Sep 212015
 

A couple weeks ago, I got fooled into eating some alligator at a festival (I thought it was a super-sized chicken finger) and also frog legs (which I thought were chicken wings).  The taste is different, although does resemble some taste of chicken in the mix; but they are certainly not something I would choose to eat.

Interestingly enough, I grew up eating these foods, in addition to turtle, rabbit, squirrel, snake, and occasionally, bear.  I ate these foods because we were very poor and this was what “poor” people ate when they couldn’t afford to buy foods like chicken or beef.

Today these items are sold as a delicacy in some fancy restaurants, or at festivals, and are very expensive.  My stomach still turns at the idea of having had to eat these things, especially bear!  But when we were hungry, and it was one of our only sources of protein, we welcomed it into our hungry bellies.

In the United States, the richest country in the world, one in five children goes to bed every night hungry or malnourished.  It’s a hard fact to swallow.  I am haunted by the billboard I see as I drive out of my community that says one in four children go to bed hungry in North Carolina.

How can a country this rich and privileged allow that to happen? 

There are many wonderful programs out there trying to address the problem:  school lunch programs, food stamps, soup kitchens, food pantries, etc., but it is not enough!

We have to look at the root of the problem.  Why is our government actually not paying attention to this?  Why is there such a push to cut programs like food stamps, school food programs, and welfare while often blaming poor people as being stupid or lazy?  Or, accusing the fact that so many children are hungry (and homeless) as somehow being their parents’ fault and therefore not their responsibility.

Just to set the record straight: my father was not lazy.  He worked seven days a week as a tenant farmer and picked up other odd jobs.  He worked 12 to 16 hour days.  I started working in tobacco and in the fields when I was 10-years old.

Even though we worked all the time, we often did not have enough to eat in my years growing up and being malnourished for months on end. We were going to bed hungry because after dividing the small pot of food into the plates of two adults and three growing children, it was just not enough to satisfy our hunger. We would often depend for days on end on a staple of pinto beans, which we could grow and store.  For a long time after, I couldn’t eat them, although I have grown to like them again.

Today, our movement refers to this phenomenon as “food insecurity”.  I call it hungry or malnourished.  Growing up, I thought hungry looked like the poor starving children advertised on television with large crying eyes and bloated stomachs.  I had no reason to complain. I don’t want to discount the necessity to addressing starvation as an international crisis as well.  But we also need to understand the impact of hunger and malnourishment in children today.

How do we understand hunger?  How do we look at the fact that the majority of states that have the highest rates of hunger, also have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in children?

I never went out to a restaurant or actually had a steak until I was 17 and was invited by a friend’s family. I was appalled at spending $10 on a meal.   I never had Chinese food, pizza, or other ethnic food served in restaurants, or even things like broccoli and asparagus, as we didn’t grow those things in the hot South.  I was 27 before I tasted any of these foods.  At the age of 44, my wife and I went out to eat, I became hysterical and ran to the car just because she would dare to not order the cheapest entrée, but also ordered an appetizer, a soda, and a dessert.

My most spectacular memory of food though was when I was a teenager and my father had enough money to go to the gas station on Fridays nights and buy 10 cooked hotdogs with buns for $1.  On special occasions, he also bought a Baby Ruth candy bar which 5 cents and had two small bars in the package.  For dessert, my parents would get one bar cut into two pieces.  And us girls would get a bar cut into three pieces.  Ecstasy!

Some harder memories are the fact we ate dirt as small children.  Why? We craved the nutrients in the red clay dirt of rural piedmont North Carolina.  Poor pregnant women especially craved the clay that I now know is rich in calcium, iron, copper and magnesium. These are essential minerals for the human diet but even more critical during pregnancy.

First and foremost we need to start talking about this issue!  We need to educate ourselves about how serious this problem is.  How did you experience hunger, if ever? 

I encourage you to write your comments – about ever being hungry, about having an overabundance of food, about how much food you waste, or about actions we can take to solve these problems in the comment sections below.

Help us at Spirit in Action continue this conversation and continuing our work organizing poor people to address these issues through our local program in the Appalachia, We the People: Working Together.

Next week, I will send out part 2 of this hunger blog as part of a series of blogs about experiencing poverty.  Please resend this blog to your contacts.  Thanks.

Jun 112015
 
WTP 2015 photos stills 8

We the People April 2015 Community Visioning in Swannanoa, NC

Click here to read the entire Spring 2015 Newsletter

A Letter from Linda Stout

Dear Friends,

We are at a time of great unrest and unimaginable opportunity. In the words of YES! Magazine, “A new civil rights movement is being born.”

We watch in horror as practices that are ages old are brought to light through new technology like cellphone videos. Savvy young people are drawing increased attention to police brutality, poverty, and a country built on systemic and institutionalized racism.

The outpour of protest seen from Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL to Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond has brought hope that practices targeting and criminalizing African-Americans will be rejected at last.

Young people rallying their generation (and ours) for transformation can take us down a new path where everyone is treated equally and with dignity.

While protests to bring attention to what is happening are critical, this is an issue that requires a long-term solution. We need movement infrastructure in order to organize and build power for long-term and systemic change. Supporting youth leadership development is one vital step. But we must also mobilize for voter registration and voter turnout to elect local officials and government as well as state and national representatives who will be accountable to their communities.

The protests have called for a new level of democratic participation.  In 2016 we have a chance to begin to elect folks at the local level that truly represent people. North Carolina has been referred to as “ground zero” for the 2016 elections, due to changes in demographics and population, a major senatorial and governor race, and state representatives that can turn around repressive policies.

Spirit in Action will be working in collaboration with other state organizations to build a voice for power among disenfranchised people.

Peace, Power and Love,

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

Linda Stout

Executive Director

 

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 252013
 

syd new photo

I am sitting at the dining room table at my sister’s home, watching my 7 year old niece twirling and skipping around the living room, rocking her Asperger’s world with so much joy and grace. She is bold, unfiltered, vibrant and real. I lapse into daydream as I watch her, wondering, what if each of us, regardless of age, ability, class, employment status, race or identity, were able to access the space(s) in our own selves that allow us to move through the myriad twists and turns of life with this pure expression of our power. Can you see it too?

Learning to embrace my power took a lot of exploration, a bottomless pocket of patience and an unwavering commitment to my own healing. My journey has taken me into the nurturing embrace of many healers, connecting and learning from different traditions, practices, experiences and beliefs. Some fit, some didn’t, yet each experience moved me deeper into a more full experience of who I am called to be.

My journey has woven through the ivory halls of academia, circling in and out of the non-profit sector, mentoring young women, working in film production and consulting for socially-responsible finance and philanthropy. The connecting thread however, has been my practice of deepening relationship to Spirit and a softening into my gifts of clairvoyance, mediumship and of being an Empath. These gifts have been a part of who I am at my core since day one, yet it is only in the past few years that I have given myself permission to fully own these gifts as mine – as real, necessary and valid.

Today, I make my living as a healer, building a community-based practice in Los Angeles, Blue Jaguar is Love. I work with people one-on-one and in small groups, helping them to access the spaces within themselves to transform suffering and move into more embodied expressions of wholeness.

The three guiding principles of my healing practice are also the principles that guide my own feet as I walk through life.

1. Healing is possible.

Healing is absolutely possible if we choose it; but we have to practice at our own healing. It is not a linear process. In sixth grade I was determined to learn to play the violin. I had grandiose visions of making jaws drop the moment my bow hit the strings…then I found out I had to practice every day. My heart sank. What I soon discovered was that practice had a sweet side: the more I practiced the better I got and the easier it became. I could then try out new techniques and more difficult music. It wasn’t about being perfect, it was about learning.

Healing is like learning to play the violin. We do learn from teachers outside of ourselves, yet ultimately, it is ourselves to whom we are accountable. Why do you practice? What keeps you focused? What are you working through? When do you choose to walk away? As I learned with my violin journey, the expectation of speedy rewards actually slows us down: it is the process that matters.

Try This: The simple act of breathing is a potential lesson, an opportunity to connect deeper with ourselves, with the world and with Spirit. Begin a daily stillness practice. Start with just one minute to sit still and simply breathe. Notice your inhale and your exhale, say hello to your body as it is right now. What are you feeling? Where are you? Just notice. Call back in all the parts of yourself that you may have left with other people, or in that meeting that went too long, or even in your bed this morning. Call yourself back into yourself. Find your center now in your breath. As your heart slows your mind will follow suit. When you are ready, tack on another minute to your stillness…and then the next day, another minute. Notice what happens. What do you hear when your mind is still? What do you know? The more we practice the easier it becomes to access stillness, inner wisdom and our own personal wholeness. This is healing, one breath at a time.

Coming in Part II: My other two guiding principles and two more exercises for embracing your power.

Stephanie Syd Yang is a coach and co-facilitator of the Standing in Our Power 2013-14 Transformative Leadership Institute.