Adrienne Maree Brown is the head of The Ruckus Society, an institute that has trained social justice organizers for more than a decade. A writer, singer and organizer, Brown was also a founder of the League of Young Voters and the co-editor of How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office.
Can you talk a little about your vision, big picture, but also the work you’re doing now at Ruckus?
I think in a word, my vision is really about leadership–being able to see strong leaders in communities that really need leadership right now. I feel like we’re in a moment of peaked resources at every level: human resources, fiscal resources, oil, water, air. We have reached the point of running ourselves out of what we most need.
This is a time when it’s crucial to have powerful, smart, flexible leaders. My vision is for a world in which we have tons of people who can respond to the things that are happening to them in a proactive way, in a sustainable way and in a way that’s going to leave a sustainable world.
On the smaller scale, I think a really important piece of the work I do is helping people think through their vision. It’s helping organizations find their vision, to figure out the work they are meant to do rather than what may be most obvious to them. How do you build sustainable organizations in an unsustainable world? It always starts with having a shared vision.
There’s been a good deal of discussion about the presidential election in 2008. One of the big holes is that there isn’t a lot of talk about what’s happening at polls.
With the League of Young Voters, I got a pretty intense look at voter organizing in the country. I was frankly surprised that there wasn’t more work being done around election protection when it became glaringly apparent that’s where the key problem was. We were registering our folks, we got people mobilized, we got them educated, we did voter guides. Then people would show up to the polls. Disenfranchisement combined with fraud was so high that there was no chance for a democratic process to happen.
The Ruckus Society is leading election rapid response teams that are happening all across the country. We have some of our best folks in the field coordinating responsive action to the crap that happens at the polls. If you don’t have a population that’s trained in how to respond to disenfranchisement in the moment, there’s no way they’re going to be able to respond.
We’re doing all this to make sure people are voting. We don’t want them to be voting with invisible ink.
Tell me about IP3, the Indigenous Peoples Power Project.
The idea came out of an Action Camp a few years ago. At that camp, the community actually demanded that Ruckus help develop a Native training circle so that they no longer had to have this training coming from folks outside of their community.
It’s clearly the smartest and most strategic move as well. All of the resources that people are discussing are under the ground of indigenous folks, who have been continuously disenfranchised, continually disempowered, continually attacked. That’s just the frontline, and that’s where we send our reinforcements. And those reinforcements need to come in the form of indigenous leaders.
What threads these folks together is the way that they’re disenfranchised and the fact that they have an internal struggle with their local leadership that needs to be dealt with as much as mass general struggle. These are the next leaders in these communities, and they have to make sure that they have direct action as one of the tools under their belt. That’s probably the most exciting project that I’m working on.
What’s driving you to continue this work in 2007?
To see it work is driving me forward. Investing in community organizers on the front line. I’m starting to see it pay off.
We’re starting to see what happens when we’re really invested in a long period of time. I’m always motivated by the fact that we’re in this crucial point in history; we’ve gone beyond our resources and now have to figure out what this next period looks like. It’s going to be a continual struggle to redefine the problem if we’re going to be the visionaries and dream up a solution to save us all.
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