Basebuilding Call Notes: Accountability Relationships, Part Two

KentuckyBuilding Accountability Relationships, Part Two--What does accountability look like in predominately white areas?

October, 27th, 2015

Download a recording of the call here. (Call starts at 30:15 minutes)


Carla Wallace, SURJ Basebuilding

  • Many people have been stirred to consciousness in the past year and SURJ has responded to the call for white people to organize other white people and break white silence
  • Basebuilding team organizes calls like this, issues brought to them from the work on the ground; opportunities and challenges to be more effective in our work; you’re invited to participate in Basebuilding planning, idea generation, call facilitation, etc.

Sam Hamlin, SURJ Basebuilding

  • Accountability to POC is core principle to our work and to making changes that are truly transformative; SURJ formed in 2009 after call from POC and whites to challenge racial backlash after election of Obama
  • Understand accountability as taking responsibility to organize white people for racial justice
  • Accountability is built through collaborative relationships and taking action; for people working in primarily white areas, there are more challenges to be accountable to POC
  • Ongoing process of learning and acting, learning and acting, on and on
  • Want to share resources and learnings, go deeper on challenges faced in local work
  • There a lot of questions on topic of accountability; we have a lot to learn from each other
  • Core principles:
    • Accountability through action- since 60s and the days of Black Liberation movement, it’s been our responsibility to figure out how to organize white people; we are best positioned to move white people to take collective action; organizing people to understand our mutual interest and stake in ending racial injustice; when white people are in largely white areas, they often feel they can’t take action, but white supremacy is still operating as an overarching system that affects all of us
    • Taking risks, making mistakes, then keeping on going; easy to get stuck in paralysis when we don’t know the right thing to do; we’re not going to get it right all the time; we can grow more powerful by taking the risk, taking action, then learning from the mistakes; taking action even if we are unsure if we’re right

Story Panel:

Erin, SURJ Buffalo

  • At the beginning, but excited to share what’s worked so far and mistakes made
  • From Buffalo, still living there
  • Started in late spring with SURJ chapter
  • Buffalo is diverse place, lots of POC, and lots of white folks; communities are segregated but there is multi-racial organizing
  • White people organizing white people felt weird, was a new model; began to think about how to build relationships of accountability
  • Challenged- not a lot of POC-led organizing, not a lot of collective organizing around challenging systems and undermining white supremacy; nervousness about how to move into action
  • Reached out to POC who are respected in the labor movement who weren’t doing specifically racial justice work but believed white people needed to be in the fight; also reached out to a young group of POC organizers that is forming; did one-on-one convos and spoke generally about the vision and role of white people; didn’t ask about specific tactics, wanted to build deeper relationships, those conversations went very well, people they talked to were relieved and happy to have a place to send white people to who wanted to help
  • Relied on SURJ national relationships with BLM and other POC in the movement, not everyone in Buffalo shares the analysis of intersectionality; also relied on what we’re hearing in the media from Alicia Garza and others
  • First action was door knocking, were nervous, lots of rules—no social media, “right people”, small group; thought people would react poorly but it was the opposite, people commented on seeing the signs; have door knocked 4-5 times; excited to build their chapter and begin to break white silence
  • Some POC who pushed back, didn’t believe the action was risky enough, not enough on the line; led to a really good conversation within the chapter about how to receive feedback and help it push them; conversation about taking risks and while also meeting people where they’re at so we can build a big movement; moving people into action and pushing people to take more risks

Leah, Tucson SURJ

  • Grappling with questions of accountability
  • Tucson SURJ started in December 2014, but there was a similar formation of white folks doing solidarity work since 2011 that reconvened after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson; primarily involved in immigrant rights solidarity work; Tucson is not a majority white town, primarily Latino with some indigenous people; wanted to centralize anti-Black racism but in a town with a very small Black community and not very much of an organized radical black left
  • Started with a banner drop with images of black men who had been murdered by police and saying their names at several malls
  • Since then, involved in educational events and actions, grappling with question of what accountability looks like in a place with very little black organizing but lots of national action
  • Many individuals have strong relationships with immigrant rights orgs that go back years; main accountability relationships with are with immigrant rights orgs but SURJ chapter work hasn’t been much about that issue, but still trying to bring that work into the room and keep those relationships strong
  • Having educational events and conversations about BLM, bringing in a lot more white people; specifically talking about anti-Black racism and BLM; framework, direction and guiding principles have come from national SURJ network, relying on relationships that SURJ has nationally with BLM folks; local relationships aren’t as strong; using momentum that exists on the national scene to engage white people to show up and engage in the dialogue
  • Done some organizing trainings, film screening, dialogue groups for educators in the area, book club on Between the World and Me, channeling some energy into support for on-the-ground organizing around immigrant and indigenous issues
  • How to honor consciousness-raising as a form of action but also move people into taking action locally?
  • Yard signs and door knocking has been very helpful; also handing out yard signs at big events; taking visible action as white people while using direction and accountability from national network
  • Standing with signs as white people is breaking white silence and that in itself is a form of accountability; will be planning an action in the next week or so to take more risks around breaking white silence

Julia, Boulder SURJ

  • Boulder SURJ started in January, Boulder is very white (95%) and very affluent
  • New chapter of BLM in Denver that’s been forming; 45 mins away so tricky to have a close relationship but trying to support actions more and have more cross over
  • BLM folks don’t live in Boulder and aren’t directly affected by policies there; Boulder doesn’t have any orgs led by POC who are building a base, building power, fighting for policy changes
  • Organizational accountability relationship is with BLM in Denver, individual relationships with POC in each person’s lives that they can check in with
  • Want to have more a mutual sense of accountability; want to create a collective vision
  • Concern about tokenizing thoughts and feelings of individual POC
  • How to build accountability with people who don’t necessarily share the same vision/analysis?
  • Went to City Council as they were finalizing city budget; asked them not to increase police budget; allies from BLM came and committed to continuing to come
  • How to create accountability relationship between organizations and individuals without tokenizing them?
  • Couches on campus event coming up to sit down with people to talk about white supremacy


  • Thanks for sharing from a place of movement, not from a place of standing still


Nina, Knoxville-

  • South of Knoxville and really close to Highlander; rural county with very small POC population; white folks there who want to act do not have critical radical analysis; also no Black groups to be accountable to; how to move well meaning liberal intentionality to systemic changes; had a meeting yesterday in Blount County and the group’s focus was on making sure more POC got nominated to the Chamber of Commerce leadership program; how to develop a base of white people who have a critical analysis?


  • More luck with young people in moving thinking forward
  • Look at workshops on Catalyst or SURJ’s websites to push people to have more discussion and get them to engage in critique
  • Do outreach, door knock and use it as a conversation starter to get a pulse of where people are at and to get new blood


  • Getting study group together to push people’s thinking; people in Blount County are interested in that to figure out more about why they’re being called to do this work


  • Using study circles and reading to engaging people to move them to an analysis; also people learn a lot by acting and going out and having an experience, trying to hold and create space so people can reflect on those experiences; debriefing those actions; debrief after everything! And love people while they go through their process.


  • Put out the welcome mat to those who may be at very different levels of understanding; we’ve been asked to bring more people out of the silence and that’s part of accountability; all Louisville SURJ meetings are education AND action; at the end of the meeting they get into the streets and act; “coming out” as white people for racial justice; holding BLM sign on the street after a meeting, for example

Arianna , California

  • People might not have frames of reference around racism but may have frames of reference around classism, peace and justice, etc.; start with a frame of reference that is more familiar and then move into racism


  • One of main values is organizing white people from a place of mutual interest so we can see our stake in ending white supremacy; having faced other forms of oppression can help in bringing people in to understanding racism and how it connects to other forms of oppression

Meredith, New York

  • Inspired by the Boulder story and wanted to hear more about not tokenizing individual relationships


  • It’s important to work from realistic context of what is available and what is around us; individual relationships are part of how we have our own relationships that inform analysis and political development; we need to be able to have those relationships without letting them get us stuck in tokenism; the act of taking action as a way to be accountable to a larger movement, lift up spectrum of what it means to be accountable


  • Talking to a lot of people across the network and people are talking about how we build relationships among ourselves and also regionally or at the state level so it doesn’t have to be hyper local or national

Ian, MA

  • Connections to people and groups but also to values and mission of the work; when looking at how things went we can look at those values and that can be a form of accountability to the purpose of the work. Have others done that in a systematic way?


  • Setting goals and being accountable to those?  In Tucson, have hashed out what their goals are, for example to build list to 500 people to put out calls to action, mid to short term goals that can be accomplished; setting those and then doing what we say we will do is part of accountability


  • Values like acting collectively and doing things that have visibility, or that have a transformative impact are all important parts of what guide us in the work

Small Group Breakout Reportback

Questions: what questions are you still sitting with around accountability? What resources would be helpful to you around accountability?

1. Joni

  • Have not heard how we’re doing work with ourselves about how we’ve been affected by racism, the places it’s gotten in our way in forming connections so that it’s not just doing this for POC but doing this for ourselves


  • Idea of mutual interest is key to this work; Anne Braden said racism is not something we’re helping people of color with; it’s something we have to fight as if our lives depend on it, because they do
  • Our liberation is connected to the liberation of POC; helping people see their mutual interest is a lot of what the Louisville chapter does

2. Heather, OR

  • Two main things came up in breakout: accountability with compassion, shouldn’t equate holding accountable with judgment or attacking people which is related to core value of calling in; in areas where not a lot of POC organizations but some, how as a SURJ chapter when you want relationships with all of them do you deal with disagreements or bad blood among those different organizations but don’t want to exacerbate issues, fix them, or take sides; had trouble deciding which actions to back from which orgs


  • Accountability with compassion is what SURJ is about; calling in is not about shaming or having to say the “right” thing to be seen as being accountable; if we want to build a larger base of white folks then we have to love people where they are at as we push them


  • Question about differing opinions among people and orgs we’re trying to be accountable to came up in another breakout, too


  • How do we not use that as an excuse for paralysis and how do we try to figure it out together and keep moving into action?


  • In Louisville a lot of similar situations; it’s not for us to get in there and try to fix these things; need to have principled relationships and not get sucked  into pitting one group against another
  • Catalyst’s work in New Orleans- not a good thing for white activists to sit around talk about the drama between different groups, need to stay away from gossip and focus on the work that needs to be done

3. Carol in MA

  • Finding differences within the white people we’re approaching also; how can we find roles for everyone that make sense and that fit different needs and comfort levels?


  • Important to take into account that people are coming to the work from different places and with different levels of comfort and commitment, need to have multiple levels of entry, many ways for people to become involved so we can build our base



Appreciations to panel, tech crew, notetakers, small group facilitators.