You know the idea that if you don’t have a seat at the table, you can’t participate in decision making and so chances are, your issues won’t be considered if they’re even a smidge outside of the mainstream (let alone inconceivable to the mainstream)? Of course you do – you’ve perfected that strategy, honed it to a fine blunt instrument to wield against the American people through your copious unconfirmed political appointees and people in “acting” positions who don’t have to answer to anyone but you. You and yours also have sharp, sharp elbows and a well practiced “I can’t see you, so you aren’t there, and even if you are there, I don’t care” way of looking through people. These are time-worn ways to keep the numbers at the tables “manageable,” and to ensure you’re surrounded by homogenous dweebs who wouldn’t dream of pointing out an unwieldy problem and who always, always have handy solutions to non-problems they’re happy to proffer as they kiss ass.
I know this is now old news, but you all gave a labradoodle breeder (Brian Harrison) the head seat at the table coordinating the day-to-day covid-19 response within HHS and at the same time pulled the chair out from under the top infectious disease doctor in the country (Anthony Fauci). Never mind that you’ve built a wall around the White House so you don’t even have to see people from the hardest hit groups of Americans.
This is just one especially egregious example that demonstrates how right Karundi Williams (Executive Director of re:power) is about the need to completely flip “the table” and do a radical reset. I heard Williams speak on a recent MoveOn panel discussion about antiracism and allyship (https://www.twitch.tv/moveonorg). She talked about how the whole “seat at the table” thing isn’t working for BIPOC people and women and that it’s time to change the paradigm. She talked about how white people are actually going to have to give up some things, that we’re going to have to step back and learn to follow people of color and in particular, Black women, if we’re going to get out of the very deep, very restrictive rut we’ve all been in for centuries.
Essentially, we have to let go of the myth that if we just share the pie better and scrunch in around the same old table better, we can work all this shit out. If we stay at the mean little table that white men built and that white men set the rules for and that white men have headed for centuries, we’ll never break out of the patterns of entitlement and deference that have kept women and BIPOC people functionally disenfranchised and that, frankly, threaten our very existence.
So what does table flipping look like? I’m not sure whether Williams was referencing Jesus’s table flipping in the temple where he got into what John Lewis would have called “good trouble,” but either way, I think she was talking about something no less radical. What if we flip the whole thing on its head and rethink, reimagine what leadership and followership can look like including who is doing the leading and as importantly, how they are leading? Is it a variation on the titular head model we’re all so used to or is it egalitarian and consensus driven? Is it ok to bring up hard, complicated problems that don’t have ready, obvious solutions? Is a shared, inclusive sense of mission fostered? Are there ground rules that ensure everyone has a chance to speak uninterrupted? Is there appreciation for and validation of what folks bring to the conversation as well as real consideration of everyone’s point of view when it comes to decision making?
It’s time we face the reality that the old, top down, ‘my way or the highway’ form of leadership isn’t working for the vast majority of us. Full stop.
May we all be safe to contribute.
May we be willing to think outside of our limited and limiting ways of working together.
May we all hone whatever strengths we need to hone to get to healthier collective ways of being.
May we accept that we can’t fix what’s broken doing the same old things.