Solidarity Case Study: A Conversation with Judith Browne Dianis

Solidarity Case Study: A Conversation with Judith Browne Dianis - Proteus Fund

The Proteus Fund has been working with frontline organizations and philanthropy to better support solidarity as a value and strategy for moving towards representative, inclusive democracy.

To inform these efforts, the following case study features questions and answers with Judith Browne Dianis, the Executive Director of the Advancement Project on the value of intentional solidarity work. Judith reflects on a series of racial justice leader convenings called “Solidarity Summits” and their impact. Solidarity Summits are cross-community gatherings that foster and support solidarity across racial justice leadership and organizations.

The following is lightly edited for length.

How was the trajectory of learning at the Solidarity Summits, where you worked to foster solidarity between racial justice leaders and communities?

One of the things that was really important in the learning was that we actually spent time getting to know each other and fostering relationships. Some of us in the room didn’t know some of the other people in the room. Interpersonal relationships were key to the learning part because that made people more open to the kinds of discussions that we were going to have. We did site-based learning, and we agreed together on what we wanted to learn. So, for example, going to Michigan and learning about the Palestinian community was really important. There were relationships, digging in on discussions about the world at large and the movement world that we were in, but then also, let’s also learn by going places and hearing from the people and learn what is happening in various communities. That was an acknowledgment that we all come to work from different places, with different experiences, and we need to acknowledge that no one person knows it all. The way in which we can stand with each other and be in solidarity is to understand what we’re standing for and what we’re standing with people on.

When the Solidarity Summits concluded, what did you come out of that experience with?

I remember Linda Sarsour. The first time we were in a Summit together, she was like, “How do I not know you?” And I also was like, “How do I not know you?” We knew of each other, but we didn’t know each other. And now we love each other. So I think about those people now, because we are movement friends forever. Also Deepa Iyer. I didn’t really know Deepa before then.

The other thing it sparked for me was that I came out of that having a deeper understanding of the importance of building….like, Advancement Project was started with the idea that we want to build a multiracial inclusive democracy. Our work is primarily focused on Black and Latinx communities. So now that space for me added the Palestinian piece and the Indigenous piece. So out of that, we started a network which is called Formation. It grows out of the Solidarity Summit. It is a racial justice network of organizers who would be in formation with each other to learn together, not only about their communities but also organizing, and all the things that they as organizers wanted to build out, with an eye towards people of color being the majority.

Like, what is it going to mean for us to be the majority, to have power that mirrors our numbers? What does it mean for us to elect our own people and hold them accountable? So we have this fledging network that we’ve built that is about bringing organizations that serve people of color, led by people of color together to struggle around their politics, around what does it mean to be in community together? What does it mean when this issue comes up that pits us against each other? How do we work through these things?

What has grown within yourself and within your work because of the summits?

It has definitely opened up my understanding of the struggles of other people. Even as I lead a multiracial organization, I am a Black woman with a Black woman’s experiences. And so, being able to have that larger context of the ways in which race plays out for different communities, and also cultural pieces — understanding some of the cultural mores that play out in different groups — is really important and is a personal growth for me.

When solidarity works well, what does that look like?

Solidarity is being there. Showing a sense of force, and troops. When people know, yeah, I can call my people and my people are going to come. My people don’t just look like me, but that there are all of these other folks who, on the surface, it doesn’t seem like this is their issue, but they are saying to you, ‘Yes, this is.’ It may not be their direct issue, but they understand the underpinnings of issues that may not directly impact them. It’s about making the call to ask people to stand on something and people answer the call. That’s what solidarity looks like at its best.

What do you want funders to know about solidarity?

I would want them to know this work by examples. Asians for Black Lives is an example. When George Floyd was murdered, or even before then, maybe it was Mike Brown — young people took to the streets and it wasn’t just young Black people. It was about saying and hearing, We see you other community, and not only do we see you, but you’ve called us in to support this effort and we’re standing with you. It’s really standing with others. I think also about when the murders happened in Atlanta of the Asian women. That too in reverse occurred when Black folks said, ‘oh hell no.’ People called out that hate crime, and then also that Asian community said the response is not to put more police in this community. This is the way that solidarity should work. We understand our struggles and what our movements are trying to accomplish so that we can call each other to formation and we can also make sure we’re not throwing each other under the bus when it’s time for solutions. It’s that we understand where each of our communities are, so that when someone asks us for solutions to our own problems, we’re not throwing someone else under the bus for our own gain.

What do you want peers and young leaders coming up behind you to know about solidarity?

I think the people behind me know. I think these young people are getting it. They know. It’s the old guard that doesn’t get it as much. This is why we started Formation. We have got to get this solidarity work together as we move into 2042. If we don’t, all the things I’ve said—throwing people under the bus, mirroring the same kind of supremacist attitudes and power—will happen again, but just in the hands of a different group. Maybe it won’t be Black people. So if we don’t get this solidarity piece together, and talk about values and where we want to be, Black folks will be on the receiving end of the harm because we aren’t going to be the majority. So there’s this collective that we need to be building. Solidarity is a collective action.

If every movement organization had dedicated resources for solidarity practice, what do you think would change about how folks build policy, advocacy, or other organizing?

It’s just that. That answer. So, if there is a policing bill, we would have conversations about why some people like it and why some people don’t like it, and we would start to figure out solutions that don’t throw some people under the bus. I remember having a conversation with the National Council of American Indians about some policing issues. For them, they said they need the police because women living on the reservation go missing or stolen into communities off the reservation. And so we responded, well police may not actually be the response to that issue.

While we’re saying let’s get rid of the police you could be standing with us and we can also figure out a solution to your issue. So we’re not just saying go our way, but also how do we get you what you need and what your community needs. So I think we would see policies that would create a society where we can all be free.