I’m danielle marilyn west, or danni, the new Development Director at RG! My hope in writing to you is share about my story, my background and orientation to what we are trying to do together: build and be transformative leaders for the redistribution of land, wealth, and power.
I’m 32 and have been an organizer for over half of my life. I come from a buffer-class family and was raised by working-class parents in a wealthy, system-aligned suburb of Dayton, Ohio. My father was raised on a farm in Northern Ohio (my people on both sides have been settler-occupiers of land in Ohio for many generations, and I regularly marinate on what the implications are to me in terms of material and spiritual accountability and reparation) and, before retiring, he was a professor at a state school in southwestern Ohio. My mother was raised in Akron, Ohio, where the family (and after her father died, her single-mother worked) for Goodyear Tire Company. My Mother’s paid work was from labor as a LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and as a religious educator with the Unitarian Universalist faith. Both of my parents have bachelors and graduate degrees. To use a phrase I was introduced to by United for a Fair Economy, my parents climbed the (white) escalator into the professional middle class where I was raised.
I was raised with mixed messages about class from family values to school communications and as a young woman of trans experience I have experienced times of economic instability, lack of access or resource that have given me some further class confusion. All the more, the larger dynamics of symbolic capital, economic capital and social capital maintained my position as a buffer class person, maintained my economic function of being a pacifying and stabilizing buffer between poor and working folks experiencing more intense economic violence and the wealthy or owning-class. My experiences of being fired for being trans/gender non-conforming and feeling economic coercion within my navigations of the world happened within the larger context of benefit and protection at the exclusion of and expense of the majority of people I have shared struggle alongside of. These (queer) experiences have both informed my approach to solidarity and affirmed my femme-centric, femme-appreciative path in the world.
It is now clear to me that capitalism needs poor people and economically exploited people in order to operate and maintain. Also that capitalism has an inherent cycle of crisis, followed by capitalists’ actions to make stabilizing adjustments or concessions. Working with Resource Generation has helped me feel even more clearly, in a more visceral way than ever before, that as a person located in the buffer class I will either be used by wealth/wealthy people to stabilize an exploitative, crisis-ridden system or I can chose to constantly try to align myself with economically exploited and targeted people in an attempt to survive well enough to build enough cohesion and power to change our economic system. While the practice and the “how” are not clear, the choice and the desire are and I believe that the work at RG will continue to prove instrumental to the goal of reparations and redistribution.
I am also excited about putting my labor into RG because it is a youth and young people’s organization! I became active as a national youth organizer when I was 15 years old (through the Unitarian Universalist community) and believe that youth leadership is imperative to how I believe large-scale systemic and cultural change happens. While working to prioritize femme-centric, youth-driven methods, most of my organizing has focused on (a) privilege on privilege organizing to strengthen coalition participation and accountability, primarily white-on-white anti-racist education and organizing, and (b) queer and trans community resistance to the prison industrial complex towards a vibrant abolitionist movement.
Over the years of movement activity, I have become active in resisting state repression and defending political prisoners. Many of these political prisoners emerged directly from national liberation struggles within the u.s. and in today’s manifestation of empire, the struggles of the peoples in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Palestine, and against pipelines on the North American continent. From the court support, campaign work, personal correspondence and preparation for grand jury subpeonas, it makes sense to me to position development work for justice organizations and our broader redistribution work in the world, as linked to and descending from the legacy of those who have come before who chose different tactics to move money and resources into resistance and revolutionary movements. I’m thinking of the legacy of folks (many of whom are still living and contributing to the movement) from the George Jackson Brigade or some of the long-term political prisoners from the Black Liberation Army or Oso Blanco who was captured trying to expropriate money for indigenous sovereignty. Even where different tactics are a solid fit, the legacy of their work is not only important to ground within and to continue advance to shared goals, but also, in order to inform and maximize the power of youth leadership, we need relationships with our elders, ancestors and past. One of the political prisoners I have had the honor of getting to build with is a white anti-imperialist named David Gilbert. A short poem of his serves as a lighthouse for me in this world, I offer it to you here as part of my introduction of how I seek to navigate massive state violence and restricted humanity. David Gilbert writes: “love for people / means nonstop struggle against / imperialism.”
More generally, I am passionate about the depth and integrity of people of privilege’s desire to do accountable work that can win. I am curious, constantly, about if we are choosing work that lets people of privilege feel better about ourselves while the conditions stay the same or if we are enacting solidarity that is changing the conditions people are living and struggling within. I am curious about seeing a growing anti-imperialist, anti-colonial orientation take root within the culture of RG’s resistance to racial-capitalism and our work for the redistribution of land, wealth and power.
I am honored to be chosen to serve as Resource Generation’s Development Director and to be working with young people in the u.s. economic top 10% towards the big wins that the people so desperately need. I’m committed to organizing other buffer class folks into solidarity and I’m committed to flank and defend poor and working-class people’s leadership. I believe that every person has a role to play in the struggle for justice and I’m excited for each and everyone of us to get in where we fit in. This is my short introduction to me and where I’m coming from. Excited to hear from y’all as we continue to build, to become transformative leaders, and to fight to win. And by win, I mean destroy patriarchal racial-capitalism with redistribution of land, wealth, and power.
danielle west is the Development Director at Resource Generation.