Last words - for now!


By: 
Lisa VeneKlasen

Dearest friends and family,

On my last day as JASS ED, it feels both momentous and gentle as I step beyond the invisible line of JASS’ daily organizational intensity to support her from another angle.  

I returned from our Mexico gathering feeling both incredibly full and exhausted!  What an extraordinary abundance of activist wisdom and hope in the face of global upheaval. I am so grateful for your trust in me all these years and your political commitment to JASS – for always stretching beyond your comfort zone with an open heart. I’m also so excited and grateful for how seamlessly Shereen Essof has stepped into her new role as ED, and for the coordinated collective leadership of our amazing Joint Leadership Team and Board of Directors. The fact that our leadership transition made JASS stronger is a testament to the skills and commitment of all of you. We are fierce and unstoppable.

Importantly, I’m truly grateful for my mentors and friends who built JASS idea-by-idea, workshop-by-workshop, moment-by-moment with me from her inception long ago and for your continued commitment to JASS and to me.  

It will take me many months for me to fully absorb your many wonderful and hilarious messages and tributes, and the stunning gifts. I will hold them close to my heart.     

In Mexico as I stood back and observed JASS I was struck by the meaning of “the personal is political” in practice.  What was most stunning is this simple truth --

We are the future that we are building and dreaming of!

  • We are intergenerational across 6 decades from 20s into 70s and all the way into 90s if we include my mother, who has been such a big fan and inspiration to us all. Think of all the extraordinary histories, and different kinds of knowledge and networks we’ve merged?!
  • We are multi-country, multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural, queer, straight and undefined!
  • We are from different backgrounds – ranging from the daughters (and sons) of market women, teachers and folk singers to PhDs, medical doctors, lawyers (some famous) and engineers.   
  • We became activists from our different personal struggles and entry points ranging from liberation struggles to human rights, from queer activism and economic justice to ending violence.  
  • We are unsettlingly (for the outside NGO world) Global South and North, and recognize the same kinds of inequality in the North and South. We are committed to redressing the inequalities (of money, power, voice and visibility) that come with long violent histories of colonialism and imperialism while tapping into the 1970s-inspired internationalism and solidarity that defines our local-to-global work.  Let’s be clear - our feminisms and popular education strategies were birthed in the Global South. Including mine. 

We openly hold in our processes all the inherent conflicts and contradictions that these differences of power and privilege bring.  With our shared commitment to the wisdom and voice of women on the frontlines of crises and change, we remain even more determined to create inclusive spaces that clearly nurture a sense of belonging and a shared vision. This is why so many women describe JASS as a family.   

Yes, we’re hard to explain in a soundbyte. We defy the dichotomies and bifurcated identities of our time yet recognize the realities of inequality. We are committed to learning, unlearning and relearning.

It should be no surprise then that JASS – the organization --- has similar multiple identities that co-exist in creative tension with each other.   

-        We are a decade’s long political project that we continuously refresh and reinvent in each moment. From our roots in liberation struggles that lost their way in an era of internationalism, our shared purpose is precisely the unfinished business of liberation, combining new ideas and repackaging old ones for new moments. Popular education. Women’s rights are human rights. Anti-globalization mixed with global solidarity. Reclaiming democracy.  Today, the rediscovery of movements, feminisms, power and now, collective protection brings us back to our core.

-        We are a transnational community of political sisters and brothers – bonded by histories, common dreams, political challenges, and deep trust that we are always expanding, renegotiating and affirming amidst debates and differences. This next phase of creative consolidation of JASS will help to renew and strengthen both this extended community and the shared project.  And finally, let’s not forget --

-        We are an NGO that is accountable to donors, legal systems, contractual arrangements, policies, and regulatory systems and competing for resources with many other organizations in a loud and crowded market place where the lingo of “movements” has become a buzzword. 

Each of us are keenly aware how of the balancing act that the competing demands of these treasured identities imply – like a 3 legged stool. Sometimes, you will lean on one leg too much and fall over, but you’ll get back up.  Imperfection in complexity is JASS’ magic. I’m confident that you will keep an eye on the NGO-like pressures so that don’t overtake the political project or displace the community. At the same time, you won’t lose sight of the accountability and resource demands of being an NGO because you love the political project and are committed to expanding our community. Embrace and enjoy the imperfection and juggling act.  Keep creating, Keep laughing.  Keep dancing.   

Finally, thank you for generously gifting me the one thing I haven’t had for years. Time. Time to reload, recharge, reflect, write and be part of JASS differently. I can’t thank you enough. 

Many aspects of JASS – like our Women Crossing the Line slogan – are organically grown, and my own leadership is no exception.  I learned about leadership from working with you. In recent years, you’ve taught me what Audre Lorde says -- that one of the most radical le adership practices is self-care. Now, you’ve given me that gift.  

In honor of this important moment, I’m formally adding one more concept to our power framework.

We have power to, power with, power within, power for and now, introducing, Power OFF. It will become all the rage, I promise.

Thanks for being so fierce and so kind. La luta continua.

With love and power,

Lisa