Chris Crass's Blog

Catalyzing Liberation Toolkit: Anti-Racist Organizing to Build the 99% Movement

by Catalyst Project and Chris Crass
Organizing Upgrade
February 7, 2012

Amie Fishman of Catalyst Project and Chris Crass recently developed a toolkit on anti-racist organizing in the Occupy moment. We are excited to share the introduction to the toolkit with our readers. You can access the whole toolkit here.

Why anti-racist organizing?

Catalyst Project believes that anti-racist practice and organizing can help us to build the vibrant massive movements for global justice we need to create a world where all people are free from oppression. We are fighting for a world where everyone has housing, income, food, education, health care and is able to live in a way that is sustainable and in harmony with the earth. We call this collective liberation, and it is at the core of our work.

In the United States, we have seen that racism is deeply ingrained in the structures of every institution and in white people and white communities, including those of us who are a part of the struggle for justice. Institutional and internalized white privilege and racism have hindered our ability to build the strong movements we need by keeping communities divided and pitted against one another. Anti-racist vision, leadership, and practice can help to ensure that visions for liberation are not compromised by divide and control tactics and keep us focused on long-term social and institutional transformation instead of short-term gains that oftentimes come at the expense of communities of color.

What better time to engage in anti-racist work than now?

We are living in extraordinary times, with a rising popular movement for economic justice in the United States full of potential to make profound social change. Under the banner of Occupy and the 99%, millions of people have marched, camped, taken direct action, been arrested, participated in and led General Assemblies, sent food and supplies to encampments, brought issues of inequity to their community gatherings and kitchen tables, led political education sessions, joined committees at encampments, defended foreclosed homes, closed down banks and bank accounts, made connections between encampments and local racial and economic justice organizations, mic checked politicians and CEOs, shared stories of hardship and resistance, made art and media, and stepped into their power.

The 99% movement has grown quickly, and as with all popular movements, it manifests the deep and painful dynamics of privilege, oppression, and power that permeate the world we live in. As always, the lack of anti-racist politics and practice among most of the white activists in a majority white movement has damaging consequences. Rather than distance ourselves from these issues, the problems of racism and white privilege in a movement moment like Occupy require anti-racists to bring our leadership, dive into the messiness and possibility, and build together.

We know that the majority of people reading this have been actively working to challenge racism and white privilege in the 99% movement. We have assembled this resource to support your efforts. For those who haven’t, please consider that Occupy is an incredibly significant opportunity to build movement and win victories for positive social change. We hope this packet will inspire deeper participation. It is designed specifically for white activists to work with white people in Occupy and in the 99% because we believe that white people have a responsibility to address the racism within ourselves, as well as within our families, organizations and communities. However, many of the essays and materials in this tool kit are useful for work with a wide range of people and communities.

In addition to these resources, we also send our love and encouragement. What this movement is doing is profound and historic, and could have long-term impacts on the future of our society and the planet.  You are vital to what happens next.


1. We want to build up powerful, working class, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.  The movement of the 99% is a powerful convergence of movements for economic, social, racial, gender, and environmental justice. It not only resonates with millions of people, but it actively invites millions of people to participate in creating both the movement and the vision of global justice that we are working towards. This resource guide is a tool to help build up the movement of the 99%, deepen its anti-racist analysis, and support respectful and transformative multiracial alliances and collaborative organizing efforts.

2. The movement of the 99% opens tremendous opportunity to work with a wide range of people and communities. We want to give anti-racists around the country tools for organizing in white communities, including those already involved in Occupy and those who have no relationship to it yet. We want anti-racist organizers and leaders to support other white people in finding ways to express their outrage about the profound inequalities of capitalism while challenging white supremacy. We want white people to have meaningful ways of working together with communities of color for justice. We want to support anti-racists to step into this political moment, and move hundreds of thousands of white people to understand that racism hurts everyone and is part of what keeps the inequalities of capitalism intact. We want to support white people to take action for economic and racial justice, in ways that help them understand the necessity of ending white supremacy as part of their own liberation from systems of oppression.

3. We want to challenge the ways that racism divides movements for justice, and give white people tools to work against these divisions. We want to support white people standing with communities of color in ways that feed and nurture a culture of solidarity, dignity, and love. While we work against the impacts of systems of oppression in our communities, families, and lives, it is essential that we also build up liberatory culture, relationships, alliances, and practices.

Share this resource packet with people in Occupy efforts locally and nationally. When you share it, through email, Facebook, or by handing a paper copy to a friend, use it as an opportunity to express your own thoughts on why this is so important and a way of recruiting people to help move this work forward. Us this toolkit as an opportunity to share your thoughts and ask people questions about what they think about these issues. This offers a way to begin conversations, as well as move existing conversations into action steps.

There are a lot of really good articles on analysis, strategy, and action steps. Take time to study these articles for your own growth as an organizer. Read them with other people and form both a study and action group.

If you are already part of a group of people taking thoughtful action together, you can use the packet to strengthen your efforts. Use the ideas in the packet as a jumping off point either to discuss topics new for your group, or to evaluate the goals you have for the work you’re doing, the strategy you are using, and how you would like to move forward.

Go big: reach out into broader circles of people, and offer them ways to learn and connect. The Occupy movement has created incredible opportunities to connect with a much wider group of people than many of us are used to. Think about groups, institutions, and networks in majority white communities and beyond that might be open to hearing someone talk about the issues Occupy highlights. Millions of people all over the country are talking about economic injustice and Occupy. Start by thinking about your own (or the people in your groups) connections to different parts of your community. You’ll likely be able to come up with a lot of exciting possibilities. Some ideas include:

– Giving talks or workshops on economic inequity through an anti-racist lens at community centers, places of worship, classrooms, or people’s living rooms. (On this, read the interview with the Rural Organizing Project in this toolkit and check out their packet on Occupy organizing in small towns linked on our website.)

– Arranging with teachers or students you know who could bring you and/or another speaker into their classroom or student group event.

- Connecting with people who are members of a spiritual/religious community who might want to host you.

- Gathering a group of friends for a living room discussion.

Remember to always include “What can I do next?” steps to help people get involved. Often for those of us who have been to lots of demonstrations or activist events, we assume that it’s easy to figure out what to do, where to go, and what to do once you get there. Helping people who have never been involved in the movement imagine how they could be involved—and supporting them to get there—is key for successful organizing. Not everyone will or is able to join encampments, marches, or demonstrations, and those are not the only meaningful ways to engage. Think outside the box about the endless ways that people can plug into this movement, and help make it happen.

Experiment with ways to help more and more people join the movement by participating in demonstrations and events. We all learn a tremendous amount through direct experience. When Occupy is having a demonstration about the foreclosure crisis, corporate greed, immigrant rights, attacks on unions, or economic inequality in general, think about ways you can help bring in new people, particularly groups of people (like those who came to a living room discussion, were at the teach-in, and so on) who can come out together. Help people feel welcomed and wanted at the demonstration or event. Talk to people about what they think, what is exciting/confusing/feels good/feels hard about this event. Ask them how they relate to this personally. Help people understand the context of what’s going on; this gives you an opportunity to frame the demonstration or event in a way that supports anti-racist and liberatory goals. If possible, create space for people to get together at the end to share reflections on the experience, discuss next steps, and build their connection to the overall movement.

Find ways to make anti-racism, feminism, queer liberation, and collective liberation politics the norm in Occupy.  Reflect on the following questions to help deepen these politics in the movement:

– What steps could be taken to make these politics the norm, while still being a movement that everyday people can be part of?

– What would that look like?

– Why is that important?

- How will anti-racism support the 99% to achieve our goals?

– What are steps you can take to move Occupy in that direction?

Use the power of stories to radicalize and unite people. Remember  One of the ways it became clear this was a powerful “movement moment” was when tens of thousands of people began publicly sharing their stories of economic inequalities, and locating themselves in the 99%. Creating space for story-sharing across race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and age is a powerful way to deepen analysis of systemic problems, and to build relationships. Helping people move from sharing stories with one another to taking action together is a key goal for us as organizers.

Take space to breathe, connect to your vision, clarify your goals, and ground yourself in whatever helps you feel a sense of your own power and your ability to share/create power with others before and while doing this work. Those of us who are white need to keep trying, practicing, reflecting, and learning how to move through the world in new ways that are shaped by our values instead of our internalized racism. Mistakes, challenges, awkward stumbling moments, are all part of the process. Be loving and kind toward yourself as a practice to help you engage others with love and kindness. Remember, we are not trying to be “perfect” anti-racist organizer—there is no such thing. We are building a beautiful and powerful movement full of complex, flawed, remarkable, everyday people.
Amie Fishman has been a member of Catalyst Project since 2001. Catalyst Project is a center for political education and movement building based in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are committed to anti-racist work in majority white sections of left social movements with the goal of deepening anti-racist commitment in white communities and building multiracial left movements for liberation. We are committed to creating spaces for activists and organizers to collectively develop relevant theory, vision and strategy to build our movements. Catalyst programs prioritize leadership development, supporting grassroots social justice organizations and multiracial alliance building.

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