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May 212015
 

Last month, on April 22nd, We the People held our first community visioning!  With over 40 people in attendance, our potluck-style gathering was a huge success.  The positive energy in the room was tangible and every single attendee had something affirmative to say in our closing.  “Inspiring,” “exciting,” and “motivating,” were just a few of the words floating around the room.

Spirit in Action’s We the People organizing initiative is located in the unincorporated community of Swannanoa, North Carolina.  We have been conducting a listening project in collaboration with Warren Wilson students for over a year now, and has interviewed well over 200 community members in Swannanoa.  Through this listening project, we’ve identified the top concerns, and this big event was our first step towards making the transition from listening to action.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

Of course, this event was aligned with Spirit in Action’s values of listening, collective visioning, and building trust.  We held the potluck in the basement of the Swannanoa United Methodist Church, which is where the Welcome Table (featured in our last blog post) is located.  It was a laid back, upbeat atmosphere.  After we all had our fill of food, Linda led the room in a creative visioning process, asking community members to envision a happy, healthy Swannanoa.  Everyone closed their eyes and imagined what Swannanoa could look like 20 years from now.  We were each asked to picture a child we know in Swannanoa, and to dream of what we wanted this community to be like when that child was older.  Then, in typical Linda fashion, we pulled out the art supplies and drew that ideal community.  This envisioned community had sidewalks, traffic signs, hospitals, public transportation and a true sense of community. Just by drawing a town that had positive energy, the room filled with positive energy.

 

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

Once the creativity level was high and our minds were wide open with the possibilities, we voted on the top 3 community concerns (identified through the listening project) and formed 3 committees: public transportation, sidewalks, and the revitalization of downtown.  We split ourselves between those 3 committees and got to work.  As the ideas bounced between community members, you could feel the energy in the room!  Everyone had something to contribute and by the end of the evening, each committee had solid action steps to take forward.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

During the months of May and June, We the People interns will be busy researching next steps for these three issues in Swannanoa.  We will be hosting follow-up meetings with each committee and working with community members to develop leadership for these committees in order to start moving Swannanoa towards a better future!  Stay tuned for many more success stories to come.

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

April 22 2015 Community Visioning Swannanoa NC

 

Mar 172015
 

Caroline DubleHello, all!  Some of you know me as the Social Justice Resident at Spirit in Action, but for many of you, this is your first time hearing from me.  My name is Caroline Duble; I am from Houston, Texas, and I have lived in Swannanoa, North Carolina for the past 5 years.  I graduated from Warren Wilson College in May 2014, and have been working for Spirit in Action since August 2014!

There are so many things that I want to share with you all, about We the People, about the class that Linda is teaching at Warren Wilson, about our vision for a better Swannanoa… but I’ve recently  returned from a spectacular professional development experience, and I feel the need to write about this experience first.

In February, Linda Stout and I flew to Denver, CO to attend the 27th annual Creating Change: National Conference on LGBTQ Equality. Over the course of 5 days, the Creating Change program presented 18 day-long institutes, two dozen trainings in the Academy for Leadership and Action, a special programming segment for faith leaders and organizers, over 300 workshops and caucus sessions, four keynote plenary sessions, film screenings, meetings, receptions, and a multitude of networking and social events. It was a whirlwind of new information, best practices, sharing, collaboration, and fun!  To give you an idea of what Creating Change is like, I will share a couple of my favorite workshops and lessons learned in Denver.

If you’re not already aware, the We the People program seeks to build power and create community across class differences here in Swannanoa.  I attended one workshop that specifically applied to this work, called “Organizing Across Class Differences.”  This workshop had attendees from many different class backgrounds that work in many different types of communities.  I had the opportunity to network and share best practices with other rural organizers from across the country.  We discussed how to be mindful of language and perspective when talking to people of a different class than your own.  The burden to code-switch and adapt to the privileged culture is often placed on poor people.  This workshop allowed me to brainstorm ways to create spaces in which everyone in Swannanoa can bring their voice without having to sacrifice their experiences and emotions.

I attended a myriad of workshops and events that focused on the intersections of queer and racial justice.  One such workshop was “#LGBTQFerguson,” which featured a panel of young, queer activists from St. Louis and Ferguson, MO who spoke about their experiences surrounding Mike Brown’s murder and how they have been empowered since this movement picked up speed in August 2014.  It was incredible to hear these young leaders describe their journey from isolation and disempowerment to community power and self-love.  By claiming space, they have made a huge impact on our nation, and will continue to do so until equity and justice are reached.  Young black and queer people are rising up to empower each other and demand justice.  I am floored by their commitment to civil disobedience that is motivated by deep-abiding love.  All attendees of Creating Change were lucky to witness an example of their direct action tactics when they interrupted the Creating Change plenary speeches, in collaboration with the Trans* Latina Coalition.  They did this to hold the Task Force accountable and ask attendees for a greater commitment to the #BlackLivesMatter and trans* justice movements.  They refuse to let business as usual continue, and they are making sure the national LGBTQ organizations get that message as well.

Immediately following this workshop was a memorial for Jessie Hernandez, a 17 year old, queer, gender non-conforming Latina recently murdered by the Denver police.  Some of the local organizers, called Branching Seedz of Resistance (BSEEDZ), spoke at the altar they set up in her honor. This memorial happened on the same day as Jessie’s funeral, and it was powerful to see so many conference attendees making sacred space to remember her and commit to seeking her justice. On the other hand, it was frustrating to see so many at the conference ignore what was happening and complain about the direct actions. We were lead in a chant, “La lucha sigue, sigue! Y Jessie vive, vive!” (The struggle continues! And Jessie lives on!).  This call to action will continue to ring in my mind, as I process and look ahead for pathways to equity in my own communities.

There are so many more workshops and events and speakers that I could mention.  The people that I met have already proven to be valuable connections in the social justice world.  I learned so much during my time at Creating Change, and hope that I can continue to attend in the years to come.  Stay tuned for more information about the work we’re doing in Swannanoa!

Feb 232015
 

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The best part of getting older (I just celebrated my 61st birthday!) is that I get to see young leaders that have come through one of our trainings or networks, now taking the reins of both new and old national organizations, as well as regional and local.  It is a thrilling moment to see these young leaders now being the leaders and keynote speakers at major national conferences and something I hope to keep contributing to from the place of an “elder” activist (I don’t feel old enough to deserve that term, but young people now talk about their elderly parents or grandparents that are younger than me!).  We have too much work to do to separate across generational lines.  And we have a lot to learn and teach each other.

As part of an effort to forge greater understanding across generational divides, and to generate a space to post more personal musings that might not be included on Spirit In Action’s website, I have created a new website – www.lindastout.org.  I invite you to check out this new website and let me know what you think!

I first began a personal website when I launched my last book, Collective Visioning.  I was finding a lot of people are reading the book and looking for a website that represented a forum for Collective Visioning. As my last book, Bridging the Class Divide, is coming up on its 20th anniversary, it is still used in over 800 colleges across the country.   While I plan to use the website as a space to discuss my books, it will also be a way to direct people to our work at Spirit in Action.

We are working hard to find more ways to communicate with people throughout our spheres of influence and this is just one of the ways.

While many of us struggle to stay “caught up” with the new digital communication, and some of us even reject it, I have found that if I want to stay in communication, especially with younger activists and leaders, I have to join in on the digital revolution.  Thanks to Tracy Van Slyke and others from Progressive Communicators Network who “made” me get on Facebook, and later to learn to tweet (or is it twitter?).  I will work hard to stay in touch better, both with those who like the snail mail approach and for those who use social media to communicate.

I especially want to thank the youth that I work with in teaching me to balance between my experiences, a new generations experiences, and to listen to their energetic wisdom they bring into our movement for change.  It is humbling and thrilling.  The movement is alive and thriving because so many young leaders have joined to bring new ideas, new insights, and renewed energy.

There is a place for all of us!

Please visit us at www.lindastout.org and www.spiritinaction.net for more ways to stay involved.

Peace, Power, Love,

Linda

Sep 242013
 

linda with drawing of her journey

I was blessed to learn from one of the greatest women of color who taught me my first baby steps into organizing. But it didn’t stop there. This is the beginning of my own cultural shift in how I understood and thought about things. In this blog, I tell this story and progress to the now.

I first began organizing in Charleston, SC when I was living in a Black community which primarily consisted of low-income apartments and projects. At my bus stop, I was always the only white person, and kept complaining to other bus riders about the fact that the bus didn’t take us down to Broad Street where I worked. Many of the folks that I rode the bus with worked even farther away.

People would mostly just smile, chuckle, or shake their heads at this young, naive white girl and tell me, “That’s just how it is.” Some were more direct: “’They’ don’t want busses full of black people coming into their neighborhoods.” And so we continued to ride on the bus, then get off and walk several blocks into those white neighborhoods where we worked.

But several people told me that if I wanted to do something about it, I had to go talk to Mrs. Clark. I walked by her house several times before getting the courage to knock on the door. A young person answered the door and took me to Mrs. Clark, who I immediately fell in love with — an elderly, caring, strong, and wise woman. It was almost a year later before I learned she was a very famous leader, Septima Clark, often referred to the as the “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mrs. Clark wanted to know my own story and then asked me to join them for dinner. After dinner she asked me why I was coming to visit her. When I explained what I thought was the unfairness of the bus system, she perked up and started telling me what I needed to do.

First, she told me to knock on all the doors of the community and to ask them how they felt about this injustice. Intially, this was difficult, but quickly became easier as I told people I was sent by Mrs. Clark.

Next, she helped me put together a proposal. She informed me that I would need to go to the NAACP to present it to them and see what they suggested.

This was in the 1970s, but I had no idea what the “NAACP” was. I grew up in the rural south and segregated schools. We never learned anything about civil rights. When I first went to the NAACP meeting, I was mostly ignored and felt too intimidated to ask anything or speak up. I went back to Mrs. Clark, whining, saying “I was the only white person there. They didn’t like me; they don’t trust me.” She quickly responded, “Well of course they don’t, what did you expect? Now, next time you go back….” I went back three times before a gentleman finally asked why I was there. When he heard Mrs. Clark had sent me, I immediately had the platform to present our proposal and eventually, a few years later after much hard work, we won – the busses began to run all the way past Broad Street and beyond.

It was one of my first steps in learning to be a white ally. I learned that I could not walk in immediately expecting people to trust me and waiting for them to show me that they liked me. And being a better white ally was essential to becoming a better leader.

Just as Mrs. Clark taught me, I have continued to learn a different way of working and of organizing from strong women of color leaders. It has been a wonderful, challenging, and joyful life-long journey.

After hiring a young, powerful woman of color leader to work as a program director at Spirit in Action, I continue to be challenged to go even deeper in my understanding. Taij Moteelall is an experienced leader and the founder of Standing In Our Power, a project of Spirit in Action. As a white Executive Director of organizations for thirty years, I still have privilege and power in my position and even while I try to “share power,” ultimately I have the final power in decision making. As I move into a time of transitioning into sharing leadership, Taij is stepping into a more powerful place of leadership within our organization. And while there have been moments of challenge, it has mostly been an amazing gift of love, learning and support.

siop group in circle of appreciation

The leaders emerging from Standing in Our Power are creating a new paradigm of leadership that is holistic, healing, and practical. It is more inclusive, loving, and powerful and will allow us all to move toward a truly inclusive, love filled and joyful movement.

As a white ally, I am called to act in a new way forty years after my lessons learned working with Mrs. Clark. As I stand in solidarity with the women of Standing in Our Power, I continue to be challenged in the way I think, to look at other ways of doing things that are outside of my “norm” only to learn a smarter, more effective, way. As a supervisor, my privilege and superiority sometimes let me say to myself “well, let them [a staff person] do it their way and when it doesn’t work, it will be a lesson learned”. My lesson is that instead of finding it doesn’t work, I find new ways of accomplishing the same goal – better than the way I might have done it. This helps me understand that the way I do things is not the “only way” or even the most successful way. It makes me begin to look at other approaches and understand new ways of doing things.

That is why I’m so proud that we can support women of color to come together and bring their amazing wisdom that has often been ignored or seen as “not the right way to do things” by white culture. I am standing with these powerful sisters and ask you to join me. I hope you will consider supporting this network as they get ready to kick-off a 10-month Transformative Leadership Institute.

Standing In Our Power will give us a new way of thinking that will help all of us: men, women, different cultures, ethnicities and colors. The way members of Standing In Our Power are recreating leadership is inclusive, healing and powerful. As we learn from this group of women new ways of leading, we will also be guided to build a movement based on peace, equity, and love that will allow all of us to move forward together.

I have been blessed to have many women of color in my life who are leaders and who sometimes harshly, but mostly lovingly, taught me what it means to listen and to follow. It has been the most valuable lessons I have learned and has taught me to be the kind of organizer and leader I am today.

This is the ultimate cultural shift we must make: learning to listen to those whose shoulders and backs we have often stood on to have the privilege and benefits as white leaders is a struggle that we need to embark on in order to be transformative leaders and true allies; learning to listen to the varied and often enlightened voices of women of color who can shed new insights and cast great light upon our vision for a more equitable and just future for all I will continue to share my journey of learning in future blogs. I hope you will join me in that journey.

If you are interested in supporting Standing in Our Power, please use the link below: