Change is a constant and essential part of social movement. At W.O.W., we work people first: as our community changes, we collectively define the future we are fighting for and the ways we make change in the present in order to meet it. This collective work occurs through shared, day-to-day decisions and through the larger wins we accomplish over many seasons.
By 2023, the internal and external context surrounding these choices had also changed: there were member & staff transitions at W.O.W., we began to support our grassroots efforts by becoming a formalized nonprofit, and we found ourselves in a new political moment. Locally, we were responding to increases in anti-Asian violence and a mega-jail appearing in the neighborhood. We wanted to show up in solidarity with larger movements for racial justice, including Black Lives Matter. Simultaneously, we needed to practice discernment around the influx of attention and funding for Asian diasporic non-profits.
To navigate these circumstances while remaining grounded in our shared values, it became important to articulate the approach to creating change that we have honed at W.O.W. over 7 years. We wanted to create a resource that would explicitly link our day-to-day activities to our longer-term visions for our community and for Chinatown, creating a map to guide our work. This map, or Theory of Change (TOC), would support our decision-making. Additionally, because we view creating change to be an inherently collective effort, this TOC will also give us language to facilitate collaborations and coalition-building with values-aligned individuals and organizations.
Creating our TOC was an exercise in collective imagination. Together we asked: what world do we want our work at W.O.W. to make possible? What do we envision for Chinatown in 5 years? In 10 years? These questions challenged us to dream big and imagine a future that nurtures the self-determination and leadership of women, queer, and trans Asian diasporic youth. Then to articulate the building blocks of how we will reach this future, we listed the long- and short-term strategies we use and the long- and short-term effects they result in.
This map is also a living document. The TOC shapes our work, and our work shapes the TOC. The strategies and effects described are both descriptive and aspirational: it maps out how the work we do currently and the work we want to do eventually. As W.O.W. grows and changes, the TOC will change to reflect that. Together, they lay the groundwork for reaching the future we have collectively envisioned.
At W.O.W., we envision a future that nurtures the self-determination and leadership of women, queer, and trans Asian diasporic youth. When communities are displaced, and Chinatown shrinks, this future becomes impossible. We believe that artmaking—the process of making art with others—can function as both political practice and organizing strategy in fighting displacement and securing this future. Guided by queer feminist understandings of power, embodiment, care, and social and cultural (re)production, arts and culture at W.O.W. become a tool for politicization and relationship building. Though our work is expansive—including residencies, youth programs, public events, and mutual aid—it is all an expression of three core strategies and visions for community:
1. We use the arts as an organizing tool against cultural displacement in order to build a community that challenges and shapes narratives about displacement, art, and activism.
2. We cultivate the self-determination and leadership of queer and trans Asian diasporic youth in order to build a community that sustains movement lineage and shapes change through movement work.
3. We hold change with care in order to build a community that models, strives for, and sustains community ownership.