Leading Beyond Boundaries

June 18th, 2008

Love and Transgression

I've been feeling transgressive lately. The word 'transgress' has a number of definitions, but I'm referring to #3 in the Encarta Dictionary: "to overstep proper limit, to go beyond a limit, usually in a blameworthy way. 'She'd transgressed the bounds of accepted behavior.'" Perhaps it is the weather - we've been having a heat wave over here in the SF Bay area. More likely it's because I am weary of the ways in which our civil liberties are being increasingly eroded. I'm disgusted by the fence being built along our US southern border, hemming us in, holding us away from our next of kin to the south. I'm weary of the violence that is rife in our cities, and the violence that is being exported in our names.

It seems to me that it is long past time to break some rules, to cross borders, to have, what my colleague Cindy Rizzo calls "disruptive conversations". Those of us leading this business of social transformation have a particular responsibility to consider how much of what we are doing is based on old thinking and patterns, and to discern what is currently needed. Social movements can fall prey to complacency, habit and tradition, even as they work to change the world. While I am not espousing transgression for its own sake, I think we need to be willing to pick up long-standing rocks, look at their underbellies, and be ready to discard that which is no longer needed or effective.

Mid-June we observe Loving Day, a little-known celebration of which I have recently become aware. In 1967, Loving v Virginia was a landmark civil rights case in which the US Supreme Court declared Virginia's then-current anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, thus ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage. Now, isn't that something to celebrate? Prior to the ruling, people could be arrested and thrown in jail for daring to love across racial lines. It took great courage for Mildred Delores Jeter and Richard Perry Loving to resist the rules of the day and transgress race laws. Mildred Loving passed away on May 2, 2008, and I ask you to join me in celebrating her life and the contribution she made (along with Richard) to changing the way we think about race and love.

The recent California Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage is another example of what can happen when ordinary people insist on transgressing boundaries and breaking rules. In doing so, they offer us a gift - they liberate us all.

The next six months leading up to the presidential election will be crucial in setting the tone and political/cultural direction of the next decade. It is time for us to take even deeper risks in our leadership, to support those leaders around us who are asking the hard questions of our time, even if they make us personally uncomfortable.

So, I call a deep shout-out to all of you who are speaking even when your voices tremble. To those of you who continue to step out even as the barriers get stronger and more rigid. To those who still get up in the morning even as you may wonder how you'll make it through the day. Thank you. Thank you for doing the heavy lifting for all of us. Thank you for making a difference.

May you be happy, may you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease.


June 2008

Building Partnership through Exchange: Lessons from Rockwood's Media Fellows


The Rockwood Practice of Partnership is "to build and maintain strong, interdependent relationships that move our work forward." We know this takes time, trust building, skillful communication, and aligned purpose. We're excited to feature one, of many efforts, to build collaboration within this critical sector, called the Knowledge Exchange Program.

The progressive media sector serves as a powerful arena for political debate - from producing critical commentary on today's issues; to crafting policies around media ownership and technology access; to organizing and engaging communities in media literacy and production.  Not unlike other progressive sectors, the media sector also faces the challenge of its organizations competing for resources and struggling over different strategies rather than finding ways to work together.


The Knowledge Exchange Program is a weeklong exposure program for grassroots leaders to experience Capitol Hill and for DC advocates to experience the field of grassroots work. The program idea was suggested by Becky Lentz, a former Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, and bloomed out of a conversation between Gene Kimmelman at Consumers Union, and Hye-Jung Park at the Funding Exchange. Both have participated in Rockwood's Fellowship in Media, Communications, and Information Policy.

Gene is Vice-President for Federal and International Policy at Consumers Union and has engaged in media and telecommunications policy advocacy for more than 25 years. Gene explained his experience of the challenges in the media sector: "Posturing, critical statements of not being able to work together, suspicions about who is in closer with funders and has money." He was frustrated that media leaders were not overcoming these barriers.

Hye-Jung added that in her work at the Media Justice Fund, she tries "to bring communities together to create a space where people can learn from each other, share resources, and get involved in social movements overall." The Media Justice Fund makes local and regional media justice grants to groups working within marginalized communities "to organize around media and communication technologies and to affect media accountability, infrastructure and policy change." 

Gene and Hye-Jung expanded their idea to involve grassroots organizations, and the Center for International Media Action. Joel Kelsey and Chris Murray at Consumers Union, and Charlene Allen at the Funding Exchange also joined in the coordination and design of the Knowledge Exchange Program.

Over the last year, the Knowledge Exchange Program has conducted two weeklong sessions bringing eight grassroots leaders to DC and, with the intention of "exchange," will bring DC leaders to Oakland to "try on the shoes" of local leaders at the Center for Media Justice.


In the first two Knowledge Exchange sessions, grassroots organizational leaders participated in discussions on current media policy issues like low-power FM radio access, affordable broadband, and the upcoming digital television transition. They met with senators and congressional representatives, visited the offices and attended hearings with FCC commissioners. Leaders presented their local work and campaigns to Consumers Union's advocates to reciprocate information-sharing about local strategies and issues.

The exchange program has produced rich learning for everyone involved. Knowledge Exchange participant Peggy Berryhill, Director of Services and Planning at Native Public Media shared: "It was valuable to share our experience and learn from other organizations about how they are engaging people in different contexts. Most of us in Native media, are dealing with a different context because much of our community is in rural areas and because of how policy advocacy differs for sovereign nations."

Edyael Casaperalta, who is a Program and Research Associate with the Center for Rural Strategies, also appreciated the different perspectives and learnings that the program offered her. The Center for Rural Strategies launched a "white spaces" campaign to fight for usage of television broadcast spectrum to expand access to broadband for rural residents. She confessed, "Before I went, I was cynical about policy work and its benefits, but after the exchange, I can see that with a lot of hard work, policy advocacy can have an impact." Edyael was excited to jump into her regional work in the South with a different level of expertise.

Both Edyael and Peggy also valued the opportunity to connect with other grassroots and media justice organizations. Edyael described a possible urban-rural partnership between her organization and the People's Production House and Peggy was inspired by the youth engagement work of groups like Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

Joel Kelsey at Consumers Union took a lead role in coordinating the program. Joel believed that the program has allowed DC based participants to gain "a better understanding of the priorities of grassroots groups and also what is needed to build effective national and local collaborations."  Specifically, Joel pointed to  the learning that "sometimes [national advocacy leaders] need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, that really technical DC speak can influence the way a meeting goes, can influence the way people connect to issues, and can really change the comfort level in the room."

Catherine Borgman-Arboleda at Center for International Media Action joined the collaboration offering their expertise in program evaluation and assessment.  She felt "the program organizers'  strategy of bringing on an evaluator from the beginning to conduct a participatory assessment made an important contribution both to building trust and for creating a mechanism for very diverse interests and priorities to inform program planning." 


Some of the lessons she drew from participants about building partnership were:

  • The importance of trust and relationship building before entering into planning collaborative work.
  • How the flexibility of program design and participatory model increased the ownership and takeaways for leaders of grassroots and media justice organizations.
  • Acknowledgement of power dynamics - real and perceived - allowed them to explore assumptions, maintain an openness to learning about different strategies, and foster deeper relationships.


Moving forward, the Knowledge Exchange Program participants generated different possible ideas for working together including exchanging research about how communities are affected by public policies like sharing local stories with national advocates to support federal policy. Joel was excited about the possibilities of grassroots groups hiring a full time lobbyist that can represent grassroots perspectives.

As the Knowledge Exchange enters its third year and prepares to launch the exchange with DC leaders visiting the Center for Media Justice, Hye-Jung shared that she believes the effort is an important "first step," to building collaboration. Gene invited other organizations to test out the model of the exchange program, saying "We don't own this and would love to share it more broadly so that others will think about ways to do this and do this different and do it better."