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Bringing RC to the U.S. Social Forum

The following are reports from a group of Co-Counselors who did a United to End Racism, No Limits for Women, and Sustaining All Life1 project at the recent U.S. Social Forum.

A Concrete Step Against Discouragement and Powerlessness

Thirty-five[1] RCers from the California, USA, RC Regions[2] participated in the U.S. Social Forum in San Jose, California, in June 2015.

The U.S. Social Forum is a gathering of organizers from social movements, schools, and grassroots community-based organizations that work on climate change, environmental and economic justice, food justice, racial justice, economic alternatives, and other social justice issues. It is an offshoot of the World Social Forum, which coincides with the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland.

While the World Economic Forum is a meeting of government and corporate leaders to plan and develop global capitalism, the World Social Forum brings together social movements and non-governmental organizations under the theme of “Another World Is Possible.” It creates a space for organizations and social movements to work together, build relationships, and create campaigns, art, organizations, and new ideas for a world without exploitation and oppression.

One afternoon at the forum I led, assisted by Carolyn Kameya,[3] a People’s Movement Assembly—a four-hour participatory event in which people could think and strategize together. About seventy people attended.

As they gathered in the room, Co-Counselors greeted and connected with them. Then we all sat in a big circle and did introductions, including sharing something new and good about anything. The introductions took an hour but were worth it. They gave everyone a chance to speak and to know a little about each other, and lots of laughter happened with the “new and goods.” They also gave me a chance to hear what people were hoping for and what kind of work they did, which was helpful in thinking about the group.

After introductions I talked about how the social injustices that social movements are working to end often operate inside the movements themselves, and how one of the problems with past revolutions was that after systemic change, and even removal of the owning class, the patterns persisted because people hadn’t gotten to heal from what it had been like to live in the oppressive society. I said that along with changing the systems and institutions, we need to heal from what it’s been like to live in the oppressive society, so we don’t reproduce the patterns.

I said that part of liberation is being heard. I shared how in my work to end domestic violence, oftentimes the biggest picture of liberation comes with naming the violence, with saying that it happened (along with, of course, getting away from it and stopping it). I said that in RC we have learned that people can heal from past violent experiences, so they don’t impact them in the present, and that people need to be listened to in order to heal.

Then we did a mini-session. I told people to take turns listening and look like they like each other and said that I would let them know when to switch. After the mini, some of the RCers gave examples of how we’d used what we know in Co-Counseling for strengthening social movements.

After the mini-session I broke people into two groups—white people and people of the global majority—because during introductions people had brought up wanting to think about racism and some of the white people had been taking up a lot of space by talking for a long time. These two large groups split into smaller groups, led by RCers, in which people had a support group followed by a “think and listen” about their work in creating another world.

When everyone came back together, we answered lots of questions about how they could apply the ideas and methods to their work. (We had also explained everything—“news and goods,” mini-sessions, support groups, “think and listens,” breaking up into oppressed and oppressor groups, appreciations—as we’d gone along.) Then, with someone next to them, they shared what they had liked about being at the meeting and an appreciation of themselves and someone else in the room. At the end they were talking and talking to each other—zestfully and happily.

It was fun to go out into the world with other RCers and try things. It was neat to listen to their fears of doing this project and then watch those fears melt away. We squeezed the project into our already full lives (of working, taking care of families, caring for sick friends), but doing it together made it feel like resource and not a drain or an effort. It was a nice concrete step against discouragement and powerlessness.

Thanks, Carolyn, for leading us! And thanks, Mary Ruth,[4] for all your behind-the-scenes organizing!

Below is the description we submitted to the U.S. Social Forum to register the People’s Movement Assembly:

This will be an in-depth participatory workshop and assembly on creating the conditions to strengthen movements.

It will include a short presentation of some skills of Re-evaluation Counseling that will help you to resolve issues that are often challenges in movements, support your work, and strengthen the movements you are part of and creating. These skills include how to resolve conflict, how to set up the conditions to create new ideas, how to build consensus, how to recover from losses, how to heal from what it’s been like to grow up and live in an oppressive society, how to work across constituencies and issue areas, and how to create new, effective strategies.

In addition, you will have the chance to talk and work together with others to resolve challenges and create a vision for another world. You will get to think with other organizers about your work—your successes and your challenges. Questions for the assembly will include: What has been challenging, hard, discouraging about being an organizer? Where are you stuck? What has gone well? What is your vision for another world?

You will get to use a range of tools, including “think and listens,” “news and goods,” appreciations, mini-sessions, speaking order, and panel discussions. You will hear from people who have applied these tools to resolve hurtful experiences, come out in better shape, and become more effective at reaching their goals for justice.

You will learn how to access in the future the resources you learn about at the assembly.

Re-evaluation Counseling is a form of peer counseling in which people of all ages and backgrounds learn how to exchange effective help with each other to free themselves from the effects of hurtful experiences from growing up and living in an oppressive society. People learn the theory and practice in classes and exchange listening with one another.

Chris Selig
San Franciso, California, USA

[1] United to End Racism, No Limits for Women, and Sustaining All Life are projects of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities in which groups of Co-Counselors go to non-RC events to share what we’ve learned in RC about being more effective in ending racism, ending sexism and male domination,
and stopping environmental degradation and climate change.
[2] A Region is a subdivision of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community, usually consisting of several Areas (local RC Communities).
[3] Carolyn Kameya is the Regional Reference Person for the San Francisco Peninsula and San Jose, California, USA, and was the leader of the United to End Racism project at the U.S. Social Forum.
[4] Mary Ruth Gross 

We've Figured Out a Lot

On the first afternoon, a few of us were attending an opening session led by some of the forum organizers. At one point, Chris[5] turned to me and said, “You should say something.” My stomach dropped to my knees. Really, all I wanted to do was be quiet and melt into the background. My mind was blank. But Chris was right. I knew it would be good for our group to be visible from the outset. So I stood up, said my name, said that I was with United to End Racism, and asked a question about racism in the city the speaker was from. His response was animated and included many stories and examples. A woman in the audience later sought me out. We made a lovely connection, even talking about RC, in an interaction that happened because of Chris’ encouragement.

We can get used to the way we do things in RC and forget how significant they are. One woman in our sexism workshop was impatient to get moving toward concrete action. She didn’t think we needed to tell our stories. “We’ve done all that,” she said. Vivian[6] encouraged her to give the mini-session a try. After only a two-minute-each-way mini with a Co-Counselor, she knew something was happening that she hadn’t experienced before. People need to listen and be listened to. Some of us met and talked to a woman on the street about our racism workshop. She attended and afterward was so appreciative that white people were not only not vilified but also shown to have an important role to play. The people are good. The system is bad. Two men on our panel at the sexism workshop spoke from their hearts about what they had experienced and figured out. People were moved. The mini-session afterward was alive with emotion. Men are not the enemy and can be tremendous allies to women. The examples go on and on. We’ve figured out a lot that would be good for everyone to understand. I think we need to remind ourselves of that.

Below are the workshop descriptions we submitted to the U.S. Social Forum organizing committee. They were all accepted and became part of the program.

Care of the Environment—Skills for Making Movements Even More Sustainable and Effective

A participatory workshop using Re-evaluation Counseling tools to support the work of environmental and economic justice movements in sustaining life and ending oppression.

Organization: Sustaining All Life

Description: This is a hands-on, participatory, skills-building workshop with opportunities to create new ideas, sort out problems, resolve discouragement, and create new visions for making environmental and economic justice movements even more effective and sustainable. You will get chances to talk and listen. You will learn skills that can be used in a wide range of settings to increase the sustainability and effectiveness of your work and life.

Problem to be analyzed: It is important to become aware of the rapid and unceasing destruction of the living environment of the Earth. We get to resolve anything that inhibits our becoming fully aware of this situation and take all the necessary actions to restore and preserve our environment. Many people have been hurt in a way that has driven them to use oppression against each other and carry out destructive policies against all of the world. A full solution will require the ending of divisions between people and of all oppression. The restoration and preservation of the environment must take precedence over any group of humans having material advantage over others. We can and must recover from any difficulties that get in our way of making the changes necessary to end the destruction of the environment. This workshop will use tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to resolve the difficulties that get in our way of accessing our fully flexible intelligence, which is needed to care for the environment well.

Fronts of struggle: Cooperative economics—poverty, housing, workers’ struggles, anti-capitalism, economic alternatives. Earth and planet—sustainability, food sovereignty, ecological justice. Health, healing, and spirituality.

No Limits for Women—Challenging Sexism and Male Domination in Our Lives and in Our Work

This workshop uses the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to address how to effectively challenge sexism and male domination in our social justice work.

Organization: No Limits for Women

Description: This is a hands-on, participatory, skills-building workshop that will help women recover from their internalized oppression and overcome the limits installed by sexism and male domination. You will have the opportunity to talk, and to listen with respect as women talk about their lives and how sexism affects their social justice work. You will gain skills that you can use to strengthen connections and build increasingly honest relationships among women targeted by various oppressions, leading to unity of purpose and action.

Problem to be analyzed: Sexism exists in our lives and can affect the ways that we work together. We will look at divisions among women and the injury caused by those divisions. We will listen as women acknowledge the goodness in their cultures, communities, and organizations, while unraveling the sexism that may still be contained in them. Sexism also harms men, and men and women can work together to eliminate sexism. We support women to lead in this effort. This workshop will use the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to begin undoing the effects of sexism and male domination in our lives and in our social justice work—whether we have been targeted by sexism, have internalized sexist messages, or been conditioned to act as the agents of sexism—so that we can work together effectively.

Fronts of struggle: Health, healing, and spirituality

Making Connections Across Communities and Cultures Genuine: Healing the Hurts of Racism

This participatory workshop will use the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to address how to eliminate racism and its effects on our lives.

Organization: United to End Racism

Description: Groups of humans have been oppressed in a variety of ways throughout much of human history. Racism, one form of oppression, shapes and perpetuates the inequities of our societies and has become part of our societal institutions. Although racism is aimed at particular sections of the population, it corrodes and corrupts the entire society. It also limits the progress of every individual in society toward a full and meaningful life. Though many of us reject the precepts of racism, we unintentionally internalize messages of superiority and inferiority because of living in societies in which we are surrounded by racist messages. Despite our best intentions, some of our actions can reinforce this. To end racism, it is vital that we remove racist policies from our institutions and ensure fair and just conditions of life for all. It is also vital to heal the damage done to individuals by racism. It is only by healing this damage that we can be confident that racist attitudes will not continue, and give rise to racist policies in other guises. This workshop will use tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to undo the effects of racism on our lives, whether we have been targeted by racism, have internalized racist messages, or been conditioned to act as agents of racism. Unraveling this damage allows us to make real and lasting connections among people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, challenge racist policies, and grow a vibrant movement for justice.

Fronts of struggle: Cooperative economics—poverty, housing, workers’ struggles, anti-capitalism, economic alternatives. Culture—capitalist appropriation of culture, political culture, movement culture. Health, healing, and spirituality.

Carolyn Kameya
    San Jose, California, USA

[5] Chris Selig
[6] Vivian Santana Pacheco

Encouraging and Gratifying

It was encouraging to see RCers support one another through their emotional barriers to present this listening tool to people who might or might not accept it (right away).

It was gratifying to see people experience the powerful effects of listening and having someone listen to them with warm attention. It surprised some of them.

A few people had trouble understanding how RC could help them in their organizations, causes, and communities. It might help to keep repeating that we re-evaluate our patterns through discharge; that change starts within us first; and that once we change from within, we can be examples of what is possible and be powerful agents for change.

San Jose, California, USA

Not a Failure but an Opportunity

In our first workshop, a white man was  disruptive and unwilling to go along with the speaking order. Surprisingly, he showed up on another day for some of our other events.

In our No Limits for Women Workshop, a white woman urgently asked when she would get a turn to ask questions and stated that she didn’t feel it would be useful to tell her stories. Yolanda[7] did an elegant job of making her laugh, and when her mini-session with Anthony[8] was over, she said how useful it had been to be listened to and that she’d realized in two minutes that she still had “unresolved stories.”

During a workshop on Saturday, a Black man in the back of the room was showing signs of frustration. I wanted to go sit next to him so I could listen to him during the mini-session, but my feelings, from internalized racism, about angry Black men had me terrified. So I shook a little with Judy[9] and then went.

I managed to set up a three-way session with him and another man, who had grown up in South Korea. The Black man was clearly angry. He didn’t want to sit near me and moved away each time I approached him, saying that he already knew the stories of Asian men and was upset that we didn’t know the stories of Black men. He wanted to hear from the white people.

When I explained that we would do that later, after we’d listened to one another, he said that he wanted to hear what I had to say. So I went first in the mini-session. But as soon as I started, he interrupted me, questioning what I was saying, so I used that opportunity to invite him to go first.

In his session he was still quite angry and talked about his experience in the U.S. military in countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines (my country), and South Korea. When it was my turn, I mostly shook and cried about police brutality against Black men. When the third man went, he talked about the atrocities of war committed by the United States in South Korea. It was a difficult mini-session, and I was sure it was a failure.

However, when the workshop was over, Michael[10] heard the Black man talking about racism and went over to listen to him. The man talked for a long time, and Avi[11] joined Michael in listening to him. I later found out from Michael that he was not very angry anymore and had signed up for getting more information about RC.

Sometimes the people who are “disruptive” are the ones who end up being interested in us and RC. My theory is that they are ripe for discharge and are drawn to our ability to stay relaxed, listen, and treat them with kindness and respect. They may have never received that kind of reaction when showing their struggles.

The more relaxed we can be in handling “disruptive people,” the clearer picture they, and others around them, will get of this project we are describing. It’s not a failure but an opportunity.

Nik Leung
San Francisco, California, USA 

[7] Yolanda Provoste
[8] Anthony Maes
[9] Judy Serebrin
[10] Michael Levy
[11] Avi Leung

Leading, All Day

When I am not leading a workshop, I often let my shyness, fear, guilt, and internalized anti-Jewish oppression pull me away from people. But for the forum I programmed my smart phone to remind me each morning, “You are leading today. All day.” That worked.

Julian Weissglass
Santa Barbara, California, USA

"Best Practices"

The panels of RCers were perhaps the most powerful part of our workshops. The personal testimony, presented with conviction and sometimes a bit of discharge, gave people a picture of the value of RC that could have never been communicated in a theory talk.

 “Mental health” distress and “activist urgency” could prevent some people from benefiting from our workshops. We did well with the former by not talking about or displaying heavy discharge, and with the latter by talking about how feelings when not dealt with have torn apart social change movements in the past.

Another potential source of restimulation is “insider groups”—people who share bonds of common history, beliefs, and loyalties. Fears can come up for people when they encounter a group like this. They may feel suspicious about the “real” intentions of the group or threatened by its unfamiliar talk and behaviors. To reduce this restimulation, we naturalized RC as much as possible. For example, rather that saying “discharge,” we said “emotional release.” Also, Mary Ruth had prepared an excellent handout on the “tools of RC” that demystified our basic structures like “news and goods” and mini-sessions.

From my observations, there are a number of other “best practices”:

  • Clearly explaining in the publicity for our workshops that learning RC listening techniques will be a central focus. (Some of the blurbs in the forum program were too brief to convey this.) It shouldn’t be a surprise.
  • Making sure to present solid information on the announced topic (for example, care of the environment or eliminating racism). After one workshop, someone told me that the announced topic seemed like a footnote to a presentation that was really about RC.
  • Not outnumbering people. At another workshop there were fifteen RCers and four participants. Perhaps we should aim for a ratio of about one RCer to three participants, unless the participants understand that they are coming to a meeting of an ongoing group that has already been trained.
  • Defining every term that is not widely understood.
  • Having a support person who can step in and help with part of the presentation or be there for brief consultations. (Having that person visibly counsel the leader might require some explanation.)
  • Giving a brief overview of RC ideas and sharing RC’s history as a loose-knit community that began in the 1950s, spread internationally, and continues to develop. This transparency could defuse fears about “What is this group?”
  • Being transparent as well about our interest in people joining the RC Community. Some of us were a little shy about that. We could say something like, “We have two objectives in today’s workshop. One is to provide you with tools you can use immediately to make things go better in any setting. The other is to invite those of you who are interested to learn more and to help build a Co-Counseling Community where you live, so that this project can grow and do more good in the world.

Michael Levy
Santa Cruz, California, USA

A Blow to Oppression

As I discharged and thought about what I wanted to say in my one and a half minutes on a panel, my worst fear was that I would be too scared to think, let alone[12] speak. My discharging (not only in those few days but in the many years previously) and the confidence of my counselors paid off. The night before the panel, I suddenly imagined the pathway from my brain to my mouth opening and the debris in it clearing out. The next morning the image was still with me and the pathway seemed completely clear. Not only that, it felt permanent. I was relaxed on the panel and pleased with what I said as a white raised-working-class Jewish woman.

At one point in the forum, two white men and a man of the global majority were given the assignment to write about our team’s experiences. When I learned no women were assigned to the group, I asked to be in it.

As the four of us were discussing how best to write together, it was proposed that we each write up our own parts and then combine them. That seemed to me the most efficient way to do it. However, the man of the global majority (I’ll call him A—) proposed something different. He wanted us to discuss and write together a single document. We all agreed to give it a try.

But shortly after we started to work on it, one of the white men fell asleep. Then the other white man expressed impatience with the process and suggested that maybe we should all try to write by ourselves. A— seemed to be getting increasingly restimulated, so we decided to do a mini-session, with the two white men counseling together.

In the mini-session it was clear to A— and me that some sexism and racism were happening, and we wondered if the two of us should stay together and let the others go off by themselves. But to me that looked so much inside of men’s oppression, and A— thought that staying together was more of a contradiction for him than “getting the work done.”

When we came back, I told the white men that the falling asleep and not wanting to work together was restimulating to A— and me, that it seemed to be sending us the message, “I’m not in this with you.” We also told them that we really wanted to figure out how to work together.

I think that they wanted to understand but didn’t quite. One of them asked if we could counsel him on it. A— did not want to. I thought that I could but that I needed more discharge, so I proposed another mini.

A— and I had good sessions. We noticed having allies in each other and decided to figure out what we wanted and to stand up for it. I wanted to try to counsel the men. We agreed that if it was too hard for A— to listen to, he could leave.

When we got back together, both of the white men worked on early experiences of being bored in school and always having to work alone. Afterward both of them wanted to follow our lead and stay together.

Where we had struggled earlier with the logistics, we now elegantly figured out a way for one or the other of the white men to type while we all pitched in.[13] It was much more relaxed and participatory. In fact, we found ourselves joking and laughing together.

I think what we did was useful and a blow to oppression. A— and I were able to reclaim power with each other’s assistance and got closer to each other in the process. A— mentioned how what we had done reminded him of Dan Nickerson’s[14] proposal for ending capitalism: “In your paid job, do as little as possible to get by and spend the rest of your time building relationships.”

Judy Serebrin
Redwood City, California, USA
With input from A— 

[12] “Let alone” means and even more so.
[13] “Pitched in” means contributed.
[14] Dan Nickerson is the International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People.

One of Life's Greatest Satisfactions

I remember Harvey[15] saying that working together with others toward a common goal is one of life’s greatest satisfactions. He was right!

My highlights at the forum:

  • The progressive vision and vast experience we can offer other activists and movements, including how to move past victimization toward discharge and re-evaluation
  • Our attention to freeing human intelligence by both ending social oppression and resolving hurtful personal experiences stemming from oppression
  • Our emphasis on thinking, love, and human connection as a basis for social movements
  • Meeting people from many places who were excited to learn about RC, and listening to them, hearing their insights, sharing ideas
  • Teaching about the essential nature of humans, discharge and re-evaluation, oppression and liberation, internalized oppression, developing allies, and policies for liberation
  • Appreciating being alive at this moment and being able to participate in this historic effort

Gail Mandella
Berkeley, California, USA

[15] Harvey Jackins 

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00