Advanced Work on Building Alliances Between Groups

We have four workshops under our belts now. "Powerful," "Moving," "Amazing," "The best allies work I've ever seen," "Enlightening," "Eye-opening." Just a handful of the comments I've heard in doing the new allies work in the Atlanta RC Community. It has proved to be effective, flexible, and fun, and we want everyone to know about it. Not only is it particularly potent for unearthing and identifying internalized oppressions, especially in the seemingly "less oppressed/more privileged groups," but it also brings in outside resource for groups to look at their internalized oppressions while at the same time building ally relationships between different groups. To date, we have tried four different combinations of allies and have a world of ideas we can't wait to try.

The seed for this work was planted when Robert Yanas and David Tsao attended a Men's Workshop and found themselves to be the only two Asians there. As a support group leader, Robert wanted more than only the two of them for a support group, so he asked for allies, and two Caucasian Co-Counselors joined them. Robert and David were counseled on their relationship to each other as Asian males, on where they struggled, and on where things were going well. Their Co-Counselors offered to stand up for them against attacks, encouraged them to speak out, and let them experience how it felt to have an ally in responding to attacks.

When I heard David talk about his experience at the workshop, I knew immediately this was something everyone needed a lot more of. I was determined to see this model expand to become a part of the Asian gather-in I was leading. After discussing this with Patsy White, my Area Reference Person, we invited allies from the Community to join us and proceeded to do the pilot work for what has now been used several times with great success. The Allies came for three hours at the end of the gather-in, all beaming and eager. We did introductions and mini-sessions. Each pair of Asians was matched up with a primary counselor and several support counselors. How powerful it was to be outnumbered by allies! This in itself was a huge contradiction. The questions to be addressed were: "What is going well in your relationships with other Asians?" and "Where do you struggle in your relationships with other Asians?"

With four pairs of Asians and thirteen allies, we split up into four rooms and went for it. Lots of powerful, thoughtful discharge. Lots of love. When we re-grouped, everyone's attention was out, and we were all glowing. Patsy shouted, "I could counsel like this for hours!" We went around and shared what we had gotten from the work. It was gratifying to see that people of all levels of RC experience, from zero to seventeen years, had gained something valuable.

Fueled by the excitement this generated, we immediately began planning for the next venture, deciding on a workshop with Asians and African Americans as allies for each other as the next step. Although our eventual goal was to do this with those not yet familiar with RC, I felt it would be rational to try it with experienced RCers first. So we set aside a day with Patsy leading the African Americans while I led the Asians. In deciding on the logistics of the workshop I had lots of good support from Peter Chen, and we came up with the following agenda:

PART I: DISCHARGE SUPPORT GROUPS

We felt it made sense for the two groups to first discharge separately from one another, so the Asians went in one room and the African Americans in another, and each group split time on some questions about the other group. We were fortunate to have people who already cared deeply for each other, so I decided to have the questions in the separate discharge groups take advantage of this. What seemed more useful than a general question like, "How do you feel about Asians?" was to ask about specific people in the other group. The questions were:

  • "Think about one of the people in the other group it's easy for you to feel close to."
  • "Think about someone it's hard for you to feel close to." (This may be the same person.)
  • "Then think about how it would be to have that person as your ally, how it would be to be an ally for that person, how it would be knowing this was true all the time, everywhere."

PART II: RELATIONSHIP SESSIONS (HEALING GROUPS)

We took the nine people present (four Asians and five African Americans) and paired up two Asians with two African Americans and then two Asians with three African Americans. In the two-plus-two group, we had one Asian primary counselor and one Asian support counselor working with one African-American primary counselor and one African American support counselor. We split the time available in half. For the first half, the Asian primary counselor posed the questions to each of the African Americans. Then we switched, and the African-American primary counselor did the same for the two Asians. In the two-plus-three group, one of the African-American women was counseled twice, once on her relationship with the African-American man and once on her relationship with the other woman. Then the two Asians were counseled by the African-American primary counselor. The questions were:

  • "Notice your relationship to the other person."
  • "Notice how much you care about him or her."
  • "Notice what is going well in your relationship with that other person."
  • "Notice where you struggle."

In our two-plus-two grouping, the first three directions were so powerful, we didn't use the last one.

To date, we have set up four allies experiences. First, Asians and allies, then, Asians and African Americans as allies for each other, then Jews and allies, and most recently, physicians and allies. Next we are planning for women to come in and be allies for men at the men's workshop.

So there are two different models discussed here. In the first one, we selected a group and gathered allies to work with them. In the second model, we chose two separate groups to work together to be allies for each other. However, we don't need to be limited to either of these two models. There are many ways the format could be used, both inside and outside of RC. This seems to be an ideal tool for building healing alliances among groups. Once we got a glimpse of it, we haven't been able to stop seeing more and more places to use it.

This was the kind of healing work people in our Community were eager to get their hands on. I believe it's something people everywhere would be dying to get their hands on. It brings the message loud and clear that we belong together. It may be just the answer for those Communities crying out for more diversity. In fact, I want to emphasize that this is not just for minority groups; it will be particularly relevant for white people, because it will let them work simultaneously on discharging racism, identifying internalized oppression, and forming alliances. The Basic Recipe:

  • Take one group that wants to work on its distress.
  • Take another that wants to help it.
  • Let them come together.
  • Give them information, but most importantly, let them counsel with each other.
  • Let everyone see where the places are that they got hurt.
  • Let everyone see that we are not all that different in where we got hurt.
  • Let everyone see that we belong together.

So far, the following approaches have worked well:

  • The same or greater number of allies
  • At least one skilled counselor per grouping of allies
  • Some separate discharge time for the allies prior to the relationship sessions, particularly when being allies for those groups not as visibly oppressed. This is useful with either of the two models described above.

We've discovered several things so far:

  • This is a tremendously effective way to identify the internalized oppressions in your group.
  • The results seem even more powerful when there are pre-existing relationships in place.
  • The primary counselor can give attention easily because a) the support counselors can give attention to the person not actually being counseled but who may be restimulated by the client's distress, and b) the distress is "outside" of the primary counselor.
  • This approach completely bypasses problems of pretense. In other work with allies, two different groups have been asked to form alliances across the gap that separates them. No matter how genuine they may be in intent, there are inherent problems in believing someone who tells you he or she really wants to help, especially someone from a group that has hurt your group in the past, i.e., "I really want to be your friend." "Yeah, sure, you're going to help me a little bit and then let me down and hurt me again." Patterns on both sides can get in the way of forming alliances. In this new approach, no one asks an Asian if she or he can reach across to an Irish Catholic and form a bridge. Instead, the Asians work to push the Irish Catholics closer together and vice versa.
  • It is flexible and can be adapted to people at any level of experience.
  • It teaches us clearly that we have all been hurt in very similar ways.
  • There is something extremely powerful about having those outside of your group trying to push you closer to each other. It is a major contradiction to the patterns of oppression.
  • Everyone benefits. I got great feedback from allies after each workshop about how useful the information was in identifying their own areas of internalized oppression.

I feel lucky to be in this Community that is so diverse and open to trying new things. For that I have to thank the continued efforts of Patsy White, who has stuck with her vision of what she wants the RC Community to look like.

Cornelia Cho
Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07