AAPIP Voices

There is Nothing More Difficult


By Barbara Phillips

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.

And so, courageous social justice warriors convened as the Organizational Fellowship Program September 16 – 17, 2011 in the Bay Area to reflect upon their collective journey to initiate a new order of things within themselves, their organizations, their communities, the broader social justice movement – across the U.S. and beyond.  The weekend was about sharing the stories of that journey and, more importantly, learning from those experiences – lifting up struggles with terminology, theory and practice and appreciating that context matters.  As one participant said so eloquently, the weekend marked not the end and not the beginning, but “The end of the beginning.”

It was so appropriate that the convening of September 16th was at the site in Oakland where the first convening took place almost three years ago.  My hope for those who were returning is that they were flooded with raw, unfiltered memories of that first experience – not just their thoughts, but their feelings about jumping into the unknown. One participant spoke with particular openness and honesty about the panic that swept through him as he pondered, “What do we do now???” – after being a part of the OFP.

My hope is that these social justice warriors embrace the reality of the unending repetitiveness of that query, “What do we do now?”

The answer will come to them as they continue their collective struggle.  And if they are lucky, the answer will never be definitive.  They will never know for sure that a particular course of action is “right.”  They do not need the false certainty of being “right”; all they need to move forward is the intention to struggle honestly and with compassion and to continue reflecting, thinking critically, learning as they go, and sharing all of that with the community.

There will be many times when the way is not certain. That is the nature of initiating a new order of things. The civil rights movement embraced the reality of those recurring moments with a song, “Do What the Spirit Say Do.”  The community sang that song over-and-over until there was a collective decision.  These courageous social justice warriors will create their own unique response to these moments because they are initiating a new order of things.  And for that we should all stand in grateful solidarity.

Barbara Phillips is the former Ford Foundation Program Officer for Women’s Rights and Gender Equity