Training for activists: An interview

Jarrah Hodge of Gender Focus interviews Inner Activist's Hawa Y. Mire about our upcoming course, Building Conscious Use of Power.

Three years ago Hawa Y. Mire got involved with The Inner Activist, “a leadership program for change makers,” offering retreat-style programs on Gabriola Island, B.C.

“The Inner Activist is professional development training for folks looking to make change – social, environmental, systemic – but also to do the personal work that’s essential to be sustainable while involved in change work” Mire says.

“I think an unfortunate consequence of activism is that activists are often encouraged to put aside their personal lives for the sake of a larger movement. I struggle with that idea because I know that if we don’t do the inner work our outer change-work doesn’t have the same lasting impact that we want it to have.  If we’re not able to fill our reserves and take care of ourselves, we’re not going to be as innovative or impactful as we’d like,” Mire adds.

Mire, who is also a storyteller, writer and strategist, has also recently joined The Inner Activist as Outreach and Enrolment Coordinator. I spoke to her about one of the Inner Activist courses she’s taken, which is coming up again October 4-8, 2014: Building Conscious Use of Power.

The course is designed to help change makers understand their relationships to power “in order to be more effective collaborators and allies” as well as recognize the relationships between the personal and political, marginalization and belonging.

“I think there’s an assumption that we live separately from the community members that we’re also trying to support and serve. And we forget that we’re carrying our own internalized belief systems and ways of navigating the world. We forget to stop and take stock of what’s happening for us,” Mire says.

“Building Conscious Use of Power really looks at systemic power and polarized power positions. We constantly come up against different power struggles and whether we’re enacting power or someone is enacting power upon us, we have reactions and the course is looking at that. Where do you go? Do you want that to be your first response? How does this relate to your social or cultural framework?  You leave the course with an immediate awareness of how this plays out in your every day interactions.” Mire explains.

Mire believes Building Conscious Use of Power has particular relevance for feminist activists.

“We don’t always examine the power struggles that are happening – in our intimate relationships, in our familiar relationships, in our work relationships – the assumption is that simply because we engage in feminism, our work is done. It’s important to realize that it is only by understanding our own relationship to power, that we are able to be more innovative. It gives us that extra edge to get that campaign launched, or convince funders that the services we provide are essential.’ Mire says.

For example, she cites the kind of interactions we see on Twitter, where some young feminists will get called on saying something inappropriate and immediately get defensive.

“We need to see that it’s not about being right or wrong; it’s about the work that we need to engage in to make sure we’re supporting the communities we’re living in,” Mire says.

“Just because we’re aware of systemic power doesn’t mean we aren’t enacting it ourselves, in relation to people that we perceive to have less power than us,” she adds.

Like other Inner Activist courses, Building Conscious Use of Power involves five days of in-depth training at The Haven on Gabriola Island, BC. Between 17-25 people will take part in the skills-based course, which introduces process work and popular education to help people experience power relationships in real time and explore, in a safe space, the possibilities for change.

“The hardest thing for people is probably that five-day commitment. Getting the time away from work and life. But one thing that can help is offering to bring something useful back to your workplace or organization.” Mire suggests.

The Inner Activist also has bursary programs to help those who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend.

Jarrah Hodge is the founder and editor of gender-focus.com. She has also written for the Huffington Post, Bitch Magazine Blogs, the Vancouver Observer and About-Face. Jarrah has B.A. in Women’s Studies and Sociology from UBC. She’s a fan of politics, Star Trek, musical theatre, and brunch.

This blog has been re-posted in full from Gender Focus.