What do we have to offer our movements?
It’s December 2019, and I’m in a cabin in Guerneville at my first Core Retreat as one of the newest members of APIENC Core. I’m super excited to be spending a weekend with such cool people, but I’m also a little nervous. If I listen closely, there are voices in my head saying, I don’t deserve to be here. What do I have to offer?
Michael, one of APIENC’s dear friends and a facilitator from the Wildfire Project, is leading a spectrogram activity where we have to physically line up and rank ourselves according to certain prompts. Michael offers a statement: “I am good at strategizing.”
I immediately beeline to the disagree end of the line.
Fast forward to January 2021, and I’m hanging out with Core and Michael again, but this time, I’m in my apartment in the East Bay and sitting at a desk, fending off my cat from interrupting our Zoom “Strat Chat” for the last four hours.
Over the past six months, Core has logged on to Zoom for Strategy Meetings (we call them “Strat Chats,”) facilitated by Michael, to identify APIENC’s priorities and strategy for the next five years. Throughout the process, we considered our impact and our community’s most urgent needs, and eventually, we came up with a “Theory of Change” that defines APIENC’s role in addressing our conditions and building movement leaders across communities.
The Theory of Change will guide APIENC for half a decade. It is the product of approximately 50 hours of Zoom calls and countless difficult conversations, emotional investment, and intentional decision-making.
So, as I sat at the final Strat Chat, why did I feel so nervous? Why was my brain screaming:
“What if everyone else disagrees with us? Did we do the right thing?“
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling anxious. To confront our fears, Michael led us in a roleplay with three participants: Aloe as themself sharing the Theory of Change with their committee, Yuan acting as the “worst-case scenario” response, and Leo as the voice of affirmation and support. Yuan, as the committee member, expressed dissent with the new Theory of Change, and they felt like Core had made the wrong decision.
The sentiment shared by Yuan’s character was the same fear that had been echoing in my own head, but the voice of affirmation reminded us that we developed the Theory of Change after hours and hours of deliberation, discussion, and analysis. To come up with a powerful Theory of Change, we had to make bold decisions and say “no” in service of our “yes.”
The activity ended up being one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced (even though I was just an audience member) because it made me face a truth I was previously too scared to admit out loud: we, as trans and queer API people and members of APIENC, are the only ones who can determine APIENC’s strategy.
Systems of oppression want us, as trans and queer API people, to believe that we don’t have the authority or expertise to make decisions about our own well-being. But we know what we need—through APIENC’s Up to Us Study, through the crisis of COVID-19, and through our own lived experiences as trans and queer API people ourselves, we have seen time and time again that we need healing resources and community-based strategies to address violence. And we know what actions we need to take to start addressing those needs.
The Theory of Change is the cumulative wisdom of members from across the organization, but it does not hold all the solutions. We will inevitably run into difficulties and struggles, both expected and unexpected, as we implement the Theory of Change, but I’m confident we have what it takes to find the answers.
A year and a half ago, I felt nervous and insecure in my ability to strategize. Today, I’m confident in our wisdom and willing to be bold in our power.
Our Theory of Change will be live in just two weeks, and we are so excited to share this offering with you. Stay tuned!
Huanvy Phan (they/he) is a member of APIENC’s Core Committee and Fundraising Committee. They have been heavily involved with APIENC since 2018, and are a former Summer Organizer.