social movements + innovation lab


Kari Points’ Story

Kari’s experience working in a wide range of settings has shaped her work around two questions: “What do I have access to, and how can I get that to the people who need it?” and CoreAlign helped Kari learn how to test ideas and fail fast to learn fast. Since her experience with CoreAlign, Kari has directed her work toward working with white women to dismantle internalized white supremacy.

I’ve found that people have often assumed that my path to social change starts somewhere along queer lines. But actually, it was way before that. It comes out of my experience as a person who was a ward of the state — I was relinquished as a baby and eventually adopted in a closed adoption. The role of the state in taking children away from their parents and placing them with people who they deem suitable was one of the first things that I got angry about. I realized that my biological mom, a young, poor and unmarried woman, had no choices. That politicized me in huge ways, and really formed the bedrock of why reproductive justice matters to me. After finding my birth mom, my first political step was to get involved with an organization called Bastard Nation that advocated for a transformation of adoption policies and practices. One day a year, we all flooded vital records offices across the United States with phone calls and visiting demanding our original birth certificates.

A few years before that, I came out in my home state of Indiana, during my senior year of college. After I graduated, I worked at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. I ended up working there for 21 years, and I was lucky enough to have many elders there to learn from. One of the most profound things about that experience was that I spent every summer working and playing with people in their sixties and seventies and eighties. I saw women do jobs that I’d never seen women do before: electricians and stagehands and carpenters and truck drivers and all this stuff. And then I became one of those women. I also worked with women with disabilities for the first time, and I learned how they had fought for the festival to be accessible. For about a decade, I did physical work at the festival with a group of women on the recycling crew. The crew had the reputation of being a great place for Deaf women to work. So over the years, I learned from Deaf workers about the Deaf community and its social and political struggles. I’ve never had that experience anywhere else in my life–getting to know deaf women, learning from them how to communicate, and working together as a team. They had a thousand strategies to improvise communication with hearing people, and I had no strategies to communicate with them, so I had to fail fast to learn fast over and over again.

Another experience that really shaped me was that my first girlfriend and I, around the age of 24, decided to spend a year working in Zimbabwe doing community development work. That year profoundly shaped my outlook. I came to understand some things about the history and current reality of colonialism. It may sound obvious, but I realized I had grown up in a former British colony. I couldn’t criticize white Zimbabweans without also taking a look at white people in the United States and our related colonial history. Working with different LGBTQ groups in Zimbabwe, I learned something about organizing in community to lift up the lives of stigmatized people. Because they allowed me to work with them, I built some skill and strategy around how to work on topics that people are afraid of. This was one of my first experiences of learning how to become a portal: What do I have access to, and how can I get those resources to the people who need them? Networking, funding, whatever it is to marginalized folks need to get their/our voices out there. I also learned in Zimbabwe that when you open a space and you do it in the right way, people will show up. You open a space and it’s like, oh, you were there all along. There was just no space for you.

Before CoreAlign, I worked at a global reproductive rights organization where there was little room for failure or experimentation. I saw how our work suffered as a result. I quit that organization and have done a lot of failing fast since then. It’s profound how much more you can innovate when there’s not a $10 million dollar grant telling you that you must succeed at all times. When you’re just trying to learn something new. I think I’ve gotten less afraid and more willing to just try something and understand it’s going to be kind of “raggedy” and that’s okay. We’ll see what happens, and the next time it will be better. In a lot of our professional settings, “professional” means you succeed at all times, even though that’s not realistic and human. And so even when you fail, you have to make it out like you did it the best way possible. But that approach blocks you from learning… from using the failure to inform that learning. 

In the last few years I’ve spent the bulk of my energy doing anti-racist organizing with white women in the United States. Leaders of color have been asking white people to work with our own people for decades. In my organizing series Finding Freedom, we work to dismantle our own internalized white supremacy. We dig into what it means for us to live at the intersection of patriarchy and white supremacy and look at our legacy of collusion. I bring a strong bias to action to this work. It’s not a book club or a self-help group. The goal is for white women to show up right for multiracial POC-led organizing. What does it mean for white women to resource ourselves to do anti-racist work right where we are—as parents, teachers, funders, healthcare providers, HR directors, clergy? How do we become more resilient when receiving critical feedback around our own racist behavior? How do we respond? Something I learned directly through CoreAlign was how to give people multiple access points, and help break down risk taking into smaller, more radically doable steps. I’m getting better at understanding that risk taking is not just I’ll take a huge risk or I won’t, but what conditions do I need in order to take this risk? I recommend that white women find other white antiracist folks who will both have their back and hold them accountable. 

CoreAlign influenced something else I tell them: Use the times when you fuck up as fuel, rather than sitting in the shame and guilt of not doing it right. The truth is that we’re so surrounded by white supremacy, there’s just going to be another chance to get it right tomorrow. If more white folks can show up with humility and a commitment to taking action and being guided by leaders of color, then I believe that’s the beginning of lifting a spiritual burden that never should’ve been on people of color to begin with.