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Changing Systems, Changing Ourselves: Session 3 Substitute Materials

Our guests asked us to not record the webinar for session 3 - so we have pulled together this activity based on some of the learnings from our conversation with them. Our guests represent a local sanctuary coalition in which the support team for the family in sanctuary includes both undocumented organizers and white faith allies.

 

We’ve pulled out some of their key points through quotes, named the underlying issues, and provided examples of what they were talking about. (These quotes are not exact, as we don’t have a recording, but capture the meaning of what was said.)

Part 1: Read through the quotes. Each person should choose one that they feel reflects something they’ve seen or experienced. If you are in a group, get into pairs and share the situation it reminded you of.

 

Part 2: If you are in a group, have a full group discussion. If you are alone, journal about the following questions.

  • Did any of the points really stick out to you? Why?
  • Did you experience any discomfort or resistance to any of these points? Which ones? If you take a moment to sit with that feeling, can you understand where that comes from?
  • What is one thing you take away from this session that will change how you organize or volunteer?

 

Quote: “If someone is a victim of an injustice, why do they need to prove their worthiness to us in order for us to want to defend their rights?”

Issue: Volunteers want to determine that someone facing deportation is “a good person” or “not a criminal” before supporting them.

  • Some volunteers in their sanctuary coalition wouldn’t sign a support letter to the judge until they knew all the family’s personal details. Volunteers suggest they can’t support someone against injustice unless they know enough to know that person is worthy/”a good person”/”not a criminal.” As if the injustice is less against some than others based on their personal history. What does it do to people’s humanity, to our own humanity, to take it upon ourselves to determine their worthiness of our support?

Quote: “When you name the problem, you become the problem.”

Issue: When a person of color points out racism within a majority white group, they are often accused of creating problems where there weren’t any there to start with.

  • If you are not facing an injustice yourself, it can be invisible to you - but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. For our guest speakers’ sanctuary coalition, not everyone in the group agreed that the voices of undocumented people and people of color needed to be centered in the group process, or that the person in sanctuary should be the ultimate decider of her case. They needed to create a set of values as a group - and ask people to leave who could not agree to those values. You can try to help them understand - but if too much energy and time revolves around a fundamental disagreement about power and voice, and there is no openness to learning, it really undermines the group as a whole. Undocumented organizers had to set a boundary: “We aren’t interested in convincing people - we are interested in going deeper and getting into the work with people who are ready to work with us.”

Quote: “Who gets to know what about the person in sanctuary? Who gets to share their story?”

Issue: Volunteers feeling entitled to information and resentful of not receiving it.

  • Some volunteers in their coalition felt that because they were involved, they had a right to know the entire story of the family in sanctuary. The family wanted privacy and prefered to share the reason why they are seeking asylum with only a few trusted members of the team. Also, some volunteers felt strongly they needed to bring in media - without considering the risk to the person in sanctuary. If in the end they get detained and deported, how do we make sure that people who want to harm them in their country of origin don’t find out? Choosing to share someone else’s story in a public forum like media without their consent could result in actual danger to their physical safely.

Quote: “It’s important that you ask yourself, ‘How am I part of the problem?’”

Issue: White volunteers see themselves as the “good white people” and aren’t able to self-reflect about ways they may be contributing to a racist dynamic or white supremacy culture without intending to.

  • One example in their group was that organizers that themselves were immigrants were not seen as individuals, or recognized for what they bring and all their strengths and skills. One woman helped with translating - so she was treated as “just a translator” and as if she was an intermediary between the non-Spanish-speaking volunteers and the person in sanctuary. What about all of her experience with lawyers, as a community organizer, and even her masters degree? Instead, she was seen in a limited role as a translator - which was also not recognized as a professional skill!

Quote: “What does it say about how you see yourself, if you think you are liberating someone else from an outside oppressor? If you think YOU are empowering someone else?”

Issue: Collective liberation and the “us vs them” dynamic

  • It is crucial that we recognize that a dehumanizing system harms every single one of us, although at different levels and in different ways. We are fighting for our own humanity when we fight the wrong being done to members of our communities. If we think our actions can “liberate” or “empower” another person, the language used there indicates that we believe we have the power to do that, that we are the actors and they are on the receiving end. We must be open to how we will be transformed and grow in the process.

 

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