On Sunday, May 20, Pursuers in NYC will gather for Inside the Activists’ Studio: Finding Your Voice in a Global Movement. The event will feature an incredible array of local Jewish change-makers speaking on a panel, presenting workshops, or performing. As a sneak peek, we chatted with workshop presenter Erin Markman:
What inspires you to work on issues of allyship (being an ally)?
The pursuit of liberation and love! That might manage to sound both grandiose and trite, but I really, deeply, mean it. I want to work toward a world where we all strive to be allies to one another, recognizing the systemic oppressions that circumscribe our lives and the interpersonal oppressions we perpetuate, and working collaboratively to undo both. That’s what’s going to make our movements work. It’s what’s going to move us forward together.
I want to do my best every day to hold myself accountable in the domains in which I have institutional privilege—being white, or able-bodied, or cisgender, for example. I want to hold myself accountable for assumptions, for microaggressions, for the false histories I’ve been taught, for the “-isms” I enact, for the oppressions that live inside me. I want to hold myself accountable to speak up, to challenge systems, policies, and practices that perpetuate oppression, especially when that act of challenging feels frightening. And I want as many relationships as I can get that make allyship explicit. I want relationships with people who expect allyship from me, who feel they can hold me accountable when they want to, who feel they can call me out in the moment or send me an email after the fact. I want to be told when I’ve hurt someone unintentionally. I want to be told when someone feels I’m missing, or misunderstanding, or misrepresenting an idea because of my privilege. I want that kind of accountability not as an academic exercise but as a lived component of interpersonal relationships. And I want to be given permission to hold others accountable as well. I want that accountability because I think it’s necessary to move us all toward where we want to go.
I want this with the urgency and rage and pain that oppressive systems elicit, but I’m trying hard not to let my desire to be an ally be driven by guilt (though I certainly still grapple with guilt). I want it to be about love. Because I don’t think I can love fully without consistently being in the process of undoing and relearning, of fighting against policies and practices of oppression and also fighting what I’ve internalized. Pursuing an ally identity is always messy and often painful and never-ending, but it is also a process full of love. It’s how I’ve loved my friends the best, and it’s how they love me best as well.
Systems of oppression, including the ones that bestow privilege on us, contribute to a world that robs us all of our humanity. The act of fighting against those systems which benefit oneself is, in my mind, in the service of pursuing mutual liberation. Audre Lorde makes the point beautifully:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.”
How does your Jewish identity relate to what you do?
My Jewish identity is something that I’m still in the process of building and shaping and probably always will be! Allyship informs that process a lot. I love working with my Jewish friends to cultivate a Jewish identity that is rooted in anti-oppressive thinking and action and in which allyship plays a central role. For example, I’ve loved using a haggadah at our Seders that we’ve worked together to modify—building in discussions of racism, LGBTQ identities, and liberation struggles around the world. For me, that’s how my Jewish identity grows, and it often feels very joyful and playful. But there are real challenges as well. I’ve seen Jewish identity arise in very complicated ways in conversations about white privilege, for example. I’m working to cultivate a Jewish identity that pushes me to examine my white privilege and how I can take action to be a white Jewish ally. I want a Jewish identity that pushes me to be an ally to Palestinians. I want a Jewish identity that pushes me to address Islamophobia in the U.S. I want a Jewish identity that pushes me to stand up against all oppressions, and to ask others to do the same, all while authentically challenging anti-Semitism as it arises. I’m not there yet, but all of this work is about process!
What are you most excited about at Inside the Activists’ Studio?
I’m most excited about learning and building community. I love intentional spaces where we all come together to build and share. I’m very appreciative that the space has been organized—I know how hard that is—and I’m really looking forward to being a part of it.
Why should folks come to your workshop?
Folks should come to challenge themselves to think deeply and broadly about what it means to be an ally and why allyship matters to our movements, our relationships, and our internal selves. And they should come to challenge me, too! Our workshop is designed to be a site of group learning, in which we as facilitators are also learning, and I’m really looking forward to that. So I hope that people come to learn with me, bringing their experiences and sharing their stories. I anticipate it will be challenging and dynamic and will allow people to bring their full selves to the space.