Sunday, March 15, 2015

Second day of WPC16

This post covers Friday, which opened with an energetic presentation by Chris Crass, who told his own story of becoming a social justice activist, starting with his high school and community college years in Orange County. His story and his critique were encouraging and hopeful, and at the end, he was joined by a group of young people (Lost Voices) from Ferguson to speak and lead us in some of the chants they had led from the streets there.

Chris described being inspired by many past leaders, especially by courageous women, and he has very consciously worked to become feminist in his work as well as anti-racist and anti-oppression in all he does. He showed us this picture of Anne Braden (Louisville antiracist activist) and Ella Baker leaving the Highlander Center, perhaps in the 1950s. He described them as striding out to do their work after the reflective time at Highlander, while still in dialogue. It's a great image of alliance and community providing the strength for these two women's life-long work.

Another feminist scholar/activist who has inspired Chris is bell hooks - I didn't write down the specific book he cited, but I know her work is about working both with heart and critical consciousness. (I have been particularly attracted to her use of mindfulness as a key component of activism. She has written about how important it was for her to meet Thich Nhat Hahn in her early career; this dialogue with Pema Chodron something I enjoyed reading: "Cultivating Openness When Things Fall Apart.")

Chris suggests that we use a positive approach: focus on what we can do, rather than what we oppose. He said it is important to take steps that are right for where we are in our development, and learn from the experience, in doing social justice work. An insight from late in his presentation was about the need to create a counter-weight to the "gravitational pull" toward white supremacy/racism, by creating social supports that provide a pull toward liberation. That means that we need to build community.

I took a break for a bit to buy his book (Toward Collective Liberation) and sit by myself in the Quaker space until lunch, then participated in an action planning session with fellow Quakes from all over the country.

Some ideas from our Action Planning (which was held in the Quaker group): story telling (self and others); publish about the White Privilege Conference or anti-racist work in local press publications; discussion groups on classic anti-racist texts like The New Jim Crow or the June 2014 Atlantic article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations"; learn from elders on the margins (don't reinvent the wheel - others have done this work for a long time); join in with interfaith dialogues; learn to listen deeply across difference; focus attention on local historical issues, like the Sand Creek massacre for the Boulder Meeting - as local history is not generally taught in schools; create affinity groups, which could be internet-based, to include people from different areas (like the group of us in attendance at this WPC).

Next was the second keynote, with Gyasi Ross: "Native Rules of Racial Standing: Derrick Bell Revisited."

Gyasi summarized the invisible rules for legal standing for African Americans from a classic work, Faces At the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. Then Gyasi presented a parallel case for the treatment of Native people in law, media, and society in general, which revealed even starker conditions, including the shocking lack of redress at a recent event where a group of Native children attending a sports event were racially harassed by some white hooligans, and only one individual was charged - and that was with disorderly conduct. The mainstream media didn't pay any attention to the event, which was traumatic in the extreme to these grade-school aged children.

A key point in this presentation was that Native people are frequently not asked to speak for themselves in the media, but have white people speak for them. He also pointed to the assumption that any Native person represents the views of the whole population. Native issues are not of interest to the media; violence against Native people by law enforcement doesn't create the outrage that Black Lives Matter represents; and crimes against Native people are disproportionately caused by non-Natives, compared to similar rates of violent crimes commited against people in other racial groups by those not of their group. These issues are invisible to the mainstream press, and even largely invisible in the social justice movement.

The day ended up with a celebratory dinner, where I was able to hear the story of how Demi and Diggett, friends from my Meeting, met as children and reconnected recently. We also had the presenter from Thursday's afternoon session, Pem Davidson Buck, and a couple of UU activists who had a lively conversation with Diggett about the UU.

Take aways? - the emphasis of the morning's keynote on intersectionality. I am getting a better sense of this concept, and especially how it is the legacy of Black feminists (womanists, in Alice Walker's term). My challenge is making connections between the ideas, my own experience, and work that's needed in the world. I'm not an organizer! I have been calling myself, somewhat disparagingly, an "armchair activist," and of course that includes reflection and writing. That is partly what I'm trying to do here, at least to get started.

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