EP005: Sujatha Jesudason is Reclaiming Innovation for a More Soulful & Resilient Movement

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A conversation about collaboration across difference, innovation in social movements, and inclusivity in reproductive justice. New episodes every other Tuesday! Subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play, or your favorite podcatcher. 

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Introducing Sujatha Jesudason:

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? You get a lot of heat, you get a lot of noise, but you don’t get a lot of change.

Unfortunately, we often see this playing out in our politics, around issues like immigration, health care, and reproductive justice -- where high intensity has not translated to progress.

Fortunately, we’ve got people like Sujatha Jesudason, who is inviting us to innovate, and asks,

“Well, what if we came at this differently?”

Sujatha is the founder and Executive Director of CoreAlign, which is building collaborations to ensure that all people have the resources, rights and respect for their sexual and reproductive lives.

She also just started teaching about innovation in social movements at the Milano School of Public Policy at the New School in New York.

We started our interview by talking about what she was seeing and responding to, when she decided to start CoreAlign.

Interview Highlights

[08:03] As I think about what got me involved in this movement, I was really interested in thinking about the whole spectrum of my life, around love, sex, family, and community.

Where were the loving relationships that I wanted to have in my life? What kind of sex with whom, when, where and how? The kind of family I wanted to build, both biologically, and by choice. And the kinds of communities I wanted to be a part of?

If you were to just sort of say that this is a movement for abortion rights -- which I think the anti-abortion movement has really framed this as an abortion rights movement. To go from that, to thinking about this as a movement that is about love, sex, family, and community -- how much more oxygen it brings into the movement, creativity, and how much more it really connects to our daily lives.

[30:33] In a sense, as somebody who has been a leader and is trying to do the best that I can, and in a sense, consistently failing, and things just not going the way I thought. I've both developed more compassion and spaciousness around things that actually fail. And was able to connect it to this conversation of "and what could we be doing differently."

...I mean, resilience isn't doing the same thing over and over again. Resilience is bouncing back to our purpose and trying to do things differently, in order to achieve our purpose.

[34:53] ...At Corealign, in the first couple of years, we started bringing people together to develop this 30 year strategy. 

One of the mistakes we made was we actually said, "Start with a blank canvas. How would we do this? What kinds of things we imagine 30 years from now?" And one of the things that happened is that we were all completely immobilized. It just became too much. The canvas was too blank.

...So thinking about constraints not as a limit on what we can do, but as a springboard of what could be possible, has been for me a critical shift in my ways of thinking and doing. And so everything becomes an interesting opportunity of what we can do, with these constraints.

[40:34] One of our aha moments was reframing our understanding of innovation.

...Some of the most innovative and creative people are people who have been the most marginalized and most oppressed. That it is on the margins, under the most constrained conditions, that some of the most interesting and creative stuff has happened. In part because that's what you need to survive....

All the stuff around greening the way we live, and greening the economy -- I think about my immigrant parents, who came to the US relatively resource poor. And my mother is the best recycler I knew! She recycled, she reused, she reduced her use, like the best! I mean she was recycling before recycling was a thing.

And so in terms of innovation, for me a big part for social justice groups and nonprofits, is actually reclaiming our legacy of innovation. 

[58:16] In the US, we tend to think about restricting and punishing individuals, as opposed to changing the system.

And this extends not only around abortion, and genetic selection, or sex selection, but it also happens in terms of education, or criminalization and incarceration.

And so we raise people in a society where they might not have many other choices, and then we punish them for that by incarcerating them. We punish people for being poor, we punish people for gender identity, and sexual identity. And so there's a way we punish individuals.

So the first thing is to shift the conversation from legislating individuals and individual action, to how do we create the enabling conditions for people to make different choices in terms of their behavior and their actions....

And that really requires large scale social changes that only happen through building relationships and coalitions and alliances across communities and across difference.

So in some way this goes all the back around to speaking race to power, of we can't throw each other away, and so how do we have those difficult, creative, and courageous conversations with each other to find a new way, or a third way, or in ways that transform each of us.

So it's not you're not getting what you want, or I'm not getting what I want, but how do we together want something different together?

A big thanks to our sponsors:

Alexis P. Morgan is a writer and artist. You can see her unfolding work, “The Season of Maya,” at https://www.thechurchofsaintfelicia.com/

Sasha Allenby is a ghostwriter for thought-leaders in the social evolutionary field, specializing in books on socio-economic, racial, sexual, gender and refugee equality. www.sashaallenby.com