In the latest issue of Sojourners, Onleilove Alston lays out a brief how-to guide to mindful and inclusive organizing against poverty and racism. Her model is a group called The Poverty Initiative, formed at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
“I have experienced well-meaning Christians from more privileged backgrounds who feel called to serve poor people,” she writes, “but instead end up negating their autonomy and enacting charity, as opposed to justice.”
She writes her “seven ways” in frank Christian language, but her wisdom could easily be adapted to secular groups. Here is an excerpt from her list:
Make a habit of supporting indigenous leaders: If you are called to relocate to serve a different community, first seek out existing local leaders in that community. No one can be “given” a voice; instead, those of privilege must step aside so that everyone’s voice is heard.
Socially locate yourself: In my work with the Poverty Initiative, we talk about our experiences with poverty or privilege and what has brought us to this work. Within the Poverty Initiative’s work, this practice has given a voice to white poverty, an issue ignored by many anti-poverty movements.
Find strong, detail-oriented critics who will judge your actions, not just your intentions; listen to criticism without panic or anger: We need to have people around us who can gently critique our actions to ensure that we are not operating in racism, classism, sexism, or some other “ism” that will hinder the movement.