Via SURJ Political Education

SURJ Political Education

WELCOME to the SURJ Political Education website.
​This site is designed to support us as we work together to deepen our understanding and sharpen our practice in working for racial justice.

What is political education?

Political education is the collective process of study, research, analysis, and storytelling that helps us understand our situation and what we’re up against and what we can do about it. The purpose of political education is to build a shared language about our situation, a shared framework for understanding our situation, and a shared understanding of our history so we can better understand how we got here and what we can learn from those who went before us. We engage in political education to sharpen our skills in taking action for movement building for solidarity and social justice.

Why do we need political education?

​We need political education because we are swimming in a sea of misdirection and misinformation provided to us on a regular basis by the broader culture. We are, for example, consistently taught that racism is a thing of the past, that we live in a post-racial world, and that any racism that does exist is simply a reflection of a few misguided individuals. We are taught not to see the ways in which institutional and cultural racism impact all of us every day, including the policies, practices, and cultural beliefs that systematically target People of Color while benefitting white people and groups (at great cost to individual and collective humanity). If we want a more just world for all of us, and we do, then we need to develop the habits and skills that make it possible for us to see what’s really going on and to vision a different way.

SURJ has a goal of mobilizing 7 million white people to show up for racial justice. We do political education with each other in service of this goal, to support better understanding of why we’re in the mess we’re in as well as how we’re going to move steadily and surely forward with a focus on racial justice and its intersection with all forms of liberation and justice.

How do we do
​political education?


Designing a
political education

When you get ready to plan a political education session for your chapter, here are a few things that might help:

1. Keep your goals front and center. Generally the goals of a political education session are to develop a shared language around the topic (example: defining what racism is), a shared framework for understanding the topic (example: the framework of racism as personal, institutional, and structural), and some grounding in history that helps us understand the issue better (example: the history of every institution’s participation in constructing race as a hierarchy with white at the top).

2. Because strong and deep relationships are so key to our ability to build movements across lines of race, class, and gender, make time for some level of personal storytelling by each member of the group. Sharing stories with each other is essential to building trust and trust is essential to staying engaged in the work for the long haul.

3. Always end by supporting people to identify action steps aligned with SURJ values, including accountability to People of Color led efforts. Political education is in service to taking action, so we must make sure that we’re supporting people to take action informed by the political education session. Sometimes this can be as simple as ending with the question: how does this session inform our action steps moving forward?


There are all kinds of ways to politically educate ourselves. A political education session is more than a discussion about differing views. A political education session is grounded in shared wisdom (research, experience, knowledge) about an issue, led by facilitators holding experience and knowledge, whose role is to help the group achieve the goals of a shared language, shared framework, and shared understanding of history. While differences in viewpoints can and do occur, these differences are based in both lived experience and research and are expressed in order to advance learning or raise questions (not to compete about who is “right”). Done well, political education builds relationships among the participants while sharpening our ability to understand what is happening in the world. The goal is to use new information to deepen our understanding so that we can make informed and thoughtful decisions about how to build our movement for social justice in accountable ways. A template for a political education session might include some introductory story-telling about the topic at hand, information sharing from a resource (which might be a person, an article, a book, a video), time for discussion, questions, answers, and rumination, ending with consideration of how the discussion and new learning informs our collective action. Political education is always in service to action. 
Please please please note that there are 1000 ways to design and facilitate a political education session and then 10 more ways after that. This sample is meant to generate ideas, NOT to suggest in any way that this is the right way or that there is a right way to host a political education session.
Time: 2 hours
Goal: understand racism as more than personal,
as institutional and structural

You can do introductions in any number of ways appropriate to your community and your culture. You might want to ask people to share their preferred gender pronouns. You might want to start by sitting in silence, facilitate some collective breathing and centering, you might want to lead some singing … do whatever makes sense for you and builds community.

If you have a culture of setting agreements, you might want to do that now. As members of SURJ, you might want to share the SURJ values as your agreements. A quick and effective activity that helps to make the agreements more relevant is to ask people to pair up and take a minute to talk about which agreement is hardest to live into and which is easiest and why.

To get people talking and present (given all that is going on in their lives outside of the session), offer an active listening activity. Ask people to pair up or make small groups of 3 or 4. Invite them to take 3-4 minutes each to share their answers to a question or set of questions that both call on their stories (experience) and the topic at hand. For example, you might ask people to take 3 minutes each to share one or two things that they learned from their family about race and/or racism, including one thing that actually perpetuated racist thinking and one thing that interrupted it. You might ask people to share how they learned what they currently know about racism. As the facilitator, you will want to model by sharing how you would answer the questions (perhaps with a partner); your modeling will set the depth of vulnerability in the room. If you show vulnerability (my family gave me mixed messages, my family gave me explicitly racist messages, my family was silent), then others are more likely to do so as well. After the time for sharing is over, you can debrief, asking people both how it felt to share and listen and what they noticed.

Information Sharing
This is where you present the content that is the focus of your session. In this case, you might have asked people to read something ahead of time which you will discuss as a group (see resources on Racism 101 page). You might invite someone who knows a lot about the topic to come and talk to the group. You might draw from something happening in your community and use that as a model for how to understand institutional and structural / cultural racism. Think about what you can do to make the content easy to understand and easy to relate to unless your group has been meeting for a while and has the relationships and skills to handle dense or harder to understand material. Think about how to support people to engage with the material and/or how people can contribute what they know about the topic.

Application and Action
Before the session winds up, you are going to want to talk about how to apply whatever lessons you drew from the storytelling and information sharing. You can ask questions like: how does this discussion inform our next action steps? what action steps does this session suggest?

Bringing formal closure to a session signals that you appreciate the time and thoughtfulness people have brought to the session. You can use the closing to ask each person to share one thing they know now that they didn’t know before, or to identify an action step they are going to take, or to appreciate one thing about the time together… You can also close with a poem or a quote or a song. Again, close in whatever way is culturally meaningful for your group while signaling how much you value people for coming, even if or especially if the discussion is contentious or challenging.

Via SURJ Political Education