Teaching through Community Organizing: Being the Unacademic


That’s me in the middle there. Black dress. Being inflammatory.

As someone who writes pop culture at the intersection of feminism (see my home blog for a list of publications if curious) and also does community organizing (see: Edmonton Slut Walk that’s me). Within such a broad term as feminism the people that I attract with writing are all sorts. There’s the inevitable blow back from people who call themselves anti-feminists, there’s a contingent we call white feminism which is feminism that doesn’t seek to address other levels of systemic oppressions.

Paying attention to intersectionality is a huge mind-shift for many white feminists, while many (I would say all but there’s special ones like Camille Paglia) are familiar with patriarchy far less understand what it is to consider gendered racism. This is critical for any anti-oppression work.

In organizing an event like Slut Walk unlearning is one of the most important components. You need to unlearn the idea that the onus to avoid being assaulted lies on the victim. You need to unlearn that worldwide there’s a tendency to examine what the woman could have done, should have done, to avoid being harmed. You need to then learn why these ideas are insidious and harmful. I need to unlearn even while I am teaching. I need to sit and listen to the criticisms of women of color who say, well this movement is ok, but I don’t see myself in it. I have to learn to check self-defensiveness when a criticism of the work calls Slut Walk white supremacist.

As the lead organizer I need to help you unlearn these things, and I need to listen. It can be exhausting, as anyone who has tried to challenge an ideology will know.

Community organizing is a unique kind of teaching. It isn’t academic but you sometimes use academia. It isn’t self-improvement but you must reflect and work to undue your own prejudices. It isn’t just online or in the classroom it is everywhere, and all the time. I’ve had mentors for this work and so I understand the need to have someone around when things get uncomfortable.

The fact is a lot of the work in community organizing isn’t done at the march it is done before or after–the marches and demonstrations tend to be a part of the catharsis. They give a sense of community to people who feel marginalised.

It’s a different kind of teaching. This means that there’s just-in-time learning involved–for me as well as the participants.

For more on Coalition Politics and non traditional ways of learning and gathering there’s a beautiful essay by Bernice Johnson Reagon called “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century“.