Sunday, March 15, 2015

Saturday at WPC16 - Mab Segrest, Heather Hackman, hanging out with SURJ folks, Fourth Street Live! protest

The day started with a keynote by Mab Segrest, feminist antiracist activist and author. I was enormously impressed with her candor and her analysis. She combined an account of her own radicalization as a young person in Alabama during tbe days of forced integration of the schools. Poignantly, she watched as her own school was surrounded by marshals as they escorted in the first valiant Black children; subsequently, her father worked with other white parents to organize segregated white private schools for their children, where she ended up finishing her high school years. Other events led to the inner conviction that the system she was living in was insane (insights captured in her 1999 book, Memoir of a Race Traitor, that also includes a succinct history of race relations in the United States).

In her keynote address, in addition to a summary of her own history of radicalization, Mab summarized some critical work that she is engaged in now, looking at the social history of mental health care through a critical anti-racist lens, in a study of the history Milledgeville, an enormous mental asylum in Georgia, a study she has been involved in over the past twelve years. As someone long interested in psychological and psychiatric theory, the clarity she brought to understanding mental health in the context of racial justice was stunning. What was "insanity" - the behaviors that got people locked up for their (abbreviated) lives, or the systems of power and privilege that caused their suffering? Is mental illness something that is happening to an individual because of a disordered brain, in need of chemical alteration by powerful drugs, or something happening in the context of social systems subjecting individuals, communities, and families to trauma (including slavery, lynching, discrimination), with little opportunity for redress?

I am eager for this book to be published, as the speech she gave has given me a lot to think about.

Next, we went to the half-day institute by Heather Hackman, "Climate - Change - Mind - Set: The Necessity of Replacing Whte Liberalism with Racial Justice As We Courageously Act in Response to Climate Change." Heather is a captivating speaker, and had put together a lot of information for us. It would have been good to have more time, but she shared quite a number of resources that I am going to follow up on. The core point is that climate change will require major changes in what privileged people believe they are entitled to in consuming resources (white Americans and other largely white privileged populations around the world). This sense of entitlement comes from white privilege, which leads people to feel they both need and have earned all of their "stuff." She included a sobering amount of information about the science of global warming and the rate we are proceding toward a point of no return in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We are already far beyond what would be a truly sustainable population level for everyone in the world to have plenty. Current wars around the world are caused in large part because of diminishing resources - such as the situation in Syria, where the government siphoned off the water to the cities, leaving the farm areas drying up and impossible to farm. The farmers reluctantly took up arms. (This issue of "who owns the water under the ground" is going to continue to be critical.)

For this workshop, the task we had was to really grasp the connection between systemic injustice, white perception of entitlement, and the ticking clock of climate change that gives us very little time to make adjustments. Heather is taking this message to environmental groups as well as to social change groups. She left her academic position a couple of years ago to concentrate on this work.

Here are a couple of resources she particularly recommends: Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, and A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency.

At the institute, we met a woman from Louisville (Loo'vl), who invited us to a supper that night being held at Central Presbyterian, an inner-city church with a strong social justice tradition. What we didn't realize until getting there (she and her gentleman friend drove us and then back to the hotel), was that this dinner was being put on by the Louisville SURJ group especially for SURJ members from around the country and others who had attended WPC16 and were still in town.

The church basement was full of anti-racist movement people from Louisville and from the WPC conference (I saw Chris Cross and Mab Segrest among others). We had opportunities to learn about each others' work and what keeps people going over the long haul. At the end of the evening, local organizers from the Black Lives Matter group invited individuals who were able to join in a protest at Fourth Street Live, where a young black man had been arrested last summer for refusing to leave after being told he didn't meet the dress code. The young man (I didn't get his name) was there at the dinner as well, and explained that he hadn't even been violating the dress code, but had refused to stand down when confronted, so he was arrested and subsequently lost his job over this - a job of counseling and guiding individuals leaving prison.

Diane and I weren't able to go to this, as we had to catch an early plane, but I did a search to see if the event had gotten any response. Here is a link to a very brief news item about this event published a few hours ago, and a picture of the protest - I know that some of the people I met at the dinner were there:

The news item mentions that there is controversy about the dress code of Fourth Street Live,  "Louisville's Premier Dining, Entertainment, and Retail Destination," being racist. They didn't detail the entire dress code itself, which (to my mind) speaks for itself:


Yes. Please know the Fourth Street Live! outdoor area has a code of conduct at times when the street is operating as an entertainment venue with alcohol being consumed in the common areas:

During these times Patrons must be 21 years of age or older and possess a valid ID. Smart casual attire recommended: clothing that is fitted, neat and appropriate. The following is NOT permitted under the Fourth Street Live! code of conduct: profanity on clothing, sleeveless shirts on men, excessively torn clothing, exposed undergarments on men, full sweat suits, sweat pants, excessively long shirts (when standing upright with arms at your side, the bottom of your shirt cannot extend below the tip of your fingers), sunglasses (after 9pm), shorts or pants worn below the hips, and athletic shorts.

Security reserves the right to deny entry or remove any individual who does not comply with the code of conduct. Please note that the code of conducts of individual venues may vary. For any questions or concerns, please ask to speak to a supervisor or please call Fourth Street Live! Customer Service at 888-576-2588. 

One more thing: I was curious about SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), which had been a sponsor of the WPC16, and had such wonderful people as members, so I looked up more information. It turns out the Minneapolis contact for SURJ is my colleague Lisa Albrecht, who was also at WPC16. This is an anti-racist activist group for white people. There is helpful information on the SURJ Web site about why an an anti-racist organization for white people makes sense, and links to different groups around the country.

One of the things people try to do at WPC is give each other an opportunity to be accountable. My next steps: to do some reading of the books I've linked here. I'll post summary comments as I go. I'm also going to talk with Diggett about sharing some of the information from the Saturday institute on racial justice and climate change with my TCFM Meeting. This brings together work that different groups and individuals are doing in the Meeting, and making these connections may be helpful.

I am also committing to follow up with a young woman who was one of the FGC organizers, Sonali, who had been part of the Quaker Voluntary Service to talk more with her about that program, which might be something we can bring to the area.

I'm not sure what next steps make sense to share information with my colleagues in CEHD Student Services - I'll talk this over with Diane and Hans. One good idea might be to do a book club and pick a book in common from among the many that were referenced over the conference - maybe Memoir of a Race Traitor would appeal to others as well as myself.

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

hanspetersoh said...

Great recap Mary Ellen, it sounds like the dinner on Saturday was a particularly authentic experience; I'm sorry to have missed it.

Very sad to see a dress code like that for a very central and mainstream outdoor music venue. The implications feel thinly veiled at best.

I was blown away by Loretta Ross - so many relevant quotes that I needed to hear:
-"Why should fighting oppression be safe when being oppressed is not?"
-"If you ask people to give up hate, you have to be there for them when they do."