Breakout Sessions

Conference concurrent Breakout Sessions will take place on May 1 from 1:30–3:00 pm and May 2 from 10:30 to noon. These sessions are critical spaces of engagement that provide focused time for conference attendees to dive deeper into conversations related to systemic challenges and processes of Othering as well as concrete strategies of advancing Belonging from the global to the local. These breakout sessions will be interactive spaces where attendees will engage in conversation with each other and with panelists comprised of community leaders, scholars, youth activists, artists, and practitioners who are exploring inclusion and exclusion from a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. Sign-ups are not required.

Monday, May 1
1:30–3:00 pm

Design for All: Creative Placemaking and Inclusive Space

Grand Ballroom 1

Speakers for Othering & Belonging 2017


Shakti Butler, PhD, (emcee) is Founder and President of World Trust Educational Services, a non-profit transformative educational organization. Rooted in love and justice, World Trust produces films, curricula, workshops and programs that are catalysts for institutional, structural and cultural change. Shakti is an inspirational facilitator, trainer and lecturer who is sought after by schools, universities, public and private organizations, and faith- based institutions. Dr. Butler has produced four documentaries: The Way Home; Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible; Light in the Shadows and Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity. These films form the core of World Trust’s teaching tools, and have experienced increased exposure—23 million views of one clip alone—generating national dialogue and critical thinking that is impacting institutions and communities across the country. Most recently, Dr. Butler served as diversity consultant and advisor on the Disney animated film, Zootopia, which focuses on challenging bias and systemic inequity. Shakti’s work incorporates whole body learning through stories, art, movement and dialogue. Her current film/dialogue project, Healing Justice: Cultivating a World of Belonging, is intended to popularize a national conversation about justice, responsibility and healing.


Zahra Billoo is a civil rights attorney and the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. Most recently Zahra spoke at the Women’s March on Washington and sued Donald Trump to challenge his “Muslim Ban” Executive Orders. Zahra is frequently facilitating trainings and workshops as a part of CAIR’s grassroots efforts to empower the American Muslim community and build bridges with allies on civil rights issues. She provides direct legal services for victims of law enforcement targeting and Islamophobia. Zahra has been highlighted in media outlets including the Christian Science MonitorMSNBC, and National Public Radio. Zahra received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the Society of American Law Teachers, the 2014 Unsung Hero Award from the Nationals Lawyers Guild Bay Area, and the 2013 Trailblazer Award from the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California.


Jeff Chang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University. His books include Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, Who We Be: The Colorization of America (published in paperback in January 2016 under the new title, Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post Civil Rights America). His latest, We Gon' Be Alright: Notes On Race and Resegregation, was published in September 2016. His next book will be a biography of Bruce Lee.Jeff co-founded CultureStr/ke and ColorLines. He was named by The Utne Reader as one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World" and by KQED as an Asian Pacific American Local Hero. He has been a USA Ford Fellow in Literature and the winner of the Asian American Literary Award. 


Dr. Iva E. Carruthers is General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (SDPC), an interdenominational organization within the African American faith tradition focused on justice and equity issues. SDPC is both a 501c3 and United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). As founding CEO and a trustee of SDPC, she has steered the organization as a unique, influential and esteemed network of faith based advocates and activists, clergy and lay. Former director of the Black Theology Project, Dr. Carruthers has a long history of engagement in community development initiatives and social justice ministry, fostering interdenominational and interfaith dialogue in the United States, Caribbean, South America and Africa. She is also founder of Lois House, an urban retreat center, Chicago, Illinois. She currently serves as a Life Time Trustee for the Chicago Theological Seminary and trustee for The Kwame Nkrumah Academy, Chicago; American Baptist College, Nashville; Shared Interest, New York; Bread for the World, Washington, DC. She is a member of the National African American Reparations Commission and is working on initiatives related to the U.N. Decade of People of African Descent.


Marshall Ganz is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He entered Harvard College in the fall of 1960, leaving a year before graduation to volunteer with the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. He found a “calling” as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and, in the fall of 1965, joined Cesar Chavez in his effort to unionize California farm workers. During 16 years with the United Farm Workers he gained experience in union, political, and community organizing. During the 1980s, he worked with grassroots groups to develop new organizing programs and designed innovative voter mobilization strategies for local, state, and national electoral campaigns. In 1991, in order to deepen his intellectual understanding of his work, he returned to Harvard College and, after a 28-year "leave of absence," completed his undergraduate degree in history and government. He was awarded an MPA by the Kennedy School in 1993, completed his PhD in sociology in 2000, and awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity by the Episcopal Divinity School in 2010. As senior lecturer, he teaches, researches, and writes on leadership, organization, and strategy in social movements, civic associations, and politics. 


Alicia Garza is an Oakland-based organizer, writer, public speaker and freedom dreamer who is currently the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States. Garza, along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, also co-founded the Black Lives Matter network, a globally recognized organizing project that focuses on combatting anti-Black state sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people.

Since the rise of the BlackLivesMatter movement, Garza has become a powerful voice in the media. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Time, Mic, The Guardian,, Essence, Democracy Now!, and The New York Times. In addition, her work has received numerous recognitions including being named on The Root's 2016 list of 100 African American achievers and influencers, the 2016 Glamour Women of the Year Award, the 2016 Marie Claire New Guard Award, and as a Community Change Agent at the 2016 BET's Black Girls Rock Awards.

Most important, as a queer Black woman, Garza’s leadership and work challenge the misconception that only cisgender Black men encounter police and state violence. While the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown were catalysts for the emergence of the BLM movement, Garza is clear: In order to truly understand how devastating and widespread this type of violence is in Black America, we must view this epidemic through of a lens of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.


Professor Lisa García Bedolla is Chancellor’s Professor in UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and Travers Department of Political Science and Principal and co-Founder of the American Majority Project Research Institute. She studies why people choose to engage politically. She has used a variety of social science methods – field observation, in-depth interviewing, survey research, field experiments, and geographic information system (GIS) – to shed light on this question. She uses the tools of social science to reveal the causes of political inequalities in the United States, considering differences across the lines of ethnorace, gender, class, geography, sexuality, et cetera. She believes an intersectional approach is critical to recognizing the complexity of contemporary U.S. politics and creating a more representative electorate.

Professor García Bedolla earned her Ph.D. in political science from Yale University and her B.A. in Latin American Studies and Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley.


LaToya Ruby Frazier is a Visual Artist and TED Fellow LaToya Ruby Frazier works in photography, video, and performance art to build visual archives that address industrialism, rustbelt revitalization, environmental justice, healthcare inequity, and family and communal history. Her first book The Notion of Family received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award. Frazier has received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited widely in the US and internationally, with solo exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Seattle Art Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. 


Masha Gessen is a journalist and the author of many books, including Perfect RigorBlood MattersEster and RuzyaWords Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy, and most recently, Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. The previously untold story of an area once declared a Jewish homeland, Where the Jews Aren’t reveals the complex, strange, and heart-wrenching account of the dream of Birobidzhan—and the true history of Jewish people in twentieth-century Russia.

As a journalist living in Moscow, Gessen experienced the rise of Vladimir Putin firsthand. In her 2012 bestselling book The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, she gave the chilling account of how a low-level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world. 


Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center. Melissa is Editor-at-Large at She hosted the award winning television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on weekend mornings on MSNBC.

She is the author of the award-winning Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.Harris-Perry received her B.A. degree in English from Wake Forest University and her Ph.D. degree in political science from Duke University. She also studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Harris-Perry previously served on the faculty of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and Tulane University.


Chinaka Hodge is a poet, educator playwright and screenwriter. Originally from Oakland, California, she graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in May of 2006, and was honored to be the student speaker at the 17h Commencement exercise. Chinaka was a 2012 Artist in Residence at The Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin, CA. In early 2013, Hodge was a Sundance Feature Film lab Fellow for her script, 700th&Int’l. Since its early days, Chinaka has served in various capacities at Youth Speaks/The Living Word Project, the nation’s leading literary arts non­profit. During her tenure there, Hodge served as Program Director, Associate Artistic Director, and worked directly with Youth Speaks’ core population ­­ as a teaching artist and poet mentor. Her poems, editorials, interviews and prose have been featured in Newsweek, San Francisco Magazine, Believer Magazine, PBS, NPR, CNN, C­Span, and in two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry.

Tara Houska is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation and a tribal attorney based in Washington, D.C. She was born and raised in International Falls, Minnesota, and was a triple major at the University of Minnesota, where she also earned her law degree. Since completing her studies, she has exclusively advocated on behalf of tribal nations at the local and federal levels. Her work has incorporated traditional knowledge and values, as Tara is a long-time student of Midewiwin. Her environmental justice efforts have ranged from grassroots organizing and media work to clerking for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Tara is a co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a non-profit committed to educating the public about the harms of stereotyping and promoting positive representation of Native Americans in the public sphere. Tara is dedicated to mino bimaadiziwin.


Sarah Kendzior is a writer, anthropologist, and critic. She is best known for her critical take on the “prestige economy”, her coverage of the 2016 election, and her academic research on authoritarian states in Central Asia. She is the author of a best-selling essay collection, The View From Flyover Country. Sarah is currently an op-ed columnist for the Globe and Mail, focusing on US politicsand the US correspondent for the Dutch news outlet De Correspondent. Previously she was an op-ed columnist for Al Jazeera English, writing about exploitation, particularly in higher education, the diminishing opportunities of America’s youth,and gentrification. She has also covered internet privacy, political repression, and how the media shapes public perception.Foreign Policy named Sarah one of “the 100 people you should be following on Twitter to make sense of global events”. In addition to working as a journalist, Sarah is a researcher and consultant. With a PhD in anthropology and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies, much of her research focuses on the authoritarian states of the former Soviet Union and how the internet affects political mobilization, self-expression, and trust.


Taeku Lee is Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Mobilizing Public Opinion (2002); Transforming Politics, Transforming America (2006), Why Americans Don't Join the Party (2011), Accountability through Public Opinion (2011), Asian American Political Participation (2011). Lee is also Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Managing Director of Asian American Decisions, and serves as Treasurer of the American Political Science Association and on the Board of Overseers of the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey. Lee was previously Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, Robert Wood Johnson Scholar at Yale, and Fernand Braudel Senior Fellow at the European University Institute. Lee was born in South Korea, grew up in rural Malaysia, Manhattan, and suburban Detroit, and is a proud graduate of K-12 public schools, the University of Michigan (A.B.), Harvard University (M.P.P.), and the University of Chicago (Ph.D.). 

Doug McAdam is The Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology at Stanford University and the former Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.  He is the author or co-author of 18 books and some 90 articles in the area of political sociology, with a special emphasis on racial politics in the U.S., and the study of social movements and “contentious politics.”  Among his best-known works are Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, Freedom Summer (1988, Oxford University Press), which was awarded the 1990 C. Wright Mills Award, and Dynamics of Contention (2001, Cambridge University Press) with Sid Tarrow and Charles Tilly.  His most recent book is Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Postwar America (Oxford University Press, 2014).  In it, he and co-author Karina Kloos, offer a detailed account of the origins of the deep political, economic and racial divisions so evident in the U.S. today.  He was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. 

Tarell Alvin McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays, which include The Brother Size, In the Red and Brown Water, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. Other plays include Head of Passes, Choir Boy, and WigOut!

Tarell’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is the basis for the film Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins. Among its many honors, the film has won an Academy Award for Best Movie, a Golden Globe for Best Drama, Gotham Award for Best Feature, NAACP Image Award for Best Independent Film, and the Human Rights Campaign’s Visionary Arts Award. The film has also been nominated for a BAFTA Award, Independent Spirit Award, PGA Award, DGA Award, WGA Award. Tarell has also worked on TV and film projects with Playtone, HBO, and Disney.

Tarell is the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant, the Whiting Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, the Evening Standard Award, the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Windham Campbell Award, and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He was the International Writer-in-Residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2008-2010, and a former resident playwright at New Dramatists.  He is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami.

Kumi Naidoo is currently serving as Launch Executive Director to the African Civil Society Initiative, an ambitious and evolving new initiative seeking to unite civil society across the continent around the issues of corruption, inequality, shrinking democratic space, climate change, poverty and gender equality. Formerly Executive Director for Greenpeace International, Kumi has served as Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Board Chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAAP) and President of the Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA). Kumi now serves as Board member for and the Global Greengrants Fund and as an ambassador to the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute (SAFCEI). Kumi has campaigned on issues ranging from apartheid at the age of 15, to adult education and violence against women.


john a. powell is the Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, which brings together researchers and scholars, community partners, strategic communicators, and policymakers to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society and to create transformative change toward a more equitable world. john is a Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley and holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion. john is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties and a wide range of issues including race, structural racialization, ethnicity, housing, poverty, and democracy. 


Ravi K. Perry, a native of Toledo, Ohio, holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Brown University, each in political science. Dr. Perry is Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

An expert on Black politics, minority representation, urban politics, American public policy, and LGBT candidates of color, Dr. Perry is the editor of 21st Century Urban Race Politics: Representing Minorities as Universal Interests, a book that discusses the efforts of African American, Latino and Asian mayors to represent the interests of minorities in historically White cities in the United States. His second book, entitled Black Mayors, White Majorities: The Balancing Act of Racial Politics, focuses on the challenges Black mayors face in representing Black interests in majority White, medium‐sized cities in the state of  Ohio.  His third book, published with his mother, is The Little Rock Crisis: What Desegregation Politics Says About Us. In it, Perry and Perry frame the story of the Little Rock 1957 desegregation crisis through the lens of memory. Over time, those memories – individual and collective – have motivated Little Rockians for social and political action and engagement.


Tarso Luis Ramos has been researching the U.S. Right for over two decades, contributing numerous articles and reports on Christian Right, anti-immigrant, anti-labor, and anti-environmental movements and campaigns. Under his leadership, PRA has launched several new initiatives, on subjects including the export of U.S.-style homophobic campaigns abroad, the spread of Islamophobia, and the Right’s investment in redefining religious liberty to assert a right to discriminate. Ramos previously served as founding director of Western States Center’s racial justice program. Throughout the 1990s, Tarso worked in various western states to counteract anti-gay campaigns, right-wing militias, and other organized threats to social justice. As director of the Wise Use Public Exposure Project in the mid-’90s, he monitored the Right’s anti-union and anti-environmental campaigns.

Rashad Robinson is the Executive Director of Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. As a force driven by over one million members, Color Of Change moves decision makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people, and all people. Rashad has developed winning strategies to change the rules of many fields affecting Black people’s lives: employment and the economy, voting and politics, news and entertainment, criminal justice. He has appeared in hundreds of media outlets including ABC, CNN, MSNBC, BET, NPR, The New York Times and Huffington Post. He was a 2015 EBONY Magazine "Power 100" honoree, and on “The Root 100” for the last six years. Fast Company named Color Of Change the 6th Most Innovative Company in the world (2015), and the Stanford Social Innovation Review profiled its strategies for “pursuing the fight for racial justice at Internet speed” in both online and offline venues.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, senior UN advisor, bestselling author, and syndicated columnist whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than 100 countries.

Professor Sachs served as the Director of the Earth Institute from 2002 to 2016. He was appointed University Professor at Columbia University in 2016, and also serves as Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Sustainable Development Goals, and previously advised both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals.  He is a Distinguished Fellow of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria. Sachs is Director of both the Center for Sustainable Development, and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Prior to joining Columbia, Sachs spent over twenty years as a professor at Harvard University, most recently as the Galen L. Stone Professor of International Trade. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Sachs received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees at Harvard.


Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Chair, The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University. She is the author of several books and the recipient of diverse awards and mentions, ranging from multiple doctor honoris causa to named lectures and being selected for various honors lists. Her newest book is Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard University Press 2014).

Zephyr Teachout is a law professor, author, and political activist. Her book Corruption in America explores the deep meaning of corruption in American history. She ran for Governor of New York and Congress, and is very involved in local rural organising. She is currently working on a book about monopolies. 



Full Agenda

Sunday, April 30

Oakland Marriott City Center
1001 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607

1:00 PM
Registration Opens
Grand Foyer

2:00 PM
Guided Meditation
with Amana Brembry Johnson
Room 202

1:30-3:00 PM
Interactive Art Installments

Rolling Counterpoint: A Community Conversation Project
Atrium of Oakland Marriott City Center
Join artist Taro Hattori and share tea and conversation in his mobile teahouse, part of the Rolling Counterpoint exhibit. Conceived as a space designed to foster public dialogue and exchange about division and belonging in contemporary society, Rolling Counterpoint consists of two physical structures: one stationary space installed outdoors at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California and one mobile teahouse that traveling to destinations throughout the Bay Area in 2017. Hattori invites visitors to add their voices to a growing collection of perspectives addressing such wide-ranging issues and social concerns as immigration, social exclusion, gentrification, homelessness, and income inequality. The artist seeks to use his roving teahouse as a means of connecting and bridging diverse and often disconnected communities, bringing them together around this shared conversation. In a special collaboration with the Othering & Belonging Conference, Hattori will be bringing Rolling Counterpoint to the conference for 2.5 days. Come participate and engage with artist Taro Hittori and his Rolling Counterpoint exhibit starting April 30 at 2:30 pm in the Atrium of the Oakland Marriott.

3:00 PM
Conference Program Begins

3:00 PM
Excerpts from "Illuminate"

Destiny Arts Junior Company

Frames for Life, Liberation, and Belonging: Artist Evan Bissell is producing a custom, interactive installation for the Othering & Belonging Conference that highlights narrative frames employed by visionary activists, thinkers, writers, and other storytellers across place and time. Join Evan in the Grand Foyer starting Sunday to add to the evolving wall installation; an archive of stories, actions and ideas for life, liberation and belonging. The final work will be catalogued and represented digitally.  

3:15 PM
Conference Opening
Shakti Butler, emcee

3:30 PM
Welcome by john a. powell

3:45 PM
Art as Transformation: A Lens for Social Change

La Toya Ruby Frazier, Visual Artist, Macarthur and TED Fellow

Each day, we’re bombarded by images: on billboards, on screens, in schools and in our bedrooms. And these images, largely corporate in origin, carry power—power to shape, control, and constrain—even when they offer a fantasy, or an outright lie.

That’s why, as LaToya Ruby Frazier argues, photography is a battleground of representation. We cannot control the material circumstances of our birth, our families or our economic circumstances. But in order to change society—to seed real change and cultural transformation, especially for the marginalized and the forgotten—we must change the picture we have of ourselves and our communities.

In this talk, Frazier discusses how she has used photography to fight injustice—poverty, healthcare and gender inequality, environmental contamination, racism, and more—and create a more representative self-portrait.

Drawing from her book The Notion of Family as well as from works of art by Frederick Douglass, August Sander, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Langston Hughes, she relates her conscious approach to photography, opens up more authentic ways to talk about family, inheritance, and place, and celebrates the inspirational, transformative power of images.

4:15 PM
Beyond Empathy: Arts, Culture, and Imagination

Jeff Chang, Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford, author and scholar on culture and hip hop

Racial crisis recurs in each U.S. generation. Even as the nation undergoes dramatic demographic change, we seem unable to extricate ourselves from the cycle that leads us back toward another crisis. The culture wars have become a permanent feature of our political landscape. How do the culture wars reproduce and exploit inequity and resegregation? What role can the arts and artists play in moving us out of the crisis cycle? How do we begin to imagine our way into transformative justice and freedom for all?  

4:45 PM
Theatre of Be Longing

Tarell Alvin McCraney, Oscar-winning playwright, chair of Yale’s playwriting program

What do the classics teach us about our humanity? What do we today have to teach the classics? The young people born today, those turning 15 yesterday, statistics say have never seen a live performance. Even fewer have seen a live performance in the theater or a play. And fewer have seen a play that reflected the life they currently live .

How do we create theatre as cultural belonging? How do we create a space where young audiences feel as though they can Be? And what is the type of theater we are Longing for?

5:15 PM 

6:00 PM
Reception & Book Signing 
Reception featuring East Bay Center of the Arts, Richmond Jazz Collective
Book signing by LaToya Ruby Frazier & Jeff Chang

7:15 - 8:30 PM
A Public Dialogue on Inclusive and Sustainable Development
Jeffrey Sachs, john powell and Kumi Naidoo
Community tickets for this dialogue are available by clicking here. 

Following a presentation by Professor Sachs, he will be joined in a public dialogue with john a. powell, Director of UC Berkeley's Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Kumi Naidoo, formerly Executive Director of Greenpeace International and now with AfricansRising. Naidoo is in town from South Africa to speak at the Othering & Belonging Conference. Opening remarks will be made by Hilary Hoynes, Professor of Public Policy and Economics and holder of the Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities. Sachs will do a book-signing following the event. His most recent book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable.

8:30 PM
Book signing by Jeffrey Sachs


7:00 AM
with Rasheed Shabazz Room 202

7:30 AM
Registration Opens 
Breakfast is included with conference registration

8:00 AM
Guided Meditation
Room 202 with Amana Brembry Johnson

9:15 am
Welcome Remarks
Shakti Butler, Emcee & Facilitator
Na’ilah Nasir, Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion, UC Berkeley 

9:30 AM
We the People: Practicing Belonging in a Period of Deep Anxiety
john a. powell, Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Berkeley Law Professor

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many of our foundational values have been called into question. From democracy and human dignity to equality and individual freedom, a collective belief in the founding values and systems of our country has faded from view, leaving many wondering, Is resistance enough? And although we may feel energized by the surge of political activism seen in response to the new, uncharted, and hostile territory we find ourselves in, how has the momentum from our progressive actions provoked an equal and opposite reaction from those who insist we do not belong? Yes, we must refuse the hate directed toward the "have-nots" in society; yes, we must resist all attempts to institutionalize hate into practice and policy. But at the end of the day, what does it mean to practice not only resistance but also an ethics of care—not just for one group or country but a care for all as one global society?

9:50 AM
The Surreal Present in Historical Context: Another Perspective on Othering & Belonging

Doug McAdam, Professor of Sociology at Stanford University 

The surreal onset of the new administration, to say nothing of Donald Trump’s oversize presence, has so focused our attention in the moment, that we’re in danger of losing critically important historical perspective.  Trump’s rhetoric and behavior are so extreme that the tendency is to see him and the divisions he embodies as something wholly new in American politics.  They are not.  Instead, Trump is only the most extreme expression of a brand of exclusionary politics practiced ever more zealously by the Republican Party since its origins in the 1960s.  We must understand this fundamental continuity if we are to successfully challenge the rash of exclusionary policies proliferating every day.  To see Donald Trump as the singular source of these dangerous and illiberal policies would be both historically inaccurate and a strategic mistake.

But even as we mobilize to confront the threat of Donald Trump’s vision of a divided, exclusionary America, we must confront the sources of division within our own ranks.  The good news is those who are appalled by and repudiate Trump’s divisive, anti-democratic vision for America greatly outnumber those who embrace it.  The bad news is, longstanding divisions within our ranks have too often muted the force of our numbers. If we’re to resist the ascendant forces of division and exclusion, we must not other each other.  While acknowledging and honoring the differences among us, we must resolve to full embrace our diversity and grant unqualified “belonging” to all who reject Trump’s image of a divided, exclusionary America.  

10:10 AM

john powell & Doug McAdam

10:30 AM
Break & Book Signing
Doug McAdam

10:45 AM
Christopher Oechsli, President & CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies

11:00 AM
Barriers to Belonging: Expulsions, Right-Wing Populism and the Global Struggle for Democracy

  • Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

  • Kumi Naidoo, AfricansRising and former Executive Director of Greenpeace International

  • Tarso Luís Ramos, Executive Director, Political Research Associates

We have been living during a period of rapid social, political and economic change over the last few decades. Widespread economic precarity and wealth inequality paired with persistent systemic othering and growing demands for inclusion by those who are excluded from full participation and belonging, has created a ripe opening for the global rise of right-wing populism and authoritarian regimes.  To exacerbate the situation, there is growing recognition that we live on a planet that is convulsing from human-induced climate change.

In this discussion we will explore the interrelationship among political crisis and the rise of populist movements as it relates to shifts in the economy—expanded globalization and migration, technological changes, erosion of redistributive tax policies, and unsustainable consumption—with increased xenophobia and anxiety of the other, and growing distrust of government and its consequences.

How do authoritarian leaders spur the rise of right-wing populist movements and in particular, the movements sweeping the globe today? What will it take to challenge authoritarian rule and extreme othering while also reclaiming democracy and substantive belonging? What strategies are available to us to disrupt the underlying notion that domination is a prerequisite for success? What will be required of our movements and movement leaders to meet the challenges of our time?

12:15 - 1:30 PM
Lunch Break

Info to explore eating in nearby Oakland will be provided. 

1:30 - 3:00 PM
Breakout Sessions
(For detailed information click here)

  • Design for All: Creative Placemaking and Inclusive Space

    • Grand Ballroom 1

  • Refugees, Borders, & Placelessness

    • Grand Ballroom 2

  • Strategic Narrative and Practices for Belonging

    • Junior Ballroom 1

  • Revealing and Resisting Global Demagoguery

    • Junior Ballroom 2

  • Youth Advance Belonging: Creating Another World That is Possible

    • Room 208

  • Transforming Public Health: Building Belonging

    • Skyline Room

  • Strategic Questioning

    • West Hall

3:00-3:30 PM
Break & Book Signing

Book signing by john a. powell & Saskia Sassen

3:30 PM
In Defense of the Truth
with Masha Gessen and Sarah Kendzior, authors and journalists

The current political landscape has made clear the powerful role that the press can play in upholding democracy. Amid daily attacks on the legitimacy of the press, Trump and his administration have limited the press’s access to government and show overt contempt for the democratic norm and role of a free press. The President uses Twitter to manipulate the public discourse with lies and misinformation. For a country that has taken free press for granted, experiencing authoritarian disregard for journalism and truth itself is unsettling. Two journalists and scholars with deep experience observing and reporting under authoritarian leaders will share insights and perspective to help us interpret and contextualize the erosion of the truth and the responsibility of a free, independent, and democratic press.

4:15 PM
Poems Because
Poems Work

Chinaka Hodge, poet and playwright

Chinaka Hodge reads new and commissioned work, forefronting politics, home and cultural remembrance

4:30 PM
Participation, Politics, and the Progressive Project: Where Do We Go From Here? 

  • Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science/Law at UC Berkeley and Associate Director for the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

  • Lisa García Bedolla, UC Berkeley

  • Marshall Ganz, Harvard University

  • Dr. Ravi K. Perry, Virgina Common Wealth University


The elections of 2008 and 2016 were pivotal, not just in terms of which candidates and issues won the day, but also in terms of which voters were mobilized and how they were engaged.

Understanding the demographic changes, public narratives, and campaign strategies that led us to Obama and Trump is critical to building an electorate across racial, class, gender, generational, and geographic lines moving forward. How can research and thought leadership help us change the narrative for 2018 and beyond?

What to do we need to know about where we are now to move forward by looking backward? Data can help with that.  Race, Space, Class—making sense of divisions. Opportunities—changing demographics, how we think of 2018, how can research help with this? What are policy implications?

Focus would be to exchange perspectives on where 2008 and 2016 leaves progressive, cross-racial projects to build power and participatory politics from the grassroots.Ideas, politics, and movements that need to happen—or are already happening but need to be sustained—in order to reclaim our democracy for those who believe in a core set of shared values based on inclusion and democracy.

5:45 PM
Book Signing
Book signing by Masha Gessen 


7:00 AM

with Rasheed Shabazz, Room 202

7:30 AM
Registration and Breakfast Open

9:30 AM
The Power of Belonging: Organizing, Democracy and Governance

  • Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, ColorOfChange

  • Zephyr Teachout, law professor, author, former candidate for Congress and Governor of New York

  • Sabrina Smith, California Calls

  • Moderated by Jonathan Smucker, Beyond the Choir and author, Hegemony How-To

Faced with both Houses of Congress and a White House controlled by people who not only disparage broad democratic participation, but are actively attempting to discredit and destroy democratic institutions themselves, we have witnessed an upsurge of civic engagement. People who value democracy and aspire to an inclusive society are stepping up to defend our values, preserve our institutions, and stand with communities that are being unduly targeted by the administration’s rhetoric and its misogynist, racist and xenophobic base. For many, this degree of civic engagement is new and unfamiliar.  For some, the political divisions seem insurmountable. And for others, the need to strengthen our work is acute. So, what are our alternatives?

Community organizers working in historically marginalized communities have long known that organized communities can have an outsized impact at the local and state level.  Though not always visible, organized community groups can and do play an important role in shaping political agendas, priorities and discourses. More recently, we have started to see intentional efforts to build new political formations that are more enduring and have the potential to shape the public discourse far beyond their immediate sphere of influence.

What can we learn about building power, working with elected officials and government agencies and holding those officials accountable from people who are steeped in community organizing?  What will it take to build power to transform government and hold it accountable at all levels? Why is local level community organizing central to building long-term progressive power?

How do people newly engaged in organizing help to advance collective goals while also learning from and supporting efforts to address the particular needs and concerns of different communities with which they are not familiar? How is this moment of political consciousness awakening an opportunity to reconnect with our shared humanity in deeply spiritual and meaningful ways? And how is organizing changing to meet these demands?

10:30 AM - 10:45 AM

10:45AM to 12:15 PM

Breakout Sessions
(For detailed information click here)

  • Disablement & Decarceration: Defining Disability Justice in an Age of Mass Incarceration

    • Grand Ballroom 1

  • Racial Anxiety, Increasing Diversity, and Politics of Fear of the Other

    • Grand Ballroom 2

  • Connecting the Dots: Money in Politics, Civic Engagement & Police Accountability

    • Junior Ballroom 1

  • obilize, Politicize, Organize

    • Junior Ballroom 2

  • Building a Transformational Women's Movement: Feminism at a Crossroads

    • 208 Room

  • Tech & Belonging: Responsibilities and Opportunities

    • Skyline

  • Advancing a Progressive Agenda: Cities & States as Sites of Resistance and Power

    • West Hall

12:15 PM
Lunch (provided with conference registration)
Served in the West Hall. Join fellow attendees to connect and network. 

1:00 PM
Reflections and Attendees Share-Outs

Shakti Butler

1:30  PM
The Being of Belonging

2:15 PM
My Blood Awaken and Kiss Louder
Antoine Hunter and Urban Jazz Dance Co.

2:30 PM 
Bridging to Belonging: Galvanizing Movements

  • Alicia Garza, Special Projects Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-founder, Black Lives Matter

  • Tara Houska, tribal attorney and Campaign Director, Honor the Earth

  • Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Council for American Islamic Relations

  • Moderated by Jidan Koon

A key aspect of resistance movements is to live into and model an alternative vision and structure for belonging. In this plenary,, we will explore how activists have built forward from galvanizing moments towards creating resilient structures of belonging.  These leaders, with different life experiences and perspectives, will discuss how they have approached cross movement solidarity to recognize our human similarities while also embracing our differences. Some of the questions we will explore include; what can we learn from their approach and practices to transform our political consciousness and our ways of being with one another? What can we learn from the approach to organizing at Standing Rock that made possible a balanced and authentic (non-transactional) way? What sources of resilience do these activists draw on? What possibilities for cross-movement and cross-community solidarity are suggested and start to become visible?

4:00 PM Closing Keynote
The Stories We Tell About Who We Are: Race, Gender, Making American Politics

Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center and Editor-at-Large at She hosted the MSNBC television show “Melissa Harris-Perry” from 2012-2016 on weekend mornings.

5:00 PM
Closing Remarks
john a. powell, Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

5:15 PM
Closing Song

Valerie Troutt and Voices of Reason, East Bay Arts Center

5:30 PM
Book Signing

Melissa Harris-Perry

6:00 PM
Conference Ends

Featured Breakouts

Design for All: Creative Placemaking and Inclusive Space

Miriam Chion, David John Attyah, Roberto Bedoya, Victor Pineda


By: Rhonda Itaoui

‘Design for All: Creative Placemaking and Inclusive Space’ provided a unique opportunity to critique the socio-spatial aspects of belonging, and explore methods for cultivating spaces of enhanced inclusivity in everyday urban places. The workshop encouraged the interactive participation of workshop attendees, who were asked to label one of four portraits of urban spaces around the room with various statements from a sticker sheet such as “monumental,” “active,” “vibrant,” etc. Once participants had completed the labelling of their selected portrait, they took seats in proximity to their selected urban space portrait and engage in the presentations of four panelists. Miriam Chion opened the session with an informative overview of ‘Urban Vitality’ as a necessary solution to urbanization by creating more inclusive spaces that consider the people, activities, and networks within the community.

 Robert Bedoya encouraged a deeper critique of the politicized nature of belonging and unbelonging in these places to enable creative placemaking. In drawing on the human capacity as “place-makers.” Bedoya framed our neighborhoods as sites for the collective, rather than the privatized ‘we’—which he said is essential to advancing belonging in an equitable world.

 In addition to considering the politicized nature of belonging, Victor Piñeda highlighted the way that inclusive spaces must reflect a balance of the city’s historical memories while at the same time respond to ongoing cultural shifts to ensure the continuity, vibrancy, and relevance of a place for its community.

 Public art was cited as a strategy for creative placemaking among attendees, and critiqued by David Attah who advocated for ‘socially engaged’ public art that should not only reflect and engage with local civic processes, but also encourage the participation of the local community and its various stakeholders. In advocating for art that treats its audience as “subjective,” he asserted the need for a more inclusive public art-making process that is ethical, self-critical, and most importantly, participatory for its local community.

 Following these panelist presentations, each table group was provided with one of the following four “creative placemaking solutions”: engaging people with food, cultural remembrance, farmer’s markets, and muraling. Each group applied their chosen solution to the pictured urban space, and brainstorm ways to incorporate that element in the urban space in an inclusive and engaging way. The presentation of group brainstorms sparked discussions around power and privilege in decision-making, the incorporation of socially engaged public art, shifting land-use practices, community-building activities, and native recognition in creative placemaking.

 In addition, feedback on proposed creative placemaking solutions like street art and farmers markets encouraged critique of community participation, agency, and empowerment in the placemaking process. Overall, the session highlighted the dialectic relationship between place and belonging. Indeed, creating inclusive places requires the building of a narrative that brings people together, accounts for the broader community’s past, current and future needs while encouraging community participation in all stages of the creative place-making process.


photo by Eric Arnold, see more photos on our Facebook page.

Refugees, Borders, and Placelessness

Saskia Sassen, Nunu Kidane, Leena Odeh, Abraham Ramirez, Nadia Barhoum

By: Affiong Faith Ibok

A common theme among the speakers in the panel “Refugees, Borders, Placelessness” was a need for greater collective understanding of what causes of migration. During her presentation, renowned globalization scholar Saskia Sassen asked the audience “Why do people migrate?” Sassen expressed that a “racialized analysis” of migration exists because the political classes have failed to educate the “suffering classes.” She stressed that, while the refugee population is growing, migrants are a minority and that “migrations happen inside systems.”

 UC Berkeley Ph.D candidate Abraham Ramirez’s presentation approached migration from a historical perspective. He talked about how the physical expulsion of a population always follows an epistemic expulsion. In order to justify colonization, colonists must first delegitimize indigenous peoples’ knowledge creation. In order to discuss migration, Ramirez states that people have to understand the history of stripping populations of their humanity to justify colonization. If that is ignored, people will continue to look to solutions in the very same systems that constructed the problems. Instead of looking towards the nation-state for solutions, Ramirez argued we need to look at the communities that have resisted for centuries.

 Organizer Leena Odeh’s presentation went on to challenge the rhetorical use of the term “refugee crisis.” According to Odeh, the term “refugee crisis” implies that this situation is natural, instead of the result of geopolitical attacks. Furthermore, Odeh argued that refugees’ existences are politicized while the issues that affect them are decontextualized.

 The final panelist, Nunu Kidane of Priority African Network, centered her presentation on controlling and expanding the narratives for migrants. Migrants are made secondary to their own narratives, she said, and people’s perceptions of migrants are controlled by the images they see. The narratives of migrants are complex, she said, but migrants are often characterized as victims or perpetrators of violence.

 At the end of the breakout session audience members were invited to join in a Q&A session. One audience member asked if the panelists could expand on the idea of refugees “Othering” each other. Ramirez answered that communities of color who are not colonized subjects are attracted to whiteness because of the false promises it offers. He asked, “How can we convince people to not reproduce these systems?” He told a story about traveling to Spain and finding out that being Mexican in Spain was different than being Mexican in the United States. While he did not experience discrimination, people of other ethnicities did. Instead of accepting this new privilege, Ramirez rejected it. He used this anecdote to express how important it is for communities to not reproduce oppression. Fundamentally, he said, communities of color must resist the temptation to “Other” each other.

Racial Anxiety, Increasing Diversity, and Politics of Fear of the Other

Dowell Myers, Olivia Araiza, Sean McElwee, john a. powell, Shakil Choudhury

By: Juan Sebastian Arias

Studies have shown that increased racial diversity leads to increased racial anxiety, a trend that will only continue as the country grows more diverse. In framing this breakout panel on racial anxiety, Haas Institute Director john a. powell explained that anxiety can be hard to define, but essentially consists of an acute sense of loss of self. As people perceive change coming to them that they cannot control, they feel an increased sense of ‘racial anxiety,’ or an anxiety of the Other. Yet anxiety itself is not bad. If mediated positively, anxiety can lead to bridging ties and empathy between groups. But if mediated negatively, it can lead to breaking ties, where others are seen as threats or competitors in a zero-sum calculus. Racial anxiety is fundamentally widespread and can even be found in communities of color.

 Panelist Sean McElwee, Policy Analyst at Demos, connected racial anxiety to the role of racism in determining the 2016 US presidential election. He presented data showing that a backlash to rising diversity drove Donald Trump’s support. In the 2016 election, 11 percent of Obama voters switched to Trump, while only 5 percent of Romney voters switched to Clinton. Survey data identified racial attitudes as the most important factor in predicting this switch, with the strongest predictor of a switch to Trump among those with higher racial anxiety. On the flip side, he found no evidence that indicators of economic hardship made voters more likely to support Trump – which provides counter evidence to the population notion that working class anxiety led people to support Trump. Looking forward, McElwee concluded that we’ll see greater political polarization along racial attitudes and that we will need to bring new voters into the electorate for better chances in future elections.

 Dowell Myers, demography and urban planning professor at the USC School of Policy, offered one way to mediate racial anxieties with a new narrative that helps older white voters see the great benefits in diversity. By focusing on the challenges our country will face as the number of people over 65 grows much faster than that of people who are in prime working age, he argued that investing in all youth, especially youth of color, is one of the only solutions. We don’t have enough youth to support the rising numbers of retirees, so we will need to really support the best outcomes for the entire future workforce. Otherwise, drastic changes will be needed to sustain the current retirement system. This is just an example of how to change the narrative we tell out of pending demographic shifts to support racial equity.

 Lastly, educator and consultant Shakil Choudhury spoke about the importance of emotional awareness and literacy among the social justice movement. He emphasized the role of emotions as invisible yet controlling drivers for our behaviors and decisions. With respect to our emotions related to other, we tend to have empathy for those most like us. In contrast, we also have anxiety and fear recorded in the amygdala which are then triggered by others. This tendency to dehumanize others is loaded in our brains and is something we need to mindfully work against, Shakil said. He called on activists to make activist spaces irresistibly humanizing, so that people will be drawn to the social justice movement, instead of feeling pushed out. He named four activist traps to avoid: poor self-care that leads to burnout, despair from going beyond critical to cynical, simplification of theory into truth, and the dehumanizing of allies and opponents.

Strategic Narrative and Practices for Belonging

Ian Haney López, Sabrina Smith, Troy Jackson, Ifeoma Ike, Gerald Lenoir, Olivia Araiza

By: John Paraskevopoulos

The speakers on the Strategic Narratives panel focused their discussion on strategies and frames for advancing a strategic narrative capable of mobilizing actors around issues of racial justice and inclusivity in the United States. Berkeley Professor Ian Haney López started off by noting the difference between narrative and branding, and describing the current fissure in the Left between the “class” left and the “equality” left, whose narratives have become mutually exclusive. Professor López suggested that the new progressive narrative must bridge its “class” and “equality” rift and avoid negative frames, opting instead for a more positive vision: demanding that government help everyone, that we should view undue concentrations of wealth and power as opportunities for emancipation, and that trust in each other should be prioritized.

 Ifeoma Ike, an organizer from Brooklyn, spoke about the need not to rush aligning movements, at the risk of fracturing extant efforts and groups, and not trying to help marginalized communities, but work with them. Similarly, Ifeoma described the need to work with white Americans and groups, and not to think that white America is intellectually unable to contribute to a progressive movement.

 On a similar note, Troy Jackson, an organizer and pastor from Ohio, spoke about building empathetic bridges in faith communities where politics and race are often avoided as subjects of discussion. He noted that the very large constituency of evangelical groups in middle America are often written off as politically and socially conservative, and thus excluded from progressive organizing efforts and left outside of strategic visions and narratives as stakeholders.

 Sabrina Smith, a California-based organizer, described the results of her group’s use of social-values polling in organizing and framing policy agendas and ballot proposals, which have shown for her that the vast majority of Californians want to be left out of other people’s problems and feel that government should simply be efficient, not expansive or inclusive. Smith highlighted the need to locate openings in this middle constituency, and in framing progressive agendas and strategic narratives such that they lead with values and remain aspirational.

 Together, the speakers all touched on the importance of using aspirational values and frames to unite constituencies, on the importance of connecting government to people’s lives, and on the need to work with differing constituencies, including segments of white Americans experiencing the racial and economic anxieties that fueled Trump’s election, in order to construct a meaningful strategic narrative for today’s progressive movement.

 Two memorable questions included one about how social justice is often funded on a charitable basis, and a provocative question about whether or not we can incorporate lessons from the last 10,000 years of human civilization into a strategic narrative about the next 10,000. Troy Jackson responded to the question about charity by referencing the parable of the Good Samaritan. He ceded that the good Samaritan is great, but why is the road to Jericho so dangerous? In other words, charity is wonderful, but our society needs structural reforms—good Samaritans and charity are only temporary redress for deeper-seated problems.

Mobilize. Politicize. Organize.

Rev. Kevin Sauls, Jonathan Smucker, Alva Martinez, Sean Burns

By: Hossein Ayazi

The panel “Mobilize. Politicize. Organize.” brought together four individuals whose experience organizing prior to and in the midst of the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency afforded them keen insight into effective strategies for political action during politically urgent times.

The panelists, Reverend Kelvin Sauls, Jonathan Smucker, Alva Martinez, and Sean Burns, were asked to address critical questions, such as: What is the value and necessity of resistance? What are its limits? How do we transform resistance into a demand for transformative, long term change? What is at risk, if we fail to do so? How can we use this moment to work towards healing longstanding divides between communities and to break down silos between issue areas? Session attendees also used the panel theme to pose other significant questions, including those related to how we can create an increasingly more inclusive “we” in organizing?

 The central questions, comments, and responses from the speakers were that we need to push ourselves to think beyond a single axis of struggle for a more inclusive “we,” and to work beyond envisioning electoral bodies and legislative measures as the means and ends of discrete struggles. More specifically, and in conversation with 40+ attendees, the panelists drew several conclusions: effective organizing, mobilizing, and politicizing is nonlinear; it requires us showing up fully to our work and sharing our own stories and personal experiences; it requires having those experiences heard and acknowledged; it requires envisioning measures beyond strictly political parties and legislative measures, while at the same time remaining in constructive tension with established bodies; and that what will help drive us through this work is faith in the future, faith in our potential, faith in one another, faith in our ancestors, faith in a higher being, and faith in our ability to transform at the intersection of multiple struggles.

 Particularly striking was the middle ground between the notion that “we shouldn’t do anything electoral, don’t engage the Democratic Party” and that of “you shouldn’t criticize the Democratic Party” posed as a means of addressing the current situation. Also of great interest was the recommended move from finding “common ground” to “higher ground”—where, at the intersection of multiple peoples, struggles, and stories, people themselves are being transformed by realizing what their privileges are and know when they need to step aside so that others can lead.

Noticing a gap in the types of difference addressed, one attendee shared their experience with multi-generational organizing, where older folks had used their experience in earlier struggles (e.g., those during the Civil Rights era) to frame the political struggle in which they were presently taking part. The result was a mis-assessment of the of the problems at hand as well as the most effective methods of addressing them. The panel responded by agreeing that it is the youth that should be leading—“we are not just the future, we are the present.”

 Ultimately, the conversation brought many different people from many different backgrounds—racial, ethnic, economic, generational, religious, and political—yet the goals were the same: to share strategies and build an effective movement against a political party and government entirely unrepresentative of the vast majority of people and their concerns, despite skillfully deploying rhetoric that suggests otherwise. There was no one takeaway, no one solution posed, but rather a conversation about how we can come together across difference.

Creating Another World That is Possible: Youth Advancing Belonging

Clarence Ford, Hatem Mohtaseb, Ruben Elias, Kristian Kim, Tania Pulido, Ruben Canedo

By: Kimberly Rubens

The “Youth Advance Belonging” panel aimed to define and expand on the theme of inter-generational leadership, specifically engaging with the question of how can elders engage youth in civic leadership? The panel brought together youth leaders from different movements working to challenge structures, systems, and institutions that historically and systematically exclude marginalized communities. Panelists explored how youth have been able to identify the failures of these inherited structures, systems, and institutions in ways that have been generative and created space to build practices and spaces of belonging.

Ruben E. Canedo, CE3 Research and Mobilization Coordinator at UC Berkeley, served as the panel’s moderator and opened the session with a moving quote from writer Arundhati Roy: “…She is on her way. I can hear her breathing.” Canedo said this quote reflected his efforts to facilitate a wide-ranging discussion on inviting youth into social justice movements.

Canedo began the discussion by asking the panelists to share their thoughts on the importance of intergenerational leadership. Panelist Tania Pulido, a Community Health Coordinator, said that intergenerational leadership is the only way things can forward. “I find a lot of wisdom by seeking elders,” she said, noting that she is helping put on a play about 1940s Richmond and is particularly interested in what a Renaissance looks like today and how it’s connected to what came before. “I also see myself as the bridge to call youth and elders out when they say ‘out of pocket’ things,” she added.

Each of the youth featured on the panel had an opportunity to discuss the healthy and unhealthy ways in which they are pulled in as the next generation of leaders. Kristian Kim, a member of the Undergraduate Worker’s Union at UC Berkeley, criticized the notion of students attending the “best” public university. “I feel a bit objectified, [it] gets to the “youths’” head - being told that you go to the number one university in the world. This idea of “number one” is a very imperial view of the world,” she said. “It also lends itself to this rootlessness and hopelessness because I can go anywhere or do anything. While it may not be what I do forever, but organizing at Berkeley is what I can do now.”

Before Canedo moved to small group discussion portion of the panel, he asked each of the panelists to share something to Stop and Start doing. The discussants shared:

Clarence Ford: Stop being combative listeners, start being active listeners.

Tania Pulido: Stop assuming, start speaking from lived experiences.

Kristian Kim: Start believing someone the first time they share who they are.

Hatem Mohtaseb: Stop pushing away people who want to organize and who don’t say politically correct things, but start listening and bring people to your side. Also, take your time building relationships.

Throughout the panel, Canedo attempted to “disrupt this bi-directional space” by providing time for honest reflection from both the panelists and audience members. The second half of the panel was devoted to four small group discussion, with a panelist assigned to each. In this space, audience members were invited to reflect and share on their lived experiences in intergenerational leadership. The main takeaways were to pass the baton, hold space for others, and that it is healthy to be honest and vulnerable.

Revealing and Resisting Global Demagoguery

Larry Rosenthal, Sarah Kendzior, Stephen Menendian

By: Darren Arquero

How can we recognize and resist demagogic forces in the United States and beyond?

 Demagogue ("demos", the people, and "agogos," leader) is defined as a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

This topic animated the conversation during the May 1 breakout session "Revealing and Resisting Global Demagoguery," a workshop that spoke to the rise of demagoguery on a global scale, as well as the continuing desecration of constitutional norms and laws that followed in the wake of the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Led by the Haas Institute's Stephen Menendian, the intimate panel featured insights from Lawrence Rosenthal, Chair and Lead Researcher of UC Berkeley's Center for Right-Wing Studies, and journalist Sarah Kendzior, an expert on authoritarian states and US politics.

 All three panelists emphasized the need to understand how the success of Donald Trump fits into a larger global phenomenon of political leaders appealing to ethnic, religious, and nationalistic identities, which Rosenthal highlighted as beginning domestically with the Tea Party movement in 2009.

Kendzior added that a similar phenomenon could be found across the Atlantic, arguing that the UK’s Brexit vote was an appeal to national identity following the massive refugee and migrant crisis from the Middle East and North Africa in 2015. From India, Hungary, and Turkey to the Philippines, Russia, and the (failed) attempt of the National Front at capturing the presidency in France, the rise of illiberal democracies points to the strategic use of the “Other” that sits at the heart of populist movements.

Rosenthal elaborated this point further in the context of the United States, stressing how the rise of the Tea Party and subsequently the alt-right fed off the antipathy and distrust that working class whites had toward political and financial elites—hence the popularity of Trump’s slogan, “Draining the swamp.”

Moreover, Kendzior’s astute reading of the stepping down of national security Michael Flynn and her (correct) prediction of the firing of James Comey demonstrates how Trump’s actions are part of the “standard power play” of authoritarian leaders as they consolidate power at the nation-state level. As demagogues across the world stroke anxieties of demographic change by tapping into economic dislocations and engaging in “dog whistle” politics—such as Trump's comments on Mexican “rapists” and “radical Islamic terrorism”—Menendian advocated the need to design and implement policies that build inclusivity into the fabric of our societies.

Strategic Questioning

Shakti Butler

By: Lauren Alexander

The Strategic Questioning breakout session led by conference emcee Shakti Butler aimed to demonstrate how framing questions and conversations differently can empower new questions, release blocks to fresh ideas, facilitate people’s own responses to change, and create answers that may not be immediately known. The session, which drew extensively from the article, “Strategic Questioning for Social Justice,” by Fran Peavy, demonstrated how strategic questioning opens both parties to a new point of view, allows ideas to shift and take into account new information and possibilities.

 Butler began by unpacking the idea of passive versus active communication using “school” as an analogy. In school, we are taught that getting the right answer first is the way to demonstrate worthiness as students. Peavy calls this “static communication” and argues this type of communication can be deeply passive. Instead, Butler urged participants to create an “undulating ocean of exchange,” whereby both parties give and receive information. However, she acknowledges that getting to this point can be difficult because we don’t know how to cross the chasm that we so often face in conversation.

 To explore further his idea of strategic questioning, Butler urged participants to get into groups of three and think of some of their own central questions that brought them to this conference.  Some of the questions offered by participants included: How do we move forward with anti-racism work in an environment that represses it?; How can Black women and nurturers build bridges without becoming the bridge that is trot upon?; Why should I see reaching out to another community as abandoning my own?

In each of the groups one person presented their question while a second individual served as the respondent who questioned the first in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of what was being asked. The third person in the group observed and helped provide insight once the conversation was over.

After each round, each individual was asked to reflect on how the role they just played was like for them, guided by questions from Butler, including:

  •  “When you were the one asking questions, who found that their question shifted?”

  • “Who got new ideas from listening?”

  • “When you were observer, how many people wanted to jump in?

 Butler discussed how this approach to communication has the potential to move people’s opinions and how critical it is to think about one’s audience—they should be engaged in a way that doesn’t exhaust them.

 Following this discussion, Butler briefly reviewed types of questions. She broke them down into first level questions—framing questions, observation questions, and analysis questions—and second level questions. Second level questions include visioning questions—how would you know whether your work is successful, as well as change questions, which focus on strategy to achieving that vision.

 The ultimately takeaway of this workshop was that people can be empowered when they have the chance to think out loud you and try out new ideas—and in the process that person can take ownership and gain confidence. An authentic conversation can open new avenues and create opportunities for change for everyone involved.

Disablement and Decarceration: Defining Disability Justice in an Age of Mass Incarceration

Talila Lewis, Eduardo Vega, Claudia Center, Tamisha Walker, Stephen Rosenbaum

By: Erica Browne

The panel presentation began with information on law, disability justice, and creative ways to use the law to move towards justice. Panelists presented statistical information about the disproportionate adverse health, mental health, and punishment outcomes experienced by people with disabilities. Panelists Talila Lewis of Rochester Institute of Technology and Claudia Center of the ACLU emphasized that any conversation about race and class oppression must also talk about disability-based oppression, and how race/ability/class-based oppression permeates our institutions, societies, laws, and practices. The panelists then moved into a “grounding” on the meaning and significance of disability justice, emphasizing that language is rich and important, and that we must name things as they are: disability justice instead of disability law; criminal legal system instead of criminal justice system; love and support instead of treatment; and prison, instead of correctional facility. Panelists discussed how the disability rights framework has unintentionally set up a system of diagnoses and abling that promotes a culture of compliance and does not ensure that people are supported in the ways necessary.

 Eduardo Vega of Dignity Recovery Action! International, then presented mental health advocacy as the space where social justice and health issues intersect and where the work of disability justice is also situated. Panelists emphasized that diagnoses have the power to potentially change the course of someone’s life, arguing that people are assigned to deterministic categories through the process of diagnosis. Such categories serve to systematically disempower individuals and their life opportunities.

 The panel presentation concluded with a discussion on positive changes to address these challenges, including resourcing our communities to address the needs of the most vulnerable, needy, and disadvantaged. With this approach, we would not rely on the incarceration system to provide the support and actions necessary to actively lift up all corners of society. This alternative acknowledges that we cannot ask a system that was not designed to serve us, to serve us. In many cases. people are incarcerated because society does not have the resources to support or care for those with the greatest needs. For example, young people are often labelled as “emotionally disturbed”; in fact, many have actually been exposed to trauma, poverty, or prison, and need and deserve even greater support.

Building a Transformational Women's Movement: Feminism at Crossroads

Vanessa Daniels, Malika Redmond, Kim Tran, Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez, Darren Arquero

By: John Paraskevopoulos

The Transformational Feminism panel opened with a discussion of what feminism means to each of the speakers. Kim Tran, a doctoral candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, said that feminism entails emancipation from all forms of oppression, a point agreed upon by all speakers. Vanessa Daniels of the Groundswell Fund added that it means creating a world in which everyone can be his or her whole self, such that we can be a whole society.

Women cannot be whole people until they are free and equal in every regard, and men cannot be whole until they replace patriarchy with feminist consciousness (in the same way, she added, that white people cannot be whole until they replace white supremacy with racial justice.) Within this rubric, however, there has been fracture, including the parallel feminisms of women of color and white liberal feminism. Moreover, Tran said that while many people agree with the project of ending all forms of oppression, the majority of these people don’t feel that this is a Feminist project, or identify as Feminists otherwise. This poses an obstacle for those working to build a transformational Feminism, as they must raise awareness about its goals and relevance to the lives of many people around the world.

 Malika Redmond of Women Engaged stressed that however new our present-day struggles may feel, they are part of a much longer historical struggle. On that note, Tran added that we must address the issue of intergenerational violence among men and women and especially among colonized and formerly colonized people because of how deeply such forms of structural violence run and are perpetuated. With regards to structural violence, Kat Gutierrez of UC Berkeley discussed the pervasive complicity of academia surrounding issues of sexual violence on college campuses.

 Gutierrez offered deeper insights into what transformational feminism means, arguing that the movement’s future cannot be seen as simply a reversal of the white male power hierarchy, and that representational politics must be avoided. She shared the story of a white dairy farmer from Fresno County who mortgaged his farm and equipment in 1972 in order to pay Angela Davis’ $100,000 bail—an example of what a transformed society might look like: one in which white men with resources are willing to put everything they own at risk for women of color. This was connected to the larger idea that a transformed and progressive world must be willing to inclusively share its power and resources.

Featured Panels

Barriers to Belonging: Expulsions, Right-Wing Populism, and the Global Struggle for Democracy

Saskia Sassen, Kumi Naidoo, Tarso Luís Ramos

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By: Sara Grossman

Barriers to Belonging: Expulsions, Right-Wing Populism and the Global Struggle for Democracy, a Keynote Address by Saskia Sassen, Kumi Naidoo, and Tarso Luís Ramos

From extreme inequality to forced migration, the world’s bloated system of finance can be found at the root of nearly all major challenges of our time, said renowned sociologist Saskia Sassen during an hourlong panel discussion on “barriers to belonging” with Kumi Naidoo, former director of Greenpeace International, and Tarso Luis Ramos, an expert on rightwing movements.

Finance, she explained to nearly 1,200 attendees at the 2017 Othering & Belonging conference, is not so much about making money, but about creating it—as, by its nature, finance sells what it doesn’t have and does so without producing anything of tangible value. This buying and selling of nonmaterial goods now outstrips the value of global GDP—and as a result, social concerns like health care, education, and shared opportunity have all become secondary to the continued generation of profit.

Fundamentally, Sassen said, financialization is just one more manifestation of a larger “logic of extraction,” which she called a global economic project spurred by the twin trends of privatization and deregulation. For finance firms to achieve profit, she explained, they must speculate on the products of other sectors using tools to extract goods and create financialized commodities. Eventually, everything from student loans to mortgages becomes financialized—and a powerful wealth creation tool for a small global elite that can make billions from the click of a mouse.

“All that capital, if you could just bring it down, and use it to build social housing, to clean up all the toxic dumps we have—if we have a larger mind that could think ‘How do we use this for the larger good?’ we would be better off,” Sassen said.

Naidoo, who is currently the launch director of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace, and Dignity, took Sassen’s criticism of the global economic system one step further, arguing that a new vision of economics is needed to achieve a truly inclusive and sustainable world.

“We must connect spirituality with our economic system,” he said. “What makes a meaningful life? What is valuable for us?"

We are suffering from affluenza—a pathological illness that equates happiness with consumption," he continued, "and are in deep denial about how broken our political and economic systems are and how close we are to ecological collapse."

“Climate change cannot be addressed with incremental tinkering,” Naidoo added. “To address the crisis we need to do more with less.”

Sassen said that to address the worsening ecological and economic systems, we must begin to “relocalize.”

“Do we need an international corporation [in order] to have a coffee in the neighborhood?” she asked. “We must work to create tissue in neighborhoods through new kinds of economic activity.”

Ramos, Executive Director of Political Research Associates and a researcher of US rightwing movements, noted that neoliberalism—the movement to deregulate and privatize all aspects of communal life—was once a right-wing project, but “is now the air we breathe."

For those seeking guidance on achieving Naidoo’s vision of a reimagined economic system, Sassen pointed to cities themselves as homes of the resistance. The frontier has traditionally been where actors from different areas meet and where there are no rules, she said. But today, “the only frontiers we have left are those within our own cities,” where creative resistance can meet, formulate, and grow stronger.


photo by Eric Arnold, see more photos on our Facebook page.

The Art & Science of Building Power

Taeku Lee, Lisa García Bedolla, Marshall Ganz, Dr. Ravi K. Perry


By: Sybil Lewis

Understanding the demographic changes, public narratives, and campaign strategies that led us first to Barack Obama and then to Donald Trump is critical to building an electorate across race, class, gender, generational, and geographic lines that can guide the US political order into one that is firmly rooted in an ethos of belonging. In an attempt to address the precarious political situation we find ourselves in today, four scholars and political activists at the Othering & Belonging conference sought to deconstruct the 2016 presidential election and strategize new ways to energize voters of color and create new narratives on what politics can do for the people.

Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science and Law at UC Berkeley and Associate Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, moderated the contentious-at-times panel discussion, entitled “Participation, Politics, and the Progressive Project: Where Do We Go From Here?” The panel featured Ravi K. Perry, Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Lisa García Bedolla, Chancellor’s Professor in UC Berkeley’s School of Education and Travers Department of Political Science.

Ganz, who created an agency-based framework for organizing and is credited with developing the grassroots organizing model for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign, noted that there are three elements critical to a political campaign: a compelling story, a strategy to gain power, and a structure that organizes people. The interplay of these three items manifested remarkably differently in the 2008 and 2016 presidential election.

"Trump, unlike Obama, was organizing out of fear and anger," Ganz said. "When people are mobilized on fear, they come to depend on you—you are the savior, you rob people of their agency and turn them against everybody else because you are going to save our group."

Obama, on the other hand, mobilized out of hope. “which enhances people’s agencies.”

“It is ‘yes, we can’ and not ‘yes, I can,’ and together we engage with the problems that we have to face,” he said. “We didn’t have that counter-narrative in any effective way in 2016, so Trump carried the day.”

Lee asked the panelists if the way forward for progressive movements is to build on the current structures, or to radically break from the past and create a new movement. Perry, an expert on Black politics and minority representation, argued that the question presumed one could not have both.

“I believe in a dual strategy,” Perry said. “I believe that we can and should be in street corner as loud as we can and all the metaphors that that inspires and engenders. But also that we have to engage in institutions of politics because if we are not engaged in institutions, which is where power is located in the US, then you already have set yourself to lose.”

Progressives have to deal with the “real world,” he said, and despite many Progressives’ unease with the Democrats,  “the reality is...the only locus of opportunity for African Americans to solve short-term problems today is the Democratic Party.”

All panelists agreed that the Democratic Party had failed to mobilize and engage voters in a collective agenda during the 2016 presidential campaign. García Bedolla, who is also a co-founder of the American Majority Project Research Institute, argued that the party made the mistake of assuming that people of color would be mobilized by fear and anger alone, thus, focusing on individual pathology, rather than engaging with voters to understand nuances within communities of color and to understand larger structures, such as voter suppression and disenfranchisement, that influence voter turnout.

The final question of the evening urged panelists to discuss the roles of identity politics in the Progressive Left. Perry stated that voting by group interests can produce positive results as it requires people to think beyond individual gain. García Bedolla challenged the audience to move beyond the term "identity politics" as it can trivialize structural positions and experiences and that many successful campaigns form coalitions while continuing to do community-driven work. The goal, Ganz stated, should not be to negate identity politics or issue-specific efforts but to further include them into a larger idea of progressive politics.   

While the panel addressed setbacks in the progressive Left’s movement, the tone of the conversation remained hopeful as past experiences were used as lessons for future organizing.

The Power of Belonging: Organizing, Democracy, and Governance

Rashad Robinson, Zephyr Teachout, Sabrina Smith, Jonathan Smucker

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By: Sara Grossman

The “Power of Belonging” keynote panel kicked off with a discussion about the nature of power itself. Led by moderator Jonathan M. Smucker of Beyond the Choir, each panelist offered their own visions of power, including its opportunities and challenges, dangers and vulnerabilities.

"Power without love is reckless and abusive,” Smucker started off, reading a passage from Martin Luther King, Jr., “and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

The other panelists, Sabrina Smith of California Calls, Rashad Robinson of Color Of Change, and law professor Zephyr Teachout, a former candidate for Congress and Governor of New York, agreed that fully understanding—and using—power is critical to enacting the transformative change that Progressives claim they want to see.

“If you care about people being able to breathe, eat, and educate themselves then you've got to care about those formal sources of power,” Teachout said, adding that many on the Left are uncomfortable engaging with politics, despite the fact that politics is where life-changing policy is developed and enacted. Quite simply, she said, we cannot win without taking on power—specifically corporate power—and the most direct way to do that is through politics itself.

Smith, Deputy Director of California Calls, an alliance of 31 grassroots organizations that mobilizes marginalized communities in the statewide political process, echoed Teachout’s conclusion. Only by understanding power can we change conditions, Smith said, defining power as “the ability to achieve an agreed-upon goal.” She later added that changing conditions relies on the fundamental restructuring of institutions and structures.

“How do we build a sense of identity and belonging that is broader than our small community-based organizations or the circle of us activists?” she said. “We have to figure out a strategy to build our version of the Tea Party...a radical challenge of corporate power, of status quo, of racism—a sense of belonging.”

Speaking on the final day of the Othering & Belonging conference, the panelists discussed the various ways each were bringing power into political organizing—and the importance of taking a stand in the political arena, despite politics being “square,” as Teachout joked.

“When institutions aren't concerned about disappointing the Black community, you're in trouble,” said Rashad Robinson of Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization that has fought since 2005 to change how people of color organize to demand change.

“Presence is important,” he said, defining it as visibility and awareness. “But it but can't replace actual power. Power is the ability to change the rules.”

Robinson shared his organization’s four-part strategy for moving from merely responding to challenges to actually changing the rules for tangible, long-term progress: respond, build, pivot, and ultimately scale. In the past year, Robinson said, Color of Change has pivoted to focusing on two main issues with this strategy: bail reform and the election of progressive district attorneys. Both emphases are intended as investments in long-term organizing that Color Of Change hopes will positively affect the lived experiences of communities of color for years to come.

Most recently, he said, Color Of Change had great success campaigning against Anita Alvarez, a Chicago district attorney who chose to ignore DNA evidence that would have exonerated 10 Black men who had been convicted of crimes as juveniles. The organization mobilized its network and hosted rallies seeking to pressure Alvarez to take action. After learning that President Obama was considering Alvarez for a federal judgeship, the organization released released ads targeting the president asking him to not appoint her.

“Five days later Anita Alvarez decided the DNA evidence mattered,” he said, demonstrating the tangible effects of Color Of Change’s organizing strategy.

“Oftentimes we focus simply on the issues, not on the structures that got us here,” he said, noting that the opposition has spent years strategically stripping away Americans of color’s access to the vote—because it understands that “they cannot win if we can vote.” Larger structures must be shifted in tandem with addressing smaller, more urgent challenges for lasting victory.

Robinson went on to argue that not only must this organizing strategy be used against those in obvious opposition, but within the Democratic Party itself, which he said often cares about the votes of people of color, but not their voices and needs.  

Still, argued Teachout, the fastest and really only way for tangible policy change is to continue to engage with the Democratic Party, despite its flaws, and help move the party forward. Ultimately, she said, the US is and will remain a two-party system for the foreseeable future.

“Getting involved locally is the way to shift the Democratic Party,” she said. “Instead of hiding from anxiety and the flaws of the Democratic Party, we have to confront them.”

Ultimately, Robinson argued, the key to success is having the right mix of fighters, mediators and insiders in any political fight. The “opposition movement should be made up of 5 percent mediators, 65 percent fighters, and 30 percent winners,” he concluded.

The Being of Belonging

Tara Houska, Alicia Garza, Zahra Billoo, Jidan Koon


By: Erica Cardwell

“Bridging to Belonging,” the final panel of the 2017 Othering & Belonging conference, featured four women of color representing justice work for some of our society’s most marginalized communities: Black, Muslim, and Indigenous peoples. Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter and Special Projects Director at the Domestic Workers Alliance, Tara Houska, tribal attorney and National Campaign Director at Honor the Earth, Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Jidan Terry-Koon of the San Francisco Foundation discussed the various ways their individual movements have moved from galvanizing moments towards creating resilient structures of belonging.

Terry-Koon, the panel’s moderator, opened the discussion by asking the audience to consider tangible methods of belonging as community members. “How do I as an individual and how do we as progressive folks rise to the full urgency and potential that is right now?” she asked, setting the context for a larger discussion on the importance of intersectional solidarity that both recognizes human similarities while also embraces differences.

Before offering her own answer, Garza requested the audience say the name of Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old Black Texas teenager who was fatally shot by police officers after leaving a party just before the first evening of the Othering & Belonging Conference. “As we are sitting here talking about Othering and belonging, a child is murdered,” Garza said. Many of the conference participants were still piecing together the story, engaging in the perplexity of seeking to build up a larger movement towards liberation in the midst of deep unrest.  

For Garza, the success of any one future movement critically depends on its deep interconnection with other movements for justice. "I belong only if you belong," she said. “My work is to cultivate the movement that I want, fully understanding it is not yet here.”

Still, she said, we cannot pretend that all peoples and movements are the same. Garza, whose movement has created space for Black diversity and difference, warned against the dangers of trying to oversimplify difference.

“There is something about this country that attempts to ‘sameify’ us,” she said. In order to make movement-building actionable, our fundamental differences must be embraced, so that all of our areas of belonging are present and accounted for. “Samifying people serves to negate people's experience,” she added.

Furthermore, she said, progressives must stop shying away from difficult conversations with those in their own communities. She emphasized that progressive leaders cannot continue to tell people that what they're seeing and experiencing isn't true.

“We need to face uncomfortable truths,” she said, citing difficult conversations around notions like Latinos are stealing jobs from Black communities, or that Black workers are lazier than other groups. There may be some truth in those notions superficially, she said, but it’s the job of progressive leaders to explicate and complexify the roots of these impressions, for example “when we say Latinos are taking our jobs, we overlook systems that displace one group to exploit another,” she said. Uncomfortable conversations around people’s lived experiences are necessary to build a truly intersectional movement, she concluded.

“Building movements involves listening and hearing what is actually being said and being comfortable with complexity,” she said.

In honor of these complexities, Billoo, a civil rights attorney, spotlighted diversity within the Muslim community, noting at one point that her bluish gray hijab “is not the default setting” for Muslim visibility. Statements like this are critical to emboldening silenced Muslim community members and educating well-meaning liberals on invisibility and discrimination. On a similar thread, Billoo advocated for the importance of including queer Muslims to show the diversity of the Islamic community. Billoo acknowledged that a certain level of intra-community processing must happen, in order to truly resist Islamophobia. “But we can speak to folks where they are and advance strategically,” she said.

She offered her own personal case study of “speaking to folks where they are at” and finding great success in “gently pushing” her own community to a place of deeper belonging. As director of the Bay Area chapter of CAIR, Billoo regularly delivers “Know Your Rights” trainings to those in the Muslim community, including at a mosque that requested she conduct her training in a room of only women, with an audio feed to another section of just men. Despite her initial hesitation and discomfort, Billoo decided to build a relationship with the community before jumping in with her own criticism. She continued to present regularly to the mosque until one visit, the elders of the mosque asked to Billoo join her male colleague in speaking to the community’s men because they had grown comfortable with her. Her patience in “meeting people where they are at and advancing strategically” proved far more successful in the long run—empowering the community itself to expand its notion of belonging and inclusion.

Houska, a tribal attorney, went on to speak about galvanizing movements not only from the inside, but from those outside the fight as well. During her time protesting at the Standing Rock Sioux camp for the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Houska witnessed women and children attacked by militarized police and was even arrested and kept in a dog pin with dozens of other protesters. Even after a tumultuous six months and an end to the pipeline, Houska is not backing down. The focus has now shifted to divestment, she said, specifically on companies that invest in #DakotaAccess. “Banks don't listen to morality but to money,” she said.

“Now that our land is seized, the clearest way to get our movement realigned is to focus on our financial divestments,” she said. "To take our money out of Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, and Citibank.” Despite the movement largely being led by and within the Native American community, millions of others have pulled their accounts from banks like Wells Fargo. Such an action is particularly difficult because it requires both confrontation with privilege and sacrifice of routine conveniences for which many are unprepared.

Movement-building requires information from the most silenced, targeted, and marginalized to build action-oriented methods of ongoing resistance. However, Bridging to Belonging underscores that these methods could be shaped to include the folks that are unfamiliar with our terms, and for those that are willingly living in denial. The tricky part will certainly involve sustainability and boldness in order to engage in “difficult conversations.” Houska, Billoo, Terry-Koon, and Garza asked us not only to forgive, but also offered alternatives on new ways to build.

Featured Speakers

Art as Transformation: A Lens for Social Change

LaToya Ruby Frazier

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By: Erica Cardwell

The 2017 Othering and Belonging Conference kicked off with a keynote address from acclaimed photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier, best known for her striking images that shed light on the human and environmental casualties of systemic issues. Entitled Art as Transformation: a Lens for Social Change, the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient made an eloquent argument for the use of imagery in seeding real change and cultural transformation that can fundamentally alter the picture those in marginalized communities have of themselves. In her talk, Frazier detailed how she uses photography to fight injustice and create a more representative self-portrait.

Her book, The Notion of Family, exemplifies such themes by serving as an artistic and intimate post-industrial monograph of her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania from the fraught perspective of the women in her family and the notion of the Black matriarch. Through an aerial viewpoint of Braddock, the steel mills vein their way through the town, tender and taut like “scars on a human body.” Her book “is about showing human pain and what capitalism does to humans and bodies," she said.

Frazier’s work poses such as questions as: What happens to us when water is privatized? Or to our food supply when we are sick and cannot work? Or to the many of us who are overmedicated, wrongly medicated, and left to decay in hospital beds? Frazier shared that her mother had been treated poorly by a US hospital while on life support. Frazier fought—and was even arrested at one point—but refused to acquiesce to the hospital’s plans to take her mother off life support, ultimately ensuring that her mother received the care she deserved. People in marginalized communities are not only removed from history, she said, but their bodies are also polluted with neglect, which can oftentimes mold into autoimmune disorders, mental health challenges, or Lupus, which Frazier herself lives with.

“It’s not just us being gunned down,” she said. “It's a slow kill” as people of color live under a cloud of contaminated air but then continue to be treated improperly when seeking help.

Frazier shared that she was recently commissioned by a Belgian museum to photograph a coal mining village in the region, bringing the town’s most sustainable resource into focus much like she had done with in her own hometown of Braddock. She found that many of the workers at the Belgian factory were from Sardinia, and were working to build better lives for their families, despite struggling under poor conditions for decades—just like the workers she had photographed in Braddock. When Frazier arrived, many of the workers met her with skepticism, saying “Why are you here? You’re a woman, you’re American, and you’re Black. Contemporary art does not respect the working class.”

Yet Frazier sought to do just that: demonstrate that art can be a voice for the disenfranchised when these community’s own stories remain unheard and unacknowledged by those in power or by the larger (capitalist) system itself. Moreover, Frazier argued, it can actually be of service to be Othered. Among people of color, she said, Otherness can transform into belonging, as those who are marginalized find safety, understanding, and a sense of home in those who share their experiences.

Much like the steel mills that weave their way through the town of Braddock, the coal tips in this small Belgian town produce trees. Frazier concluded her address by reminding the audience, “from a coal tip, a tree will rise.”


photo by Eric Arnold, see more photos on our Facebook page.

Theatre of Be Longing

Tarell Alvin McCraney


By: Sybil Lewis

Speaking on the opening night of the 2017 Othering and Belonging Conference, playwright and actor Tarell Alvin McCraney provided a nuanced look at the role of the artist in truth-telling and the importance of developing a “theatre of belonging” in sharing narratives.

McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays and his play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, which became the basis for the Academy Award-winning film, Moonlight. McCraney’s work is closely connected to his personal experiences. He began his keynote with an anecdote from childhood when three peers chased him while throwing rocks, which is the basis of an excerpt from his play Without/Sin about the love between two young men, Gideon and Reynaldo, who grew up together in a tough urban neighborhood.

The boys closed in on him but they stopped chucking rocks. Are they crazy? Porque no? Why not. ‘No Reynaldo, no, look where you are, where you stand, you are near the cars. The cars have precious glass made from sand. They won’t break the replaceable glass. Reynaldo’s heart broke – I am less than glass? Sand burned in the fire is greater than me? No further will I run then. I will stay and take my lesson like a man. For if now I die, at least I can become as precious as sand

Reflecting on this excerpt of the play , McCraney realized that he had actually failed to do what novelist and playwright, James Baldwin charged artists to do: tell the whole truth. His own hurt as a victim of bullying led him to paint the boys as pure villains, which in truth “the violence they visited upon me was already all around me and in them.”

“For example, who taught them that my Black life mattered less than the glass on those cars?” McCraney said. “Isn’t it true that [the bully] learned the misogyny and for him not to feel like the girl he let his homophobia blossom. Homophobia is just misogyny aimed at men and that is what [the bully] was feeling.”

McCraney, who is now chair of the Department of Playwriting at Yale School of Drama, challenges his students to fully engage with their audiences and to fulfill the artist’s ultimate purpose of revealing all parts of the truths, included those that appear in conflict to their own.

In addition to seeking to incorporate the experiences of those who Othered him, McCraney contends with questions of how to embody a “theater of belonging” in his own work. McCraney explained that most theatres began with strong notions of community theatre, but now the concept is often lost within the oftentimes elite arts profession wherein people are divided between those who can afford to attend and those who can’t, and therefore do not.

“Queer brown faces that are often at the forefront of culture making,” McCraney said. “[But] they have to not only be allowed to perform, but to produce by them and for them. Instead we write well-structured dramas seeped in Western performance and hope to God some student says our work saved their lives.”

But plays nor art of any kind actually save lives, he continued, and “it is in the discourse caused by the collective imagining of people of beauty and gore supreme that shifts lives to action. And that is when culture is belonging.”

Theatre of belonging, he said, works at the grassroots level with small community-led efforts where the talent of the community is actively engaged and celebrated. The artist should be deeply afraid as the purpose is to unearth truths and to encourage discussion within the community, i.e. the audience. McCraney described a defining moment about ten years ago when Marin Theatre took his play In the Red and Brown Water to the Marin Projects. The play is about a woman in the projects who desperately wants to become pregnant. McCraney was terrified of how the play would be received and how the audience would respond to the queer overtones. What happened, however, strongly highlighted what community theatre should be: In the audience there was a community member who was the embodiment of one of the characters in the play. Her candid reactions to scenes often mirrored the character’s reactions – “we were belonging in that moment,” McCraney said.

“It has been damn near ten years since that experience and I’m wondering where the road turned. I have been chasing that belonging knowing that I cannot create it, I must return to it. By first returning to my community,” McCraney concluded.

Beyond Empathy: Art, Culture, and Imagination

Jeffrey Chang


By: Sara Grossman

Over the past half century the United States has become dramatically more diverse thanks to the arrival of millions of newcomers seeking safety, opportunity, and a chance to share in the nation’s unparalleled prosperity. In 1950, people of color made up about 15 percent of the population—today that number is closer to 37 percent. And by 2050, white Americans will make up less than half of the population altogether and no longer be a majority in any sense of the word.

But with this increased diversity has arrived an equally as palpable anxiety towards what for many is a deeply unfamiliar future. For those concerned with creating an equitable and open society, the challenge has now become how to tell a narrative that reimagines, counteracts, and dispels this anxiety while building a hopeful and inclusive vision for the future. And for author and journalist Jeff Chang, Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, the key to this narrative lies in culture, particularly popular culture.

In his talk at the 2017 Othering & Belonging conference, entitled “Beyond Empathy: Arts, Culture, and Imagination,” Chang sought to illustrate what the arts and artists can do, in this moment of turmoil and anxiety, to “advance the social imagination.” If we will soon all be minorities, Chang asked, how can we imagine a new, inclusive majority?

“Culture is the realm of narratives and images,” he said. “Culture is where we find community, where the collective will to change is formed and moved.”

Speaking on the hundredth day of the Trump presidency, in a moment where “it feels like we might all fall apart,” Chang said there is still an opportunity for us to assert something different. And artists “have the potential to be stewards of validating the righteous humanity of marginalized people.”

According to Chang, whether our society comes together or falls apart begins with how we see each other. We learn from an early age to see difference between ourselves and others, and while this can be a good thing as it helps us learn empathy and build community, we often lose this sense of openness to what is different as we get older, making value judgments on that which has no inherent value. Inequity is then produced and reproduced, particularly in the areas of representation, access, and power—even if we are often blind to it.

Yet in its most potent form, art can foster a deep empathy for those who are different, Chang said. And empathy, he said, is the first step towards equity, or shared power. “Art allows us to see again,” he said. “And great art helps us close the gap between ourselves and the Other.”

And yet, it cannot be overlooked that we are living in the midst of ongoing culture wars in the United States, what Chang called “the struggle for the soul of America,” as two sides fight out whether the future will be one of hope and inclusion, or the sad end of a supposedly “great” era. This fight, he concluded, will be fought on the battleground of culture, where hope and fear are equally enticing, and where the victor can lay claim to future political tides.

Chang, the author of We Gon Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, published last year—before the election, as he noted to audience laughter—then turned to Beyonce’s Lemonade to illustrate his vision of the cultural moment we may be in. While the album is materially about infidelity, or “the journey of a Black woman from grief to redemption,” as Chang said, when examined through a lens of social justice and through a lens of “the moment we are in now”, it becomes about something very different.

Lemonade begins by Beyonce refusing the audience her gaze, locked in a world of hurt, Chang said. She leads us through her cycle of hurt, anger, apathy, and depression, and ultimately, as she turns away from this cycle of revenge and begins asking questions about what and who is her home. “And here is where the gaze returns,” Chang said. “The healing begins on this path to attain a deeper understanding of her own place and family.”

But draw out the lens further, and the idea of fixing a relationship gone wrong becomes a metaphor for social transformation. Beyonce’s redemption reaches the level of the social; the space where we all come together, where we think about how we might mend the ways that we break each other, reimagine history, and dream freedom. Freedom is not won through bitterness and revenge, Chang concluded, but through deep love.

In the climax of album, women celebrate “with the gifts of the garden, the antidotes to the poison.” “It’s a Black Feminist move, Beyonce has created seats at the table for sisterhood and reimagined relationships,” Chang said. “And only then can reconciliation begin.”

Today, we are trying to see each other—attempting to work our way towards equity and see where we are broken. We must move from empathy to action, then from resistance to transformation, Chang said. It is the job of artists, and of changemakers more broadly, to move people, inspire them, and “manifest the idea of a nation that is yet to be.” Quoting Toni Cade Bambara, Chang concluded, artists must “make the revolution irresistible.”

A Public Dialogue on Inclusive and Sustainable Development

Jeffrey Sachs, john powell, Kumi Naidoo


By: Sabby Robinson and Sara Grossman

In a truly fair and inclusive society, all individual members should have equal access to the resources and opportunities produced by the larger whole. However, as renowned sustainable development leader Jeffrey Sachs noted in his keynote address at the 2017 Othering and Belonging conference, this is not remotely close to the case in the United States today.

“US society is more unequal than at any time in its modern history,” Sachs said during his keynote on inclusive and sustainable development. “This is not some modern phenomenon. We are an outlier from other rich countries, we are the most unequal, the most unprepared.”

Sachs, the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, noted that the same forces of globalization affecting the US have affected similar nations worldwide, but that other countries have chosen to deal with the effects of that—namely inequality—in very different ways. He argued that we can date the start of that departure in strategy to an exact time: 10:00 AM on January 20, 1981—the day that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. Reagan was swept into office on the promise of vast tax cuts and slashes to social programs like welfare, which Sachs argued is a key driver to maintaining equality and opportunity in any society.

“The lesson that both the Democrats and the Republicans took from [Reagan’s election] was that everyone should promise tax cuts,” Sachs said. Since then, campaigning on a platform of tax cuts and attacks on social programs have become de rigeur in American politics—and has helped the US become one of the most unequal among wealthy countries.

However, Sachs believes that the US can find direction from the policy models of Scandinavian countries, which have high tax rates but also widespread social services and low levels of inequality. A country like the US, with low levels of taxation, cannot possibly be just when wealth and income is flowing into the pockets of a very few, he said.

This belief in the necessity of both taxation and social services is what makes possible social mobility, Sachs argued. “It’s what makes possible modern infrastructure that doesn’t collapse. It’s what makes possible a green economy” Sachs said. “The rich are walking away from responsibility. This is greed, this is short sightedness, this is Othering.”

Furthermore, he said, race and racial anxiety have long been used as an effective strategy to divide working people in the United States—helping convince certain groups that they will benefit from the exclusion or oppression of other communities. Trump, Sachs said, “played the Other card on everything” to great success.

Following his address, Sachs was joined onstage by Kumi Naidoo, launch director of the African Civil Society Initiative and former Executive Director for Greenpeace International, and Haas Institute director john a. powell for a panel discussion.

Naidoo, who grew up in South Africa, provided an outsider’s perspective on the US’s political system, describing it “at best” as a liberal oligarchy driven by a “parasitic elite.” Naidoo and Sachs agreed that money in politics is one of the largest barriers to developing a truly equitable and healthy society—one that includes the earth and all its creatures. Naidoo, an expert on environmental activism, added that inequality must be tackled with the environment in mind. “If we do not do address inequality within the Sustainable Development goals—forget about it,” he said. As climate change threatens to wipe out whole communities and cause the economic and environmental destruction of peoples around the world, environmental and social justice remain inextricably linked.

“The planet does not need saving,” he added. “Because humans may be gone, but the planet will still be here.”

Naidoo expanded on his vision by laying out exactly how things should change for a more equitable and inclusive society. Firstly, he said, we must better understand and address how public consciousness and awareness is created, and secondly, we must recognize “that the democratic systems that we have right now is a form of democracy without the substance of democracy—and it’s a charade.

Thirdly, Naidoo said, the current economic system that we are often afraid to challenge is broken— “it’s unjust, and it must be rewritten.”

“What we need to figure out is a way to coexist with the earth,” Naidoo said. “What we are facing is the struggle to secure a world that is safe for our children, and our children’s children. We must have courage because there’s nothing more important than safeguarding our future generations.”

The Surreal Present in Historical Context: Another Perspective on Othering & Belonging

Doug McAdam


By: Sara Grossman

Contrary to popular narrative, Donald Trump himself is not root of our problem, Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam told attendees at the second day of the 2017 Othering & Belonging conference in a keynote entitled “The Surreal Present in Historical Context: Another Perspective on Othering & Belonging.”

“The divisions Trump embodies are not new,” he continued. “And we can't lose that historical perspective.”

McAdam, an expert on race in the US, social movements, and “contentious politics,” warned the audience that it would be both dangerous and short-sighted to see Trump’s rhetoric as something novel in American politics. Rather, he said, these tactics are merely extreme versions of what the Republican Party has been utilizing for decades—namely coded messaging and dog-whistle suggestions on how Americans of color, who have suffered under the weight of both sanctioned and unsanctioned discrimination since the founding of the United States—are somehow less deserving than their white counterparts.

“Trump is not unique, just the most extreme version of what we've seen recently,” McAdam said.

McAdam began his explanation with a brief contextualization on the political divisions we see today: the increasingly diverse coasts tending strongly Democratic, while the more homogenous South and Midwest remain firmly with the Republican Party. He noted that the Democrats were not traditionally supportive of civil rights, but were pushed that direction under enormous pressure from social movements and concerted organizing—namely the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which demanded that the government work to address the US’s egregious social, economic, and political inequalities, as well as ongoing violence against people of color. The Democrats, led by President Lyndon B. Johnson, ultimately pushed through strong legislation in support of civil rights—and as a result lost its traditional base: the Deep South, which lashed out fiercely against the perceived attack on its ingrained social order.

This white backlash might not be traditionally thought of as a social movement, McAdam said, but it very much was one. Richard Nixon, the Republican president who came to power after Johnson, seized influence by heavily exploiting the racial fears and anxieties brought on by the Democrat’s increased support for communities of color. And it was Nixon who first wielded a potent narrative around underserved “takers” stealing from the “makers”—with a strong racial undertone suggesting that African Americans and other minority groups were the “takers” and hardworking whites were the “makers.” In other words, social welfare programs such as those championed by the Democrats ultimately came to be viewed as “government overreach” into the lives of ordinary (read: white) Americans who were just trying to feed their families. Of course, when this “governmental overreach” had helped lift up struggling white Americans during the Great Depression, it was widely popular and praised as hugely successful public policy.

GOP politicians like Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Rick Santorum, and now Donald Trump  “all used strategic narrative to divide America between the deserving and undeserving,” McAdam said. Trump, who has warned of “Bad Hombres” and “rapists” coming in from Mexico, is merely a more overt player in the racial politics game.

In a discussion with McAdam after his short address, Haas Institute Director john a. powell noted that the common GOP refrain that low taxes are good for Americans is inherently racialized, as these very taxes fund social services that often support low income Americans of color—the “takers.” The very programs that have sought to help address the entrenched race- and class-based inequalities upon which this nation was founded, such as welfare, food stamps, or affirmative action legislation, have been attacked as giving to those who are “unworthy” of opportunity or support.

Moving on to the present day, powell noted that “Trump ran an identity-based campaign on white ethnic identity”—where “making America great again” signified a return to a time when Black Americans and other communities of color were relegated to the status of secondary citizens. When America was “great,” for whom was it actually “great” for?

“Trump created a coherent cohesive white identity, but we have not created a coherent Progressive identity,” he added.

McAdam agreed, but added that the Republican Party benefits from an easier organizing task with homogenous groups—conservative white Americans who seek to protect their social and economic hegemony in US society. “But there’s no reason the Left can't form an unstoppable coalition, despite differences,” he said.

While the problem of the GOP’s reliance on racial anxiety to enact policy is clear, McAdam said, the largest challenge to fully addressing the root of this problem is divisions within the opposition itself. Although Trump's Others greatly outnumber those who embrace him, it has become too easy to Other each other in seeking to acknowledge differences among us, he observed.

“When we talk about suffering, it becomes a competition. We all got it bad!” powell added. “We need to hear each other's stories, discover a new story, a better story, for all of us.”

Trump’s election demonstrates that it’s not just about having the numbers—”it’s about who is the better organizer,” powell said. The trick, both speakers agreed, is in engaging with systems and institutions in a sustained and strategic way, just as the Tea Party did when Barack Obama was president. McAdam noted that the Tea Party found remarkable success in consistently engaging with electoral politics and the local Republican party to move the party in a more extreme direction.

McAdam concluded that Progressives should learn from these organizing successes and recognize that progress often happens locally and via structural changes. Merely having one man in office—or a few protests—is simply not enough for widespread, tangible, and transformative change.

Closing Keynote: Melissa Harris-Perry

The Stories We Tell About Who We Are: Race, Gender, Making American Politics

Melissa Harris-Perry


By: Sara Grossman

Melissa Harris-Perry rooted her keynote at the 2017 Othering & Belonging conference in a simple proposition: belonging is foundational to our survival, but belonging alone is not enough.

Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University and former host of the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, began her keynote speech,“The Stories We Tell About Who We Are: Race, Gender, Making American Politics,” with an illustration of the different ways belonging can manifest.

Her three-year-old, 15-year-old, and chicken all have very different ways of engaging with belonging, she said. Her three year old does not care or think about belonging at all, she said, while the 15-year-old is quite concerned about belonging—she wants peers and teachers to like her, parents to approve of her decisions. As for the chickens, well, they will die if not part of the flock. All of them, in their own ways, are engaging in the ways society is teaches about belonging. “Belonging matter,” Harris-Perry concluded.

Yet, she continued, it is equally as dangerous to assume that belonging, in and of itself, is an “absolute good”. While belonging is undeniably important, belonging alone won’t solve society’s most difficult challenges around race-based inequalities and injustices.

She offered three “false” narratives about belonging to demonstrate the limits to what belonging alone can offer.

The first erroneous story about belonging, Harris-Perry said, is that, “belonging is good, because we can’t be what we can’t see”—or the notion that belonging is critical because we need role models. But Black people have been exactly that since the founding of this country, she pointed out. She added that is one of the gifts of Black folks to “have the radical imagination to constantly be able to see” that which does not yet exist in front of them, like a Black president or scientist.

“The history of Black folks in America is constantly being what we don’t see,” she said.

The second misunderstood story about belonging, she continued, is that inequality can be eliminated with equal opportunity to belong. She pointed to the poorer health outcomes for the newborns of Black mothers, even when born into wealthier families. The babies of middle class black women babies are twice as likely to die before first birthday as their white counterparts, she said—and wealth and education didn’t improve these outcomes.

And, according to NPR, it’s not just related to higher poverty rates. For middle- and upper-class Black Americans, the pressure of being a minority in a white-dominant space, or even the only minority, can also have severe effects. Belonging, Harris-Perry said, can actually be related to bad birth outcomes.

Furthermore, Harris-Perry cited research on the wage gap suggesting that the gap doesn’t close as education level goes up. In fact, the gap continues or even widens between white and Black Americans who have both attained high levels of education.

The third narrative Harris-Perry sought to disrupt is the counterintuitive notion that Othering is bad. Sometimes, she said, the wisdom of the Other is what is most critical to the growth of a society. She discussed her experience with people who were surprised she is an academic.

“If I look like the maid to you, that makes sense,” she said, “because my grandmother Rosa Harris was a maid. I prefer to look like a maid than whatever it is you think a scientist looks like.”

We must disrupt the gender devaluation of the help, Harris-Perry said. It’s problematic when belonging simply means “fitting in” to the status quo. Those who are Othered in society oftentimes hold the most valuable and honest truths—and their insights can make us stronger. “The Others know that Trump voters are not uniquely deplorable,” she said. “They are reflecting the race and gender values enforced in our culture and history.”

She said that after the election, many distraught progressives lamented about what they should tell their children about the country and its leadership choices. Harris-Perry’s response was to ask: What have you been telling your children before this point? “If you asked that on November 9, what were you telling them before that?” she said.

“Rather than constantly asking to belong, democracy needs those who don’t want to belong,” Harris-Perry concluded. “We want to belong, but maybe we also want to be Othered. Never forget the artistry and power of the Other.”

Following her speech, Harris-Perry answered audience questions, notably from one attendee who asked why it was so difficult to reconcile her identity and challenges as a woman with those as an African American. Harris-Perry responded that many stories are told well in the Black community—including those about racism, police brutality, health, and more. “We tell the story of Emmett Till so we know what to do when we see Trayvon Martin,” she said. But stories about Black women are told less well.

“We tell none about rape, sexual assault, or the patriarchy, and as a result...we understand each one of those experiences individually, rather than within broader political framework,” Harris-Perry said. “We don’t know that rape is part of a thing, when babies die in our arms we don’t know it’s part of thing.”

The solution, she concluded, is in “uncovering, recovering, and putting our stories at the center.”


photo by Eric Arnold, see more photos on our Facebook page.

Keynote: john a. powell

We the People: Practicing Belonging in a Period of Deep Anxiety

john a. powell


By: Sara Grossman

john a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, opened the second day of the 2017 Othering and Belonging Conference by unexpectedly sharing some ongoing personal challenges. A friend had suffered a stroke not long ago in Paris and was receiving poor care due to bias and discrimination; A different acquaintance had passed recently and powell had attended a memorial service in their honor; Furthermore, one of his children was currently sick and unable to attend the conference as planned.

It was a tough week, he acknowledged.

His point, powell said, was not to simply get things off his chest, but to make an impassioned argument for sharing our own stories. “All of us are going through stuff,” he said. “How do we share that in a way that doesn’t isolate us?”

Stories, he explained later, are critical to our shared survival as they allow us to suffer together. “How do we build bridges?” he asked, highlighting the main impetus for his keynote address that morning. “We must hear other people's suffering and stories. Compassion means to suffer with others."

In his speech on “practicing belonging in a period of deep anxiety,” powell provided a closer critique of exclusion and division in US society through the entrypoint of a very simple—and very American—phrase: We the people. Who is “we,” he asked, and who is considered “people”? For too long that “we” has only included a small few—white Americans, and oftentimes simply just white men.

Despite a long legacy of exclusion, the US can still move towards belonging through what powell called “bridging,” as opposed to what we currently see: “breaking.” “Bridging instead of breaking encourages us to reach beyond family,” he said.

As anxiety over fast-changing demographic shifts in the US has reached a fever pitch, stories of bridging and bonding are critical to building a reimagined society based on love, inclusion, and opportunity for all. When something is changing quickly, like demographics, “people need a story to help them understand what is going on,” powell added. “Anxiety isn't necessarily good or bad. It’s just there.”

Narratives that tell stories of optimism, opportunity, and inclusion can help counteract the fear and angry populism we see today—both of which have grown out of widespread “breaking” stories that warn of a dark and scary future.

“Trump’s narratives foster breaking and division in response to anxiety,” powell said.
“Our president is telling us to be afraid of the Other.”

Yet, powell warned, progressives and others who are eager to move towards an inclusive society must not only tell stories about economic and political belonging, but of ontological (or spiritual) belonging as well. The Left, he said, too often avoids discussing the spiritual self, as spirituality itself is considered individualistic, not worthy of serious consideration in the way that power and wealth must be critically addressed. Yet to create a world in which all truly belong, we must understand ontologically who is included in the “we” and how that definition of “we” can be expanded to include all.

As the Right has long hijacked racial anxieties to define a widespread yet exclusionary notion of  “we the people”—a deeply ontological analysis of who actually belongs, and one that has both economic and political repercussions—the Left must also respond with its own version of “we” and of “people,” powell said. The Circle of Human Concern, he concluded, must be expansive enough for all of us, even those who hold deeply opposing viewpoints and life experiences.

“The Circle of Human Concern should include everyone, including those with whom we disagree,” he said. “We are all a part of each other. We don't like it, but we're connected.”

"When we connect with someone, we complete a narrative," powell concluded. “We tell a story and we suffer together.”


To download the PDF version of the presentation, click here

photo by Eric Arnold, see more photos on our Facebook page.

About the Conference

Right now our work building and sustaining a society centered on inclusion is more essential and urgent than ever.

Widespread Othering has led to a host of challenges in our world today, including territorial disputes, toxic levels of economic inequality, military intervention, the closing of borders, forced migration, and climate change.

As hate, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia continue to deepen and harden across the world, the need to challenge Othering is more urgent than ever. We must not only understand the underlying structural dynamics that gave rise to these forces, we must also protect our communities that are targeted and made vulnerable by them as well.  

We believe the lens of Othering and Belonging provides a critical perspective to this work. We need bold ideas, even more connected movements, and strategies that enable us to collectively combat hate and exclusion, threats to our living planet, and the global rise of xenophobic and authoritarian institutions and politics.

We believe a necessary response to the extraordinary challenges we face today is that of Belonging. Belonging means having a meaningful voice. Belonging means being afforded the opportunity to participate in the design of social and cultural structures. Belonging means the right to contribute and make demands upon society and institutions. 

Our first conference in 2015 was a transformational event. Our understanding of Othering and Belonging was stimulatedand deepened by hearing from bell hooks, Naomi Klein, Andrew Solomon, Ai-jen Poo, Charles Blow, Manuel Pastor, Luis Garden Acosta, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Joanna Macy, and many more.

In 2017, we will once again host dynamic speakers—see our full list here.

We believe a focused gathering of committed stakeholders will catalyze deeper synergy, spark new and innovative collaborations across disciplines, and propel greater work and cohesion to tackle the extraordinary faced by our world today.

We hope you will join us on April 30–May 2 in Oakland to explore the multi-layered processes of Othering and share aspirational visions and concrete strategies for collectively giving birth to a world where all belong.