My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem: A Mid-Year Check-In

My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem: A Mid-Year Check-In

Published on Medium.

At the beginning of 2019, I shared a reflection about how to move off the seesaw of outrage and numbness that many of us find ourselves on these days. To my surprise, so many of you resonated with the image and guiding questions in that reflection, and used it in your own work and at your organizations. I’ve edited the image and guiding questions in light of conversations I have had and the helpful feedback I have received. I hope that this framework continues to be useful in your mid-year individual and organizational check-ins.

In our lives and as part of movements and organizations, many of us play different roles in pursuit of equity, liberation, inclusion, and justice.

Some of us are frontline responders who quickly and ably transition into rapid-response mode instinctively and organize resources, networks, and messages.

Some of us are healers who tend to the individual and intergenerational traumas of white supremacy, racism, colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and nativism.

Some of us are community storytellers and artists, binding the past and the present, channeling the histories and experiences of our ancestors to shed light on what is possible today.

Some of us are natural bridge builders who can work across divisions with patience and compassion.

Some of us are proud disruptors who speak up and take action — especially when it is uncomfortable and risky.

Some of us are caregivers who provide nourishment to organizers, exude concern and love, and create a community of care.

Some of us are visionaries, with the ability to find, articulate, and reconnect us to our north star, even when we cannot clearly see the sky.

And others of us are builders who are actively developing the ideas, the structures, and the scaffolding for our organizations and movements.

Not all of us can (or should) play each of these roles. We might also find ourselves falling into different roles depending on personal and external circumstances. Or, we might be observers and supporters from the side from time to time. An effective, healthy, and sustainable social change ecosystem requires different actors to play these roles, and often, at different times.

Here are some guiding questions to use along with the image above.

  • What role(s) do I feel comfortable and natural playing, and why? What role(s) make me come alive, and why? Are there any differences between these two responses for me to explore?
  • What role(s) am I often asked to step into by others? How do I feel about assuming those roles?
  • What is the impact of these roles on me physically, energetically, emotionally, and spiritually? Is there an impact on others as a result?
  • How can I stretch myself? Where can I take bolder risks, especially if I hold different forms of privilege? What do I need to learn more about before I do that, and who can teach me how to do that?
  • Am I visioning and dreaming in my role? Or am I caught in a cycle of repetition and redundancy, or compromise and sacrifice? How can I generate creativity and innovation?
  • How do I move through different roles without feeling like I have to pick just one in order to be effective? At the same time, how can I make sure that I’m not a wanderer or a short-term amateur? Or positioning myself as an expert within a silo?
  • If I work in or adjacent to the non-profit and movement ecosystem, how am I holding onto purpose especially given the pulls and contradictions of purity (proving “wokeness”), productivity (maintaining constant performance and output at the cost of overwork, replication, martyrdom, and low impact), personality (the over-emphasis on celebrity activism and social media relevancy), and perfectionism (expecting to get it right all the time and being afraid to own up to mistakes)?
  • When (and not if) I make mistakes, how do I acknowledge them and course correct without feeling like I’ve failed?
  • Who is my support system — the people who hold me accountable in a compassionate way? Write their names into the various roles if they play them, or on the sides. How can I widen this community? What have I asked of them in terms of support?

Organizations could answer the same questions with an eye towards understanding and assessing how they function as part of a campaign, coalition, network, or ecosystem, and how they can course correct or deepen their impact.

People and groups, from non-profits to teachers to students to “professional” activists, have used the image and guiding questions at staff meetings and retreats as well as to aid with your own personal reflections and check-ins. I hope you’ll do so as well! And, if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it. Please drop me a line at deepa@deepaiyer.com.

What Will It Take?

What Will It Take?

Published on Medium.

UPDATE: Dhriti Narayan, a 13 year old student, was walking home from the library when a man plowed his car into a group of pedestrians in a hate crime. Friends of Dhriti Narayan’s family have started an online fundraiser to help cover her medical and rehab expenses. Please give and share.

UPDATE: Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice held a unity and solidarity vigil (May 2)

Does even a week go by without an incident of hate violence in this country? These days, we are barely finding out the names of the victims of one hate massacre when we hear of another attack. We are simultaneously processing outrage and sorrow, while fighting desensitization and numbness.

This weekend, as I heard about the news of the Poway synagogue shooting, I was also learning more about the April 24th car crash that happened in Sunnyvale, California. Eight people were injured when Isaiah Peoples deliberately crashed his car into a group of pedestrians at the busy intersection of El Camino Real and Sunnyvale Avenue.

One of those injured is Dhriti Narayan, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Sunnyvale Middle School. Dhriti, her brother, and her father were all injured in the crash. Dhriti has fared the worst. She has life-threatening injuries including brain trauma and a fractured pelvis.

Police are treating the crash as a hate crime. At a recent press conference, Phan Ngo, chief of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, revealed that the driver “intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith.”

Every act of hate is horrific for both the individuals targeted and for the communities to which they belong. As someone who has worked with hate crime survivors and on anti-hate violence initiatives for over two decades, I have developed over time a protective armor to keep myself focused in times of community crises. There is a familiar cycle that many of us have unfortunately become accustomed to: help survivors and families with legal and mental health needs; speak out in the media; press for hate crime investigations; hold vigils; ask for support from other communities. Repeat.

Yet what happened to Dhriti pierced through my defensive shield, and I find myself heartbroken. I have a child close to Dhriti’s age. She is part of an Indian immigrant family like mine. She was just taking a walk — returning from the library — with her loved ones.

It is also profoundly sad to realize that Dhriti and her family join a group of Indian Americans and South Asians who have long been targeted by hate violence on the basis of their faith, national origin, and race. Early immigrant workers faced anti-Asian exclusion leagues that drove them out of places like Bellingham, Washington. In the 1980s and 1990s, Rishi Maharaj, Navroze Mody, and Sandip Patel were targeted on streets and at workplaces. Vasudev Patel, Waqar Hasan, Rais Bhuiyan, Balbir Singh Sodhi, and Sunando Sen are among the many South Asians who have faced post 9/11 backlash. Paramjit Kaur, Suveg Singh Khattra, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh, and Prakash Singh lost their lives in 2012 when a white nationalist attacked a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. Srinivas Kuchibotla, an Indian-American engineer, was murdered at a restaurant in Kansas City by a man spewing anti-immigrant slurs within the first 100 days after Trump took office.

This climate of hate is exacerbated by hostile government policies targeting immigrants, including South Asians. These policies intend to denaturalize us, strip us of our right to work, and place us in detention jails for seeking asylum. It is clear that no marker of success will immunize us from bigotry; we can fight hate only through a commitment to anti-racism and solidarity practices.

Words of Support for the Victims and Survivors of the Massacre at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, where a white nationalist killed 6 people and wounded several in August 2012.

Today, hate violence is occurring at a pace and with a frequency that is deeply jarring and unsettling. Already in 2019, just in the United States, we have witnessed hate violence, arson, and vandalism at a synagogue in San Diego, at Black churches in Louisiana, at a Hindu temple in Louisville, Kentucky, a mosque in Escondido (supposedly attacked by the same person accused in the Poway synagogue massacre), and at a hub for social justice learning, the Highlander Center.

That’s not all. In February, Mustafa Ayoubi was killed in Indianapolis after a driver followed him and yelled anti-Muslim slurs. In early April, a Hindu priest, Devendra Shukla, was punched in the face by a man who called him a “dirty Indian” while Shukla’s six-year-old daughter crouched in the backseat of their car. A few days after the car attack in Sunnyvale, four Sikh Americans were found murdered in their apartment in West Chester, Ohio; police are continuing to investigate. For months now, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been targeted with Islamophobic rhetoric and death threats.

While the list of indignities and injustices keeps getting longer and longer, little meaningful response has come from our civic and political leaders. The President is intent on building a wall to keep Brown and Black people out while diminishing the threat of white nationalism. Elected officials stymie opportunities to create meaningful change, as evidenced by the House Judiciary Committee’s recent ineffective and traumatizing hearing on white nationalism and the reactive “anti-hate” resolution passed by the House. And Democratic presidential candidates don’t have robust plans to address white nationalism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism either.

Every act of hate violence should prompt every single one of us to ask: are we doing all that is possible? Yes, we organize anti-hate initiatives and document acts of hate in reports. We track hate groups, hold vigils for victims, and comfort family members. We advocate for hate crimes laws and community-centered restorative justice. We create hate-free zones, teach others about the diversity and humanity of our communities, and foster bridge-building opportunities. We write books and issue press releases to center the needs of survivors. We protest bans, walls, and raids. We stand by each other’s communities, and refuse to be pitted against one another. We connect the dots to show how racist policies and institutions enable interpersonal bigotry and hate, and how white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia threaten everyone’s safety and rights.

Cartoonist: Paul Kinsella

There are times when all of these efforts doesn’t seem quite enough. News of another place of worship or another family being attacked because of race, national origin, and faith prompts the same questions: Why hasn’t all of this been enough? What more needs to be done? What will it take to stop this?

For one thing, we can’t rely on a haphazard hodge podge of thoughts and prayers, weak legislation, hate crimes investigations and charges, the securitization of places of worship, and diversity trainings to fix the root causes that lead to hate violence. And we can’t expect that just a few segments of society — usually those most vulnerable — will deal with confronting hate violence, while others take the privilege of providing condemnation without action. Like gun violence and environmental disasters, hate violence is a public epidemic that requires large-scale and long-term interventions. There is so much more that we must do.

How can we protect our communities in this particular political context? What roles should government, the tech industry, the justice system, and elected leaders play? How can we create effective rapid response mechanisms and support systems for survivors in every state? How can we disrupt the industries that fan, fund, and fuel hate? How can we teach inclusive histories and cultivate true empathy from the earliest ages? How can we attend to the intergenerational trauma of enduring or bearing witness to hate violence? How can we shine a light on the root causes of hate violence? What role does each of us play in confronting hate?

These questions, and many others, are thick in the air around us, demanding to be heard and addressed, even as we move through the grief, sorrow, outrage, and numbness that we feel when someone is harmed in an act of hate.

Together, let’s send waves of energy, support, healing, and comfort to Dhriti and her family, and to all those who experience hate violence. And, let’s pledge to keep fighting for her — and for all our kindred — with everything we have. There is no other choice.

The Senate Must Not Give Neomi Rao a Diversity Pass Given Her Appalling Track Record on Race

The Senate Must Not Give Neomi Rao a Diversity Pass Given Her Appalling Track Record on Race

Published in Morning Consult.

In early February, I joined several South Asian American women as we stood in silent protest during Neomi Jehangir Rao’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We represented the 70-plus South Asian women lawyers, law professors and survivor advocates who asked senators to reject Rao’s appointment to fill Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Some people found it surprising that we would oppose Rao, especially since she could be the first South Asian American woman to become a federal appellate judge. The Trump administration understands those optics. President Trump even chose to announce Rao’s nomination at last year’s White House Diwali function, flanked by Indian American appointees and the traditional diya lamp. But the values and principles of public servants, and their commitment to fundamental principles of equality and justice, should matter more than fake diversity and superficial representation. Rao might check off a diversity box on the surface, but her writings in college, her academic scholarship and her policy decisions as the current chief of the federal government’s regulatory office show that she will not be an open-minded, fair and impartial arbiter of justice.

To read the full article, please visit: https://morningconsult.com/opinions/the-senate-must-not-give-neomi-rao-a-diversity-pass-given-her-appalling-track-record-on-race/

Intersections of faith and solidarity practice

Intersections of faith and solidarity practice

Dear WTSA Family,

Faith matters. That’s the subject matter of my June podcast on solidarity practice. Listen to Reverend Tuhina Rasche share her thoughts on the weaponization of the Bible to separate families, and to Bayadir Mohamed’s spoken word poetry that sheds light on the Muslim ban and anti-Black racism.

You can listen to the podcast and subscribe here.

Thank you, Tuhina and Bayadir, for being on the podcast.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Holds Lessons for Organizing in Communities of Color

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Holds Lessons for Organizing in Communities of Color

Dear WTSA Family,

Here is your 4 minute read of the day! I write about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in New York City’s primary and as we head towards the midterms, we must think about lessons for organizing and communicating with race at the center.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Holds Lessons for Organizing in Communities of Color

Like many people around the country, I have been elated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory over ten-term Democratic incumbent, Joseph Crowley. Clearly, her win is a wake-up call to the Democratic Party and aspiring politicians about the power of Black and Brown candidates and voters. But, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign is also a reminder to communities of color that we should be explicit in centering our own racial identities and articulating the ways in which systemic and generational racism affects us — whether we are running for elected office or calling for policy change in our neighborhoods.

To read more, click here.

Disability Solidarity

Disability Solidarity

Dear WTSA Community,

Please check out the May episode of my podcast, Solidarity Is This. I speak with the inspiring Alice Wong who shares with us best practices around acknowledging and dismantling ableism, and issues affecting persons with disabilities. You can listen and subscribe here: https://itunes.apple.com/…/podcast/solidarity…/id1251648447…

You can also find a transcript of the podcast and a Solidarity Syllabus at www.solidarityis.org.

Thank you for listening and sharing!

Solidarity: A New Vision of Safety

Solidarity: A New Vision of Safety

Dear WTSA Family,

Please listen to the March 2018 episode of Solidarity Is This, which features a conversation with Dante Barry, executive director of the​ ​Million Hoodies Movement for Justice​, about gun violence and mass criminalization. He poses an important question: How do we open up a new vision about what safety could look like?

Be sure to check out the accompanying syllabus for the newest episode.

For more, please visit: https://www.solidarityis.org/podcasts


Courts were unfair to Ahmed

Courts were unfair to Ahmed

Published in CNN Opinion.



Dear WTSA Family,

I thought you might be an interested in an essay I wrote at CNN Opinion about Ahmed Mohamed, the Muslim boy who brought a home-made clock to school and was arrested. Last week, a federal court in Texas dismissed his case with prejudice. I write about how the legal system failed him and how we need to take concrete steps to address racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

“In short, immigrant students and students of color are experiencing bias and bigotry in their classrooms, playgrounds and neighborhoods. School administrators and educators must be cognizant of the racial realities that young people encounter daily. And the legal system must take seriously the complaints of young people of color who face police brutality, stop and frisk, deportations and the school-to-prison pipeline. Otherwise, young people will confront challenges ranging from achievement and wage gaps to isolation to a sense that they just don’t belong in America.”

For more, please see: https://www.cnn.com/…/ahmed-mohamed-discriminati…/index.html

We Too Sing America on Campus

We Too Sing America on Campus

Dear WTSA Family,

I had a wonderful visit to the University of Pittsburgh this week where I had the opportunity to meet with students, high school teachers, and administrators. Many thanks to the Alliance of South Asians in Pittsburgh and the programs within Pitt that invited me to campus.

We talked about how the themes in #WeTooSingAmerica foreshadowed today’s political environment, and how we can disrupt and build bridges in our communities to meet the “urgency of now”, in the words of MLK Jr.

For more, please see: https://pittnews.com/…/activist-students-discuss-us-race-r…/

I continue to speak to teachers and students – and would love to be invited to your campus or school. Please reach out at deepa@deepaiyer.com.

An Indian immigrant’s fight for US citizenship in 1923 holds lessons in Trump’s America

An Indian immigrant’s fight for US citizenship in 1923 holds lessons in Trump’s America

Published in Scroll India.



Dear WTSA Family,

I wanted to share an essay I wrote for Scroll about how 95 year old narratives about immigrants continue to threaten us today. The essay starts with the Supreme Court’s decision (delivered 95 years ago this month) that Bhagat Singh Thind (who argued he was a free white person) and other Indian immigrants were racially ineligible for citizenship.

“A nuanced historic understanding of the desperate political circumstances that Thind and other Asian immigrants faced in the 1920s may provide some balance to the legitimate critiques we can make today about his reliance on caste and color arguments, his choice to identify as white rather than black or African, and his decision not to question the racial premise behind naturalization laws. Thind made these choices at a time when there was no immigrant rights movement, no thoughtful analyses around racial dynamics, and no positive representations of immigrants in popular culture or media. However, today, we are in a different place. Yes, inhumane immigration laws and xenophobic narratives persist in this country. And yes, Indian immigrants of all immigration statuses face devastating barriers to work, live, and be united with family members because of the broken immigration system. Despite these conditions, we must come together to unify our stories and experiences and to build solidarity with immigrants of all backgrounds and statuses.”

I was inspired to write it by my dear friend, Bupen Ram, who is and will always be a bright, bright light. The essay includes shout-outs to Thenmozhi SoundararajanBangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative – BAWDIRavi Ragbir, and others who are ensuring that we don’t pit ourselves against each other in today’s immigration struggle.

To read the full article, please visit: https://scroll.in/article/869304/bhagat-singh-thinds-fight-for-citizenship-in-1923-holds-lessons-for-immigrants-in-trumps-america

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