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People Are Murdered and Criminalized for Speaking out for Justice

Berta Didn’t Die, She Multiplied! 30 Minute cut from Sam Vinal- Mutual Aid Media on Vimeo.

(Film in Spanish)

DJs2UM8VYAA4AAQAround the world, including in the US, North Carolina and even Asheville, activists are harmed, harassed, murdered, incarcerated, or wrongly convicted for standing up for the rights of the people and the land — they are criminalized for speaking out for justice and exercising their fundamental rights to free expression and assembly.

Knowing this threat, people continue to risk their lives to protect their people, the earth, and the well being of future generations. These are people who are deeply devoted to the common good and the well-being of people living now and in the future. These are not folks who want to look like they are committed to a better world, but people whose actions and lives reflect their actual devotion.

Today I am praying to those who are now ancestors to guide and protect those who are still alive and are walking this path today. I am praying that more of us will release from the fog of denial, open our eyes to the fact that so many rights are being threatened all around the world and in our own neighborhoods, and find concrete and courageous ways that we can join the struggle to stand for freedom for all.

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.08.37 AM2 years ago today, Berta Cáceres, a Lenca organizer, activist and leader  in Honduras, was assassinated in her home. From 2010-2017 in Honduras, 124 environmental activists were assassinated for their grassroots efforts to defend indigenous rights and the environment, fighting against the Honduran oligarchy and international corporations that are stealing and trying to steal indigenous land to build dams, gated communities, refineries and more. The activists standing up to these government and corporate powers are fighting against the increase in militarism and military spending as education and health go unattended to (sound familiar) and the earth is extracted for profit. They are standing up against patriarchy, homophobia, the stealing of land, and discrimination against indigenous people. They are defending the rivers. These indigenous communities are fighting for the future.

The military force and brutal repression being used against them is funded by US taxpayer dollars, and US companies are profiting from it.

The below video is a beautiful and informative window into this situation in Honduras and a mirror for situations all over the world. These indigenous people are calling on us all to build societies that are able to coexist in a way that is fair, dignified and for life. These are examples of alliances of people coming together to defend rights. “The people united will never be defeated.” Their resistance includes songs, theater, drums, and community.

The question for me these days is not so much “what can I do?” But, more so, who are the people that are with me, sincerely devoted to taking action together for the rights of all people, the well-being of current and future generations? There are many different roles we can play, there is so much to do, not acting is not an option for me.

In honor of the 2 year anniversary of Berta’s assassination, please consider a quick phone call to your House representative asking them to sign the Berta Cáceres Act. Details below.

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The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is a landmark bill introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and currently co-sponsored by 70 Members of the House of Representatives.

Find out if your House Rep has signed it.

The bill states: “The Honduran police are widely established to be deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention, and murder, with impunity” and that the military has committed violations of human rights. Therefore, the bill asks that the United States suspend all “…security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Note, two of the accused murderers are former Honduran soldiers trained by the United States in Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the School of the Americas

Please call your Representative NOW and ask to speak to his/her Foreign Policy Aide! Because the bill has been re-introduced, all of the bill’s co-sponsors will need to co-sponsor again! If your representative has not yet signed, call them and ask them to add their support as a sponsor of the bill!

Script:

“My name is _____. I’m a constituent from (your town/city) in (your state), and I’m calling to ask Rep. _____ to co-sponsor H.R. 1299, The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, calling for a suspension of U.S. security aid to Honduras until human rights violations committed by the Honduran security forces cease. Has Rep. _______ seen this bill? Can I count on him/her to sign on? Please call me this week at (your phone number) to let me know if you have seen the letter, and if Rep. _____ will sign it.”

More info about the situation:

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Talking About Race with Young Children

TalkingKidsRace

As a teacher, I witnessed racial prejudice in 4 and 5 year olds — explicitly racist behavior from a child who lived in a home with racist beliefs and racist behavior from children who had never interacted with other children (or likely adults) who were not white. Silence is violence… in so many different ways.

Infographic by early childhood educator Jarrod Fischer Green. Full pdf here.

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And here is a very comprehensive Resource list for Talking to Kids About Racism and Justice: a list for parents, caregivers & educators

 

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White Women Waking Up

WhiteSilencingBlackWomen [Photo credit |The Reel Network]

[Photo credit |The Reel Network]

More reflections on the ways that white women silence women of color: The Purposeful Silencing of Black Women in Educational Leadership

“Naively and ignorantly, I believed that we as women shared the same experience. It wasn’t until I was under the leadership of an incredible, Black, female leader, that I realized I was horribly wrong.” ~Rebecca Lais

 

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Reflections on Power: In the Role of a Facilitator & the Body of a White Woman

john-dewey-reflection-quote-16vbfv9I recently facilitated a session where someone shared in the closing reflections that they felt dehumanized. For anyone to feel dehumanized by my actions is, for me, a fail. When I mess up, it’s imperative for me to own it, learn from the experience, act differently in the future, and make amends as best as I am able. My hope is that this public reflection will help me integrate what I am learning and potentially be valuable for people reading this (as I know I am one of many who carries the identities of a facilitator and a white woman). I am committed to facilitating with integrity and humility. Reflecting in depth on the feedback I receive is an essential part of my commitment. What follows is my perceptions and analysis. I’m sure that there is more to see from the perspective of other people who were present.

Perceptions About Power that I had Walking into this Session

When I am facilitating a group, I always hold power in the room. I guide where a group goes or doesn’t go. I hold the actual or symbolic microphone, making decisions about whose voices are heard or not heard. I take up space. I am the center of attention at times. I have influence over what is or isn’t happening in the room. Sometimes I use my power in ways that are contrary to how a person in the room would like the time to be spent. I take very seriously this facilitator’s position of power and influence and strive to use it to make equitable spaces where people are respected and able learn from each other.

problem-of-whitenessI am a white person and a White Woman. I share these identities with many other people that have historically and still currently hold social power simply because we are white. We act in all kinds of ways, intentionally or unknowingly, that hold us as superior and others as inferior. We have and still do cause trauma and harm towards people of color. Historically (and currently), white folks and White Women had the power of being listened to and believed, our word would be taken as the true word when in relationship with people who did not have as much social power as someone who looks like me. I would be listened to while others weren’t. And many, many folks who looked like me used that power to not only get what we wanted and control other people, but to actually harm other people. When I show up in a room, I am showing up as myself in that moment, and I am also showing up in the image of other people who looked like me and were allowed to be abusive, harmful, and inconsiderate, to name just a few things, towards people who did not look like me.

When I’m facilitating (and in life), sometimes people will be responding to my direct actions. Sometimes people will be responding to my actions that resemble those of people who looked like me in the past.

Another identity that I can embody is that of a White School Teacher, an archetype that has historically been abusive with its power (along with the education system at large). 80% of teachers in public schools in the United States are white and it is well researched that white teachers and the education system that white folks have created have not been fair, kind, honest, or effective in educating students of color (and some might argue all students).

As a white facilitator, particularly when working in a multi-racial setting, I must be hyper aware of my whiteness and all the ways that I am using or releasing my power and even the ways that those who looked like me have used and abused our power in the past.

What I learned in the Experience I Facilitated

  • Knowing all of that above — There was a 15-minute section of time where I forgot that I was white. I was centered on the task of facilitating a process and learning experience. I slipped into the role of a teacher. I used my power as the facilitator to teach the group something that I thought was important for them to learn. I did not realize that when I was the facilitator interrupting participants (an act that felt appropriate for what I was teaching in the moment), I was also a white woman, perhaps a white teacher, interrupting and shutting down people of color — a behavior that is very common for white people to do. In hindsight, I think if I had been holding in my awareness that I was white in that tense moment, I would have used my facilitator power in a way that did not replicate patterns of white folks using our power to oppress and silence people of color. But I forgot that I was white (a privilege and pattern that happens often for us white folks). It was a harsh reminder about how much diligence it takes to consciously disrupt habits of whiteness that are alive in me. I’ve grown up in a world that allows me to not know what it means to be white, but to just exist as “a person.” That ignorance is unacceptable if I am facilitating multi-racial groups and working towards racial justice and healing.
  • As a facilitation team, we were teaching something that the group did not give us consent to teach. This is contrary to how I like to operate, how I believe education is effective, and to my own sense of respect for learners. But I did not realize I was living that until it was too late.
  • I am reflecting on the wounds people carry from up to 25 years of schooling with white teachers that were abusive with their power. When I am facilitating and “teaching” something, how often might I be summoning up past experiences of trauma or mistrust from the white teachers of someone’s childhood?
  • I am also reflecting on — what could it have looked like for someone to interrupt and name the ways my whiteness was showing up and influencing the moment?

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What Happened — The Facilitated Experience

A social justice fellowship hired 3 consultants (a multi-racial team) to guide the Fellows (majority people of color) in a process to co-design the rest of their programming and curriculum with an allocated amount of money to work with. We facilitated:

  • Pre-session: 1-on-1 interviews
  • Session 1: Connecting, understanding the mission, the kind of learning environment that they want to experience and create
  • Session 2: Relationships with money, capitalism and collectively shaping a power analysis of what they want to amplify, interrupt and innovate
  • Session 3: Collective Decision-making process and begin designing

Session 3 is the session I’m reflecting on here. Our goal was to give the Fellows an overview of a collective decision-making process and then facilitate them through the process, highlighting the process in action along the way so that they could take over the facilitation and facilitate themselves as our contract ended after session 3. In session 1 we asked if anyone had experience with a collective decision-making process. No one raised their hand so we proceeded with the assumption that we would be offering them a process that would be new to them, something for them to experience first hand and then they could choose to use or not use it. We chose a consent-based decision-making process as the tool that we would offer.

Some mistakes that I and we made:

  • We did not explicitly get consent from the Fellows to teach them and guide them through the particular consent decision-making process.
  • Before we began practicing and using the process, I was assigned the role of explaining the process. We had created a handout and I explained the elements of the handout. My approach was very didactic teaching. In session 1, the majority of the Fellows indicated that they did not like learning in a lecture type environment. At least one Fellow indicated that they did like more traditional teaching styles sometimes. I was not listening to their request to learn by doing, but was instead taking 45 minutes to teach and explain.
  • I used my power as the facilitator and the assumptions that I had made that they were open to receiving the process and forced them to participate in the process, at times interrupting an organic flow so that I could fit their organic reactions into the process and highlight for them how to follow the steps. While I knew why I was making those choices, they did not and I think it felt like me inserting my power to control the process in the way I wanted it to go, disregarding their wishes and efforts towards shared leadership.
  • When I was using my power as a facilitator to interrupt people while they were talking and connect what they were saying to the process, not only was I forcing participation into something they didn’t consent to, I was also wearing my white skin, in a position of power, and interrupting people of color and exerting my power over people of color.

Some comments made in the closing reflections that particularly stood out to me:

  • Over-explaining is a form of Anti-Blackness
  • To point out process feels dehumanizing
  • Trust us that the work you’ve done is effective and we’ve got this
  • It felt like we were being blocked by the facilitation

I apologized for the mistakes I could see in the closing circle and I will continue to listen for ways that I can make amends for any harm that I caused. And, I think the best way for me to repair from these mistakes is to be diligent in myself about not replicating the same mistakes. I know as a white woman, my whiteness will continue to be revealed to me, and my inability to see how I am part of the problem or perpetuating problems will be illuminated. My prayers are that I keep learning, unlearning and embodying my growth and that I cause as little harm as possible. I know that I am on this journey of racial healing and racial justice for the long haul and I pray that I show up with humility and integrity, contributing in places where my presence is of value and is not a disruption to healing and justice.

P.s. This article was shared with me as a follow-up to this group: Consensus is a means, not an end.

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Attend City Council Meetings

“What can I do?”

Go to a City Council meeting if you haven’t. Learn what decisions our representatives are making. See how the process works for speaking and letting your voice be heard. And then let your voice influence the direction of this city. Hold our city leadership accountable.

Asheville City Council meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. The agenda is released the Friday before. Take time to read the City Council Agenda. See what decisions our city is making. Let them know what you care about. For instance — as I read today I see that the architect firm that is being hired for a $188,000 contract to redesign the ART Transit Station is not local. I think we should be putting more pressure on the council and city manager to be hiring contractors and consultants from Asheville. There is also a resolution to establish a Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee. I wonder if our people who are living and working on the streets are supportive of this initiative.

 

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Solutions: Listen to the Stories. Invest.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 9.42.53 AMSolutions: Listen to the stories of those who are most impacted by inequity. Invest in organizations that are informed by and lead by those who are most impacted.

In Asheville: Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jovenes is one of those organizations.

“I’ve been wanting a place where youth can just be themselves,” said 14-year-old Serenity Lewis

“It’s kinda helping youth of color get their voice out within the community. We’ve all noticed there’s a problem, and we want to go at it and fix it, or try to.” – Quantasia Williams, 18 years old

Listen to this segment about them on public radio.

 

 

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If Change is Why You March…

womensmarch2017Some people marched yesterday.
Marching at a Womens March illustrated numbers and allows people to feel the presence of other bodies standing up at this tim. It’s a chance to sing, chant and learn from each other, be in conversation about what is important. As my brother said, yesterday’s march was the “easy public place” to vocalize resistance or vocalize what you believe in. It was also a day for many people to be recharged and revitalized in a time when it is essential that as many of us as possible have the energy and motivation to keep acting so things will change for those who are most vulnerable at this time. If you marched, I hope it nourished and motivated you in some way that helps you stay engaged.

Some people did not march yesterday.
Some are not able to march. Some did not feel included in the purpose of the march. Some did not feel a clear purpose behind the march. Some are standing and resisting in other ways all the time and did not feel the need to march. Some saw this as an opportunity to hold people in positions of power accountable and educate about the ways officials are using their power. Some did not feel safe at the march.

I believe that the majority of Americans are unpracticed in how to stand up to the state, corporate, and institutional powers that control and govern our society. More of us continue to wake up every day, feeling the churning in our gut, the fire in our heart that says, “Things aren’t right. You have to be a part of changing things. You have a role to play in creating a future that you dream of. You are part of the solution to stop the horrors that many are facing right now.” Fortunately, elder organizers remind us that civic engagement is a skill that gets better with practice.

I am beyond grateful that we are hearing the calls. I pray that we will take risks, be bold, and turn towards one another to learn from each other about how to move forward in response to this call. I emphatically believe that the answers emerge from:

  • listening deeply to the inner voices of divine guidance
  • listening intently and responding to the guidance from those who are most impacted by the injustice, discrimination and inequity
  • working together

Nothing-changes-if-nothing-changes-252x300If you are feeling uncomfortable with the diverse perspectives around the march and how to make change, if you’re feeling uncertain about what is the “right” thing to do — GOOD. If we are not practiced in standing up for what is right, it is valuable for us to feel unsettled as we step into this territory. The habits and patterns and behaviors that have allowed us to get to this point require undoing. We need to be disoriented and unsettled so that we can connect to the solid ground of our values, be vulnerable in unfamiliar territory, and allow the fire-to-act to grow stronger within us. The more we unsettle our old ways of being, the clearer we will get. That means unsettling feelings of righteousness as well. Then we can genuinely recognize when we take steps forward that influence growing the world we dream of. A better future requires our participation now in order for it to come to life.

Thank you Chris Corrigan, for inviting me into the power of the word/practice of unsettling.

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