My Notes from an Anti-Oppression Training on How to Organize Community

Over the weekend, I spent four hours in the first of four sessions of a training about organizing our communities with a framework of anti-oppression and anti-racism. The training was set up and put on by the citywide Neighborhood Action Coalition (NAC)–yet another sign things are really taking shape for the grassroots group that formed after November 8. I don’t have much time to write this morning, so I’m quickly posting some of the quotes from Day 1 of the training that stuck with me or challenged me in some way.

-“We are undoing institutional racism and that is really hard.”

-“This work is messy and hard. There will be conflict and disagreement.”

-“You can be an oppressor and oppressed.”

-“Just because enslavement may look different today, it still exists in the prison system we have.”

-“Saying ‘I don’t see color’ is incredibly counter-productive to working on race equity. Saying that means you are ignoring a whole history of oppression.”

-“The people in power are always trying to maintain their power.”

-“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

At the end of the first hour, one of the organizers told us to look outside the window. While we’d been sitting there, someone had spray-painted “FUCK ISIS” on the side of the building across the street. Here are the pictures I snapped:


As we sat back down, a Muslim man who was in the training took the stage. Here is the note I took on what he said:

“That graffiti is part of a Trumpian message, they mean, ‘fuck Islam’. That’s what they really mean. It’s part of a pattern. We Muslims need white people to speak up against this. We can’t fight this alone.”

The training then moved into its next phase, here are some more notes that stuck with me:

-Definition of “oppression”: A dynamic when one group of people is seen as less than, treated as less than and receives less resources historically over time. And where another group of people is seen as better than, treated as better than, and receives more resources over time. (The point was made that oppression solidifies over time, the more it’s normalized by our daily lives).

-Red-lining still exists just in a different form. There are people opposed to adding more floors to their apartment building, yet they post a “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign in their window. They don’t realize that the creation of more affordable housing would be a step toward leveling the playing field, allowing people of all backgrounds to live in a certain neighborhood, and truly starting to recognize the message of BLM.

Throughout the first day, we sang this song as a group. I love it.:

“Forget your perfect offering. Just ring the bells that still can ring. There is a crack in everything. That’s how! The light gets in! THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN.”

The next workshop is in a couple weeks and will be two hours of learning the nuts and bolts of community organizing.

Here are a few news headlines from this morning’s Washington Post:


2 thoughts on “My Notes from an Anti-Oppression Training on How to Organize Community

  1. Hi Travis,

    Great posts so far! Going through some big changes here in the UK too so it’s good to follow you. Got a question for you on this one though, as you haven’t really given your opinion on the ISIS sign.

    I know you are quoting someone else from the meeting. But could not the sign (given I don’t know why they chose that location and that time to do it), mean simply fuck ISIS? Are you suggesting that when we write a message which attacks the wrong-doings and supporters of the Islamic State, that these messages are always meant for attacking Muslims as a whole? For me, I definitely say fuck ISIS and what they stand for, like fuck Trump and his Muslm ban. I’m surprised given the oppression and violent killings of ISIS that the Muslim man you quoted and the rest of you in the room didn’t say “yeah, fuck ISIS!”

    We just had quite an eerie event happen in the U.K. which is why I felt compelled to write. When a situation unfolds and people cannot talk about fundamentalist beliefs without feeling like they are infringing on the rights of all Muslims, we are really hurting the minorities of minorities in Muslim communities. Like you said, we help no-one if we are color-blind between and within groups.

    Your thoughts on the link and attacking ISIS would be really useful. And I’m 100% with you on the fact that some use ISIS and other negative language to taint all Muslims, and that’s probably what the Muslim man in the room has experienced recently.

    Muchos abrazos and glad to have met you in Cambodia!



    • Hi Dave,

      First, that story you shared a link to is so disturbing, and I agree that we must do better at paying attention to discrimination within minority groups. I agree with the outrage that the story didn’t get any attention in the media. It pisses me off too.

      I really appreciate your perspective and questions here. And, the question you bring up about “FUCK ISIS” messaging is something I should’ve delved into more in the post originally because, like you, I didn’t fully anticipate our reaction as a group.

      After one of the white women facilitators pointed out that that “FUCK ISIS” had just been spray painted on the building (I’m not sure why that building was chosen. I’m not sure what the building is or if it was chosen because it was within view of our group. This event had been advertised on Facebook widely for some time.), a white woman participant, perhaps in her 60s, stood and engaged in a dialogue with the Muslim activist who took the stage. She said something along these lines:

      “I have to be honest, when I see ‘FUCK ISIS’, I agree with it. And, maybe that’s wrong, maybe that’s a blind spot I have as a white woman, but I hate ISIS and I feel strongly about it. Can you help me out here with why this might not be okay?”

      That’s when the Muslim man responded, “That graffiti is part of a Trumpian message, they mean, ‘fuck Islam’. That’s what they really mean. It’s part of a pattern. We Muslims need white people to speak up against this. We can’t fight this alone.”

      As I thought about it, I too couldn’t imagine someone who’s against our current Republican administration, someone who is trying to resist, someone who believes we are in dire trouble, would ever spray paint this message. To me as an American, it fits in with the voice of Trump supporters–who are often angry white folks, often poor, hurting and willing to demonize others, especially people of color.

      This Republican administration is working so hard to align all Muslims and Islam with ISIS and evil in our world. In fact, perhaps it’s because ISIS and Islam have become so closely aligned in our country that Muslims are especially sensitive to any hate speech, even when it’s against people they hate as well.

      The Muslim activist who took the stage did point out that he hates ISIS too.

      But, I think the bottom line is that the voice of saying “FUCK ISIS” is the same voice that says a lot of other really bad things about minorities in our country. I do feel that voice is so very American, so it’s possible that when it’s said here, it has a very different impact than when it’s said in the UK.

      Thanks for connecting on here. It feels good to be in this together. Hope to keep our dialogue going throughout these weeks, months, years, however long we are in this nightmare.



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