Movements as Mosaics: A Call to Practice Intersectionality
Back in June, Black Lives Matter co-founder and Special Projects Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance, Alicia Garza sat down with NoVo Foundation Program Officer Jesenia Santana for a conversation about what is needed to end violence against girls and women. From discussing the practice of intersectionality to uplifting examples of successful community-based models, Alicia Garza provided tremendous insight into what she believes creates powerful and inclusive social movements. Through this 5-part blog series, we will be sharing with you the movement building lessons we’ve learned from our conversation.
At Move to End Violence, we often draw upon lessons and strategies from the Civil Rights Movement to inform our own movement building. However successful our Civil Rights leaders were, there is at least one movement strategy that we can do without: centering the voices of the majority and silencing the voices of those at the margins.
“My being gay was not a problem for Dr. King but a problem for the movement.”
These words come from an essay written in 1987, where Bayard Rustin describes how the Civil Rights Movement intentionally disassociated itself from activists who were vocal in their support of gay rights. Despite the fact the some of the movement’s biggest freedom fighters, namely James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin, were openly gay and supported gay rights, advisors to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that advocating for gay rights would irreparably weaken the movement as a whole. Acting out of fear, the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement chose to reject intersectionality from their vision and strategy, invisiblizing their gay brothers and sisters.
Alicia Garza sees the same push out happening in the social justice movements of today:
“I think that in the practice of movement building, often what we try and do, is we try to sameify…What’s the lowest common denominator that we can then unite people around, when in fact what that ends up doing is flattening our experiences and in some cases pushing people out of movements. Movements are meant to be complicated and messy, they are meant to have contours, to have curves, they’re meant to be like mosaics. It’s not meant to be a one size fits all, it’s meant for there to be a space where everybody involved can feel human.”
In the movement to end violence against girls and women, the invisibilization of Native women, women of color, queer women, poor women, immigrant women, and trans women continues to happen today. This is why it’s so important that we improve our ability to hold an intersectional lens in our work and vision. This is most visible in our selection of Movement Makers – who they are, which communities they work in, which issues they work on. But, as Alicia Garza notes, the most important thing about intersectionality is that it is a practice. To that end, we are continually grappling with intersectionality – how people are seen as their whole selves, how we can be more inclusive, and how we can better center the experience of those at the margins.
One of the immediate places where we can put out a call for intersectionality is in the current electoral debate. Farah Tanis, Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint and Cohort 3 Movement Maker, demands that presidential hopefuls use an intersectional lens to pay more attention to women’s concerns around gender violence, the persistent feminization of poverty, affordable housing, the growing Black women prison population, immigration protections, and more. Read her blog post as a first step to joining this call.