Building an Intersectional Movement: A Conversation with Aditi Juneja

The Resistance Manual is a crowdsourced platform that harnesses the collective power of the people to resist policies that undermine justice and equity. Launched several days before the inauguration, the volunteer-run site features actionable tools for resistance for both seasoned organizers and people who are new to activism and the political process. It is the only comprehensive policy resource written at a basic reading level for maximum user friendliness and collaboration. To date, it has been viewed by a few hundred thousand unique users and edited thousands of times. The users range from parents working multiple jobs seeking to educate their kids to local organizers to nonprofits who reference it for basic information on policy areas outside their expertise.

The Resistance Manual is like a Wikipedia for activism—anyone can contribute. To ensure a high quality of information, a team of over 300 volunteers review additions for accuracy and relevance before they are posted. The Manual includes 15 issue pages—on healthcare, disability rights, education, workers’ rights, policing, and more—that include legislative tracking, explanation of the new administration’s proposed policies, the impact of those policies, and vulnerabilities in their implementation. There are also 50 state pages that provide state-by-state data on the same 15 issues to help understand impacts of policies at the state level. There is also a resources page with links to organizations, event calendars, and reading lists so people can explore topics of interest in more depth.

Aditi Juneja co-founded the Resistance Manual with Stay Woke, a project led by Sam Sinyangwe, Deray McKesson, and Brittany Packnett. They shared the idea with technologists who helped make the manual broadly accessible online. Stay Woke also recruited the volunteers editors, who work under the guidance of Aditi.

As a strategist, software architect, and activist, I have been fascinated by wikis for years. I even worked with wiki inventor Ward Cunningham years ago when we were both at Microsoft.

Importantly, the Resistance Manual was built with intersectionality in mind. This post is the first of three conversations between myself and Aditi on building an intersectional movement. Aditi will also be speaking on the topic “Your Vulnerability Is Your Strength” at Personal Democracy Forum in June.

Jon: Resistance Manual is really impressive! I love the way the “Tools of Resistance” starts with “Intervening to stop everyday injustices.” Was this a conscious choice?

Aditi: Yes. We thought a lot about how to organize this page, and went through different iterations. We wanted to avoid creating a false dichotomy between who’s an activist and who’s not, who can organize and who can’t. The Tools of Resistance page is organized as a ladder of engagement: It requires more time as you go down the page. However, we do not believe that there is a hierarchy of activism, people have different ability and time. Any action people are able to take is valuable.

J: How much time each week do people typically spend?

A: Anyone can contribute content to the wiki. Volunteers then review and approve the changes, to ensure that we-present high-quality information.

There’s a real range of time for volunteers, anywhere from a couple hours a week up to a few hours a day. It’s designed to be as accessible as possible: You can do it whenever you want on your own time. Team leads in each area sometimes create task lists so there are bite-size tasks people can volunteer to complete.

J: How do you lead a group that big and help them work together effectively?

A: It has changed over time. When we started, I got advice from people that worked on newer tech products for electoral campaigns that have a lot of volunteers. They said “there’s no guidebook, have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, and what the purpose of what you’re trying to do is. Then iterate.” And I did have that clear vision from the beginning: Policy explanation and connections for activism for everyone.

Now, there’s a lot more organization: policy subgroups with team leads as well as operational subgroups like editors and digital media. Three months in, I did a feedback survey to gauge why people were participating, where they wanted more resources, and where they felt overmanaged. As a result of that we created a principles and guidelines document. Now that it’s been two months living with that, we have a project director who’s in the process of requesting additional feedback about how useful it has been and how to improve it.

J: There are already a lot of sources for information. What does Resistance Manual bring to the table that’s new?

A; On the policy side, there’s a lot of information out there, but it’s not easy for people to understand. Our goal is to provide the information at a fairly basic reading level, given that 20-30 percent of Americans can’t read above a 5th grade reading level. We also explain process and programs. For example, when we encourage people to comment on net neutrality rules, we explain what net neutrality is and how the rules and regulation process functions.

We have also spent a lot of time sorting through information from think tanks and continue to look at new releases to help assess impact and identify who’s using what programs. Many think tanks we’ve spoken to realize that their information isn’t written in a way that’s useful for grassroots organizers. They’re happy to have Resistance Manual translate it into accessible language and organize it into subject areas or on the pages that talk about impact to individual states. We cite their original work and link to it if people want to read the original report.

We also try to be thoughtful on policy pages, both state and federal, about writing in an intersectional way. For example, when we talk about exposure to air pollution, we share the racial disparities. We talk about pay inequality for women and people with disabilities on our workers’ rights page.

J: How do you see Resistance Manual fitting into the movement ecosystem?

A: The Resistance Manual helps to bridge some of the wisdom and knowledge from long-time activists and policy wonks to new organizations in an accessible and collaborative way. We serve as a bridge so that the new groups can be informed by existing organizations and experienced activists in front-line communities so they have tools and information to succeed.

When you’re new to the political process and looking for ways to get involved, it can be hard to know where to start. People often don’t realize that there are a lot of organizations already working on these issues. Our Organizations Working for Justice and Equity page is organized by how you can engage with those organizations. For example, which organizations you can volunteer with and which ones do training. Our Events page links to other organizations’ event calendars and also webinars—training resources to learn from others.

The Essential Readings page is one of our most popular. We see this as a jumping off point for people who want to dig in and get the intellectual framework for a deeper understanding. That page includes readings we’ve identified as well as links to syllabi that have already been created—for example, the black disabled women syllabus.

Next up: On intersectional inclusion and sustainability