»Identity, Allyship & Difference« – Spadework Podcast with Daniel Gutiérrez & Berena Yogarajah

60 Minutes
Community & Union Organizing, Grassroots Movement Building, Intersectional Alliances
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This is a special crossover Podcast episode between Spadework and European Alternatives' School of Transnational Organizing. Earlier this year, our co-host Daniel Gutiérrez, had been a fellow at their 'Academy of Migrant Organizing' – a program dedicated to bringing together migrant organizers and activists across Germany in order to talk about shared organizational and movement building problems in the hope that we can develop a lasting space of collective co-research and co-learning.

As part of this program, fellows were asked to collectively forge the 'Migrant Organizing Toolbox' addressing shared problems they highlighted and uncovered over the course of the fellowship. This episode functions as a contribution to that toolbox. In this episode, Daniel talks to Academy of Migrant Organizing fellow Berena Yogarajah about the difficulties of working across difference, allyship, comradeship, and problems that often surface through identity-based politics.

Berena has been involved in grassroots political organization for almost a decade. She is currently based in Cologne, Germany, and is a member of Interventionistische Linke – an extra-parliamentary, emancipatory left-organization. She was most recently involved with Tatort Porz, a campaign aimed at securing the conviction of a right-wing politician who attempted to murder youth for racist reasons in Cologne, Germany – in a scenario not unlike that of the Treyvon Martin murder in the United States. She is mostly involved in anti-racist struggles and generally concerns herself with strategies of identity politics and grappling with the tension of universality and difference.

Over the course of the episode, Daniel and Berena reflect on the tensions produced when politics begin and end with identity, rather than the destinations we’d like to reach from different starting points. While acknowledging the importance of having 'safe spaces' within the ecology of the left, Berena emphasizes that spaces of struggle are those spaces where discomfort is produced by the differences we encounter and struggle with, towards common horizons of emancipation. Drawing from personal experiences and encounters, she cautions that too much of an emphasis on self-distinction can lead to self-referential navel gazing, rather than the cross-movement development of power we desperately need.

It is this underscoring of contingency that Daniel appreciates throughout the discussion. For him – and those of us at Spadework – it is critical to understand that the ways in which discourses (in this case, those about and around identity) connected to practices are always contingent and politically negotiated. That is to say, what practices are generated through discourses of identity in Berkeley, California might be very different from those connections in Barrio Logan, San Diego or Neukölln, Berlin. In the same way that the practices articulated to Marxism looked different from context to context in, say the 1960s, so too must post-Marxist discourses like those around identity. Such an understanding of the contingent relation between discourse and practice allow the two to agree that the politics developed out of discourses of identity are not immune to authoritarian, moralistic, or dogmatic practices. And it is such connections that make power impossible to build.

About the contributors

Berena Yogarajah
Anti-Racist & Social Justice Activist & Educator

Berena Yogarajah is a political activist and educator based in Cologne. She has mainly been active in anti-racist struggles in Germany. She is primarily concerned with identity politics and utopia. Observing that some debates around anti-racism make us paralyzed instead of powerful, determined and witted, has influenced her work strongly. Therefore, her political work focuses on overcoming social hardships and fears towards social justice.

Daniel Gutiérrez
Movement Researcher & Organizing Trainer, Spadework Podcast & Common Ecologies, former Movement Research & Training Officer, European Alternatives (Berlin)

Daniel is a movement researcher and organizing trainer focused on the problem of workers’ organization, power, and strategy. He has participated in workplace, migrant, and housing struggles in the United States and Germany. Through the Werkstatt für Bewegungsbildung, he facilitates spaces where ordinary people can experiment with toolboxes that help them build rewarding, resilient, and politically effective organizations. As a co-host at Spadework podcast, he helps circulate organizing insight more broadly. He lives in Berlin.