Top reads of the week
This is a new weekly feature for paid subscribers sharing top reads of the week — or in the case of this first digest, top reads of the last few weeks.
And please consider tuning in to tomorrow’s Women’s Declaration International USA web forum on language and values in gender-critical activism, where Julia Long will be moderating a conversation between Kara Dansky, Jesika Gonzales, Amanda Stulman, and me!
How meltdowns brought progressive groups to a standstill, with a focus on the Guttmacher Institute:
For progressive moement organizations, 2021 promised to be the year they turned power into policy, with a Democratic trifecta and the Biden administration broadcasting a bold vision of “transformational change.” Out of the gate, Democrats pushed ahead with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, funding everything from expanded health care to a new monthly child tax credit. Republican efforts to slow-walk the process with disingenuous counteroffers were simply dismissed.
And then, sometime in the summer, the forward momentum stalled, and many of the progressive gains lapsed or were reversed. Instead of fueling a groundswell of public support to reinvigorate the party’s ambitious agenda, most of the foundation-backed organizations that make up the backbone of the party’s ideological infrastructure were still spending their time locked in virtual retreats, Slack wars, and healing sessions, grappling with tensions over hierarchy, patriarchy, race, gender, and power.
… Executive directors across the space said they too have tried to organize their hiring process to filter out the most disruptive potential staff. “I’m now at a point where the first thing I wonder about a job applicant is, ‘How likely is this person to blow up my organization from the inside?’” said one, echoing a refrain heard repeatedly during interviews for this story.
And Sarah Haider’s response on how nonprofits can break the cycle of meltdowns by “forcibly re-centering the work”:
Creating an explicitly mission-oriented culture. Making it clear that all staff and volunteers are there to support the mission of the organization—that the mission is important, and deserves their full attention and commitment. This means that while they are at work, engaging in activism that is unrelated to the mission will not be tolerated. We are not here to solve all problems--we are here to solve a specific problem. In addition, employees and volunteers must understand that they will occasionally work with people whose worldviews they don’t always agree with, and that this is to be seen as an indicator of a healthy environment (so long as all agree on the value of the mission).
Creating an explicitly WORK oriented culture. I don’t know why this is a problem, but it is—especially in non-profit spaces that employ young people. Make it clear to volunteers and employees that they are here to work, to achieve an end. Nonprofits in particular are the space for you to GIVE TO OTHERS, not to take for your own ends. You are expected to treat your co-workers with courtesy, and your boss with respect. Your supervisors are there to support you and mentor you—but do not confuse them with your therapist or a parent.
Zero-tolerance. This might sound harsh to outsiders who don’t know how bad bad can be, and charitable types in general have a very hard time taking on a management style that makes boundaries clear. However, there can be no tolerance for abusive behavior, or for breaking the above two rules, regardless of the reason. If someone starts agitating against the above two rules, especially using social justice language (you’ll come to recognize it easily over time), do not wait, do not give them a second chance. Get rid of them.
What the experiment of the UK prisons system illustrates is the practical inoperability of a system of self-ID for group membership, where that membership carries any special benefits. That this has proved true even where the identity in question also carries so many challenges and risks is striking, but perhaps should not be surprising. The longstanding social downsides and more recent legal upsides of trans status are of entirely different species, such that they do not simply cancel each other out. The law of averages demands that there will be those who take the downsides lightly and prize the upsides highly. Doubtless, outside of the prison estate - a world where dishonesty and malice are uniquely concentrated - the abuse of the system must be much less pervasive, to the point where it would be marginal rather than central to the overall story, but unless the prison system could be relied upon to perfectly contain every liar and predator, the same issues would apply elsewhere.
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