Category Archives: Activism

The Respectability of #MLK50

I want to preface this blog post by saying that I know that critiquing black movements as a white person is inherently problematic. As a white person I cannot begin to know the struggle and baggage that influences the dynamics of something like the #MLK50 Commemoration events in Memphis this month. My attempt to understand what happened in Memphis are going to be imperfect and lacking. What I will attempt to do is report what I heard and observed, and ask questions.

You may have heard that there were a lot of amazing events planned for the first week of April commemorating the 50 years since the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968. I am sure there were events all over the country, but in Memphis, streets were blocked, the police were working overtime, and scores of people from all over the country came to be there. It was a stunning parade of powerful black leaders, artists and reporters. We ran into CNN reporter Van Jones at a food truck on the street. I have never been treated so kindly by police officers who gently asked me to step onto the sidewalk as the march approached. It was surreal to me.

Vega’s work in the community was highlighted as part of a Women’s History Month Spotlight in St. Louis.

The day before all the official festivities, some local activists along with a friend of mine, Elizabeth Vega, performed a street theater action intended to amplify immigration issues. Vega, as we call her, is a beautiful and fierce activist who has been very vocal for Black Lives Matter and was one of the early activists on the scene in Ferguson. Her courage is tremendous and I cannot say enough about her depth of love and commitment to racial justice movement work. She is a cultural organizer in St. Louis and she helps a lot of people in her work. I was in touch with her the night before the action and the next day I couldn’t get ahold of her. What I found out from Facebook in the coming days ways heartbreaking and alarming.

The Memphis Police came down hard on the action and showed an egregious use of force against protesters. Vega told me, “We were doing street theater on the sidewalk when they started grabbing folks, including a journalist with press credentials. When I said leave them alone, they grabbed me by the hair and slammed me down.” The reporter was Manuel Duran, owner of Memphis Noticias, who has been reporting the news Memphis’s Spanish speaking population for a decade.  His charges were dropped but then he was handed over to ICE custody. I responded to petition that was set up in his defense on April 6th and I got a reply from Bill Oldham from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Dept. who simply said, “He has been surrendered to ICE.” Duran has reporting on immigration issues and the feeling is that he was targeted for his work in this area.

Reporter Manuel Duran being arrested while friends try to protect him from the police.

Meanwhile, at the official #MLK50 events, the police were ushering in deacons and celebrities to the official events. Vahisha Hasan, an activist and professor who recently relocated to Memphis  told me, “Local activists were targeted to get them off the street or intimidate them before the official events, but they were protesting the same things that MLK fought for. What’s so sad to me that we didn’t hear about those things from the main stages of these official #MLK50 events. Activists were beaten in the streets and a LatinX man was being arrested by ICE, but we heard little about these things, outside of long time activist Earl Fisher and journalist Wendi Fisher.”

It seems that there is a respectability politic at play here. Hasan asked, “How did we not have the version of the song Precious Lord the way it was sung for King? Where was the Mahalia moment? Where was the soulful aspect of this movement? It wasn’t on the main stage.” We talked about the style of the televised program that was very formal with a huge choir singing African American spirituals in a very western choral style. “I cannot dismiss that this is part of the African American experience, but where was the diversity of black culture and expression?” Hasan said.

Respectability is so often at play in our movements where “bad activists” are often the poor people, the people without organizational backing and resources who are further marginalized by parts of the movement who don’t want to be associated with them. And then “good activists” are well dressed, well resourced, and well received in spaces where stakeholders are making decisions about issues that impact people and disenfranchised people. I think we have to consider that class is a strong aspect of this dynamic. Class and social standing can be a big influencer for the structural tradition in social change. Activists often describe this as the “non-profit industrial complex” which I think, is an attempt to describe the dominance of the structured tradition of organizing as well as the tensions of classism in our movements.

So my question to all of us as we endeavor to make a social movements healthier and stronger is this? How are we holding the door open for directly impacted people to express themselves directly to the stakeholders and how are we closing those doors? How can we invoke relationships and connections along lines of class in our movements. It’s up to the people with the power to try.

 

 

 

 

When Will the Killing of Black Men Stop?

When Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston was attacked, I found myself driving there in a car with a multi-racial squad of female pastors and thousands of prayers from people all over the country for Mother Emmanuel. Our #propheticgrief became a digital place for people to share their grief, their prayers and their prophetic frustrations. When we got to the church, we began to pray together and the people who gathered there joined in the prayers. This is how we met Muhiyidin Moye. Suddenly he was there, a beautiful, tall, black brother in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. He had us chanting and doing the peoples mic (call and response). The cameras and the people pushed in. He was a force and people joined in with his voice. Waves of grief and anger rippled through the crowd and came out in song. Jordan Davis’s mom showed up. “Amazing Grace” literally brought us to our knees.

When the prayers and the protests finally came to a rest, Muhiyidin invited us to come to a teach-in  called Liberation School. We followed him to a community center and spent the next couple of hours being taught movement building history and analysis for black lives and liberation of all.

That night I hung out with Muhiyidin at the Calhoun statue and confederate monument in central Charleston. We talked about how Charleston capitalized on confederate culture tourism and still upholds that racist culture as valid. He asked me to tell everyone to boycott Charleston, that city government and stakeholders will only change is they are starved for tourist dollars. He told me about what it was like to organize as a black man in Charleston, how hard it was, how he had been threatened countless times. He showed me how Charleston is a kind of Mecca for cultural confederacy and how embedded overt interpersonal bias and structural racism still is in the city.

We stayed in touch and his crew came up to support the organizing in Asheville when Jerry LeJai Williams was killed by police in Asheville. Muhiyidin was such a powerful force for justice. I have lived long enough to see effective activists targeted and even killed. If you didn’t know this happens in social justice movement, “COINTELPRO,” the FBI’s counter intelligence program, is well documented. You can read all about how this program places agents in undercover positions in movements. These “provateurs” observe and report and then eventually work to fan the flames of existing tensions in movements, to encourage movements to blow up in conflict internally and to undermine their effectiveness.

I think Muhiyidin was killed for being an activist. He was shot in the leg while riding his bicycle in New Orleans in a neighborhood near the Quarter. They followed the trail of blood from where he collapsed to a few blocks away where they found a partial shell casing. No one has been charged for the murder. No leads have been reported. Muhiyidin bled to death on the street because he dared to speak truth to power.

I can’t help but think about MLK’s sacrifice and assassination that happened 50 years ago the week. As I write we are in route with our boys to Memphis for #MLK50. I can’t help but reflect on how black men are still dying for having dignity, for advocating for their own humanity and the liberation of their communities. When will it stop? When will the killing of black men stop?

“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons. . .We who believe in freedom will not rest.” -Ella Baker

Walter Scott’s Killer – an X-Cop – Sentenced 20 Years

I have to control my excitement about this, lest I appear heartless. It’s not that I am happy when people go to prison, but the significance of this sentencing is PROFOUND!

For years we have fought for accountability when police shoot unarmed black boys, men and women down in the streets and last week, we finally saw justice happen. Michael Slager, the former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, age 50, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison.

“This is an historic day for civil rights, in particular for officer-involved shootings,” said Chris Stewart, one of the Scott family’s attorneys, at a press conference following the sentencing.

Scott’s mother and cousin lay flowers down at the site where he was killed.

Slager shot Scott in the back five times as Scott was running from him after pulling him over for a broken tail light. A toxicology report showed that Slager had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of the shooting. Thankfully, there was a video that clearly showed Slager shooting Scott in the back and that was the main piece of evidence that weighed heavily in the sentencing.

By all reports Slager is deeply remorseful for his actions. He reportedly named each family member by name in court and apologized to each one of them. Slager’s wife begged the court for mercy. And while I am heartbroken once again for all involved, I am so happy that we finally see a white police officer behind bars for murdering an unarmed black man. White people have been killing black people without consequence for centuries and it has to stop. I sincerely hope that this sentencing will deter other officers from pulling the trigger in the future.

The New Poor People’s Campaign: A national call for a moral revival

Fifty years ago Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was working on a campaign he called the Poor People’s Campaign and then he was assassinated. A year before his assassination, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff retreat in May 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement…That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution…In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.

It’s in this spirit that the Poor People’s Campaign is being resurrected this spring. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality. A thousand people in 25 states around the country are going to engage in waves of civil disobedience from Mother’s Day to Summer Solstice in 2018, making the demands known across the nation in coordinated actions.  This will be 40 days of continuous civil disobedience, the likes of which, this country has not seen in a long time, if ever.

I am particularly excited about this campaign as my husband is the national faith partnerships organizer for the campaign. But even more so, I am thrilled that the fusionist politics and Moral Monday movement from North Carolina aka Repairers of the Breach are leading the charge along with the Kairos Center from NYC. I think this kind of broad reaching solidarity along economic lines has real revolutionary potential to change the fabric of the systems that keep poor people poor. I have a lot hope for this campaign and I invite you to check it out and show up to participate!

Check out the fundamental principles of the campaign!

FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES

1- We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.
2- We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.
3- We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.
4- We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.
5- We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.
6- We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.
7- We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from personal issues like prayer in school, abortion, sexuality, gun rights, property rights to systemic injustices like how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.
8- We will build up the power of people and state-based movements to serve as a vehicle for a powerful moral movement in the country and to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society.
9- We recognize the need to organize at the state and local level—many of the most regressive policies are being passed at the state level, and these policies will have long and lasting effect, past even executive orders. The movement is not from above but below.
10- We will do our work in a non-partisan way—no elected officials or candidates get the stage or serve on the State Organizing Committee of the Campaign. This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.
11- We uphold the need to do a season of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to break through the tweets and shift the moral narrative. We are demonstrating the power of people coming together across issues and geography and putting our bodies on the line to the issues that are affecting us all.
12- The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.

NC Climate Justice Summit 2017

November 17th to 19th, my partner Steve and I, attended the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit at Haw River State Park in Brown Summit, NC. Our friends Connie and Jodie are the founders of this amazing intergenerational gathering of 190 people that is partly youth led and run. The opening of the summit was done in silence, everyone was asked to enter the room in silence, then prayers and Native American welcoming ceremony led by Vivette Jeffries-Logan from the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi nation. The ancestors of the land we gathered on were honored and the native people in the room were honored. It immediately felt like a contemplative and de-colonized space. It was announced that there was a healing space available and healers circulating in the space and available to give support. There were workshops on the climate change issues affecting frontline communities in NC and the outer work of activism that they called “outer resilience workshops,” but they also offered workshops on inner resilience like yoga, meditation, healing through arts, theater games for liberation, and a song sharing circle (that I was asked to lead and it was great fun!)  The Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing were published in the program and practiced at the gathering. We were asked to lead a white caucus, if needed, but the space was so well held in anti-colonial frameworks, that we didn’t have the need. It was humbling to be able to be in community space that was so beautifully diverse and full of liberators, people who engage in the work of liberation. We were grateful for the relationships we built and the love we experienced there. North Carolina has an amazing frontline climate justice movement!

Invitation to Prophetic Imagination: Community Safety for All

Today Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Faith is launching a campaign inviting people of faith to analyze their relationship to policing. As we have seen made more visible through the work of Black Lives Matter, policing structures have a radically different relationship to people of color than to white people and white communities. We have seen that black and brown bodies people face much greater risk of being targeted by police violence and injustice in arrests, detainment, in court proceedings, and in sentencing.

Communities of faith can be complicit in upholding white supremacy in policing but they can also be leaders in creating alternatives to policing, in order to help keep our communities safer.

In this campaign, we are asking questions like:

How do faith/spiritual communities legitimize and reinforce the “need” for policing?

How are faith/spiritual  institutions tied to institutions of policing?

How can faith communities act to disrupt the prison, detention, and deportation pipelines?

What might alternatives to policing look like?

What might community safety look like without relying on policing, and how might faith/spiritual communities participate in that work?

While SURJ Faith is oriented to multi-faith work, the early phase of this campaign will be focused on helping Christian communities identity the connections between Christian supremacy and white supremacy. As we move into the Lenten season this winter, we will use this season to analyze and reflect on our personal and collective relationship to white supremacy. How is white supremacy internalized in our being? How is white supremacy expressed in our liturgies, our rituals, and interpretation of scripture. What would it look like to “give up white supremacy for Lent,” as individuals? As congregations and communities?

I am particularly drawn to this campaign as a contemplative Christian and anti-racist because I know I need to continue to do the work of pulling the poison of white supremacy out of my being. I have also seen how my religion has been used to justify white supremacy historically, and this history troubles me deeply. I believe white supremacy is alive and well in our denominations and that they manifest in ways that further marginalize people of color and put them at great risk. I hope you will join me in urging your faith community to join this campaign. Contact me to learn how you can engage in this work and I will loop you in!

ICE Cold: Posting a bond at ICE

I have been volunteering and getting trained in sanctuary organizing this past year.  One day a couple weeks ago a message came through the network talking about posting bond for a Hendersonville man who had been detained since an ICE traffic stop last summer. His family had finally raised the $8500 in cash. I offered to help since I was already in Charlotte. The money was deposited into my account. I went to the bank and got a certified check and drive to the DHS offices in Charlotte. I was seen immediately and was able to get my request in to the ICE detention center in Lumpkin. Then I waited for nearly three hours for the request to come back as approved and then to actually post the bond. I was treated respectfully and walked through the process professionally.

During my wait, I observed a woman who was visibly distraught come into the office and go to the window where she was tearfully looking for her husband. She was told that he was here illegally and that he was being detained and deported. She was in visible emotional distress my heart went out to her. Two female DHS officers were called and they escorted her into the waiting room. They asserted that her husband is here illegally and that his case lies with the judge, that being at DHS was a waste of her time. They were unkind and insensitive to the woman was in the midst of a traumatic and life changing event. They kicked the woman out of the building and then came back to the hallway adjacent to the waiting room. We could hear everything they said. I am sad to report that they made fun of the woman. Not only was there no empathy, they expressed great distain for the woman and her experience.

If we are not training DHS officers in handling emotional trauma with therapeutic skills like unconditional positive regard, we are de-humanizing the officers as well as the people they are supposed to serve. I have a friend and co-trainer who is a therapist by training and an activist. When we work together doing racial equity training, she often shares the concept of “unconditional positive regard,” with our students. She shares that she is holding unconditional positive regard for everyone in the room and invites the students to do the same. I have always found that when she does this, the room relaxes a bit and trust is built, which is vital to the work of racial equity training.

The Wikipedia page on Unconditional Positive Regard states that:

“Unconditional positive regard, (UPR) is a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers in 1959, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client centered therapy. The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.”

Why aren’t our police forces trained in trauma and healing? At the very least, could they try to see the good in people?

#MeToo: NOT just a Media Moment but our Past, Present, & (Hopefully not) Future

#MeToo. It’s daily life for the majority of women, boys, queer and trans people.

I was one of the thousands, if not millions of women, who posted #MeToo on my Facebook account last month. I was traveling back from my honeymoon and so was on my social media more than usual. (I tend to ignore crowds of people in airports and on planes by burrowing deep into my technology.) As someone who was molested by a girl as a child, raped by a man on my 21st birthday, and harmed by patriarchy and the neuroses of men numerous ways in life, I never thought I would ever mate for life. But here I was emerging from my honeymoon, deeply in love with my husband, and entering into the cacophony of my sisters cries.

What wasn’t posted on Facebook pages and tweets, are all the hours and days of processing via, chat, phone, zoom, you name it. We were listening to each other, hearing each others stories, crying together, empathizing, working through our triggers and supporting each other.

Until you have sat with a woman and heard her tell her story, you cannot believe that that things done to woman are true, because they are unspeakable. You need to have the experiencing of sitting with a woman and her telling you the story of being owned as a slave, being held in a room visited only by men who raped her. How she escaped, how a random man on the street helped her and bought her a bus ticket out of town. How a family took her in and got her back in school. Until you have heard this story from someone you know, someone you maybe see at work or at school. Survivors of intense violent sexual assault are all around us. Survivors of less offenses are right next to you, they are the women all around you. We have the generations of abused women in our bones, the pain of the histories of owning and subjugating women in our blood.

#MeToo is happening now, but the past is with us. Patriarchy has evolved and continues to evolve. We can never let another teenage girl or boy in Hollywood get raped on the casting couch. This is also about the future. Women and men hurt by patriarchy need to be able to name and heal from sexual violence and to do that, the abuse has to stop. This isn’t just a man problem, it’s going to take all of us to transform patriarchy.

There are paradoxes of this moment that aren’t lost on me. #MeToo is a moment but it’s also lifetimes of female and queer suffering. I am deeply in love with a good man who does the work with me of pulling the poison of patriarchy out, from ourselves, each other, and our lives.  And it’s this love that helps me recommit to pulling out the poison over and over again. Let’s keep working to transform our wounds into healed places and transform patriarchy into love.

Meet the New (Black, Female) Democratic Mayoral Candidate for Charlotte, NC!

This fall I have had the pleasure of volunteering on Vi’s campaign and watching this political star rise! Vi Lyles just won the primary, unseating the current mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, as the Democratic candidate for mayor in the general election in November. Vi would be the first black female mayor in the city of Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte is facing a lot of challenges:

-A city council that has failed to maintain anti-discrimination laws for transgendered people in the face of NC State Legislature’s HB2. 

-A police force that has a steady track record of shooting unarmed people of color which resulted in Charlotte Uprising one year ago.

-People who work in Charlotte very often cannot afford to live in Charlotte.

-Charlotte has had major redistricting and redlining issues that have created poor and under-serviced areas of primarily black communities of Charlotte in the name of “urban renewal.” This has been such an issue there is a current effort to create a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to look at systemic racism in Charlotte.

I believe Vi Lyles, former assistant city manager and current mayor pro team can tackle these and a host of other challenges face.

Here is Vi’s 7 point plan from Vi Lyles.com:

Charlotte is a tale of two cities where the opportunities and tremendous growth we’ve seen have not benefitted all. Unfortunately, in many instances, a heavy burden is placed on our most vulnerable residents. We need to do better for a more equitable, just, and fair Queen City. If we truly value all of our people then we must provide opportunities for all Charlotteans to fully participate and flourish here.

I am committed to advancing the following seven proposals, more an Equitable Charlotte:

  1. Build upon a culture of trust, respect, and cooperation between CMPD and Charlotte citizens by creating community advisory groups within each Police response area.
  2. Examine the structure and procedures of the current Citizens Review Board with community members to ensure its purpose and results are building community trust. The analysis should focus on increased visibility of how citizens can become members of the board as well as complaints and board findings. The board must also better reflect the Charlotte citizenry.
  3. Explore requiring contractors that seek to do business with the City of Charlotte “Ban the Box” on employment applications.
  4. Establish a program to promote the hiring of low-income residents in projects funded with public dollars.
  5. Adopt a meaningful apprenticeship program that focuses on training and development for people with multiple barriers to employment, with a focus on a diversion program for adjudicated youth.
  6. Accelerate the Council goal to provide 5,000 units of affordable housing from five years to three years.
  7. Continue the policy to progressively increase the minimum wage for City employees to $15 an hour.

Defend DACA: Dreamers Are Our Neighbors

On Tuesday, after the announcement that DACA would be discontinued by the Trump administration, I joined hundreds others in a demonstration at Marshall Park in Charlotte, NC.  I wanted to photo document some of the signs that the many Dreamers made and displayed at the demo. Before I took each photo, I asked each person if it would be ok to take the picture. Every time the answer was yes and every time I was struck by the courageous behind their answer. The kids we call Dreamers are facing deportation, being separated from their families and being dropped into a nation and a culture that, in most cases, they have never encountered directly.  The level of heartbreak was palpable. The courage that it took to even sign up for DACA, to be on record with the federal government as having entered the US illegally, is incredible to me. But then to make a sign, to be visible and to have their photos taken to be posted at random on the internet by a stranger? It was difficult to choke back the tears that kept arising when these kids consented to their photograph being taken. I told them they were beautiful and that they were speaking a powerful truth. If they can take the risk to stand up and speak for themselves, shouldn’t we as legal citizens be willing to risk speaking up, sacrificing our comfort, our money and our spare bedrooms to be there for the Dreamers. Perhaps we can intentionally go out of our way to support these kids.

I encourage you to view the images below mindfully. Do so in silence and take the time to really see and absorb their messages. Make it a meditation, feel the pain and the fear they are facing. Let it move you to take action. The time is now.