Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Is Outreach Dead?
When hundreds of citizen activists convened for training, networking, and good times at DemocracyFest in Austin Texas in June, there was one frustrating session for me. The one on diversity.
Two hours dedicated to the thing, organized with the help of some very cool people at Latinos for Texas and Democracy for Texas who ensured that diversity got a reasonable time span and slot on the program. And they had a reasonable approach to make it work that included the input and perspectives from various people (including me). So what happened? I sat through the first 15 minutes and, figuratively speaking, wanted to drown myself. That's when I really began to think "outreach," as conceived in progressive activist circles, may be a dead end.
I really don't blame anyone. White progressives want to see more racial diversity in their groups. I can understand that. They break with the majority of the white population; they'll agree with how most Black people view the historic, economic, and social patterns of discrimination and how they persist. Great. But I've heard from and met many a person who is white who tried to reach out with emphathy (and, yes, skill and, sometimes, with experience) to Black folks in particular, without really seeing much of a difference.
I've reached the point where I don't think we should continue believing in outreach as its being practiced, just because it seems like the right thing to do. What kinds of results are we really looking for? And our different groups of us looking for different things?
Without necessarily getting into a long(er) rant, I think "outreach" needs to die and that all of us together need to work on building coalitions instead.