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Stepping into our Power

  • JASS

It’s been a little over two months since our gathering in Mexico, which is hard to believe, given how rapidly our lives have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We find ourselves quarantined, locked-down, and finding new ways to provide support and care to our families, friends, and communities. Even more so, we are grateful for the in-person time we were able to spend together. 

THANK YOU for taking the time to be with us in person or virtually as we created space to come together as a community of practice, to reflect and learn from our history, share and sharpen our analysis and reaffirm our organizational offers and leadership.   

We hope these reflections are reminders of what is possible when people come together, and when we as JASS “step into our power.”

To step into our power, we took a journey into our organizational history 

“It was a period of exploring what’s possible, which can hard. A process of experimentation, that helped frame up a radical logic for the movement-building work that followed”  – JASS co-founder and AWID co-director, Cindy Clark reflects on JASS from 2002-2005

JASS is an organization built over time by many. To go forward, we needed to look back. Using a timeline, a signature movement-building methodology, we reconnected to JASS’ roots, her political underpinnings, and mapped the organization’s evolution. Together, we weaved our organizational story – reflecting on the challenges (with some humor), opportunities, and choices we made during different moments. We arrived at a place where we could name the DNA of JASS and the elements that enable us to stay focused and connected as we continue to build the organization.

To step into our power, we deepened our understanding and analysis of the current moment

“If movements are not able to protect our communities and us, then our organizing work is not possible. If we don’t understand power dynamics, we can’t understand why violence against activists, human rights defenders, and our movements is growing.” – Marusia Lopez Cruz, JASS Builder, and IM-Defensoras Coordinator

Using participatory learning and drawing on the rich experiences of people in the room, we developed new insights and shared analysis based on our context. JASS Southeast Asia shared how young women are speaking out against the rising threats of fundamentalisms and corporate power in the region. JASS Southern Africa centered on inequality and poverty as a barrier to wellbeing, inspiring us with stories of women organizing for equal treatment and access to health care for everyone. JASS Mesoamerica highlighted the leadership of indigenous and rural women who are defending their lands, rights, and way of life against extractive “development” and its impacts. We connected to Mexico’s rich history of movements and feminist organizing through engagements with friends from Serapaz MexicoLuchadorasConsorcio, and Mujeres Indígenas, who reflected on the challenges women are currently facing in Mexico and the inspiring feminist response.

To step into our power, we created space for deeper learning and dialogue 

“One thing l love about JASS is that whenever we meet, we always learn something new.” – Dina Lumbantobing, JASS Southeast Asia co-founder and popular educator

We created a feminist popular education “marketplace” where people engaged with each other, and with the tools and methods we are currently using and testing in four areas of our work: Collective Protection, Alliance Building, Body Mapping, and Power, Narratives and Strategy. In each area, we grappled with the feminist popular education and movement building challenges and shared critical questions, insights, and emerging approaches. The “marketplace” served as an opportunity to explore emerging approaches and methodologies and see how we can refine them to meet the needs of the current moment. 

To step into our power, we reaffirmed who we are

“We are a powerful community that has created a sense of belonging. We are not only building just power, but we are also just power.” Lisa VeneKlasen, JASS Founding ED – read her last words

Our greatest asset has always been who we are: a diverse community of multi-regional, multi-generational and multi-cultural activists, scholars, popular educators with an extraordinary combined base of political experience and knowledge. We are fun, funny, wise, bold, radical, courageous rebels and proficient karaoke rabble-rousers working to change the world! From in-depth political dialogue to connecting across our teams over good food, exploring the rich culture and history, and getting a visit from Las Reinas Chulas “Virgin Mary,” we embraced everything Mexico had to offer

At this time of our leadership transition, it was essential to reaffirm who we are and the principles that sustain our “ecosystem,” organization, the community of practice and network of allies, and our shared commitment to the collective political leadership that makes JASS … JASS! The time together brought us closer, allowing us to forge new and strengthen old relationships and deepen our sense of shared political purpose, trust, and belonging. As one participant exclaimed, “The community of JASS was awake in these moments.”

To step into our power, we reaffirmed collective leadership 

“Under the leadership of the board and with the staff you have, I am convinced JASS will continue to flourish and spread it wings far and wide” – Hope Chigudu, co-founder and longtime Southern Africa Advisor

The gathering in Mexico was many things, but perhaps most pivotal was a celebration of a feminist leadership transition as we bid farewell to our founding ED, Lisa VeneKlasen, and welcomed new ED, Shereen Essof. We took time to honor the legacy of Lisa, with each of us sharing what she has meant to us and JASS, including a special evening roast hosted by co-founders Valerie Miller and Nani Zulminarni. We also took the time to welcome Shereen, starting with a symbolic ceremony to pass on the leadership torch by Lisa. Reflections and well wishes abounded from all. Hope Chigudu said it better than we could in her message below:

Lisa, without you, sister JASS would not have been conceived. I know you conceived it when you were still living in Zimbabwe…There were many co-creators, but you were the core, the main one. We have seen you grow the organization to what it is today.

Our Shereen, from Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre, …many other journeys, I have been following you with lots of admiration and love…I know you will not only hold the dream but will bring many others in the JASS bed to continue dreaming crazily, constructively, and lovingly. 

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