Fifteen years ago, I first cut my teeth as an organizer helping lead a national student organizing campaign at college campuses across the country. We were fighting for fairer wages for coffee producers around the world by putting pressure on large institutions to change their purchasing practices and pay more for their coffee. This experience deeply influenced the way I think about how change happens, although in unexpected ways. To be sure, learning hard skills in community organizing, like campaign development and power analysis, helped me understand how big social change really happens in this country and how power can be exercised by people. And I spent a lot of time with my fellow organizers and coffee farmers visioning a better and more just world that was rooted in equity and liberation, which completely changed my worldview.
But the unique ways we applied our values as a team are what have stuck with me the most after all these years. We fought against traditional, hierarchical structures and developed ways to make decisions through consensus. We prioritized deep, personal relationships over endless productivity. We talked openly about burnout and prioritized skill building and accountability around self-care. In other words, we fought just as hard for liberation inside our organization, as we did for a liberated world.
At Center for Health Progress, we have been on a similar journey over the past few years. With the incredible support of equity consultants, like Angell Perez and CIRCLE, and the leadership of many within our organization, we’ve continually asked the question: Does our organization operate internally in radical alignment with what we advocate for externally? As you might expect, since we’ve inherited most of our policies and structures (which often determine the internal rules we must play by), the answer has often been “no.”
In response, we’ve put in significant work to change our internal playbook to be more in line with our values. We’re creating more and more ways for our grassroots leaders to make organizational decisions, including approving our policy positions and strategic plan for the first time in our organization’s history. We’ve overhauled our employment policies to provide more time for our employees to rest, recover, and reflect, including recently passing a very strong family and medical leave policy and instituting a sabbatical policy—which I’ll be taking advantage of from November through early February. We’ve become more clear and transparent about employee compensation, including making all salaries transparent across the organization to promote pay equity. And since the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to work from home and juggle all sorts of other life responsibilities during work hours, we’ve implemented a 32-hour work week and provided employees with self-care stipends.
We still have a long way to go to become a truly equitable organization. We are currently working to interrogate our internal staffing structures that unnecessarily promote hierarchy and consolidate power at the top of the organization. We are working to build a culture of restorative justice and a corresponding support system that promotes healing and encourages us to not shy away from conflict. And like most organizations, combatting white supremacy culture in our walls will always be a long-term practice, not a destination we can check off a list. We are committed to this work because we all want to live in a more just and equitable world. To achieve this dream, we know we have to keep fighting just as hard for liberating structures inside our organization as we do outside of it. I hope you’ll join us.