Strategy and Sustainability in Uncertain Times

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. In a series of interviews for Civicist, we’re discussing what makes a movement intersectional, and how to support inclusiveness. In the first post in the series, Aditi and I discussed the Resistance Manual’s structure and how it fits into the movement ecosystem. The second post focused on the linked topics of intersectionality and inclusion. This week, we wrap up by looking at strategy and sustainability.

Aditi will also be speaking on the topic “Your Vulnerability Is Your Strength” at Personal Democracy Forum on June 9.

Jon: I’ve been consistently impressed by the strategic thinking from you and the other Resistance Manual co-founders. How did you develop your strategy?

Aditi: When we first started, there was a clear vision, but not a real strategy yet. I got advice from Harper Reed, who had worked on new campaign tech during Obama’s 2008 campaign, who told me that when there’s no guidebook, you have to have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish and let that guide the work. My vision was policy explanation and connections to activism for everybody possible. Everything from then on has been in service of that purpose.

Then we started trying things to see what would help us effectuate this goal. And we did it within the overall framework of living our values. Our values are equity and justice. The question we asked ourselves: How to institutionalize that?

J: When working with so many volunteers—over 300 now—how do you ensure alignment with your vision and strategy?

A: By having systems and processes, you can ensure that the vision and strategy is built into each part of the work. This was part of how we institutionalized inclusion and intersectionality, as discussed in the last piece. In a similar way, if our vision is to build a resource that is accessible for everyone and 20-30 percent of Americans don’t read above a 5th grade reading level, then we need systems and processes to ensure that the reading level is where it’s supposed to be. Our principles and guidelines are valuable, in stating the goal. But having a team of volunteer copy editors that can edit and do approvals, to keep an eye on readability as part of the process, is what helps make it real.

J: And similarly, how do you ensure that partnerships are strategically aligned and not just “whoever wants to work with us”?

A: When we first started reaching out to potential partners, I was thinking about opportunities for collaboration where the work intersected and we can be helpful to each other. That’s changed some, I now realize there’s a preliminary conversation about mission alignment: Are we trying to achieve the same thing? Are at least some of our goals in common? Otherwise, even if we’re working in the same space on the same issue, we’re not really in alignment.

J: Burnout is a huge problem for grassroots organizing. How do you keep the system sustainable for leadership and organizers?

A: I’m increasingly realizing that it’s about asking for help: Finding people who complement your skill set, building out an organization, and not trying to do everything yourself. Finding community is important as well. For me, it’s been really valuable to join Civic Hall, bounce ideas off people, and connect. As a leader you’re in charge of your corner of the world, but that’s just one corner. Keep things mutually beneficial, and make sure both sides feel respected and valued.

If you’re leading an organization, remembering why you started it helps you feel grounded. You got into it because you care about it. Keep that at the center. Yes, there are other benefits like validation—the idea in my head turns out to be a good idea—and attention. It’s super easy to forget that engaging with those benefits are just a means to end. I think that’s how you’d start to lose your compass and begin misallocating your time. Recognizing and identifying benefits you’re receiving as a result of the work also lets you get thoughtful about sharing the benefit with other people, using access to elevate others, rather than just making noise on my own behalf.

J: How do you keep people engaged in the work so it’s emotionally sustainable?

A: In the Resistance Manual digital community, we have a self-care channel that was requested by one of our volunteers. I don’t see that very often on other Slacks. It’s a place where we don’t talk about the work, but can share our joys or vent our frustrations. That’s been really helpful for people in keeping the content we curate fact-based and nuanced. It also creates a community as opposed to treating people like capital and workers. It’s challenging in an online space where you can’t just give people a hug. Even some people who don’t actively participate in the self-care channel tell me they love reading it. Hearing what people saying helps us reflect.

And on the personal level, hosting the Self-care Sundays Podcast has been self-care for me in learning others journeys and approaches to self care.

J: How do you incorporate sustainability into your strategy?

A: It’s important to realize that intersectionality feeds sustainability. If one of the issue areas goes away tomorrow, the folks interested in that issue, will only stay involved in the work if they’ve had the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with folks who are there for a different reason. People will still show up for others and other related issues if they see how it’s all connected.

Similarly, inclusion is a huge part of sustainability. By working to be inclusive, it allows people who feel left out of the process or ignored by an issue get involved. Furthermore, it makes it harder for advocacy and activism to be dismissed when there is a broader coalition.

J: What do you see as some of the Resistance Manual’s successes so far?

A: Here’s one great success story: A woman in Chicago who’s a single mom reached out to me to tell me that she was having a hard time keeping up with the news and sifting through the noise to stay informed. She told us she uses Resistance Manual as her go-to text to track the issues and educate her kids. Now her kids have taken up the Resistance Manual as their own, and they share information back with her.

That woman’s story is a success story. So our question going forward is, how do we scale it?

J: Indeed. What comes next for Resistance Manual?

A: The content we have is responsive to the needs of our current users; a large portion of them return. What comes next is getting it to more users. Really, we’re still figuring out how to get the resource into the hands of the people who will most benefit from it: The people who are most impacted and least empowered to act; also, the folks who are just starting to be engaged in the political process and want to understand why decisions that happen in government matter into their daily lives. As we work to get it to more users, we need to keep it high quality and continuously relevant so it can be something that people will return to.

A couple of specific things we’re looking at adding include possibly automating certain kinds of tracking, and whether and how to include more infographics and other visual displays. On the one hand, it makes it more digestible; but it’s also less accessible to visually impaired.

And we’re starting to see networks form around the Resistance Manual—the woman I mentioned above and her kids, along with their connections, are one small example. We want to build it out in a way that recognizes that politics is personal and social. How do we build on our work with others who have been organizing for a lot longer than we have, respecting these human truths and the people involved?

J: You made an interesting point in an earlier interview: “The way a movement is structured and operates informs the outcome you’ll get.” What advice would you have for groups that are thinking about how to think about their strategy in this ecosystem?

A: You have to decide what it is you’re trying to do. Resistance Manual was designed to be intersectional, comprehensive, and create pathways into activism. Other organizations are focused on specific policy areas and communities; that’s fine too, you just need to be clear about your goals. It’s equally important to know what your goals are not. My attitude has been if there are already people doing something then that’s great. Same thing applies if someone is doing something better than me. I think that helps limit the scope of your work and improves the focus.

For work that’s valuable but outside the scope of what you’re doing, you can always form partnerships, highlight other people’s good work, and direct people to other groups. I think this is only possible if you operate from a belief that there’s not a hierarchy of activism, and not a hierarchy of issues. If there’s injustice, it’s wrong. End of sentence.