“A typical liberal may recognize contributor names on the cover like the Yes Men and Billionaires for Bush, but the guts of the book also nod to IWW, Earth First! and Otpor.”Cole Wardell
Last week we reported on what turned out to be the inaugural gathering of the Beautiful Trouble Training Network. We promised a follow-up post to describe the new collective vision for the Network that is unfolding, and outline a potential path forward. Well, this is that post. But before we dive into our brave new future, a bit of back-story is essential.
We’ve recognized from the beginning that our original content and crew were limited, that a guidebook for activism made by middle-class white people would not be fully relevant or applicable to front-line communities, often majority poor and of color, who are experiencing the sharpest oppression. Here’s what we wrote in the introduction to the original book:
“While we’ve sought to cast as wide a net as possible… we are painfully aware of the geographical, thematic and cultural limitations of the collection of modules as it currently stands. We’ve included in the book blank templates for each content type, and the capacity to submit or suggest modules on the website, in the hopes that readers will be inspired to identify, and fill in, some of these gaps.”
We pledged from early on to be more inclusive with the content we cover and the people on our team — what’s new now is that we’re finally getting serious and structural about it.
Our backstory in a nutshell: Three guys put out a call within their activist networks for best practices in creative resistance. Over 70 artists, activists and strategists enthusiastically responded. O/R Books agreed to publish the collection. Thousands of volunteer hours and one kickstarter campaign later, in the spring of 2012, out from a rats nest of collaborative google docs, Beautiful Trouble, the book and online toolkit, landed in the world.
By then, the loose collection of troublemakers that had assembled the toolkit had built a strong web of amazing collaborators, but we still didn’t really see ourselves as a team or organization with an ongoing mission. We assumed we’d promote the book, build a website for it, and then scatter to other projects, as one does. But the response to the book was strong. The approach we’d taken to distilling and documenting the principles of effective creative activism struck a chord with a range of social movements, and organizers from Saskatoon to São Paulo were embracing it and making their own. Excited by the potential to go farther with what we’d started, many of those who came together to write the toolbox decided to keep building on it.
Over the next three years, the core BT team grew to 11 affiliates (all part-time) and became the hub of a constellation of increasingly autonomous projects: a Training Network (that has delivered more than 40 sessions in the US and Europe over the last 2+ years); Beautiful Solutions (a nascent sister toolbox highlighting the most contagious strategies for making a just transition to a solidarity economy, launched in association with Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything); and Beautiful Rising (a BT-esque collection of creative action approaches geared to the more challenging circumstances faced by movements in the Global South, in formation and launched in partnership with the international NGO ActionAid).
While one of the three founders, Andrew Boyd, is the nominal Executive Director of this expanding constellation of projects, and we’re slowly transitioning from an informal collective to a more formal organization, this expanded Beautiful Trouble universe still operates in a pretty loose manner (see Principle: Beware the tyranny of structurelessness ;-). And although we have achieved a measure of success from these informal origins, we still are a mostly white group drawn from generally middle-class networks in North America and Western Europe. While our team has some diversity across gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and class backgrounds, we understand that new models of liberation must be constructed through open dialogue and true cross-pollination of ideas and leadership from directly affected communities.
So, onward to 2015: We’ve known for a while that to properly serve the full range of movements we work with in the US and beyond, we must also be of and reflect those movements, and build in structural ways to be accountable. But it was only at the recent inaugural gathering of BT’s Training Network that our slow progress on these fronts came to a head. We realized: not only does the Training Network need a collaboratively written set of network agreements, and a statement of values and vision, but Beautiful Trouble as a whole needs to make a structural transition — with a clear process and defined next steps — to becoming an organization that reflects the full spectrum of the movements we serve and takes leadership from a broader scope of folks engaged in the fight for racial and economic justice.
So what does the path forward look like?
Well, it begins with taking concrete steps to be more accountable to and representative of the movements we work with.
We want to be more transparent about how privilege has played a role in our story, and a good first step is to acknowledge that because of the relative privilege enjoyed by the book’s original contributors and editors, a limited breadth of activist experiences ended up being reflected in the 2012 print edition of Beautiful Trouble.
We further recognize that the basic logic of the the patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist systems systems that we operate in is extractive and harmful and we are committed to moving beyond that logic to play a meaningful role in broader efforts to build effective and powerful social movements.
Since the Network Gathering we’ve also made several more concrete commitments:
• to adopt a transparent decision-making process for the overall team and each of the projects
• to share leadership with frontline movements
• to prioritize diversity in any upcoming hires, foster a culture of retention that will allow new hires to feel supported and valued, and seek to raise more money in order to offer real, sustainable jobs for any staff openings (currently, compensation is ad hoc and sporadic, because funding is ad hoc and sporadic)
• to monitor and assess our transition to a more representative organization, and to implement structures and a process that support this integration, beginning with an Advisory Council for the Training Network made up of folks from across racial and economic justice organizing communities to help set the path forward
On the agenda:
◦ decision making structure and process
◦ new hires
◦ ongoing assessment
◦ resource sharing and availability
This won’t be a quick process, nor should it be. This kind of transition can do more harm than good if done wrongly. It’s going to be a significant shift in organizational culture, and we want to do it phase by phase and do it well, and bring some radical imagination to the task. While we see this as an organization-wide process, we are starting with Beautiful Trouble’s Training Network because that’s where — coming out of the Network Gathering — we have momentum, and that’s the piece of the organization that has the most direct connection to the wider movement.
We are committed to this work for the long-term. We understand that it is an ongoing effort to embody our deepest values in everything we do, recognizing that the relevancy of this work for frontline communities rests on leadership and participation from those communities. We are determined to continue getting excellent work done with minimal bureaucracy, while baking in accountability to these movements at every stage.
As it is said, “It takes everyone to change everything.” We welcome all members from the farthest flung circles of the BT family to join in this effort. If you have ideas or want to be part of this process, please reach out to us at [nadine(at)beautifultrouble(dot)org].
Finally, we want to offer up a huge thanks to Jess Solomon, Rae Breaux and other Gathering participants for contributing to and supporting this work and helping Beautiful Trouble to reinvent itself… again!
—Nadine Bloch & Andrew Boyd for Beautiful Trouble and the BT Training Team