Posted in Uncategorized

June 30, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: In the Spirit of Fierce Black Resistance

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

June 24th, 2022 was a dark day in our fight for liberation of Black bodies and for Black power. Reproductive justice is centrally linked to Black liberation: it is our right to know our bodies, make decisions about our bodies, and feel safe in our bodies. Self-determination has been challenged, disregarded, and disrespected. To my Black sisters, trans brothers, and gender-non-conforming kin: I rage with you, cry with you, and continue the work of building a world in service of our liberation with you today and all days. 

The Supreme Court’s conservative decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is a calculated attack on our bodies, our freedom, and our personal sovereignty. This is not the first action taken by the courts in what has been a long history of reproductive control rooted in classism, sexism, and racism. It is class, sex, and race-based violence designed to further oppress, control, dehumanize, delegitimize, and imprison. I stand in opposition to this decision and in solidarity and support of Black Lives Matter’s calls for expanding the court, ending the filibuster, and passing the Women’s Health Protection Act. 

I recommit to centering Black voices, to fighting for Black freedom, and to standing in solidarity with Black organizers, activists, and communities of color. I stand with you.

“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected – those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! – and listens to their testimony.

– James Baldwin
Leave a comment
June 29, 2022

Callings from “Fierce Civility”

Image by Nick Doty, used under provision of Creative Commons attribution license 2.0.

In previous posts (see “Life (and Power) on the Resilient Edge of Resistance” and “At the Heart of Regeneration is … the Heart (and the Gut”), I have written about my experiences with the Weston Network and the Respectful Confrontation training and apprenticeship program and more recently with the Fierce Civility teacher training program, which I began in March of this year. This most recent experience, including a 5 day retreat with a small and racially diverse group of skillful practitioners from around the US, again drove home the importance for me of embodied practice generally, and specifically to manage our nervous systems and engage in interpersonal “co-regulation.” To me, Joe Weston is a true magician, a masterful teacher and coach, and someone that has helped me to develop deeper reverence for my body and its wisdom (along with very adept healers, Dr. Eve Capkanis and Gwen McClellan).

A few weeks ago, Joe gave me a draft of his forthcoming book, currently titled Fierce Civility: Transforming Our Global Culture from Polarization to Lasting Peace, and asked that I do a critical review. I came away with more appreciation for what he and The Weston Network are trying to achieve in these fractured and fractious times. “Civility” has (almost) become a dirty word, seen as naive and impossible by some (at least when considering certain cultural and political divides), and as harmful by others, if “being civil” means not speaking or hearing truths or working for social justice. Joe appreciates all of this (writing at one point – “Even our passivity has taken on a tone of aggression”), and holds the concept of civility in dynamic tension with fierce-ness.

Fierce civility is not about “chronic niceness” or conflict avoidance, but rather advocates for stances of assertiveness (as opposed to aggression) and receptivity (as opposed to passivity). Fierce civility is not about glossing over systemic and structural injustice and oppression, even as it does not shy away from promoting personal responsibility and accountability. This delicate and sometimes difficult balancing act was definitely a topic of conversation this past weekend when our Fierce Civility cohort (whom Joe has dubbed “love ninjas”) gathered on the heels of Friday’s US Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. That is a discussion that will continue, no doubt. Joe writes in his book, “We are technologically overfed and spiritually malnourished,” and encourages people to intentionally change their diets (quality and quantity) as a means of effectively making both personal and systemic change. And best if this is work is done with supportive community.

Four core elements of Fierce Civility and Respectful Confrontation

There is much more to say about the book, as well as the practices that the Weston Network teaches (though better to actually read the book and engage in the practices), but for now, I wanted to share (with Joe’s permission) some particular quotes that struck while reading the draft and that have stayed with me.

“True martial artists would say that they learn how to fight so that they can pivot away from conflict and aggression and prevent fighting, and that is true power.”

“Imagine in a conversation if the goal on both sides was to protect yourself, the other and the conversation itself from unconscious reactivity and the lack of civility that can unexpectedly seep in.”

“When we give the extremes all of our attention, our focus is turned towards them and away from the larger majority of people who hold more nuanced, less reactive views of the same issues.”

“What if the most courageous, revolutionary and impactful thing you could do at this time is to cultivate a daily practice of aligning with your humanity, embody a deeper level of resilience, avoid burn out, as well as maintain and deepen authentic relationships?”

“This is what true freedom is: freeing yourself of unexamined beliefs and biases; gaining confidence to stay regulated in challenging situations; opening your heart in safe and empowered ways, and protecting against any threats to civility and non-violence.”

“Many of us have forgotten that debating issues can be fun, not a life-or-death experience. We have become frightened and turned off by the messiness of human interaction and the process of creating something new.”

“The two halves of the heart pump with and against each other. This dynamic interplay might look pretty volatile to the human eye, but the body knows that that level of assertiveness is necessary to keep the system healthy and vital.”

“We are seeing a shift to cyber and economic warfare. The techniques may change, but the primitive impulse for war has not. And while we may have peace treaties, we are not seeing the global cooperation needed to sustain life.”

“If only hanging out with people who already agree with you were going to solve our problems, we would have already solved them.”

(Quoting Gabor Maté): “Safety is not the absence of danger; safety is the presence of connection.”

Leave a comment
June 16, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Honoring our Ancestors

When I am feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, I remind myself that amidst the violence, many people are leading gorgeous campaigns for change. I also remind myself that there are white people who have done the work for freedom and anti-racist futures over the last 200 years. As white activists and consultants, we don’t always acknowledge or see our own lineages. So, here I name here a few, including some women and Jews, my ancestors, who stood up and took risks for their beliefs, acting in their historical context, often against the grain.  

Peter Norman stood with John Carlos and Tommie Smith while they raised their fists and donned black clothing in support of Black Americans and Black power, and they all wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges (also calling out white supremacy and indigenous policies in his native Australia) at the 1968 Olympics.  

Vito Marcantonio, an Italian-American congressperson from NY in the 1930s and 40s who stood with Blacks and Jews and against anti-communism.

August Bondi, an Austro-Hungarian Jew who was a close associate of John Brown and helped to liberate slaves

Lydia Maria Child, an author who wrote “An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans” where she raised the complicity of the north in maintaining slavery and was a member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, which called for the immediate abolition of slavery (as some call for the immediate abolition of prisons).

Ernestine Louise Rose (early 1800s) who was a Jewish abolitionist and suffragette and (from a short reading of Wikipedia) a general badass who won a court case against a forced betrothal, traveled the world, married a non-Jew and sold perfumed paper.

These are just a few white anti-racists who I found online or had heard stories about. Who would you add to the list? Either white activists or people from one of your ancestries?

1 Comment
June 16, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Black Joy & Freedom

A personal blog about the power of the Juneteenth holiday to foster Black joy and freedom.

I woke up to a text from my community health center that it was closed for Juneteenth, something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. This started my week of JOY and FREEDOM! I cleared my eyes from sleep and imagined my Black ancestors on the plantation celebrating their freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation reached most corners of the country. 

Black people still experience deep racism and racialized trauma and yet we are living dreams our ancestors could never have envisioned. Running organizations and businesses, taking our rightful place in elected office, saving lives during COVID as doctors and nurses, and seeing our children off to college and on to planes to places in the world our ancestors were forbidden to see. 

This week alone, I walked freely in the streets, sat in the front of a bus, ate at an integrated restaurant, and hugged my husband and child who will never be sold away from me to a white person in the middle of a town square.  

Celebrating at the Embrace Ideas Festival in Boston: Kelly Bates, IISC President, and Sheena Collier, Founder & CEO of Boston While Black

This week I participated in the Embrace Ideas Festival sponsored by KingBoston, a program of The Boston Foundation, one of our racial equity change clients. On a panel of Black leaders of arts organizations, one leader shared that while white people must do the work of anti-racism, what’s really needed is for BIPOC leaders to embrace and experience joy and fun. 

I co-sign this belief so where will you find me this weekend of Juneteenth? I will be wearing traditional African clothing, line dancing with my Black friends, eating scrumptious soul food, kissing my child, and praying for greater forces of justice to prevail in our future.

Leave a comment
June 15, 2022

IISC is Trying a Four-Day Work Week!

For years, our visionary president, Kelly Bates, dreamed of implementing a four-day work week at IISC. But it wasn’t until Covid broke open every preconception we had about work that it actually seemed possible.  While Covid has led to a lot of heartbreak, it has also given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely reimagine our work, from where and when we work to how we manage our time and productivity and more. And so…we are trying an experiment this summer. From mid-June through August we are implementing a four-day work week at IISC.

Some background to this decision might be useful to share. 

During Covid we went fully remote as an organization, as did so many others. And eventually, as we grappled with the impact of the pandemic on our work and personal lives, we implemented monthly restoration days (one Friday off each month) and started ending the workday on Fridays at 2 p.m. (essentially giving staff a 37-hour work week). These interim steps made a four-day work week experiment seem possible.

Before taking this step, we took a look around and learned from a lot of other organizations who have done this and we talked extensively with our staff. We learned that four-day work weeks are not a perfect solution to all that challenges us and that sometimes people will still work some on Fridays. But we also learned that a four-day work week can make the work/life balance significantly more manageable; multiple staff from other organizations that had implemented it  shared that they’d not now have it any other way.

Another stop on this journey has been a simplification of our goals here at IISC to our intention to become sustainable, whole, and purposeful. Trying out a four-day work week is just one of the steps we are taking in pursuit of these goals.  A four-day work week will require us to be more purposeful and intentional with our time and, ultimately, we hope that it means our staff who work diligently for racial justice will feel their work is more sustainable and that they are better able to show up as whole people. 

We enter into this experiment with a lot of questions. Will it reduce stress or cause more? Will we be able to get our work done by getting better at prioritizing how we use our work time?  Will it impact our finances? We are also entering into this experiment with a sense of gratitude for the out-of-the-box thinking it has taken to get us here, and with the hope that this change will better support our staff as vibrant humans who are living, being, and working in myriad ways to make the world a better place – within IISC and beyond.

The myth of the nonprofit sector is that we achieve our mission and creativity through a 9-5 workday. And if we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that we all need to be better supported to live into our full potential. This policy change is in deep alignment with our values of love, networks, and racial justice and we are excited to launch an experiment that challenges us to live out these values in new ways. 

Maybe some of you are already doing this, or will soon join us? If so, let us know how things are working out – you can use the comment section below. And check out this TedTalk with Juliet Schor discussing the value of the four-day work week – from retention of employees to enhanced productivity and overall wellness for people and families. 

1 Comment
June 7, 2022

More Online Gatherings? Yes, Please!

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

These days, folks love to hate Zoom as much as they used to love to hate meetings in general. And “Zoom fatigue” is a problem most folks didn’t even have until the last couple of years. I know from experience how taxing it can be to interact with people through a computer or phone screen all day long. AND, for a minute, I want to sing the praises of online gatherings. 

Online gatherings can be powerful. I’ve born witness to deep heart-opening moments and moments of relational repair in online meetings. I’ve seen people have important moments of insight and learning. I’ve seen folks inspire one another and discover their power to speak into difficult situations and confront unjust dynamics within their organizations. And, I’ve seen folks share important information and make really strategic decisions. It’s all about how you create and hold the space. When we bring the best of what we know about creating containers for meaningful engagement, designing for the whole person, the magic can still happen.  

Online learning can be more fruitful than in-person learning. Before the pandemic began, most of our workshops were in person for two or three days at a time. As we transitioned to online learning, we broke the content up into smaller bites (typically 3 hours) and spread sessions out over several days or weeks. We’re finding that participants enjoy taking in content in smaller doses, absorbing the information,  and practicing a little before layering on the next set of ideas. 

Online gatherings can reduce the time, effort, and resources needed to participate. Since 2020, I have been able to participate in waaaay more conferences, convenings, and gatherings than I would have in the ‘before times.” I’ve been able to gather wisdom and inspiration from the Movement for Black Lives, Race Forward, and the Othering and Belonging Institute, to name just a few. I’ve participated in somatics workshops and disability justice workshops, and connected regularly with peers who are committed to deepening our practice of equity. I’ve been co-learning and co-leading a peer exploration at the intersections of racism and classism. And as a volunteer, I’ve been able to get deeply involved with the Poor People’s Campaign and both learn from powerful leaders from across the country and plan with leaders from across our state. On the flip side, while the cost of an online gathering isn’t zero, it can cost a lot less and make it possible to engage more people. While an online meeting does expend energy, I’d be surprised if the carbon footprint of a Zoom meeting exceeded a trip by car, train, or airplane.

Online gatherings have been good for my health. Because I haven’t been traveling for work and because full-day events are rare, there are rarely multi-day stretches where I’m 100%  involved with only one group. This has meant much less late-night hustling for one group before an all-day in-person event for another. And I’ve done literally no late night work on train rides between NYC and Boston after a full work day (a regular feature of my work life before COVID). As someone who is chemically sensitive, it was not unusual for me to have to wear a mask to deal with chemical exposure in hotels and offices long before the pandemic. As someone with food allergies, eating on the road is fraught with difficulties. In the world of online work, it’s been a blessing to work from spaces where I can control fragrances and chemical exposure as well as my own meals. I have heard from others with chronic conditions and mobility challenges that online participation has enabled them to participate more fully in things that matter to them, with an important caveat. While we’re getting good at using features like chats and breakout rooms, we haven’t done as well with accessibility needs like ASL, spoken language interpretation, captioning, or other aids for folks with visual challenges.

Of course, there are caveats to all of these upsides to online gatherings. They can be boring, taxing, and even exclusionary. They can make it possible to sit still for too long, strain our wrists and hands, and spend too much time with our screens. They can make it possible to say yes to too many good things and thereby fail to carve out space for other meaningful things in our lives. They can create real accessibility problems for folks without a reliable internet connection or device. And, given the limited ability for participants to engage with one another as they would choose, there are a lot of power dynamics to address and manage. Still, the rise of online meetings in response to the pandemic has taught us that if we design carefully, facilitate attentively, and address equity and access issues, they can be a vehicle for more participation, less environmental damage, and more powerful thinking and action. 

4 Comments
June 1, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Pull On your Cape and Prepare the Social Justice Emergency Kit

Ok, you know the way the movie starts about the state of this country. 

Opening scene. Racism is deeply embedded in communities and every institution, our world is at war, reproductive rights are crumbling, COVID has weakened our health, our economic system is collapsing, and climate change is wreaking havoc on the planet. Among these and other crises, Black people, Indigenous people, and Latinx and Asian & Pacific Islander communities are the first and last to be impacted. They are trying to stay alive, protect their children, and hold onto their bodies, lands, and dignity.  

Cliparts #45080

Scene 2. You get out your cape. A really nice fitting, fabulous, super hero, version of a cape that ties around your neck while you stand effortlessly on top of a mountain. You’re a hero for this moment. You’re living in this mess so you might as well join with others to make the movie end better than the first draft of the screenplay.

Scene 3. Imagine the faces of people who are in your sphere of influence. Who are they?  Go down the mountain and get them! Build power through collaboration. Join organizations and networks and train up your skills together.

ClipartKey is a free community supported website

Final scene. You pack your social justice emergency kit. It’s a gorgeous cool suitcase that matches your cape. It’s got everything you need to make change:

  • A bowl of laughter for the tough days
  • Fulfilling relationships with people who care about you and will also support change
  • A mutual aid handbook that helps you find rest, money, food, water, and shelter as you work for justice
  • Good nights of sleep and putting your feet up on the couch
  • Movement of your body, exercise, and breath 
  • And, lots of cuddles! 

You stroll out to the road and your cape billows in the breeze as your suitcase rolls behind you. Your favorite power song comes on cue as the credits roll. It’s the kind of walk, the kind of music that comes at the end of a movie and makes you feel connected to something greater. You feel ten feet taller, you feel – and are! – more powerful and wiser. You got this!

Leave a comment
May 26, 2022

On Overwhelm: Why we cannot avoid it and why we cannot drown in it

Especially for my white colleagues, white family and white friends…and for me.

CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, wrote: “I don’t know how many different ways I can express how it feels to know that this country will always offer up the violent destruction of our lives to young white men angry at their lack of purpose and power. We will never be safe until white manhood is defined by something other than the quest for domination over others.”

While we have varying political inclinations and levels of activism, we can probably agree that not speaking out or otherwise addressing “the quest for domination over” is not what white people ought to be doing in response to the murders in Buffalo and the racist violence that preceded it and will follow.

Many of us want to be a part of something larger such that our feelings, thoughts, statements and actions contribute to a movement of white people who are working collectively for a future of freedom and connection. This is a lifetime of work and, for many of us, our daily mission. 

One thing that gets in the way is being overwhelmed.

As I awoke last week with a heavy heart about so many personal, local, national, and global issues, one option was to fall into being overwhelmed and to stay there. For many, it is a habitual response. One of my habitual responses is related: to avoid overwhelm and to carry on or push through, ignoring the depth of the pain. Neither is useful if the task is to be a part of a movement for change.

The history of this country is, in fact, overwhelming. It is overwhelming to recognize that this country is formed in the “quest for domination.” White colonists killed indigenous people for land and enslaved, abused, and killed Africans as a means of creating wealth and maintaining power. It is overwhelming to know white people brought their children to view lynchings. And equally overwhelming to know millions watched the video and listened to the words of Payton S. Gendron, the white man who killed or wounded 13 people, most of them Black, in Buffalo.

As a white person I know I/we need to hold this history, without excusing or dismissing it. It is hard and also both problematic and hard not to wrestle with it. 

We need to build our emotional strength and integrity to name the violence and oppression and to confront it. It doesn’t mean that we wallow in it; it means we can’t ignore it or rely on silence or denial (“it wasn’t that bad;” “the US has good ideals;” “that’s so negative, can’t we just move on?”). And, partly as a result of the ways we have detoured from these heavy realities, the current-day level of racism and violence is incredibly overwhelming. That is why we need to act and create new ways of being

This week, as I continued to grapple with the mass murders in Buffalo, a white man gunning down our Black elders, and I learned of so many babies and teachers murdered in Uvalde, I am trying a new habit: I am creating space for grieving and also space to talk and strategize about steps I can take in response. Yesterday, I shed tears before a meeting.  I am in fact overwhelmed but not stopping at that way station. 

The number of issues and problems around us can indeed be overwhelming. But they are perhaps less overwhelming when we see that they are connected. The quest for domination, racism, and misogyny are the drivers of an array of issues: Payton and Kyle Rittenhouse and other white people who use guns to slaughter (often Black and brown people), police murders of Black people, policing in general, prisons as our form of punishment, anti-trans laws, occupation in Palestine, inequitable COVID deaths, and so much more. 

When I am able to see white power, racism, misogyny, and concentrations of wealth as interconnected problems, I am reminded that our actions for freedom are also connected. You can be working against anti-semitism, seeing the root of othering and racism, or holding organizations accountable to building pro-Black practices and cultures, while someone else works on prison abolition. Prisons hold disproportionate numbers of BIPoC, trans, and poor people, and are rooted in control and punishment; hence, these issues are connected. And on it goes. As a white Jewish person in a multi-racial family I feel particularly pulled to work against racism, prisons, and anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim issues. Others may choose to show up in other places. We need to see the interconnectedness of these many issues.  

And so, to white people who seek a better future for all, let us not be overwhelmed to a point of inaction or numbness, but instead speak out and take action. Silence is not an option. Inaction is not an option. As my mother, Ruth Messinger, a white anti-racist shero of mine, often says: “We cannot retreat to the convenience and the luxury of being overwhelmed.”  

1 Comment
May 23, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Joyful!

I had already fallen in love with Dante Bowe’s song Joyful just from listening to the track. But when I saw his video today, it stopped me in my tracks. Dante oozes a joy that is grounded in a deep spirituality and a deep connection to community. This is a great anthem, an ode to #Blackjoy and to the power of choosing joy. Even when the events of the world constantly envelope us in fear, anger, grief, and hopelessness, we can choose joy. As we used to say in Sunday School, joy is choosing to be happy, even when things don’t go our way. There is so much that is not going our way in this country and around the world. And yet, without denying the forces arrayed against us, we can still choose joy. We can choose to build a deeply grounded sense of community. We can choose joy that doesn’t have to wait for poverty, war, racism, and oppression to cease. We can choose joy “in the midst.” I hope this video puts a spring in your step and joy in your heart, even as we struggle together to create a better world.

Leave a comment
May 18, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: The Smell of Smoke: Are We Burning or Rising from the Ashes?

Photo credit: Mark McDermott, webinar for United for a Fair Economy

16 months ago, I wrote this piece and it is just as relevant today, not surprisingly. 

I wrote:  “We have to decide, particularly white Americans, if we are willing to step into a real period of reckoning and not just a temporary increase in awareness that is evidenced by the formation of committees and our participation in marches.” 

I continue to be in the belief that we have to take the small steps and we have to find places of dreaming and action where we get clearer about the big steps. Those who are fighting and killing for white supremacy and power are getting ever more drastic. I hope to write about what a drastic yet grounded and loving white response looks like in this moment…and then to take that next step. 


March 19, 2021

A friend said that as the snow melted in her Minneapolis neighborhood last week, the smell of smoke from the fires after Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd last summer was released anew into the air. This, as the trial of Derek Chauvin begins in Minneapolis.

This month is a cacophony of anniversaries and markings. It is a year since Louisville Police killed Breonna Taylor, about that since two men killed Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, a 25-year old unarmed Black man, and the start of the trials of Derek Chauvin and Kyle Rittenhouse.

Note that I am trying here to use an active voice after listening to a powerful podcast with Baratunde Thurston and Yahdon Israel talking about how racism and anti-Blackness is built into our use of the passive voice and tendency to make those impact the actors of a sentence[1]. [In other words] George Floyd was not killed by Derek Chauvin; Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.

This is an important time in our country. While our courts are a far cry from sources of healing or justice, it is critical that we use this system for positive change as much as possible, while we create better systems.

What will happen? We must:

  • Use this moment to make the courts an instrument of justice.
  • Work from outside the courthouse to say that we are ready to be a society with real accountability for wrongs that we have committed, both historically and recently.
  • Shift how we use language to ensure we are attributing actions to the perpetrators of the harm, in this case the death of another human.
  • Ask, each day, “what can I do differently in my organization to dismantle anti-Blackness and the destructive myth and perpetuation of white supremacy?” and then act on it.

Let’s be active now. In our language[2] and our actions.

In our organization and many others, people are tired and grieving. We have lost loved ones and we have lost access to aspects of our lives that we hold dear. And yet, we need to save energy for the important work and rebuilding ahead. We have to maintain energy in organizations so that the commitment and work does not end after a workshop, or after a team is set up, or after we hire a director of equity. These are just the first steps…

We have to decide, particularly white Americans, if we are willing to step into a real period of reckoning and not just a temporary increase in awareness that is evidenced by the formation of committees and our participation in marches. The smoke could be the signal of us all going down in flames or it could be the olfactory symbol of rising from the ashes and rebuilding our country.


[1] Baratunde called the podcast: “a meditation and conversation on analyzing the structure of headlines to reframe/revert the gaze away from the victims as racial objects back to the racial subjects perpetuating the problem….[in other words] George Floyd was not killed by Derek Chauvin; Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.” (We’re Having a Moment” Podcast, Episode 4, 2020).  

[2] In the same Podcast, Yahdon Israel (@yahdon on Instagram) reminds us that even well-intentioned campaigns like “Say her name” which helps us to hold up people who were killed and to focus on women as well as men; it doesn’t name the subject or actor and doesn’t name what we are doing or why. Don’t put those impacted in the passive action role: “Black people earn less than…”; “women are killed by men”; “George Floyd was killed”. Who did the killing and why?

Leave a comment
May 9, 2022

MICRO-BLOG: Women are Weeping. Women are in Trouble. Women need Allies.

Content Warning: Violence against women

Back in the 1960s women talked about the personal being political. They linked their personal lives and situations directly to the impacts of sexism which operates at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels to devalue and systematically oppress women.

Sexism and its companion, male domination, are powerful forms of oppression. And if you intersect these with others like racism, classism, transphobia, or the oppression of mothers, it’s clear that a woman’s life and material well-being are in danger. 

With Roe v. Wade on the brink of being overruled, Black women who already have poor maternal health outcomes will lose their lives and low-income women will have to scrape together their last dollars to make it across state lines to get safe and legal abortions. Parenthood is difficult, even for those who choose it. Very few of us talk about or normalize the pressure of raising a child: the deep exhaustion, the financial cost, and – if you’re in a dangerous relationship with the other parent – how life threatening it can be. And this is all nearly unimaginable if the person who placed the child in you did so against your will.

Roe aside, the psychic wounds of being a woman are real, whether you are a cis woman1 or a trans woman. Women’s lives are threatened by domestic and sexual violence including in our own homes. Many work for less pay than men and toil away in unsympathetic workplaces that don’t provide paid family leave, child care, or flexibility around school drop-off and pick-up schedules. Women are cut down to size by cis-men2 who they think they know more, know better, and know what we need. We have watched every woman who has run for public office belittled, objectified, dehumanized, and even fetishized. We can’t elect a woman as president even though the stakes are high for women without representation as we are witnessing now. 

Women are in mourning. Whether they support a woman’s right to choose or not, they know deep down that their lives are not as valued as cis-men. They can feel it in their homes like a fog surrounding them and as they enter into workplaces and places of power. Women need powerful allies in this moment – people of all backgrounds, even from various political parties, to rise up and challenge the status quo. There are women’s marches, elections, and policy decisions that we can participate in and influence. Otherwise, we risk a major roll back of rights for women – from reproductive freedom to same-sex marriage and equal pay for equal work.

These times aren’t easy but they won’t get any easier if women minimize their struggles and allies stay quiet. We can fight many oppressions at the same time and because they are inextricably connected, if we win in one place, it’s a win for the others. 

1 Cis-woman. Definition: https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-ciswoman-721261

2 Cis-man. Definition: https://gscc.msu.edu/education/glossary.html

Leave a comment
February 28, 2022

Remembering Paul Farmer

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

A magnificent star went dark when Paul Farmer, the great humanitarian, physician, and anthropologist, died in his sleep last Monday, February 21, on the grounds of a hilltop university health complex he’d helped establish in rural Rwanda.

He was only 62. It seems he suffered a massive heart attack.

Since I first learned of Dr. Farmer’s work with Partner’s in Health (PIH), the extraordinary nonprofit he co-founded back in 1987, I was inspired by his vision, mission, and values which go to the heart of every social justice credo I’ve ever read.

It’s easy to write lofty mission and belief statements. The walls of the cynical and sanctimonious are filled with them. 

It’s another matter to muster the collaborative energy and force of character that wills them into being. Few have done it with such skill, courage, and resilience as Paul Farmer, in the face of daunting obstacles. Only Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind when one considers who else might fit in this pantheon of humanitarian giants.

To get a feel for the magnitude of Paul Farmer’s achievement, try this imaginal experiment.

Gaia calls you forth and charges you with the following mission (excerpted from PIH’s website): Provide a preferential option for the poor of this planet in health care. At its root, your mission is both medical and moral. It is to be based on solidarity, rather than charity alone.

You ask: What moral precepts shall I adopt to guide our work?

Gaia answers: Your success will be evaluated by the degree to which you implement the following moral tenets:

1. All human lives have the same value, and every human being has the inalienable right to be healthy to fulfill their potential.

2. The right to health is not the only right held by our patients. Other fundamental human rights are interrelated and just as inalienable.

3. All people need to stand in solidarity with those who find themselves at the margins of modern society.

4. The playing field needs to be leveled for those individuals who are born at a disadvantage (equity vs equality).

5. Injustice is not accidental but a direct result of structural violence and oppression. We can fight injustice by changing those dynamics.

6. It is our moral call to action to expose social injustice and to work toward correcting those systemic forces that create inequalities, no matter how impossible or challenging this task might look.

Though we approach the challenge of social injustice from different angles, I’ve always been struck by the congruence of IISC’s mission —”to build collaborative capacity in individuals, organizations, and networks working for social justice and racial equity” — with that of Partners in Health. And there is no doubt that we share the same set of moral convictions in going about our work.

Tracy Kidder documented this labor of love in “Mountains Beyond Mountains” in 2003, shadowing Farmer through rural Haiti, Cuba, Peru, Siberia, Rwanda, and Lesotho, as he hiked hours to the homes of patients to be sure they were taking their medicine. From the prisons and barrios of Lima to the gulag of Siberia, and throughout rural Africa, he shone his light where the world had turned an indifferent eye. Thousands are alive today because Paul Farmer lived; his love for his patients will forever be his legacy.

As long-standing friends and partners who’ve known of my admiration and commitment to Dr. Farmer’s work, I invite you to take a few moments to peruse Partners in Health’s website and consider making a donation in honor of his life and work — one of great love, generosity, and courage that made the world a better place.

Now it’s up to the rest of us to ensure that his spirit lives on — his moral flame an eternal sanctuary for the marginalized.

May he rest in peace.

Thomas J. Rice, Co-founder and former IISC Board Chair (1992-2012)

Leave a comment