker did it. Movements internationally do it. They think in decades; we think in months and maybe years. I remember talking to activists in Asia, who were preparing for unprecedented repression. They captured their generation’s organizing lessons and passed it onto the next generation to use in 10 years when the conditions were ripe again.
Trauma is real and material: We all have a lot to learn about this. We cant ignore or separate lived trauma and movement trauma. We can’t “organize” out of it and we also can’t let it paralyze us. We need to invest in healing and transformative justice work. Sometimes (or often) trauma is what prevents our movements to scale, become relevant and powerful. Let’s not forget that the system has exploited our trauma(s) to keep movements divided in the past.
“We cant ignore or separate lived trauma and movement trauma. We can’t “organize” out of it and we also can’t let it paralyze us.”
RESOURCES: This all takes a lot of resources and this, often invisble labor, should be resourced and compensated. In the meantime, we also got to get creative and strategic with our limited resources. At the end of the day, capital will NOT fund our true innovations. We are our own movement R&D (research and design). In a future piece, I will write about how movements have built united fronts as economies to resource the work.
Finally, we need to keep thinking about the long arch, keep experimenting, and winning with mulitple interventions. Some movements have sparked because of a few people and sometimes movements have needed dozens, hundreds or thousands of people. Big or small, sustaining and nurturing people in movements has never been spontaneous but always a political project.