We are between two crashing waves: one is our nation’s crisis of connection, and the other is the urgent, continued onslaught of environmental and social problems. Their collision creates a formidable impasse. Only by 'going slow to go together' can we produce equitable, transformational progress.
Social sector and environmental practitioners like myself have stepped in a predominantly white, monoculture field that champions the urgency of action more than building relationships, respect, and reciprocity. In our rushed attempt to mitigate challenges and create change, we may steamroll inauthentic "solutions" that do not address more deeply ingrained disproportionate power, separation, injustice, and othering.
Our crisis of connection is seen most starkly in how decision-making processes continue to be inequitable towards Black, Indigenous, and Brown womxn, youth, and their communities. "Inclusion" in environmental and public policy decision-making -- offering a seat at the table -- will not work if it means inclusion in processes that are inherently violent. It can be daunting to atone for this kind of violence and recognize how often it is reproduced in well-intentioned stakeholder engagement after stakeholder engagement.
Decision-making processes are violent when they do not create time for shared meaning making, do not invest in adequate capacity building, and do not create formal mechanisms for ongoing accountability and evaluation with communities. They are violent when they undervalue lived expertise and experience and place excessive faith on academic and professional knowledge.
To foster connection, we must go slow to go together. Connection looks like fostering an empowering experience both in the process of decision-making and in the outcomes.
“We must move at the speed of trust,” Dr. David Kirkland advised during an equity workshop I facilitated last summer. Decision-making processes that center underrepresented expertise, actively slow down and intentionally break from patterns of systemic violence can adopt a more anti-oppressive lens that allows for shared meaning and more authentic solutions.
Three steps offer a starting place for how the environmental and public policy fields can build relationships, respect, and reciprocity and address our nation's crisis of connection:
Center and actively listen to underrepresented and overlooked experts -- and recognize this expertise
Create norms around relational equity between gathered actors
Name power and privilege dynamics in a room and talk about the implications for the decision-making process
To pass the two crashing waves of our crisis of connection and the urgent onslaught of challenges, decision makers must learn to pause, be vigilant, and reflect on our commitment to equity. Only then can we dream of reaching the shore.
The following resources have been important to me in my own growth and practice:
Liberatory Design - The National Equity Project
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements - Charlene A. Carruthers
Equitable Evaluation Framing Paper - The Equitable Evaluation Initiative
Black emancipatory action research - Antwi Akom
More Like Jazz Than Classical: Reciprocal Interactions - L. Janelle Dance, Rochelle Gutiérrez, Mary Hermes
Six Circle Model and the added Seventh Circle on Systemic Oppression - Wheatley, Dalmau, and others
The Service Innovation Handbook - Lucy Kimbell