May 172017
 

Gerrymandering:  Because, why should voters choose their representatives, when representatives can choose the voters?

Imagine North Carolina as a puzzle. Jagged lines are drawn across the map, spreading across counties like greedy fingers and into neighborhoods like silent snakes. North Carolina, and many states across the country, has these oddly shaped voting districts that end up making impossible puzzles of themselves. In most states, politicians have control over how they draw the maps that separate voters into districts. This essentially means that they have control over who votes for them, they draw maps that make it virtually impossible to lose, and they strengthen or weaken the power of specific groups of people. This process is infamously called Gerrymandering.

The voting districts of North Carolina have always been politically contested, but there is growing people-power working across bipartisan lines to support the drawing of fair electoral maps. We are making progress.

In a recent partnership with Democracy North Carolina, we have joined a statewide coalition to campaign for fair maps in our state. Democracy NC has shared with us the data and in turn we have shared our experiences and connections in the county. Many statewide campaigns have had success doing traditional canvassing in middle class, urban or suburban areas, but North Carolina is a low-income and rural state. So we combined our low-income, rural organizing models with Democracy North Carolina’s research and materials.  We incorporated their data, and they incorporated our language and knowledge of turf.

Four of us got together Saturday, April 29th at the Swannanoa Library. We started with a training about what Gerrymandering is, what it does, and how it hurts democracy. We then asked the group if anyone was from the area, and went over a brief introduction to the area. We talked about the industry that has come and gone, the class and cultural shifts over the years, and described the physical terrain of the area. We explained that we would be walking on roads without streetlights, without sidewalks, and with plenty of dogs running loose. We reviewed the materials that we would be sharing in the community, and made sure they were understandable. We spent extra time on the postcard we were giving to neighbors. The postcards include space for people to write their personal information on a petition to send to legislators urging them to support fair electoral maps (click here to download the postcard for your own use). We then did a role-play of knocking on a door, to familiarize people with the process.

Source – Democracy NC

Two pairs of us went up parallel streets stemming out from the library. Over the course of two hours, we met several dozen community members. Out of everyone we spoke with, only two people declined to sign a postcard. People became very interested when they heard it was a nonpartisan issue, and that there was legislation in the North Carolina Legislature supporting the possibility of fair maps. I was particularly inspired by the few folks who had never heard of the issue before, but became passionate through our materials and conversations, and signed a postcard to their representative.

The more public support we can get behind an issue, the more likelihood we have to change policy. It might sound like a small event on Saturday April 29th, but it enlivens and awakens the public perception and outcry about equal access to representation. If we win fair representation, we are all the more likely to win on issues we care about. Gerrymandering sits uniquely positioned as an issue that is the key to unlocking our ability to hold representatives accountable for their decisions on behalf of their constituents.

We are planning several more canvassing dates around this issue. Stay tuned with us and Democracy North Carolina to learn about canvassing opportunities! This project will impact the 2020 elections immensely. And as we’ve seen in the past, the ability to have equal access for North Carolinians at the ballot box has a huge impact on national elections. We are moving our state and country forward when we fight for fair maps.  To become involved contact us.

Update 05/24/17 – Since posting this blog, the SCOTUS has agreed that North Carolina has gerrymandered districts along racial lines – SCOTUS Blog and Reuters.

Lia 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 Bachelor’s 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.

Sep 202016
 

It’s really hard to have a positive outlook or hope with all that’s happening in the world today: political chaos, hate, violence, environmental disaster, and a list much too long to write here.  And worse, it seems that people are feeding off all this hatred and chaos and it continues to grow, taking over everything else, like a vine that consumes and strangles a tree’s life.  Sometimes it gets so discouraging, that I, like many others I know, just want to bury my head in the sand like an ostrich.

I could ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening.  I can dream about moving out of the country if things get worse.  Many people are talking about that.

However, that is not what I’m here to do in this lifetime.  I am here to create transformative change in my community, my state, my country and my world, and I hope you are too.

For me to do that, I have to bring vision and hope – both to myself and others.  To do this I begin with dreaming, with visioning about what I want the world to look like.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. 

Fred Pollack, a well-known Jewish Dutch historian who went into hiding during World War II, used that time to study 3000 years of civilizations to understand what made some societies flourish, while others self-destructed.  He found through his research that only those that held a vision of the future of their society were the ones that thrived and succeeded.  Those that didn’t hold a vision turned to violence, war, and eventually self-destruction.

He concluded that a society’s image of itself becomes a roadmap for its future.  He wrote, “Those societies with positive and vital images flourish while those with uninspired images stagnate.”  He added, “We found the positive image of the future at work in every instance of the flowering of culture, and weakened images of the future as a primary factor in the decay of cultures.” [The Image of the Future, Fred Polak, translated and abridged by Elise Boulding, Jossey-Bass, Inc. 1973 (p.800)]

Why have we become a society lacking vision and hope for a much better world?  Here are some quotations that inspire me:

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT”.  – Abraham Lincoln

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” – John F. Kennedy

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”, and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Ultimately leadership is about the strength of one’s convictions, the ability to endure the punches, and the energy to promote an idea. And I have found that those who do achieve peace never acquiesce to obstacles, especially those constructed of bigotry, intolerance and inflexible tradition.” – Benazir Bhutto – Former Prime Minister of Pakistan

Although all of these people gave their lives for their beliefs and their visions, they still inspire generations after them.

While I am motivated by these amazing, brave visionaries, I realize having a “leader” is NOT enough.  We can’t wait on one person to step up and take leadership and tell us what we need to do.  We all have to “shout from the mountaintops.”  We need to join together, create a collective vision, and work together to bring hope to a community, a state, a nation, the world.

We begin by looking for the seeds of hope around us.  There are lots.  Think of each one as an acorn (I have some on my vision altar), and then imagine it as a seed of hope growing into the largest oak tree you have ever seen.  We need to start planting now, wherever we are.

What is the barrier to visioning and creating a world that is just and beautiful?  For most people, it is lack of time, commitment, or money.  Sometimes, we’re not strategic about how we work for transformation and get caught up in the minutiae without a long-term vision to keep us on the right path.

I want to invite you to do three things.

  1. First, figure out what you would need to be able to commit 2-4 hours to social change a week.  Could it be not scrolling mindlessly through social media sites, or not watching a couple hours of television one night just to escape the burdens and reality of everyday life?  Many of us are devoting most of our time to making change, but I often hear from people they just don’t have time to make a two- hour meeting, or to go out in the community to canvass and educate neighbors, or drive people to the polls.
  2. Share this blog and webinar invitation for a visioning webinar with other friends and allies.  Have conversations with others.
  3. Figure out how you can support other organizations doing this work.  Can you give up that $3 coffee each day? Or $50 on eating out each week? Or just figure out $5 a week that you could squeeze from your budget.

And remember, it is critical for those doing this work all the time, to devote some time to self-care, whether spiritual or singing or writing poetry or spending time in nature.  This gives us the ability to dream and work for social change.  Yet, many think they are too busy to even do this basic piece by caring for ourselves first.

I invite you to join me on a webinar on October 5, 7pm – 8pm EST (4pm – 5pm PST)  to explore this type of visioning and creating hope for yourself and others. [Click Here to Sign UP]  Hope is contagious and we need to create an epidemic of it in this country.  We’ve done it before.  Now more than ever, it’s important to our survival, both at an individual level and a world level.

If you can’t make this webinar, let us know if you are interested in another date, and we will set another time up as well.

Jun 142016
 
Voting 101 in North Carolina

Voting 101 in North Carolina

Click here to read the entire Summer 2016 Newsletter.

Dear Friends,

North Carolina has been in the national news a lot lately. Passing the nation’s worst voter suppression law, it eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ended straight-ticket voting, and scrapped a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day. It also included the nation’s strictest voter ID requirement.

Here’s how the law affected me in the last primary election. Before I could vote, the poll monitor required me to hand over my ID. He scrutinized it with great care and at great length. Then he put my ID face down on the table with his hand covering it and demanded to know what the address is on my license. Next he wanted to know my license number. Now, I don’t know about you, but telling someone my address is no problem, but I haven’t memorized my license number. But neither of those questions should have been asked in the first place.

I moved home to North Carolina at just the right time, since this state is considered “ground zero” in this election year and reflects the political shift that is going on in our country. After spending two years listening to low-income community members, culminating in a community visioning gathering, there were three major issues they identified as critical: jobs and wages, healthcare and education.

Here’s why. Our minimum wage is $7.25, way below poverty level. This wage is less than half of what is needed to provide a living wage that would afford people basic necessities. Instead, one out of four children in North Carolina goes to bed hungry.

In healthcare, North Carolina’s legislature rejected federal money that would have expanded the program to cover a half million of the state’s lowest-income adults. Innocent people are dying – five to seven people every day, week in and week out, year after year.

Education is a critical issue because while state lawmakers found the funds to create a voucher system for private schools, they reduced the number of openings in the state’s highly successful pre-K program for at-risk children. They ended tenure for public school teachers, abolished teachers’ supplemental pay for advanced degrees, and eliminated thousands of teachers and teachers’ assistants. Lawmakers failed to include even a token pay raise for teachers. (Since 2008, teachers have received a 1.2 percent raise.) Adjusted for inflation and a growing state population, 2014 education appropriations are more than a half billion dollars less than in 2008. By the end of the coming year, North Carolina will drop to 47th or 48th in pupil expenditures and teacher pay.

Other headline news you should know – gender-specific bathrooms are only one part of the HB2 bill recently passed by the legislature. Referred to as the “bathroom bill,” our state government is creating fear among many people about non-existent public safety issues in bathrooms. But there is much more to HB2 than this critical issue, and it affects workers’ rights.

The state now has the power to keep minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, and makes it impossible for cities or counties to create their own minimum wage. You can now be fired for your age, religion, ethnicity, etc. and are not able to sue your employer in a North Carolina court to get your job back. Finally, you cannot sue in North Carolina, but you can sue federally. That means it takes more time and money. It is so difficult to do that it makes it impossible for people without extra time and money on their hands.

It’s easy to live in a progressive area where you don’t have to fear for the work you do or who you are. But I know my work is needed here in North Carolina more than ever. And I believe we can really make change!

So, one of the things our local project, We the People: Working Together, is doing this year is training leaders, working to train poll monitors, and creating statewide popular education voter materials. We’re encouraging people to vote, even when it’s uncomfortable. It may be that the Supreme Court doesn’t think the Voting Rights Act is necessary anymore, but I can tell you from “ground zero” that its loss is having a huge impact.

Spirit in Action has joined with Democracy NC and Blueprint NC, as one of 41 non-profit, non-partisan groups working together across issues and racial lines to advance equity and social justice in North Carolina.

We are especially focusing our work in organizing in trailer parks. Trailers make up 14 percent of all North Carolina-occupied homes and most are low-income. We are having a lot of success reaching folks because we know how to talk to people. We don’t just canvas. We ask people for their opinions and we listen to them. We discuss the critical issues – jobs and wages, healthcare and education– and what’s in people’s hearts. That is real civic engagement work at ground zero, and that’s why I am in North Carolina.

Peace, Power and Love

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

 

Linda Stout
Executive Director

 

 

Dec 152015
 

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

Over the last year, I attended two dynamic national conferences: one called “Creating Change,” which included more than 4,000 LGBTQ activists and organizers across the country working on multiple issues that affect disenfranchised people, and another dealing with building power through voter engagement. I was both surprised and gratified to find that the young people, who had gone through Spirit in Action trainings years ago, were now middle-aged leaders or speakers at the conferences.  Many of them are heading up successful national and regional organizations and networks.

I shouldn’t have been surprised because I know that Spirit in Action is an incubator, empowering hundreds of people to work in a more heart-based, sustainable way.  They have picked up the mantle of working in a different way and spread it across the country:  “Changing the way we do change,” by operating from a place of heart and vision.

This is the greatest accomplishment we have made in helping build a truly transformative movement for social change creating new leaders who will continue to carry on our work.

We continue to work with young leaders – many just out of college who want to work for social justice and make a difference in the world. Language like transformative change, visioning and other ways of building collaboratives have taken off.   Now it’s not just us talking about it, but lots of organizations, trainers and foundations.

And, like everyone, we continue to see things get worse and more attention given to the symptoms rather than the deeper social problems causing the issues in the first place.

My organizing in North Carolina has historically centered around issues of poverty, including civic engagement at every step. By building political power and educating our low-income constituency, we made significant, systemic changes both locally and nationally.  Because we organized in this way year round, we were able to register and get out the vote to more than 44,000 people and had more than 90 percent voter turnout!  This is the kind of civic engagement work that Spirit in Action wants to train others to do.  It requires long-term organizing and support in order to be sustainable.

In another area of concentrated poverty, a small “hole in the donut” community surrounded by wealth, not only did it take about 20 years to win all the things they wanted for their community, but they moved beyond their original vision. When our work started here, most community members were not registered to vote.  With concerted and consistent grassroots organizing efforts, we obtained a 98 percent voter turnout.

This community now works with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to host a national conference to show other poor communities how they successfully won a complete transformation of their community. Not only did we change policies that affected people both nationally and locally, but we kept people engaged in organizing, holding elected officials accountable and making major changes in their communities.

At Spirit in Action, we continue to focus on development of collaborations, organizations and leaders, particularly with those younger, 20-something leaders.   Out of our networks and trainings have grown large, national organizations; other networks like Standing in Our Power or the Progressive Communicators Network; as well as national, regional and local leaders.  We will be working more in the future offering webinars and remote training.  We are continuing to work with low-income white people to identify what messages reach them and get them to understand and get involved in issues that affect their lives.

None of this can continue to happen without your help and financial support.  Please consider a generous gift as we embark into this important year of building civic engagement projects with low-income people.

Peace, Power and Love

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

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

 

Apr 142015
 

By Amanda Citro and Caroline Duble

We the People: Working Together is Spirit in Action’s newest research and organizing initiative.  Our goal is to engage low-income and working-class people in grassroots organizing and to empower communities to take charge of the issues that affect them!  We’ve been conducting a listening project in Swannanoa, North Carolina over the past year and have interviewed over 100 people about their love of this community and about their shared concerns.  Written from the point of view of two Spirit in Action interns, Caroline and Amanda, this blog post highlights of the amazing work of an important group in the Swannanoa community, The Welcome Table.  Read more about the vision and progress of We the People on our website dedicated to this initiative.

Caroline and I arrived at a local food bank early on a Tuesday morning, just before the sun had come up.  We were there to meet with Beth Schultz and Jackie Kitchen, two tireless community members, to help them pick up food to cook for the weekly Welcome Table.  The Welcome Table is a community gathering and free meal that is held every Wednesday at the Swannanoa United Methodist Church.  

As we ran around trying to keep up with the food gathering, it was amazing to see how efficiently Beth and Jackie were able to plan meals while sorting.  They moved with so much energy and enthusiasm, reflected in their clear dedication to Swannanoa.  It was easy to see that they had been doing this for a long time, and worked well as a team.  It’s hard to describe in words how genuinely caring these women are, but one example might illustrate this: As Beth was sorting through the bread, I noticed that she was giving some of the best breads to a man from Loving Food Resources (another organization that provides food pantry services).  She told me, “We’ve been shopping together for so long that we know what the other person wants.  So, now we help each other shop!”   This eager, community-oriented attitude is inspiring and makes everyone want to be a part of it.

After shopping at the food bank, we headed back to the church and helped haul in the groceries.  Because it was Tuesday, we rushed to unpack for the food pantry along with other regular volunteers, who all seemed to know each other well, laughing and joking.  Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Jackie and Beth were busy preparing food for the Welcome Table meal the next day.  Despite the hectic environment, I was able to ask Beth a few questions about the Welcome Table and her role there. She mentioned that she had been working to prepare food for the Welcome Table for eight years, after moving to Swannanoa from Japan.  She also mentioned that she had lived all over the world but was drawn to the beauty of the Swannanoa community.  Finding Welcome Table and the Methodist Church provides her with the type of community she always looks for.  I was also able to talk to Jackie for a few moments.  She has so many amazing ideas to improve Swannanoa, including community gardens, a food co-op, affordable housing and more community events.

The following week we were both able to attend the meal at the Welcome Table and see the fruits of all the volunteers’ work.  While we helped to serve, we noticed people all around the room meeting up with old friends and checking in with them.  As community members dined on chicken and pinto beans, a colorful salad, and delicious desserts, we observed how joyful the entire event was. There was a strong sense of community in the familiar and comfortable way people work and eat together at the Welcome Table, and we both felt glad to spend time with such positive and kind people.

We the People is rapidly picking up speed in Swannanoa. As we continue to listen to community members, collaborate with community organizations like Welcome Table, and prepare for a community gathering and potluck, we are seeing interest in the project increase. Stay tuned for more updates from Swannanoa!

  • Beth and Jackie prepare a meal at he Food Bank

 

 

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
 

unnamed-2

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: