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Seaside Memory in Gaza

Mon, 2017-11-13 10:08
Defending immigrant rights Building economic justice Communities Against IslamophobiaGaza Unlocked

Memorials take many forms - some are grand and iconic like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC while others exude power through their very simplicity.  During my trip Gaza last month, I noticed a series of colorful concrete benches placed along the beachfront as we traveled north along the coast from Rafah to Gaza City. My AFSC colleague Ali Albari noted the Arabic words on the backs of each bench, pointing out that each one bore the name of a Palestinian city or town that was forcibly depopulated by Zionist militias in 1948/49.

Most do not know that the majority almost 2,000,000 residents of Gaza are in fact refugees - Palestinians who had originally lived in the central and northern regions of the country. After their dispossession they were herded into refugee camps in Gaza, fully expecting to return to their homes after the armistice. Now, almost seventy years later, they are still waiting.

But they have not forgotten. It's not difficult to look at these simple seaside benches and grasp their sacred significance to the refugees of Gaza. I we drove by, I noticed that some sat empty, while others had only one person sitting upon it gazing out to sea, and still others were filled with friends, family and children playing around them. Unlike most memorials, which commemorate that which was lost and never to be found, I have no doubt that those who sit and congregate around these benches do not consider their original homes to be lost - and most certainly expect that they will one day return.

(Thanks to Ali Albari for translating).

Men respond to #MeToo: Reflections on healthy masculinity

Wed, 2017-11-01 13:38
Building peace Ending discrimination Inclusion and Equalityend abuse

If you are on social media, you have probably seen the #MeToo hashtag. It has been sparked by the numerous women who have come forward to voice the sexual abuse they’ve suffered from by Harvey Weinstein. This, along with the previous sexual revelations about Trump, has caused an outcry for justice and encouraged everyday women from around the world to speak up about the abuse that they, too, have suffered at the hands of men. 

Last week, I spoke with male-identifying AFSC staff members, Michael Merryman-Lotze, Jordan Garcia and Joshua Saleem and asked them what their reflections were and what they thought healthy masculinity means. Their responses also continue the conversation from a past post we did, “What does healthy masculinity look like? and aligns with social media’s response from men who have been posting under the hashtag #HowIWillChange. - Chrissie

“In the end what hurts us most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King Jr.

When Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement more than ten years ago, it was men’s toxic masculinity that was the cause of rampant sexual violence. Today, men’s toxic masculinity is the cause of rampant sexual violence. Not nearly enough has changed. Men’s unexamined privilege means many have declined to say anything about it even when it continues to effect women, girls and young boys - showing few signs of stopping. #MeToo shouldn’t just “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” it should incite the kind of change that puts an end to sexual violence. But it can’t do that without men changing.

We keep talking about getting men to speak out and I guess that’s true, but honestly, what we need more than that is for men to stop raping people. Men are the primary perpetrators of the violence - sexual and otherwise. And they are not scary boogey men, they’re friends of yours, they’re your brothers, co-workers and neighbors. However, when they perpetrate violence they don’t lose their status, they don’t lose their jobs or get booed out of town or even off stage. They don’t have to change, we have yet to demand it of them.

But of course, it’s imperative that men speak out, although it’s sexist that when men do it has more weight in our culture. That power comes with responsibility, and if you’re not using it then your silence is betrayal. Caring deeply is not enough; what we need is for men to stop raping people. We all need to demand a stop to it.

Thank goodness there are women who don’t back down despite the efforts of many men and some women who try and get them to do so. Thank goodness for the leadership of women, otherwise, where would we be?

- Jordan Garcia

Because I’m guilty of this too, I would caution us men who are tempted to put ourselves on a spectrum with good guys on one end and bad guys on the other. Instead, we need to do the work of asking how we’ve contributed to spaces and a society where every woman in our lives has a #MeToo status. For example, at a recent high school workshop there was a young man who brought up emotion and feelings as things to quickly move past and get over. I told him that we’re given messages as boys that tell us we can’t feel or emote because that is feminine. I challenged him in the same way I challenge myself to recognize those negative messages about masculinity and do the work to unpack the violence those messages do to us internally and externally to the people around us.

The good people over at Very Smart Brothas recently ran a piece called, “Straight Black Men Are the White People of Black People.” In the same way some white folks can see racism as something related to the alt-right or neo Nazi groups and not wrestle with how their own privilege perpetuates white supremacy, men can see sexism and sexual harassment/assault as something confined to those “bad” men (i.e. rapists, abusers, etc.) instead of doing the work to uncover how our male privilege, especially hetero male privilege, creates and sustains environments that are not safe for women.

 - Joshua Saleem

It is wonderful that the painful and personal #MeToo stories shared by women have moved men to think about how they will change.  As men, we need to hold ourselves and other men accountable for our behaviors. We need to admit to the ways in which we are complicit both directly and indirectly in harmful actions. We need to be at the forefront of change, and I acknowledge that I have not done enough in this regard. 

But as we (men) approach change, I think we must also recognize that we are coming to the struggle late and that work to challenge rape culture, misogyny, and toxic masculinity has been going on for decades (generations). We must be careful, as we respond to new convictions, to not fall back into problematic power dynamics that center male power and privilege. We need to make sure that we are not stepping over or on the women who we say we want to support. We need to decenter ourselves.  

The change that is needed also isn’t simply individual and personal change. We can’t only consider “how I will change.” We must also figure out how we will work to change society as a whole; how we will join with others to undermine power systems and structures that accept and normalize sexist and violent behavior by men. And, for men, undermining those systems means stepping back, listening to, supporting, and standing behind/beside women and others already leading work to change those systems and structures. 

Finally, listening, really listening, feels key.  If we (men) need to see #MeToo posts from the women in our lives to understand that harassment and rape culture are endemic problems that haven’t been addressed, then we haven’t been listening to women.  The fact that women find it necessary to share #MeToo posts and stories means that we have not been listening to or adequately supporting them in the face of sexism, harassment, and assault.  We must recognize our collective failure and do better. 

 - Michael Merryman-Lotze

Related posts

What does healthy masculinity look like?

5 things I learned from talking with Chris Crass

Wed, 2017-11-01 10:05
Ending discrimination Black Lives Matterending white supremacy

On September 6th I had the enormous honor of getting to talk with Chris Crass, white anti-racist organizer and Unitarian Universalist. We had a wide ranging conversation about faith, organizing white people for racial justice, the status of racial justice among Quakers and Unitarian Universalists, and a lot more. We posted the conversation as a series of 5 blog posts. All of the posts are worth reading in their entirety, but here is a recap and guide to that conversation with links to each post. - Lucy

1. Now is the time of monsters: A conversation with Chris Crass part 1: We are seeing a huge backlash against racial justice organizing, that backlash is taking horrific forms, but if we actively resist and build alternatives now in our communities and at a larger level, we can turn this "time of monsters" into a moment on the trajectory toward racial justice and multiracial democracy.

2. The precarity and possibility of this political moment: A conversation with Chris Crass, part 2: This is a scary time, there are horrifying acts of state violence and deep repression occurring every day. The danger is that our movements for justice will go underground in response. The revelations of the deep structures of injustice and the energy of backlash can be used instead to further movements for justice. As the depth of oppression is revealed, how can social justice change agents respond to get closer to the world we envision?

3. If this faith were a bowl, could it hold me? A conversation with Chris Crass, part 3: Both Quaker and Unitarian Universalist faiths have been comprised mostly of white folks. In their founding the ingredients of white supremacy were inevitably incorporated. How do we move from normative white assumptions to truly multiracial faiths? It is critical that more people understand that racial justice belongs as a central focus of both faiths. It's time to bring into our sanctuaries a sense that working for and with Black Lives Matter and justice for migrants (for example) are part of the deep and elemental sacrament of our respective faiths.

4. What's at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice? A conversation with Chris Crass part 4: White supremacy doesn't just hurt, endanger, kill, and structurally imprison people of color, it also clogs up the hearts and constrains the lives of white people. As Chris said, "Racism is a disease and a poison and a monstrosity in white communities that we need to save white people from as we work to destroy white supremacy's impact institutionally and culturally on communities of color."

5. Organizing white people for racial justice: A conversation with Chris Crass, part 5: If we want transformed religious communities, Unitarian Universalist and Quaker, it is critical that we work both outside our congregations for justice and internally as well, that we not see the two as mutually exclusive, but elementally intertwined. We need to understand that it is critical to create deep sanctuary within our faiths that manifest racial justice in our souls, our churches and meeting houses, our wider institutions and on the streets. Both/and thinking is necessary for the deep changes we envision.

Related posts

Schooled in Disconnection: Waking up and working for racial justice

Let us love the hell out of this world: On revolutionary gratitude in the time of Trump

Organizing white people for racial justice: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 5

Tue, 2017-10-31 11:22
Ending discrimination Black Lives MatterInclusion and Equality

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. He is one of the leading voices in the country calling for and supporting white people to work for racial justice. He joined with white anti-racist leaders around the country to help launch the national anti-racist network Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which works in white communities for racial justice. Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Religious Left. He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner, and their two kids. Learn more about Chris here. I spoke with Chris and Richie Schulz, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s community engagement fellow, on September 6th, we talked about the current political moment, organizing white folks for racial justice, and the stake white people have in that work. This is the fifth of five posts from that conversation. This wasn’t an interview per se, but a conversation with each of us each contributing.

Richie Schulz: What sorts of things happen within Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations to allow for that deeper action and movement to occur? What are UU congregations doing to empower UUs to be courageous and step into action?

Chris Crass: It's crucial that congregations come alive for racial justice values both within the congregations themselves, within congregational life, but also through experiences partnering with people most impacted by injustice, for example participating in the Latino/Latinx-led immigrant rights movement in Arizona. People there are learning and growing through their experiences of being shoulder to shoulder with people facing off against a racist police force with Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the forefront and with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement opposing the racist system of policing. Similarly, it's critical that people get out of their congregations, UUs of color as well as white UUs, in experiencing the realities of white supremacy.

Whether it's people of faith coming together in Charlottesville, whether it's people of faith coming together against the attacks on the Affordable Care Act and the efforts to tear away health care from working-class people, all of these situations, these moments with DACA are opportunities for us to live our values in a way that then also brings our faith in relationship to multiracial grassroots democratic movements. This can energize and bring alive the best of our faith to continue doing the work within the congregation in a way that is relevant to the broader world and relevant to what our values are related to being in the world. I think right now, through Black Lives Matter (BLM), there's been a much higher level of organizing and organization among UUs of color, Black Lives Matter of UUs and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), but throughout the association in local congregations and also the national association of UUs, the national leadership and staff, that leadership has really been pushing the congregations in a powerful way. There was a racist hiring incident that recently happened where a woman of color was not hired and literally told "You're not the right fit for this all-white staff." That just set off a huge response that was painful and powerful. UUs of color talked about their experiences of either being told "You're not the right fit," or being made to feel like “You're not the right fit”.

There’s also an outpouring of resistance from UUs of color and anti-racist UUs who have been organized and pushing demands for immediate goals around percentages of people of color hired, with a change from this kind of more neo-liberal multicultural, "We really encourage everyone to apply" model, into a "We're committed to becoming a multiracial faith with multiracial leadership as well as creating mechanisms of support, robust recruitment and leadership development." We also challenge the white supremacy that locks the doors on so many people from being able to come in. So, all that has been happening. It's been a simultaneous, "How do we challenge the white supremacy within our faith's tradition and congregations while also being courageous for racial justice out in the streets of this country and in this time. It's a both/and, not an either/or approach. And I think the organization of people of color and the organization of white anti-racists has been creating a culture and a value and a vision that people can rally behind and be galvanized by. I think that has been incredibly important. And so out of this hiring crisis that happened just a few months ago, more than half of the congregations of the UU faith, close to 700 congregations held white supremacy teach-ins over a two-week period that helped the congregations better understand what white supremacy is and how it plays out within our faith. They were reading about POC experiences of racism within the faith, but also reading anti-racist racial justice visions of what the faith can look like and can be in this world.

Lucy Duncan: That's really powerful...

Chris Crass: Yes, I think that it's been tremendously powerful and I think this both/and approach of being in the streets, in the world, in our congregations, in our hearts, in our souls, both/and we do this work together and the work we do in the world helps transform us and the work we do in our congregations transforms us: it's all connected.

Related Posts

This is the time of monsters: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 1

The precarity and possibility of this political moment: A conversation with Chris Crass, pt. 2

If this faith were a bowl, could it hold me? A conversation with Chris Crass, pt. 3

What's at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice? A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 4

What’s at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice? A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 4

Fri, 2017-10-20 14:12
Ending discrimination ending white supremacyBlack Lives Matter

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. He is one of the leading voices in the country calling for and supporting white people to work for racial justice. He joined with white anti-racist leaders around the country to help launch the national anti-racist network Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which works in white communities for racial justice. Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Religious Left. He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner, and their two kids. Learn more about Chris here. I spoke with Chris and Richie Schulz, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s community engagement fellow, on September 6th, we talked about the current political moment, organizing white folks for racial justice, and the stake white people have in that work. This is the fourth of five posts from that conversation. This wasn’t an interview per se, but a conversation with each of us contributing. 
Lucy Duncan: Okay, this question is something that you and I both write about a lot. What's your sense for what's at stake for white people, particularly white people of faith in the struggle for racial justice? 

Chris Crass: Yeah, absolutely. I came into anti-racist work really having grown up in an extended working-class family where there was a lot of white people who were racist. But my mom, she would argue with them and there was all kinds of sexism directed at her, kind of dismissing her opinions and her leadership, but as a young kid, my mom saying “yes” to anti-racism really saved my life in a lot of ways. Her saying "no" to them and saying "yes" to justice and racial justice and teaching me about Dr. King and Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson really saved my life from a background that very much could have prepared me to be a right-wing racist, who really looked at the world from a place of fear, distrust, resentment and hatred. 

For me, coming into that, carrying the tradition of Anne Braden and Paul Braden in the South who were organizing in the 50s and 60s from this perspective of “white supremacy does incredible damage to the imagination, to the heart, to the values, to the sense of self of white people.” That’s what whiteness and racism was intended to do from the beginning. European indentured servants were forming families, forming friendships, forming communities with enslaved Africans, with indigenous people. Laws were enacted to prevent people coming together, there were rewards for white people to only align with the ruling class, and the capitalist, racist agenda, there was punishment for people of color (POC) and punishment for white people who stepped out of that white racist world view. I do this work because white people's lives are at stake in the fight against white supremacy, our hearts, our minds, our souls, our children, our community. The crisis of drug addiction, of suicide, of depression, of isolation that is in so many white communities, white working-class and middle-class communities is a byproduct of white supremacy. These developments are directly about the impact of white supremacy on white people’s culture, white people's lives, white people's sense of the world, white people's sense of themselves. 

I do this work because I want to end the nightmare of white supremacy for POC, but I also want to end it in white communities that literally train and socialize white kids like mine to be soldiers of racism whether they are liberal implementers of more of a managerial white supremacy in a diversity model that says, "all are welcome, but if POC come in they will be treated horribly and their labor will be over-exploited” or more overt in their racist ideology. For me it’s how do we create opportunities for white people to be both on the right side of history and also to reject this monstrous system that impacts our lives as white people, our communities, our families, the ways that we relate to each other and the ways that we are in the world.  

Yes, there are real benefits around white privilege, benefits that were specifically granted to indentured Europeans and working-class white people to separate us and POC from multiracial democracy. White privilege is specifically trying to get white people to buy into whiteness and away from a multiracial democracy that embraces and affirms all of our humanity. Racism is a disease and a poison and a monstrosity in white communities that we need to save white people from as we work to destroy white supremacy's impact institutionally and culturally on communities of color. 

Lucy Duncan: Yeah, I totally agree and briefly I'll just say the violence that is white supremacy, the violence that is necessary to maintain and uphold white supremacy, it creeps into white families, it creeps into all of our interpersonal relationships and it's disruptive. I was in a white affinity group as part of Niyonu Spann's Beyond Diversity 101. We told the stories of our white ancestors and the patterns of abandonment of each other as white people, abandonment because you're gay, because you somehow don't fit the white norm, abandonment for all kinds of reasons, as a way to say, “we're going to leave you behind if you don't uphold this horrible system." It's so deep. 

I have it in my family: my grandfather abandoned a whole family before he met my grandmother. He didn't physically abandon my mom and her brothers, but he emotionally abandoned my mom. It's so soul-sucking, our souls are mutilated and deeply deformed from this stuff and we don't get to be who we're supposed to be because we are invested and participating without our consent, right? Initially we are acting without our consent, and then at some point we choose and are upholding it. If we get a little bit awake, then we can begin to choose, to resist, to act from a more human place. That's huge motivation for me, motivation in terms of my own development. One result of the shifting and waking up as a result of doing anti-racist work is that my heart is a whole heart now. I get to be a much more whole person. I'm always working at it. I don't take off my white privilege, my whiteness, but I think there is a completely different relationship with the world, with my white family, with my white son, with my white brothers and sisters as well and with people of color since I have begun to strive to embody a different way to be white. 

Related posts:

Now is the time of monters: A conversation with Chris Crass, part 1

The precarity and possibilty of this political moment: A conversation with Chris Crass, part 2

If this faith were a bowl, could it hold me? A conversation with Chirs Crass, part 3

Organizing white people for racial justice: A conversation with Chris Crass, part 5

Overcoming Isolation in Gaza: A report back

Wed, 2017-10-18 12:16
Building peace Building economic justice Gaza UnlockedCommunities Against IslamophobiaInclusion and Equality

I’ve written a great deal about Gaza for over ten years but until this past week, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit in person. I’m enormously grateful for the opportunity to experience Gaza as a real living, breathing community and I’m returning home all the more committed to the movement to free Gaza from Israel’s crushing blockade – now eleven years underway with no end in sight.

For the past ten days, I’ve been attending strategic planning meetings with staff colleagues of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to sharpen our vision for our Israel/Palestine programs in the US, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We began with three days of meetings in Ramallah – with our staff members in Gaza joining us via Skype. Following these meetings, six of us spent two days in Gaza, hosted by the two full-time members of the Gaza staff: Ali Abdel Bari and Firas Ramlawi.

It’s extremely rare for Americans to receive permission from Israel to enter Gaza through the Erez Crossing. Permits are generally issued only for journalists and staff people of registered international NGOs. Though I was technically allowed to enter Gaza as an AFSC staff member, I wasn’t 100% sure it would really happen until the moment I was actually waved through the crossing by the solider at Passport Control in Erez.

Quakers have a long history in Israel/Palestine dating back to before the founding of the state of Israel. The Ramallah Friends School for Girls was founded in 1889, and their School for Boys in 1901. The two schools subsequently merged into one; now well into the 21st century Ramallah Friends remains an important and venerable Palestinian educational institution. (The former head of the school, Joyce Ajlouny, was recently appointed AFSC’s General Secretary.)

AFSC has a particularly significant connection to Gaza. In 1949, immediately following Israel’s founding and the start of the Palestinian refugee crisis, the organization was asked by the UN to organize relief efforts for refugees in the Gaza Strip. AFSC agreed to support refugees during that time believing it would be temporary support. When it became clear there was no plan to send the refugees to return home, AFSC became clear that we could not in good conscience build up more permanent refugee camps – that there was a political solution to the refugee crisis then (as there is now).  The United Nations Relief Works Agency started its operations there a year later. Since that time, AFSC has retained its programmatic presence throughout the Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Up until relatively recently, AFSC’s Palestine youth program focused largely on Public Achievement, seeking to strengthen the civic ties of youth to their communities. Our current program, Palestinian Youth Together for Change (PYTC) is a more ambitious project, working to combat Palestinian geographical, social and cultural fragmentation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It’s difficult to overestimate the devastating impact of this fragmentation – particularly on Palestinian youth who are growing up with increasing separation from one another. This isolation is most keenly felt of course, by the youth of Gaza who are literally imprisoned by Israel inside a small 140 square mile strip of land.

When we met the Palestinian youth in Gaza who participated in the PYTC program, they spoke powerfully about their experiences growing up with a strong sense of Palestinian identity while isolated from their peers in Israel and the West Bank. This particularly hit home for me when I heard one young woman speak of entering into Israel through the Erez Crossing for the first time to travel to the West Bank for meetings with her fellow participants. She was eighteen years old and had never seen an Israeli Jew in person in her life. Up until that time, she said, she had only seen them as “helicopters, planes and bombs.” Needless to say, this contrasted dramatically from the experience of her West Bank peers, who encountered Israeli soldiers as a very real, everyday presence in the streets and at checkpoints.

It’s also important to bear in mind that this isolation is not a “humanitarian” issue that can be fully addressed by greater NGO and civil society investment. Rather it is the result of very real and very intentional policies promulgated by Israel to purposefully divide and weaken Palestinian society. By the same token, the PYTC program is not merely a youth service project – its ultimate goal is to strengthen Palestinian identity in order to counter the brutal and unjust occupation of their people. In this regard this program is connected in important ways to AFSC programs in the US that promote “co-resistance:” initiatives that support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, advocate for Palestinian children held by Israel in military detention and educate the public about the devastating costs of the Gaza blockade.

There’s so much more I could write about my experiences in Gaza. As I prepared to head back to the States, I struggled to give voice to the myriad of emotions that were flooding through me. At the moment, I’m thinking particularly of Ali and Firas, our Gaza staff members, who were not only gracious and wonderful hosts (although they were entirely that); but also talented and visionary organizers who teach us a great deal about how to do this work effectively in the most extreme of circumstances.

Even under the brutality of Israel’s blockade, we could not help but be struck by the beauty of this place and the dignity of its people and culture (which includes, I hasten to add, the deliciousness of its cuisine). As it happened, our visit occurred immediately after the beginning of reconciliation talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, brokered by the Egyptian government. Most of the Palestinians in Gaza we spoke to expressed a guarded sense of hope that it might result in some easement of the blockade – particularly in regards to freedom of movement, drinkable water and electrical service. Of course this optimism occurs within a constant context of isolation and vulnerability. The next Israeli military assault is altogether possible at any moment – and every Palestinian in Gaza must contend with this horrible reality every moment of every day.

I’ve posted below some additional pictures (and one video clip) of memorable moments from our visit. My staff colleagues will be writing more about these moments and I will be sure to share their posts here. For now, I’ll end on a note of gratitude: to AFSC for giving me the opportunity to participate in this sacred work; to our gracious hosts in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza; and to my US staff colleagues who are true travel companions in more ways than one.

I took the picture at the top of this post during our final hours in Gaza. As we debriefed on a beautiful morning over coffee at a seaside cafe, three young boys who likely should have been in school came down to the beach to hang out and have fun together. The loveliness of the moment was both very real and very illusory. There was no mistaking the beauty of the place and people with whom we were sharing this moment. At the same time, however, we were aware that we were in the affluent tourist part of town and that we were privileged enough to soon be leaving Gaza to travel without restriction. We were also well aware that not far from the place these boys were standing, Ismail Mohammed Bakr (9), Zakaria Ahed Bakr (10), Ahed Atef Bakr (10) and Mohamed Ramez Bakr (11) were murdered by Israeli naval fire while they played soccer on the beach on July 16, 2014.

There can be no illusions where Gaza is concerned. As I leave for home, I’m more convinced than ever that we are all complicit in this cruelty – and that we are the ones who must end it.

More Resources:

Visit AFSC's Gaza Unlocked website

Take action: Urge Congress to take action to end the blockade

If this faith were a bowl, could it hold me? A conversation with Chris Crass, pt 3.

Tue, 2017-10-10 09:19
Building peace Ending discrimination Black Lives Matterending white supremacy

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.  He is one of the leading voices in the country calling for and supporting white people to work for racial justice. He joined with white anti-racist leaders around the country to help launch the national anti-racist network Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which works in white communities for racial justice.  Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Religious Left. He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner, and their two kids. Learn more about Chris here. I spoke with Chris and Richie Schulz, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s community engagement fellow, on September 6th, we talked about the current political moment, organizing white folks for racial justice, and the stake white people have in that work. This is the third of five posts from that conversation. This wasn’t an interview per se, but a conversation with each of us contributing. 

Lucy Duncan: I wanted to move more directly into the state of Quakers and Unitarian Universalists (UU) and the work to subvert white supremacy within both faiths. I think the Quaker world is actually mimicking a lot of the larger political tensions and pushback that is happening. There's been a lot of movement, a lot of learning, a lot of shifting among Friends and we're also experiencing huge backlash to that shifting within Quaker congregations and institutions. It looks different in different places. In some yearly meetings there have been people who've been fired or marginalized inside the organization during this process of backlash. I could go on and tell lots of stories about the ways the backlash looks in different places, but it's definitely mimicking the same kind of larger, broader political manifestations.

Among Quakers there are very few people of color in the room, in Quaker spaces, and there hasn't been a real centering of their voices with some of the actions taken. There is often a very limited capacity to consider the people that are not in the room, people often most impacted by injustice, and instead there is a focusing on the needs and the feelings of the white people present and not necessarily expanding beyond that. I'm curious about your sense about where UUs are and what the movement is inside the congregations and larger UU institutions.

Chris Crass: I think within the Unitarian Universalist (UU) world there's been decades and decades of Unitarian Universalist people of color, as well as a significant number of white, anti-racist Unitarian Universalists, who, over the last 30 or 40 years have really been working on challenging white supremacy within the denomination of Unitarian Universalism. Along with challenging white supremacy internally, UU leaders of color and white anti-racists have been working to help congregations work for racial justice in their communities and in our society. In Arizona a few years ago, the state was implementing the “Show Me Your Papers” legislation, with racist Sherriff Joe Arpaio leading the way, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in Arizona were deeply involved not only in the fight against these anti-immigrant attacks, but also had deep relationships with migrant, immigrant, Latino, Latina, Latinx-led organizing in the United States. They had built these really strong relationships, over time, and were continuing to show up at demonstrations, community speak outs, were volunteering to do logistical support, were raising money, and were turning people out to take action. The “Show Me Your Papers” went into effect, Latinx-led organizations called for a “Summer of Non-Compliance” and called on allies around the country to come and commit civil disobedience.

I was part of the direct action planning team with local leaders from Puente, and one of my jobs was to help support UUs to participate in civil disobedience. The goal wasn’t just to have the hardcore UU activists take direct action, it was to move hundreds of UUs into various positions to help it happen, to have it be a catalyzing experience for the denomination as a whole to rise up for racial justice. Having UUs in mass take to the streets in solidarity with local Latinx-led organizing, was powerful both in its opposition to the racism of the state, but also in building multiracial relationships rooted in liberation values in action. A year later, in 2012, the denomination ended up having a general assembly in Arizona and instead of hundreds of UUs, it was thousands of UUs demonstrating for racial justice in solidarity with local Latinx-led resistance, and that had a huge impact on the congregations and really pushed a lot of people to [think], how do we actually live these values, how do we actually take more confrontational action? 

The Black Lives Matter movement has had a tremendous impact on the UU denomination, from the leadership of Black UUs who formed Black Lives of UU, to hundreds of congregations participating in local and national actions for Black Lives Matter. And there has been painful struggle within the congregations about the Black Lives Matter movement. A UU leader of color in Virginia told me the story of how in her congregation installed a Black Lives Matter sign was put in the sanctuary and how there were white members who were supportive, but also some white members who said, “Well, you know, this is our sanctuary, this is where we come to escape and find safety beyond the oppression and the injustice and the news out there in the world. This is where we come to get nourishment away from all of that.” She responded that as a Latina UU, having a Black Lives Matter sign in the sanctuary actually affirms that she and her family and other UUs of color can actually find sanctuary in this space and that this is a space that didn't just affirm white lives and white bodies and white need for spiritual nourishment, but a Black Lives Matter sign in a sanctuary meant “This is our values and our sanctuary is alive in these times and focused on what matters most.”

White supremacy is deeply committed to poisoning the hearts and minds of every single white person, whether they are in a Quaker congregation, a Unitarian Universalist congregation or whether they are on the streets in Charlottesville holding up a Nazi flag. We need to be able to anticipate the way this poison operates. The backlash is devastating, the backlash is painful, particularly for folks of color who in our faith tradition see a white backlash to their dignity and to their lives. But nonetheless, the backlash is going to be a part of the process and so how do we actually use the backlash to galvanize progressive sources even more? How do we unite our people even more to live our values in the time and not let the backlash undermine our efforts? How do we do this in a way that helps us be even more courageous, more clear, more committed? How do we do this to grow our numbers even more so folks say, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe that there would be this kind of reaction in our congregation, I need to get off the side lines and start to express my support of these movements like Black Lives Matter.” We have to create as many opportunities to invite people onto the right side of history in our congregations and not expect people to already be there. 

Lucy Duncan: I agree with you. And there are two things I want to speak to, one is that the whole idea that "I come here to be safe, away from the world", I think that that’s an illusion, that sense of safety.  That sense of safety arises from privilege, but that privilege is harming so many and clogs up the hearts of white folks, keeps us from connecting and being able to focus on the perils of people of color, but also the perils to our own lives. Ruby Sales (a social justice activist) asks, "Why is it that white people are so concerned with safety?" People of color are never safe. It reminds me of expanded sanctuary and Sanctuary Everywhere: What we need is to bring the world into our spaces and expand our sense of what sanctuary is and where it is so that it's everywhere so that people don't need to take refuge from oppression.

The other thing, and I'm just going to tell you this very briefly, there was a very, very powerful ministry at New England Yearly Meeting this year by a young Black Quaker man, Xinef Afriam, who said: "Here is the bowl of Quaker faith and practice and what is that bowl made out of?" He said it was made out of certain good things, but it's also made out of white supremacy; given the time and place of Quaker origins, it was made of the material in that culture. "And can that bowl hold me as a Black Quaker?" And he said that the core belief in Quakerism is that there is that of God in everyone. He continued, "If the bowl of Quaker faith can't hold me as I am as a Black Quaker, then it can’t really hold God. So, whose responsibility is it to crack that bowl or reshape that bowl?" I think cracking it is important to expand the sense of sanctuary, to expand the sense of what this container is: faith and practice that can hold everybody. And he said, “And so, if we want something that holds God we must deal with the container itself.” I think that's a really powerful metaphor.

Related posts

This is the time of monsters: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 1

The precarity and possibility of this political moment: a conversation with Chris Crass, pt 2.

What's at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice? A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 4

Organizing white people for racial justice: A conversation with Chris Crass, pt. 5

The precarity and possibility of this political moment: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 2

Thu, 2017-09-28 15:20
Building peace Ending discrimination Black Lives Matterending white supremacy

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.  He is a one of the leading voices in the country calling for and supporting white people to work for racial justice. He joined with white anti-racist leaders around the country to help launch the national anti-racist network Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which works in white communities for racial justice.  Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Religious Left. He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner, and their two kids. Learn more about Chris here. I spoke with Chris and Richie Schulz, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s community engagement fellow, on September 6th, we talked about the current political moment, organizing white folks for racial justice, and the stake white people have in that work. This is the second of five posts from that conversation. This wasn’t an interview per se, but a conversation with each of us contributing.

Lucy Duncan: I think there’s this real precarity at the same time there are many openings to work for change. AFSC helped to organize 3,000 people walking out of the schools in Denver after the announcement regarding DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals). There is this immediate and enormous response from veteran activists and some people who have never protested before.

At the same time, there is real brutality being enacted in response to the protests. I think it makes it all that more important that we are courageous and operate as a courageous many in the face of that. I’m interested in the danger that you perceive, too. There has been so much incredible work going on for a long time creating the movements that are showing up on the ground now. It also feels as though the precarity is very, very real. 

Chris Crass: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s an incredibly dangerous time, whether it’s vigilantly racist violence being actively encouraged by the presidency, the GOP agenda, and Democratic complicity as well. Whether it’s the institutional attacks that are taking away resources from so many of our communities. Whether it’s the tweets of the president that are demonizing different groups of people each week because there’s another whole part of our society that’s under attack from the president. We are in incredibly dangerous times, and every time I hear about leaders from the Dreamers Movement speak and say, “here to stay, undocumented and unafraid!”, that kind of leadership and that kind of example amidst such incredible danger is really inspiring. Literally, black women leaders who are having to cancel speaking engagements or hiring security because of threats of violence. to be able to go and participate in public functions and speak on panels. That has a real impact on the psyche of our movement.  

I think there is a danger in this kind of violence where we start to operate in more non-public ways, and we almost start to go underground or become more secretive. But I think that even though the Black Lives Matter Movement and leaders in Black Lives Matter receive so many death threats, receive so much racist, misogynistic, hateful trolling on the internet, and also on Fox News, they nonetheless continue to be incredibly public, bringing their leadership to wider and wider audiences. A and I think that’s what is critical in this time. We should be trying to figure out ways we can support each other to be more and more visible, more and more publicly out there and engaging a wider range of people.  

 

I think a major shift that has taken place since the election is that more and more grassroots left leaders need to run for office and win, that we can’t rely on liberal national leadership to advance a progressive agenda or defeat the racist right, that we need progressive candidates to advance an economic, racial, gender justice agenda and a vision that can mobilize the majority, a politics that is a real alternative to pro-corporate power, pro-capitalist democratic politics, but is also clear about the dangers of right-wing fascism. 

Lucy Duncan: I think that all of that is really true in addition to the narrative change work that progressives focus on a lot. We also have to be willing to do the messy work of getting involved in electoral politics and be willing to understand that that’s a really important place to build power. When the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted, what that did for abolitionists is it really radicalized everyone. There was a kind of sense among Free Blacks in the North that they were safe, and when the Fugitive Slave Act passed, it made it clear that no Black person was safe from slavery. And so the Fugitive Slave Act helped to move the movement from gradual abolition as a whole, to immediate emancipation, and I think that’s the kind of political moment we’re in now. So many people are besieged, and the response needs to be about changing things at the deepest level. I think that’s one thing that’s exciting about the moment.  

Chris Crass: The Fugitive Slave Law really pushed a lot of people in Northern States who had this idea that “well, we are not a part of this slave society.”  They had a sort kind of a “our hands are clean, and yes that’s horrible, and yes we want gradual emancipation, but we are not really that actively involved and kind of feel that we can turn our backs on the struggle because we’re not directly implicated,” attitude. 

And I think that the passage of that law for a lot of abolitionists felt like it was the nail in the coffin of their abilities to try to and end slavery.  But, like you said, it radicalized so many people, and I also think it radicalized a lot of open-minded, white liberal, people of faith, people who we’re also thinking about today in these political times. It galvanized a lot of open-minded or liberal people who have faith traditions that embrace the humanity of all to go from just saying ”amen” in the pews on Sunday in terms of ending slavery, but actually moved them into the streets and into mobilization and into organization to actually end slavery and to challenge the slave power in Boston, in New England, in the South and throughout the whole country.  

I think this is absolutely the time to be thinking in that way of how attack needs to be used as an opportunity. I mean, the horrors of neo-Nazi’s and GOP racists attacking communities in Charlottesville, the horrors of the attack on DACA, the horrors of right wing media arguing that Black Lives Matter is terrorist organizations— all of these things need to be used to galvanize our people and when I say “our people” in this context, I’m specifically talking about white progressive, white liberal minded, white people of faith who are horrified by what they’re seeing in the news, but need to get actively involved and profoundly connected to resistance.  These are the times to ask, what would the anti-fascist German Christian minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer do, what would white abolitionists like Abby Kelley and Lucretia Mott do, what would white Civil Rights movement leaders like Myles Horton and Anne Braden do?   

Related content

This is the time of monsters: A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 1

If this faith were a bowl, could it hold me? A conversation with Chirs Crass, pt. 3

What's at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice? A conversation with Chris Crass pt. 4

Organizing white people for racial justice: A conversation with Chris Crass, pt. 5