Revamped and ready to rock: Why Conscious Use of Power is needed now more than ever

Global meets local meets personal. It's time for each of us to rethink how we address power, oppression and marginality.

For those of you I haven't yet met, my name is Suzanne Nievaart, and I'm the Outreach & Engagement Coordinator with the Inner Activist. I had the opportunity to interview our Conscious Use of Power course facilitators, Natasha Aruliah, Jackie Larkin, and Camille Dumond (an awesome all-female faculty!) about the upcoming course taking place October 21-25, 2017 to find out why they chose to revise the curriculum, and why they think this course is important for changemakers now more than ever. The following is a summary of our conversation.

Suzanne: How does what we are seeing unfold in the local and global context relate to what you cover in Conscious Use of Power?  

Natasha: What we are seeing globally and locally is an increased polarization and real division around issues like who belongs and who doesn’t, who gets to choose and make decisions on behalf of other people, and whose lives and values matter. Disparity is growing between those who hold power and those that don’t. We need to rethink how we address power, oppression and marginality, and how we do this work in ways that doesn't further divide us.

Jackie: Global phenomena like climate change, famine and war are causing massive migrations of people. This is deeply unsettling the power relationships that have existed historically among the prosperous, western economies that pride themselves on their democracies. They are now being tested in their ability to respond to the needs of people that are being threatened with displacement. This requires the ability to share power and resolve these issues.

Camille: For me in these times, the most important thing is to keep the focus on how we can support the collective power of those that are the most impacted by inequities. The transformative step is to ask, “What is it that I need to look at and heal in myself so that I can be in a different relationship with [marginalized] groups?” 

Suzanne: How does the Conscious Use of Power course aim to address issues related to power, privilege and marginalization?

Natasha: To me, Conscious Use of Power is about learning to be conscious, doing the work, and learning to recognize that at any given moment our identity shifts and changes. When I started this journey, my focus was on those areas where I experienced marginality. As I started to heal from that wounding, I started to recognize that even within those identities I can still claim power, despite being marginalized in structural and systemic ways. As I realized that, it freed me up to look at the dominant identities and the privilege that I have and how I get stuck in those, too. It’s a growth process that is ongoing.

Jackie: We carry with us our positions of power and privilege as well as positions where we have little power and privilege, and all the related internal wounding that has developed over our lifetime. That creates tension and conflict which we are seldom well-resourced to handle. One of the results is that people drop out [of change movements] because they can’t handle this discomfort and conflict. The Conscious Use of Power course is an important way to give us the resources to navigate these dynamics in times of challenge.

Camille: In the Conscious Use of Power course we work with what comes up in the room. It could be gender issues, transphobia, indigenous settler/colonizer issues, racism, just as some examples. When you come into a program like this, you often have one thing you think that you want to get out of it, and yet that which is most deep and healing and profound is something quite different from what you had expected. 

Jackie Larkin & Natasha AruliahSuzanne: The Conscious Use of Power course curriculum was recently revamped. Why did you feel it was important to make changes? 

Jackie: We made a number of changes to the curriculum. One of the parts of the course that we added is creating the opportunity for affinity groups to meet in separate spaces. I think that under the right circumstances it can be useful to be able to express our fears and shame, the reluctance to let go of control, and all of the things we carry within us from a dominant place. It’s important to have a place that helps people work through these responses so that we are not being a burden to the people of colour in the room.

Natasha: Yes, it’s important to have space for us in our privileged identities, to do that work without further harming those that are already experiencing marginalization.During the course, this is done very consciously. It’s done with guidance and support, and it’s very clear what the motivation, aims, and goals are for this space and time. For those spaces and affinity groups where we are the marginalized, the work is different. It is about healing the trauma of oppression in a community where you don't have to explain your experience. It is shared and understood. 

Camille: One of the big fears about caucus groups is that it is divisive. There is this polarity between being divisive and being unified. To me, they are just part of a spectrum. There are times to be separate and work on our different issues and to be who we are. There is still immense diversity within each affinity group, some have a western perspective, others indigenous, or non-western, or around class, religion, gender. I love giving space for different types of work, for different moments. That’s part of why I really appreciate the changes we’ve made to this program. We also made room in the curriculum to slow down in order to deepen the dive we can do into the relatively unprocessed areas of our social identities. From here we can practice being with and witnessing each other and acting from a grounded analysis of the different growth paths in our dominant and marginal identities.

Suzanne: What else can you tell us about how the Conscious Use of Power course aims to support change makers and activists in the work that they are doing in the world?

Camille: In the course, we create a container that can hold the processing of a lot of the stuff that many of us are carrying in our different identities – both dominant and marginalized. For me, I am working on my dominant identities, waking up to the areas of power and privilege that I am not using well. I am working on being able to hold my own feelings and witness the rage and brilliance of groups who are non-dominant. In my marginalized identities, I am working on bringing out my full expression and standing my ground, validating, and being witnessed in my perspectives. The fluidity of being able to work on both positions at any given moment, it’s a skill. That’s what we want to support people to learn and create in the world.

Jackie: If we repress what’s painful, if we don’t stay with what’s hurting inside, we will turn it outward, in all kinds of different ways. The emotions of anger, fear, and distress actually have to be fully recognized within us and honoured for what they’re telling us in such a way that we move through them and transform the energies of those emotions into something that actually builds bridges rather than creates walls.

Natasha: We can’t selectively numb feelings and the things that we don’t want to face - the pain, the hurt, the anger - without numbing everything. All feelings. Joy, love, compassion. People working to create change in the world don’t often have spaces or places to do that kind of work. This is what we want to create in this course: a safe, loving, caring, compassionate space to do that work together. We know that fundamentally, this work is hard and challenging, and it’s emotional. We are not socialized to be whole beings. We are told to distrust our feelings, our sensations, our bodies. We need to reconnect, in all sorts of ways, to the world, to each other, and to our whole selves.

Suzanne: Any last words?

Natasha: The Conscious Use of Power course is really about starting to grapple with big questions like, “How is it that we still perpetuate these systems of oppression and dominance when we are fighting to change them?” and, “What is it that we hold internally in our wiring and attitudes that we don’t even recognize because it is so deeply ingrained in us?" That’s why the polarizations are still there, because we keep spinning our wheels and perpetuating these things over and over again. We have to understand ourselves differently in order to do things differently. This course provides space to begin that process.* 

Join us! Conscious Use of Power, October 21-25, 2017 at the Haven on Gabriola Island. For more information, to apply for a bursary & to register visit: http://www.inneractivist.com/conscious_use_of_power or contact me at suzanne@inneractivist.com Tel: (250) 882-9399.