I first decided to intern with Catalyst Project because, from what I had heard and seen from afar (aka the East Coast), they were serious about building a movement that centers racial justice with white people right there in that struggle. The members of Catalyst seemed to have not just the analysis, but the strategies, humility, and love necessary for the kind of work I knew I wanted to be doing and was trying to do, and honestly, I wanted to get more of that for myself.
"Grasping Things at the Root": My Grassroots Fundraising Internship with Catalyst*
By Eli Conley
I first decided to intern with Catalyst Project because, from what I had heard and seen from afar (aka the East Coast), they were serious about building a movement that centers racial justice with white people right there in that struggle. The members of Catalyst seemed to have not just the analysis, but the strategies, humility, and love necessary for the kind of work I knew I wanted to be doing and was trying to do, and honestly, I wanted to get more of that for myself. I was coming from doing anti-racist work primarily as a student at Oberlin College in Ohio involved with the Transgender Advocacy Group, the Anti-Racism and White Privilege in Student Organizing experimental college class, and the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People. I wanted to gain more skills and perspective to help my work at Oberlin and beyond, and to build my ability to connect the work I was a part of with individual groups to a broader, multi-issue movement.
What I got from my time with Catalyst went way beyond new skills. For much of my September to December 2007 internship, I focused on grassroots fundraising for the new Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program, which I am super excited to have been a part of launching. After going through a training with Catalyst advisor Nisha Anand, being a part of their fundraising team, and reading INCITE!’s The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (which I cannot recommend highly enough), I am now very excited about fundraising as a form of organizing. It’s about giving white people an opportunity to support white anti-racist work, engaging folks who might not have the ability to commit 20 hours a week to helping launch the Braden Program like I was, but who want to support it. One of the best parts of doing grassroots fundraising was getting to talk to lots of people about the Braden program and getting their support, including my own family and friends.
My time with Catalyst also included a lot of opportunities outside of the office. I had one-one-one conversations with members of the collective, helping me reflect on my work at Oberlin, and building my confidence as a leader—something that I have definitely been wary of as a wealthy white man. They’ve helped me to see the importance of having the confidence to bring my skills and experience as a feminist, anti-racist transgender man to the table in my work in both mostly white and multiracial groups in a way rooted in collectivity and accountability rather than domination and entitlement. Along with members of Catalyst, I took part in actions such as the November march to end the war, and a protest of the murder of Gary King Jr, a young Black man shot by the Oakland police. I attended the Women of Color Resource Center’s (http://www.coloredgirls.org) powerful Sisters of Fire Awards with Clare to honor the work of Linda Burnham and cheer on the Service Women’s Action Network (http://servicewomen.org), a new group Catalyst works supports as part of their anti-war program. I had the privilege of taking part in a reading group lead by Catalyst advisor Sharon Martinas for the book The Cost of Privilege by Chip Smith and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
I am especially thankful to Catalyst for introducing me to my mentor (and fellow introvert!) Cile Beatty, who was also in the reading group. Meeting every other week, Cile lets me bounce ideas off of her and helps me be intentional in my approach to everything from beginning to work on Critical Resistance’s 10th anniversary gathering (http://criticalresistance.org/article.php?list=type&type=36) to building a radical community to help sustain me. Cile helps me draw lessons out of the challenging experiences I have, and often encourages me to live my questions. She helps me work through things I am insecure or confused about, and she is also great about helping me put my work into perspective of past movements and other organizing styles, especially the Black Liberation Movement. We continue to talk even though my formal internship has ended, and she is extremely helpful. I cannot express enough gratitude for Catalyst’s commitment to my political education and personal development as a white anti-racist organizer.
At Sharon’s urging, in December both Cile and I responded to a call put out by the New Orleans Stop the Demolition Coalition for outside supporters to come to the city and join the on the ground fight to protect public housing as bulldozers were scheduled to demolish four projects. It was incredibly inspiring to see the fierce work of residents of public housing and allied organizers working to get the city to heed the calls of the residents. I was honored to be a small part of the struggle to guarantee the Right of Return for the thousands of working class and poor Black New Orleanians who are still unable to return home. (The struggle for public housing is ongoing–<a http://www.defendneworleanspublichousing.org/).
Throughout my internship with Catalyst, what I feel I benefited from the most was the support to begin to see myself as an organizer—an organizer in a long history and large present community of people struggling for collective liberation that is rooted in an end to white supremacy. I am now thinking strategically and long term about my work, and the potential of anti-racist white people as part of a broader multiracial movement that will bring forth the radical, liberatory, just world we all so desperately want to live in.
* The title comes from an Angela Davis' quote "Radical simply means grasping things at the root" from a 1987 talk at Spelman College.