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PJALS Academy helps participants re-imagine

Jac Archer, caucus facilitator, helped organize event.


By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

Under the title, "BOLD Academy II: Build, Organizing, Leadership Development," the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) offered weekly sessions from Sept. 22 to Oct. 26 to invite people into coordinated action in preparation for the midterm elections. 

The series continues an educational program begun in March 2022 and culminating in canvassing in the local community.

"With the movements within our community to re-imagine public safety and housing policy, and with the first-time election of newly-districted Spokane County Commissioners, now is a critical time to build united grassroots power," said PJALS executive director Liz Moore.

The fact that on Nov. 8, Spokane County will elect a county prosecutor, five county commissioners and two judges, all of whom play key roles in the local criminal-legal system, makes this election important for county residents concerned about public safety and housing policy, she explained.

The organizers educated themselves last spring in a shared analysis of race and class using Ian Haney Lopez's Race-Class Academy. Some who attended the first cycle formed a team to write the BOLD Academy curriculum for the second series.

Jac Archer and Michaela Brown co-facilitated the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Caucus of this session, and Cori Keager and Becca Matthews co-led the White Caucus.

Ian spent time with the team helping them develop a curriculum for Spokane to address how the community can build cross-racial and cross-class solidarity to overcome divisiveness in Spokane's politics.

The organizers premised the sessions on the notion that many people are silent about race and class—topics that determine who belongs in a community, who's worthy, who's a threat and who deserves to be safe. Those are key factors in developing effective public policy for public safety and housing.

The first four sessions this fall were held in race-based caucuses. In the fifth, the groups joined.

"White people and people of color have work to do separately and together to dismantle racism, because each group has different experiences of racism. It's important for white people to ask frank questions, address areas of ignorance and work explicitly and intentionally toward understanding the realities and impacts of whiteness. However, white people can do harm to people of color while learning," explained Jac.  

"For people of color, a caucus is a place to work with peers on experiences of internalized racism, on healing and on liberation," Jac added.

The organizers acknowledge that "BIPOC" represents diverse communities who are oppressed by white supremacy in unique ways. There are tensions and conflicts between BIPOC communities that they do not feel free to address with white people present, Jac said.

In the first four sessions, participants watched videos where they learned to recognize "dog whistle politics"—such as using terms like "welfare queen" or "tough on crime" to imply Black and Latinx people are dangerous, while identifying hard-working taxpayers as white.

They identified examples of effective and ineffective strategies to name and counter these "dog whistles." To better understand effective strategies, they viewed a video of Kimberlé Crenshaw on "Intersectionality" to understand why conversations using an intersection of race and class are more effective than ones that use a reference to only race or class.

After the first caucus sessions, activists from both groups are coming together on Nov. 5 to do "deep canvassing" of members of the Spokane community whom they believe care about ending racism and poverty.

"Deep canvassing means that participants go in pairs and have conversations that average 15 minutes about what they see and experience in our community with the aim of building relationships and expanding the community of people struggling together to make the Spokane community better," Jac explained.

In these conversations, participants hoped for two outcomes: a pledge to vote for racial and economic justice in Spokane County in the Nov. 8 election and a commitment to join the ongoing fight for justice.

From the organizers' perspective, however, the most important element of "deep canvassing" is to connect with neighbors.

"Subtle forms of racism and classism cannot thrive under the gaze of a community dedicated to justice," organizers said.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November 2022