How to Make Movements Intersectional

| Reproaction

By: Evonnia Woods

Whenever a new movement wave rises or cycle peaks, the call to make movements intersectional is renewed by activists and scholars (not that they’re mutually exclusive). I wrote a condensed explanation of why we should make social movements intersectional 5 years ago. This time around, I am offering a condensed explanation of how to make movements intersectional. As the saying goes, “There is more than one way to peel a potato.” While our training in Western European thought [1] and practice is saturated with concepts of universal, simple, and finite solutions, our liberation will be garnered by generating and re-evaluating local and creative solutions AKA: practicing intersectionality. With that said, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. There are no universal subjects, thus there are no universal solutions. Even though we can refer to an issue as occurring globally, the issue manifests differently because it is occurring in a different social, cultural, economic, and/or political context.
  2. Power dynamics change over time and oppressive systems are very good at adapting to cultural shifts while remaining intact.
  3. Increasing inclusion is about incorporating more of the people who are not currently benefiting from our social, economic, and political systems. These are people commonly referred to as marginalized because they reside on the margins of society.

An overly reductive summation of how to make movements intersectional is to tend to notions of power and progress while diversifying leadership, centering the most marginalized, and building coalitions. I briefly expand on these principles of intersectionality as a practice below and list sources for those who want to read and learn more. Without further ado, let’s get into it!


Challenging Western European notions of power means rearticulating it such that power is sought as a source for collective empowerment and communal transformation. Power dynamics in decision-making spaces should be dispersed amongst leaders as evenly as possible without leaving the organization or movement susceptible to infiltration or with an inability to accomplish its goals. Democracy has many forms, so there is no need to get stuck on the belief that everyone should have the same authority to make every decision. Relying on experts prevents us from making un or ill-informed decisions. [2,3]


Progress toward liberation of all peoples is not linear and the work is never-ending. Since addressing social justice issues creates more issues, solutions will and do require constant maintenance. Since the only way to make progress a linear process with an ending is to engage in a mass extinction of all peoples and cultures except one, the goal of progressive social movements must be to see differences amongst us as just that. We do not all need to become the same version of human to coexist. Thus, we must generate solutions that increasingly include more people into our social, economic, and political systems. [4,5]

Diversifying Leadership

Social justice issues are complex and affect people differently depending on the social groups they identify with and/or are classified into by others. Having a range of social identities at every level of leadership and thus at every level of decision-making ensures that power, progress, and solutions are evaluated more thoroughly.

Centering the Most Marginalized

Those most directly affected by an issue are in the best position to generate solutions, because they are in the best position to speak about an issue’s dynamic effects. Their perspectives should be highly sought and regarded in movement spaces. Of course, this means (re)evaluating power structures and dynamics within movement spaces so that power is more evenly dispersed.

Coalition Building

Movement leaders of all ages must consider how to make this work sustainable. Not only must restoration and joy be incorporated into our movement practice for individuals’ welfare, but a movement composed of healthy individuals strengthens our ability to work together within and across movements. Another point worth mentioning, is that while it is easier to form alliances between people with shared beliefs and goals, sometimes alliances must be formed between people who only share a particular goal. This is not something you have to force but be open to when opportunities arise. [6]

A couple years ago, I organized a virtual Movement Building Discussion Series where movement leaders discussed how they tend to notions of power and progress while diversifying leadership, centering the most marginalized, and building coalitions. Feel free to (re)visit those discussion panels for inspiration and insight. Do note that perfectly employing intersectionality is not required to become a movement leader. As the good sis, Melissa Harris Perry, insists “the struggle continues.” The goal is to do the best we can given that we are conducting this work while living within the oppressive systems we are trying to improve and dismantle.


  1. Hill Collins, Patricia. 1991. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.
  2. Freeman, Jo. 1972. “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.”
  3. Lorde, Audre. 2007 (1984). “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Pp 110-113 in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
  4. Combahee River Collective. 1977. “A Black Feminist Statement.”
  5. Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe. 1985. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.
  6. Einwohner, Rachel, Kaitlin Kelly-Thompson, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, Fernando Tormos-Aponte, S Laurel Weldon, Jared M Wright, and Charles Wu. 2019. “Active Solidarity: Intersectional Solidarity in Action.” Social Politics, Summer, 1-26.
Stay Connected

Support The Cause

donate now

Take Action

Find a campaign and take action now