An Invitation to Get Bolder

Soya Jung and Scot Nakagawa

Welcome to ChangeLab!

It’s been a long road. We started two years ago by talking with colleagues in the racial justice movement whose vision and analysis we’d come to trust. We asked them what was missing from the movement today. What we heard reinforced what we had both come to believe after more than five collective decades of struggle against racism and American chauvinism, both domestically and in the world. That is that, while there is incredibly courageous organizing happening today, the racial justice movement overall needs to get bolder. We need space and time away from business as usual to debate, to get creative, to experiment, to draw on all of our knowledge, and develop a fresh and truly radical vision of change.

We know that the word radical is scary for a lot of people. But we believe we need to reclaim it in its truest sense – meaning proceeding from or getting at the root of things. Over the last two years, organizers and leaders have told us over and over again that they’re hungry for new conversations, those that just aren’t possible within the limited terrain of nonprofits, foundations, government, and academia.

The kind of work that progressives are doing today is extremely important. But racial justice organizers yearn for much more than the tools and strategies they have now. The current conditions of the movement make the price of failure too high. The absolute dominance of the political right makes us, on the left, overly pragmatic, leading (at best) to stagnation. How do we bust out of our organizational constraints, our funding constraints, our messaging strategies, and our issue silos, to think expansively about what racial justice means today? Is our end goal to protect the gains of the Civil Rights movement, or are we pushing to transform the structures that it left intact? What gives us hope is that lots of people are asking these questions.

We decided to call ourselves a “lab” because we want to think outside of all the boxes that try to contain us. We formed as an alternative to the kind of work that we ourselves have done. Our experience – through community organizations, philanthropy, policy institutes, government, community schools, research centers, and political campaigns – has led us to believe that the levers that we habitually reach for to make change actually limit our effectiveness. They hem us into corners where we can’t ask the difficult questions, for fear of losing funding, losing political leverage, losing audience. And if we don’t ask ourselves the tough questions, we will forever be trapped in the political confines that actually define the funding, the leverage, and the audience – without ever defining them ourselves.

One of the main themes that we heard was the need for honest conversations about solidarity among people of color. What does authentic solidarity require of us? We started with a strategic focus on Asian American identity, not just because we ourselves are Asian Americans, but also because we heard from movement leaders that something crucial has been missing from conversations about Asian Americans and racial politics. While not all Asian Americans have the same access to power and privilege, the idea of Asian Americans has served to prop up white supremacy at the expense of other people of color. In our initial research, we heard from dozens of Asian American organizers that the failure to acknowledge this, the glossing over of the places where we have relative race privilege, gets in the way of campaigns for justice on the ground. Our research is intended to help spark the real talk that we need to move past such barriers.

ChangeLab is, first and foremost, dedicated to ending racism. For us, that is our life mission. If you share it, we humbly ask that you consider us fellow travelers. Being a lab means trying new things, testing new ideas, and making mistakes along the way. We invite you to contribute to this process. We welcome new ideas, including disagreement and debate. It’s the only way for our movement to see clearly where to draw the line in the sand, and to know where we must stand if we are on the side of justice.

We hope you’ll keep checking out our site, our blog posts, and our research reports, and will accept the invitation to join the conversation. Over the coming months, we’ll be convening people to continue exploring Asian American identity, as well as how race is shifting and how we should respond. We couldn’t be more excited to get bolder, especially alongside those impassioned and courageous organizers in the movement today who are eager to do the same.