Author Archives for Aisha Shillingford

January 29, 2018

Celebrating Liberation!

I migrated to the United States in 1998 via the F1 visa application process. This process allows a family member who is a citizen to apply for immediate relatives to become permanent residents. The premise of this process is one of family reunification and the applicant (citizen) must be a resident in the United States during the greater part of the application period. In my case, my mother was the applicant so this meant that during the better part of two years while I was in high school my mother had to live in the United States while my brother and I lived in Trinidad. Being separated wasn’t the only thing we all/each sacrificed; there are several ramifications of this process that go along with the privileges of becoming a US citizen. And, I don’t make light of those privileges, especially as my particular immigration story is indeed one of great privilege relative to the experiences of those who are currently under direct attack by the federal government and by the right wing media. (I say “currently” not to say that undocumented immigrants were not under attack by previous administrations, but to say that I do not know when naturalized citizens and permanent residents will be under direct attack, as well. We’ve already seen it begin with the “Muslim Ban.”) But this reflection isn’t about the politics of migration, although we would do well to continue to reflect deeply on that. Rather, I am contemplating the state of my heart as an immigrant.

One thing I have noticed over the time that I have been in the US is that my heart is always torn in two. As someone who straddles two different ways of being, two different nationalities, two different ways of looking at the world, it has been a doozy for reconciling identity. On the one hand, this is stressful, but on the other, like so many other third culture people I know, it is actually a great super power. I can see the world from different perspectives and can necessarily integrate them in a way that produces something better than the sum of the parts. Immigrants have super powers, y’all. We can take the best of many different worlds and create beautiful, delicious, vibrant expressions of what liberatory futures look like.

Today, one of the experiences that I’m yearning for that comes from my culture is the annual ritual of liberation we call Jouvay or J’ouvert. I won’t go into all the history of colonialism and slavery that gave rise to this tradition, but I will say that in the modern era it is a great spiritual cleansing and a public ritual of liberation that takes over the streets of Port of Spain during the climactic second-to-last morning of the Carnival season. (This year it will take place in mid-February.) Carnival itself is a letting go, a festival of liberation based on the pre-Lenten Catholic festivals of the French and Spanish when they gave one last hurrah to the vices and proclivities of the flesh before engaging in the 40-day long period of fasting beginning on Ash Wednesday. During our Jouvay, participants adorn themselves in handmade costumes, and in mud, oil, paint, and cocoa or baby powder, and they chip through the streets in great abandon under cover of darkness in the early hours of the morning until just after sunrise. Jouvay begins at 2:00 a.m. and ends around 7:00 a.m.! I am watching friends in Trinidad prepare for this day by gathering mud, by gathering the friends they want to be with on the road, and by beating the drum of anticipation for the ritual that allows for release and rebirth.

I crave this ritual or any other ritual of liberation that allows us to let go, to be free, without trappings and accoutrement, without fear. To experience what it is like to just have love, and music, and dance, and laughter, and spirit…and rum. I am craving stories of the feeling of liberation here in the US. I am craving a liberation praxis. So often when we are asked about liberation as activists, we describe the struggle, the fight, the organizing, the process towards liberation. But I want to know…what elements of liberation are people experiencing right now even in the midst of the struggle? Even if it is for just a moment or an hour, when do you feel free? What are the experiences we want to expand in our liberatory future because they make us feel a little bit free now?

 

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December 20, 2017

Transformation towards Liberation

I’ve been observing the role of Mercury’s retrograde on my systems. Paying attention to my thoughts and feelings, the shifts and entrenchments. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit stuck. Or to use another metaphor, a bit ungrounded. It’s easy given the flow of information, the speed of communication, and the function of social media to feel pulled in many different directions. In addition, as a consultant, balancing the priorities of several clients at a time can often make it difficult to focus. When this happens I try to strengthen the consistency of my meditation practice and focus on my personal and professional goals to provide a guidepost for my actions.

I realized as I sat in meditation the past few mornings that my sense of purpose had been unattended to for a while. No wonder I felt scattered or ungrounded. Having a clear sense of purpose, an understanding of what I feel committed to and associated goals provides an important filter or straight line through all of the choices I face daily and helps to ground and retain focus. So I’ve been reflecting on purpose, leaning in to what is resonating for me in my conversations with colleagues and what is I am feeling called to in the movement. I’ve also been thinking about what threads together the work I am doing at IISC and my cultural work with Intelligent Mischief.

My commitment, or purpose, is to engage in transformation of myself and others towards liberation. This work aligns with what I do at IISC by supporting the self-empowerment of transformational leaders and by creating possibility for liberatory organizations that can really bring about the social transformation…that world, that  speaks of, that “on a quiet day we can hear her breathing.” It also aligns with my work at Intelligent Mischief by cultivating a cultural shift that makes this transformation irresistible through the use of popular culture.

I reflected on what principles underscore this transformation for me…principles we can embody now at all levels to move us in the direction of liberation.

I see this transformation being underscored by a shift from isolation to interdependence, from exploitation to love, from extraction to regeneration & healing, from disconnection to community, from competition to collaboration, from exclusive ownership to the commons, from othering to belonging…and there are certainly many more.

These principles exist currently in practice but are overshadowed by the dominant culture especially at macro levels of society. Capitalism, our current dominant economic system, has been built on the principles that we are transitioning away from. The transformation of this system thus requires creating new systems based on the principles that we are transitioning towards. The question is, how do we expand these principles?

What can be our role at IISC in supporting leaders to develop practices that embody this transformation? In building structures that prefigure this transformation? And what is the transition in alignment with those principles that we ourselves must make as an organization?

 

 

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August 1, 2016

What the World Needs Now

Watching intermittent coverage of the Democratic National Convention my heart softened when I heard New Jersey Senator Corey Booker remind those listening that “Patriotism is the love of country, but you can’t love your country if you don’t love your countrymen.” He went on to define love as ‘being there for each other…empowering each other…finding common ground…and building bridges across differences…’ in pursuit of a common goal. He articulated a beautiful and hopeful vision of a nation of love as a free people, living interdependently. Later on during the convention, Broadway stars gathered on stage to sing the American classic, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”

It gave me a feeling of hope, not necessarily in the Party per se, but in the power of love to captivate the collective imaginations of millions of people who believe that another world is possible, and we can make it a better one for all of us.

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July 12, 2016

On Love and Justice

This weekend I attended CommonBound 2016, the bi-annual conference of the New Economy Coalition (NEC), “…a [160-member] network of organizations imagining and building a future where people, communities, and ecosystems thrive. Together, we are creating deep change in our economy and politics—placing power in the hands of people and uprooting legacies of harm—so that a fundamentally new system can take root.”

As one might imagine given the mission, the conference was attended by people working on a wide range of projects from public engagement, participatory budgeting, and environmental sustainability to cooperatives, reparations, community land trusts, fossil fuel divestment and more. The 900 attendees were all in some way engaged in doing the very important work of organizing, shifting culture, developing alternative institutions and creative solutions, writing, resisting, and fundraising. All towards a goal of a society that is more just, more democratic, and more sustainable. NEC itself is fast becoming a network of networks engaging groups in the cooperative movement, movement for black lives, labor movement, student divestment network, environmental movement and more. Held in Buffalo, NY, the conference had all the makings of a pivotal moment in movement history, where a true intersectional approach to changing society for the better could be nurtured. The opportunities for significant connections and collaborations to develop were endless.

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July 1, 2016

It is a time for angels

Last week at the Institute during an internal training for our new cohort of Associates, my colleague Alia introduced a practice called ‘Secret Angels’. For those who are familiar with the Secret Santa idea, it is quite similar. You begin by randomly choosing a piece of paper with someone else’s name written on it. Then, for the duration of your time together, you must show appreciation and affection for this person, material or otherwise. You cannot reveal who you are throughout the exercise and you are allowed to elicit the support and collaboration of others. On this occasion the Secret Angel activity lasted three days and we were not allowed to spend money. Rather, we had to think of creative and resourceful ways of showing love for each other.

Some colleagues gave gifts, homemade items, drawings, written poems, chocolate and more. Others offered backrubs and massages. Some offered to do favors. Others arranged and delivered statements of appreciation, acknowledgement and sweet words of poetry. For those three days there was quite a LoveFest in the office! And this of course felt right at home since love is an integral component of our collaboration lens.

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June 20, 2016

Love and Liberation

01_queer-liberationTonight there will be a full moon, that time every month when the sun, moon and earth are in complete alignment. It is also the summer solstice when the sun (from the perspective of the earth) is at its highest point in the earth’s northern hemisphere marking the longest number of daylight hours in the year and the official beginning of summer.

According to many this will be the first time that these two astronomical events have coincided since June of 1967, during what was in the United States, the Summer of Love for many, and a summer of continued oppression for African Americans continuing the long struggle for Civil Rights, Justice, and Equality. Yesterday many of us celebrated Juneteenth, when we commemorate the day when the last enslaved Africans in the US finally received news of their freedom.

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