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Trust and Security in Movement Building, with Sammie Ablaza Wills

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Block & Build
Block & Build
Trust and Security in Movement Building, with Sammie Ablaza Wills

This week on the show, Cayden is joined by organizer and former Executive Director of Lavender Phoenix, Sammie Ablaza Wills, discussing outcomes from the past month’s student protests. They explore some of the agreements of universities that have agreed to work and negotiate with students. The episode also dives into Sammie’s recent article published by Convergence, Right Size Belonging: Six Practices for Organizers; considering how it applies to this new wave of campus organizing. Aside from a glimpse of what right sized belonging in organizations can look like, this episode also engages the importance of finding the right balance of comradely, interpersonal trust, while still maintaining vigilance for outside threats and maintaining proper security for our organizations and movements.

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[00:00:00] Cayden Mak: Welcome to Block and Build, a podcast from Convergence magazine. I’m your host and the publisher of Convergence, Caden Mock. On this show, we’re building a roadmap for people and organizations trying to unite anti fascist forces in order to build the influence of a progressive trend while blocking the rise of authoritarianism in the United States.

[00:00:27] Earlier this week, President Biden came as close as we’ve seen him to admitting U. S. complicity in the civilian deaths in the genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza. Responding to the IOF’s invasion of Rafah, Biden declined further shipment of some bombs to Israel, saying that, and this is a direct quote, civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers.

[00:00:51] It’s almost like pressure works. While mainstream media has made every effort to Over the past weeks, to keep attention glued on Donald Trump’s sensational [00:01:00] trial regarding hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, U. S. District Judge Eileen Cannon, who, it should be noted, was a Trump appointee from 2020, has indefinitely postponed his criminal trial over classified documents found at Mar a Lago.

[00:01:15] This suggests that one of his greatest legal threats could Easily avoid trial until after the November election. So we’ll see what that means for election season this year. And finally, frenzy over campus protests. Has slowed in a little in the public discourse. So you may have missed that some schools indeed did reach agreements with their students.

[00:01:33] These include Northwestern, Brown University, Rutgers, and the University of Minnesota. Joining me today to discuss some of these topics and more is organizer and strategist and my chosen family, Sammy Oblaza Wills. who formerly served as the executive director of Lavender Phoenix from 2016 to 2021. We’ll also dive into Sammy’s piece that published in February of this year with us called Size Belonging, Six Practices for Organizers [00:02:00] and the toolkit that was an introductory piece to.

[00:02:02] Welcome Sammy. It’s so good to see you. 

[00:02:05] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Hi Caden. Hi everyone. It’s so glad, I’m so glad to be here. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my Friday morning. Aw, that’s so nice. 

[00:02:14] Cayden Mak: Let’s get into one of the things that we talked about yesterday in prep was there’s the more that we talked about it, the more I realized how deep the connections between your work on blogging and social movements is.

[00:02:26] And some of the challenges that I think are about to emerge or are perhaps emerging for a lot of the campus protesters. And I think that like some of the stuff that we’re seeing in the like handful, like very sparse handful of campuses, right? Talking about four universities in a field of I don’t know, 120, 130 schools that have encampments.

[00:02:49] on this continent, let alone elsewhere. That there is this risk now that some like other student groups and some right wing groups are saying that the campuses are going too [00:03:00] far and that there’s this backlash. And one of the things I’ve started thinking about is It’s not just the end of the semester that is presenting a next phase for student encampments, but both you and I came up as student organizers.

[00:03:12] And one of the things that I couldn’t help think about was like, this moment where university administrations turn around and start negotiating they have a lot of tools in their toolbox for like defusing tension for taking public acting as though they’re doing a thing when actually what they’re doing is like putting together a task force.

[00:03:32] That there’s some real potential challenges in the ways That kind of strain may be put on the relationships that students, faculty community members have started building together. And I’m wondering if you have reflections on that or like personal experiences in the ways that campus administration has can mobilize to drive these wedges between people.

[00:03:54] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah, it’s a tale as old as university’s time in so many [00:04:00] ways. I really distinctly remember my first year as an undergraduate. That was the first time I had learned about Palestine. And it was the year that our like campus students for justice in Palestine put forth a divestment vote to the student government.

[00:04:20] It was the focus of the campaign that had been working towards a student divestment vote for years and years. And we got to the point of the meeting and the vote didn’t pass. The student council did not agree to continue the divestment campaign forward. And it was crushing, for especially the student organizers who have been working for so long, but even for those of us who are rather new to the fight, we very quickly understood what it would mean for this to happen as one of the first colleges in the country to take this to a vote.

[00:04:54] And I remember the sense of soul crushing defeat. That [00:05:00] was felt across the campus. And in that moment, I think it was easy, maybe natural, even for people to have Staked all of their work in this one vote in this one campaign. It felt like the thing we had in our power to do. And while there were some I’m sure organizers who had much more foresight than I did, I think the widespread feeling was, Oh, we thought we were going to get this, or we thought that this was possible.

[00:05:31] What now? And, I think universities by and large have a kind of four year cycle that they move in. So very commonly the tactic that they’ll use is just waiting students out, right? It’s, No accident that universities can often go. Yeah, we’ll negotiate. Yeah, we’ll wait. Yeah, here’s a task force. Yeah, we’ll think about it until May or June when [00:06:00] students have to leave.

[00:06:01] They refresh the more seasoned students. Exit the campus and new students come in just a few months later. And some of the changes that we hope to see, some of the changes that students fight for are then watered down. 

[00:06:18] Cayden Mak: Pushed 

[00:06:18] Sammie Ablaza Wills: off or are continuing continually put through these bureaucratic loops that inhibit any real change from happening.

[00:06:26] So I think that’s like a very real fear in this moment that students have been escalating, have been fighting so hard. And it’s only because of that escalation that we’ve gotten to a point where any campus administration is willing to talk to those students. And I hope that More seasoned organizers, students themselves can really come together to think about a bit of that long term strategy beyond the negotiation conversation, beyond this next one to two month period, [00:07:00] to ensure that all of this incredible heartwarming, heart filling hard work isn’t left to 

[00:07:07] Cayden Mak: yeah, that’s totally right. And actually, this brought up something for me that I was at the Emergency Rally for RAFA at UC Berkeley this past week. And one thing that came up is that the graduate students who were there some graduate students are on campus for shorter amounts of time than undergrads are but some, graduate students, especially those who are also campus workers, are often around for longer, and the campus workers in the UC system are unionized as UAW Local 4811, and actually next week the local is going to be taking a strike vote over unfair labor practices based on the way that The different UC campuses have mismanaged the encampments, have allowed far right and Zionist counter protesters to be violent [00:08:00] against student protesters and basically saying that this is like an unsafe work environment.

[00:08:05] This is an unfair labor practice against our members. And so I think there is, there’s also something I was, I, when I was in graduate school, I was I was unite unionized graduate labor. And I think that there’s a really amazing I don’t know, there’s like an amazing opportunity for this sort of semi intergenerational faculty, graduate student, undergraduate thing to happen where I think when you were telling that story about like losing the like, campus government vote on divestment, it made me think a lot about my undergraduate years and the ways in which I think we were just starting to do undergraduate, graduate student solidarity stuff.

[00:08:41] I remember walking a picket line with one of my graduate instructors and it was, like, a really big deal. But that increasingly, I feel like over the past 15 10, 15 years There’s been, like, better connection, it seems to me, between graduates, organized graduate labor, and then undergrad student [00:09:00] organizing, and that’s really cool because there is a little bit more longevity there, there’s a little bit more there’s a better What is the word I’m looking for?

[00:09:07] It’s like that connection between folks who are going to have a little more institutional memory and who also have like structures that are going to be able to hold that institutional memory, like a labor union that can help reinvigorate the fight when students come back to campus in the fall.

[00:09:23] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah, I think that idea of memory is so critical. In this as students continue to organize, and I’m really glad you brought up the graduate students and their organizing because I think we’re also seeing that with alumni of the different universities who are not just writing letters of support. from the outside, but alumni who are joining the encampments, faculty who are joining the encampments, who are able to provide that memory, that frame of what this means to do it year after year, sometimes for decades.

[00:09:55] And I think to your first point or your first question, even [00:10:00] around the risk of backlash from the right wing or from Zionist student organizations, I think one of the things that memory teaches us is that they will say, Any organizing around Palestine is too much. Any student organizing is, has gone too far, no matter if it is a divestment vote, no matter if it is renaming something, no matter if it is an encampment, no matter if it is a march, no matter what students do, if they are in support of Palestine, if they are in support of stopping this genocide, right wing and Zionist groups will always say it is too far.

[00:10:42] I think it’s so important to remember that, to not let that dissuade students so that they know some of those patterns of rhetoric that’s used against them, university tactics used against them, police repression used against them, that obviously change over time, but have a lot of that [00:11:00] similar flavor that people have learned.

[00:11:03] How to fight back against. 

[00:11:05] Cayden Mak: Yeah I actually, I’m trying to, I was trying to remember who posted this on the internet. Cause, consume a lot of things on the internet. But so I read somebody this week posting that one of the, this may have, it may have been Kelly Hayes.

[00:11:18] I want to say it was, this seems like a Kelly Hayes thing to say. I love her. But basically that it is very hard for people within structures of power to even admit when people on the left are right about things, like, when we are, when our takes are in fact correct because Structures of power want to preserve the way that like decisions get made within those structures of power and that one of the challenges that the left presents is that we can be a little unruly, right?

[00:11:44] The way that we get things done is by being unruly. And so even this little statement from President Biden, where he’s civilians have been killed, right? It’s actually wild to me that he might even say that phrase at this point. But he’s never going to acknowledge [00:12:00] that our movements are the reason that he now thinks that, right?

[00:12:02] It’s not, that’s not written, that’s not it’s an important part of the, establishment playbook, the we already hold power playbook to not not admit to that, right? That that’s also part of this puzzle. 

[00:12:16] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. And I think I saw similarly on the internet, saw a funny post that was like, if Angela Davis has come to speak on your side about something, like just look at the track record throughout history of Angela Davis has come in to speak on it and she agrees with you, you’re probably doing the right thing.

[00:12:37] Like your university administration, Is not going to say it. They’re just going to commemorate what you’ve done 20 to 30 years from now with a event that has hors d’oeuvres. Yeah. 

[00:12:49] Cayden Mak: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. I feel like one of the spiciest campus protest chants from this week was Harvard University.

[00:12:55] We know what side you’re on. Remember South Africa. Remember Vietnam. And it’s again, [00:13:00] yeah, there’s a track record y’all. There’s a track record. 

[00:13:03] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. They’re going to put up like these beautiful photos being like, our students were Fundamental and critical in this fight, but won’t put up the photos of the police they’ve called on their own students.

[00:13:17] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Or talk about how they’re censuring their tenured professors for showing up to these things and. Totally. Ugh. Anyway I feel like, so the place that I definitely want to go next is in some ways thinking about this, because I feel like this is like this weird, the thing that institutions do after the fact to memorialize these things is like the weird shadow version of I think what happens in a lot of these especially established, ongoing being in a physical place together kinds of protests, where people are building a, I don’t know, I was thinking about this after last week, I talked about how one of the things that [00:14:00] student protesters are doing together by being together in person, in large part, is like also grieving together.

[00:14:06] And grieving not just grieving about Palestine for sure, but in some ways I think perhaps also grieving about like the loss in their own lives. Like a lot of these students like didn’t get a high school graduation because of the pandemic. And are still seeing their friends and family being like killed and disabled by a global pandemic where it’s this is there’s like through lines and how they, and we are perceiving government institutions just frankly, not giving a single shit about human life.

[00:14:38] But that in real time, they’re trying to figure out like, how to be together, how they would like to be together. And that trust and trust, safety and security also in the face of backlash has become such a challenge, that like folks, I’m certainly over the past couple of weeks, like I’ve heard a lot of people [00:15:00] scrambling to try and figure out, how do we keep these encampments safe from people on the outside.

[00:15:06] And also increasingly, I think like people who might be infiltrators, and I don’t even mean like infiltrators it doesn’t have to be full blown, like FBI co Intel pro stuff. Like I’m just talking about people who are like showing up and like maybe trying to sow a little chaos, make a little mayhem.

[00:15:24] Stall things, slow things down, especially because we know we’re coming to the end of the semester. And I know that you thought a lot in your work thinking about right sides belonging for social movements, like, how do we build the kind of resilience within our organizations? So that we can protect ourselves, insulate ourselves against that kind of chaos sewing.

[00:15:46] And how can we really, how can we also do work in a way that may disarm that infiltration a little bit? 

[00:15:58] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. [00:16:00] It’s so tough. It’s so tough. And I think back to Grace Lee Boggs saying, we need to put the neighbor back into the hood. And maybe an extension of that is we have to have the social as part of the movement.

[00:16:15] We have to have social movements. And I think there’s a very real, very grounded fear of infiltration, both knowing and unknowing. Many people, like you’re saying, Keita, many folks are rushing to organize, some of whom are doing so for the first time. Some of them are organizing in person, building these relationships.

[00:16:39] Some folks might be meeting for the first time after much of their university experiences have been Mostly online. 

[00:16:47] Cayden Mak: Yeah. 

[00:16:48] Sammie Ablaza Wills: And I think students are giving their all and being met with such intense brutality from the very institutions that they’re attending in order [00:17:00] to protect or teach them. And as a response, I think many are hyper vigilant, writing off trust or just coming to things with an air of distrust.

[00:17:15] And wow, that makes. A lot of sense to me. It just cannot be the answer. Moving through the world like everyone is a potential enemy. Everyone is a potential villain. We’ll not let the generative relationships form that we need to actually create. A resilient enough ecosystem to move through the long haul And it can be so it’s so tough to discern, right?

[00:17:42] but I think back to A lesson that gopal dine and he taught me 10 years ago when we were talking about security in our groups and how to form organizations or collectives or spring up spaces that can move at the speed of trust [00:18:00] and he’d talk about infiltrators and say something like You regardless of whether or not there are infiltrators in our groups, we need to create a culture that is so transformative, a vision for the world, that is so incredible, that even if there are infiltrators there, it won’t matter.

[00:18:19] They’ll either change their mind, or the culture and the relationships that we build with one another are the leading force that cannot be deterred by any one, two, or three actors in that group who are not down with the actual vision that we have. And when I think about a resilient culture of belonging, I think what kind of comes across for me is that these folks who are potential infiltrators are just trying to dissuade, pull attention.

[00:18:53] They’re always going to work to undermine a liberatory culture. [00:19:00] And they may do so in really overt ways like racism, misogyny, transphobia, but they also may do so in more covert ways like pushing individualism, endlessly rehashing conflicts, reinforcing binary thinking. So the more that our groups or our formations can be grounded in a culture and in practices that reinforce Connections that reinforce the nuance that reinforce an emotional skillfulness, that reinforce vulnerability with one another, the more that the attempts of those infiltrators will actually be null and void.

[00:19:48] Cayden Mak: Yeah, that’s absolutely beautiful. And I think that I find that call to be so like, I don’t know, it’s it’s, it is one of those like [00:20:00] deep reassuring is not a word that goes far enough, right? It’s it’s invigorating, right? To think about the fact that I think we do we have the capacity for visions that are that compelling.

[00:20:11] We know we know how to do that, I think because our, we’re trying to get free, right? Liberation is that compelling. And really, I, yeah, thank you for bringing that. One of the things the thing that we published in February of yours is an introduction to a bigger workbook project that you’ve been putting together over the past what, year and a half, two years?

[00:20:34] Yeah, it 

[00:20:35] Sammie Ablaza Wills: used to 

[00:20:36] Cayden Mak: be. Yeah. Fantastic. But I wanted first to ask you to give an overview of these practices of right sized belonging. And actually, let’s go even more basic. It’s like what, again, what do you mean when you say right sized belonging? And and then give us like a little overview of what those practices are and what that looks like.

[00:20:58] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. [00:21:00] Yes. So the right size belonging workbook is a set of practices aimed at supporting our social movement organizations to cultivate a resilient and grounded sense of belonging in our work. I think many of us already know that belonging is a fundamental human need. It’s a need that guides our actions, sometimes even unconsciously.

[00:21:23] And right now, I think we’re really in an age of belonging crisis. The right is incredibly effective at cultivating belonging through fear, through othering, and through violence. And if we are really, as a social movement, left to rise to this moment and transform into our deepest humanity, we also need to be really skillful at cultivating belonging.

[00:21:51] And thinking about my own experience as an organizer in social movement groups, I’ve been in plenty of [00:22:00] organizations where belonging is completely deprioritized. It’s maybe thought of as florid or like feelings y. And in those groups, there’s sometimes a sense of just never ending urgency, constant burnout, a lack of trust, an overemphasis on numbers.

[00:22:18] And a kind of fear of emotions as a distraction to what we’re really here to do. And on, maybe a pendulum swing on the other end of the spectrum. I have also been in organizations full of people. who have felt the call of this belonging need that then over prioritize belonging, creating a container or a space where conflict or uncomfortable feelings are avoided because you don’t want to make anyone feel weird, or conflict is maybe the only thing that people are talking about.

[00:22:55] Or where we’re like stuck in looped, [00:23:00] never ending conversations about process, 

[00:23:03] Cayden Mak: where 

[00:23:04] Sammie Ablaza Wills: organizations maybe even have no boundaries. for what they offer to people’s mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical health. And so it’s in this recognition of these two poles that the workbook is called Right Size Belonging, to support people to really identify and maintain a generative balance between these two things.

[00:23:27] And the workbook features six practices the first of which is about anchoring your purpose, And then the second, approaching problems with collective governance. The third, to set boundaries and expectations. The fourth, to understand trauma and build emotional skills. The fifth, to increase conflict resilience.

[00:23:50] And the sixth, to connect to a broader movement ecosystem. 

[00:23:56] Cayden Mak: Awesome. I feel like a lot of the things that you the [00:24:00] way that you describe those polls feel deeply familiar to me. As somebody who’s now been in social movements for 20 years. Yeah. And I think that one of the things that I’ve found so compelling about this work too is that again, going back to this thing about grief and the experience of grieving about Palestine, Palestinians grieving with our comrades who have family and loved ones who are directly affected by this crisis It has made me think a lot about how do we show up for one another in ways that are supportive of the work that we’re trying to do, that sometimes it does feel like the policy shifts, the the balance sheets of weapons manufacturers seem so abstracted from the deep mental and emotional crisis I feel like we’re in right now, where we’re watching a genocide being livestreamed on the tiny screens that we carry around with us constantly.

[00:24:58] That how do we find balance [00:25:00] in that? How, like where is the where, and where are the boundaries that we want to draw for ourselves as we’re doing this work? It’s really, it’s been, honestly been something that I’ve personally been struggling with. I find this contribution to be incredibly helpful.

[00:25:14] And I don’t know, I don’t know have you been, also been struggling with this? What are the things that you’ve been thinking about? And what are how have you been touching back to This right size belonging framework as you’re working through those questions. 

[00:25:26] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. Those questions are so apt and so alive in me right now.

[00:25:32] I, healing is not linear in any which way. And I remember back in maybe 2019 when lavender Phoenix was trying to establish its healing justice committee. We just kept using this word healing a bunch and someone wrote in the comments, they like tagged it and I don’t think this was intentional.

[00:25:54] I think they were just on caps lock is healing. And I thought we were [00:26:00] all being yelled at. But what is healing in the context of our movements? What is healing context of trying to do this collective work together when so many things feel incredibly important and urgent. And yes, I have been struggling absolutely with my own sense of individual personal trauma, healing needs, while also feeling this is an incredibly important moment to extend myself as much as I can towards something that will be incredibly defining in the history of the world.

[00:26:45] To lives beyond any numbers could count or really show the full humanity of and I try as much as I can to [00:27:00] remember Or, coming back to what we talked about at the beginning to, to have memory for what this moment means and to not place too big or too small an emphasis on my own participation.

[00:27:15] Cayden Mak: To know 

[00:27:15] Sammie Ablaza Wills: that it is actually critical for me to show up and lend my skills of emotional skillfulness, of facilitation, of speaking, whatever my skills may be to a group. While also not overemphasizing if I can’t go to one meeting, this whole thing is going to fall apart. Like I am simply not that important, but I am important enough to show up and build something with people that could not exist without our efforts.

[00:27:44] And when I’m doing that, trying to remember all of the things I’ve learned throughout time, like how to distinguish between real and Maybe fictionalized urgency, how to [00:28:00] be in a conflict because this will make us stronger on the other side versus maybe we’re actually both just escalated and triggered right now.

[00:28:07] And what we need is time. How do we build those relationships of trust so we can go do things that are really risky to our lives together without necessarily over emphasizing trust to the point of being suspicious of everyone around us, suspicious of their intentions. And I’m constantly in a process of evaluating and re evaluating these things, and I think one of the things that have that’s really helped is actually staying in conversation, not just ruminating.

[00:28:39] I’m one to ruminate on my own, in my own brain, in my own like trauma juices about the right and the wrong thing. But again, coming back to that idea, like this is a social movement and I simply do not. have all the answers and will not arrive at the best way to do things simply by thinking alone.[00:29:00] 

[00:29:00] I have to be in that process with other people. 

[00:29:02] Cayden Mak: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that seems right. I like, I am also a big ruminator. Love ruminating. So great. Not great for my, not great for my mental health though a lot of the time. 

[00:29:15] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. I don’t know. I’m curious how you approach it, yeah. We’re in such a rich ecosystem in the Bay Area and there’s so many, there’s so many things that can be done. There’s so many. deeply transformative formations, relationships, actions to be a part of. How do you decide? the balance of how you spend your time. 

[00:29:41] Cayden Mak: It’s really hard. And I’ve talked about this with a couple of comrades is that I also think that in some ways my work here at Convergence is where I feel the most effective a lot of the time that like offering these ideas, this insight, this memory, this reflection on the work that it is that we are doing in the long [00:30:00] term and over the course of not just months, but decades, centuries.

[00:30:06] is like an essential part of where I am most useful right now. And so there is a balance between, that I’ve like honestly really struggled with, between my sense of what the moment needs for me especially as somebody who, like you say, has like a specific skill set around Security and deescalation around liaisoning with the police at direct actions, things that are in high demand because they’re not jobs that often people want to do or to do and finding the right balance of, I want to be throwing down.

[00:30:41] I want to be in the streets with people that I love and that doing things that feel effective. That are good uses of my limited energy and also acknowledging that I don’t know, it’s like, It doesn’t always feel great to be sitting at my desk all day every day, and there’s also [00:31:00] some really critical reinforcement energetic reinforcement that I get from being out in the street.

[00:31:07] While also being like, sometimes it takes a lot, maybe it’s a really early day, maybe you’re on your feet for 14 hours you have to go to a bunch of trainings beforehand. And so it’s not just about the day itself, it’s also about the lead up and all of this stuff that like, finding the right balance is hard.

[00:31:23] And I think that for me, being having deep relationships with folks and really being able to talk through like action logic and what are the goals that like, I feel comfortable also being like, this is something that’s going to feel like a good use of my time, and I’m glad that, I don’t know like you say we do have an embarrassment of riches in the Bay Area in some ways and being able to be in a place where people can have those conversations with each other very honestly has really helped for me a lot too, right?

[00:31:54] That getting on the same page about intended outcomes and stuff like that has been huge. Yeah. [00:32:00] I don’t know if that helps. 

[00:32:02] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. Yeah. I think it does. And I mentioned this, but it for me really does feel like a moment of extension and movement generation has this really helpful framework that I come back to all the time, but especially come back to you in this moment called shocks, shifts, and slides.

[00:32:27] And the way that they describe it is that shocks are basically, acute moments of disruption. They’re like huge moments of crisis and uprising. And slides are more incremental. They’re still hugely impactful, but not as clearly like zeroed in on one moment. And we’re constantly navigating shocks and slides and shocks and slides and sometimes in different movements and different places happening concurrently.

[00:32:58] But Movement Generation [00:33:00] says that It’s really our work to harness the shocks and direct the slides. And how we, how we respond in this moment of shock is going to be different to all of the moments of slides that have come to this, have led us to this moment, right? Palestine has gotten a lot more attention since October 7th, but many of us know that this has been happening for decades and decades.

[00:33:31] And there have been multiple shocks across those decades. How we use our energy, how we understand what is possible for us, how we sacrifice, how we extend in a moment of a shock has to be different than what it is in a moment of a slide. And I’m really in a process of trying to negotiate with myself and hope that other people negotiate with themselves.

[00:33:59] Am [00:34:00] I giving what I can give in this moment? My extending, not overextending, which is a fine line and will probably take mistake making for sure. That’s right. But extending myself out enough to be a part of the people power necessary to escalate. to the point where actual change is going to happen. We have been fighting, right?

[00:34:27] There’s no denying. We have been working. We haven’t tried anything. We have been escalating and yet we still need to escalate more. So how are we resourcing ourself enough to keep that extension up, to extend in new ways, to break from, What has happened, what hasn’t worked, what has only worked a little bit 

[00:34:48] Cayden Mak: to continue 

[00:34:48] Sammie Ablaza Wills: the extension forward so that this moment of shock can truly be harnessed as much as possible.

[00:34:54] Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I think that 

[00:34:57] Cayden Mak: The so when I think about some [00:35:00] of the actions I’ve been a part of over the past several months and the way in which the folks that I’ve chosen to roll with are

[00:35:09] people who are thinking like deeply strategically people who are thinking about like, how can I, how can we also use our limited energy as people who are like, many of them are like parents, many of them are also like, have jobs that, in a lot of ways, like I have an immense privilege as somebody who has like a movement facing job that like People here understand when I’m like, I can’t tell you why I’m going to be gone on Tuesday, but but some of the folks that I roll with are like nurses, Like they it’s hard much harder for them to make Our educators and it’s much harder for them to make space in their schedule for those things and so I think that like being thoughtful about all of those factors has led to, I don’t know, like there’s been a couple of actions that I’ve been a part of over the past couple of months where I was like, wow, like we are, it feels like we’re [00:36:00] making headway here.

[00:36:01] I think I, gosh, I can’t even remember how long ago it was. It was when it was raining. I remember that it was raining in the bay and we disrupted a book event. Where one of our senators was like co presenting with an author who had a book coming out and we had a couple dozen people in a very small room with Senator LaFonsa Butler.

[00:36:19] And then the person whose book talk it was said from the stage that she was sharing with Senator Butler, cease fire now. It’s things like that are like, that feels like, it was a not very risky action in terms of whatever, it’s like, escalation can also be like, how do you find the sort of ins with people, where you can get a couple dozen mostly parents and birth workers, into a room with somebody, how you can tailor that sort of messaging to the event.

[00:36:47] The book is about the politics of adoption and we’ve tailored a lot of the messaging to talk about reproductive justice and The lack of how reproductive justice can be [00:37:00] used as a framework to think about genocide. And to think about the way that Israel has been targeting hospitals and limiting the access to health care in Israel.

[00:37:09] Palestine and has over, over decades. But be like, that is an example of an escalation to that. I think that often we think like escalation has to be like more people in the streets, like more intensity, but it’s like, there was something that was like very tender about that actually, because like it was confrontational.

[00:37:28] They did call the police on us but it was also, there was also something that was like, it was like heart centered, and it was like, this is a precise action. It is not just we’re going to show up to a place we’re going to like picket thing. And I think that thinking about escalation in that way to Helps again helps me think about what is the right extension for myself, that it’s like not just being hardcore It’s also being strategic It’s about using the tools that are in our toolbox.[00:38:00] 

[00:38:02] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah, I really appreciate that frame of escalation. It’s true. It’s not that We need more people Being louder in the way that is traditionally thought of expanding our strategic toolbox expanding our targets to people who You have decision making power in certain ways, expanding what risk looks like, where risk takes place.

[00:38:25] All of those could be escalations and I think I’m always, I’m like still in a process and maybe will forever be in a process of trying to figure out that line of escalation, that line of extension and overextension. But movement for me has been an incredible place to test some of that out.

[00:38:52] And I’m grateful that being in movement has helped me. Introduced me to a somatic practice, right? As, as you and I are both [00:39:00] ruminators, I’m like, often in the head portion of my body, I’m like thinking real hard. I think I’m feeling, but I’m actually just thinking about feelings. I’m thinking about, Processes and the technical definition of escalation.

[00:39:17] But what somatics has really helped me to do is drop down into my body, which has the knowledge of what the difference between extension and over extension is. And sometimes that has been as quote unquote simple as sitting in my chair, taking a few breaths and imagining something in front of me. And without necessarily moving for moving towards it, taking any steps or moving towards it, do I feel connected to it?

[00:39:53] Or do I feel I have to almost trip myself forward, fall forward before I’ve gotten to it? [00:40:00] And I’m not sure if this resonates or will take heed in anyone else’s mind or body, but that to me is the difference between extension and overextension. If I am tripping over myself, if I am falling face first in order to get to something, I may be somatically overextending.

[00:40:23] Cayden Mak: Yeah. 

[00:40:24] Sammie Ablaza Wills: If I am grounded actually in my center, in my core, if I feel myself and my length, my depth, my width, and I see something in front of me that I know is important to do and I can move towards it, I can feel it there in front of me without falling on my face. Even if it feels difficult to get to, that is probably an extension.

[00:40:51] And that could be in so many things, right? It could be in a decision, for me, as simple as, It’s really late, and I’ve had a hard caretaking [00:41:00] week. Am I going to go to this meeting? It could be more advanced, am I going to take a role that is potentially really risky? Am I going to be visible in a certain way?

[00:41:12] Am I going to extend the amount of money? I’m able to give Whatever it may be for you, whatever it may be for me trying to ground in that And have the knowledge in myself that i’m actually also going to mess up There be times that I do fall flat on my face And I go, whoopsies. Okay. That doesn’t mean stop doing everything.

[00:41:33] That’s let’s collect, relearn. Sometimes I may underextend myself and find myself with additional energy or space or with the knowledge that maybe I could have given a little more. 

[00:41:46] Cayden Mak: Yeah. 

[00:41:46] Sammie Ablaza Wills: In that process of evaluating and reevaluating, trying to find Those different ways that extension happens in the multitude of directions that I may occupy and what that means for the [00:42:00] escalation we know needs to happen and continue to happen in this moment.

[00:42:05] Cayden Mak: I, I love that. That’s, I, it’s such a, it’s such a like simple yet easy to forget thing, right? That Sometimes you feel it, and you’ll know it when you feel it. Yeah. My therapist has entered the chat. But one of the things that she and I have been talking about recently regarding this question of overextension has actually been the way in which I’ve been feeling Occasionally like a little bamboozled by my own schedule.

[00:42:32] And I feel like the bamboozle is like a bad sign, right? The bamboozle is a sign that I’m overextended where I’m like, wait, what? I have to go to this thing now. Or I’ve signed up for this. Oh crap. So yeah, I recently have gone through a period of re halibration, let’s say, because I’ve been feeling a little I feel like in like March, it’s like March, beginning of April, I was feeling a little bamboozled by my own self.

[00:42:55] I did it to myself, nobody is asking me to do this. I chose it and I chose 

[00:42:59] Sammie Ablaza Wills: [00:43:00] Yes, and I also just really quickly want to say, I think sometimes in that recalibration, I will say I’ve done this and this has happened to me. People will make an absolute villain out of that overextension. When people are like, Oh, I’ve I’ve overextended myself.

[00:43:21] And it’s because I’m terrible and I don’t have boundaries and I’ve never learned them and I suck or I’ve overextended myself. And it’s because this movement or this organization absolutely does not respect me and they don’t care about me. And they want to exploit me. Hey, sometimes it’s just a mistake.

[00:43:43] Sometimes we don’t know. We’re just figuring out our boundaries as we go along. And that is okay. No one, yes, there are plenty of exploitative things in the world, but hopefully, and hopefully [00:44:00] we’re in organizations that are just trying to figure out how we can all collectively have different boundaries, but do powerful work together.

[00:44:10] And you have not betrayed yourself if you’ve gotten it wrong. And someone else has not intentionally, necessarily. A space has not intentionally tried to exploit you because they also didn’t know and as painful as that learning process can be, the more we can be reflective in our recalibration, resilient enough to know that recalibration is going to happen.

[00:44:35] multiple times throughout our life, the better we’re going to come out on the other end. 

[00:44:40] Cayden Mak: Yeah. No, thank you for that. I feel like there is, especially when we think about and certainly for me, like when I think about being the leader of an organization and being like, I don’t want to step in anybody’s toes.

[00:44:52] One of the things I’m always thinking about is I’m like the people that I work with, whether they are my staff members, my board, volunteers, whoever, [00:45:00] like they are also making these calculations, right? Like we are both. Between me and a person I work with, we are constantly making these calculations for ourselves, and that it’s, I think it can be easy to be overly worried about how an ask might impact some, someone, but also that are the things that I am doing to make sure it is possible for those people to say no.

[00:45:25] Or it is, or what can we do together to make it possible for them to be like maybe not right now, but how can we adjust this to make it more possible for both of us? That like those feel like really essential skills that I, nobody taught me, I had to learn through making a lot of mistakes.

[00:45:43] Quickly as we’re coming to the end of our time here, I did want to quickly ask you what kind of feedback you’ve gotten on the Right Size Belonging Toolkit and if you’ve seen anything being put into practice, gotten feedback in terms of like actual use cases. 

[00:45:57] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah, I’m so [00:46:00] grateful.

[00:46:00] The reception has been so warm and so excited. And I know of a few organizations and spaces that are already trying to integrate some of the practices. I think the places that are most alive for people. are actually in that introduction, right? The difference between an over and under prioritized sense of belonging and realizing that some groups are falling on one end of the spectrum or the other to just even diagnose that there’s something they want to work on.

[00:46:30] In the practices in particular, people are really coming back to anchoring their purpose, getting really clear on what they’re trying to do together. I think there are a lot of spaces that have been in that never ending processes, never ending. What is our theory of change? How are we figuring out our work?

[00:46:49] And it’s become so many things. It’s nothing at all. 

[00:46:52] Cayden Mak: Yeah. 

[00:46:53] Sammie Ablaza Wills: And absolutely not surprisingly, a real interest in increasing conflict [00:47:00] resilience. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s something that absolutely terrifies people because we have had, just honestly, the worst. Many of us have had the worst experiences of conflict in organizations, whether that’s aversion or indulgence.

[00:47:17] And so finding The skillfulness actually practicing what for many people, I think, feels like the scariest thing they could do with another person. There is a lot of energy and attention in trying to build the skills and titrate enough conflict that we can do those bigger things together.

[00:47:38] Cayden Mak: Amazing. Great. And my final question for you is what’s been filling your cup? Is there any media, culture, things you’ve been reading or watching that you would recommend to movement folks this week? 

[00:47:51] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah, I probably have an endless list of trauma and grief based things, and maybe that is [00:48:00] my niche interest, but we, a few of us nerded out on this during our prep call together, but I, With any opportunity I have we’ll talk about dimension 20 Which is a dungeons and dragons real play show from dropout, which is a subscription based streaming service that uploads a bunch of stuff for free on youtube.

[00:48:24] But the show is by comedians So even if you know nothing about dungeons and dragons or are not interested at all These folks are pulling you in You with incredible improv, rich character development, the funniest jokes, the most imaginative world building. And from a movement perspective, the folks who are putting together Dimension 20 have a really sharp politic.

[00:48:53] around fascism and capitalism and emotional skillfulness, and I think through their [00:49:00] storytelling, illustrate what it means for any person to move beyond a learned powerlessness. And they do so in ways where you’re just watching and you’re doing your dishes and you’re like whoa, what is the, what’s the narrative about rage all of a sudden?

[00:49:19] This is incredible. It’s been bamboozled into learning about emotional skillfulness. And that’s quite fun. So I can’t recommend that enough. 

[00:49:29] Cayden Mak: Amazing. Beautiful. Sometimes the bamboozle is a good thing. Sammy, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and talking about some of these really big and deep questions.

[00:49:40] Sammie Ablaza Wills: Yeah. I’m so glad we could talk together. And I’m so interested in this moment, how we’re all moving through what is this phrase is a joke, but it is unfortunately an unprecedented time I know we could all do with some more precedented times But in this moment where we’re all learning and making [00:50:00] mistakes and trying to show up as best as we can I’m, really grateful that I could share even just a bit Of what I’m thinking about and hear from you two.

[00:50:09] Cayden Mak: Yeah, amazing. Thanks so much. This show is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. I’m Caden Mock, and our producer is Josh Elstro. Additional editorial assistance was provided this week by Marcy Riad. If you have something to say, you can drop me a line. You can send me an email that we’ll consider running on an upcoming Mailbag episode at mailbag at convergencemag.

[00:50:32] com. And if you’d like to support the work that we do at Convergence, bringing our movements together to strategize, struggle, and win in this crucial historical moment, you can become a member at patreon. com slash convergencemag. Becoming a member also gives you access to the live taping sessions of this show every Friday morning in Pacific time.

[00:50:50] Even a few bucks a month goes a long way to make sure our independent small team can continue to build a map for our movements. Hope this [00:51:00] helps.

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