Circles of Organizing

Collective Leadership, Social Relations, and Intergenerational Activism in Ethnic Studies Now! Santa Barbara


  • Diane C. Fujino
  • Matef Harmachis
  • Fabiola Gonzalez
  • Casmali Lopez
  • Sara Bazan
  • Kano Fujino-Harmachis
  • Barbara Parmet
  • Kathy Swift
  • Juliet Velarde Betita



The Ethnic Studies Now! Santa Barbara Coalition (ESNSB) formed in December 2015 as a community-based, intergenerational collective with the goal of establishing an ethnic studies course as a high school graduation requirement in Santa Barbara, California. From the beginning, ESNSB understood that this work fit into a broader context of building democratic education and grassroots participation in our community. At the same time, ESNSB needed to work as a grassroots organization with the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) and the school board to achieve our immediate goal.

Several significant questions arise from our organizing. While it matters that activists work with institutional stakeholders to implement new policies, what changes when grassroots organizers are part of the process? How do activists work with institutions while countering the institutions’ tendency to absorb or co-opt their efforts? How does a multigenerational organization, such as ESNSB, work to develop youth leadership as well as to create structures that offset the tendency of adults to take charge and to take over? One partial response is that ESNSB operated on a model of collective leadership. But what is collective leadership? How might it work in practice? What is the relationship between models of organizing and democratic education? By addressing questions such as these, this article seeks to illuminate aspects of grassroots organizing that can help to build social movements for (and beyond) ethnic studies.