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What does it mean to be an effective ally in a social movement?

To be an ally means to be someone from outside an oppressed group who comes to help those who are discriminated against. The following ideas are summarized from a roundtable discussion broadcast on the radio program Making Contact and reprinted this week on AlterNet. People participating in this discussion ranged from Israelis working in Palestine, white civil rights workers, citizens working with the undocumented, and straight people working for LGBT rights. These people identified the following ways to make a difference.

  1. Allies grow leaders. Being an ally does not mean being a leader. It means helping the oppressed become leaders of their own people.
  2. Allies understand who they are. Being an ally means knowing the unearned privileges gifted to you by your background and by societal institutions and not burying oneself in guilt for something you cannot help. .
  3. Allies are empathetic. Allies must put themselves into other's shoes  and see issues from differing points of view. But they realize that because of different life experiences they can never be the same as someone who has experienced oppression or discrimination.
  4. Allies insist on fairness. Do all voices, especially those of the discriminated group, get heard? Is each person's individual contributions counted and valued? If this is not happening, do you point it out and make suggestions as to how to fix it?
  5. Allies form support groups. An ally builds networks to other allies who may or may not come from the same group as the ally.
  6. Allies don't take things personally. They see the large picture and themselves as one small part of the whole.  They do not get angry or hurt when someone points out an unconscious act based on unearned privilege, but use the incident to grow and help others do so as well.
  7. Allies communicate. Allies' most important role is to speak to members of their own privileged groups and to educate them. They open more eyes to the reality of the oppressed.

Are you a member of an unearned privileged group working to end injustice for people who are oppressed? What other things do you do to make a difference?

Learn more about unearned privilege by reading this well-known essay. Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh which addresses white privilege but is relevant to all. And then do one of these follow-up activities

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Teach Peace Now

We offer books, activities, lesson plans, and ideas that teachers, parents, and students can use to promote values, attitudes and behaviors which encourage non-violent resolution of conflict, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding and tolerance.


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