"Whatever you do, don't call what we do 'empowering'. The power is already there." Stella Duffy on losing control
We’ve noted Stella Duffy and her Fun Palaces movement as a kindred spirit to the Alternative UK, and we enjoyed her straight talking in a blog for Losing Control, a major convention of social change-makers happening in Birmingham in February. See what we mean:
What’s wrong with community organising today?
Stella: Most big organisations, museums or community initiatives take on volunteers and then train them in what the organisation needs them to know and do.
That is, they take on volunteers on the organisation’s terms to do what the organisation believes is of value.
Even if that may be intended for the benefit of that community, it is still according to the organisation’s own frame of value.
How does Fun Palaces organise?
Stella: Fun Palaces’ approach already assumes the volunteer has agency. We don’t distinguish between a volunteer and a beneficiary.
We don’t start from a position of assuming people need ’empowering’, we assume people have skills, have agency, and perhaps what they need is help to share that more widely and support in doing so.
We ask people what they want to do with and for their community, and then the training we offer (workshops, one-to-one support, support from Ambassadors in those areas) is to help them make this happen.
We offer them a form and a forum (and communications and support and network) to share THEIR already-existing agency.
Why is this approach fundamentally different?
Stella: It’s seeing people as already-skilled, already-able and acknowledging that the problem lies with a society that doesn’t recognise those people and their skills, not with the people themselves.
That means we’re not trying to ’empower’ people in a paternalistic way, but rather trying to help wider society see ALL people as the already-empowered, already-with-agency, already-capable human beings they are. Just not, perhaps, in traditional capitalist society’s terms …!