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09 November 2008 @ 06:14 pm
two things  
hi friends,

first, in a shocking turn of unfortunate events, craig and i lost the domain name for our long time webpage makezine, so we've moved it to makezine.enoughenough.org. sad!

second, i'm working on putting in to writing various conversations i have a lot and thought i'd post this one here in case its of use to anyone else.

Tips for Students Interested in Organizing Conferences

I am contacted by students (often, but not always, law students) who want to put on conferences or other events at their schools, usually about trans issues. I find myself giving the same advice a lot, so I thought I’d write down some of what I say in hopes that I can share this document with them, and perhaps it will be useful to others advising students as well.

First, it is great that you want to organize a conference to help people think about an issue that really needs good thinking done about it. It is important to do this work carefully and well in order to create an event that contributes to the struggles you are interested in and does not have any harmful or unintended consequences that you would want to avoid. Here are some principles and strategies to keep in mind:

• Leadership on all social and political issues should be centered with those who are directly affected. This means that a majority of speakers at your event should be members of that community, not “experts” or “professionals” talking about them. If that community (e.g. trans people, sex workers, prisoners and former prisoners) are severely under represented in your academic/professional field, this means your conference will have to include speakers who are not trained in your academic/professional field—that you elevate this leadership principle over the professional norms in your school/professional field.
• Within any social or political issue, it is essential to center the experiences of those who are most vulnerable to the worst manifestations of the oppression in order to form a full intersectional analysis of the issue. Frequently oppression gets viewed through just one vector (e.g., transphobia, homophobia) and the prime spokespeople on an issue become people who do not experience other vectors of oppression in combination with that one (e.g. white upper class trans people, white upper class gay men), which leads to framings and agendas that fail to challenge, and in fact uphold, white supremacy, sexism, ablism, etc. So whatever the issue you are organizing on, make sure that your choice of speakers and topics centralizes race, class, immigration, sexism and ablism. For example, instead of trans panels focusing on employment rights, marriage, and visibility in the mainstream media, create panels focusing on Medicaid rights, immigration, and imprisonment. Make sure that at least half your speakers are people of color, and that the organizations represented are ones that prioritize those who are most vulnerable rather than using single-issue approaches.
• Let the people you are inviting help plan the event. Your invitees may have key information about what would be the most useful types of conversations, what other speakers who you haven’t thought of will be important for the conversation, etc. If you find a few key speakers who you think represent the above principles, ask for their input about the organizing.
• Be careful not to schedule it against other events that are important to the communities affected by the issue, which might impact their ability to come or make them make a hard choice.
• Use the event to funnel resources toward underfunded organizations/communities. This event is a learning opportunity for students at your school, but what does it do to forward the work of fighting oppression? Can this event be a way to pay honoraria to organizations struggling to keep their doors open to do life-saving work (esp organizations that are governed by people of color, that serve poor communities, that work on issues unpopular with funders and the media)? Ask the speakers what would make the event useful to them—rather than being only a 101 on the issues for students, how can the event be structured to be a place for leaders on this issue to come together and discuss strategy and collaboration?
• Think about how this event can change the institution you are in. Are there oppressive policies and practices within your university that should be addressed, rather than just looking outside? How does your university serve/fail to serve oppressed communities? Can this event help mobilize activism at your school to end transphobic policies in your school, to start a program where your university provides educational opportunities to people in the local prison or jail, to address racist and classist admissions criteria, to support underpaid workers or workers trying to unionize in your school?
• Make your methods of organizing the event inclusive, consensus-building, collaborative and collective. Education has a tendency to push us towards capitalist norms of individualism, self-promotion and competition. Organizing for resistance must be about relationship building, eliminating hierarchy, shifting leadership, making room for new voices, and empowering more people to participate. It is essential to think about who is included in the planning and whose leadership is being emphasized in terms of race, gender, class, national origin, and ability. Think about how to structure your event planning toward anti-oppression principles. It will create more community and shared values on your campus, build more leadership skills in more people, spread out the work and make it more sustainable, and improve the quality of the work because more people will have input. It will also build more durable and stronger structures for any organizing work you are trying to create on campus. A good tool for meeting planning and facilitation is the book On Conflict and Consensus.

Every event we create has the potential to reproduce oppressive systems that exist in our institutions or to be part of building meaningful resistance. Practicing critical thinking and strategizing to discern these opportunities and maximize them is part of learning to be an effective agent for change, and part of contributing to resource redistribution. Good luck organizing a powerful and transformative event!
queer feminist arab american mannadyalec on November 9th, 2008 11:31 pm (UTC)
you rock.
esquireesquire on November 10th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
This is great and very helpful. Thanks.
animals are not fabricimyerjoeyramone on November 10th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
thanks for sharing dean, thats awesome!
gieussegieusse on November 10th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
this is great--thanks. this will be helpful when passing along some of your ideas to others planning these things as well. we really need some help on these issues from a health care perspective, and it needs to go way beyond the retrograde bullshit they are teaching us in "sociocultural issues in health care" and other such classes. and this is at ucsf...the really awesome thing is how much more the students want and are willing to work for.

how are things with you otherwise? i may be venturing to seattle soon--would love to see you!
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