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Leadership Development

Nov 202017
 

Voice Vision Action

Click here to read the entire Fall 2017 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Do you feel like burying your head in the sand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, power and love,

 

 

Linda Stout
Executive Director

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!

Nov 102014
 

01.sia logo_webIf you are like me, there are a few dozen things (or more!) that feel like they need our urgent attention. I could work full-time on the many different issues that pull at me. All seem equally necessary and critical. I know that if I could put all my time and resources into it, it might make a difference. But how do I decide? (continue reading by downloading our fall newsletter)

Dec 102013
 

In-These-Times-01linda-blog-imageFor In These Times’ December 2013 cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, the magazine asked a number of politically savvy people, younger and older, to respond to an essay by 22-year-old Occupy activist Matthew Richards in which he grapples with what the movement meant and whether Occupy’s unfulfilled promises are a lost cause or the seeds of the different world whose promise he glimpsed two years ago. Here is Linda Stout’s response.

After reading Matthew Richards essay, I was disappointed that he felt hopeless and felt he had to wait until the United States was “far less hostile to change.” He says “Now that I’ve already done my best to fix the world and it didn’t work, I am at peace with the fact that it is no longer my job and won’t be again for a few more generations to come”. Richards hated the song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer, but that’s exactly what he’s decided to do.

Having been involved in activism for more than 40 years—one of the old guard of activists—and having spent most of my life working for justice, I think we need to look at history. The United States is not going to get less hostile if we sit “waiting for the world to change.” Corporate control will become even stronger than it is even today.

I don’t know if anyone who has experienced a period of “normalcy” in U.S. history. From the time this country was invaded by Europeans, we have been a country of repression and violence; against Native Americans, women, people of color, non-Christians, etc. In the Labor Movement of the early decades of the1900’s, many people were killed, shot down by the military and others, while working for a better life for all. Military tanks rolled thru our streets in the small mill towns throughout the south, shutting down protesters thru intimidation, repression and killing massacres. In spite of that, the movement continued.

During the Civil Rights era, repression was at its worst. Churches used as organizing space were blown up, one with four little girls in it. Leaders were shot, jailed for weeks and months, and attacked by mobs, FBI, military, police, dogs and fire hoses. Meeting spaces like Highlander in Tennessee—–a center for labor unions and later for the civil rights movement—was confiscated by the state of Tennessee and later burned to the ground. More than 40 deaths were attributed to the repression of civil rights protesters, but people continued to work for civil rights even when as late as 1979 five more people were massacred in Greensboro, N.C.

During the VietNam protest people were jailed, tear gassed, and the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four unarmed college students and wounded nine, one permanently paralyzed.

Occupy was a positive event, even though it didn’t turn into a full blown, sustainable movement. As a multi-generational movement, many young people became involved and have stayed involved through other organizations they connected with in Occupy. My organization, Spirit in Action, worked with thousands of people to learn how to use “collective visioning” to dream of the world they wanted to create, look for common ground and then create a long term—3-to-20-years—strategic plan to move toward their positive vision. Collective visioning is a positive, solution-based focus that advances our goals. And yes, political strategy, organization and discipline are key to building a sustainable and lasting movement.

As for 99% being the perfect message, it was a message that got a lot of media attention. But it missed reaching some of the most important potential allies we needed to understand the message. In my conservative, Tea Party family reunion, they were all talking about the protesters (Occupiers) who were tearing America apart. When I asked if they understood what 99% meant, none of them did. As I explained and told them this was how people were fighting for our own self interest as poor people, my aunt looked at me, and said, “Well, it’s not a very good message if no one understands it, is it?” I had to agree with her.

Hopelessness is our biggest enemy. It causes people like Richards to give up and think they’ve done all they could. To hold a vision of the future and work toward that vision step by step, even when it’s one step forward, two steps backwards sometimes, is the strongest, most positive thing we can do.

I spend most of my time working with young people to help them become the future leaders of our movements for social change. I see so much potential, determination, strength and most of all hope. This belief in the younger generation is what gives me hope for our future.

This article was reposted from In These Times.’ To view origional posting click here- http://inthesetimes.com/article/15926/hopelessness_is_our_biggest_enemy/.

Jul 282013
 

making a cultural shift2

I just wrote my new 15 year vision.  I had created a 13 year vision back in 2007 for the year 2020.  But, now I need a new one because almost everything in that vision has been accomplished.  My new vision begins with “it is July 2028 and I am 75 years old.”  I went on to say what I was doing currently, what I had accomplished in the past 15 years and how I was doing it.  I am excited to begin this next journey by reflecting on my accomplishments, and with a renewed vision in partnership with my Spirit in Action team.

I want to share a story of visioning with a group I’ve been involved with since spring of 2006.  The most exciting thing about this work is that it has been with young people.  This month, at a national education conference, several young adult leaders came running up and hugging me. Only after looking at their name tags did I recognize them from the young people I had lead visioning with back in 2006.  The first year working with Kids Rethinking New Orleans Schools — the summer after Katrina — we began with a vision of the schools and world they wanted to create 25 years into the future.  One of the young boys said “this is only just pretend!”  I agreed.  It was just pretend, unless we created a roadmap and action plan to get there.  Now, that young man is one of the leaders working with the current group of “Rethinkers” in developing this year’s curriculum and co-leading the 6 week program this summer.  The dreams the young people had that first year, and subsequent years have been astounding.  They have had victories around every annual visioning project they have done.  Last year they made a video about visioning and the impact it has had on their work.

Has their collective visioning worked?  They have had multiple victories.  One such victory around changing the cafeteria food policies in their schools is shown in an Emmy nominated HBO documentary called “Weight of the Nation: The Great Cafeteria Takeover” starring the Rethink students.  They were able to take on Aramark, a multi-national corporation that serves cafeteria food to two and one half million children across the United States and the Rethinkers succeeded!  They have not won everything they want, at least not yet, but they now have their foot in the door and are holding these powerful people accountable to what they promised.

rethink draw

What does all this have to do with cultural shift?  First, the idea of beginning with a collective vision – focusing on what we want to create rather than what we are against – is the most important step in creating real, successful, and sustainable change.  Second, strong voices and accountability can make change – even with large multi-national corporations.  Three, sitting in circle and building relationships are a critical part of developing trust, hearing each other and creating change.  Four, taking action on the vision we create leads to victories.  Five, giving young people the knowledge and empowering them to speak for themselves create our leaders of the present, as well as for the future.

So, visioning has everything to do with creating cultural shift.  Starting with vision provides us a positive grounding to work from.  It supports us to look for solutions and ways to get there.  It also inspires ourselves and others to keep motivated toward that vision even during times where we feel hopeless and ready to give up.  In a society where we’ve grown up focusing on the problems and what’s wrong, shifting to a positive vision approach can be challenging at first, but once you have participated in this process, you will never want to go back.  It builds trust, collective power, hope, and joy.  It sets us on a path toward winning on the issues we are working on.  Collective Visioning helps us create a different culture in the way we do our work that is sustainable, supportive, and achievable.

To learn more about how to lead a collective vision process within your own group or organization, go to https://spiritinaction.net/toolkit/   to download a free copy of Occupy the Present, Change the Future: A Collective Visioning Guide, or if you prefer a full  understanding of how to set up diverse groups, prepare and lead collective visioning with exercises and examples, order a copy Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future.  Feel free to use the comment section below for any questions or ideas you have (we would especially like to hear your thoughts if you have participated in collective visioning in the past).  We would love to hear from you and will respond.

Jun 272013
 

making a cultural shift2

How do we embrace the challenges that we face today as well as tomorrow’s promises? To do this we must lead with hope and optimism, with vision.

If we really want to create change in the world, it begins with “me” — with [insert your name].

We are all leaders although some may be playing many different roles. Some lead in the front, some within, and some lead while following. But unless we are leading in the way that is grounded in our values and leads by the example of what we are trying to build, we aren’t able to create the change we want.

We’ve all heard Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” But have we truly explored and understand what this means for us – especially what it means for you?

We come from a reactive culture that is fixated on problem solving. We examine problems and work to fix them. What would it look like to live proactively into only thinking about solutions? To live into what we are creating, what we want, being the change we wish to see.

Before you pass this idea off as to Pollyannaish, unrealistic, or just too woo-woo, let me share a recent experience I had. I was accepted and sponsored to attend the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in a year- long program called “Deep Dive Leadership.”

Out of 60+ people, I am the only social change activist in the group. Others head up or hold high positions within large, multi-national corporations, banks, and hospitals. Many of the companies were names I recognized.

In our first week, we were learning about visioning, mindfulness, and how to lead from a positive, relationship-based place. So why was I in a group of business people learning things that I already knew about, believed in and worked for in my years of training? Because these business leaders have figured out it is the most effective way to lead – to work in balance. To lead with hope has now been “proven,” through years of scientific research and studies, to be the most successful and the most profitable. They have proven that the mindful and hopeful leadership approach is the way to win!

So why should we care about the “proof?” It was interesting and affirming for me to see brain scans and data of leaders who begin to think and work in a different way. It was fascinating to learn about how much more effective you can be by incorporating these practices into your leadership and to hear how companies have been able to turn around and increase their productivity multiple times.

My real interest, however, is how do we start to work this way, to be the change we want to see within the social justice movement? How do we learn to inspire hope and action in the majority of people? How do we reach beyond the choir to create a force of power with which no amount of money can contend?

What I learned in that first week of training is that real change begins with me – with you. Until we can embrace our own visions, our own ability to work from a visionary and relationship-based place, we can’t teach others. And to be successful we have to change the way we lead.

I want to bring you with me on this journey of learning and will continue to write monthly blogs as I dig deeply within myself as a leader and learn how to be more effective and more powerful.

In my first week of being home, I have crafted out time to do a year-long workplan to prioritize and instead of trying to move forward with the belief I have to do it ALL, figure out what I will “Do, Delegate, Delay or Delete”. I am working to assess what I can do excellently, while keeping the balance of health, love, play and mindfulness in my life. This is one step for me to become a better leader. What is yours?

Making a Cultural Shift Exercise #3:

Take time to reflect on yourself as a leader. Are you trying to do it all? Are you working with balance in your life? Are your staff and/or co-workers inspired and excited about working with you? Do you bring the best out of those you work with? Are you happy and inspired in the work you do? If not, it is time to take stock and look at ways to change your leadership.

Below I have listed the first book that we are working from that is about emotional intelligence, relationships, and sustaining your effectiveness.  It is filled with exercises that help you evaluate yourself as a leader from many different perspectives.  It also helps you prepare and develop a 15 year vision for yourself.  I recommend reading and working the exercises in this book as a first step in becoming the leader you want to be.

Becoming a Resonant Leader, by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis, Frances Johnston, Harvard Business Press

Becoming a Resonant Leader resonates with the basic leadership truth that when we have the courage to reach for our personal dreams, we also inspire those we lead with a vision of optimism and hope.  There is nothing more powerful than leaders who let their passion shine through.”

Andrea Jung, CEO, Avon Products Inc

 

 

 

Apr 242013
 

As I write this morning, I’m struck by the contradictions in our lives.  I look out at the beautiful Cherry and Red Bud trees in full bloom and celebrate with joy the coming Spring.  I look at the news and feel overwhelmed with images of bombs, guns, people hurting, and the ongoing onslaught of violence and hatred in our country.

I am so excited about work we’ve been able to accomplish in Spirit in Action this past year.  Our dynamic work includes building powerful networks, helping make changes in communities and organizations, building trust and bridges between groups who often don’t work together, and creating leaders of the future.  Unfortunately, such tremendous organizational strides have been counter-balanced with struggles and sufferings of the people we work with, staff overload of work, and the pressure of facing decreasing funding as we try to do more and more work.

So how do we continue to hold hope and determination to move forward in the face of all that is so hard?  How do we counter the huge forces with billions of dollars that are working successfully at undoing the steps we have made toward justice over our lifetimes?

I believe it is possible.  It is also imperative.  And, counter to some thinking, I don’t believe it is too late. 

Although we have many progressive groups actively working for justice, there are an increasing number of people who are disheartened.  This disillusionment stems from a place of mis-information and mis-education in addition to oppression and poverty, which leads to hopelessness and lack of civic engagement that would improve people’s lives.    It is up to us to reach this group of disenfranchised population.  Research shows us that the majority of these folks also share values that coincide with ours.   But to reach these people requires a major cultural shift in how we think about our approach and the messaging in our work.

We must also strive to address the whole:  mind, body and spirit.  This requires holding hope, love, and joy while we work to create a world that is equitable, just and sustainable.  It means “walking our talk” and living into the future we want to create.

Today’s Exercise:

For us to do this work and bring people into our work for positive change, we ourselves must seek balance and joy in our own lives in order to create a future that works for all. 

I can hear some readers asking “how can I do that?  How can we hold that balance?” 

For today, just take some time to be grateful for the beauty around you and to others who support and give love to you.  Take deep breaths and connect to what inspires you on a day to day basis.  Remember when and why you first started working for justice.  Try this practice every day this month for 5 minutes when you wake up.  Notice what difference it makes in how your work takes on new meaning.

In the following month this year, I will include a blog giving ideas and exercises toward making the cultural shift on how to reach beyond the choir and build our base to include others we don’t usually think of as part of our movement but who are natural allies.  You will learn about a new approach or how to do one thing differently that will make your work more successful in reaching others.   

Mar 282013
 

As I took a seat in the circle of chairs, I entered a welcoming space to speak my heart, bear witness and make meaning of the hurdles in my life. Reflecting now on the many women’s circles I’ve participated in and led, I recognize that the practice of Circle has shaped my understanding of how to build a radically democratic, inclusive community. I believe that a missing link in today’s organizing is the gift that circle process offers–a form that supports the wisdom of the collective to arise, honoring all voices as equal.

With respect to women’s history month, I acknowledge feminist leaders of the 1960s and 1970s who employed consciousness-raising circles as a potent form of political action. Sharing individual stories enabled women to identify how sexism and misogyny impacted their lives while also providing a structure for support. Today’s feminist groups such as www.everydayfeminism.com offer invaluable online resources to understand the specificities and connections between all forms of oppression. But I’m hungry for some old-school consciousness raising…and perhaps you are too.  Check out Spirit in Action’s Circles of Change Guide to gain practical tools for cultivating social justice with people in your neighborhood, organization or community group!

Download Excerpt of SIA’s Circles of Change Guide

We selected 10 pages from Spirit in Action’s Circles of Change Guide that we are offering to you as part of  our community. This excerpt focuses on the power of circles and provides tools for creating these intentional spaces. The excerpt is rich with insights, stories and exercises that can support your community and movement building work. To download your excerpt click on the image to the right. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Spirit in Action if you have questions or would like a copy of the complete Circles of Change Guide.

Mar 282013
 

The Progressive Communicators Network (PCN) and Standing in Our Power (SiOP), two networks organized by Spirit in Action, are teaming up to bring a dynamic one-day skill-building event to women of color leaders in New York City on Saturday, April 27th at Hostos Community College in the Bronx.

We’ll bring women of color leaders who are on the frontlines working for racial justice, gender justice, and economic justice for a day of networking and communications skill-building.

Workshop sessions are in development. They include:

• How effective is your website?

• Creative social action — actions that get attention

• Building relationships with reporters

This is based on PCN’s Be the Media! mini-conferences that have been hosted in Boston for seven years. We’re eager to bring this successful model to New York City for our local social justice community.

To help get folks there, we’ll be offering childcare, Spanish-language translation and a low registration fee ($40 per person).

A committee of leaders from the Progressive Communicators Network and Standing in Our Power are setting the agenda and carrying out the event.

Spirit in Action