Standing forward: thoughts from the Forward Stance Leadership Initiative

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

By Anasa Troutman

Anasa participated in ACRJ’s second Forward Stance Leadership Initiative last week (FSLI2).

A year and a half ago, as a new fellow at the Movement Strategy Center, I agreed to attend a training given by a woman named Norma Wong. I had absolutely no idea what that meant or what I was in for but I decided to go with it. As a team, we were beginning to explore what it meant for us to be an organization that believes in transformative organizing and what that means for how we move in the world day to day. Norma, a woman of sharp wit whose physical presence betrays the energetic and intellectual giant that she is, was our guide for the day. The terrain we were exploring was Forward Stance.

As I understood it, Forward Stance was an approach, a way of being in the world. Literally, how you stood, steady, aware, slightly forward with a solid but relaxed stance, not overextended but definitely ready to move. Assertive, centered, grounded and ready.

Because Forward Stance is a mind-body practice, it is meant to help us embody our intentions and see our physicality as a reflection of who we are in our work. We used our bodies, we used our strength, we used our voices, and we used all of our might. I don’t remember everything that we did, but I do remember that I left that feeling the most powerful that I ever had in my adult life. I am not a person that moves her body very much so to spend time completely focused on my physical stance, the movement of my body and what those movements revealed about me as a leader and as a team member was like having my own personal revolution.

When I heard that the MSC crew was re-engaging Forward Stance I was super excited and couldn’t wait for my chance to get back in the room with Norma. I arrived at the training and Norma wasn’t alone. In fact she wasn’t even there on the first day. I was almost in a panic. How was I supposed to get back to that feeling if Norma wasn’t even coming? What would I do without her there to guide the swing of that bamboo sword or make sure my breath was low in my belly? Who would be there to help me rediscover my power?

My worries were all in vain. I didn’t know it yet but I was in the more than capable hands of the women of ACRJ. This training--the Forward Stance Leadership Institute--was powered and led by the staff of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice.

Over the next three days, I relearned Forward Stance and that was great. What really kept my attention though, was learning about ACRJ, their five-year journey of learning and practicing Forward Stance, and the honor of witnessing what has blossomed. I learned how ACRJ has leveraged their practice and their relationship with Norma to develop a collective practice that is directed toward their work as a team. I saw how they are now introducing their practice to their peers, spreading their alignment and synergy throughout the reproductive justice sector.

Experiencing their commitment and discipline, the grace that came naturally with their sustained practice, the innovation they have been able to access by widening their focus past their intellectual prowess and acknowledging that we all have multiple intelligences. All of that blew me away and still the most powerful lesson had not been revealed.

I realize now that I completely missed the real power of those first days. When I trained with Norma, I began to understand the personal power I had access to. While that was a critical stop along the way, what I missed was the immeasurable power that can be realized in community. The real power of Forward Stance, and really the power of all transformative practices that are meant to strengthening movement building, is not the power that you experience with an individual practice. That is just a juicy side effect. The real power of Forward Stance is in experiencing yourself and the other people in your community as a unit--no seams, no edges, no beginning and no end. That is where the real power is…in the collective practice, in the community, in the acknowledgment that we are all connected.

It seems so simple, even cliché but it is so easy to forget. Our dominant culture encourages us, even those working for equity and justice, to focus on own power; financial, physical, spiritual, intellectual or otherwise. After FSLI, I find myself thinking not about myself, but about what it means to commit to a group of people and actually make an impact--not just successfully complete an outcome, but have ACTUAL impact.

In ACRJ, I saw and understood “unstoppable”. A group of people working together for a common goal, who understood that it is not enough to organize and strategize together and so take the time to breathe together, move their bodies together and practice together. I watched in wonder as I realized that with time and practice, an organization actually can move like a well oiled, focused, precision machine and not lose its humanity, its grace or its perspective.

Like ACRJ, the work that many of us have taken on is mammoth and like ACRJ, how we are with each other is critical to our success in the long run. We can win a campaign but will we have the energy to even start another? Will we like each other when the work is done? How will we expand our view of leadership and of power? How will we train together to make bold moves, to try new and creative ways of building community, connecting issues and transforming ourselves and the world?

If I listen to Norma and ACRJ then the answer is clear…we will practice.

If you are interested in learning more about Forward Stance, please contact Dana Ginn Paredes. All photos by Anthony Dimaano.

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