Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on 3/8/15 by Jen Wilsea
The news channels have been flooded for the last few days with photos of the Obama family crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the very bridge that Alabama state troopers and local police would not allow peaceful voting rights activists to cross as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. That day is remembered as Bloody Sunday because police attacked the marchers with tear gas and billy clubs, resulting in the hospitalization of many protestors, including John Lewis.
Hour after hour ticked by as I stood on the main street in Selma on March 7, 2015. The sun was hot and I was getting sunburned. I stood in the middle of a sea of overwhelmingly Black Southerners waiting for our Black president to arrive. Words can’t describe the calm yet electric feeling in the air. It was powerful to wait, and to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge just a few blocks ahead, knowing that at any moment President Obama would stand there and speak to this crowd, this mostly Black, Southern crowd.
Every single one of us doing social and racial justice work in 2015 owes a great deal of gratitude to the freedom fighters, the ones whose names we know and the ones whose names we don’t, whose blood stained the pavement in Selma and whose feet marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were brave, they were creative and strategic, and they held a deep faith that justice would prevail. And yet we do these freedom fighters a disrespect if we simply say (as I have too often done) “nothing has changed in 50 years” and if we don’t acknowledge that they laid the ground work from which we now build. And we do these freedom fighters a disrespect if we don’t realize that “Selma is now” as Reverend William Barber says. Alabama is facing a triple threat of racist violence now that much of the rest of the nation is sorely uninformed about:
Immigration: HB56 is the harshest anti-immigrant legislation passed in any US state, making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to get library cards, housing, medicine and more; passed at a time when the majority of the fastest growing Latino and Asian immigrant populations are in Southern states
Healthcare: 300,000 Alabamians are currently being denied their right to health care because they don’t qualify for Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act (AL chose not to expand Medicaid even though it would have been completely paid for by the federal government for three years); it is estimated that 700 people will die each year as a result
Voting Rights: Protections of voting rights won in 1965 as a direct result of activism in Selma and elsewhere are under threat, and disproportionately in the South
Selma is now because racist violence continues to manifest in insidious ways across the U.S.; and the South is where some of the harsher policies are being tested by legislators. Selma is now because some of the fiercest organizing is happening in the South in 2015 just as it was in 1965 while the rest of the country too often sees the South as backwards or ignores the South altogether. One of the most powerful movement building and Black&Brown power building stories I’ve heard in a long time is the story I heard this weekend of the mobilizing immigrants are leading across the state of Alabama with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. I was moved by the work the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama is doing, fighting for the right of Alabamians to health care. And I was moved by Reverend William Barber, founder of the Moral Mondays movement who is leading a North Carolina based Southern movement for voting rights, Medicaid expansion and more.
As a white woman driving to Alabama for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I couldn’t stop thinking about Viola Liuzzo, an Italian American woman who drove from Detroit to Selma a few weeks after Bloody Sunday for the much larger march that successfully crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and ended in Montgomery, AL. Viola was shot by the KKK as she drove African American marchers home after the march. I drove past her memorial on the side of the highway as I drove home to Atlanta after the march in 2015. As a white Northerner making my home in the South in 2015, I am humbled by the depth of faith and fierceness of the fight and the warmth of heart that defines the long tradition of Southern organizing. Selma was a strategy by civil rights leaders in 1965 to make the nation uncomfortable about racial injustice, just like Ferguson is today. What risks am I willing to take? What sacrifices are we willing to make? Our time is now! May we honor those who came before, and may we fight with fierceness, joy and faith in the 21st century to end racial violence once and for all!
“With less than we had, they beat Jim Crow. With less than they had, they were able to overcome.
If they did more with less, we can do more with more.
We must know who we are!
This is our Selma. Right now. Right here. Right now! Right here!
If you know who you are, and you act like you know who you are,
then God will show up.
I believe that if we know who we are, If we fight for voting rights,
If we refuse to take down,
If we stand up in this moment,
If we honor the memory of those who believe,
God will show up.
The Lord will make a way,
Some how. The Lord will,
Make a way,
Selma is right now. If we know who we are,
If we stand up,
the Lord Will,
The Lord will,
The Lord will,
Make a way,
SOME HOW. SAY YEAH!”
— Reverend Barber, Dallas County Courthouse, Selma, AL 3.7.15
To learn more about what happened on Bloody Sunday, the context surrounding that day and the significance of it in the struggle for voting rights, read this piece and watch the film Selma.
We can “contribute to the degradation of human capacity or we can take a stand”. That was the bold call of Meg Wheatley this month when she presented on being a “Warrior for the Human Spirit” on her webinar for our friends at System Thinking in Action (STIA). Read More
I have a practice in most of the networks and collective impact efforts I support, which is to offer poetry at the opening and closing of convenings. I’m struck by how impactful and important people have said this can be for them. In fact, just recently a very well-respected member of the public health community was compelled to say that this is exactly what is missing from the movement, more poetry and artistic expression!
I just facilitated the 6th Creative Change Retreat at the Sundance Institute in Utah. The amazing experience leaves me grateful to my friends at the Opportunity Agenda for trusting me with the design and facilitation of such a significant convening.
Today more than ever I am convinced that the change we want to see in the world is a change that demands the evolution of consciousness and culture. As the artist and the activist come together – as they become one – we will be able to join into a different kind of intervention.
Check out the ways that love of her many identities frees up spoken word artist Jamila Lyiscott to be her full self. She reminds us that a full, loving embrace of yourself and your cultures enables others to see you more fully and embrace all of your cultures, while it makes space for others to do the same for themselves. That’s change making at a personal level that can radiate outward to the entire community. Read More
We continue to explore the power of love. Listen to Dr. Maya Angelou speak about the power of love to liberate the human spirit. She speaks of how her mother’s love liberated Maya to become her fullest self and how Maya’s love liberated her mother at the end of her mother’s life. She speaks of the unconditional love that frees a person to make their highest and best contribution to the world—a love that is at once personal and public, individually meaningful and essential to our collective lives.
This past weekend’s CommonBound Conference was quite the experience. It was inspiring to be with the more than 600 participants from around North America talking about and sharing examples of what it might take to evolve a just and sustainable economy. I found the event’s closing plenary, an interview of and conversation between Adrienne Maree Brown, Gar Alperovitz, and Gopal Dayaneni, to be particularly stirring. For those who missed it, here is a smattering of what was buzzing in the Twittersphere . . . Read More
I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’
Maya Angelou, the memoirist and poet whose landmark book of 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — which describes in lyrical, unsparing prose her childhood in the Jim Crow South — was among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a wide general readership, died on Wednesday in her home. She was 86 and lived in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Vincent Hardingdied on Monday and our world is emptier for it. Vincent is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights era, whose work as a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was essential if not widely known. His best-known speech was Dr. King’s speech Beyond Vietnam, where Dr. King boldly extended his critique to U.S. foreign policy, connecting the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. with struggles for justice in other parts of the world. You can hear Vincent explain the significance of the speech in an interview with Democracy Now! You can hear or read some of his thoughts on spirituality and justice in an On Being podcast called Dangerous Spirituality. Read More
Kate Tempest and this video were brought to my attention by Tom Kelly of the Sustainability Institute at UNH when he presented Tempest’s work as an “offering,” a ritual opening and closing we use in our meetings of the Food Solutions New England Network Team meetings. It was certainly apt as we were talking about what it means to “put ourselves out there” on various fronts, to enter new territory with one another as we collectively push forward the conversation about New England creating a more just and sustainable regional food system.
I appreciate Tempest putting herself out there in general as a young artist, and this particular poetic rendering of the Icarus tale that suggests the young ambitious man’s “fall” provides lessons for the collective advancement of those whose feet have not “kicked the clouds.” Celebrating boldness and reaching new heights . . .
‘The effect of positive emotions on helping others is stronger and longer-lasting than self-interest.”
- Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley
At times thinking about social change can get rather complex, and rightfully so. And it can be helpful to ground ourselves in some of the simpler (though not necessarily easy) and timeless principles and practices of gratitude, kindness, and generosity. This video, from a rather surprising source, speaks truth about the power of giving, recently validated by a study conducted by Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley, who are also creators of The Reciprocity Ring. Both the study and this video remind me of an ongoing line of inquiry I have with respect to networks for social change – How can we cultivate skill, will, and structure so that the natural impulse to give (and receive) can thrive?
How are you making space for kindness? What does this look like? Feel like? Sound like? What is the impact?
I’ve spent the last two days with twenty-three people who do the concrete, sometimes humble work of convening meetings, directing resources and evaluating programs. They came from far flung places, from Ohio and Illinois to Hawai’i, to explore how the tools of Facilitative Leadership can remake our work so that it awakens and nourishes our communities’ deepest desires. Working with them was like a peek into the future of what leadership can be.
There are lots of workshops that help leaders to learn about decision making; there are few that require a decision-making process to be informed by our hearts as well as our minds. This group seized the opportunity to engage both their hearts and heads to wrestle with tough practical questions: How can you do brainstorming that includes people who value reflection and introspection more than quickly generated speech?
They made space to speak tender truths that usually cannot be said out loud: How can we help our communities hold each other more accountable for achieving results without damaging the richness of our relationships, or abandoning our traditional cultural processes?
And they practiced creating the conditions for the people they serve–the people they supervise, their clients, their coalition members–to take responsibility for learning and working through these questions together.
It was an honor to witness how they showed up for each other in the workshop, as well as what they did and what they learned. Twenty-three new and seasoned facilitative leaders reminded me that the purpose of leadership is to show up as an agent of dignity and hope.
If another world truly is possible, I think I spent the last two days with the leaders who will guide us there.