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Jun 172019
 

This is the third part of a three-part series on storytelling and community organizing.

I often tell people that while I grew up in poverty, I also grew up with wealth – a richness of many generations of my family history.  Unlike so many people who have had their family histories destroyed or lost through slavery, genocide or assimilation, I grew up knowing the stories of my family – 13 generations, in fact.  

I didn’t realize until I was an adult how valuable – and comparatively rare – knowing this long history is.  It gave me a sense of belonging, even when, as the daughter of a farmworker, socially I was considered a “nobody.”  It gave me a sense of values, knowing stories of my family members standing up for injustice.  It gave me community. It taught me lessons.

Penelope Stout was the first of our family to come to this land in the 1600s and was my 10th great-grandmother.  When her ship landed, their group was attacked by Native Americans defending their home, leaving her severely injured.  Two Native Americans found Penelope near death and took her into their community where they nursed her back to health.   She remained friends with them for the rest of her life.  Penelope’s children were the first Stouts from our family born on this continent.   

The Stouts were Dissenters from the Church of England in the mid-1600s who joined George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends and the Society of Friends (Quakers).

As I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve met people also named Stout who are Quaker.  Chuck Stout in Denver, CO came up to me and asked, “Do you know Penelope Stout?”  I started laughing and said, “Of course!  I especially love the story about how she used to let her grandchildren feel her scars through her apron pockets.”   

For an organizer in the South, sharing family history is important, regardless of how many generations you can go back.  People want to know who your kin are.  These stories often hold deep meaning for us – stepping stones from one generation to another. 

Our family had a letter from a relative discussing the compulsory military service required by the Confederate army in the Civil War. It tells how my great great aunt’s fingers were smashed and broken as soldiers tried to torture her into revealing where the men in the community were hiding.  They were trying to avoid fighting in a war that was against their spiritual beliefs. 

In World War II, men in my family were conscientious objectors, yet served as medics and ambulance drivers, one winning a Purple Heart.   A more recent story is about my nephew who was severely injured in Afghanistan.  This young man, the first in our family to ever graduate college, yet unemployed five years later, a pagan and 14th generation Quaker, was against this war, yet felt forced to join the military as his only way out of poverty.

These family stories of war make me realize that you can hold two contradictory values at the same time.  Another stepping stone for me.

In the 80s and 90s, Piedmont Peace Project hosted an annual spring tour, where folks, mostly from the Boston area, would come down for a week to share in our lives and celebrate our victories with us.  On the last day, a group of us would sit down with our visitors to exchange our family stories. 

Sharing these stories was difficult and courageous. It made us feel vulnerable but it built deep trust among us.  From very different backgrounds, listening to each other’s stories was life-changing.

We heard from descendants of enslaved people whose stories were ripped from them, descendants of slave owners, and descendants of Holocaust survivors whose stories were annihilated.  We heard from wealthy, middle class and poor people.  One woman, Lynn, told a story of being a descendent of the Waller family, Virginia plantation owners who purchased a slave, Kunta Kinte, whose story was featured in the miniseries, “Roots.” 

Lynn had never shared her story with others, and she told it with deep shame and lots of tears.  Though she had dedicated her life to working for peace and justice she always carried the humiliation of this part of her family history.  Telling that story was a stepping stone for her.

Family stories are complex, filled with challenges, joy, trauma, abuse, laughter, addiction and triumph.  The stories go back for generations, like mine, or not even a generation.  Being able to tell these stories can give us power over the past. They are stepping stones to the future. 

Storytelling is a formidable tool organizers can use to illustrate lessons learned, and the change we want to make in our society.

Apr 282018
 

Building Power to Win:

Developing and Running an Empowering Voter Registration & Get Out the Vote Campaign

with Linda Stout, Spirit in Action

(Offered thru Peoples Hub, an online Movement Building School)

May 17, Thu 1-3pm EST
May 19, Sat 1-3 pm EST
May 22, Tue 7-9 pm EST

In this important interactive online workshop, learn ways to most effectively register and turn people out for the upcoming mid-term elections. To sign up, click here. Also, please forward to folks you think would be interested in attending.

Voter Registration/Get Out the Vote is a critical tool for building power to win on issues affecting our communities. This training will teach you how to develop a non-partisan Voter Registration campaign, how to mobilize disenfranchised people to participate in the electoral process and, building upon that pre-work, run a successful and empowering Get Out the Vote campaign.

What people have said about “Building Power to Win”

“It was so inspiring and exciting to hear stories and get ideas based on real voter registration and get out the vote campaigns that have had a major impact. Anyone doing voter registration or get out the vote campaigning or even CONSIDERING doing that should check this out!” (Jeanne Rewa, Terre Haute, IN).

“”Building Power To Win” offers such critical tools for this political moment. As a young organizer, so many of the early campaigns I was a part of struggled to build a long-lasting and powerful base of support. Linda tells inspiring stories about her own experiences in effective base-building that make it clear that building our power to win is possible.” (Jess Grady-Benson, Seattle, WA)

“It’s not very often that you walk out of a training or workshop feeling that both your intellect and emotions were stimulated by the experience you had with your facilitator and other participants. Linda’s workshop provided just that–and in an online setting! A deeper understanding of how to run a GOTV campaign, as well as the impassioned urgency to act.” (Julieta Vitullo, Seattle, WA)

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Trainer Information:

For Linda’s bio, click here.

“When I built Piedmont Peace Project, a multi-racial poor people’s organization in 1984, we were able to train around 5000 leaders and to mobilize 44,000 people over a period of five years. Through using the ballot box and holding elected officials accountable, we were able to make dramatic changes. For example, our congressman, who sat on the Defense Appropriations Committee and chaired the New Military Construction Subcommittee, changed his voting record from 0% to 87% on peace issues, and from 33% to 98% on social justice issues. Through empowering low-income people to take on leadership roles, we were awarded the National Grassroots Peace Award.” (Linda Stout, North Carolina)

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

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

 

 

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

 

Spirit in Action