Anti-oppression at NEON

Our Commitment to Anti-Oppression

Anti-oppression is central to the struggle for a more equal and sustainable world. It is integral to the culture we build at NEON, based on our three core values of respect, solidarity and generosity. We know that in order to ensure anti-oppression and liberation is at the core of what we do, we need a conscious strategy to which we can be held to account.

This statement shares some headlines from our anti-oppression strategy. It sets out why we do this work, what we’ve achieved to date, where we’ve got it wrong and where we plan to go next. It’s a summary of our wider anti-oppression strategy and is intended as a form of accountability to our members.

Why Does it Matter?
Society systematically oppresses different groups because of their identity – from sexism to racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia to class discrimination and more. These oppressions are present in our movements, particularly in the ways we relate to one another and our own identities. The result is that all too often our movements exclude many of those most impacted by the system – the product is a smaller, less powerful movement or worse still, movements inadvertently campaigning for things that contribute to and promote the cycle of oppression. We will not win the kind of systemic change needed unless we accept and change this.

What we’ve done
Here are some of the things we’ve done over the last few years as part of our commitment to anti-oppression.

How we run programmes:

  • All programme strategies have anti-oppression built into their design. We monitor and evaluate this work and implement improvements regularly throughout the programme cycle
  • All programmes have targets against recruitment for women and non-binary people, people of colour and other identities, such as class and LGBTQI identities. This has led to significant increases in the participation of people with these identities on our courses, for example in 2018:
    – Movement Builders: 35% participants from the first 5 Movement Builder trainings have been people of colour and 69% women and non-binary people.
    – OrgBuilders: The current cohort is 40% people of colour and 65% women and non-binary people.
    – Spokesperson Network: over 50% of NEON’s 2018 media bookings have been fulfilled by people of colour from our network
  • We contract outreach officers in towns and cities we go to, to support under-represented groups to apply / participate in our programmes
  • All programmes are held in accessible venues and spaces as standard
  • We’ve heavily fundraised for scholarships to remove economic barriers to participation, with at least 50% of places on our programmes being full scholarships. These often extend to covering expenses, such as travel, accommodation and childcare, and other costs incurred to support people participating in our programmes.

How we develop our organisational strategy:

  • The work on our outreach and programme design has helped substantively change the identities of the leaders we work with and in turn the type of organising and issues we work on. The result is longer term relationships with groups who we’re helping in more substantive and powerful ways through our programmes, such as Sisters Uncut, CARAG (Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group) and Grenfell
  • We now focus our work around “battleground” issues, which helps us understand and work more thoughtfully on intersectional issues that factor into each of these issues, e.g. how the needs of migrant communities intersects with the health movement
  • We now have comprehensive systems in place to keep track of the diversity of the NEON network and participants on our programmes and are accountable to our Board and members on this
  • We incubate and use our connections to help groups led by people directly affected by the issues they are organising on, e.g. the project KIN that we incubate convenes black organisers around the UK and Just Treatment organises patients with breast cancer and Hepatitis C to campaign for lower cost treatments from big pharmaceutical companies

How we run the organisation:

  • We’ve changed our recruitment practices to make our jobs more accessible – as a result our team is 45% people of colour and 54% women – as a few examples of these changes, we’ve changed Job Descriptions, often hire outreach assistants when we advertise and we’ve changed how and where we advertise
  • We have a staff development policy that includes a budget for every staff member to access the support they need as we confront racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in our work; this support is particularly extended to team members who have lived experience of oppression
  • We have codified NEON’s values of solidarity, generosity and respect into behaviours we want to encourage and behaviours we will not tolerate for both our members and staff
  • We have clear internal processes of giving each other feedback and handling conflict to help us work together across difference. We also have monthly all staff wellbeing meetings and share “snapshots” of our emotional and mental health in regular check-ins and check-outs, in most of our meetings
  • We have a clear decision-making structure to decentralise power in the team within a clear central strategy – giving staff genuine ownership and accountability for their work in clear and meaningful ways to develop their skills and talents
  • We’ve set our pay ratios to 2.5:1, offer decent benefits and have a recognised staff union. We pay our entry level staff significantly above the sector and national average to help bring new people into campaigning

Where we’ve got it wrong:
It’s important and necessary for us to recognise where we’ve got this work wrong. We wanted to name a few of those areas here as part of our accountability to our members and in the hope that it might help us and others on this journey to own our mistakes and identify where and how we need to improve:

  • We started as a network primarily focused on economic issues – we didn’t centre race and class in our early work in terms of issues or analysis – that made the network whiter and less diverse in a multitude of ways, from selection criteria to core analysis on our programmes, than it should’ve been. This held back the network and made it much harder for people with marginalised identities to participate in our work.
  • In earlier trainings we didn’t have enough skills in the team in group facilitation or trainers with enough of a broad range of lived experience and identity, which meant that we didn’t always create enough safety for people with marginalised identities in our groups and we have overly relied on people, often with marginalised identities, with those skills in the team. This has at times lead to people with oppressed identities being harmed in NEON spaces.
  • There have been times when NEON staff or members raised anti-oppression related issues with us, and we didn’t always act on them quickly enough, or in the right way
  • We’ve taken on too much at times – over-committing ourselves; that makes it harder for us to put in the work that’s needed to do anti-oppression in a meaningful way.
  • We haven’t consistently offered adequate support in our spaces for participants with lived experience of the issues they are working on – we’ve been learning from our work on Movement Builders in 2018 to better improve this across our programmes.
  • As we began this work, we treated anti-oppression work as too much of a separate strand of work rather than an integrated part of every strategy.

What we will focus on next:
We believe actions speak louder than words, that’s why we’re making these specific commitments for the next stages of our work:

  • Continue doing everything we can to help our team better reflect the society we live in – especially at the Team Heads and Director level which remains all white.
  • Integrate an analysis of systemic oppression including race and class across our programmes more effectively – this includes issues like political education but also extends to how we continue to work on how we outreach to change the participants on our programmes.
  • Continue to invest in the power of people and groups directly affected by issues they are organising around, particularly at a leadership level within the NEON network.
  • We recognise that when we work with people directly affected by economic and social injustice, we need to intentionally build in additional support for them, to sustain them in this social justice work. This means:
    – Creating caucus spaces for different identity groups in NEON spaces where they are requested e.g. women of colour support group on the Spokesperson Network.
    – Helping set up other peer support groups, e.g. we’ve supported an action learning set for women of colour in intersectional organising.
    – Scoping and ensuring that we’ve got budget for support from mental health professionals for people directly involved in creating NEON spaces e.g. therapy for NEON staff and facilitators.
  • Building our team’s capacity in creating safe and creative learning spaces for diverse groups; this means getting training in:
    – Group facilitation skills, especially facilitating across difference
    – Conflict resolution skills
    – Mental health first aid training
    – Extending policies and procedures and revising existing membership and staff policies, so there are clear rules, standards and guidelines for all NEON spaces.
    – Work to develop our relationships with advisers on anti-oppression.

This is a summary of our anti-oppression strategy(ies). We hope that by openly sharing our successes, failures and commitments here with our membership, we can work together and contribute to speeding up the change towards a movement working effectively for liberation for all. We know this is a journey and we may not always get it right, but we are completely committed to learning, improving and creating the kinds of movements that are needed to make lasting change.