Basebuilding Call Notes: Calling People In--Deeper Skills

Basebuilding call September 1, 2015: Deepening our skills to call people in

Download a recording of the call here. (Audio begins at 32 minutes and 40 seconds)

 Calling in


Sam Hamlin, SURJ- Calling in not calling out is a main value of SURJ work.

  • Defeat the culture of shaming/blaming.

  • We need everyone, including as many white people as possible. We need to focus on calling those white people into our work not calling them out of the work.

  • We are on this call because we all know we need to call in but sometimes it’s hard to know what that looks like, we are here to deepen those skills.


Pam McMicheal, Highlander Center and SURJ LT and Z! Haukeness with Groundwork

Pam: Good evening everyone. We're really excited to be with everyone tonight and to more deeply explore the value of calling in.

  • The purpose of this call is to deepen our conversation with each other on the how to's of that, to share and to learn from each other.

  • We want to take a moment to remind ourselves of all of the SURJ values. All of the values are interdependent and interconnected and come out of practice of work we have had together. The other SURJ Values are:

Calling-in, not calling out

Taking Risks, learning, and keep going

Tapping into our mutual interest

Accountability through action

There's enough for everyone

  • History Calling In, Not Calling Out--acknowledging that we haven't always been skillful in how we address each other when as white people we do and say racist things, which unfortunately we are going to do, or when we are just oblivious, not as aware. Sometimes we are reactive and get hooked, sometimes we think we need to bop each other on the head to be a good anti racist white person, some of that might come from ourselves, or what we are thinking people of color are thinking about what a good white anti-racist person is.

  • Many of us have had experiences where we have gotten schooled or schooled others in ways that didn't work, destroyed rather than built relationships, sent people packing running way from this movement, rather than inviting them in.

  • Experiences that may have let us feeling righteous and right but didn't help to expand the movement or help us to grow or deepen.

  • We also have experiences where people have done this well and you and your practice and communities you are working in are learning together. Sharing our mistakes as well as something that worked well.

  • Don't see value as an either/or but a both/and. This is not do whatever you want, it doesn't mean we don't hold each other accountable. We are very committed to holding each other accountable and challenging each other in helpful ways that help us to move and grow together.

  • It is about wanting to create an inviting movement that people feel drawn to, sustaining movement that people want to stay in, a place where people can grow and can feel like they don't have to be perfect because let's face it if we do wait to be perfect to do racial work, we'll never get anything done at all.

  • Calling in is about creating an invitation helping each other go deeper and thinking about that in a both/and way.

Z!: Thank you Pam. Great to be on the call. Excited to be on this call because one of the things that I love doing is to try to call more white people into the movement for racial justice. Going to give a few examples and go deeper.

  • When I was waking up to racism as a teenager, I felt really ashamed, blaming myself, feeling angry that I didn't know more about racism. Really hard on myself and harder on other people in my life, especially people closest to me. This really came out with my mom and sister. I would get mad at them if there was anything off--if they laughed at the wrong thing or if I perceived any type of cultural appropriation. I was pushing them away, even though they wanted to learn more and distancing myself from them; didn't want to be associated with anyone that wasn't a perfect white anti-racist, wanted to be the best white antiracist. I often fell into those gaps.

  • While it is important to create culture where people can feel welcomed, also important to remember our principle of accountability through action. Not saying we don't challenge people when things come up or not moving the conversation when it has to.

  • Sometimes white people really want to be surrounded by people of color when they start learning about racism, and don't want to work with white people. That is part of the problem. Part of the solution is educating other white people. We need to be spending that time with white people and developing a positive white identity.

  • There is this balance. For instance, in Madison: BLM chapter has been very vocal about police violence and racism in police department. There are some of the worse racial disparities in the country, Tony Robinson was killed here in March by the police. There is a very loud black voice saying this is unjust, racism is wrong. Some white people have had to push ourselves to be more assertive, join strong in with strong voices of holding police accountable.

  • Another example is with recent disruptions with Bernie Sanders. BLM activists have interrupted some of Bernie's Sander's speeches, have taken over the mic saying that we need to be for black lives, address racial disparities, need to have conversation in presidential debate. Bernie was called out because he was someone most likely to bring this into the conversation. He has responded (whether that it is enough is up for debate). But part of strategy was holding him and others accountable as way of a calling them in. This shouldn't fall on people of color. White people also need to take risks and bring assertive voice, in accountable ways, in relationship with people of color organizations in doing this.

  • Anne Braden- we are trying to bring people in to the other America, other America that is for racial justice-not pushing us towards white supremacy, but instead towards collective liberation forward.

  • SURJ is creating spaces and structures to bring people in. SURJ wants to bring in 7 million white people to shift dialogue on racial justice, need to do a lot of calling in.



Elyse Vesser, ARC, St. Louis:

  • Canvassing in white, liberal, gentrified areas. We're aware of the demographics and the dynamics that would bring to the conversation, went in well prepared around what they expected to find.

  • One woman they encountered was confused about how she felt about race and this current movement. She told a story about her [white] son being hurt by affirmative action and while she agreed with some of what BlackLivesMatter was standing up for there were things she was wrestling with that kept her from showing up. The canvassing team took about 30 minutes to talk through all of this with the woman. They explained that in reality white woman were the greatest benefactors of affirmative action and explained how that then in turn affect her son in a positive way so he was not held back. They talked through some of the BlackLivesMatter values and explained that while she may not agree with all she can still show up and support what she does agree with. Progress and next steps were planned.

  • What they learned: Taking the time to talk and process through things with the woman allowed them to build a base to a relationship to move forward into action. 


Meredith Martin-Moats, Boiled Down Juice, Little Rock, Arkansas: Sharing insight to her work of calling in when in a rural area and calling in caregivers.

  • One approach that has shown promise to make progress is living room conversations that are geared towards the local community uplifting the good history of resistance and changing the southern narrative of hate. Lifting up our ancestors who were justice leaders and using that history to draw our own work and passion from.

  • In a small town family and genealogy are topics that are discussed around the dinner table and in community spaces as small talk and deep debate. Meredith has tried to use that to steer conversations about the relatives people have that were justice leaders and freedom fighters. Focusing on who were our just elders and what kind of elders do we want to be moving forward in this new part of history?

  • There is a focus on making spaces multigenerational and encompassing caregivers and families into the organizing. We must be able to bring our full selves no matter what that looks like.

  • There has been a look at the inclusivity of language when talking about issues. Sometimes people don’t have full access to learning the ins and outs of justice work and what all the fancy words are so when there is a language barrier or breakdown like that it can feel like calling out; we can get scared we don’t know enough. Meredith has noticed a stark rural to urban split when it comes to access to these resources. One way to tackle this is to put out there “do you know it all? No. Are you willing to learn if you are provided the resources? Yes. Then let’s do this.” 

  • In rural areas everyone is interconnected and sometimes inter related so being careful not to burn bridges and to focus on positive calling in is a big part of that work.


Liz Gres, Chicago SURJ- Sharing stories of canvassing door to door, in the street, and at events.

  • Chicago is very segregated so they focused on broaching the predominantly white neighborhoods to the north of the city.

  • Door knocked in the Mayor’s neighborhood and block to get signatures and hand out yard signs. Over 60% of the people they engaged with took a sign. There was a lot of focus on engaging those interested and getting them committed to showing up again by inviting them to meetings and events. 

  • Also canvassed on a few street corners in that same area, Northside Chicago. Really focused on not engaging into negative arguments but putting the time into sharing ways to be involved with people who were interested in a positive engagement.  Went well also.

  • Upcoming they will be tabling/canvassing at a music festival called Riot Fest that will comprise of mostly white concert goers. This is a festival that will be held in a predominantly black neighborhood, a block up from where Rekia Boyd was murdered by police. This festival will come into the community without consulting with the community or leaving behind any positive additions to the community and as stated before will be mostly white concertgoers in a mostly black neighborhood. 
    • Don’t know exactly what to expect but are preparing for a hostile environment and this to be an uphill climb. But are willing and ready to take it on.



  • Claire from FL: Had a 1st meeting in Florida about a month ago, had about 30 people and ran into the problem that people were offended on the group focus of needing to organize white people. Said it looked like a KKK pamphlet. Those upset did not return for the second meeting.
    • What kind of rhetoric/method do you use with people?
    • Answer from Elyse: In St. Louis they do an orientation process for people new to the group to help explain why we organize white people and who has called us to organize white people. White people are resistant to working with other white people so sometimes there is a process of adjustment. Meet people one-on-one and talk through things on a more personal level with them to get to what their next action steps may look like.

  • Elizabeth from NY: When leafleting and canvassing in large, crowded spaces, what is a response for All Lives Matter? 
    • Answer from Pam:“Yes all lives matter and black lives matter too.” And leave it at that. Don’t engage in a fight. If they are interested in a conversation we engage otherwise we don’t escalate that rhetoric.
    • Redirect with a personal story (why I am here showing up) then ask a question (why are you here?  Why do you care?). You can use the prompt “I show up for racial just because I care about…” or any other starter you come up with. Having a one or two liner prepared can help you feel confident in the moment.

  • Betty from Baltimore: What are people asking as a next action step at meetings, canvassing, etc.? Beyond just signing a petition or attending a march or action.
    • Answer from Pam: Really encouraging people to listen to each other and the community for what the community is going to respond too, what are they open too. Maybe that’s to show a film and host a discussion after. Anne Braden’s film The Southern Patriot has been a popular one. Also focus on intersections as a way to educate people and get to know one another.
    • Answer from Elyse: 3 working groups (Material support, Political education group, and



Carla Wallace, SURJ- We are all still learning and we must make mistakes and move forward continuing to learn. 

  • Sue from Washington: Is there a way to connect to people from the call locally?
    • Answer from Sam: On the SURJ Website there is a list of local groups and chapters as well as a listserv.
    • Rebecca from Louisville: I lifted up what I wrote in the small group break out from above.
    • Survey questions:
      • If you would like to volunteer for the base building team (Calls, tool kits, etc.) press 1.
      • If you would like to start a local SURJ chapter or affiliate, and you would like support to do so press 1.
      • If you would like to volunteer for admin, social media, tech on calls, email, etc. press 1.
      • Closing:
        • Appreciations for everyone on the call, tech crew, Sam, Z and Pam, Panelists and facilitators. Thank you for learning and growing together.
        • Accountability: It’s great to be reminded we are being asked to stop driving each other away and call each other in.
        • We are being called to break white silence.   

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