Author

Nov 202017
 

Voice Vision Action

Click here to read the entire Fall 2017 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Do you feel like burying your head in the sand?

I do! I don’t want to think about what the latest disastrous or obscene thing Trump has said or done. I don’t want to look at the destruction from hurricanes and droughts, or the lack of response of our government to Puerto Rico’s heartbreaking situation. I don’t want to look at mass gun shootings, or another innocent black man being shot down.

I would love to be able to ignore the massive wild fires, horrific treatment to people of color and immigrants, and the loss of LGBTQ and women’s rights. I don’t want to think of a looming threat of a possible nuclear war. Many of us are actually getting sick from the tension, sleeplessness, anxiety and trauma.

I would love to turn away from all of it, close my eyes, not listen, and turn off my feelings. But, I can’t. None of us can!

So, how do we overcome the helplessness we feel in this battle for our lives, the lives of our fellow peoples and Mother Earth? First, we must do whatever we can to join with and support those working for justice. We must work from a place of love and action. We must focus on the positive and grow from those glimmering seeds of hope. We must work from our vision of a clean, just and sustainable world. We will be successful if we stay grounded in our communities —from local to worldwide communities.

At Spirit in Action, we’ve taken time to re-evaluate, and look at ways to move forward in positive and transformative ways in these perilous times. We are addressing these issues by building on our strengths, redesigning our workshops and trainings to have the maximum impact. We are working on this through our programs: Standing in Our Power and Changing the Way We Do Change.

We do not have the luxury to turn off what is happening. We must address these problems.

The times we are in demand that we be flexible, creative and proactive. This is not the time to stand back and see what happens. We cannot afford to put our heads in the sand.

Peace, power and love,

 

 

Linda Stout
Executive Director

Mar 202017
 

“The first task of whites in these struggles is to be vocal and visible.” -Anne Braden

Growing up as a white woman in the south, the passive racism that I witnessed and participated in was and continues to be wrong. I want to change that practice and one step for me is writing a blog about how I handled a situation poorly and what I will do in the future to hold myself and other white people accountable.

Throughout college I would routinely return to Charlotte from Asheville, where I grew up, to visit my parents. Usually, I would be roped into a reunion of friends from high school around a bonfire or in someone’s parent’s basement. We would share stories about parties, college life, and romantic interests. I always loathed these forced congregations, because it reminded me of the discontent and unhappiness I felt in high school. I would hear myself hold back from talking about my openly queer life in college, or refrain from talking about the “controversial,” degree (Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) I was seeking. As if I reverted back into my closeted self.

On one of these occasions a friend of mine invited someone new to join us. We were all sitting around a bonfire in a friend’s backyard, when this new guest arrived. For a moment all we were able to see as he approached was an outline of a person. As he greeted the group and took a seat I couldn’t place where I had seen him before. Charlotte is a big city but has always felt like a small town when it comes to running into people from your past. As we sat there he talked with our mutual friend and worked to make himself as comfortable as possible in a group of new-ish people. After about fifteen minutes he turns to me and says, “Too good to acknowledge me?”

I look at him confused. “What? “ I say.

“You don’t remember me?” He asks.

“Remember you from where?” I reply. He goes on to reintroduce himself and immediately all of my memories from elementary school came rushing back to me. This person looks so different than he had in fifth grade, but so did I. We begin to catch up and he asks me if I’ve stayed in touch with anyone from Lansdowne, our alma mater. I tell him no but he has. He starts to tell me all the accomplishments of classmates we both had.

“Do you remember Josh?” He asked excitedly.

“Yeah…I think so. How has he been lately?”  I responded.

“He’s started playing football at [insert large university] but he only sits on the bench because all the black guys are faster. You know that’s all they are good for.”

I stared open-mouthed at the blatantly racist and serious young man that sat with me. He went on to spout off more insults and profanity. He talked at me about how all the [insert racial slur against Latinx people [i]] are taking his jobs. Sitting there, I continued to withdraw further into myself focusing completely on how offended and angry I felt. I thought of hundreds of insults to yell at him and I seriously contemplated throwing my chair in the fire. While my feelings are powerful, I could’ve used them as fuel to be brave and begin a conversation with him about racism. Eventually, he left and the night continued as usual.

Looking back on this incident I realized that I never thought about engaging him in a thoughtful conversation. I never thought about pulling out my phone and looking for resources to help me express my feelings of rage and hurt in a way that could be transformative for him and I. Instead, I remained silent.  The reaction of silence when someone spews hate speech communicates complacency. White people find themselves in experiences where they could speak up against racism daily. I hope that by highlighting occasions where I have fallen short in moments of silence will inspire others to do the same in their lives.

If you want to learn about engaging white people in undermining white supremacy then check out your local Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter meeting.

Find a local Showing Up for Racial Justice SURJ Chapter here.

Samantha Singer is the Tzedek Social Justice Fellow at Spirit in Action working as a community organizer with the We the People: Working Together project.  Samantha is originally from Charlotte, NC.  She recently graduated from UNC-Asheville with a degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

 

[i] Spirit in Action has chosen not to repeat the specific racial slur that was used in this conversation

Nov 212016
 

It is a powerful time to be doing election work. When we ride out to the communities, there is a merging of fear and excitement. We round the unpaved roads through the Blue Ridge Mountains, rural Appalachia full of reminders that there was once a thriving industry here. We pull up to the mobile home park, or brick duplexes, or cluster of apartments, and the memories play out. I think of the grandmother who brought me in the home, fed me, asked me about my family while registering her sons to vote and holding her grandchildren. I think about the man who warned us to not go to the yellow house, “because he always answers the door with a gun.” I think of the high school student who isn’t a citizen, but took every educational pamphlet we had to share with her friends on the bus the next morning. I wonder what today will be like.

The kids in the neighborhood know we’re not from there, but they’re the first to approach us with smiling faces. Once, there were two young girls playing with a large cardboard tube in the street as we rounded the block. They shouted from across the way asking us what we’re selling and if we already went to their houses. We explain we want to help people vote. That we want to help people make changes in the neighborhood and work together. They perk up and drop their toy to walk up to us. They ask, can they help?

So we walk through the Habitat for Humanity Houses with two small girls, creating a gaggle of four young women between us. The girls practiced saying “we can help you with your voting rights” and still ended up saying “we are selling newspapers.” It kept the smiles on our faces, and door after door opened in the community. People kept the door open when they heard that we are nonpartisan, and were coming back to the same neighborhood for the third year in a row to make sure the community is able to voice its needs. They shared their opinions and filled out our surveys when we presented materials that their neighbors helped us create. They gave us their name and contact information when they heard that we can help them register to vote and get out to vote, but our largest goal is to follow up with them after the election when we continue voicing community concerns year-round.

It helps me to think of those young girls, excitedly joining us to talk with their neighbors. There is something about rural, Southern towns that feels both very connected, and isolated. People are more likely to shout across the street and ask what we’re doing, but much less likely to integrate with folks they don’t know or aren’t from the neighborhood six generations back. And every time we return to the neighborhood, we become a little more recognizable.

As a small nonprofit, we did not kid ourselves that we could knock on a million doors and turn out a record-breaking number of voters. But, North Carolina did break records, and we were a part of that. North Carolina was called the “the key battleground state of 2016.” What would this have meant if the 2013 “monster laws” had stayed in place? One of the most contested states in the country would have been blocked from representing its electorate. Just this summer, federal judges overturned the voter suppression laws, in part because they were cited as disenfranchising African American voters with “surgical precision.” With the voter protections that we won back, there were 3 million votes cast before Election Day during Early Voting, a record-breaking number for our state. We will keep fighting to stay truly representative in our vote, so that power comes directly from the people.

It’s a long journey to reach folks, and as Dr. King showed us, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” At Spirit in Action, we believe in continuing that long road together. We don’t change the way people think and feel by stating facts at the door, by demanding specific actions for change. We facilitate transformative relationships and popular education which can ultimately transform what governmental representative power means in our communities.

Lia KazLia Kaz currently serves as the North Carolina Community Organizer for Spirit in Action’s We the People: Working Together (WtP) project. Through the WtP project she organizes in low-income, rural communities across Buncombe County to empower civic engagement. She has a Bachelors degree in Social Work and won the Alton J. Pfaff Award from Warren Wilson College, which recognized her as the graduating student who most exemplifies the triad of Academics, Work, and Service. She currently lives in Asheville with some great roommates, and a perfect dog named Mona.

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