As we move into 2016, we are trying to do a better job of telling our story. We often get so busy doing the work that we forget to tell people that work is being done. Or, more importantly, how the work is actually getting done. While we don’t do this work for credit, we understand that often times the biggest barrier to getting involved is not knowing how you can get involved and what is needed. This is why we are going to try to send more regular updates about what we are doing, planning and dreaming about and how you can get involved. To start us off, here are few updates from Aaron Goggans, one of our core members. Please also see our updates page and our take action page to get involved with some of our on-going events.
When did you join BLM: DMV?
I joined BLM:DMV at the very beginning. I had been hosting Black is Back and Beautiful Brunches at my house where Black folks who were interested in the movement talked, de-stressed from our weeks and built community. Omolara (Omo) Williams McCallister, who I had met maybe two months before, was chatting with me after one of these brunches. She said she was going to start a Facebook page so that she could start raising money for different organizers and projects. She wanted to know if I would be interested in being one of the projects that would be listed and funded.
I had been paying for all the food at my events, as well as the hosting of my website and poster boards for actions so I thought some more funds couldn’t hurt. I also knew that it was easier to ask people to raise money for another person’s project than to ask for money for myself.
Why did you join BLM: DMV?
Erika Totten, Omo and I were just meeting a lot, hanging out and working together on a bunch of stuff before I realized that our Facebook page had become a concrete group. Eventually, Erika told me that there was a national network of BLM chapters and that we should officially register. At first I was skeptical because I didn’t want any national group telling me what I could or couldn’t organize. When she said that the national group won’t tell us what to do I was like, “will they give us money?” She said no. So it seemed like a waste of time, I’m also generally skeptical of the usefulness of organizations in radical change.
I basically agreed because other people wanted to and it didn’t seem to matter; we could still be a collective. The process was helpful in getting us to start thinking about our goals, structure and strategies. Fast forward a year and we are having weekly updates and calls from around the nation. So it’s new but I’m excited to see what will emerge.
What have you been doing for BLM: DMV?
So much! It’s crazy to think of what we have accomplished in the past 18 months. I have mostly been trying to build a network here locally. If I had summarize what my role has been in the group it’s been focusing on building a network of transformative relationships between politically conscious people and organizations and trying to develop a shared analysis and intention for that network.
I have been creating spaces for relationships to form and fostering collaboration.
Omo and I have also being doing a lot of coalition building with non-black people. In the past 6 months, my sister April and I have also been doing a lot of coalition work with Black people. With the help of my friend Sam Miller I created our website last year. I’ve been learning website design ad-hoc for about a year now. You can see the changes we’ve made this month. Now we have an updates page and clarified how to take action.
I also do a lot of work with local non-profits. It’s funny because most people who know me professionally know that I am part of BLM but when they see me doing anti-oppression work in professional spaces I don’t think they link it to the movement. I believe in organizing where you are at. I’m in professional advocacy and organizing spaces so I am committed to transforming those spaces. I helped create a group of organizations that meet to talk about what anti-racism looks like in non-profits. I have done a lot of work to push organizations to be actively anti-racist and do more transformative work instead of transactional reform.
I think that DC has a really unique history in terms of organizing; at least that’s what I’ve been able to gather from talking to older folks. There are only a handful local groups even trying to do paid, local, radical broad based grassroots community organizing in POC communities. It’s mostly ONE-DC, Empower DC and now MLOVE. There is also a lot of moderate policy advocacy that is mostly done by white people. But the most powerful block of people presuming to speak for low-income Black people and POC’s are service providers which is weird and problematic.
I’ve heard from a few folks that service providers have seen their influence decline as gentrification brings in wealthier, whiter populations who don’t need do, and don’t want to, engage with the service providers but can advocate on their own. Now the council has this whole other constituency that they can go to when they want to talk to someone other than a developer. This is moving the Council even closer to right side of the political spectrum as NIMBY’s get a larger share of seats at the table.
You are starting to see these service providers do more and more organizing, partially in response to this dynamic. So while folks have always been organizing in DC, there is a new crop of funded non-profit organizing happening in service organizations that has cropped up the last 5-10 years. In talking with long term residents, it feels like this provides us with a unique opportunity.
I’m really excited to see how the movement could shape the values and culture of these non-profit organizing outfits at places like Bread for the City, Jews United for Justice and So Other’s Might Eat [SOME] by holding them accountable to transformative organizing principles. I think that even though DC doesn’t really have a culture of accountability, there are folks in these organizations that have been inspired by the movement and are very receptive to being pushed with direct, loving, compassionate communication, and agitation.
I don’t think we are going to see radical organizing happening at all of these non-profits anytime soon but I do think that we could create a culture of pro-active anti-racism at non-profits. I think we could build a culture of accountability that would make these wealthy groups viscerally responsive to communities that pay their paychecks. I really believe that would make a big difference in our communities and free us up to do more radical, broad based, transformative organizing in the next couple of years.
On my personal website, The Well Examined Life, I try to tell stories of liberation, struggle and growth through podcasts, poems, short stories and essays. The goal is to build an analysis that will allow us to envision a liberated world, populate it with beautifully free and liberated people and then tell stories that incite the network I have been building with other folks to create that world and be those people. I find it puzzling and often hilarious that people assume that all I do, or we do, is direct action. But I get it. It’s what makes headlines. But to me, all of this connected.
I see myself as one of many people planting radical seeds and building a network capable of reaping them when harvest comes.
What lessons are you currently learning?
I’m learning that doing something new like what we are trying to do here at BLM: DMV means that there will be a lot of misunderstandings. We are not an organization. We are a collective. We don’t have paid staff and we don’t work the way people expect us to. I’m realizing that this can be as frustrating to folks who want to get involved as it can be to me. We don’t need a hundred volunteers to stuff envelopes, or deliver our newsletter to the community. I think it was a mistake to ask for so much support in the beginning because we are actually not in a place to accept a lot of it. I think we’ve tried to be better at saying this but the number one question we get is how can I be involved not can you help me with X project, so clearly we have more work to do.
We don’t really have the capacity to manage hundreds of volunteers. I think that we are developing a new model of base building that focuses on building a network of emotionally supported and politically conscious Black people. In my mind, we are just one hub in a network in the movement. I don’t ever want to be a membership organization but I think the opinion varies among the collective. It’s an open conversation.
I think we work best when someone comes to us with an idea that we can support, guide them to resources or amplify. We are not good at traditional base building because it’s not something we are trying to do, even if everyone seems to think we are or should. We are also not the end all, be all of the movement here in DC. There are a lot of ways to get involved with other groups. Personally, I’d like to see more people start their own thing. Yet, I feel like even though we say this a lot, people still reach out to us to volunteer as if we have an office where we can put them to work.
If I’m honest, I’d also say that I am learning that it’s fine that some people just want to have a small discreet role in the movement. The anarchist in me doesn’t really know what to do with people who don’t want to be co-leaders. Yet I know that in some spaces I just want to help in some small way or in large way that I’m directly asked to. It feels good not to have to lead in every space. I get that; even as I struggle to incorporate that into my organizing. I’m learning a lot of lessons lately, but those two seem the most pressing.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m trying to build the spaces that I actually want to be in. The spaces I need to be a whole, healthy, liberated person. I think for a while I was too caught up in my role in “the movement” as this grand historical thing that I was partially responsible for. I was doing too many things because I thought they needed to be done. I was judging myself by what I did and not who I am. So, I’ve been doing a lot of healing work to get at why that is. It’s been really helpful. It’s amazing to think how much I’ve grown. I’m grateful to my wonderful network of Black women who support me in this work.
So, in the future, I want to focus on building resilient, life affirming, dream infused spaces which I believe are at the core of building a community of resistance. I want to build that community and foster the energy and purpose that comes out of it. I also really want to have kids and family, so I want to start building multi-generational movement spaces that my future family can be a part of. Ultimately, I want spaces to grow my nurturing side and have more spaces that nurture and affirm me in the ways that I need. I think the book “Revolutionary Mothering” illustrates how we can use that to build autonomous communities of resistance. I’m really excited to delve more into it with other people and see what lessons will can pull of it wisdom.