29th March, 2018
In Belize's movement building process we are writing our own rules. Over the years we saw a focus on systems, we we had no visible pool of leaders. So an investment was made to build a social infrastructure of leaders, but then we discovered visibility in a hostile environment require time to recharge. Many movements focus on strategic planning, resource mobilization and project management and collaboration which are all important and forget that their human capital, the leaders are mortals who are not limitless in their invincibility to challenge social norms in a hostile environment. What we fail to realize is that the human element in the collective must take the time to manage their well-being. Many are affected by cancer, death of a parent, hypertension, depression, personal intimate relationships, violence, back problems, heart diseases and a myriad of other health and psychological issues. healing is as important as organizing.
When one looks at leadership, we don't immediately realize that the humans come with quirks, frailties that include inability to cope with criticisms, stress, impatiences, diverse management and communication styles. More importantly, no human being likes to be pigeon-holed into an expectation. I have been working on LGBT Health and human rights policy issues for over a decade and this is what I have learned over time. Self-care matters; use your experience to instruct your strategies to mobilise; study the problem and look for social patterns; be solutions oriented at all times; any effort is a long-term investment in managing the efficient use of human capital. Last weekend, The United Belize Advocacy Movement coordinated a Cohesion Retreat that was as much about community strategy as it was about self-care. We did massages, ziplining and yoga. In zip-lining I was reminded about the need to, set the example. No screaming, no shaking, just listening to the instructor on how to stop when I was near to the next platform. The result, I simplified my thoughts and focus on the experience!
I had never done ziplining before, I was nervous, full of anxiety and found it ridiculous, until I saw our trans sister Honey Bee, with legs and hand shaking stepped up to the challenge. I even heard her say later, " if i can do that, I can overcome any fear I have!" While Honey Bee was shaking all the way, she never wavered in her commitment to reach the end of the platform which had 4 stages. Others joined in the action-oriented effort in setting the tone of silent encouragement to participate.It was a team effort which included, no drama, lots of jokes and a laser sharp focus to reach the other platforms. While one person was not prepared to zipline, she re-purposed herself to be the group's photographer. Without her we would not have any of these images. Her action reminded me that in movement building, we have an opportunity to define, believe and take ownership of community process and that it is not just defined in strategic plan, project implementation and community. The key lesson here was that she volunteered her time to support collective action of team-building. I never saw an objection to her decision. As we all intuitively knew the value of her decision. This is how leadership advances, we initiate, learn to take risk and set the standard to act.
We learned, as well, that we cope differently with the same challenges. I was chewing gum with a stoic face while other were in a strike a pose moment and making noise for fun while moving done hundreds of feet in the air. I was told ,"My God, you moved like you did this before!" I smiled only, because it was my first time. Movement building, requires a psychological shift in the impossible , an ah ha moment that leads to defining your contribution, even if its just, but for a time. What I learned was that a pioneer may volunteer their time to an issue, but the people around study the patterns of social engagement, creating social expectations around that person efforts. I discovered that it not about being liked or validated, its about recognizing that there is an outcome to reach that involves a process that is dynamic. A process that involves listening, strategic communication to motivate, to inform, to inspire, to structure and give life to a vision to act. It is a process of centralized analysis and feelings-based responses. The most intangible things are being able to cope with fear, lost confidence,failure and to refine disagreements as opportunities to act. We began in fear, but we posed as individuals in a team prepared to act with all its diversity.
When we finished we took time to reflect about our physical bodies. Yoga, might be a simply act, but its quite effective to raise ones consciousness of breathing movements. Listening, allowed us to examine our psychological and physical limitations as individuals living in a hostile environment. this is important as LGBT work, exist in an environment of hostility. "Faggit!", "battiman!" "Shitty cock!" "You will not make it pass 2016!" "Orozco should be put infront of an Orlando style massacre" has been words used to attack my dignity and many in the community. And I will be the first to say it has a cumulative effort. Of note, I am reminded that one of our colleagues sister dies, another father died from prostate cancer, my own sister was breathing on 3 pints of blood before the retreat and I had to deal with an attempted murder in our community. The result, is that family issues and work related issues can take a told on our sleep patterns which amplifies our exhaustion and burn out in this work. Yoga offered us all a short time to be still, to clear our minds to listen to our bodies and what it needs. For me, it was about internal peace! More importantly, we discovered in partner yoga that empathy is a big part of how we negotiate our differences as a movement. I was smiling with my partner, touching his inner thighs as part of our poses to discover that in that moment, we both could touch each other without conflict, feel awkard about the poses and honest about our reactions. We laughed most of the time. In the back to back yoga, it was about feeling the breathing of the other with a deliberate effort to synchronize our breathing patterns. It was clear feeling the patterns of breathing was difficult because we were easily distracted by a minutia of things in the environment. As each person could be easily distracted in their act of coordination, in movement building, personal stress, family conflict, death, depression, job loss, limited resources can all derail the pool of leaders involved in a moment. We took the time to be reminded that the work to find balance is a constant struggle. The work to internalize a process of internal peace is about timing and its different for every person.
Our the Two days was not only spent on working on ourselves, we invested time and energy in strategic thinking, in Political, Economic, Social and Technology-base (PEST) analysis, in community mobilization work. the workshop offered the representatives a base-line structure that examined our function and progress in a hostile environment. It offered us a peek into the limits of our leadership base, it offered us insight into the limitations of strategic thinking and advocacy among our community and informed us about our operational values as a collective in how we engage each other. At its core, movements require a diver in a position to find resources, document strategic direction, provide technical, financial and mentoring support and leaders who have a basic support structure to thrive in their visibility and advocacy. Many will exist, but few will be tenacious to stay the course to see social transformation occur. The final lesson is that social inequity will remain in Belize for its our shared silence that will sustain it. Movement, don't come with a magic bullet or a one size fits all guide book.
Finally, we closed not with an evaluation, but a pause that our effort to organize is challenged by how we frame a National Social Marketing Research Strategy to take advantage of preliminary data which tells us that there is over 12,000 men who have sex with men and over 1200 Trans Belizeans. We are challenged to leverage the private sector and structure our own community economic productivity and political voice in Belize. One thing I have learnt as a Belizean, there will always be someone who finds the social solutions to transform our society for the better. Many will want to lead, few will be effective, even less will be tenacious to make a long-term investment to stay the course. With luck and tenaciousness, Belize will set the standard among CARICOM member states. The struggle continues!