In 2011, Roots of Change (ROC) and People’s Grocery (PG) set out to address the issues of fear, projection and lack of common perspective, which we had identified as the primary obstacles interfering with the building of trust between “privileged” and “under-resourced” food system reform groups in the Bay Area. Through a grant from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, we began a year-long process with one other.
Our initial approach largely focused on “cultural competency ,” utilizing as well as training regional partners in its tenets. Throughout the year, all of the fears and tensions we identified as impediments to building trust proved true—in fact, ROC and PG fell victim to most (if not all) of these underlying problems as we attempted to work together!
Building true allyship between a “privileged” and “under-resourced” organization has proven to be much more complex than either organization anticipated. The “cultural competence” approach alone was proving inadequate in helping us overcome these obstacles. The ROC-PG partnership only became effective when we engaged Miakoda (jyll taylor) in order to learn her methodology for trust building, called “Fierce Allies.” Miakoda offers facilitation, coaching, training and strategy consulting that builds resilient multi-cultural partnerships across divides of power and privilege. She re-oriented both ROC and PG towards “cultural humility,” a practice of humbly carrying ones own culture and assumptions, while engaging different cultures and perspectives with curiosity and compassion.
Through this process Miakoda has been training ROC and PG to: 1) develop an emotional and intellectual understanding of the cyclical dynamics of dominance and oppression, and their effects on human behavior; 2) stay in authentic relationship even when difficult content and strong emotions are present; 3) take responsibility for the multi-dimensional roles each organization respectively plays in cycles of oppression/dominance; 4) engage in fiercely honest and compassionate truth telling that results in deep trust, power-sharing and mutual accountability.
Once ROC and PG began to make progress toward our own allyship, we enlarged our dialog and trust building sessions to include other East Bay Area food groups, including: City Slicker Farms, Food First, Phat Beets, Planting Justice, the Oakland Food Policy Council, and East Bay Asian Youth Center. In these sessions facilitated by Miakoda, the group openly discussed, often with deep emotion, competition over funding, feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness, past harms and perceived acts of disrespect that have kept organizations from working together. Based on the transformation of relations underway among these groups, we expect a long-term partnership to prove even more fruitful.
The struggles ROC and PG have encountered and overcome as we work to build allyship reveal a path to a larger unification of the food movement in the State—which can forge a powerful and visible majority capable of influencing the State Legislature and potentially the California Congressional delegation to act in support of systemic transformation of food and farming. The result of this project is a strategic partnership between Roots of Change and People’s Grocery on the Statewide Food Policy Council.