Making Movement Mistakes: What to do when you f@*k up | Crunk Feminist Collective repost

This is a re-post from the Crunk Feminist Collective. It’s about working with coalitions, and it is also relevant to the work we do in providing client services, engaging in community organizing, and – of course – as we develop as activists.

Making Movement Mistakes: What to do when you f@*k up

That moment: when some words have escaped your lips, and you realize they were wrong/insensitive/politically incorrect/hurtful. Or the moment when you have made a decision in a coalition that has broken the “do no harm” principle of coalition work. When your actions have undermined someone’s agenda. These moments can be big or small. These moments can consist of an interpersonal slight, or they can be damaging to an entire political agenda. We all know these moments; we have witnessed them, experienced them and committed them.

I am a professional activist. I’ve done work organizing and advocating for policy change at the local, state, national and international level. And every single project I’ve ever worked on has had an element of coalition building and collaboration involved. That’s how you know you’re doing it right, in my opinion. If there are multiple stakeholders, with multiple goals involved. If we all, with our intersectional analyses and intersecting interests can find a way to move our agendas forward, together. That also poses many challenges, as you who do this work inevitably understand. Intersectional work is hard, but of course, it’s the only way.

I say all this because there are few constants in this kind of work, but if we do it right, if we work across our comfort zones and reach out to unlikely partners, and those with different goals but with a shared vision of the future, we will undoubtedly make mistakes. Here, I’m talking about mistakes made in good faith. Not malicious, calculated ones. I’m talking about the moments where we think we’re doing right, but we mess up.

Why does this happen? Why is it inevitable? We make mistakes because we do not know better. We make mistakes because we don’t understand another’s truth, another’s lived experience. Because we operate from some un-interrogated position of privilege, perhaps. We make mistakes because we don’t think before we speak, or just aren’t sensitive to someone else’s perspective. We make mistakes because we are human.

So today, I’d like to crowd-source the question of what to do when this happens. I’d like to hear from you, darling crunk feminists, about how you go about dealing with these moments both when you are the committer of the mistake, and also when it’s been committed against you. Here are some of my own strategies, things I’ve done myself, and things that others have done, that I’ve found useful (of course, all this depends on the offense, these are generalizations):

If you realize you’ve made a mistake.

  1. Apologize. Sincerely. When doing this, think carefully about the best approach. It might not be in person, or it might be. It might need to be public. It might need to be done one-on-one. This depends on the nature of the mistake. But nothing else can happen unless you acknowledge your mistake.
  2. Don’t conflate the mistake and your apology with anything else. The apology is not the time to try and fix the coalition, or your relationship. It’s not the time to make your broader political statement. It’s a time to do just one thing. Recognize your mistake and apologize for it.
  3. Ask what amends might be made, if that applies. Ask the person/team/group what might help. Ask without proscribing the answer. Wait. Listen. And then decide whether this is something you can or cannot do. Be honest about that.
  4. Realize that trust is easier to break that rebuild. Your relationship/s might not ever be the same. And of course it might get even stronger. But you can’t know that. You can’t have an endgame in your apology, you have to say it, do what you can to fix it and not expect more than that.
  5. Keep doing the work as best as you can. Learn from it, and don’t make the same mistake again.

If you’re on the receiving end of a mistake all I can say is: remember all the mistakes you’ve made. When I think of all the mistakes I’ve made, it’s easier for me to identify with someone who’s done something hurtful to me. I try not to hold it too close to my heart, and if at all possible, assume good faith. Sometimes things are fixed, sometimes they are not, but regardless I try not to carry around anger and resentment. That is, of course, easier said than done, but worth the effort.

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