My Experience at the 22nd Century Conference

By Sam Gault, Communications & Engagement Manager

 July 19, 2023

I was honored to receive a McKnight Foundation scholarship to represent NCJW MN at the 22nd Century Conference, which took place on July 6-9 in beautiful downtown Minneapolis! It was an inspiring gathering of pro-democracy activists, organizers, and researchers, and I’d like to share some of my key takeaways with you.

The conference was hosted by the 22nd Century Initiative, which seeks to build a truly multiracial and pluralistic democracy in the U.S. in this century. To this end, the immediate aim of the 22nd Century Conference is to foster strong pro-democracy coalitions to block the agenda of authoritarian movements while promoting equitable participation and pluralism.

One of the most provocative and fascinating sessions I attended, put on by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), was titled “White Privilege Is Real but It’s Not an Organizing Strategy.” The facilitators began by contrasting authoritarian organizing, which creates divisions, with progressive organizing, which fosters intentional and strategic cross-class relationships on the basis of shared material interests. They went on to distinguish between two types of progressive organizing: race-avoidant vs. genuine allyship. The former, which presents narrow, community-specific issues through an apolitical lens, can be an effective means of identifying and addressing immediate problems them (e.g., “The streets in this neighborhood are not safe for pedestrians, so let’s demand that the city build sidewalks!”), but tends to ignore the systemic injustices underlying those problems. The latter, by forging multiracial coalitions across class lines, “calls in” white people to support movements led by Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) on the basis of mutual interest (e.g., “All people need, and deserve, to live in safe and healthy communities. We all do better when we all do better!”). Thus, while it is necessary for white activists to acknowledge and reflect upon their own privilege, the SURJ facilitators cautioned against falling into the trap of simply stopping there: The real work for white anti-racist activists consists in recognizing their shared interests with BIPOC-led movements and organizing to support them!

I also attended a wonderful session—the facilitators of which included Brandon Schorsch, the Combating Hate Organizer at Jewish Community Action—entitled “Weapon of Movement Destruction: Fighting Antisemitism and Its Weaponization in Minnesota and Beyond.” Among other topics, we discussed the importance of taking antisemitism more seriously in progressive circles. Efforts to combat antisemitism often get siloed because so many progressives assume (incorrectly) that all Jewish people are white, whereas there are actually many Jewish people of color, and white supremacists do not consider any Jews to be “really” white. The paradox of contemporary authoritarian politics is that they claim the mantle of fighting antisemitism (e.g., by falsely accusing progressive organizers or politicians of antisemitism) while simultaneously reviving old (often Medieval) antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. It is therefore vital for progressive organizers to recognize that antisemitism fuels today’s antidemocratic, authoritarian movements and to take a united stand against it and all other forms of hate.

There is so much more that I could say, but this blog post is getting rather long, so please feel free to email me ( if you’d like to chat about what I’ve said here or learn more about the conference!