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

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
 

Linda Stout

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

 

Aug 142013
 

nitika blog2
Some days I love to write. Most days writing loves me back. Some days I hate to write. I want to share with you my story, but it is a hard story to re-tell. I don’t want to repeat facts with a stone on my heart, because they are heavy words to disperse. But I also don’t want to hide the story, because it is not shame that holds me back, but my own powerful self that is rooted in the current moment, one that does not look back.

“It’s true”

At Resource Generation where I work with young people of color with wealth, we have a tradition: when someone gives you a compliment, you have to respond with “It’s true”. I find a lot of women, and a lot of women of color, often deflect praise. Truly absorbing and receiving what we hear is difficult.

When people in my life share their reflections of me, I often hear the words: fabulous, strong, inspiring, brave, bold, joyful, sexy, divine, and full of life. (I also hear stubborn, funny, fierce, wise and committed). It’s TRUE! One thing I want to ask of all women of color, of all people whose divine power has been systematically suppressed, is to join me in believing.

 #1 Have faith in your own radiance.

How we tell our stories matters

Each of us is living many stories – our own individual life, our ancestry, our history, and all the identities that result from having a body; age, gender, class, dis/ability, nationality, immigration status and so forth. Then there are significant life experiences that shape us – trauma, spirituality, abuse, illness… the variabilities of being alive in the world at this time.

How does one tell a story of overcoming trauma and squeezing through life’s many breaking points, without the portrayal of self as victim at some point(s)? To stand in my power, in each re-telling, I have no desire to keep deconstructing my experiences, to keep analyzing my family of origin, or to keep grieving losses.

In each telling, let it serve the need of your current moment – to heal, to connect, to break silence, to share, to share pride, to vent, to reflect, or to let go. You don’t have to tell your story to serve what other people want from you.

 #2 Tell your story for YOU.

Social Justice / Swimming Pool

Do you ever hear the words “social justice”, or “racial justice”, “economic justice”, or “the movement” and have absolutely no feelings? That happens to me quite often. These days my eyes glaze over, and I suddenly picture myself jumping into a swimming pool.

When I hear the word “trauma,” I get quiet and my heart feels heavy. The opposite of standing in our power must be stripping us of our power. When that terrible thing happens to a human being, or groups of human beings or entire nations, we call that trauma.

As women of color, we have been forced to de-emotionalize our traumas, so that we are not called “crazy”, irrational, or overly sensitive. For our own survival, women have been forced to quieten/not listen or respond to what’s happening in our bodies. For the many survivors of violence who are women, we have learned to escape, to separate body from spirit from mind, in order to live through the experiences to even have the option of healing.

From what I understand, social justice is about the world getting to a place where it’s truly just for all people. But to know that it’s unjust, you have to hear from the people to whom injustice is done. But if we only tell the “facts” and we cannot identify our needs because it is not safe to feel into our bodies, then how will we open ourselves to truths that fill out a more complete picture? We can’t. We must create spaces where we can both tell the facts and let out the emotions of our traumas and truths.

 #3 The truth-telling of women of color is an eternal fire. Eventually, it burns and cleanses all of us and those around us.

To validate our full selves, we must believe and support one another, and to use women of color spaces to amplify our voice and visibility.

Spirituality

This is a magical power. Our spirit is the center of hope, interconnection, and a source of creativity and bliss. These are the components of true power – the kind that builds connection through love and acceptance. It is similar to maternal love, that source of unconditional loving unique to one who has the divine honor of being a gateway to new life. We do not create life, we simply create space for it to pass through us to take visible form in the world.

#4 Women are goddesses.

Connecting to the spirit level requires prayer, an intentional tapping into that larger power. Pray in whatever way is right for you: pray in silence, pray to music, pray with your body, dance, do yoga, do what is accessible to you that moves your heart in sync with your spirit.

nitika3

#5 Pray your way.

A spiritual community will hold you like no other. Elements of a spiritual community are: a) operating from a place of eternal love and non-judgment, b) caring about the whole person, not just about what they can do or what you are trying to do together, c) singing, dancing, meditation – practices that center and align our spirits, d) sharing good food! e) providing space to share delights as well as grief, f) reading and collective learning from a shared text – whatever has been powerful and grounding , from fiction novels to quotes to Audre Lorde.

We have to bring our whole selves to our social justice work, including our sacred ways of being and doing.

 #6 Build a spiritual community, be a part of a community of faith.

One version of my story

My parents were born in the mid-1950’s, in newly independent India post British colonization. Both were raised poor/working class; they had a traditional arranged marriage. Free local education led to upward class mobility, and joining the professional middle class. They migrated to Kuwait in the late 70’s where I was raised, and was sexually abused until the Gulf War, when our living situation changed. (The violence in my life ended, only to be replaced with the violence that happens in war – to people of all genders and ages). Fast-forward. In 2000 I moved to the U.S., studied computer science, found that the men in my department sexually harassed the few women (10%) in the program. I joined anti-violence work on campus. I went to get a masters in social work, then got married, realized I was queer, came out, and my family confronted the man who had abused me, my uncle. My parents in the meantime had started a business, gotten rich, paid for my undergraduate and graduate education. I got divorced, got a job, found out I have endometriosis, and have become eternally committed to working for equal dignity for all people. Now I live in New York, where I am happy and in love with God, and also with my life and all the people in it.

Another version of my story, on days when I don’t have the energy to tell it all, or days when I know it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s the past and it’s not Now.

All that happened was meant to be. I learned a lot from it, about how to stand in my truth first, and then to stand in my power. Now if only we can keep standing in love as we work for justice, it will all be okay. The path will not end in peace if the process is not gentle.

#7 To have a peaceful life, it really helps to make peace with your family of origin.

And healing takes time. To live is to heal, and to heal is to become a phoenix. We burn our old self and renew our life. Spiritual growth is being open to all the ways of loving and living, and letting go. If this is how we are living, we are leading lives centered in spirit and in integrity with the world.

#8 Healing is inevitable.

When i lived in You

When i lived in Beauty

i smiled easily and often

When i lived in Truth

i became bolder and kinder

When i lived in Love

it gave me pleasure to give

And so,

Beauty, Truth and Love came to live in me.

#9 To be a leader is to be your own true self.