By Zuleika Godinez, Ensuring Opportunity Campaign
I recently attended the national YIMBYTown conference in Oakland to learn more about what policies Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) housing advocates are supporting. While I learned lots of useful information about the housing crisis, I also came away with an important message that applies to all policy leaders and advocates, not just to YIMBYs, which is this: Self-reflection and organizational values alignment are just as important as the external work that we do.
Keynote speaker Laura Loe (Bernstein), who is a housing activist with the YIMBY movement in Seattle, emphasized that housing advocates should ask ourselves how the policies we are proposing will impact communities of color and others who have been historically left out and marginalized. She added that we must be honest about who benefits from these proposed policies immediately, who stays and who has to leave, who is building wealth and who isn’t, and who is policed and who isn’t. She challenged housing advocates to take a step back to ask if we are truly listening to those most impacted by the housing crisis, and how we are supporting these folks’ leadership in creating solutions.
As advocates, we do our work with good intentions, but we must be willing to stop and acknowledge when our actions and policy positions are no longer aligned with our values. In coalition work – which is how most advocacy work gets done – this internal reflection is even more important.
As the policy coordinator for Ensuring Opportunity, I am involved with numerous coalitions and work with passionate, talented and deeply committed advocates. I’m encouraged to see that some of these coalitions have recently launched important internal conversations about values, intent and impact. Collectively, we are realizing that there are issues around process and values that must be addressed in order for our policy advocacy to be truly inclusive. Only then can we authentically work toward solutions that deeply embody the values of equity and justice as we strive to lift up our communities.
At the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign, equity is the core value that is most central to our work (see our Theory of Change). To ensure that everyone in our community thrives, we must do more than ensure equitable policies are in place. All of us working to end poverty must also challenge the assumptions and practices that sometimes create blind spots in the policy-making process itself. As Ghandi said near the end of his life, “There is no wall of separation between means and end.”
We invite you to reflect on the following questions in your own work:
- Who is at the policy making tables I’m sitting at, and who is missing?
- Who decides who is invited to these tables?
- In order to lead with courage and compassion, what values do I hold that should frame and drive my work as a policy maker or advocate?
- When am I acting in integrity with my core values and what do I do when I’m not?
We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments as we continue on this journey together.