Gabrielle Tang

Gabrielle Tang, Director of Operations for rhize

“When you are liberated, I am liberated, too. Our liberations are connected. Your fight is important. Your fight is my fight.”

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Meet Gabrielle Tang. Gabrielle has a deep love for people’s stories, good design and all things aesthetically pleasing, and the meme life. For more than a decade, she has worked on a range of human rights and social justice issues for a variety of organizations, from direct services to start-up enterprises to philanthropic institutions, with a primary focus on women’s rights, racial justice, and economic security. Outside of her professional life, Gabrielle also engages in different community organizing and ongoing volunteer initiatives to serve NYC residents, including serving as a counselor and advocate at the New York-Presbyterian Emergency Department for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Oversubscribed as she is, Gabrielle claims that she’s trying to clear her calendar enough to take a pottery throwing course. Announcing it here is her way of being accountable. You can connect with her on Twitter

What Does She Do?

Gabrielle is the Director of Operations for rhize, whose mission is to create a global support network for activists building social movements. She is currently leveraging her expertise in program design and management, strategy development, and organizational growth to help Rhize build out its infrastructure so that its coaches — working remotely across the globe – are able to do their work seamlessly and so Rhize can scale.

“What is most incredible to me about Rhize is that despite coming from a wide variety of backgrounds — some folks are fighting for Trans lives, others have a focus on women’s eco-justice, while we have some who are deeply religious working towards free and fair elections — when there are emergency situations, such as major transitions in government, everyone is supportive of one another, suggesting strategies, and providing resources.”

Despite being so different, Gabrielle believes that “since we’re all trained under Rhize methodology there’s an emphasis on the solidarity of all of us. A lot of the fights and methods are similar, towards justice, democracy, and fairness. This year (following last year’s Understanding Activism white paper) we’re going to be focused on gathering those lessons and turning them into something meaningful.” Towards that end, Rhize has been developing a “movement mapping tool” to gauge and map how movements are shifting or growing.

How Did She Get Into This Work?

Gabrielle was born in Hong Kong and came over during the “handover” which saw the UK colony return to Chinese sovereignty in the late 1990s. Her family chose to emigrate not only because of threats to their freedom of speech, but, as devout Christians, they feared religious persecution. While her parents consider themselves apolitical to this day, Gabrielle notes that this is despite the fact that “their biggest decision in life was to uproot the family based on political fears.”

Gabrielle considers herself a “1.5 generation” immigrant, as opposed to first or second-generation immigrant, due to her coming over as a pre-adolescent and growing up speaking English. While her parents were typical of most immigrants — heads down and tirelessly working — they labeled their daughter a “little activist.” Not only was she a scold about recycling in their white working-class Long Island enclave, but she — despite being short of stature — frequently confronted bullies.

Gabrielle started playing sports throughout elementary and high school, and it was at the hand of her fellow teammates that she faced her first taste of overt racism. “The community that I thought I was a part of. That I was “white enough” for. They showed me that I was still ‘Other’ to them. That’s when I started thinking about what it means to be American, and what it means to be an American of color.”

Far from silencing Gabrielle, the experience of bigotry made her a warrior: “From the age of 12, I took it upon myself to raise funds or save up to travel and learn about living conditions of others around the world. I also went on organized trips to help build schools or rehabilitation centers in places.”

Gabrielle believed that her life’s calling would run parallel with a “real career.” At NYU, however, she met a professor of social work who would broaden her thinking: “She taught at the university level part-time and also built and ran her own school in Ecuador. I listened to her stories about her work, and I realized that this was her job. Working on the ground in Latin America, then coming back to advocate for better policies while teaching others was a real profession for her. Up until that point, I had just figured that this kind of work was for volunteers or missionaries. So this professor inspired me to look into social work, where I learned that social workers are natural and professional advocates and activists. I went on to get my masters in this area, with a focus on public policy, primarily in international social work and working with immigrants and refugees.”

What Project Is She Working On?

At Rhize, Gabrielle is working on building up the organizational infrastructure, health, and sustainability of Rhize.

Four years ago, when Gabrielle starting doing International Human Rights and policy level work she wanted to stay connected to direct service work. This led her to volunteer at New York-Presbyterian’s Victim Intervention Program (V.I.P.). A former social worker herself, Gabrielle is part of a cohort of advocates who are on call for evenings and weekends aiding survivors of any kind of crime who are admitted to the hospital. Advocates do supportive counseling, help victims and survivors navigate the hospital system, and provide resources.

Gabrielle’s desire to further explore her racial identity led her to start a discussion group in 2016 with Asian-American peers who share a Christian background. The group has interrogated their levels of privilege and how they interact with other communities, noting that East Asians are frequently absent in social justice movements and that the Asian-American community has also been complicit in Anti-Blackness.

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

Gabrielle had been happily ensconced at the Open Society Foundation for over five years, focusing on women’s rights and making her program both explicitly feminist and grassroots — unusual for OSF. In meeting young feminist activists around the world, she learned about Rhize and saw that they were hiring. Gabrielle is clear that she wasn’t in the midst of a job search, but that she knew her strengths in organizational development, in-process building, and program design. “I thought, I could do this for them.”

Gabrielle joined Rhize – and started working out of Civic Hall with founder and CEO Erin Mazursky and Communications Operations Coordinator Rachel Dougherty. While Rhize is still a small startup, it has doubled in size over the last year. “To sustain our rapid growth we have to create the right processes, policies, and an environment that is conducive to our globally remote team. We also have to make sure that our support of open democracy and promotion of human rights is embedded in our organizational culture and that we are inclusive and participatory.

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

Those of us within the Civic Hall community is working on a wide range of issues, focusing on many different populations, but Rhize’s work — and its ability to seamlessly connect with its diverse coaches across Africa and the globe is instructive:

“When you are liberated, I am liberated, too. Our liberations are connected. Your fight is important. Your fight is my fight.”

On a more mundane level, Gabrielle would love to connect with others at Civic Hall who are working in operations, organizational management, or program design work to swap ideas.

* * * * * *
Coda: Gabrielle recently came across an article about a recent Department of Justice ruling that revoked someone’s American citizenship. It understandably drove her into a panic. She read more closely and saw that it was a poor headline and that with almost complete certainty, the future of her own citizenship was on solid footing. But it got her to thinking, ‘What does mean if I’m not an American…?”