A group of Work That Reconnects facilitators and community members have been meeting periodically by video conference over the past two and a half years years to explore evolutions in the Work That Reconnects facilitation with respect to power, privilege and oppression. While much of the exploration is applicable to any kind of group facilitation or other work of similar nature, some of the exploration has been particular to framing and practices in the Work That Reconnects. Practices and framing that have been updated with these considerations include Harvesting The Gifts of the Ancestors and The Three Stories of Our Time.
While social justice issues have always had a focus in the Work That Reconnects, Work That Reconnects has also at times fallen into the same pattern that much of the predominantly white environmental movement has of focusing on the environment in a siloed way, where concern is given to a distant polar bear on an iceberg but not to the experience of a poor Black woman, an indigenous person or other person of color who is sitting in the same room. This is a manifestation of white supremacy, of valuing certain lives over others and is at the heart of the current climate and extinction crises. Human justice is interrelated with ecological justice because injustices towards both stem from the same mindsets. The climate and extinction crises the planet faces are a symptom of a destructive mode of human relating to other life as objects that can be exploited by people deemed to have more power and privilege than others. In these times it is important to take Joanna Macy’s analysis of treating the world as storehouse and sewer a level deeper with honesty about how systems of human oppression are interrelated with ecological crises.
This group would like to invite you to explore the below questions and topics during Work That Reconnects Bioregional Gatherings offered around the world this fall. Our group has been comprised mostly of people living in the United States, but we have striven to frame these questions in a way that supports you to engage with these topics whatever your local context is (if and where we have fallen short of getting out of US-centrism, we welcome your feedback on that). We understand that each person engaging with this will be in a different place with respect to learning about these topics and hope all people doing Work That Reconnects will lean into better understanding and attending to how power is operating in our group spaces, not replicating oppression and building more inclusivity into this powerful approach to the crises of our times. As Sarah Nahar, one of the people who have been looking at these issues, has said “while we are all in this Great Turning together, we are in it differently.”
Before sharing a few questions and topics for exploration, we wanted to offer some brief framing and definitions to help us have some shared understanding and language. There are many kinds of power. In the Work That Reconnects, we most commonly distinguish between power-over and power-with. In these explorations, we are attending particularly to how power-over is exerted in social systems to privilege some and oppress others. Privilege is unearned advantage afforded to dominant identities in a social system. Oppression is prejudice plus the power to exert dominance in a systematic way. “Any oppressive system has at its core the idea that one group is somehow better than another, and in some measure has the right to control the other group.” This is known as ideological oppression and also manifests on the institutional, interpersonal and internalized levels. Depending on one’s social identities (including but not limited to gender, class, race, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion), one will experience a social location of privilege or oppression on a given social axis, and may experience privilege in some identities and oppression in other identities. Social identities and social locations intersect and can compound.
We also want to frame the larger picture in which all humans exist, that of inherent goodness and interdependence with all life. So when we make the effort to be honest about our biases, take note of our internal conflicts, confront our conditioning, and uncover our basic goodness, that enables us to see ourselves in one another and reduces our sense of separateness.
Topics and Questions for Exploration:
What is the history of how power-over has operated in your bioregion? For example, has your bioregion been colonized, and if yes – who did the colonizing and who was colonized? In addition to knowing and naming the history – how is that history manifesting today? How is society stratified and what does class oppression look like in your bioregion?
In your bioregion, what are the prominent systems of oppression operating; which groups have privilege and which are being oppressed; and how are these systems being maintained? These definitions (listed alphabetically) courtesy mostly of this glossary may be useful to discuss in your group:
Ableism: Discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities, and as inferior to the non-disabled. At the same time on this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, and/or character traits. In ableist societies, able-bodiedness is viewed as the norm; people with disabilities are viewed as deviating from that norm. A disability is seen as something to overcome or fix, for example, through medical treatments.
Ageism: Stereotyping, discriminating and oppressing individuals or groups on the basis of their age—especially those deemed especially young or old. Ageism involves two binaries: One of them benefits adults at the expense of children; the other benefits middle-aged and younger adults at the expense of elders. It entails a centering of the adult of working-age and a depreciation and oppression of elders and youth.
Classism: Differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class. Systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class.
Heterosexism: Structural, interpersonal, or other forms of discrimination or prejudice against anyone who does not conform to binary gender norms based on the assumtion that heterosexuality is the normal/corrrect sexual orientation.
Sexism: Gender or sex prejudice + power. Often involves imposing a limited or false notion of masculinity and femininity on individuals along with a belief that a person of one sex is intrinsically superior to a person of another sex.
Racism: Race prejudice + (structural) power. Often manifests as actions, practices, or beliefs that consider individuals to be divided into races, based on color of skin, that can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.
Or are there other categories that are major systems of oppression such as religion, occupation, education, citizenship?
In your bioregion, what are the identities that are privileged and what are the identities that are oppressed? How do you see this manifest in your workshop spaces?
How is social identity and social location operating in your spaces? Is it welcomed and engaged with explicitly? Are there ways that it remains unspoken or hidden?
White supremacy (defined as an historically based, institutionally and culturally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege) and other forms of Eurocentrism operate globally, but in different ways around the world. How have you seen it show up in your bioregion and in your Work That Reconnects spaces?
Patriarchy can be defined as an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression in which those assigned male, or those exhibiting characteristics that have been assigned male, hold ultimate authority and privilege central to social organization, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property. It implies and entails female subordination. It can result in gendered outcomes even without specific gendered animus articulated between individuals. How have you seen patriarchy show up in your workshop spaces? Are there differences in the ways that gender identities engage with and experience your workshop spaces?
What identities are typically represented in your workshop spaces and what identities are not in your space?
Are there ways that some identities may not feel safe in your space? Is there anything that could help increase safety? Are there ways to be more inclusive of voices and identities that have been marginalized?
What does your Work That Reconnects community need to investigate and/or learn in order to make your space safer and more inclusive for people experiencing systemic oppression?
If you have questions about these questions, you can reach the people who are posing them by emailing [email protected]