Notes from Mutual Interest Basebuilding Call

Notes from SURJ Basebuilding Call: Organizing from a place of mutual interest

June 23, 2015

Click here for call recording. (Call starts at: 30:44 mins)


Carla Wallace, SURJ

Welcome to the call.  SURJ, national network of groups and individuals committed to organizing white people for racial justice. Basebuilding Team, national SURJ team,  organizes monthly calls to workshop issues, challenges that are coming up from local organizing. Supports groups in building capacity to bring more people into work.

 -A core SURJ Organizing Value is on Mutual Interest. We are excited to be talking about this and learning from each other about this value today.  We will have a panel of folks engaging in organizing white people from a place of mutual interest around the country, and time for you to engage with them and with one another. 



 In SURJ we believe that we as white people share a mutual interest with people of color in working for racial justice.  

 This is not about saying our losses and damage are the same as those of people of color, for we know this is not true.  It is finding and cultivating, in ourselves and in other white people, that deep rootedness that our today's and our tomorrows are bound up with one another.

 It is so important to remember our own journey in entering this work, for without that remembering, we will not be able to meet people newer to this, and welcome them in.  So, when it comes to Mutual Interest, we believe people can have different, and often multiple entry points.  

 A common entry point is we first learn about racial injustice, (maybe we see how immigrant people are being rounded up and thrown out of the country, a person we know loses their Black child to a police bullet) our hearts hurt and we may desire to help.  This is an instinct we wish all white people would have.  

 AND...Mutual interest is moving beyond the idea of helping in someone else's struggle and seeing how our own humanity and the changes we want and need in the world, are held back by racism too.  

 For some mutual interest may be based in the recognition that whether it is the minimum wage, healthcare for all, or free, quality childcare, our lives depend on a shared commitment to economic justice, environmental gender justice.

 For some it is about how those with all the power, abuse that power by keeping those of us who have so much to gain by standing together, divided by racism.  Some resonate with the saying that our exploitative economic system is the oppressive structure, but racism is the glue that holds it together.

 For some it is about what kind of community, country, or world we need and want to live in? One in which immigrant children come home to find a parent deported? A Black mother wakes to find her child was shot by police the day before?

 For some it is about a deep connectedness to people in our lives who are abused and denied based on race, and we cannot be whole without justice for our families, our friends.

 For some, our humanity is bound up with each and every other one of us, and our spirit cannot be free until we are all free.

 All these entry points, these core parts of our being, are valuable, are real, and our work is about connecting supporting white people we are working with to their mutual interest in racial justice.

 Finding – our today's and tomorrows are bound up together. Our own journey. Have to remember it, or you won’t be able to meet people where they are and work together / welcome them in.

 NOT saying white people's interest is the same of people of color. Moving beyond “helping” someone else’s struggle à the world we want is also held back by racism.

 Multiple entry points: Econ justice, gender, health care.  Abuse of power, by dividing those who benefit by standing together. What kind of world do we want to live in? For some, those in our lives who are directly impacted / harmed by racism. Our humanity bound up with every one else’s.  None free until all free. All these entry points are valuable.


Sam Hamlin, SURJ-

Three panelists joining us who bring mutual interest into their local organizing.


Meta Mendel-Reyes, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC)

 KTFC is a statewide grassroots social justice organization. We get into issues that are very different depending on what part of the state that we are in. Sometimes hard for people to see that they have a mutual interest. But happened in our campaign to restore voting rights to former felons. 

 In lots of states, people leave prison and complete parole, and are not denied right to vote. In some states, folks fill out a form and can get right to vote back.  In Kentucky you need to write an essay to the governor and have three references, and there’s no guarantee the governor will look at it!  1/5 African Americans in Kentucky can’t vote because they are have past felonies. Many, many people unable to vote because of their former felon status.

 KTFC first found out about this when we were doing voter registration in African American neighborhood in Louisville. People saying to us, couldn't vote. We didn't understand, We learned it was because they were a former felon. Many white Kentuckians who also were former felons who didn't have right to vote. Worked together, worked by lobbying. Worked to pass legislation.

 One of the neatest things that we did was signing for democracy. People came together and sang gospel songs, all in the name of restoring right to vote for former felon. For us a big example of mutual interest. Because both our white member and African American members had interest in regaining right to vote. In another way too: Everyone has interest in having strong healthy democracy. If sizeable number of our state population can't vote, then we don't have strong healthy democracy. That's how mutual interest organizing helps us.

 Becca Meredith, Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites in Seattle (CARW)

 CARW mission: educate and organize white folks, our base is largely middle class white folks. Having our 15 year anniversary this year, the group was started after the WTO protests in Seattle.

 I am going to give a little insight into how CARW approaches mutual interest by talking briefly about how we present the topic of mutual interest in our trainings and how we hope it guides our work.

 One of the things we do every year or so is a training for white organizers. We call it the Organizing Institute. We cover topics from defining racism to accountability to organizing skills and more. The topic we cover in the last session is collective liberation, OR organizing from a place of mutual interest. We compare engaging in our organizing work from a place of charity, or doing it for somebody else, and working from a place of mutual interest or a sense that our liberation is bound together.

One of the main articles we read is called The Souls of White Folks by Mab Segrest. Mab Segrest is white activist and author from Georgia. She really digs into the spirit of the work and we facilitate conversations with our organizers to help them connect with not only the trauma that racism impacts their life, but also what they have to gain from dismantling racist systems.

 Careful not to equate the damage done to white folks as the same as that done to communities of color. Not re-centering white folks, but finding a deep sense of connection to the work. Personal storytelling as an organizing tool. Why are you doing this work? Why does it matter to you?


Sophie Smith, People Helping People in the Borderzone

People Helping People is organizing in Arivaca, Arizona: a tiny town of 700, 10 miles north of US-Mexico border. Organization formed about 4 years ago. 17 percent Latino, otherwise white. Poor, lower or no income senior citizens on social security. In border zone. In middle of funnel of undocumented migration.

 Border patrol has been pushing people crossing without papers into desert. Deadly. 50 people died last month in the border region.  Humanitarian crisis.  Border Patrol policing of the area relies on white residents keeping quiet. All roads have immigration check-points.  Everyone gets stopped, cars searched, talk to armed agents.

 Saw huge opportunity to push back. Decided to launch campaign calling for removal of border patrol check points. Problem for residents who are mostly white because everyone gets stopped there. Lots of folks abused physically and verbally. Same time checkpoints are a major culprit of deaths on border. People have to walk north of checkpoints to get picked up.

 Knew that we wanted to bring white residents who might be natural alliance with border patrol and border enforcement, by calling border patrol into active alliance with folks who are crossing.

 Checkpoint started natural alliance. Interest of white citizen residents and folks crossing through desert. It would free Arivaca, significant and material way and decrease deaths. Way to catalyst community into active collaboration in migrant justice.

Mutual Interest means targets we are choosing. Not all residents were on board with migrant justice when group started. They were worried about their constitutional rights and worried about their kids, but really didn't know about people crossing through desert, hadn't had a lot of political education around that. Campaign was an opportunity for that kind of exposure and education to happen across groups.

Mutual interest teaches us a lesson around targets organizing for racial justice. Inspire alliances with groups that have problem for same target, for different reasons. Grown knowledge across settings.

Multiracial groups, mostly white. Latino residents in down are targets of racial profiling in material and acute way. Way Latino motorist targeted going through checkpoint is radically different than a white person.

 We put out a report after doing checkpoint monitoring and found out that Latino motorists were 26 times more likely to be to pulled into secondary expectation than white motorists. Community mostly white put out report of racial profiling really powerful.

 Mutual interest common sense folks living in rural area here--folks need to have a stake in the struggle they are part of. What we can do is share power--choose targets that bring us into collaboration with folks bearing the brunt of oppression, and learn from that collaboration.

 Working in a coalition of groups in the borderlands that are impacted by border militarization in different ways. Group in Patagonia, Arizona, mostly middle class white folks--border patrol folks live in town. Their kids go all to the same schools. They see border patrol as one of them. Then we are also working with folks on the Tohono O'odam reservation, who are targets of border patrol violence. Hearing those groups dialogue with each other with shared vision of demilitarization was really powerful.

 Important to see all of these communities as impacted, but in really different ways. It has been really powerful collaboration. Not just about me giving up whatever my life is to care about another. To say we all have a stake in this and we can struggle together to build power. Mutual interest really key in moving us forward.

 We’re not impacted in the same ways, but we are impacted.


Carla Wallace-Q and A


1. Caroline, in conservative predominately white area. Ways to common ground with people? Other ways? Personally storytelling, how we are damaged by racism. How to do this in predominately white area? Other ways to bring up conversation like that?

 Meta- KY pretty white area as well. Mutual interest really helps us because we can explore the story we have to tell and story people coming to this for first time have to tell us. No magic bullet. If emphasis can be on each member of our dialogue sharing something about who we are, have at least a grounding for moving forward. Shell Oil rig work, climate justice organizing, doesn't always have racial justice lens. Meeting people where they are at. Going to their issues, if you see there is some intersectionality with racial justice, deepen your understanding about why they are passionate about that issue.

 2. Randy, black man in Dallas, make it a point to be explicit as racial justice. Often perceived as angry black man. Advice on how to engage white folks who are already anti-racist.  Not white folks who aren’t ready, but how to more effectively work with those who are. Seeking to reach out to those who do recognize disparities in this country and white privilege and white supremacy. How to better engage white anti-racist allies in this fight?

 Carla--Believe in working with white folks who are in motion, but may not be stepping into racial justice. Getting folks who are at least open to it to understand need to step forward and take visible stand to racial justice. Anyone on panel want to respond to Randy's great questions.

 Meta- Not sure how to answer. Great question. The people that will respond to you in a positive way, you can continue conversations and dialogue with them, and be less involved or concerned with folks who are  stereotyping you as an angry black man. If people are going to think that, like the white people we were talking about a min ago, far from understand, not worth it to work with them. Work with people on social media that are in motion.

 Sophie- Looking at what groups already exist that are organizing and have a politics that makes sense with racial justice, and folks that you can start building relationships with that have access to resources, useful to struggle. Imagine there are white folks in multiracial organizations that would be powerful allies to work with, folks who are actively thinking about and talking about these issues.

 3. Kristin, Illinois. What is the book that Becca mentioned that was helpful?

 Becca-  The making and unmaking of whiteness – chapter is The soul of white folks, by Mab Segrest.

 4. Betsy, MN. Question for Sophie. How do you handle attempts to split white people from immigrants who are experiencing difficulties with checkpoints. How are you building a coalition that is split-proof? If white residents situations are improved, but people of color issues are unaddressed. How do you prevent divide and conquer tactic?

 Nothing split proof. But problem we are facing much bigger than checkpoint. Border militarization, no way can't impact whole community. Some changes: checkpoint is friendlier to citizens since campaign. We don’t want a friendlier checkpoint, we want NO checkpoint.

 More than that, over years of campaign, through bringing interests together: anti-racist culture and organization in community. Now a mentality that really didn't exist before, that these systems are hurting us all and they are hurting us in racial terms that are unacceptable. Culture of resistance in a holistic sense, is the biggest weapon against the split that you are talking about. Relationships have been built, we have all heard each other's stories, undeniable shared experienced. Process of organizing itself, best antidote to split. Is challenging, government does want to do this.




 What is your mutual interest in racial justice work?

  1. How are you applying that in your organizing work, in your community?



 Terminology of racism vs. white supremacy: trying to build a significant base of white people defecting from white supremacy.  Maybe you have to start with different words that won’t turn them off.  Meet them where they are, and support them to move farther.

 Started at “How can I show how great an anti-racist I am?!” to “How can we invite people in to stand with POC and make change?”

 Move to Amend – working to abolish corporate personhood.  Mostly white and middle or upper middle class.  Developed a curriculum of anti-racism.  Studying immigration, civil rights, and LGBT movements.

 How do we do this work without centering whiteness??

This is why you don’t organize alone. Organize in direct connection with POC or in multi-racial contexts. Being in direct relationship with communities of color, or forming multi-racial organizations.

 That question can feel like it’s about, What does it look like when we talk about it? – but, it’s important to hold that question in the actions we’re doing.  Accountability relationships with POC-led efforts.

 Direct the media to talk not to the white people, but to the youth of color who are the organizers.

 Reminder:  another of our key values is, Take risks.  You will make mistakes.  You have to do that.  Black Lives Matter organizers have said, yes, you are going to make mistakes, but we need you to be doing this work. We need you to be doing this work.



Email info@showingupforracialjustice to get involved with the SURJ basebuilding orfor support in starting a new group.


Join us for our next basebuilding call: Using Campaign to Broaden Your Base, Tuesday, July 28th, 5pm PT/6pm MT/7pm CT/8pm ET.