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Being White. Being Human.

The world needs us to understand what it means to be human. To be different types of people sharing a planet/country/community with one another. To live together in ways that are respectful, collaborative, fair and nourish life.

And for my skinfolk… The world needs us to understand what it is to be White. To embrace our ancestry and identity. To face the roles that our people have played historically and are playing in this current moment. To see how we have created societies that are plagued with systems of dominance that oppress other people (and the Earth). To understand how we perpetuate those systems. And to recognize the types of power and goodness that are within us. To use it fiercely to create societies that are healing from oppressive systems and living vibrantly as diverse, interconnected places of peace, justice and compassion.

I believe we are capable of this. Both us White people and us humans. And it will take work to get there.

From the article, White People: I Don’t Want You to Understand Me Better, I Want You to Understand Yourselves by Ijeoma Oluo.

“None of this — not a single word I’ve written in this essay or in my entire career — is new. People of color have been begging you to see what you are doing and why. We’ve been begging you to see what you came from and the true legacy you have inherited…

Find yourselves white people. Find yourselves so that you can know what whiteness is. Find yourselves so that you can determine what you want whiteness to be.”

 

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Can We Dialogue?

Here is a facebook conversation I had with my cousin. I welcome your feedback on my approach for trying to learn more and also share my own perspective. May we find ways to dialogue across our differences. May we be open to hearing each other. May we be open to allowing our own perspectives to change. May the goodness in our hearts be the compass that guides us forward.

Ashley posted: Students walking out in NYC… Because their country just walked out on them by voting in Betsy DeVos?

Cousin: From what I have heard and understood over the last few years, people r screaming for a change in the school system. Now a change has been offered. I don’t get it.

Ashley:  As someone who has been very active in cultivating change in schools, I deeply value people who have experience with those directly impacted being the ones leading change. Someone who has not been an educator, has not attended or sent her own children to public schools, has not worked with the populations of students that are most impacted within our public school systems is not someone who I trust to lead change.

Cousin: Maybe someone outside the box is necessary to lead the change. Have the experienced leaders in the past done anything to help the schools? Not from what I’m hearing.

Ashley: Besides the fact that she is outside the box, what makes you think that she is a good choice for this role?

Cousin: She’s been an advocate for charter schools, school choice and voucher programs in Detroit. She’s on the board of Alliance for school choice. She heads the All children matter pac. She’s on the board of Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Ashley: I realize that these are her credentials and affiliations. I’m wondering what specific things that she’s done in any of those roles do you think will influence positive change in public education for all children?

Cousin: Ashley we will have to wait and see what the plans are. It can’t be any worse than it now. Everyone wants change. Give her a shot and see. Obama had no government experience at all. Just a community organizer. And the majority of the US have him a chance and all his supporters think he did a fantastic job.

Ashley: Cousin, one of the things that you and I have in common is that we both want to see change. As I’ve mentioned to you many times, I don’t fit within the box you try to place me in that is about Democrats or Republicans. I’m not someone who thinks Obama did a fantastic job in everything nor was I a die-hard Hillary fan. I work every single day to actively be a part of creating change in my community and country to bring about more awareness and understanding about our differences and to work towards a future that is actually fair, just, respectful, compassionate for all people. I don’t believe government was doing a great job in public schools leading up to this moment. And I don’t believe that someone like DeVos is the change that will actually make public schools start working. What I believe in more than any of these billionaires being appointed or politicians who are die-hards for their party line rather than thoughtful to the issues is PEOPLE. When it boils down to it, the question is how many decent hearted people will go out of their comfortable life to care about those that are most vulnerable, most impacted by public schools loosing huge amounts of funding, disabled students not being protected, immigrant students not being adequately taught and protected, and Black students being tracked to prison? For me, I can’t just wait and see and let more people suffer. I feel a responsibility to care for and be a part of this change. I don’t trust someone like DeVos whose family has given millions of dollars to politicians. And I very much do trust the community organizers in the world. They are the ones that have historically been responsible for influencing the most social change. If you’re not familiar with the impact community organizers have had on our country, I highly encourage some reading in that realm.

Ashley: A post from a friend of mine: I’ve been holding my tongue, but Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education was a never-taught-in-a-classroom, privatizing education, high stakes testing champion*. Betsy is just more of the same… that appointment is actually the least troubling since it continues the trajectory Bush and Obama put us on since NCLB. So, I gotta say for all those who threw their everything into opposing DeVos, I hope you call your Senators to oppose Sessions this morning, an avowed white supremacist racist who may become our next Attorney General. Now THAT is terrifying and unprecedented.

Cousin: I appreciate and respect u for fighting for what u feel strongly for and against. I just get the feeling that anyone who didn’t vote for trump will be unhappy with whomever he chooses to fill his cabinet. As your friend stated above, Arnie Duncan had no experience but yet he served as secretary. I’m sure there was opposition from the republicans but not in the way it’s happening now. People who voted for trump wanted big change and that’s what’s happening. I can tell u that the Milwaukee public schools need massive change. But then talking to teachers who have taught there say it’s very hard to keep the students going because they get no help or encouragement from home. I’m not saying this is happening to all kids, but it is a large percentage here. The graduation rate is very low in the inner city. We can’t expect the teachers to raise our children. We r the ones who have to be the advocates for the children which I am doing for my kids. And which u r doing for the children who have no voice and I respect u for that.

Ashley: People who voted for Obama wanted big change as well. And many feel discouraged at the end of 8 years as the kind of change we hoped for didn’t happen. Many of those people chose not to vote at all this election because neither Trump nor Clinton provided evidence of that change. I believe that folks who want change have a lot in common with each other and what we need to be doing is critically thinking for ourselves, asking ourselves and our peers hard questions about what will really bring about the change we want, and finding ways to work together outside of political affiliation to make that change happen.

I don’t support protesting because its popular, nor do I support accepting what Trump and his people say is true just because they say it. I think that what we are seeing in the protests and resistance is many people who are done believing politicians who make big promises that they will solve our problems but really they are acting for their own benefit and in the best interests of those who pay for their political career. Folks are realizing that the system isn’t working. What Trump is proposing and the people he is appointing to lead change have a track record of being Nationalist, discriminatory, racist and sexist. They have a long history of using corporate money to garner profit over supporting the rights of people. I think that those of us who want change don’t want to see this kind of abuse from the elite with power. That is what Trump supporters voted against. Absolutely, there are serious problems in inner city public schools and the solutions are complex. Understanding the home lives of children is definitely a big part of solutions. It’d be a whole nother post for me to talk about schools and change in that realm. Thank you for the dialogue here, cousin.

Ashley: Hey Cousin, One more thing keeps circling around my head. I believe you and I had a conversation about choosing the lesser of 2 evils prior to election. On my end, that meant voting for Clinton and preparing what my plan of action was going to be to resist and push back against her policies that I heavily disagreed with. I would love to see where there are Republicans who voted for the lesser of two evils in Trump and are pushing against aspects of this administrations decisions that they don’t agree with. If you see this, are living this, please share things with me. I heard so many people make that statement during the election and I’m so curious how those folks are navigating now.

Also, a year or 2 or 3 or 4 from now, I am totally willing to recognize and celebrate if our country has undergone positive changes and the majority of public schools are getting quality education that matches their needs, the people I see being violated against and discriminated against are feeling protected and included in our governance and law enforcement, the inequities in access to jobs and healthcare are dramatically limited, etc. And I pray with all my heart, that folks like you who support Trump and his administration will be equally as open to recognizing and resisting if we actually are moving into a fascist regime. I have a very diverse community of friends and I see when people are being targeted by law enforcement and legal attacks. I pray that people who don’t have as diverse of communities will listen when folks are calling out for help and will not stand by when rights are being taken away. I pray that our country won’t repeat a Nazi Germany era. From the research I have done myself, I do see it as a possibility. On that note, if you or friends of yours have links to articles that you respect about Bannon, I welcome those as well. He is one of the people I am most concerned about his influence on the direction our country is headed.

Cousin: Yes I know a lot of people who voted for trump because they didn’t want to vote for hillary and he was the only option. I also know a lot of people who voted for trump because they liked his ideas, policies etc. I will have chats with these folks and let u know what their thoughts r about him and what is going on so far with the admin. I’m glad to hear u say that u will recognize good things that could come from this president. And I hope that the sweeping changes enacted do help all people of this country. I am absolutely against fascism and would stand up against it. I will keep an eye on Bannon too. I am finding it difficult to keep an open mind towards democrats with all the anti trump protests and riots. It’s clouding my judgement. Sorry to say.

Ashley: Thank you cousin. I invite you to be careful about where you get your media from and who is telling you the stories of what is behind the protests. I know very few people who are only anti-Trump protesting. Most I know are standing up for specific causes and actions that they are for or against. Part of fascist techniques is to pit sides against one another and create a media narrative that is stated as absolute truth. If we can’t think for ourselves and talk to each other, then people are much easier to control and rule. If folks are made to think that Democrats are protesting violently and for no reason, then it helps to make sure that those of us who really want change and want it to happen in legal and just ways won’t talk to each other or work together.

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Love, Justice and Compassion is What We Are Uniting Around

Listen to Linda Sarsour speak truth.

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Listen to and Follow Young Leaders

Me2WeYoung people want, deserve, and need spaces where it is safe to voice their opinions and where they can talk about the issues that are relevant to their daily lives. This event on MLK day was powerful because it was designed by young people, for young people. The adults collaborating were in service to helping the students create an agenda that allowed them to have the conversations that they thought were most important. CAYLA (City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy) high school students generated a list of over 20 topics and then narrowed it down to the 7 table discussions that they hosted (safe sex, housing shortage, police brutality, discrimination in school, leadership, dealing with stress, and gender equality/HB2). In the closing circle the power of the event was felt as participants shared that they were feeling educated, empowered, inspired, motivated, hopeful, connected, that their voices mattered, and grateful for the opportunity to talk about things that don’t get talked about in regular conversation. Asheville’s young people have so much wisdom, insight, and clarity about what our community needs. It was an honor to get to learn from them. Let’s keep listening to them and giving them opportunities to lead themselves and us.

Media Articles

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Womens March on Washington

WomensMarchQuite an inspiring platform for the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It’s been reported that over 200,000 women are planning to attend in Washington and marches are also happening all around the country/world. Read the full document. Understand the complexity of what people are standing up for. Revealing our numbers is just the beginning… then we continue to work together to make these principles a reality. Together we are capable of so much.

  • Womens2Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.
  • Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.
  • Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of violence against our bodies.
  • We believe in accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color.
  • It is our moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system.
  • We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.
  • We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes.
  • We firmly declare that LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans or gender non-conforming brothers, sisters and siblings.
  • We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity. We believe that creating workforce opportunities that reduce discrimination against women and mothers allow economies to thrive.
  • We believe in equal pay for equal work and the right of all women to be paid equitably
  • We recognize that women of color carry the heaviest burden in the global and domestic economic landscape, particularly in the care economy. We further affirm that all care work–caring for the elderly, caring for the chronically ill, caring for children and supporting independence for people with disabilities–is work, and that the burden of care falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women, particularly women of color. We stand for the rights, dignity, and fair treatment of all unpaid and paid caregivers.
  • We believe that all workers – including domestic and farm workers – must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all.
  • We believe Civil Rights are our birthright. Our Constitutional government establishes a framework to provide and expand rights and freedoms–not restrict them. To this end, we must protect and restore all the Constitutionally-mandated rights to all our citizens, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability.
  • We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • We believe in immigrant and refugee rights regardless of status or country of origin. It is our moral duty to keep families together and empower all aspiring Americans to fully participate in, and contribute to, our economy and society. We reject mass deportation, family detention, violations of due process and violence against queer and trans migrants
  • We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands.

wethepeople3

 

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2017 Reflections and an Invitation

humanityMy sense is that 2017 will (continue to) test our humanity and our devotion to freedom for all on this planet. Here in the United States, a question seems to be around how much do we truly believe in a democracy, in some version of this radical experiment of a government for and by the people? What are we willing to do do make it happen? How do we make it happen when the people are so diverse?

I feel the core challenge of this year will be to our sense of humanity. How far are we willing to go to support the health and well-being of other people and this living planet? How much violence targeted at specific people or groups of people will we tolerate? When is enough enough? When will enough of us unite to create realities that are more compassionate and considerate of the well-being of all living on this planet? What will motivate us to organize in ways that are effective at protecting people who are being violated and harmed? How creative can we be in this process?

I believe that we are actively controlling how long it will be before the human race is extinct. And some races are at threat of becoming extinct faster than others. I think we have some critical choices to make this year that will have broad future implications… that will influence the kind of suffering that our future generations will have to endure or not. Your children, grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of people you don’t know.

Some Miriam-Webster definitions:

humanity
1: the quality or state of being humane
2: the quality or state of being human

humane
1: marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals
2: characterized by or tending to broad humanistic culture

As I was sensing into 2017, three phrases spoke to me.

Spiritually Guided - As I see it, we are in way over our heads. The challenges that we face are immense and the complexities are so intricate. While our logic will be pivotal for wise action, I believe that we need to be sourcing our guidance from that which is beyond logic. For me, that is a spiritual source. I believe that my actions and those who I am acting with will best serve if we are being spiritually guided.

Wiser Together - The wisdom of lone leaders does not get us to a place of collective liberation. Nor does the wisdom of lone cultures. Now is the time for groups of diverse people who are able to be wise together. Groups of people that can listen deeply, learn from each other, and act together. Groups that are stronger and wiser because of their differences and are able to work and learn from and with one another.

Fluid Communication - The more effective we are at communicating with each other, at passing important information and fine-tuning our interactions so that we can work well, live well, and speak well to each other… the more we will be capable of collectively achieving. This also helps us to be informed about what is really needed and what is and isn’t working.

An Invitation

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This year is going to require all of us to be taking the best care of ourselves as we are able and to be supporting one another and the neighbors that we don’t yet know in taking care of themselves as well. It will also require, as in the definition of humane above, that we tend to the broad humanistic culture.

If there is kindness in your heart that is able to feel compassion, sympathy and consideration for humans and animals, please don’t look away this year. Please see the other humans on the planet with you, as much as is possible. And when your heart feels moved, step towards them. Stand up for their right to a quality life, the right for their culture to exist, the right for them to experience freedoms or support that you experience. Let’s flow together with whatever 2017 brings us, with love, courage, creativity and compassion.

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The Power of a Single Prayer & People Banded Together

I cannot express how much gratitude I have for the indigenous leadership of this movement… at this moment in time. I am learning so much. I am humbled. Please listen to Lyla June Johnston. I pulled out some of her words from the video, but you should listen to the story directly from her. It’s theatrical and she’s speaking serious truth. <3

“The people banded together to create a historic wonderful model to the rest of the world about how a single prayer can change everything. The people decided together that they would choose to use their prayers as a way to heal their own waters, their own people, and the waters of even those who chose to oppress and beat them.

These leaders, indigenous peoples, have created a blueprint which the world can follow which says that we do not need to lift a weapon or arm to change the world. Further more, our deepest strength comes from praying for all our relations. We can actually create a massive change when we adhere to the principles of non-violence, forgiveness, and prayer.

This is a model to the rest of us. Our strength comes from stepping out into the darkness against all odds and saying, you know what, I’m gonna try anyways. No matter where we are, if we are motivated by prayer, kindness, and the audacity to try against all odds, that we might just create a world wide movement.
We must take a moment to celebrate.

We must take a moment to celebrate the fact that we have united things that have never been united. We have united the Federal government with indigenous peoples. We have united Christians with indigenous peoples. We have united war veterans with non-violent peacenics. We have united Muslims with Christians.

The world has come together to put their stake in the ground and say, “Yes. We love our planet. We love the water. And we believe in creating some sort of solution to the century’s long issue of the oppression of indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.” This my friends is a victory, the first step to many more victories that we will have in the coming years and decades.

We have made history today by creating a critical mass where even the most Right-winged news sources cannot ignore the power and the beauty of this movement.
We have proven the efficacy of:

  • the strategy of nonviolence
  • the strategy of compassion and unconditional love for our enemies
  • having hope in the middle of the dark night when nothing seems possible, and stepping out and giving it a shot anyway.

Please, let’s all give a prayer of gratitude.
Together we have created a beautiful demonstration of human unity.

Lyla June Johnston

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