A DIY Guide to Institutional Change for Racial Equity
Step 2 - Set Expectations
The fight for institutional change is a meat grinder. It wears passionate people down. Setting expectations for the challenges ahead won't guarantee success but can keep people in the fight longer.
2 - A. Understand that this will not have been the first time someone has demanded change.
Institutions have experience resisting change and inherent immune systems. As discussed above, ensuring continuity over time is one of the key functions of an institution. The history of past efforts is often buried, even if they happened very recently. Dig that history up by talking to senior members as well as those who have left. There may be almost disturbing parallels between previous fights for institutional change and current demands. In researching recommendations on diversity and inclusion efforts, a committee at my law school discovered a longer, more comprehensive report a decade old that documented the same problems and offered the same solutions. Don't let this discourage you. Just because past efforts stalled doesn't mean yours inevitably will. Everything is impossible until it's not. Try to let past efforts inspire instead. The shared struggle is a tie that binds you to those who came before and picking up where they left off is something to be proud of.
2 - B. Most of the time, organizing is incredibly tedious.
90% of revolution is logistics. Real life doesn't follow narrative conventions and there are no musical montages to speed through the monotonous work. Depending on how things shake out, there may be moments that stir the soul, moments that test your mettle, moments that make the breath catch in your throat. But there are guaranteed to be times of frustration and boredom. Most of organizing is setting up meetings, prepping for meetings, running meetings, following up with people about meetings. Often, the greatest good anyone can do is the logistical and administrative work of keeping people on task and moving everyone along to the next step. This work usually goes unseen and unrewarded and is usually done by marginalized folx. Make a conscious effort to keep an eye on where the burden of keeping the machine running falls and value this work.
2 - C. Expect conflict.
Even if an institution wants to work to become anti-racist, not everything will be smooth sailing. The patterns and assumptions that help to create inequitable and oppressive systems will not go gently. Don't look to pick a fight, but plan for it.
2 - D. Expect, invite discomfort.
Fighting to create an anti-racist institution will be uncomfortable.
2 - E. There's a good chance of failure.
I recommend approaching the project of institutional change with an awareness that failure is possible. This is not an argument to accept half measures or not aspire to structural change. I try to think like a realist and an optimist at the same time. Think like an optimist because if you cannot imagine structural change, it will be more difficult to achieve. But think like a realist as a way of protecting yourself. Recognizing you might fail is a good way to conserve energy in the long term. And as mentioned in the intro, even failure to achieve a specific agenda has knock on benefits.