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Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington Caucus FAQ’s

What is the 'caucus'?
The caucus is a safe space, a brave space, a refuge for people with similar experiences to gather, to support
and challenge each other, to be messy, to be forgiven, to be comfortable with being intentionally
uncomfortable, to accept and hold each other accountable, and build community to support the internal and
external work we do. The caucuses are parts of Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington.

What is the 'work' we do in the caucus?
We recognize that suffering is universal to all people, yet oppression is particular and specific. We all suffer
under the same, dominant system called white supremacist capitalist imperialist heteropatriarchy. At the same
time, we are oppressed and privileged in particular ways, which shift from one context to another, depending on
how we identify or are identified in terms of race, sex, gender, class, ability, ethnicity, and other identifiers; this
is called intersectionality, a theory developed by Black feminist Kimberle Crenshaw.

The 'work' we do is to figure out how to liberate ourselves, individually and collectively, from all forms of
unearned, inherited oppression/privilege and overthrow the dominant system. The only way 'out' is through, so
we engage in the process of directly contacting and understanding our own suffering, building capacity for
empathy for others, embracing ourselves and others with loving kindness so that we can heal from the trauma
of oppression. We recognize that liberation is a continuous process, a journey, not a destination. The caucus is
a place where we develop a practice of liberating ourselves here and now. The liberation we seek leaves no
one behind.

Generally, the work can be broken down into three basic types:
● HEART work, for processing sometimes difficult feelings, for listening to intuition, for building capacity
for compassion and empathy
● HEAD work, for thinking, learning, unlearning, education, debate
● LEG work, for putting our emerging awareness, knowledge and wisdom into concrete action.

Specifically, the POC (people of color) caucus is responsible for providing vision and decisive leadership of
Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington. The caucus composed of white-identified people is responsible for
being accountable to the POC caucus and providing labor for various organizing roles and racial justice
projects that are approved by the POC caucus.

Last Updated: 2/21/18 JSJ
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Why are the caucuses divided by racial identity?
“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line: the relation of the darker to the lighter races of
men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.”
- W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Every facet of our identity is linked to every other facet, intersecting. No one part of our identity is inherently
more or less important than the other. We bring and embrace all of our selves in the caucus. Politically,
historically, racial identity has been a major justification for genocide, dispossession, state and vigilante
terrorism, systematic theft and plunder, division and marginalization for the benefit of white-identified people AS
A CLASS. We recognize that 'race' is not real, a fallacy supported by fake science and self-serving myths. We
also recognize that 'racism', the belief in race and racial superiority/inferiority, simply defined as 'prejudice plus
power', is a very real force with destructive social, cultural, economic and spiritual consequences. 'Race isn't
everything, but it's always something.' When we talk about racism, we also talk about how it intersects with and
amplifies sexism, gender discrimination, class war, ableism, and other forms of oppression/privilege. As
Michael Eric Dyson said:
“Race makes class hurt more.”

We focus on race as a major part of our oppression that we must work with to achieve liberation. Because
white supremacy is a major driver of oppressive power, based on anti-Blackness, we designate one caucus to
be a space for white-identified people to process and dismantle how they are particularly privileged and
oppressed. As Otis Madison said:
"The purpose of racism is to control the behavior of white people, not Black people.
For Blacks, guns and tanks are sufficient."
Because anti-Blackness directly affects Black people and divides all 'non-white'/pigmented people, we
recognize 'Blackness' as a spectrum of identity and culture for people of African descent, and fundamentally as
a political identity that embraces all people of color as a direct result of the conditions created by white
supremacy.

The 'POC' caucus is a space for the spectrum of people of color to center (prioritize) their identities, voices and
experiences outside of spaces that are explicitly dominated by white people. Although the 'white' caucus
centers whiteness, which is how white supremacy is perpetuated even by well-intentioned white-identified
people, we de-center whiteness by requiring the 'white' caucus to be directly accountable to the 'POC' caucus
in terms of actions that are meant to concretely benefit people of color towards liberation. We centralize those
that are most marginalized, meaning people of color, women, disabled people, trans women of color. This is an
intentional shift in power that is meant to counter the long history of white-led movements that consciously or
unconsciously control, slow down or reverse the direction of liberation struggles that impact people of color the
most, but do so in the name of ‘helping’ the oppressed. This is sometimes called the ‘white savior’ complex,
and it is white supremacism in disguise. Resistance to this form of 'white power' is exhausting, demoralizing,
and destructive to people of color. It is therefore essential that white-identified people undergo their own
process of healing and liberation from the oppression of white supremacy rather than exclusively focussing on
‘the Other’. Whiteness is the illusion of freedom. If white people want to help others, they first need to help
themselves wake up to the trap of whiteness and get free.

Ultimately, we will achieve 'unity' by continuously analyzing and letting go of the ways that our differences have
been turned into divisions that benefit the super rich, elite benefactors of white supremacist capitalist imperialist
heteropatriarchy. We will be in right relationship with each other through explicit intentions, forgiveness for
mistakes, building trust through cooperation, acting to dismantle institutionalized and systematic oppression,
and healing our trauma so that we are driven by love and not fear or shame. Through this process of liberation,
we will reclaim our full, collective humanity.

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What we are trying to achieve with this POC/white caucus relationship has never been done before and is
leading to something we’ve never seen. New identities, new relations, a new world. The critical issue is
maintaining a balance between the leadership of people of color as compassionate ‘service’ rather than the
illusion of control, and embodying “Black prophetic fire” with “moral integrity, political consistency, and systemic
analysis” as Cornel West put it; and the followership of white-identified people as something motivated not by
shame but instead critical thinking, faith, and knowledge of the personal stake that white people have in ending
the inhumanity of white supremacy. The key is healing. The end that all liberation struggles move towards is
healing, wholeness. If that is not the intention, then what is?

Where did the idea of racial caucuses come from?
The idea of affinity groups centered on race and intersecting identities is nothing new. From the Black Panthers
to the White Panthers, American Indian Movement to the Chicano Movement, from the Combahee River
Collective to Black Lives Matter, shared racialized identity and experience or culture and ideology has always
been a focal point for collective organization and action. The first POC Caucus gathering was organized by
Shela Linton at the People’s Convention in Montpelier in April 30, 2016, hosted by the Vermont Worker’s
Center. In Vermont in 2017, the Root Social Justice Center of Brattleboro developed the POC Caucus as an
official program of the RSJC:
"a network of People of Color coming together to sustain our communities and organize collectively to
build relationships, power & systemic change for the lives of POCs."
The Brattleboro affiliate of the SURJ movement, Lost River Racial Justice, is directly accountable to the POC
Caucus, and understands:
"the important role white folks have in educating ourselves and taking action to end racism and work
towards liberation for all people. Lost River Racial Justice is dedicated to multi-racial organizing that
builds power in people of color communities."
The ultimate goal is to develop a network of POC caucuses within local communities across the state to form a
statewide POC caucus.

A second POC Caucus, as well as a 'white' caucus, were founded in Burlington, VT, at the end of 2017 and
beginning of 2018. Together they form Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington. The founding of these
caucuses was directly inspired by the original POC Caucus in Brattleboro. Another source that inspired some of
the founders of the Burlington POC Caucus to take this new, radical approach to racial justice organizing is a
book called Radical Dharma, co-authored by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Dr. Jasmine
Syedullah (2016.) As Black, queer, practicing Buddhists, the co-authors open up a conversation about "how
the legacy of racial injustice and white supremacy plays out in society at large and Buddhist communities in
particular," and lay out "a new dharma ["truth"] that takes into account the ways that racism and privilege
prevent our collective awakening." The acknowledgment that all people suffer, one of the Four Noble Truths of
Buddhism, opens space for people, including white-identified people, to connect with their own humanity and
the suffering caused by systemic oppression. As Rev. williams says:
"the great fraud of the construct of whiteness is that if has coerced and convinced most white folks to
no longer see their own oppression,"
and:
“if you don't truly know, know intimately that "life is suffering," then you cannot know what it means to
seek liberation."

Last Updated: 2/21/18 JSJ