I talk about Egypt a lot, but only because my time there taught me so much, not only about myself, but others.
So…while we’re on the subject of Egypt: My time abroad coincided with amazing historical moment(s), the Egyptian revolution(s). Being there gave me a unique chance to see a very different way of organizing and mobilizing the communities. A view still largely untouched by westernization and / or colonization.
Upon returning stateside I made sure to attend as many rallies and protests as possible. Not only to support, but to see the workings of events pertaining to community driven causes in the United States / Indian Country. Recently I had the opportunity to work with a couple amazing women to put together a week of events and a rally to raise awareness and gain recognition of our missing and murdered indigenous women in the US and Canada. Admittedly, I did not get as involved as I could’ve or should’ve, but for a reason – I wanted to see the inner workings of how events as such were “normally” organized in the US / Indian Country. What I’ve seen has made me think a lot, and I in no way mean to ruffle feathers, I simply wish to present a different perspective.
Let’s start by taking a look at definitions. I often find people are unaware of the difference between a rally and a protest, or unsure of the meaning of “grassroots”.
Protest: An expression of declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid.
Rally: To draw or call (persons) together for a common action of effort.
March: To walk with regular tread; advance in step in an organized body.
● An overthrow or repudiation and the through replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.
● (Sociology) A radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence.
Grassroots: A grassroots (movement / organization / etc.) is driven by a community’s politics. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement by traditional power structures. Grassroots (movements / organizations / etc.) are often at the local level, as many volunteers in the community give their time to support.
I’ll be covering four different topics; Fame, Fortune, and personal gain, Finances, Community, and Allies.
Disclaimer: The following is a model, per say, of what I have learned through my travels and experiences. They are my personal beliefs and ideas I have collected along the way which I wish to share, if only to offer a different perspective.
Fame, Fortune, & Personal Gain
The revolution will not be owned by individuals, it belongs to the people.
The movement is for the people, regardless of who originally had the idea or set actions into play. Once you decide to do something for the people, you must let go of ego altogether. It is the cause which should be highlighted (suicide, MMIW, diabetes, HIV, etc.) not the organizers. This means no trade marking *cough* Idle No More *cough*, no highlighting any one person, and always carry the movement first when dealing with media outlets.
We often forget words are sacred, the way we speak not only affects others view of the movement, but how we view ourselves. Again, drop your ego at the door. When asked “Who started this?” reply with “It came from (such and such idea), and we (I) gave it to the people, the community organized it. When media wants a picture of you, decline and ask a photo pertaining to the movement by used instead. This is not anyone’s fifteen minutes of fame, the second it is, they are using the movement and / or people for personal gain.
Money, drama…pretty much the same word, but when used correctly, money can do wonderful things. Obviously transparency is needed, complete transparency. In a movement for the people the majority of money donated and / or raised should go to the cause. Ie; If the events (educational, rally, protest, etc.) are to combat and raise awareness about domestic violence, the majority of funds donated and / or raised should be put towards shelters, awareness programs, therapy groups, etc. Even $50 can make a huge difference to the community driven and / or grassroots efforts to help support the cause(s).
Since all events involved with a movement are (should be) community driven and volunteer run, money needed to host events should be minimal. No one should be making a profit (help with travel and / or accommodation is obviously understood), the moment they are paid, they are using the cause and / or the people for personal financial gain. I’ve had the argument brought up that for many, (artists, singers, poets, speakers), they are pursuing their talent as a career, therefor their livelihood is on the line. While this is true, one should be able to connect with the community to find people / groups / organizations to volunteer their time and skills. After all, that’s what a revolution is all about, using your personal talents to better the community. Also, to be frank, if you’re able to put on / perform for a concert or speaking engagement, and you have a roof over your head, and food in your belly, you’re a lot better off than many. The people need you. The woman who ran in the middle of the night to the shelter needs you, the child who lost their parents to HIV need you, the parents who lost their first born to suicide need you, the list goes on and on. People have it worse than other people all over, and if you’re in a position to help, help. Not because you’re getting paid, but because our people mean the world to you.
Well, what about venue fees, food, supplies etc.? Let me tell you a secret, everything can be donated. When the movement is community driven and volunteer run you can do almost everything for free. There are always venues who are willing to donate space to a cause, because it’s free advertising, good publicity, and a tax write off! Need to put on a dinner? Organize food for an event? Mobilize the community to do so…potluck time! When you get the community included on multiple levels you’d be surprised what you can create and mobilize. Same with any gifts, exhibitions, etc. It also gives the community a sense of empowerment, where they would normally feel they are simply attending an event.
Listen to the local community in which events are taking place. They’ll know what venues are fit for what events, where to seek sponsorship, who to work with as well as who to keep your distance from, etc. Community, community, community, listen to them.
Allies. Such an important part to any cause, because no matter the issue, is affects each and everyone of us. There are multiple ways in which allies can help, especially in Indian Country.
Allies have access to connections we might not. Explore them. Whether it’s press hookups, food, or even sound equipment.
Allies who are understanding and well versed in issues at hand are able to, more or less,convey the message to larger scope of people, thereby spreading awareness as well.
Native media sources are important, but we must look at who our audience is. In raising awareness about an issue, our audience becomes those who are not yet aware of the issue (No shit Sherlock moment? Still feel like it must be said.) therefore they are most definitely not the ones reading Native media. If the only way the message is getting out is through Native media, written by Natives, for Natives, it becomes a problem in that we get lost in translation more often than not. We’re notoriously known for thinking, talking, and acting differently than non Natives, therefore, at times, non Natives need an alternative source to seek information. Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to have it “whitesplained” properly. Politically correct? No, but that’s not exactly the goal here at the moment.
Especially in Indian Country, we are faced with so many daily battles we often think no one is listening or understands, but that’s far from the case. At the Sing Our Rivers Red rally in Fargo, ND / Moorhead, MN, one guest speaker was from Rwanda, where coincidentally, they recognize our genocide. They recognize it because they went through the very same thing. Armenians, Palestinians, the list really goes on and on of international communities who’ve experienced genocide, who want to help and share ideas. We only need reach out to them.
Remember, everyone is at a different point in their journey, be patient and understanding. We have 523 years of colonization to undo, let’s work together.