How to Make Inclusion and Intersectionality Real

Aditi Juneja is the co-founder of the Resistance Manual, a crowdsourced platform that harnesses the collective power of the people to resist policies that undermine justice and equity. Aditi will also be speaking on the topic “Your Vulnerability Is Your Strength” at Personal Democracy Forum in June.

In the first post in this series, Aditi and I discussed the Resistance Manual’s structure and how it fits into the movement ecosystem. This week, we continue the discussion by focusing on the linked topics of intersectionality, inclusion, and sustainability.

Jon: Why does inclusion matter for Resistance Manual?

Aditi: The more people you can get involved, the more effective we will be. So we focus on removing artificial barriers. Our agenda of equity and justice is not in power in government. What we have is people, so we can’t afford to exclude. That’s our strength, and we can’t treat it cavalierly. We try to avoid creating a hierarchy of activists or prioritizing one kind of activism over another.

J: Why is intersectionality a guiding principle for Resistance Manual?

A: In order to have a movement in this moment, we need to be very purposeful about coming out of issue-based silos, and seeing how the issues relate each other. Drawing these connections makes the movement stronger and more sustainable. It helps people form coalitions, and reach out to people they may not have thought of before.

J: Kimberlé Crenshaw makes some similar points in her recent interview No Single-Issue Politics, Only Intersectionality. How do you go about putting it into practice for the content you’re creating?

A: We try to institutionalize questions on intersectionality at every step. For example, when brainstorming about adding a section on wage inequality to the Workers’ Rights page, in addition to thinking about the gender pay gap, someone flagged that it was also a good place to discuss sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.

Similarly, our principles and guidelines document says that when people come across something that they’re not sure where to include, they route it to multiple team leads (folks who’ve volunteered to track specific policy areas), who then ensure it’s in the right place as well as being cross referenced appropriately.

Moderators are also tasked with flagging possible opportunities to cross-reference content across policy areas. We also highlight disparities in policy impacts. For example, in explaining the House’s bill to repeal and replace the ACA, we highlighted how rural women would be disproportionately impacted.

Finally, the volunteer copy editors look for opportunities to add links to other policy pages when editing content that has already been added.

Since it’s a wiki, it’s dynamic and new intersections can also be added later if there’s an oversight. For example, during a Twitter chat organized by the co-founders of the #CripTheVote hashtag (which discusses issues relating to the disability community), somebody mentioned how the limitations on laptops on flights impacts folks with disabilities and we went back and added that in.

J: So you don’t have a separate team focusing on intersectionality in content?

A: No. It’s everyone’s job. Intersectionality, with the goal of inclusion, doesn’t become embedded into the organizational culture if you have a special team doing it. It only becomes part of the culture if it’s everybody’s job. And that’s only fair—there shouldn’t be a designated person who has the burden of constantly raising their hand. It needs to be a priority for everybody.

J: How do you ensure that the Resistance Manual’s team operates inclusively?

A: We brainstorm horizontally and then make decisions vertically. Ultimately somebody’s going to make the decision; but when you’re thinking about something we want to get broad input. Not everybody’s comfortable raising their hand, volunteering information. I’ll encourage the lead on a task to reach out to people privately or actively solicit a person’s opinion if they think there are folks less likely to speak up.

We also try to create different ways people can contribute, reflecting different time availability and skills. And we make sure everybody feels valued. The folks tracking policy are just as important as our volunteer copy editors. Our team leads are just as important as people who can only jump in now and then for a short-term project.

J: You’ve mentioned that you’re a person with a disability. How has that influenced the Resistance Wiki?

A: As somebody with a seizure disorder, I’ve always had to have a backup plan for a backup plan. I never knew when I was going to have a seizure. Similarly working with volunteers, while we want to give people ownership, we need to have backup mechanism in case life happens. As we make plans for the manual, we focus a lot on how to create infrastructure that distributes work in a way that makes it sustainable and keeps people from burning out.

If I hadn’t had epilepsy I don’t know that I would have been as thoughtful about this. I’m not always able to work harder than anybody else, instead my focus is always efficiency. Since my experiences have often been different from others I try to be thoughtful about what challenges or limitations other folks might be dealing with and try to create opportunities for participation for everyone. I think this is what makes us sustainable in the long term.

J: Intersectionality and inclusion have been a challenge for many. What advice do you have for groups that want to act more inclusively or think more intersectionally?

A: There’s no way to make change that’s comfortable. If organizations are trying to add these ideas in after the creation of the organization, the leadership needs to accept this discomfort and model how to navigate it.

This can look like modeling giving up power to others to make space for more voices and perspectives. It can look like leadership creating processes to ensure content is intersectional (i.e. requiring an analysis of disparities in policy assessments). Similarly, leadership can embed questions to ensure inclusion in the development processes for tactics (i.e. Who would not be able to participate in this call to action? Are there any suggestions that we make to change that?).

Importantly, I don’t think it’s important that the leadership of an organization be able to answer the questions. Rather, I think that it’s important that they ensure the questions are posed so that volunteers think about them when doing research. In my experience, most of this information is out there, it’s about making sure people think about it.

J: Do you have suggestions for how leadership could manage change so it’s less scary for volunteers?

A: I think transparency is useful. If you share with your group why it’s important that helps. If you ask for advice and input, and brainstorm horizontally, they’re less likely to feel it’s imposed on them.

Also know try to inventory yourself for how you got to this place. How did you build your initial team and constituency? Are there topics that you don’t know a lot about? Try to evaluate the areas of improvement so you don’t repeat mistakes or, worse yet, reach out for the sake of diversity but make people feel like they’re not included or valued. Change is already uncomfortable, I think we should do what we can to make it successful.

Next up: Strategic thinking and sustainability