Where we hold each other in body, mind, and spirit to live, thrive, love, and win through the 2020 election season and beyond.
Conversations on community, organizing, and resilience with Lisa Anderson and Macky Alston from Auburn Seminary who interview pairs of friends on what gives them life and how they are finding resilience in this moment and over the long haul.
PATRICIA JERIDO: Steve and I, when we talk about cultural organizing, we’re also looking to this imaginative space. Right, it’s just, oh, okay. We know the current world isn’t exactly what we want, right? But, when we only get stuck in critiquing the current political world, and not spending any time of “Ooh, what could this look like? Ooh, what could that look like?” You just spiral into this negativity, and that could be a black hole, right? Because there’s no (laughs) thing… You could spend your lifetime, several lifetimes, in that space of just feeling disgruntled with how everything is going.
STEVE DUNCOMBE: And I think that’s what creativity can do. It’s not just about criticizing things that we don’t like, but creating visions, alternative visions of the worlds we want [00:01:00] to bring into being.
MACKY ALSTON: Wanna do it, ready?
LISA ANDERSON: Let’s Go!
MA: Let’s go!
LA: Let’s go! Okay, y’all, welcome to Friends For Life, from Auburn Seminary. A podcast for friends who give us life and with whom we are in it for life.
MA: My name is Macky Alston. I am a documentary filmmaker, a queer dad, spiritual activist, and one of my favorite things about my life is I am a bestie, a beloved, and a devotee of Lisa Anderson.
LA: There you go! I love it! I knew you were going to say something like that, it makes me so happy! My name is Lisa Anderson, I am a black queer theologian. I believe that loving blackness is the spiritual calling of our time. I believe that the lived experience of all black people is sacred text, and Macky Alston makes my heart sing. [00:02:00]
MA: So this is our fourth episode, y’all, and we’re getting our rhythm. But we’d, again, we always want to hear how we’re doing. And what’s most important to us is to be in real relationship with you all. Bringing folks that we believe might engage you, might guide, and might inspire. So tell us how we’re doing.
LA: This week we had the opportunity to sit down with two wonderful human beings. Steve Duncombe is the professor of media and culture at New York University, and author and editor of six books. Six books! At the intersection of culture and politics. I like to say, because he be writing, because six books is a lot. Steve is a lifelong political activist, a co-founder, a community-based advocacy group in the Lower East Side of Manhattan which won [00:03:00] an award for creative activism from the Abbie Hoffman Foundation. And is currently co-founder and research director of the Center for Artistic Activism, a research and training organization that helps activists create more like artists, and artists strategize more like activists.
MA: One of Steve’s books, actually, was sort of the book of the decade for me, about ten years ago. His book, Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, which lifts up the ways both progressive organizing, and organizing on the right have used creativity to change the game. It’s both a celebration of what we’ve done right, but also calling us in, or up, to bring our strongest creative game. Because sometimes, that’s not how we play. So, Steve’s bestie is Patricia [00:04:00] Jerido, who is the board chair for the Center for Artistic Activism that Steve is one of the leads on. Pat is an executive coach, and leads strategist and Leadership Matters Consulting. Working with organizations committed to social justice and making the world better. She is a trained MSW social worker, and has done 30 years of service to the social justice sphere and to many, many movements. Part of that work is in philanthropy. She served as a program officer for Open Society Foundations, and the Ms. Foundation for Women, get this, granting over a quarter of a billion dollars to folks in movement around the world.
LA: That’s stunning.
MA: Something that’s really important to her is participatory budgeting. She’s an advisory member to the Participatory Budgeting project.
LA: I love that. I love [00:05:00] moving assets for good. This week like every week we start off our program asking our folks four grounding questions. Who has got your back? Where do you go to feel better? What song is getting you through? And what flavor delights you? And then, we ask a few deeper questions. What strategic counsel do you have for leaders of faith and moral courage, so that they can survive, thrive and win in 2020 and beyond? Win in 2020, that’s hard to imagine. But we talk about that, we think about that, we dream that way. Our next question is can you tell a story of when we have won in the past? So that we can remember that we are only here today because of the victories of our ancestors, and earlier battles for liberation. And finally we end with the question, what is a joy practice that is getting you through these days? [00:06:00]
MA: Thanks y’all for being here with us. We love you. (laughter) In our 20 or so years through Auburn, and before, have had incredible joy of being in it together with you. So again, we want to hear from you, about how we’re doing, and how we can be of service. So, email us at [email protected] and tell us how to make it better.
PJ: Okay, no prep at all?
SD: What good is it going to do us?
LA: It’s not going to do you any good. All right, so, Steve, here’s the question. It’s for you and for Pat.
SD: Which means Pat gets to go first. (laughter)
MA: He knows how to play.
LA: The question is, in these times that we’re living in, in this historical moment, who’s got your back?
SD: Wow. Okay, I’m going to say the first response that comes back to me is, my family’s [00:07:00] got my back, and I really count on that. I also have friends that got my back, and they’re a particular type of friend. And, you know, I’m looking at Pat right here, and I’m also looking at Macky, I’m looking at you Lisa, who are political friends. And we have had to have each other’s back for years, and years and years and years. And it’s a feeling like, “Yeah, those people have my back.” And they know what that means.
LA: Can you say a little bit about what that means? When you say, they know what that means, what does that mean to you?
SD: Because part of being an activist is that you’re ready for things to go really bad. Things can go badly all the time. And, you know, I’ll be really blunt, is, you know, you can be taken into a police cell, and the person you’re being an activist with is taken another police cell, and [00:08:00] they try to get you to incriminate the other person, and you’ve really got to know that they’re going to say absolutely nothing. And that you’re both going to walk out of there okay. And, that’s an extreme example, but I think in the back of all our heads, people that have been activists, as I know, you know, we have, since 18, 19, 16, 17, that you’re trained for that. And you’re sort of trained to back people up. Sometimes, even people who aren’t even your friends, but are just the people you’re working with in an organization, and you know, that’s what solidarity is about. So that solidarity is kind of built in naturally to the family, but I think amongst political friends, we learn. And we have a culture of it. It’s part of our cultural heritage.
LA: I see you smiling so broadly, Pat.
PJ: (laughs) Yes, I am loving this! I mean, ditto, ditto, ditto everything Steve just shared. [00:09:00] (laughs) Yay! So who has my back in that? Definitely, you know, my family has my back in that. And, yeah, my friends, my networks, and I will add to that, I think my experience and my perspective, if I were to do that out of body thing. I think having lived this long, and through so many crises, and just, being alive for as long as I’ve been, you know, and just seeing so many different things happening, it’s like I have a body of experience that I rely on. And I would say also [00:10:00] having other people’s backs is also important to me. So, it’s not just I know I can lean back on people, but I’m also supporting people and that gives me purpose and makes me feel good, too.
LA: You said a couple of things that were really compelling to me. Both, no one has named themselves as having their own back. I find that feels like a uniquely black woman thing to say. (laughter) Given the historical reality that we’ve lived in since 1619 in this country, (laughter) because it was that. I’m a believer, just saying. (laughter) Can you say a little about — you and Steve — maybe a little bit about your friendship. Because you both named each other as having each other’s backs, what is that? Can you give us a little sense of the character of that?
SD: Do you want to go first, Pat? Do you want me to go first?
PJ: I’ll let [00:11:00] you go first, Steve.
SD: Aww, damn it.
PJ: (laughter) You got my back, right?
SD: So Pat and I met ten years ago. And I think one of the reasons we hit it off really quickly is we recognized in each other that yes, we were interested in left politics, particularly we were listened in left cultural politics, I had just written a book about, kind of culture and politics, Pat was running this organization which was trying to fuse culture and politics. And we’ve never talked about this so I’m just going to put it out there, is I think that we both recognize in each other, is like, this isn’t our first rodeo. That we come from a deep culture of the left. We had both been organizers and activists for, you know, 20 years before we ever met. And so there’s kind of just a shared sense of we don’t have to virtue posture in front of each other, we can talk about silly things like our love for rom-coms, and things like that. Because it’s okay. [00:12:00] It’s okay, you know, this is why I go thrift shopping with Macky, for example. He’s wearing probably one of the suits we bought. (laughter)
PJ: [You look pretty?] fantastic in this suit, by the way.
SD: Because we can be silly. And we can have not-political loves and interests and passions, because deep down, we’re deeply political, and we know we’re going to be political until the day we die. It’s not a flash in the pan. So, I think that I recognize something in Pat, you know, very different background, African American woman, grew up in, you know, New York City, I grew up in New England, white, religious, son of a preacher man. (laughter) And, you know, so in that way we don’t have much in common. But we have the culture of the let to lean on, and kind of that sense of instinctual, I think the word I used before was like, solidarity.
PJ: (laughs) I would add to that, right, it’s both the love and criticism of the left that [00:13:00] I think kind of we shared. Because especially ten years ago, to be able to have breath for talking about the, you know, the less serious stuff, right? It’s just like, it’s yeah, yeah, yeah, we read our Lennon, yeah, yeah, yeah, we got our Marx, and did you see what happened on Friends? (laughter) To have that breath of being able to both not always be dogmatic, which is so stifling and not fun. And I think it’s also Steve and I, when we talk about cultural organizing, we’re also looking to this imaginative space. Right, it’s just, oh, okay. We know the current world isn’t exactly what we want, right? But, [00:14:00] when we only get stuck in critiquing the current political world, and not spending any time of “Ooh, what could this look like? Ooh, what could that look like?” You just spiral into this negativity, and that could be a blackhole, right? Because you could spend your lifetime, several lifetimes, in that space of just feeling disgruntled with how everything is going.
SD: I think one of the things I love about Pat is it’s immediately about “Yes, this is what we want,” as opposed to “No, this is what we’re against.” And there is a part of the left that’s very much, “We’re against it.” But there’s also a part of the left which is exuberant, and phantasmagorical, and you know, and wears sparkles, and [00:15:00] that’s, I think, the place that both Pat and I occupy. And I’m so glad you brought this up, Pat, about culture. You know, culture is one of those spaces in which we get to experiment, in which we get to play. About what a world would look like. And that can happen in strange and odd places, it can happen in a dumb sitcom like Friends, you know? (laughter) What would a community be like that’s not based around biology where people take care of one another. Or it can be in advertising. Advertising is unabashedly Utopian most of the time, right? And these are kind of bad expressions, I’m not that much of a friend of Friends, I just got to say, Pat. But —
PJ: (laughs) (inaudible) for watching it! (laughter)
SD: But it is one of those places where we get to get a glimpse of popular desire. And that’s what we’re both interested in. We love art, don’t get us — you know. But it was popular desire. It’s like, is it popular? Because then [00:16:00] that says it speaks to people.
PJ: Right. And that was one of the things I noticed about the left, and the cultural left. The success of the left in developing alternative culture. From theater, to books, to zines. Like, you could be totally ensconced in that, and be fulfilled in just that alternative world. But, there is a larger world. So, the organizer in me is like, okay, but not everyone’s going to see that particular, you know, alternative theater piece. (laughter) What’s playing on Broadway? And what are people connecting to? And how can we connect what we’re doing with what they’re doing? It can be so fulfilling being in your niche space. And [00:17:00] it’s also a safe space for a lot of people. So, do not want to take that away or deny that in any way. But it’s the role of the organizer is not just to be in the safe space. It’s just like, Harriet Tubman didn’t find the promise land and just say “Okay, I got here, forget you guys!” (laughter) It’s like you’re always trying to bring people back and forth. So it’s that translation that is very rich, yeah, I’ll leave it there.
SD: I mean, I think that’s totally right on. Because an organizer’s job is not to organize people who think like you. You know, it’s to organize people that don’t think like you. One of the things that, particularly with young activists, you always have to say is “Hey, it’s great that you’ve mobilized yourself and your friends, now we’ve got to get up to 51 percent of the population.” [00:18:00] (laughter) And find crossovers. And guess what? 51 percent of the population probably watches American Idol, or The Voice. And so, what is it in The Voice that people like? By the way, I do like The Voice, I do not like American Idol. But The Voice is one those utopian spaces in which literally, people care for one another, and they get to showcase their talents, they have their backstories and then their triumphs. It’s an amazing sort of vision of what a caring society should be like. And, they get to sing. (laughter) But in any case, I digress, I digress, okay?
PJ: [That was to the heart?] of it. (laughter)
MA: All right, second question. Can you believe we’ve only asked one question so far?
PJ: That’s okay.
MA: (laughter) And you may get the sense that this first round of questions — there will be two rounds — is really about how we feel better in terrorized, terrifying times. [00:19:00] In the work, during the work, when that’s going on all the time, where do you go to feel better? Where do each of you go to feel better? I have a guess for each of you, and I want to know if I win that one. (laughter)
SD: I’ve got a new one, Macky.
PJ: (laughter) So I’ll go first on this one. So, physically where I go, and I’m very fortunate, I do have a backyard here in Brooklyn, (laughter) you knew that, Macky! And knowing (inaudible) you know, grew up in the Bronx, ’70s, ’80s, New York City, crazy, never thought I would become a gardener. Yeah, my garden is my happy place, yeah. And I go there to… Oh my goodness, yeah. That’s definitely my first place of going to feel good and feel connected, touch the [00:20:00] earth, touch the ground, see my plants grown, weed. Yeah, that for me is the best part of – just, or should I say one of my best practices — for when I feel most — well actually for when I feel both overwhelmed and when I already feel happy. It’s just like, it’s the place I can go to no matter what.
SD: If you had asked me six months ago it’s a little different from now. Six months ago, as Macky knows well, I have a passion for going to thrift stores. And I’m not talking about resale shops. I’m talking about, you know, the Goodwill, Salvation Army. Up to my high level of Housing Works. I love clothes, I love thinking about who wore them before me, I love browsing through them, I love the idea that you never know what you’re going to find. [00:21:00] And most of the time I walk out having bought nothing. And I love the idea that just around the corner might be, “Oh my God, did you see these boots? Look at these things, they’re amazing!” So I love that. And very much, I love walking to the places. I love walking in New York City, I love seeing people, I love making up stories about them as they walk by me. I love just the concentration of people. I even love being on the subway, if it isn’t hot and smelling like urine. (laughter) And that’s changed since the pandemic. They have opened the thrift stores, I’m glad to say, but people are a little bit more weary of each other. And we don’t get to see each other’s faces because of the masks, and so it’s changed. So here’s what I did all this summer. I went fishing. I went fishing in the morning, I went fishing in the night, sometimes I’d go in the middle of the day, I’d go to the pond, I’d go to the ocean beaches, I’d go to the bay beaches. [00:22:00] I hadn’t fished since I was 12 years old, my mom used to take me fishing. Just something that dropped off. And I totally rediscovered the beauty of being there by yourself for an hour and a half. Sometimes you catch fish, most of the time you don’t. (laughter) But it’s an excuse to notice, like, the snapping turtle that has its morning rounds that goes by you. And seeing the sun go down over the bay. I mean, really beautiful. To the point of I would go fishing in Central Park lake now. Which is not as bucolic as a beach in Cape Cod, let me tell you that. (laughter)
PJ: But there’s snapping turtles!
SD: There’s snapping turtles and there’s these carp, which look like they haven’t evolved since the age of dinosaurs! (laughter) And so for me, it’s very much an escape. It is so clearly an escape from the chaos, and kind of unfolding apocalypse, of our present times. [00:23:00]
PJ: Yeah. What I love also, Steve, is that you listed multiple. I think in order to survive this, in happy places, we need multiple places of feeling comfort. Especially because we’re being jutted against so often. That being able to relax in different places. And yeah, walking in New York City will always be — even during quarantine, even during lockdown, that was still solace to me. Because one of my biggest pleasures is being able to walk in a street without cars, and just being able to walk down the street. That gives me such a thrill, and, yeah, during lockdown that was one of the things that I got real pleasure in.
SD: And bicycling on the street with no cars. And I feel, actually, [00:24:00] and I’ve been telling this to my kids who have a very completely different experience of New York City than I did, because I moved here in the mid ’80s. And you know, Pat, you were talking about the Bronx in the ’70s and the ’80s, and I’m like hey guys, you’re going to get experience of what New York in the ’80s! (laughter) Both the bad part, which was the rampant crime, but also the beauty, which was more emptied out streets. People are just painting! Like going and all of the boarded-up buildings, they’re just painting and the police aren’t stopping them because they’re on semi strike because they’re angry about something or another. And we’re like “Good! Stay there! Just stay on that semi strike!” (laughter) Because now you can actually hang out, you can have a beer out on your stoop, it’s almost like the pre-Giuliani quality of life campaigns where — and part of that was, I remember, you know, riding down the center of the street because there just weren’t as many cars in New York City. So that there’s something beautiful about what’s happened to New York, is things have slowed down. The hyper rich have left, they’re off in the Hamptons. [00:25:00] Just, it feels like my memories of New York when I was 17 and I moved here.
PJ: Yeah. Here, here! (laughs)
LA: Oh, my gosh. What I’m loving about this conversation — I moved to New York in the ’80s as well — and I remember all of those things. And it wasn’t until both of you recalled them that I see that returning to the city right now. All of the street art in Harlem, on the boarded-up buildings, and nobody is making it go away. The fact that the streets are filled with folks because of the way the restaurants are open, who are just kind of drinking on the street. It is really kind of powerful to remember when it wasn’t quite — when it was a little more gritty. So, what song is getting you through? What’s the sound of now for you?
SD: Oh, wow. [00:26:00] These sound like Pat’s questions.
PJ: (laughs) You know, it’s funny, I’ve been doing a lot of music during this time. And speaking of the ’80s, one of things I did was I compiled a playlist of Hall & Oates. (laughter)
SD: Oh, wow! You’re killing me! Blue eyed soul! Ouch, ouch, ouch! (laughter)
MA: It’s (inaudible) on my list.
PJ: I just went back to, like, everything that made me feel happy. And this was since the lockdown, since quarantine. So it’s just like, oh yeah. It’s just like walking New York City. As a kid, I walked all over. I would start off in the Bronx, and I would [00:27:00] head down, walk over Fordham to Inwood, then go all the way down to Central Park. It was just, I loved, loved, loved walking the city. And I still love walking the city. So, like, walking was something I did. But, as I was walking I was putting together all these playlists, right? And just going back, I did Fleetwood Mac’s album, and then my mom was a big classical music listener, and so, yeah. I would do that because I had great childhood memories for me even though I always made fun of her (laughter) as a kid when she was listening to it, and now I say, “Oh yeah!” This is just like the most calming, uplifting, touch your soul kind of music that there could be. [00:28:00] I’ve been doing a lot of ’80s, a lot of music. It’s been across the board in terms of what I’ve been listening to, Depeche Mode, ABC, but yeah, music has been critical in this period.
SD: I think you just listed every single artist that drove me to punk rock. (laughter)
MA: What is your favorite Hall & Oates song?
PJ: Oh, my goodness. How, how to even choose? Will always love “Sara Smile.”
LA: Oh, that’s a good one!
(“Sara Smile” by Hall & Oates plays) [00:29:00]
SD: All right, Hall & Oates, oof! (laughter) Yeah, you know, literally that was the music which drove me to punk rock. But the funny thing is now I can listen to it and be like, yeah that’s not so bad, yeah, that’s not so bad. And in fact, I had these students once who did an independent study with me. They were DJs, and they would come in with their setlist every single week, and I’d make them research the history, and sort of the musicology or whatever it was of the artist that they were doing, and they were really into African pop, and I was really into African pop at that time, and ’70s African funk, [00:30:00] they were really into that. And one day they came in, and they were like, “Professor Duncombe, I don’t know if you know these people but they’re incredible. We just discovered them. We put it on the turntable and the dance floor just explodes.” And they started playing Hall & Oates. (laughter) And I was like, oh no, really. Anyway, back to your question about the song. The soundtrack of the COVID crisis. So, right before the COVID crisis happened, I bought a turntable. And started to, me and my son who now plays bass, my younger son — he’s really into Tribe Called Quest, so a lot of Tribe Called Quest, and we started to listen to vinyl together. But we only had like, eight albums before everything shut down. [00:31:00] (laughter) So his favorite album is A Tribe Called Quest, my favorite album that I grabbed in that one week period before everything shut down was Sly and the Family Stone. And so, “Everyday People” it’s one of those songs, it’s just, you know it goes back to the idea we were talking about, in New York, being sort of emptied out of the hyper-rich, and the people where it’s their third home here, and you know that I love everyday people, coming back to that refrain. So I can listen to that over and over and over, and I have to because we only have like three albums, (laughter) but now things have opened up and we’re getting some more.
MA: I can’t even tell you what a delight it is to see you all laughing so much, and to see your love for each other, and also as we talk about these things, joy in your faces. In a time in which joy is just the most necessary, precious, and, you know, soul saving way to be. [00:32:00] So thanks for being that way with us, right here, and right now. The next question I have in this regard, and I hope it delights you, is, what are you finding delicious right now to put on your tongue? What flavor delights you?
SD: Oh, on our tongue.
SD: Oh, wow. Huh.
JD: Okay, so two things come to mind. One, I’m a vegan, but I’ve been doing the Beyond Sausage, that is just so delicious. And so that with some olives, a kale salad, that’s been like doing a very great teeth sensation for me. Yeah, that’s like the one thing that came to mind when you asked that, [00:33:00] Macky. It was just like, oh yeah, kale salad with the sausage on top — vegan sausage, a plant-based sausage, that’s been really delicious.
MA: Do you eat what you grow, Pat?
PJ: Yes! Yes I do. So I have a blueberry bush and a raspberry bush, those came out earlier. And then I grow so much basil and have been doing a vegan pesto which I add to everything, and then I have tons of herbs, I’m just, you know. As my daughter says, “You are really becoming a witch!” (laughter)
LA: I love it!
PJ: What is going on with her? I’m just like, ooh, here, drink this! I’m always giving her teas to drink. (laughs)
LA: I love it! Let’s hear it for the witches! (laughter)
SD: Yeah! The tasty witches. [00:34:00]
MA: Steve, what flavor delights you?
SD: You know, I was thinking about that. Because there’s so many. And one of the great things about coming back to the city after not being here for three months, is the flavors. I mean, Pat, you know Cape Cod well. There’s only one good flavor, and it’s fish. (laughter)
PJ: And lobster!
SD: Or lobster, or clams. Which are all good, but, you know, anything else, there’s nothing else there. And to come back and, the first day, me and the kids and Jean were like “We want Thai food. Real Thai food.” Then the next day “We’re going to go get Cuban food. Real Cuban food.” (laughter) So part of it is just being back, and it’s sort of a multiethnic, multicultural society, and being like, oh my gosh it is just the flavors that we can experience, that we’re lucky enough to experience in a cosmopolitan place like New York. But I’m going to be really concrete, I’m holding up a little espresso cup, and [00:35:00] I stopped eating sugar when I was about 18, because it makes me really tired. And once I knocked it out I realized I had so much energy. And I started drinking espresso and putting sugar in it. And boy is it good. Like, the mixture between that bitter, bitter of the espresso and the sweetness of the sugar, ah! (laughter) It’s worth any sort of crash I’m going to have. (laughter) So that would be one of my tastes.
MA: That’s funny, the flavors you’re willing to savor even though you know you’ll pay the price.
SD: Yes. Well, isn’t that always true about– or often true about the things that we really love? Is that sometimes there’s a cost attached to them, and you know, sometimes it’s worth it. (laughter)
LA: Oh my God, that seems to define the moment. (laughter) That seems to define this moment. Like what are the tradeoffs? What are we willing to do in order to hold on to a sense of [00:36:00] joy, and a sense of us being fully alive human beings? When so much is out there that would rob us of that sense that we’re sensual, we’re alive, we have bodies, we have longing and desire. So I believe in the image of that little sugar that you’re putting in that cup. (laughter)
SD: The sweetness and the bitterness.
LA: So this next batch of questions is, I don’t want to say a little more serious, but, well, maybe a little more serious. So, we have an election coming.
LA: And many people have characterized it as the election of our times. And we’ve got folks listening on this podcast, a variety of kinds of folks. We’ve got [00:37:00] faith and spirit rooted organizers, we’ve got traditional brick and mortar clergy types, it’s a progressive group of folks. And we ask our guests every time, what are your reflections? What have you got to say to our people, our left communities, as the election comes up towards 2020, in this 2020 election season? However you want to understand that or frame that. And I have to tell you every time we ask this question, every week, because every month things are changing so rapidly, I feel like we’re in a different world every time we ask the question. So, however you want to enflesh that question, and [00:38:00] we’re here for you. We’re here for it.
SD: The first way I wanted to answer it was to go back to something that Pat and I were talking about at the beginning of this podcast, which is, if you grew up on the left, and you’ve been on it a long time, you know that you’re still going to be fighting 10 years from now, 20 years from now. And so, yeah, this is a really, really bad time. I remember when Reagan got elected, that wasn’t so pretty. I remembered, you know, going to war with Iraq, that wasn’t so good either. Now this does seem existentially different, because it seems like we’re seeing the end of democracy. But we will persevere. We will get through, and we will keep fighting for the next 10 years, next 20 years, next 30 years. And then, I thought about faith. And some of my friends who are much more God people than I am. My relationship to God is like my relationship to [00:39:00] aluminum siding, if my dad sold aluminum siding. You know, I grew up in a religious family, it’s all around me, it’s part of me, I know my scripture. But I’m not a deep person of faith. But I’m surrounded by people with faith, and I’ve been really heartened by their faith that things aren’t going to necessarily work out, because that’s not what faith is about, okay? It’s that things will keep going on. That they will keep going on. That life will keep continuing. There will be joy. Although I forget the phrase from the bible but it goes something like “although everything seems so dark right now, we will wake up, and there will be joy.” And, yeah, that is going to happen. There will be joy. It is dark right now. It is probably the darkest it’s been in my political life. But then I think about all the people [00:40:00] I work with around the world. Because I work with a lot of activists around the world, and Patricia has as well, and boy, things have been dark in all of their countries! (laughter) Really dark. And so in some ways, you know, we’re just coming up to speed. And they get through it, and they fight, and there’s always another side.
LA: Well you sound, when you say that it’s a falling away of a kind of American exceptionalism.
SD: Yes, yes. And I think particularly as a white middle class guy, I just assumed that I make plans, and they’re going to work out. Right? My family can make plans, and they’re going to work out. And I think the radical unplanning is new, certainly to people like me. But it’s not new to a lot of people in America. It’s not new to most of the people in the world. Of not knowing how things are going to turn out, and if you don’t know how things are going to turn out, you’ve got to have faith.
LA: Pat, what are you thinking? [00:41:00]
PJ: My immediate response was like, you know, every election is important. Also election voting is just one component of being engaged and involved. We have elected slave owners. We have elected wife beaters. We have elected (laughs) a lot of people who have done terrible things in the world. We’ve also had a system of injustice that still has not prevented people from working to make this a better place. That doesn’t become the obstacle to say “Oh, we give up. Let’s just go. Let’s just forget it.” We can never bring it down [00:42:00] to the individual is the problem. Because it is a systematic problem, and it’s also calling for systematic engagement, which we all need to do. And the beauty of COVID, also, in terms of cultural shifts. To remove us from this — such a concrete way of removing us — from this primary role of being a consumer. I mean, that’s like one of the shifts. I was just like, whoa! It’s just like, oh okay. (laughs) To see the engagement around BLM it was just like, because what else do we have to do? (laughter) We’re not distracted by anything else! (laughter) That is where I’m finding joy and hope. It’s that our engagement has just quadrupled in this period. And yeah, [00:43:00] a lot of people have been pushed into it, but a lot of people have run towards it. And we’re all in this moment where we’re just paying more attention. And it’s a consciousness that is leading me to hope. Because being invisible is the biggest superpower of those in power. It’s just like they love their invisibility because that’s where you get to do the best part of manipulation. They’re biggest spokesperson at this moment is someone who cannot be invisible. (laughter) He’ll tell us everything, because he cannot not be on camera. But I think that both heightens our sense of “Oh my God, this country is under turmoil, there’s so much [problems here?].” [00:44:00] But there’s also, okay, you wouldn’t be paying attention to this unless we had this. Unless we had this spotlight on the craziness that is going on. So it’s that invitation to engage that I get excited about.
SD: As I was talking about, you just put your finger on it. The problems are so visible, even if you wanted to turn away, you can’t. And I think there’s a very good chance coming out of this we’re going to have socialized healthcare. No one’s talking about repealing Obamacare anymore. I think that it is a very good chance we’re going to have more women and people of color in positions of power than we’ve ever had before, I think that there is a sea change. I think that people are going to start rethinking policing in a very serious way. And, you know, police have been doing this for a long, long [00:45:00] time, so it’s nothing new, right? It’s just that you cannot turn away from it at this point. And it’s going to force us to reckon. I mean, it’s that moment, was it, back in the ’30s they said it’s going to be socialism or barbarism. And hey, we’re kind of there. (laughs)
LJ: In two years we’ve moved from police misconduct to police violence. And now the debates are whether to use police terrorism or police violence. That’s huge. In the latest vote they used the term police brutality. That’s a sea shift.
SD: Vanity Fair did a big thing on defunding the police. (laughter)
LA: Well, it reminds me of Adrienne Maree Brown said it, that “Things are not getting worse, they are being uncovered.” And you talked about pulling back the veil. So the rest of her phrase is, [00:46:00] “We have to hold each other tight as we continue to pull back the veil.” And so I think about all that you’ve been saying in line with what it means for this idea of American exceptionalism to fall away. And this idea that actually, these things that we think are brand new, or that we’re just seeing — I love Pat, when you said the leaders have been slave owners. The leaders have been brutalizing women. It’s not like this is a newness. But there is a sort of lining up where you cannot look away. There’s no place else to look. And so what does it mean? And I think this is apropos of the title of this podcast, about friends for life. What does it mean to create the possibility of holding each other tight? And not leaving each other alone as we do this hard work of pulling back the veil and [00:47:00] yet saying that there needs to be joy and all of those things inside of that.
PJ: And this is where I find, especially within the left, where the faith community can really provide the space leadership support in terms of this growing. Because it’s, where do you hold each other? And just the concept of holding forgiveness and accountability. That is within so many faith practices, that I think in secular left work, isn’t as developed. It’s just like, secular left it’s much easier to go into cancel culture. It’s much easier to dismiss. Because it has this dogmatism to it. [00:48:00] If you’re not the way I think you should be, I cut you out. And there’s no, okay, how do we grow together? Because there’s no way that we can be the human beings that we envision in this perfect utopian. Because to be that human being you have to have lived through it and grown through it. So there isn’t as much space to grow and make mistakes and be vulnerable, and be real with each other in secular leftist culture that I find in many faith-based cultures that are just more open to, oh you made a mistake? Both, how do you hold yourself accountable to that, and how do I feel as fuller than the one action that you just did? Or the 25 actions that you did. It’s just like, where is that space for that?
SD: Sin and repentance. [00:49:00] It’s a nice thing. And, Pat, going back to again looping back to one of our earlier conversations about activism and organizing, I mean I think part of the left culture, that cancel culture is the culture of activism as opposed to organizing. Because with organizing, you have to make room for people’s messing up, because you need them there the next day. With activism, you go in, you do your demo, and you’re out. And it’s all about the performance and it’s about your expression, and I’m angry and you’re seeing how angry I am, and it’s very egotistical. Whereas organizing, by its nature, has to be other-directed.
SD: The best organizer I know, you don’t even know their names sometimes. (laughter) But somehow they’ve brought all these people together. And then they disappear.
MA: So many of the people who have tuned in to Auburn, and Auburn’s leadership development work, have done it on behalf of their folk. Have done it [00:50:00] so that they can be the kinds of organizers, faith rooted, spiritual, whatever, who can be a blessing to movement instead of a curse. And as much as our listeners, at least we hope, are these kinds of folks, who are thinking, I’ve got this crowd. This congregation, this community, that I am hired or at least a member of, and hoping that we can show up in this critical time. You all are the experts, when it comes to, as you all said, thinking about vision, employing imagination, and then strategizing as to how we can bring our most creative selves and all this kind of joy and delight [00:51:00] into the streets, or in ways that might shift and capture the public imagination for good. Just yesterday I was right here on this block and Nick, my husband and I, were walking down the street and we heard a ruckus. And it was another roving group of black lives matter, in this case, black trans lives matter, activists, and they were spectacular and there was dance, and there were gowns, and we joined, and off we went. And it was one of those magical moments, actually, in life. That something so irresistible, beautiful, and fun could be suddenly on your block, and you could just go with the flow. So my question for you all is, what should we be doing now? It’s October. We got a month. We got a lot [00:52:00] of folk. How should we be showing up?
SD: Yeah, I think that’s a great question Macky. Particularly the “and beyond,” because I think the situation feels so dire right now, and it is so dire right now, that we tend to focus on what we’re against, what we want to stop, because there’s so much we need to stop, but particularly past the election, we need to really focus on things that we’re for. And things that we want to do. And I think that one of the things we’ve learned inside of artists to activism, is this is where creativity really comes into play. So, here’s an example. About six or seven years ago, we were asked to go to Macedonia, to work with LGBTQ and Roma rights organizers. And it was a really, really tough time in Macedonia, there was a right-wing government, horribly corrupt, vehemently homophobic, anti-Roma. The people we were working with, their [00:53:00] LGBTQ center had been firebombed about a month previous, and they were really, really, really pissed. Understandably pissed. There was so much to be angry about. So much to just want to just raise the middle finger to. And one of the things we do in our workshops is, the last part of the workshop, the five day workshop, is within 24 hours we brainstorm, build all the props for, and execute a creative action. And the first thing we do is we do the brainstorming. And immediately, people went to the negative. They were so used to being told “You have no part in Macedonian society” that their immediate reaction was, “Well, if you’re going to tell us that, then we don’t want anything to do with you either! So go F yourself.” Again, very understandable, but in a way, and we talked about that, it was playing into the hands of the right-wing opposition. That they were marginalizing themselves, [00:54:00] just as the people in power wanted to marginalize them. And so we rethought. What can we do differently? And instead of going negative, we went positive. We went radically positive, utopian positive. And we decided, instead of talking about what we were against, we were going to perform a vision of the world that we were for. We were going to create a new Macedonia. Now, Macedonia was not allowed to call itself Macedonia at that time, because the Greeks kept objecting that Macedonia was in Greece, so they had to call themselves “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” So we turned that on its head, and we created this fictive world, called the Former Republic of the Future Republic. No, the Future Republic of the Former Republic of Macedonia. And for about four hours, in the most popular park in Macedonia, we created a new world. We had a border guard, with a border patrol that wore hearts, and would welcome people in gladly. [00:55:00] And people would clap every time someone went through the border. We had a new passport, which didn’t have a gender binary, but instead had a graph, and you could actually mark in where you are on the whole sort of spectrum of gender. We talked about love, we had food, and at the center point of it, we had these pedestals. One of the things the right wing government had done was build all these hideous statues every place. And predictably, all these statues were of big muscled men and large breasted women that were heroes of some mythic Macedonian past. Instead, we built a pedestal, and had people fill out signs that said hero and heroine in Macedonian, and they put in who they were. So it would be, “I am a hero teacher,” or, “I am a heroine lover.” And they would stand up on this pedestal and get their pictures taken. And over the course of about two or three hours, we had 500 people come. [00:56:00] Which, people were afraid to come to LGBTQ and Roma events, people showed up that would have never shown up to an event like that. Partially because it was just attractive with the, “This is the ideal of Macedonia that we want to bring into being.” So it was an incredible event, and the beautiful thing was within three or four years — now I’m not saying this is a direct correlation — there was a colorful revolution that brought down this right-wing government. And it was led in part by artists who splashed paint every place around the city, and brought that sense of joy. And I think that’s what creativity can do. It’s not just about criticizing things that we don’t like, but creating visions, alternative visions, of the worlds we want to bring into being.
LA: Oh my goodness. (laughter) I love that. I love that, and it made me think of first of all, our work that we’ve done together, Steve. [00:57:00] With black trans women, black queer communities in Atlanta. But, I have a quote. And the book is from Octavia’s Brood. And listen to this. “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organizing is science fiction. Organizers and activists dedicate their lives to creating and envisioning another world or many other worlds, so what better venture for organizers to explore their work than through science fiction stories? Through utopian stories, through stories of the world that is not yet.” I love that, and I love what you’re talking about, because I just think we need the utopian, the vision that is bigger than we could imagine, in order to be able to make the world that we want to see.
SD: Right on. I love the idea of speculative fiction. [00:58:00] And if you think about what Jesus did, well a lot of what he was doing was speculative performance. The idea of sitting down with sinners, tax collectors, sex workers, the idea of sitting down and sharing meals with the undesirables, was a way of performing in the future. This is going to be God’s community. It may not be in the present, but in the future, these will be the people who will be welcome at my table. Where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. And, you know, taking those ideals, and whether you put them into science fiction, or you put them into performance, allows a way to people to feel the future. Right? Not just think about it intellectually, but feel it affectively and experience it, and in so doing, it creates the desire for a future.
LA: I love it, I love it. I want to hear about what Pat – Pat, where are you inside of this work? Because I know you’re in there.
PJ: Yeah, and you can’t see me, I’m just smiling (laughs) at the recollection of the Macedonia action. And also for the center, and what Steve just lifted up. I think is the importance of creative activism. And I always talk about the importance of creative activism within the entire ecosystem of everything that needs to be done in order for change. So we need people working on policy reform. We need researchers delving into the questions and finding out the answers and doing polling. We need historians telling us stories of the past that we can learn from. [01:00:00] So it’s all part of an ecosystem. What I love about the Macedonia example and so many examples of the work that the center does is, it breaks down what we mean by creativity. Which you know, a lot of people, especially if you’re not engaged in a work, can dismiss it as being frivolous, or oh, let’s just go out and make some posters. Or let’s, you know, let’s have a soundtrack or let’s write! And the example that Steve shared with us really highlights the discipline that needs to go into this work. The work that’s involved in being able to not only understand the political situation that you’re in, but have the breath and space to [01:01:00] articulate it. To be able to work through it. To be able to have the space to have people lift up their ideas, which of course are going to start out as negative. Because (laughs) we are who we are as progressives. We’re going to lead with that. We see things that we don’t like and that’s why we’re drawn to this work. That change is mostly around the change of wanting to right the wrongs that exist, that we see. So it’s a discipline of being able to bring people together, hold that space for them to be able to articulate what they’re seeing, and then how to move it in a way that actually we can reach people in that space of joy that Steve spoke about. Because we’re not going to reach as many people as we need to in that negative space. And then it’s the areas of [01:02:00] experimentation that also happens within creative activism, where we have this openness for putting out the ridiculous. (laughs) Or putting out what we haven’t seen before in order to capture peoples’ imagination, capture their attention in a way that we haven’t before. And we have more wiggle room as people who want to make change, within creative activism than you do, let’s say, in policy work. Which is more limited in their experimentation. And actually our comrades who are doing policy work, I don’t want them to experiment. (laughs) (inaudible) Creative activism. To experiment. Steve’s story didn’t talk as much about the review and learning [01:03:00] that also is part of the training that the center does as well. But it is that breaking down, that taking, you know, what did we do, what was the response, research is a big part of the center as well which Steve leaves out, and it’s learning. It’s the constant learning and the picking up. The Macedonia action, while not directly related, picks up on work that Lisa like you said, the center’s done with you in Georgia, that the center’s done in North Carolina, that the center’s done in South Africa, in Texas. It’s always picking up and learning. And it’s that review that also comes into creative activism. So I wanted to add that, because there is a lot of components [01:04:00] to it that, when we get to those public demonstrations, there’s actually so much work that’s gone into and that will follow up.
SD: So Pat is actually kind of the unspoken co-founder, one of the unspoken co-founders of the Center for Artistic Activism. It was a project that myself and an artist Steve Lambert, you know, were kind of playing with, to be honest. And I had a meeting with Pat, and she was like you know, you should teach some of these lessons. This is interesting. Why don’t you give me a proposal, blah blah blah, and she gave us a ridiculously low amount of money, it was insulting, (laughter) but it was just enough to get us going down to North Carolina to do our first workshop. But I realize now, Pat, that what you were doing, at that time you were running the democracy and power fund, and then you had all these other types of activists working in it. You had policy [01:05:00] people, you had people doing more election, more direct action, and other things. And we were part of that, kind of, mix, your portfolio in a lot of ways. And I think that’s super important, that not everything needs to be creative activism. It’s the masterminds like Pat — benign masterminds, I would say — (laughter) you know, understood that there was a place for us. And helped us develop the sort of language of artistic activism and methodology of artistic activism so it could work with other forms of activism.
PJ: (laughs) And it was funny, that was, actually. Just for clarification everyone, I was working at a Open Society Foundation, so this wasn’t my own personal money. (laughter) And those were fun times — I had a portfolio, I had DC thinktanks in my portfolio, [01:06:00] I had some of the research groups, I had some of the direct action groups like Ruckus in a portfolio as well, and then I had what I call cultural organizing, which included, for me, as well I expanded that into faith organizing as well. So I had that in my portfolio. So I had faith groups, faith organizing groups, as well as tech groups as well. And then more creative activism, it was this hodgepodge. The stories about creative activism and what people are doing. Even when you’re not involved with it, it just opens up this space in your body, you just breathe, and it’s like “Wait, you did what?” And it’s just —
JD: Right? It’s knowing about that that just makes us all broaden up in a way that we hadn’t imagined. Just makes me feel differently about my specific work that I’m doing within this larger goal of making change and building peace and love and freedom for people throughout the world.
LA: I just know from my personal experience that it opened up more space for the wholeness of the people who were doing the activism, who were involved in the activism. For the people who were witnessing, most definitely. But there’s the one story I remember when we did our church flash mob, and it was when our trans leaders — because we did ours in a church — we borrowed, what do you call them, choir robes. [01:08:00] And remember that mock choir we made up when the trans church went into the lesbian and gay black church, and our leaders said when they put on those choir robes, they felt like they were superheroes. Like they could do anything. And just, there’s so much power that comes from these things, these practices that we think of as just ordinary. But when you think of black trans leaders, putting on choir robes and becoming this mass demonstrating community who were saying, we’re here, we are saving your lives and our lives together, and this is ordained of God. And so when they put on those robes they were making that kind of declaration, that meant that they were seeing themselves differently, and that meant that [01:09:00] that community was seeing them differently, and I believe that it changed something that we will never go back on.
MA: One of the practices that we’ve been exploring here on the podcast is to tell stories about when we’ve won. So that we remember that we’re winners. So in your own lifetimes of activism, or in the study and training that has informed your activism, what story reminds you that we got this?
SD: Oh, my God. There are so many stories. I mean especially, you know, I’m trained as a historian so I could just rattle on, as Pat knows, we go back to Moses, and then to Jesus, and the prophet Mohamed, and then so on and so forth. (laughs) But, this is something that came to mind when we were talking earlier. Don’t forget that eight years — was it eight years ago? [01:10:00] Twelve years ago we elected a black president of the United States of America under the banner of hope and change. And that this country looked very, very different. And 40 percent of the people hated his guts, and 40 percent of the people felt threatened, and that their ways of life were going to disappear. I remember there’s a great speech by FDR where he’s running for the third time, and he says, you know, essentially, 40 percent of the population hates my guts. And I welcome their hatred. And to understand that we’re really not talking about an entire country which has gone batshit crazy. Okay? It’s a minority that was always there, and they grabbed power. But there was also a majority of the population who voted for, not the progressive execution, but a progressive vision. Which Obama [01:11:00] promised. And that is a victory. That gives me hope.
PJ: I will go with a real world one that I’m involved with right now. So I volunteer with participatory budgeting, where it’s around the country but here in New York City we get to determine how public dollars are spent in our community. And in progressive New York City, they use COVID as an excuse for not continuing with participatory budgeting this upcoming year. And my local district, my neighborhood, we decided to go with it on our own. So we’re going to do our own in our own district, and make sure that we keep this alive. It’s just, it’s, yeah. You’re going to find that people in power want to take away your voice. [01:12:00] No matter whatever adjective you want to put in front of that government is. It’s really always up to you to step up to participate and take hold of that power. So I’m loving that we’re doing this and that we’re doing it on our own, which also opens up this space for us to imagine, okay what do we want the process to look like? Because we’ve had to abide by the city rules for so long but now we get to determine just in our district how we want to see this money distributed, so, really excited about that.
LA: So our final question to y’all is, how do you practice joy? If you have a practice that you’d like to share, that’s fine, [01:13:00] so that our listeners could maybe copy what you do, but it’s not necessary that they be able to do that. We like to leave our folks with a sense that joy is an intention, and a practice. And it just doesn’t emerge out of nowhere, but that it is a practice of our communities for justice. So, what’s a joy practice?
PJ: (laughs) I love that question. So, yes it’s a practice, I think there’s also, for me, I’ve found, there’s also an orientation. And I do get that, very much, I’ve always described myself I’m not a glass half empty or half full, I was always since a kid, “Oh my god, I have a glass!” (laughter) How amazing is that, [01:14:00] I don’t have to use my hands! It’s just like, I’ve always had that like, innate appreciativeness of that I know not everyone has that orientation. So even with that I get overwhelmed, I get depressed, I get “Erg, what am I doing, I’m just such a loser! I’m just, ugh! What’s going on!” So even with that orientation, that isn’t everything, so yes, practices do work and make it easier. So a practice that I do is when, especially my mind is going to that overwhelming space, is that I just bypass my mind and go into my body. So that could be through dancing, it could be through deep breathing, also, [01:15:00] so I use both of — those are like my go-tos for just like moving, yeah, like moving my body. Walking. When my mind is overwhelming I just go straight to my body. Okay, how can I move my body and just forget about my mind, because my mind’s going to do what it’s going to do, and then as long as I have my body, my mind will always like, play second fiddle to my body. So if I’m dancing, as soon as I start dancing, then my mind, it just says oh, okay! (laughs) We’re just going to move with this body, and it quiets down immediately. And I find that also when I do deep breathing. So if I’m on a subway and just don’t want to dance at that point because I’m in public, I’ll do deep breathing and I’ll [01:16:00] find as soon as I get to — like, listen — put my body first, and then my mind kind of moves towards that. And then that can get me to the joy space.
SD: That’s beautiful. I love that you said orientation, Pat. Because I think so much of it is, we’re, you know, you could walk down the street and you can look that everything is terrible. And sometimes when I’m depressed, I’m just overwhelmed by the anguish and pain and ugliness of the world. But I can also walk down the same street and notice a whole bunch of different things happening. And so a lot of it is, to me, about that orientation. Is do I want to go through the world looking for joy, or do I want to go through the world looking at how horrible it is? I wish I had a practice to figure it out, (laughs) and kind of move myself from one to the other. And I like to say [01:17:00] the other, the body in some ways, and kind of short circuiting the brain, I think I’m going to try some of that. For me, a lot of it is, when I find myself looking at all the horrible things, just to spot something which isn’t terrible. And to see that little beautiful thing. And it’s really easy when you’re in nature, it’s a little harder when you know, you’re, walking down the street and you see people who are living on the street, and, but you can find it. And just to see that, and find it, and concentrate on that, and then you can look back to the horror. But I wish I had a better way because there’s a — I’m going to try dancing a little bit more. Laughing! Laughing is really good. Just finding things to laugh about and laughing with people. I think that works.
PJ: Right. And laughing is breathing. [01:18:00] So that’s the beauty of it, is just like you’re just breathing deeper when you’re laughing, and that helps alleviate all the tension.
SD: I hadn’t thought about that, that’s great.
LA: Oh, my God.
MA: One of the things that moves me about both of you that I’ve experienced is an incredible generosity of spirit. And I don’t know whether it brings you joy but it brings a lot of other people joy. And honestly, hanging out with you, Pat. (laughter) I remember when we were in Minneapolis together, going out and laughing! Sharing stories until the cows came home. And you know, we didn’t know each other that well, but it’s like, we were you know, at a sleepover and friends for life, and just sharing stories. And then ever since then, I’ve just felt like you know me, and I love you.
PJ: Aww. (laughs)
MA: And Steve, Steve is one of these dudes who, like, he sees me and sees how I’m trying to look fine, [01:19:00] and he’s thinking to himself, don’t I have something in my closet that would make that outfit (laughter) just pop? And then the next time I see him, he’ll come out with a tie, or a pair of shoes that I can’t believe he actually wants to get rid of because they’re so nice! (laughter) And I thought, well, what’s he keeping? Because this is (laughter) my best.
SD: But it gives me such joy to see you wear them, Macky. (laughter) It really does. I gave Macky a hat, a cap, like two or three years ago. And every time you show up in church with it, I’m like, ugh! Doesn’t he look good in that?
LA: That’s the best, I love it. This is my first time meeting Pat, and I’m very thrilled. I’m very thrilled. And I’m feeling a little bit like I can’t wait until we can make our pods a little bigger, because I’d like to go out. (laughter) I have to say though, that I did watch one of your podcast [01:20:00] before we got started in preparation, it was the one that you did with Linda Sarsour when you all went and got your nails done. (laughter)
SD: It’s so much fun!
LA: So, even though this is the first time I’ve met you Pat, I have seen silver toes (laughter) and there was a line that you said in the podcast that I loved so much, about longevity being your act of political resistance. You’re going to live a good long time. And that that was an act of political resistance as a black woman. And I said oh, I love that. (laughter) Like, I love that so much. And Steve, I’m so happy to see you again.
SD: I know! It’s been a long time.
LA: It’s been a long time, but you know since we did our last event in Atlanta, I’m sure Macky told you that we did — the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle did a [01:21:00] cohort with black trans women, and so several of the women that we met when we did the creative activism work with you and Steve, were in that cohort.
SD: Oh, that’s great.
LA: And are a part of Auburn’s extended family now. So we all met through that experience.
SD: That’s great to hear. That’s great to hear.
LA: Yeah, so —
MA: And I just want to name, Lisa, that that’s a story of organizing with a beginning, middle and end, but that reminds us that there is no end. And that there — things keep growing, like in Pat’s garden, you know, they just grow and they grow as we stay in. Stay in it for life.
LA: Yes, absolutely. If it were not for that, we would not have met those women. We would not have met Raquel Willis, who did the first podcast that we did.
PJ: Oh wow, okay! [01:22:00]
LA: For this podcast, and we met Raquel through work that we did with Steve in Atlanta. And so it’s just about organizing and creating communities, so I really love the distinction you made between organizing and activism. Because it just spoke to the value and the quality of relationship. So we end our podcast every time saying words of love and sort of, I guess a benediction of joy, that the author is Winnie the Pooh? (laughs) So Macky and I are going to say this to you, and imagine just showers of blessing upon you as we say these words. If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together,
MA: There’s something you must always remember.
LA: You are braver than you believe,
MA: Stronger than you seem. [01:23:00]
LA: And smarter than you think.
MA: But the most important thing is,
LA: Even if we’re apart,
MA, LA: (overlapping, together) I’ll always be with you.
MA: We’ll always be with you.
LA: We’ll always be with you.
MA: Thank you so much for being on the show!
SD: Thank you!
MA: You made it!
LA: Thank you wonderful friends! Yay, we did it!
SD: And to a time when we can do this in person.
PJ: I’d be up for that. (overlapping dialogue, inaudible)
MA: Rockin’ to the Hall & Oates!
SD: Oh, no. Oh, no.
LA: Well, yeah. Hall & Oates is not my favorite, either.
SD: Oh, yes! Thank you Lisa!
(“Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone plays)
MA: So, beautiful people, that’s our show. For show notes, [01:24:00] episode graphics, or to donate to this work, or for more info about other Auburn programs, please go www.auburnseminary.org/friends. Please follow Auburn Seminary on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And again, we want to hear your thoughts. So email us, at [email protected].
LA: It was a joy to be with you Macky, as always. And I am so excited for next month. So excited. It’s Halloween! It’ll be Halloween, next month, too!
MA: This show was produced by Auburn Seminary. And is made possible by the erodes and the Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Thank you, Carpenter.
LA: Friend for life was produced by Macky and me, with additional support from Courtney Weber Hoover — yay! — Karen groves — yay! And David Beasley. Yay! Graphics by Claudia Lopez.
MA: Those are some good looking graphics, too. [01:25:00]
LA: Mm-hmm. Always. Audio engineering from Dan Greenman and Courtney Weber Hoover, with editing from Courtney, Macky, Lisa and David.
MA: Thank y’all. We love you, we love you, we love you, we love you. Come say hi.
LA: Hi! (laughs)
SUSAN TALVE: You know, Traci taught me how to hold pain in the streets of Ferguson. You know how to hold that pain of being so uncomfortable every day because of the color of your skin.
TRACI BLACKMON: We were forged in fire. And that care was forged by showing up in Ferguson. I mean that meant calling each other all times of night and then getting out of the bed. It meant going to the jails to try to get young people out. I met her heart before I met her theology or her political stance or her — it was the heart.
LISA ANDERSON: Welcome to Friends for Life from Auburn Seminary, a podcast for friends who give us life and with whom we are in it for life.
MACKY ALSTON: My name is Macky Alston. I am [00:01:00] a documentary film maker, a spiritual activist, and a lover of Lisa Anderson.
LA: (laughter) And my name is Lisa Anderson, and I’m a lover of Macky Alston as well as (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) theologian, who believes that loving blackness is the spiritual calling of our time. I also believe that the lived experience of all black people is a sacred wisdom test.
MA: Lisa and I are new at this game of podcasts, and we need your help. Our goal really is to be in relationship with y’all, so reach out to us as we try reaching out to y’all.
LA: This is our third episode, and this time we have the pleasure of sitting down with the Reverend Traci Blackmon. Macky and I have known Traci for more than a decade. She is the Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries for United Church of Christ. She’s the senior pastor of Christ, the Church — United Church of Christ in Florissant, [00:02:00] Missouri. Folks got to know her really well during the uprisings in Ferguson after the killing of Mike Brown. She was on the front lines when there weren’t a lot of clergy doing that work, and so she bridged the gap between the young folks and the traditional church people.
MA: You know, the thing about this show is that we reach out to somebody we know we’ve got to talk to. And then we say, “Who do we not know who we need to know?” And in this case, Reverent Blackmon said, “You need to know Rabbi Susan Talve. Rabbi Susan is the founding rabbi of Central Reformed Congregation, the only synagogue located within the city limits of St. Louis. When a whole lot of other congregations were leaving for the suburbs, Rabbi Susan, along with a vibrant and inclusive group, stayed on the front line fighting racism and poverty that was plaguing the urban center. Today that congregation is [00:03:00] a thriving community of 800 households. Oh, oh, oh, and by the way, listen for two special guest stars on this show. If you wait for it, you will hear the beautiful and brilliant Courtney Weber Hoover, one of our Auburn Seminary colleagues and beloveds. And then at the very end of the show, there’s this surprise appearance from Winnie the Pooh, Winnie’s self. You got to wait for it.
LA: Yes. Please, please, please don’t sleep on Courtney Weber Hoover. We are so glad that she’s one of our colleagues at Auburn, and she is the host of her own podcast called That Witch Life. It’s about living as a contemporary witch in today’s culture. There’s social justice. There’s lots of education. It’s fun. It makes you feel grounded and whole. I listen to it all the time. You can find —
MA: I just listened to it this morning. It was awesome.
LA: Well, I’m not surprised. It drops every Monday. So in the same place that you can find our podcast, [00:04:00] you can find That Witch Life. We love us some Courtney. (laughter) As always, we get our folks started with four grounding questions. They are who has got your back, where do you go to feel better, what song is getting you through, and what flavor delights you. And once we’ve sort of gotten people in their flesh around those questions, we then ask a few deeper questions. What strategic counsel do you have for leaders of faith and moral courage so that we can survive, thrive, and win in 2020 and beyond? We ask can you tell us a story about when we won in the past so that we can remember that our ancestors have always had our backs, that we’ve won before, and that we can turn about for liberation today. And the third question we ask is what is a joy practice that is getting you through these days.
MA: [00:05:00] Thanks y’all. It is just so important to us that we’re in it together in these crazy, crazy times. We want to hear from you about what we’re doing, how we’re doing, and how we can help. So email us at [email protected] and tell us how to make it better.
LA: Traci, Susan, whoever wants to answer first, who’s got your back? Imagining this moment we’re living in, imagining where we are right now, imagining this world of duel pandemics, who’s got your back? Whoever would like to start?
TB: Do you want to go first, Susan?
ST: I can. I think — in that language, the language of who’s got your back, my fr– go to is always Traci because we [00:06:00] have had that opportunity so many times. (laughs) In the movement, on the streets, but also personally. I have to say I have — of course, we both have family, and we have good friends. But the person that I can be most honest with is Traci. And that’s a really important thing for me right now. When I — as clergy, you often have to put on — act as if. We act as if a lot. We have to act as if because it’s important to model for people. You do a funeral, or you do a wedding. You do some counseling. You want to — you do a service. You want to be uplifting for people. But [00:07:00] who can you be really honest with? At this time, when it’s really frightening, I might want to — might really — my go-to person is Traci in many ways because I trust her. And I know she’s not going to tell me that my feelings are not okay. She pushes me. It’s not that she doesn’t challenge me to get up out of myself. (laughs) But I totally — I trust her with my life. And I hope she feels that way. I think we’ve had enough opportunities as our relationship has deepened to really have that be tested many times. So I know she gets my back, and I’m happy to be a back for her (laughs) any time.
LA: How did y’all meet? How did y’all meet?
TB: [00:08:00] We have different versions of that? (laughter) We do. Susan Talve is somewhat of an icon. She is — I’m talking about her as though she’s not here, but I wanted to say that she is a phenomenal rabbi and community leader in St. Louis. And so long before she knew me, I knew her. In every progressive move of this city, Susan Talve has been involved. I first heard of Susan Talve when there was a program — I think it’s still going on where you pay a dollar to help with the heating — heating costs — the people who couldn’t afford their heat in the winter. And Susan was the face of that for a long time in this community to help people who couldn’t afford heat to have heat. [00:09:00] When the debates started about marriage equality, Susan was the first clergy person in St. Louis to do gay marriages. And she didn’t do them in St. Louis because you couldn’t do them here, (laughs) so she would ride the bus to Iowa. Was it Iowa? All the way to Iowa.
ST: Iowa. Uh-huh.
TB: She’d take buses of people to be married, (laughs) right? When these sisters felt a call to ministry and they were Catholic, sisters, not as in nuns but as women, they were Catholic. But they felt called to preach. It was Susan who had ordination services at the synagogue —
TB: — which she has not recovered from. (laughs) But she’s always at the cutting edge. And so long before I met you, Susan, I was a fan. And she won’t [00:10:00] remember this, but the very first time I met you we were at St. John’s UCC. And I’m not sure why we were there. I don’t know what was going on. She also is the rabbi who comes to all the Christian services and actually knows what is supposed to happen during the Christian services. And even doing Passover, she has a Passover that’s a liberation Passover that’s with the —
ST: The Hebrew Israelites.
TB: — with the Hebrew Israelites at the synagogue. It’s just very progressive. Only synagogue that stayed in the city as everyone moved to the county. Just a lot of things. But we were at St. John’s, and it was time to pass the piece. And if you know anything about Christian services, you pass the piece. And (laughs) I wanted to meet Susan Talve. So I went up to her to pass the piece, but I got nervous. [00:11:00] And the only thing I knew to say was, “The peace of Jesus be with you.” (laughter) And she kind of looked at me like, “What kind of nut case are you?” (inaudible) I don’t think I’ve ever told you that. That was the first time that I (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). And then when Michael Brown died, of course, the person I described to you showed up in Ferguson. And we really bonded there. And we became very close. I’m not sure why. I think we just have kindred spirits. And there’s a line in the book that Kadiatou Diallo wrote, My Heart is Across This Ocean. Kadiatou Diallo is Amadou Diallo’s mother, of course. And she wrote a book after Amadou Diallo is killed [00:12:00] told his story but also told his story from what I consider an African perspective. His story didn’t begin with him. But it began with her. And she told her story and then his story. And the opening line of that book is, “I’ve been given away many times.” I recognize and resonate with that statement. But as you were asking that question, I was listening to Susan that statement came to mind from a different place. I would say I’ve been rescued several times. And Susan has been a partner with me in rescue in many, many ways. We rescued one another lots of times. And so that’s how we met. That’s how I met her, and then we met in Ferguson — in the streets of Ferguson.
ST: Yeah. [00:13:00] Traci taught me how to hold pain in the streets of Ferguson. How to hold that pain of being so uncomfortable every day because of the color of your skin. I mean these are things you know. You think you know in your head. But loving somebody this deeply and loving her family and loving her children, Traci let me into that place of pain. And I could go there because of that trust, Traci, because you talk about things that I did that were courageous [00:14:00] and got me into trouble. Oh my god. Just standing with me got you (laughs) into trouble. I mean the things that Traci has done because I’ve been on the wrong side of the line for a moment or perceived to be, and Traci wouldn’t let people do that to her friend. I think we — the image I have is standing in the breach together. We have stood in that breach together. We have stood — there’s this beautiful poem by Marion Werkheiser that says, “I’m not crossing the sea until everybody crosses with me, until all the lands will sync to each other.” And sometimes I — that’s where I feel us standing together in the sea. Up to here sometimes. (laughs)
TB: Literally. (laughter) Literally. Literally, we’ve been [00:15:00] treading water a couple of times (inaudible). (laughs)
ST: But I — yeah.
MA: Y’all are clergy. So you get to stand in the presence of the holy and sacred in relationships, I imagine, a lot. You marry people. You bury people. But there’s something really beautiful and sacred about just hearing that testimony between you two friends, and I think that the soul mate or the kindred spirit or the one who has your back — one of the desires even in this radio show or podcast is that we lift that particular formation — love [00:16:00] formation up and celebrate it because we need it. Just all the time beginning to end of life. And we need it in movement. There are lessons in it, I believe, that we need to listen to as we can really do each other in in our movement spaces or in our houses or worship, right? Or in our relationships and in our friendships. But I just thank you for sharing and for showing up like this because it makes me have faith and also makes me want to go be with my best friends right away. (laughs) And I love doing this with Lisa because she’s one of them.
MA: And tell them I love them.
MA: And to give those critical [00:17:00] relationships their honor and due.
MA: So our second question is — and it’s a weird one in COVID, so I invite you to answer however you wish whether you’re response is an imaginary place or a place you can’t get to right now or a place that you’re actually going to now where — during — in this time that our movement is relatively limited. The question is where do you go to feel better? Where do you go to feel better?
(pause 00:17:34 – 00:17:45)
ST: Well, I have to admit this because I’m not a Facebook person, but my friend, Traci, is. And sometimes when I need a lift, I look at her Facebook page. (laughs)
TB: Oh my god. I love that. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).
ST: [00:18:00] What she’s cooking. I don’t know. So I feel like — oh my god. I feel like I’ve been spying, but she actually took time and went to a spa last week. (laughs)
TB: Yes. I remember that.
LA: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) you want to go?
ST: (laughs) Yeah. I do.
MA: The answer to that question, “Yes.”
ST: (inaudible) before I go because I can’t go anywhere. If I want to see my two grandsons that — they’re four and eight months, my kids have really strict rules about where I can be. And I’m allowed to do certain funerals, certain weddings, but I’m not allowed to go inside anywhere. And (laughs) so I go to Traci’s Facebook page. I didn’t realize I was doing that until you asked the question. (laughs) [00:19:00] It’s uplifting.
LA: I agree with you, Susan. I know exactly what you’re talking about. Confessions of a woman who preaches.
LA: The Sunday dinners.
ST: Yes. (laughs)
LA: And the I’m watching this on television. Did you see that?
LA: Traci’s page is a refuge. (laughs)
ST: And also her rage and her — her rage at things and how angry she gets. I can get angry with her. (laughs)
TB: You know where I go for comfort? That’s a weird question. I find comfort in — when all things are well with the people I love. And that’s not the case right now. (laughter)
ST: Yeah. No.
TB: Comfort is hard because I go to places that provide respite [00:20:00] like the spa. There’s this place in Jamaica that I booked for a week that I love, and I just can’t get there right now. But as soon as I can, I’ll go there for a week. But many people that I love are struggling right now for different reasons. They’re not all COVID related. It’s hard to be joyful when people you care about are hurting. I wanted to say something else that I think is very unique and a place of comfort for me about my relationship with you, Susan. somehow magically, Susan and I have found a way to genuinely love and care for one another without requiring the other person to be [00:21:00] anyone but who they are. So she doesn’t have to be less Jewish, and I don’t have to be less Christian.
TB: And she’s a vegetarian, and I eat anything that moves. (laughter) We don’t see eye to eye on Palestine all the time. We don’t see eye to eye on Israel all the time. And we don’t see eye to eye on Scripture all the time. (laughter) And we don’t require — I don’t require her and she doesn’t require me to be anybody but who are. And we’ve decided that that’s enough. And I don’t think we ever had that conversation. I think it just happened.
TB: That was enough. She did trick me. We started having Torah study. We’re supposed to study Scripture. We started [00:22:00] in 2015 because we would be out in the streets of Ferguson. And we’re talking Scripture. And I’d say, “This reminds me of this story.” And she’d go, “Yeah. Yeah.” And I’d get to the end, and she’d go, “That’s not how that story ends.” (laughter) And then she’d say, “Oh that reminds me of this story in the Bible.” I’m going, “Susan, that’s not in the text.” So we decided we’d study together. And we’re gonna study one — we’re gonna study some Torah. Then we study Bible. Then we study Torah. Then we study Bible. And we’ve had some breaks, I’ll admit that. But it is now 2020, and we are still in the Torah. So I don’t know what’s going on. (laughter)
ST: That’s right.
TB: Something went wrong. But I think that’s very important in this moment. I’ve been doing webinars with people. And I did one yesterday with Rob Schenck that I met [00:23:00] at Auburn. And I put him in conversation with John [Doorhower?] because I’d heard both of their stories. And there was similarities there even though one is evangelical (inaudible) and one is progressive, right?
TB: I feel like we’ve lost — we collectively have lost our ability to let people be (laughs) And to fully love people just as they are. That doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. And I appreciate that about our relationship. We have some intense conversations. But we’ve decided that we will let one another be. I wish we had more of that right now, right? (laughs) That you didn’t have to agree with the person —
TB: — to hear them or to listen to them.
ST: To love them.
TB: Or to love them. That’s [00:24:00] missing. It’s missing for so — in so many areas of our lives. That is scary to me.
LA: What do you think inspired that in your relationship? That ability to let each other be. I mean is this — have you noticed that that capacity has changed over time, in our culture? That people have been able to allow each other to be. Is there a practice inside of your relationship that allows you to hold on to, “This is my friend Susan. And she is being Susan. This is my friend Traci. And she is being Traci. And we love each other inside of our being”? Is there something that you practice that helps you get there and stay there?
TB: I don’t think intentionally we do. I believe that we were — I think it’s how we were forged together. [00:25:00] We were forged in fire, right? (laughs)
ST: Yes. Yep.
TB: Ferguson was erupting.
TB: Contrary to popular belief, there were maybe a dozen to 15 — closer to a dozen — ministers who committed to that, right? To being out there in the streets. And so I met her heart before I met her theology or her political stance or her — it was the heart, right? Knowing you had someone who had your back. And I believe the same is true of me. and then as we got to know each other and began having difficult conversations or conversations that became difficult, I was always able to — I’ll let you answer for you, Susan. I was always able to say, “This is a person that I know genuinely cares about me.”
ST: [00:26:00] Yeah.
TB: That’s my anchor, right? If I believe that you genuinely care, I can hear anything you have to say.
TB: And that care was forged by showing up in Ferguson. I mean that meant calling each other all times of night. It meant getting out of the bed. It meant going to jails to try to get young people out. Standing together when young people didn’t think you should be there anyway. It meant all of that. We did that together as we got to know each other.
ST: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about the fact that we actually stood on the outside together and had to make our way in with — especially with those young protestors that we fell in love with. I hadn’t thought about that, but that was a common [00:27:00] ground. And the thing I would add to what you said about that deep respect for who the other is — well, there’s two things. One nobody listens better than you, Reverend Traci Blackmon. You listen with questions. And I have learned — I try to learn from you that. I don’t listen with my own answers. You do that so beautifully. You really listen to another person’s heart by drawing them out. And that’s a tremendous gift to the person you’re in relationship with. It’s a tremendous gift for me. And then the other thing I want to say is I do feel completely respected as a Jew even though I know that we — it’s complicated. [00:28:00] Our theologies are complicated. But I will also say that in my relationship with you something new has arisen. I feel like there’s something new that’s born too. It’s almost like a new tapestry is woven in under — I’ve — we’ve talked about this. In understanding your relationship with black Jesus, I get it. I mean you’ve helped me really get it. As a feminist, I had trouble — I was a church history major in undergraduate school. (laughs) I tried to learn —
TB: Oh wow. I didn’t know that.
ST: Oh yeah. That’s a long story. But anyway, I was because — yeah. It’s a funny story. But I was, but I never really got — and we’ve talked about this. How we share the story of the exodus, right? That is our story together. And yet, it’s a little embarrassing as Jews because our slavery was a really long time ago. [00:29:00] (laughs) And it’s different from saying, “We’re still in the legacy of the slave trade here.” But we both relate, I think, to that story. It’s our story. But when I hear it from you, it becomes something new, something richer actually, something deeper. And that’s so — so yes. I am authentically who I am, but I’m different. I’m also different for knowing you. I’m better.
TB: I think that’s true of me as well. Not only have we become friends, but our congregations are friends. Does that make sense? (laughs)
ST: They know each other.
TB: I’m just laughing. I was telling her that for a while every Sunday there — people from the synagogue at my church. And they were trying to figure out why we were friends. How could we be [00:30:00] so close? And they would come. They would tell me. “We just want to see what our rabbi sees in you.” And (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).
ST: I think that was when [Adina?] was sick, right?
TB: When Adina was sick. Adina is this fiery spirit of creativity and passion and just the embodiment of resilience. It could be more than a podcast by itself. (laughs) And we lived a lot of life in a few years. And when you are a minister of any kind whose job it is to care for others and to take people from grief, there are not many places you can go to be [00:31:00] accompanied because everyone expects you to do the accompanying. There are not many places you can just — so we’ve been that for each other. And during Adina’s illness, there were some people who will say that that’s Susan’s rabbi. They’ve been talking about me, right?
ST: That’s right.
TB: And she really is my rabbi. Leon goes, “Don’t mess up with Susan. They kick us out of the church that’s our next stop.” (laughter)
ST: I love that.
TB: So it would come. They come to see what is this thing. And can I tell them the story about Adina’s funeral?
ST: Yeah. Yeah.
TB: Where was I when Adina died? I was [00:32:00] out of the country. Where was I? I was out of the country.
ST: And you were on your way to California to be with Harry Belafonte because her funeral was on the Monday of the Dr. King holiday.
TB: I was going to California, but I was somewhere else. I was headed to California to be with Mr. Belafonte. And Adina died. And I knew that Adina’s celebration of life would be before Harry Belafonte’s time. And Susan called and told me that Adina had died. And I said, “I’ll get a plane. I’ll be there tomorrow.” She didn’t ask me to. But on the call, she says to me, “I want you to sing at Adina’s funeral.” Anybody that knows me knows that I’m real Jesusy. [00:33:00] So I started panicking like, “I can’t mess this up. (laughs) I can’t say the wrong thing at the funeral.” And I knew it would be crowded. I knew it would be packed, and it was all of that. And I never told you this. I didn’t get any sleep because I was trying to think what funeral song that I know that was not Jesusy, right? Every song I could think of — and I was afraid that I sing those songs so much that it would be Jesusy, and I didn’t know it anymore. I was worried. So I picked this Bette Midler song. What is the name of their song?
ST: Wind Beneath My Wings.
LA: Oh yes.
ST: I’m channeling Adina right now. (laughter)
TB: (inaudible) that I know, but I listened to it like — for the next 24 hours. And I go, “Okay. I’m gonna sing this song. I’m gonna sing this song.” So when I get to the airport in St. Louis, I called Susan. Oh, and I sent [00:34:00] her a message and said, “I found a song. I’m gonna sing Wind Beneath My Wings.” She didn’t respond at all. I go, “That’s odd. She didn’t respond at all.” So when I get to (laughter) St. Louis, I call her at the airport while I’m waiting on my luggage. I say, “I’m here. What do you need?” And she said, “About that song.” (laughter) And I said, “What?” She said, “Adina hated that song. I hate it too.” (laughter) So then I had to tell her. I said, “Well, Susan, every song I know is Jesusy, and I didn’t want to sing a Jesus song. So I came up with this song.” And she says, “I want you to sing Amazing Grace.” And I said, “But that’s a Jesusy song.” She said, “Not for me it isn’t.” So I said, “Okay.” And I get to Adina’s [00:35:00] funeral at the synagogue. And it’s packed just like I thought it would be. And it’s being streamed all over the world. People are watching it in Israel. And I recognize that I’m the only person singing at Adina’s funeral. That there are only a few people who were allowed to even speak at her funeral. And I recognized what a deep honor it was. What a deep honor. And I’d had the privilege of walking with her as a mother and still walking with her because if you’ve ever lost anybody you know that it’s almost like the world just pauses and [00:36:00] takes a deep breath. And then it goes on. And it doesn’t go on — it will never go on the same way, if you’ve loved that person, right? So this is a journey that we will always have as long as we live. As long as we live.
LA: It’s so powerful that we come into this space where you’re talking about the music and the time that you sang this song. Amazing Grace at Adina’s funeral because our next — our question that we like to ask folks is what song gets you through. And I know that changes with the seasons. [00:37:00] But if you’re musical folk, and it sounds like you both are — I mean I can see you in synagogue — I’ve been to many synagogues, many churches, and it is the music that moves our people. But is there a particular sound, song, something that’s getting you through in this moment?
ST: I need to add though — I mean Traci honored us by singing at Adina’s funeral. You have to know. Adina loved Traci and didn’t — not allow any rabbis — anybody else into her room but she. She let Traci in when she was really sick. And I’m not sure Traci remembers. But because it was so spontaneous and so perfect, but at the end of Amazing Grace you added Swing Low [00:38:00] to bring her home.
ST: In that shock, we didn’t expect her to go. In that moment, we just couldn’t put together this very simple thing that we thought Adina would like. And Traci’s music was — and Traci’s voice and Traci’s [00:39:00] taking it from Amazing Grace to comin’ home was perfect in that moment and still carries me. It still carries me. It still carries me. The music of my daughter. She left a playlist. (laughs) So I still listen to that, and it’s comforting. It’s comforting. And I wish I could say it’s the music in the synagogue. And there is music of the synagogue that I know — especially as we get ready for the high holidays, which are in less than a month now — I know that music will challenge me to dare to believe it’s gonna be a better year. But truly if I would say — if I would have to pick one thing that would connect me to hope and to healing, [00:40:00] it would be Traci singing at my daughter’s funeral.
TB: There are many songs, Lisa. Right now I’m stuck there because I relived that moment. Someone asked me that question two days ago, and it’s Jill Scott, Living My Life Like It’s Golden.
LA: Oh yes.
TB: It’s a different song every day. It depends on the mood of the day. All three of my children are with me and healthy. But my son, my oldest son, got into trouble. He was driving with some friends. He had been drinking. They had all been drinking, but they weren’t all driving. He was driving, and he hit a guardrail. And a young woman, who was in his convertible with him, was thrown from the car. And just by [00:41:00] the grace of God, she was not killed. She was ejected from the car onto the highway. And she stood up after that but then a van hit her because she was in the middle of the highway. And she fractured many bones. And my son was afraid because he had been drinking and he — there were some other people in the car. So they stayed with her, and he said he wasn’t gonna stay because he didn’t want to go to jail. (laughs) He said, “I’m a black male, who is afraid.” I’m grateful to say that he left, but they said that he turned around and came back and said he could not leave until she was in an ambulance. And the ambulance got there before the police. He waited till she got in the ambulance, but he did leave. And he was running. [00:42:00] And I was traveling on the road, and that mother found me on the road and began yelling me about how horrible was. And he had never done anything like this. I didn’t recognize who was talking about and came to find out it was true. And he was hiding. He was hiding with his dad. We are not together. And I said to him, “You have to turn yourself in.” And I didn’t know what that was gonna mean for him as a black male, and I certainly didn’t know what it was going to mean for him as the son of an outspoken person in the streets of Ferguson at that time. But I knew that he had to turn himself in. This woman had convinced me that everyone was looking for him. That wasn’t true. But she was speaking out of the trauma of her child, right? Her child being hit, and I certainly get that. And I would have been right there if it was her — if I were her. And so I told him he had to turn himself in. He said, “I’m scared.” [00:43:00] I said, “Yeah. But we got to do this, and I’ll be with you.” And I did not have a plan at all. And my first call was to Susan. “What am I gonna do?” No. My first call I tried to call a couple of attorneys. And for the kind of case that I knew this was gonna be and the kind of attorney I needed, I needed tens of thousands of dollars (laughs) for a retainer, and I didn’t have it. So I was panicking. I was panicking. And I called Susan because I knew that Susan would be with me. I wasn’t calling her to ask for tens of thousands of dollars, but I needed somebody that could be with me and could think with me because I didn’t know what I was going to do. And Susan said, “Just stay by the phone.” [00:44:00] I wasn’t even home yet. She said, “Just stay by the phone. Let me make a call.” And she called someone who is a friend of hers who is an attorney who is that kind of an attorney. And he took my son’s case. And he dealt with — I mean my son is an adult, so he dealt with my son. He didn’t deal with me. And I told him. I said, “I know how much this is. And if it takes me the rest of my life, I’ll pay you back. I just need my son to be okay.” And he took that case. He said, “Because he’s an adult, tell your son to bring me a dollar.” He walked me through, turned himself in. He walked through the entire case with him. He [00:45:00] worked on my son’s case like I had all the money (laughs) that you would pay for a case like that. And my son — he was guilty, and he had to plead guilty. But he received a suspended sentence. And that sentence is over now. And I mean he never did a day in jail, right? Well, he did when he turned himself in, but he never did time in jail. He had the suspended sentence. And if he stayed out of trouble for five years, which he — he hasn’t ever been in trouble before and he hasn’t been in trouble since, and his record has been expunged. And now he is working on a government contract. You know what I’m saying? And when I to this attorney and said, “I meant what I said. I will pay you. [00:46:00] I just don’t have it up front,” he said to me, “Your payment to me is being a friend to my rabbi.”
TB: “And as long as you are good to my rabbi, you don’t owe me anything.” And so when I say we’re (inaudible) each other, that is one example because my son is a 29-year-old black man in St. Louis, Missouri. This particular son has locks all the way down his back. And I am convinced he would be locked up today because leaving the scene of an [00:47:00] is a felony. And he would not have had a second chance had it not been for my relationship with Susan.
LA: So the song Bless Me, Honey, In the Rock — will you harbor me came to my mind when you were telling that story. I don’t know if you know that song.
TB: I know that song.
LA: But it’s this idea — this notion of harboring — of being a harbor for each other. That’s just what came to my mind when you were speaking.
MA: So I have one more literal question before we [00:48:00] to another part of the conversation. Most of all, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being this generous with us. I know we just happen to be in a room while y’all love on each other. I’ll never forget it. And it’s transformative to be in the presence of your love and admiration.
TB: Thank you.
MA: And I know that that’s a circle that includes your children and others and so thanks for letting us into the circle. So this is a little gift, right? I’m gonna to ask you only to answer in a couple words and to taste it. And we need some joy, y’all. We need some deliciousness in our lives because we’re living in hard [00:49:00] times, and we have lived through hard times. And there are hard times to come. So if you were to cut yourself a slice of something, if you were to serve yourself up something that generally speaking except in just the very worst of times never fails to make you just feel a little bit better, what would that flavor be? What flavor delights you?
TB: Lemon sorbet.
ST: (laughs) That sounds good. I have to answer with a couple more words than that because another one of the things that happened through our friendship was we did go to Israel and Palestine together. We were three rabbis and three ministers. And we had some difficult days. Really difficult days. [00:50:00] After these very difficult days — and it was hot. We went at the wrong time because had to squish it into each other’s schedules. We went during Ramadan. Oh my god. We couldn’t have picked a crazier time to go (laughs) on this trip. So every day was really challenging and really hard. In many ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually. But at night, as tired as we were, we would sit around most nights and drink a glass of wine. And oh my god. It never tasted so good. (laughs) With that conversation. As hard as those days were, to be able to be with each other at night and to kind of decompress and just affirm our — how we were depending [00:51:00] on this very difficult journey in this friendship was delicious. It was delicious. (inaudible) is a kind of a sweet thing that I’m not (inaudible) about. It’s kind of sweet. This Prosecco stuff. I don’t know. It was a little sweet for me, but (laughs) I would drink that too.
LA: Oh my. Well, so the election is coming up we hope. But I mean that’s sort of the substance of the question — the next question that I have to ask. So when we originally formed this, we had the idea that, of course, there is an election coming up. And so what do we have to offer to our communities? What are we teaching? What are we thinking about? What is leading us to how we understand what it means to win [00:52:00] in 2020? Everything feels so precarious. But where are you now? I mean we’re in the middle of the Democratic National Convention. Historic things have happened since even our last podcast with the nomination of — the naming of Kamala Harris. So you think about the election coming up in 2020, what do you have to speak into that from your perspective as a faith leader, as a movement leader, as organizers in this moment of the DNC and as you think about what does winning mean for us now?
MA: And let me add one piece to that question. Mostly the folks who are listening to this podcast are people we’ve worked with before [00:53:00] or people like them. Justice-minded faith leaders or spiritual activists and organizers. And they’re worn out. We’re worn out. And we’re looking to know where to show up and how to show up. And some of us have an ounce of creativity left in us, but a lot of us just want to know where to show up and how. So if you have any inclination as to how and what we might do and what we might tell our people to do just as y’all have congregations?
TB: Both aspects of that question are helpful to me. To be honest with you, I’m not spending a lot of time on thinking about the election. [00:54:00] I’m spending more of my time thinking about after the election. Whatever that may be.
TB: For me, prophets abound, but priests are scarce. And as a person of faith, there is no win in this for me unless I can do my part to help mend the brokenness that is a result of not just the last 4 years but is the result of at least the last 12 years when this country had to come face to face with its buried racism that was sparked [00:55:00] with the election of Barack Obama and that festered in a way that took us to 2016 and that we still have not dealt with but have been forced to confront more fully because of the narcissistic person that’s in power now. So I don’t suffer under — certainly, I am advocating (laughs) for a change in administration. I’m not saying I’m not there. But as a priest in the broader sense of that word, I’m really trying to prepare myself to help shift a narrative from one of war language to one of reasoning language. And what [00:56:00] is it going to take for people to act civilly and humanely with one another once again and for there to be room to affirm the dignity and humanity of every human being whether you understand them or not and to allow people to speak their minds and speak their hearts without fear? That is the work of the priest. How do we build places of safety and comfort so that people can put down their weapons? And as my ancestors would say, “Study war no more.” And I feel like there are enough prophetic voices in this moment, in pulpits and in the public square, and many of them are jockeying for that moment. But there aren’t a lot of people who are talking about the repair that is gonna be needed in this country no matter who [00:57:00] wins. (laughs) And how are we going to get there? And how are we going to model for people a world where difference is an asset and not a burden? And that’s where I’m choosing to focus my energy. I get my mad. I do. I say things about this administration. But I want to be clear. I always think that whoever is in palace is the emperor. And it doesn’t really matter (laughs) that much for me. It does because of the narcissism of this. But I’m always going to be challenging that. What’s different for me in this moment is that we are in a country that is intolerant of anybody and anything that’s not like them, and we can’t live this way. We can’t. It’s not like progressives can win and throw away all the evangelicals. (laughs) And it’s not like evangelicals can win [00:58:00] and throw away all the progressives. It’s not like white people can do this work without black and brown people ’cause they never have. And it’s not like black and brown people can do all this work without white people. So how are we gonna get back to a place where we can disagree? Or maybe we’ve never been to that place that I’m reaching for. But we were closer than we have been right now, right? (laughs)
TB: What are we gonna do with the madness? And that is gonna be the roll of the priest. And I mean the priest in orchestrated faith. And I mean the priest in a spiritual realm. And I mean the self-selected priesthood of believers, whatever that belief is. How are we gonna get through this? Because we have been completely torn to shreds. And that’s where I want to spend my [00:59:00] energy. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of the hard conversations that we have to have. Inside the church and inside the synagogue, and inside the temple, and in the public square. And how are we going to send messages that reaffirm — I’ve suggested this to the Biden campaign. They didn’t listen to me, right? I said, “I don’t need another commercial about what you want to do about this. I want to know what are you gonna do (laughs) to heal this country,” right? “And give me a campaign that gives me a vision of what it looks like for me to begin the healing process of this country.” I feel like we’ll have a different outcome for the election. But even if we don’t, my task does not change. The task has to be repairing the breach. And the breach is wide.
TB: It’s deep. And we [01:00:00] never had a completely healed country. (laughs) And now it’s in splinters. That’s scary to me.
LA: It’s powerful to me that in your answer and your response that you’ve challenged what is the — often the dominant paradigm, which is the prophetic paradigm as the one that will actually take us to the place of repair and healing. I just know that to really be able to cultivate spaces where that priestly role in its broadest way is lifted up is very — it feels very right now for a lot of leaders that I know who are outside of traditional religious spaces who are talking about the role of healers [01:01:00] for this moment and seeing that as critical in a way that, again, is outside of the dominant paradigm and speaks to your — what you just said about offering that as something for the Biden campaign that folks didn’t pick up on. But it is moving in a counter cultural way that is — it reminds me of the whole space that we’re in. It is not the charismatic one anymore, but it’s a community that is pitched with healing and repair, which again moves away from that singular voice to what is the collective that we have to become in order to bind these wounds that are so deep and that may have never actually had any context for being able to understand healing because we may have never been [01:02:00] there.
TB: And for the priest — and this has been a — probably jolt some people, but winning for the priest would never look like casting out even Donald Trump.
TB: Winning for the priest looks like drawing him in to a place that causes him to be different than he is now. And I’m using him but for a lot of people, right? (laughs) It’s not an administration of one, right? Winning for the priest is never about annihilation. It’s about transformation. That’s not popular. [01:03:00]
ST: But Reverend Traci Blackmon, that’s why you’re my rabbi. That’s why I love you so because nobody is invisible to Traci. And I think if we could learn from that. When you’re a priest, you make me think, and that’s what we do. We minister to people in that role. You can’t unless you really see people because there are no formulas. There’s no cookie cutter way to do this work. It’s all individual because you’re — you have to see people on the streets of Ferguson. That’s what got my attention. These beautiful, young, many queer, black, beautiful people saying, “See [01:04:00] me. See me. I’m not invisible. I’m a mother. I’m a nurse. I’m a teacher. I’m a person.” And I think that’s what you make me think of, Traci, and this work — this healing work of the priest. And you’re right. There’s so many prophets out there now. (laughs) Something is bound to stick. They’re throwing a lot of stuff out. But if we concentrate on the healing work maybe we’ll have half a chance.
TB: You guys should do a podcast on this.
TB: Because you made me think about it. There’s so many people whose faces you came to know in Ferguson — young people in Ferguson — who have grown up, right? And —
ST: [01:05:00] They’re spectacular.
TB: Yes. In a (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) like amazed that it is only — I’m not gonna say it’s only. But I think it’s only because of Ferguson that people saw them and took a chance on brilliance uncurated, right?
TB: So what Ferguson proved is that there are people who deserve to be places where they might not ever be in the systems we have created.
ST: That’s right.
TB: And some of our institutions like SLU and WashU to name the most prominent where it cost $40 and $60,000 a year to go to college, there were people in Ferguson who could not afford that. But they made opportunities, identified some of those people, right? And so now Brittney [Farrel?], who was chanting with her baby on her hip, “It is [01:06:00] my duty for my freedom,” is in her PhD program for nursing. And Alexis [Tartney?], who always was grabbing the microphone and was going through a gender —
TB: — identity reconciliation I’ll call her — from her outside to her — from his outside to his inside — all during Ferguson and being targeted because of that has now been accepted to law school at WashU. And Kayla Reed, who was pretty quiet in Ferguson — or at least I didn’t hear her. It could have been my big mouth. But she was there present all the time. And she’s now leading Action St. Louis, which just got the workhouse closed. And these are people who all have WashU degrees now [01:07:00] which is a super prestigious institution for them to have graduated from and who may not have ever had a WashU degree (laughs) had it not been for someone seeing them in the streets of Ferguson. And that’s just to name a few. And all these other things. Activists unseating a 20-year generational congressman to go — to be our representative in Congress with no political background. That is the Ferguson uprising. You feel me?
TB: A manifestation of all that we’re talking about. And it’s not that Ferguson gave them the brilliance. It’s that they were brilliant and were limited because of the [01:08:00] mindsets of Fergusons, right? And so what other brilliance is there that’s untapped and unseen? It’s just amazing to me. It’s amazing. There are others. Rasheen Aldridge, who is now in the representative for us in Jefferson City at the capitol. It’s amazing.
TB: You should do a podcast with it. I’m just saying.
LA: I mean is that winning? Our next question was so many times we don’t ha– we forget the legacy of the work that we’ve done — like the impact. We don’t tell the story. [01:09:00] And you telling these stories of these people who — these young people who were seen and who are changing that’s the story of Ferguson that people don’t know.
TB: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) I’m telling you. Mm-hmm.
LA: One of the reasons we came up with that question was because I remember we were — I was listening to the Bend the Arc did their conference at the beginning of the quarantine. And one of their speakers was talking about the fact that there is so much inside of our legacies and so much inside of our history that we forget. And that people are often thinking, “Oh, progressive spaces are dour. And progressive spaces are not fun, [01:10:00] and our movements are not joyous.” And we don’t remember our freedom stories and our freedom struggles. But when you were telling that — those stories and remembering the people and saying, “Here is where they are now,” it’s like how do we continue to lift that — those stories of that excellence, and those stories of what happens when we see each other up in our movement? What happens when we do that?
TB: Isn’t that amazing though?
ST: Mm-hmm. That’s the story. A lot of the people that we’ve been referring to are millennials. Aimless millennials. And young. But one of the things that we learned from them was they were into this whole thing about self-care too. Do you remember that, Traci?
ST: I mean I know they used to use the synagogue, and they’d have [01:11:00] these — and really sometimes it would just be for people of color. It would just be for the black protestors. We’re gonna have a self-care day. Even now during the protests, I’ve noticed that people are taking self-care days. (laughs) We never did that. (laughs) We never did self — I don’t remember taking a self-care day. We came up in the sixties where we were supposed to wear ourselves out. Give ourselves away. But there’s this notion of —
ST: — kind of this body, mind, and spirit appreciation.
TB: And self-care is as resilience, right?
ST: Yes. As protest. Self-care as — yeah. As resistance as well as resilience. Yeah.
TB: And I forgot [01:12:00] to mention [K.B.?].
ST: K.B. (laughs)
TB: You remember K.B.? K.B. was the drummer of the movement and completely like transitioned gender wise and faith wise. She was AME. (laughs) And now he is in rabbinical —
ST: He’s a rabbi. (laughter)
TB: It’s wild. So yeah.
LA: I want to take us to the last question because I like the way you’ve kind of segued into these stories of care. And if our audience could see the smiles, it would give them so much joy. So what are your joy practices? How are you finding places where you find joy, practice joy [01:13:00] in these moments?
ST: (laughs) I’m a mother who is still deeply grieving my daughter. Hard for me to have any joy, I have to admit. I’m not saying I’ll never get back there. But spending time with Traci is joyful because she pushes me. And she was there. She was a witness.
TB: I do (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). Talk about hairy. And talk about —
ST: My grandson just got dropped off. I have a four year old and eight-month-old grandsons that are — my youngest one is named [Fredina?]. His name is George Brooklyn. That’s joy. There is joy there for sure in this next generation. And I do have two other children. And [01:14:00] when they’re happy, I’m happy. I’m trying to be happy. But I do also feel like — I love the way Traci talked about being a priest. And as much as I’m tired and I’m complaining about it, I do have to say that serving — I’ve done a lot of funerals for people who have lost children since my daughter died. And as horrible as it is, I know that when I can be there for them it lifts them. It gives them some hope. So joy comes in lots of different packages, I guess. You do have to make room for it. You do have to make room for it. And sometimes you have to pretend. [01:15:00] You have to act as if, and then you find yourself smiling again.
TB: I say the same. My children and my family bring me joy. My work brings me joy most of the time which is a good thing. I haven’t lost my ability to laugh at myself. (laughs) Not take yourself too seriously. It brings me joy. My time with Susan, and we have a sister circle. So it is six of us, right? And one of us just got — so we find joy in celebrating one another’s accomplishments and one another’s children’s accomplishments. And one of us just got a house with a pool. And [01:16:00] so we named it Club Corona. And we get to go there and chill out in the pool. So that gives me joy.
ST: And we laugh. We do laugh. We make each other smile. Yeah. We do.
TB: All of us are doing incredibly well, and that gives us joy. Yeah. I mean there’s lots to be joyful about, right? Lots to be joyful about. I was going to name Adina’s spirit still lives with us, and I get joy when Susan’s house is full of Adina’s friends who still come every year. Every special day (laughs) to be with her and have taken her poetry and her writings [01:17:00] and made books out of them, and that brings joy. Sneaking around trying to make sure our daughters are not settling for some bum off the street, that gives us joy. (laughter) We got to go like, “What do you think of that one?” “We got to get rid of that one.” (laughter) That’s joyful. There’s lots of things, right? There’s lots of things. Sometimes we go out to Ted Drewes, which is an ice cream place here. Susan and I go get ice cream. And that brings us joy.
ST: We do. (laughs)
TB: Lots of things.
LA: I love the ordinary care. What [01:18:00] — oh, what gives us joy?
LA: Oh, lord have mercy. Okay. You have to go first. Oh, you know what? Before we got on the phone, Macky and I were reading — we were drawing tarot cards together. And that was giving us some joy. We were just kind of stopping. And I know it gives me joy. We do this practice of really asking how each other is doing. And when we’re not ready for the real answer, I know Macky will say, “Okay. So I will have — let me step away and come back. And I’ll give you the real answer.” And I love that. That brings me joy. New York has opened up a little bit. And times I just go and sit out on the street and watch New York life. [01:19:00] And watching New York life — which so much of it is on the street — people just walking around because I mean how many times — if you live here, you spend a lo– you don’t spend a lot of time with your people in their house. And usually, you’re meeting people out on the street. And so seeing just folks walking their dogs even in the midst of all this crazy, the variety of masks — the mask gear, the accessorizing. And I get up every day, and I put make up on my face. And that gives me joy.
TB: You do? I don’t.
LA: I do. I do. It makes me feel —
TB: You got me in a dress, but I still didn’t put on a bra. It’s not (inaudible). (laughter)
MA: [01:20:00] You heard it here on Friends for Life.
LA: I like doing it. It’s fun for me. It’s fun for me.
MA: I’ll tell you what brings me joy. So I’ve been — I’m a documentary film maker, and I’ve been out in Oakland shooting. We’re making a film about reparations practices in the United States right now in regard to legacy of slavery and the Native American genocide and the systems of oppression that have emerged from them and with which we live. And we had an amazing week out in Oakland last week. But then I had to — because we’re coming from California, which has had a spike in cases or a high level of cases, I’ve had to be in quarantine in my own home. So I kick my man, my husband, out of my bed — our bed. And he’s been sleeping on the couch and bringing me meals to my door. And I’ve been living by myself. Now I got to say that was pretty nice to have solitude. I love solitude. I’ve got a strong, introverted side and a lot to do. So you bring my [01:21:00] husband can cook. And so the fact that he’s bring me delicious food, and the kids are crying. But you know what? I’m in quarantine, honey. I’m sorry. (inaudible). Thank you for dinner. That was nice. But last night was the first night we slept together again out of quarantine and to feel him. Touch gives me joy. And right after absence, sometimes the absence is very long between that kind of touch in our lives. But in this morning after experience, Nicholas Gottlieb gives me joy and the way we touch. The other thing that gives me joy as a documentary filmmaker is listening — is being witness to the beauty of life. And I just want to name that listening to y’all today — this is [01:22:00] not just any old podcast. And this is not just any old afternoon. Listening to you all and even in the sorrow, right? That has given me such joy, which I find really grace filled. That joy can come even — that somehow intimacy begets joy even when intimacy is full of pain.
ST: I don’t want to sound cliché. But thinking about the films you’re making and the work that you guys are doing and your relationship, it really is giving me joy to see Black Lives Matter.
TB: What gives you joy, Courtney?
CH: Writing my novel has given me a lot of joy lately. [01:23:00] And also my big, sloppy puppy gives me a lot of joy. And when my husband rubs my head when we watch TV.
LA: (laughter) Oh my gosh. All right. I love you all.
TB: I love you too, Lisa.
LA: There is nothing more holy than this moment. That’s what I feel. And I have had no idea, Traci — neither one of us did that when we said, “Traci, please just whoever your friend is, can you ask whoever they are to come?” And when you said, “My friend, Susan Talve,” we had no idea. This just God. It’s just God. We couldn’t have created it out of nothing. So we say [01:24:00] something. Send us, everyone, off with this little benediction at the end that ends each of our podcasts. So take this in, beloveds. So if ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together —
MA: There’s something you must always remember.
LA: You are braver than you believe.
MA: Stronger than you see.
LA: And smarter than you think.
MA: But the most important thing is —
LA: Is even if we’re apart —
MA and LA: — I’ll always be with you.
MA: We’ll always be together.
LA: We’ll always be together. Oh, Winnie-the-Pooh says (inaudible). (laughter)
MA: Oh, (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) Winnie-the-Pooh. A big stuff animal. Hold on. Let me take a picture. Let me take a picture of that.
TB: Is that (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) Winnie-the-Pooh?
MA: That is not of the show.
LA: We have to take the — oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Let me do that. [01:25:00] Yay.
CH: I got a screen shot too.
MA: You all, thank you so, so, so, so, so much.
LA: Thank you so much.
MA: Here we go. That’s our show, y’all. For show notes, episode graphics, or to donate to our work, or for more information about other Auburn programs, please go to www.auburnseminary.org/friends. Be sure to follow Auburn Seminary, if you’re feeling it, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also we want to hear your thoughts. Email us at [email protected]
LA: As always, it was a joy to be with you, Macky. I can’t wait though till we can see each other in the flesh. But even if we’re not in the flesh, we are together through this medium. And we’re together [01:26:00] in this experience. And I look forward to next month.
MA: Yeah. I got to be real. I’m not waiting for next month. I am biking up, and I’m gonna see you within the next few days. So I’ll be seeing you.
LA: Oh, thanks be to god. (laughter)
MA: All right. This show is produced by Auburn Seminary. Some crazy, beautiful people at Auburn Seminary and is made possible by a generous grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, a friend to Auburn for a real long time.
LA: Okay. Friends for Life was produced by Macky and me with additional support from Courtney Weber Hoover —
MA: Woo hoo.
LA: — Sharon Groves —
MA: Woo hoo.
LA: — David [Weasley?] —
LA: — and graphics by Emily Simons.
LA: Audio engineering was from Dan Greenman —
MA: Woo, woo, woo.
LA: — and Courtney with editing also by Courtney, Macky, Lisa, and David.
MA: Thank y’all. [01:27:00] We love you. Come say hi to us.
MA: Hi. (laughter) I’m getting on my bike, Lisa.
LA: Yay. You know I’m getting a puppy, Macky.
MA: Woo. Oh my gosh. What are you going to call your puppy? We have been working on this for so long.
LA: I’m going to call my puppy Ruthie in honor of my mom. Ruthie.
MA: When? Do you know when?
LA: Probably the beginning — around October. Sometime early October, maybe first or second week. Puppy was just born four days ago.
MA: Oh my goodness. (inaudible) a puppy.
Queer love and embodying transformation
CAITLIN BREEDLOVE: How do we, as this vale is being lifted and the old ways are crumbling, like, how do we actually put our feet in some of those cracks and in some of those doors and kick them open further? After we kick the door open, let me fucking tell you something people, kindness eases change. So after you kick, after you destroy things, you know, like, whether that’s relationships, whether that’s infrastructure, whether that’s structure, like, and I’m going to quote our buddy, because she doesn’t get any love here in the US even though she’s brilliant, Jelena Milos, who is a Croatian activist who’s a friend, I remember her saying y’all really predicting, being like y’all are really into, like, your individual charismatic electoral folks you’re running who are feminist. That’s cute. What is the platform? How are you thinking about feminist governance, and what’s the role of kindness and compassion?
LISA ANDERSON: Welcome to [00:01:00] Friends for Life from Auburn Seminary, a podcast for friends who give us life and with whom we are in it for life together. My name is Lisa Anderson. I work at Auburn Seminary. I am a black queer theologian who believes that loving blackness is the spiritual calling of our time.
MACKY ALSTON: My name is Macky Alston, queer dad, documentary film maker, spiritual activist, someone who’s worked side by side with Lisa for a super long time, been transformed by her leadership.
LA: Oh, technically we’re kind of the elders in our community, which I’m kind of okay with at this point in my life because, like you said, that means we get to talk to a lot of people and be with a lot of people. We’re babies in this podcast world, but I think we’re long in relationship, and we want to bring you into relationship with the people that we love and know best. Most recently on July 21 we had a chance to talk to two of our besties [00:02:00], Kate Shapiro and Caitlin Breedlove. So Kate, Kate works with the Women’s March right now. She’s the organizing director there, and she is from Durham, North Carolina, and she currently lives in Atlanta, a Southern, Southern girl, real Southern girl. She’s a grassroots organizer and a trainer and a popular educator. And for the longest time she worked at SONG, Southerners on New Ground.
MA: Along with Kate we’ve got Caitlin Breedlove. Caitlin Breedlove is one of our crazily beloved colleagues at Auburn. She’s the VP for movement leadership while at the same time she is chief strategy officer at the Women’s March. She’s a board member at SONG, Southerners on New Ground, where she was co-director for over a decade and did a lot in that collective to build up that network into its [00:03:00] magnificence.
LA: Our podcast unfolds in two parts. We start off with four questions to ground us, to get us in our bodies. And they are who has got your back? Where do you go to feel better? What song is getting you through? And what flavor delights you? So we want the whole body involved in those questions. So can you imagine the kind of sensual loveliness that can come out of that? And that’s the ground that we lay so that from there we can go deeper into talking about what’s up in this contemporary moment. And the three questions that we ask people to sort of get us there are we ask them what strategic counsel do they have for our leaders, you out there, of faith and moral courage so that we can think and live and embody what it means to survive and to thrive, to win in 2020 and also to imagine [00:04:00] the world beyond the 2002 election season. The next thing we ask them is to tell us a story about when we have won in the past in our movements. We’re winning people. Our communities are people who know in our bones what it means, like, to do civil and human rights, what it means to bring love and justice into communities, but often in hard times we forget it. So we invite our community to remember it with us, to lift each other up, to buoy our spirits and the reality of what it means to win. And the final question we ask is what is a joy practice that is getting us through, that is getting each of us through in these days? Dual pandemics people, uprising on every street, and we have to practice the world that we want to be in. We have to practice joy. We have to practice imagining and living [00:05:00] the realm of holiness, the realm of justice, the realm of God now. So that’s what we do with our people every week. That’s what we’re going to do with Kate and Caitlin this week and with you all. So —
MA: You have ideas, suggestions, thoughts, email us: [email protected] And if you’re feeling it, please share the podcast with friends, with folk through social media, subscribe. If this is going to be of help to folks we got to get it to folks. So please be our friends in that for us. Now here we go. We hope this is a gift for you.
LA: Okay, so here we are. All right, so how’s it going Caitlin and Kate? How you all doing? Isn’t that a weird question to ask in these days?
CB: Today I’m okay. Today I’m okay. It’s nice to be among friends.
KATE SHAPIRO: Yes, I’m glad to be here. It’s about to storm here in Atlanta. But yeah, I’m [00:06:00] thrilled to be in conversation with you all and excited for whatever’s to unfold next time.
LA: Whatever’s going to unfold, right, right? I mean, it’s so weird to ask that question, how you doing, right now and the world is the weirdest freaking question. But I think what makes it answerable is when you’re really asking because you really want to hear it. So I really want to hear it, whatever it is we do, both of us.
MA: Let me ask you one question: did you notice Lisa Anderson’s hairdo?
CB: Yeah, but I’ve seen her hair kind of recently, so I know that it’s going to be gorgeous, so —
LA: Well, you know, we had a minute when you could get out into the world, and the first thing I did was go get my hair done.
CB: And that lip. You got that lip too. So I see you.
LA: Well, you know, Fenty, Fenty, Fenty, Fenty. Oh my God, I’m advertising. I’m advertising for Rihanna. (laughter)
CB: Good, good.
LA: Oh gosh, [00:07:00] okay, you know, black woman in business. I’m all for that. So who’s got your back, Caitlin?
CB: Oh, well, I mean, there’s a whole list of people that got my back, but Shapiro, Kate Shapiro’s got my back. Big time, especially when it’s hard to have my back because I’m being kind of an asshole, which Kate sees pretty regularly. But yeah, I mean, I think about who’s got my back a lot in this moment in a really different way. I feel like it’s one of those things where I definitely think that one of the things about this time is it’s sort of put a pretty hard stop on me building new relationships. Maybe there’s people out there who are building new relationships. They’re not me. They maybe are a lot more skilled on Zoom than me, but they’re not. So what it has done is pushed me, and I’ve heard this from many other folks as well, to go connect with old friends that have my back, which has been super helpful. [00:08:00] And then also think about like, team and political and spiritual team and where those overlap and family and where those overlap. So Kate again, after a many-year relationship is sitting in, like, multiple teams with me in — we’re in a cycle. So we’re back at the front of the cycle, so Kate has my back. And one thing I was thinking about this morning, an example of how Kate had my back was the videos we sent each other last night to prepare for this podcast interview. They were pretty raw. Neither party was wearing a whole lot of clothing.
KS: All right.
CB: My (inaudible) was like, “Shapiro, I want to be in the video,” after just, like, really late night rambling to each other like, maybe we can talk about this. Maybe we can talk about that. And of course Kate was kind enough to put that video on [00:09:00] just a normal text video because Marco Polo or other more sophisticated ways that people can send videos she knows that I don’t have and I don’t know how to use. So then she actually just met me where I was, and then we exchanged them, and then we carried on with our day, given the time change. So very recent example of her having my back in the last 12 to 15 hours.
LA: Oh, I love it. All right. So Kate, what do you have to say about that?
KS: Well, yeah, I think saying that we were lightly clothes might even be an overstatement, so thank you for that, Breedlove. And I do call — since we also, you know, are white ladies with similar names, we often call each other Shapiro and Breedlove. That also comes out of SONG or Southerners on New Ground, though so where we first kind of fell in friend love. So just to say that I’m probably going to be calling her Breedlove over the course of this [00:10:00] conversation. Yeah, but I think one thing that I just want to start with is in reflecting about doing this podcast, like, I feel super like Auburn has my back.
KS: And that specifically, like, it’s really interesting since Breedlove and I have known each other for, what, 13 years, probably, 14 years, 100 years in lesbian years, I don’t know, is that being able to work on the sort of feminist organizing and training curriculum that we were working on for the last year and a half that we’re about to birth into the world, like, was a sight of work that we’re able to, like, reignite some of our friends, friend and political comrade, like, relationship. So just thinking too about, like, Auburn taking a risk on another [00:11:00] wild Southern queer that you didn’t know (inaudible) relationship and that giving us a space to be able to like, recalibrate. So just thinking about that, and yeah, I actually feel a whole bunch of rage and tumultuousness for all the reasons in this time and grief. And I actually, inside of my own personal life because of my own privilege and advantage and my own depth of community and relationships and living in the place that I grew up, I feel, like, very held in ways that like, are actually, yeah, have been hard for me to accept, I think, in other places because I’ve been experiencing a ton of loss in this time of corona, as we all have in a variety of personal ways. So I’m feeling like damn, it’s a rugged and terrifying and empowerful [00:12:00] time. And it’s been another time of affirmation around, like, intimacy comes in all forms. We starve ourselves when we think about it only romantically, and we actually stunt our ability to grow and be in a relationship with our self and others when that’s our only north star. So yeah, and I can talk a lot more about Breedlove and all of her excellent and bizarreness whenever you want me to do that. So I’m prepared to do that whenever.
LA: I mean, I love that. I love the opportunity to get to do exactly what we’re doing right here, which is like, lean in deep to being in all kinds of different intimacy and love with each other. And I resonate so powerfully with what Caitlin said, which I think you echoed, [00:13:00] Kate, earlier when you were talking about feeling like you don’t want to expand that circle so much right now but to go deeper and deeper into the — and can I just say, I feel like the granny in this conversation because —
LA: — I call Caitlin Caitlin, and I call Kate Kate. And like, I feel like the elder woman who calls them all by their given names.
KS: Love it.
CB: Call me whatever you want, Lisa Anderson.
LA: Mm. Mm.
MA: The thing that we all know is true is that when we say we have each other’s backs, there’s a lot of ugly in that. There’s a lot of, like, you all, (inaudible) I admire you both. And [00:14:00] as I Google you in advance of talking to you today I can’t believe the spaces you’ve been in, the spaces you are co-creating, and I thank you. But I also, you know, sometimes we put organizers up on a pedestal. We even other them, which is a easy way out as well as no favor to anybody. And so it’s just even when you talk about raw, and I don’t mean raw video but raw, like, knowing you just a little I’m imaging you all for one another in the most vulnerable times. And you know, part of me wants to just say thank you. Thank you for being there for each other, for supporting one another through it, but I also lift that [00:15:00] up for all of us, that having each other’s backs, that’s hard work, and particularly in a time like — and you know, I wanted to ask, like, when were you together last, and what does it mean to have each other’s backs when you can’t touch?
LA: That’s a question.
CB: I mean, I think, going to the first piece of what you were saying, Macky, I mean, we talked about this a little bit, we talked about it a lot, and I think, you know, our political relationship starting inside of a bigger political and spiritual container, which is SONG, Southerners on New Ground, I think is a really important context, because I’ve thought a lot about — and then I think there’s stuff that’s really specific, but I think that just the same way that we can individualize relationships we can also kind of couple them. And I completely agree with [00:16:00] what Shapiro said. Like, I actually think there’s a lot to go into how much it’s important for us to be there for each other as two white queer identified people who feel very connected to a white anti-racist lesbian tradition or the best parts of that and learning from the most rugged parts of that and holding each other accountable and being accountabilibuddies. And I think that’s inside of a political and spiritual imperative and mandate that comes from SONG, which has a great deal to do with also what are the parts of the history that are most meaningful. And I think that can feel very far away right now, and I think there’s also a queer and trans-generational piece in some ways where I think for a lot of folks under 30 right now, that feels really far away. And maybe for a lot of other folks it felt really far away too, but I think about the opportunities we’ve been able [00:17:00] to have to actually be steeped in some of those traditions, particularly in the South, and with much appreciation to like, you know, a trajectory of white anti-racist dykes across class who are working the South who a lot of gnarly stuff, a lot of great stuff, but a lot of relationship there. And so I think that a big part of that has also been how you make a commitment to have your lives be about related things and then help each other hold to that, particularly as Kate was saying, I think that one of the most beautiful things that is in — has been to some extent lost and is at risk of being lost even more, and this is a conversation Macky and Lisa, the three of us have had as well, is the critical importance of nonromantic queer love, the critical importance of, quote-unquote, platonic love and relationship. And actually I think there’s a lot of things that Shapiro helps me to look at [00:18:00] or to see or to work through both politically and personally that having been in romantic relationships with people who are also organizers, it’s just mixing those things together has made it much harder to see, much easier to take it personally, much less able to actually be like oh, right, that’s right, Shapiro, I want to be focused on — I want to be growing. I want to be growing. I want to be building. I want to be honoring all of the training and love and commitment that people put into my leadership. And I want to be in that. And I feel like having that kind of touchstone actually, I think there’s a case to be made that that kind of political and spiritual touchstone work is actually much easier to have deep intimate relationship that is not necessarily romantic, you know. And I think that that has been super powerful in this time sort of, you know, living alone and have time with a little tiny person, that really, I feel like, brings a sense of balance [00:19:00] and also the reminder of, like, really remembering who I am, who I’ve been, who I’m trying to be because I think it’s a very easy time, at least for me, to get forgetful on the daily. I think for many other people as well, but I would just to say to be vulnerable (inaudible) for me it has been.
KS: Yeah, and that’s something that’s been so, like, helpful, like 13 years in, right is being like, remember that pattern you have? Remember that — oh, that pattern that I have, that all these new friends don’t see or know? [Scheisse?], like, you can’t hide, you know, and I think that I feel super grateful in some ways that relational organizing and some of this terminology, like, has been introduced into our vocabulary, like, in progressive circles around recognizing how critical relationships are. And I think that sometimes that still gets sort of, like, romanticized [00:20:00] or flattened or two dimensional. Or I’m like this is gnarly, and it’s worth it. Like, I annoy Breedlove so much, absolutely. Does she make me, like, want to kick a can? Yes, all the time. And like, that’s okay, and it’s still worth it. So I don’t know. There’s something to me about, like, sometimes we’re like oh, we’re all hardwire for relationship. We need connection. It’s like, sure that is true in a time of deep, profound isolation. And like, we do need to know that relationships are risky and they’re worth the risk. And I think inside a queer and trans and Southern traditions and also, like, the other traditions that we don’t come from but that we’ve learned from in terms of black Southern traditions and others, like, relationships are also a material necessity, you know. But then on the [00:21:00] flip side you got the queer people, of which I am, everybody, in case you did not know, (inaudible) very queer conversation happening. (laughter) But then sometimes we’re like, we want to stay small and just with our two friends or our three friends or our lover because we don’t want anybody to disrupt this special precious things we had. And sometimes that tendency comes, I think, because of homophobia and transphobia and isolation that we’re like, protect our boundaries, create a safer intimate space. And then other times when we don’t welcome that relationships are risky and that we got to take risks on other people and that people are taking risks on us, then we lose the opportunity to widen the circle, which I think is also some of the best of our LGBTQ traditions, which is like cool, cool, cool, we got some stuff. We’ve made [00:22:00] some advances. No, we have not achieved liberation, but our role is not to just sit and enjoy the sacrifices and the cultural change and the policy change that’s happened. It’s to make more room for more people.
LA: That’s right.
KS: So that was kind of a ramble, but seemed somewhat related.
MA: You know, these questions we’re asking, the desire is for listeners to think for yourselves about, you know, who’s got your back, and things just that make you feel better in this hell time. And so the second question, and the second question feels like a mean-spirited question almost when we can’t go wherever we want to go, if we can go wherever we want to go, but at the same time invites resourcefulness, creativity, or imagination. So the second question is where do you go to feel better? Caitlin, [00:23:00] where do you go to feel better right now?
CB: With the physicality of having a toddler feels like a huge gift, huge gift because it’s like I have to work hard to not be like oh, make me feel better but just to be in his presence I’m always like, I haven’t quite experienced a lot love like that where I’m like oh, it’s 5:00 am, you smell like pee, and I’m really excited you’re in the bed. That hasn’t really been something everybody (inaudible) maybe for other people they’re real pumped about that. Hasn’t really been my thing, but I feel like that makes me feel better, but I think the reasons are really specific. Going back to what you were saying Kate, relationship, it’s not — like, there’s not a hallmark card on that. I’m like, why is this little two and a half year old so loud? Why does he yell all the time, as I’m yelling? Like, I know just yell happily at each other all day every day, right. But I do think there’s something about I’m actually very clear [00:24:00] on, this is going to sound like a weird jump, but I’m very clear about where the elements of how I would think about the best kind of membership, of being part of an organization, those three elements are also part of my relationship with my son, which is belonging, meaning, and purpose. And I still think about that with SONG being on the board. Having belonging and meaning and purpose, and some people think like, that’s where I go to feel better is those three things. I mean, sometimes people like meaning and purpose are the same thing, and I’m like nope. You can be in something very meaningful and be like, but where is this going? I feel like I belong. It has meaning. Not clear where the purpose is. And I feel like with parenting I’m like ooh, very clear about what my work is to help nurture, feeling those things, and helping to transmit feeling those things, and I think those are parts of a lot of different kinds of relationship. But I think those components, when I think about, to get to what [00:25:00] Kate was saying, there’s what makes me feel better, which I feel like there’s other things as well, but they also have elements of those three, but then the part that’s about widening the circle, that it’s not enough just for me, right, that it’s I’m feeling better as the we is feeling better, actually. I have my individual answer. I’ll be with it. But I’m also like, as we widen the circle, when we consider that those three elements, for example, most humans I’ve ever organized with really, those things feel really great to them, and having those things in relationship actually is incredibly helpful. Like, I think that I’m hearing a lot of people really actually be willing to be more honest that they want those three things from different parts of their life, their community, their neighborhood, however they define family, you know, even having audacity to want to feel that in the workplace. You know, like, groups they’re organizing with. And I think that to me, like, I’m really like [00:26:00] oh, I really need to make sure I know how to access and build those things with other people as I’m trying to help create spaces where that’s available for more people. Otherwise it feels too thin.
MA: Kate, where do you go to feel better?
KS: It’s a really great question, and I really am — just because I’m sitting with some of what Breedlove was saying, but I think that this time has really forced and invited me and I think many of us to revisit how we self-sooth. We’re like got to be your own best friend. Got some best friends, one of them I’m looking at right now. They’re beyond even that descriptor, and it is like, how do you come home to yourself a little bit, I think, is I think one of the collective questions that we’re all trying to figure out how to do that inside of the crisis that is extending in all of these different ways. [00:27:00] So yeah, I’ve got my nerdy novels, and I have a pod that includes my seven-year-old — grandchildren, God, hello. And I’ve been recruited by Breedlove to take on a new role at the Woman’s March. And I’m building a new team instead of — constellation set of relationships over there that realigns me not with my life purpose, but it uplinks me into the broader team that I think without that then we become adrift, or at least I become adrift. And then I’ve been a dyke who loves plants. I’m like the freaking stereotype with my glasses. Everyone’s like are you a vegetarian? I’m like no, I am a white lesbian, but I — not a vegetarian, but I do like to garden. So my garden is on point. [00:28:00] But that’s just to say also I think that the thing that so many people are like, you know, that’s why you can’t go to the Sweetwater Creek state park over here because it’s too full. It’s not just like where can I be that’s safe. I do think it is the like, where am I being called? And I do think it is profoundly spiritual that it is in nature in connection to the earth and outside of our little boxes on the hillside. So you know, I’ve got all those sort of little practices that I’m brushing up on and refining. And it is to me about sort of self-soothing, and some of what we’ve talked about for years, Breedlove and I and others, around spiritual strength training and stamina. And that part of that also is giving ourselves permission to be a mess, and I’ve been eating cereal for dinner for weeks. And I’m fine with that, everybody. [00:29:00]
MA: What kind? What kind?
LA: What kind of cereal, yeah?
KS: Some lesbian freak co-op — I finished last night. I can’t even (inaudible). I got it in bulk, pre-packaged bulk. So I’ll leave it at that. But cereal for dinner, do what you got to do, you know.
CB: And we saw each other at the Women’s March when I made Kate come at the last minute and help save my ass, working with me and stayed in my hotel room, and then we drank vodka at night and laid there in our underwear and talked about whatever, things we had to do.
KS: And all of Breedlove’s coworkers at the time, because I didn’t work there, would come, and then we’d just be in our underwear, and it’s just different culture, friend culture, thong culture, versus other organizational culture. They were like, who are these people together? Whoa.
CB: We had a real growing [00:30:00] (inaudible) —
KS: Made them a little uncomfortable, but that’s okay.
LA: I love the self-soothing piece, and I couple it in my mind with being — creating spaces of ease. Like, when you said the thing about the cereal eating, and I’m okay with that, I’ve really resisted the tyranny at the beginning of this in particular where we all had a marching order to write a book and prove your life. Very individualistic too, very much in that kind of my own Marlboro person warrior through, and Kate, I remember early on when I was afraid and said I wanted to be a good soldier. And you corrected me and said but we’re not soldiers. We’re human in a moment that’s deeply [00:31:00] feels inhuman on so many levels. And so that self-soothing with the idea that you breathe ease into life, it’s powerful. It’s getting me through.
KS: I mean, I just want to say one other thing that I think has — where I’ve gone to feel better also, like, as well as feel many other feelings besides better, like, have been to be in support in a variety of back-up dancer roles like around the different uprisings that are happening. You know, because there’s been so many points at which I felt both my heart was going to explode with joy and excitement and transformation and possibility while on my phone seeing the monuments come down and NASCAR ban [00:32:00] and all the uprisings of black young people of all ages actually across the country and at other points, it felt so, when I was just in my house for weeks by myself, like so far away. So being able to just get back there playing a variety of very menial roles, because I don’t know any of those people anymore, and so has also been a way that literally just in my spirit has made me feel better versus just mediating it through the screen.
LA: So the next question: what song is getting you through?
KS: Oh lord, I think we’re both probably listening to our lesbian Brandi Carlile and in our — I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for you, Breedlove, but —
CB: My kid [00:33:00] sings Brandi Carlile in the bathtub. It’s hilarious. (inaudible) But I also, Nightmare on Wax “Give THX”, actually, when thinking about the uprising I really, I think, yeah, I think that’s been incredibly powerful, and actually I think has been, and I want to hear what your specific lezzer song is too over there, Kate, but I think it’s also been powerful for me to have Shapiro or us to be able to have that conversation. I think we both come from a kind of training where actually in some odd ways is very suited for this moment where we were trained that you don’t have any attitude about playing the back. You don’t have to scramble for the front. You don’t have to scramble for the mic. You’re not scared of it, but that’s an honorable place to hold. And I think there are not a lot of white people that I have worked with who have spent a big part of our lives [00:34:00] in black and POC majority either smaller spaces or bigger spaces or that that’s a lot of the organizing trajectory that we’ve engaged in. And so the conversation, I think, look particular, and it is great because I think that there’s an authenticity in that relationship and a privacy that we don’t get caught up in the political dynamic that is so often there that I think we both take a political position against, which is like, it’s not about being a white person that gets the cookie because you’re a white person in a majority people of color organization, but there are conversations I feel like we’ve been able to have and also differences in experiences we’re able to engage. I think some of that training, I’ve been thinking about how it’s prepared me for a moment where right before 2020 I think this was descending but present. There was [00:35:00] such an energy to me in progressive space that was like, I want to be seen. I want to be seen. I want to be seen. And I’m not pathologizing all of that because I think some of that was coming from deep unseen-ness from humans of many lived experience because race, because of class, because of gender and sexuality, because of cis and trans identities. But I feel this energy now like I want to be known. Like, when I talk to people, and when I talk to people who are very well-seen, especially those who are over 75 years old. Their desire to be known, to be remembered for what they actually believed, intersectionality wise. They actually believed who they actually were, to be known in that is powerful. And the being seen is secondary to that. It’s just about being known by more or being remembered. And I think that we came up in a political space that desired to have our community [00:36:00] be known at a time when it was not known to help our folks gather the courage to be known. It wasn’t about being seen. I actually think that’s a linguistic and semantic error. Like, coming out, being out, all this sort of very simple two dimensional race and class privileged, frankly, conversation. But the desire to be known, when I think about our elders saying I wanted to come out, and I came out at 30 or 35 or 38, thinking of that as someone who’s 38 now, the desire to be known was the power that was holding that, which to me has so much more depth and humility than only being seen. I think seen isn’t a bad thing. I just think it’s layered with other pieces. And I think that the kind of tools that we were given to help people make that transition to I want to be known and I want to know is actually incredibly powerful in this time in a time when millions and millions of dollars have gone into folk’s [00:37:00] individual desire to be seen, helping other people see each other, getting paid a lot of money to help other people be seen. Like, I’m not that interested in that anymore, as everybody knows me well knows. I’m very interested in what wants to be unearthed, what needs to be known, and how we know each other differently. And I think that is really resonant in this time. I think people are really feeling that right now. At least that’s what I experience.
LA: Oh, definitely. I mean, it gets back to that question of intimacy. It’s a very spiritually deep question. It’s erotic. It makes me think of — if you let me use some God talk, it makes me remember when God breathes [00:38:00] and exhales on us, that intimacy that knows you so well that life is breathed into you by that knowing. And I think we can do that in relationship too, that when you know me it’s like we exchange the hotness of our breath. And you can know that in movements too. It’s not individualistic. It’s actually the opposite of an individual knowing. I don’t want to go off too much into that space because I can just go down a road with that kind of talk. And it’s interesting that we got here out of what songs delights you out of what sound, that you take in that we got here for that.
KS: Can I riff on what Breedlove was just talking about? [00:39:00]
LA: Yup, absolutely.
KS: (inaudible) Let me just riff on that a little bit. Because I super appreciate you bringing a lot of that, Breedlove. And I think a couple things. I think actually one of the things that that reminds me of is this quote from Stacey Abrams that she said at an Auburn gathering last year where she was being honored by Auburn Seminary. And I actually wove this into the curriculum that we’re distributing through Auburn, of course. Where she says we spend a lot of time thinking about our own belonging, and I think our own visibility, to your point, Breedlove, versus thinking about the belonging of others and what our responsibility is in any space or even relationship to ensure our belonging but to actually [00:40:00] hold it sacred and important, like the belonging of others versus individual profile or visibility. So there’s something about that sort of reframe around belonging that I think there’s a lot of hunger for, and there’s a lot of entrenchment around being like, do I have what I need? Am I seen, and will I ascend? Will I be visible? Everybody thinks that organizers are the people with the bullhorns. I’m like, are you kidding me? We’re herding the cats. We’re trying to build a team and move a process inside of our values. We’re not trying to stunt for the sound bite or get a bunch of followers. So I don’t know. There’s something about the belonging piece, and then I think the other thing that you were saying, Breedlove, around coming out of SONG, right, the 28-year-old, maybe [00:41:00] 29-year-old multiracial cross-class LGBTQ institution that we both came up through beautifully, all these risks were taken on us, even get us up in there in the ways that we were, but there’s something about being Southern or coming out of all of the various traditions that we actually understand something about both relationship and being known that’s like, it takes time. There’s something about pacing that maybe I think maybe is also about this moment. Some of the stamina stuff, everyone’s like, why would you organize if you can’t win? Like, why you keep fighting if [it’s all?] so red? And it’s like, wait a second, are you kidding me? Like, why would we not? How do you deal with all of that? And it’s like, there’s something about the sort of piece around pacing and time [00:42:00] and the slow and respectful work that is needed in building relationships period. Can’t fast track that if it’s real, especially across identity and across power and across race, class, and gender. Like, we talk a lot at SONG about building a path to trust, not assuming that that can happen, especially across difference and across all of the wedges and crevasses that separate us for all the reasons and that that takes time. So I don’t know. Some of what you’re saying about being known to me is also around walking a long road together and not expecting it to be able to be shorthand or glossy or instantly providing results. So [00:43:00] yeah, and I’m just going to go stick with I’ve been listening to a lot of Brandi Carlile as well, so (inaudible). I’ve been, like, going back also into, like, my old stuff, some of the old stuff there in, like, ’90s hip hop from high school where I’m like let me get some Aquemini in my life. Thank you Outkast, bless you. You know, and same with movies. I have been like going to some of the old — I was like Breedlove, we’re going to watch Tootsie. We’re watching Tootsie. It’s happening and some other — I just got a Disney+ subscription through my housemate, so it’s about to get super weird with that. What are some of the other old ones that we were talking about, Breedlove, that we were texting each other about?
CB: I don’t know, but I’m awash in Moana right now. I have Disney+ because of my local bestie who holds me down [00:44:00] so hard, and I have to say, you know, if you have to mess with Disney+ and you want to try to indoctrinate your child into one particular one, Moana is the original feminist banger as far as I’m concerned.
KS: Oh yeah, I know from Porter, oh my God, yeah. Oh yeah, classic.
LA: Okay. I didn’t know about Moana.
CB: It’s just so like something you would be into. I feel like you’d be really into it because it’s super spiritual, and it’s feminist. I’m like, actually (inaudible).
LA: I wrote it down. I didn’t even want to admit that I don’t know who Brandi Carlile is either.
KS: It’s okay.
CB: Yeah, just Google (inaudible). I don’t know if I think there’s a best song in Moana, but I did hear, and I am just going to say it, that my favorite tweet of 2020 [00:45:00] is as follows. I can’t remember exactly who it was. It was a 30-something commentator. It was like the reasons Moana is the greatest ever. One, there are no white people in it. Two, there’s no romantic interest. Three, every single song is a banger. And four, motherfucking grandma. And when you see it, Lisa (inaudible).
LA: All right, I’m going to watch it. I’m going to watch it. I have Disney+ for a month.
CB: [unclear] going to be right there. I’m going to have to figure out who tweeted that so you all can quote that person. But it’s amazing. But every song is a banger. I do actually believe that, Macky, about Moana.
MA: I have failed in so many ways. I have this radical jock daughter who, you know, she asks me to throw a ball. I try to throw the ball. I’m not even sure. But across the board show tunes, when we are together, the [00:46:00] four of us, we bring it. Moana’s at the top of the list. So last sensual question. What flavor right now delights you?
CB: God, my answer’s so boring, y’all. But that’s all right. It’s very real, which is that I feel like one of the things that has been so difficult about this time, also a shout-out, sending some love to everyone listening to this who’s in what I would consider an extreme weather situation, like, it’s 115 during the day here in Phoenix sometimes. So since we’re inside so much it’s super important to mark parts of the day to me. So I feel like coffee is the number one marker of like, it’s my transition towards actually starting working from the hazy early morning time with the toddler. [00:47:00] I feel like I’ve been getting more and more intense. I think I have coffee in every form in my house. I make coffee in the French press. Then I have those Starbucks shots. I try to contain it just to the morning, but I’ll pretty much go on whatever time, and then also my good friend here, some of you all now, who’s fantastic, (inaudible), keeps mama game. And like, once a week she has me meet her at her house to bike, but I have to be there at 6:00. So I like do one of those Starbucks shots, get on my bike, put on my mask, and then we go around because it’s the only time you can do it. But I definitely associate that with her now, that and the fact that she’s the only reason I have a water bottle that’s properly cold in Phoenix. She’s like, oh my God, here you go. Here’s one of those fancy ones that actually keeps it cold. Drink your coffee shot. So that’s me.
KS: Here’s the thing about Breedlove, she’s not very food motivated. It’s a point of [00:48:00] tension in our relationship.
CB: Yeah, it is actually. Kate’s like I’m trying to show you wonder. And I’m like, I’m a crappy audience.
KS: (inaudible) bread is so good. She’s like, just give me a piece of string cheese and a slice of turkey and maybe (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). And I’m like, what are you talking about? No more baby yogurts, string cheese. Yeah, I panic shopped. Breedlove knows all about it. I talk about it all the time. And I bought, at the beginning of this nightmare, and I bought at the recommendation of a friend, a frother.
LA: A frother?
CB: Frother so I can make a little cappuccino or a (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). I use that every day, and it’s totally part of my self-soothing, and I love it, and I talk about it to Breedlove all the time. I allegedly was going to send her one. I believe I have forgotten to do that. Your birthday (inaudible) ago. I got you. [00:49:00] And now I’m back on popsicles, cereal, popsicles. I’m a simple girl, I guess. And then all the bounty from my garden.
LA: What’s the flavor?
KS: It’s been great.
LA: What’s the flavor of the popsicle?
KS: I just went to the Mexican store around the corner from my house and just cleared out. I was like lime, mango, coconut, Mamey, tamarind.
KS: I was like let me get four of everything and just be that person, so I have —
LA: Wow, that’s wild. I’m learning all the things. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a tamarind popsicle.
CB: They’re great.
KS: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) life. Why not? We’ll see.
LA: We got an election coming up in November. And we’ve got our folks out there, including you all, doing all the things to support our people in the various ways [00:50:00] that you’re doing that. What have you got now? If you have to list what are you thinking about towards winning in 2020, if that’s a thing, what are you doing now, what do you got to — yeah, I don’t even know how to ask the question, if you want to know the truth. I’ve been in the news so much lately and listening to folks so much lately that the question even feels weird to ask.
CB: I think for sure Shapiro’s — is much stronger on the granular right now, some of the things that we’re up to in the really concrete. I mean, I think kind of on the big stories, which is where I usually think, [00:51:00] like, I’ve just been thinking a lot about when we get out of the literal grassroots grabble, like, lie on the ground and look at the ants level, like anything not in that feels very not — it feels dissonant, not only not resonant but all the way to dissonant with what’s actually going on for folks from the things that I’m reading, seeing, hearing, conversations I’m in all the time. From my vantage point, for what that’s worth, I think people are deeply in their homes, in the six blocks around their houses, in the question of locality in a way that particularly classes centers and middle class people and people of wealth had not had to consider for a long time. I think people who have traveled for work, which is many progressive organizer types of a certain crew and many [00:52:00] others, actually, like, are sedentary and sitting our asses down in a different kind of way in this electoral moment, and are like, how to compute? How to compute, on that to some degree, you know. And I think that when I think about this moment that we’re in, you know, we basically have, I feel like, to me, it doesn’t have to dampen morale to tell the truth that we have Trump running against a democratic vacancy. It’s a vacancy. He’s (inaudible), you know. He’s parking spotting it. The exciting thing about that is that we actually get to fill that space up with keeping really close to like where actually people are (inaudible) point about this. I think one of the things I’ve been saying inside of space at SONG is like, how do we contend with so many people in this [00:53:00] up and coming generation through black leadership but not only black, being like, we desire to be the last generation that experiences police brutality. We are manifesting a desire to be the last generation that is dealing with some of this bullshit. How are you all going to contend with our desire to be the last? Which is running through us in some incredibly powerful ways, and which doesn’t always make coalition building or working together that easy all the time because when humans have that mandate running through that, that can be in real bumpy territory, right, with a sort of mainstream electoral traditional politics, right. But I think in the question of how actually we — at Women’s March I think we’ve been thinking about — Kate could say a lot more about specifics, but I think in the concepts and the way we’re thinking about it, like, what does it mean to think about, for us, like, women to women voter work that’s actually relational, that’s actually using this an opportunity to figure out what the deep longings and aspirations to build a different kind of feminist governance? [00:54:00] When we say defund the police, what do we want to fund? What do we want to build? What do we want to dismantle, change, build, and what does that actually then look like in real time? And I think that aspirational desire is real, but I also think the level to which people are localizing right now absolutely, I mean, there are folks who are like, yeah, it’s really not enough that we have a few progressives in city council in Arizona, in Phoenix, right. It’s really great that we have a few, but it hasn’t meant anything for people not dying here. Like, we need more. We actually are understanding the purpose of having more control of governance because we understand what a public health crisis is both in terms of white supremacy and COVID. And so I think that when I think about the electoral possibility it’s like Biden in order to advance what? Like, yes, Biden in order to advance what — and yes, fighting like hell for ourselves and each other. Going back to what Kate was saying, it’s like, it’s about what [00:55:00] I need, and it’s also about what the bigger we needs in order to say yup, like, this is the way in which we can actually move things forward because I think if we were waiting for anyone to come save us in the traditional Democratic Party, if any of the more center factions of progressives were thinking that might occur, I hope that that idea is not alive in order for other things to live. Because there is so much more enthusiasm and (inaudible) in a progressive base when it’s like that is so clearly not happening. And I think some of us have thought that for quite some time. But it’s laid so bare in a space that’s actually not just the smallest faction of the Democratic Party or even the Warren-Sanders combined block, right. It’s way beyond that. People are like oh, his whole approach is to sit this out. [00:56:00] So what does it mean for us to not sit it out even while we’re home. And I actually think it’s incredibly powerful, like, it’s always powerful when folks are like oh, yeah, you’re not going to go do that. So what are we going to do? And nobody’s going to be surprised that I think that feminists and queer and trans people and women of color and working class women, frankly, and people who have to just take care of people all the time, that’s what we’re doing, have some real contributions to make to that. Like duh, nobody’s going to make the dinner. Nobody’s going to get it done. Nobody’s going to get all of that done unless we’re going to do that, and I think that is the energy that I’m like, how do we motivate on that because I think the realization is pretty intense given the true impact of this administration on a way wider set of people within this country than just the folks that he has mercilessly scapegoated, which, we all know who that — black folks and undocumented [00:57:00] people, et cetera, from jump. Tragically it’s way wider than that, the impact as well, right. So you got people directly affected in numbers that are acknowledging that they’re directly affected in numbers that are very high, you know. So that’s some of my thoughts. Shapiro?
LA: Oh, I can’t wait to hear from you, Kate, because this is the most hopeful sounding, and not in a Pollyanna way, analysis and like, forward moving thing I have heard. I have never heard anybody fill vacancy with so much possibility.
KS: I want to read this thing really quickly that actually kind of ties back to some of what I was reflecting on from what Breedlove was saying earlier. And it’s a little thing that I wrote a number of years ago with Mary Hooks from SONG. And then we both put it on our little alter. It’s right here. It says we are measured, judged by the one not of our elders, [00:58:00] the critique of our comrades, the health of our teams, and the values we live daily. And I think that so much of what’s interesting right now, and I’ve been saying this inside the Women’s March base with our different organizing work and just saying it to myself is it’s like, to me the gift that we have to and get to give ourselves and each other is like, to welcome the transformation that’s happening inside of us and amongst us and around us, right fucking now. And because I’ve been in the, you know, like, down on the ground trying to sort through in terms of strategies, organizing onramps, distributing and organizing all of that, like, I haven’t had the chance, and I don’t know how many of us have, to be like, what actually is the scale of transformation that’s already happened [00:59:00] right now? And how do we, as this vale is being lifted and the old ways are crumbling, how do we actually put our feet in some of those cracks and in some of those doors and kick them open further? And so I think a lot of what Breedlove was speaking to relates to a little bit of that sentiment while also I actually personally also cannot grasp, because I also haven’t done enough global study around the implications of what havoc Trump has already wrought and what the scenarios and possibilities are. Like, whoa. So just to say that with such a media environment that’s so saturated, and we’re all in our houses, and we’re getting all of this info from our screens, it [01:00:00] does feel hard to be like what’s the reader analysis? Like, what’s actually taking place right now? Because we can’t all gather and synthesize because everything’s happening so fast. But yeah, I mean, I think that we have an amazing opportunity to welcome the transformation and actually use this as a chance to articulate through our values and through our practice, like, embodying the people that we want to be and that we get a chance every damn day when we are alive and on this planet to do that. You know, and I think that there is such a really interesting sort of with the folks that we’re working with, the thousands and thousands of women that we’re working with inside the Women’s March who have gotten very little support previously, they’ve just been scrapping it out on their own figuring it all out, like, people [01:01:00] both want an assignment and are scared to choose a path. And so I think that that’s some of our collective work, I think especially as whites, is how do we keep pushing on our transformation, welcome it, encourage it, go further with it, and accept and rise to the occasion to be like, what’s the best contribution that we can make right now? And to me it is the like the vale’s been lifted broadly. What does that give you the opportunity to learn about your place and your people? And how do you build your team and broaden your team in all of the variety of ways? And then how do we go hard inside of a vision to do whatever we need to do to defeat Trump but to also defeat [01:02:00] Trumpism and to create the world that we need. Because like, that’s what this moment has shown us, exactly what you’re saying, Breedlove, is like, nobody else is going to do it for us. Nobody else is going to do it, and we actually have the ability to create and embody and build and rebuild the systems and structures that we need. And then I think to your other point, Breedlove, which I really agree with, is I hope that we can muster our courage to be able to not be overly disrespectful but even inside of the Democratic establishment it’s like, friends, that’s not working. We got to find a different way. Let us be honest with where we’re at and what has and hasn’t worked and what has gotten us to this point. And let’s try some new things. Like, Mary Hooks the [01:03:00] other day was on our feminist organizing school, and she was like, you know, no holds barred everybody. Like of course let’s defeat Trump and defeat Trumpism, and this is a world-building moment. So what are the ideas that we have, and if we don’t have ideas and we don’t have creativity, how can we join in and offer our hands in spirit and resources in the service of something bigger? So there’s a bunch more sort of specifics that I’d be happy to talk about in terms of some of sort of the strategy and program that we’re running if that is relevant or desired. But sort of in the vein of what Breedlove was talking about, I kind of kept it pretty 30,000-foot.
MA: People are desperate for assignment. They really are. We are. And you all, I mean, Kate, you’ve been so generous in naming the value of [01:04:00] what Auburn has, for example, offered. And that generosity of lifting up that work is a sweet gift. For you all at the Women’s March at Southerners on New Ground, my belief is that there are listeners to this podcast who have congregations, who have networks, who are in red states and blue, who have resources, who have money. You know, we have a lot and are just wishing for the clarity of the call. So what do you, in that regard, not at 30,000 but today, this week, next month, are there things that you would ask people to get on board with? [01:05:00]
KS: Yeah, absolutely. Are you kidding me? There’s a million assignments. Sometimes there’s too many. But I think, and I’m a Jew, but raised in the South, so I know a little bit about Christianity, but there is this piece around giving our time, our talents, and our tithe. It’s like, to me I think it is about institutionally people are going through a reckoning around their practices and interpersonal behavior and all of that, which I think is very important, specifically around racism and anti-black racism, and that should continue. And inside of that I think it should be like, how do we actually transform not just our interpersonal relationships but the practices and the policies that uphold white supremacy, that uphold classism, that uphold elitism, and how do we break from that? But that’s just sort of on the institutional tip. And then I think to me the question is [01:06:00] what’s the best contribution we can make? And that is going to vary based on people’s position or access or relationships, but I’m like, contribute to building defeating Trumpism and building democracy and more teams and connective tissue in your local area. So that’s like join a local organization and commit to showing up for six months. And don’t just go one time and flake, right. Contribute your time and talents to the down ballot races and to defeating Trump. Because that’s how the right wing won was by going county by county, school board by school board, county by congressional district by state to like, build this empire. So what you have you should figure out how to give and not be stingy with what your longing is. And you can do that, yeah, local organizations, volunteer; [01:07:00] local races, volunteer; federal races, volunteer. And then figure out a couple of buddies that you want to scheme and dream with. Because without the scheming and the dreaming it’d be like what’s the best little contribution that we can make that might impact a couple more people than just ourselves? Even if it’s just like, we going to do a little food distro in our community. Think about how you can create, as we say inside of feminist traditions, that third space. The first space, this comes out of Chicana and black and indigenous feminist trajectories, first space is where we live right now, McDonalds, Trump, all the things. Second space is the fight of resistance. And third space is the world-building. So what are the ways that we’re going to actually not go and hammer on our local Democratic Party people to be like you guys are doing everything wrong, do it this way. They probably are. [01:08:00] But we’re going to try to fold into what they’re doing so we can get those doors knocked and do all of that, and we’re going to do our world-building. And that’s the muscle that I think that we need to build. And I think that that’s the other piece inside of feminism, inside of relationships, and inside of everything is like, we’re so hungry. We’re living in scorched earth. Like, there’s so much longing and desire for connection, for meaning, for purpose, for belonging. And that’s going to be built by us making commitments to each other and to things bigger than ourselves and then repeating them. There’s no magic sauce beyond that I know of. But what would you say, Breedlove?
CB: Yeah, I mean, I definitely was going to speak on the down ballot and the important — but I actually think you covered a lot of that part, Shapiro. I mean, I think a couple things. I think one is that this is going to sound super dry, but I [01:09:00] actually think it’s super important, we’re seeing more and more people, many of whom get no attention because people don’t think it’s very interesting, getting deep in their local and state budget allocations —
KS: Oh great.
CB: — of where their taxes go. I think that is so critical. I think if you think it’s dry consider what it would look like for those of us who’ve lived our whole lives or most of our lives in red states. Like, zero to five pre-K, that doesn’t exist for us. The idea that New York City does that, I don’t even know how many of my neighbors even know New York City has — that does not exist. That is completely aspirational. Thinking about if there was 35 more libraries, all this childcare, eldercare, there was community farms. That’s what a reinvigored tax space looks like, and just one note here in Phoenix. One of the things that Poder in Action, one of the local organizations here found when they surveyed, they’re one of the only organizations in the city that surveyed working class and working poor white people, [01:10:00] Latino people, and black people. People were really with that bite around changing the budget allocation in their district because people are super directly affected. And so thinking about that as world-building, like, we pay a ton of taxes, and more than a third go to militarization, and on a federal level but on a local and state. I actually think using the electoral opportunity to be like who’s going to get in there and support our fights for [project reallocation?] and taking money in our cities and states away from murdering people because they’re black, because they’re poor, because they have disabilities, and putting it into infrastructure is critical. And then the other thing, which is going to sound a little unrelated but I think is critical, I completely agree with the how do we kick the door open more, Shapiro. I think this is a moment of reckoning. And I also think, and this is purely on a nerd core, I’ve been having some conversations with people who are very recognized [01:11:00] scholars on Octavia Butler right now. I am not a scholar on Octavia Butler, but I am from the original nerd core of reading Octavia Butler when people were not feeling here.
KS: Oh yeah.
CB: And I think what’s super interesting about this time is that she is repeatedly quoted for the same things again and again, and she had a lot to say that is not very popular right now. And I think it’s super interesting to look at the things she talked about and the scenarios she set up. She did say God is change. She said everything that we change changes us. She also said kindness eases change. She said kindness eases change again and again, and kindness is not the same as rolling over, as being disingenuous, as giving into power as niceties. But she said after we kicked the door open let me fucking tell you something, people, kindness eases change. So after you kick, after you destroy things, you know, like, whether that’s relationships, whether that’s infrastructure, whether that’s structure, [01:12:00] like, and I’m going to quote our buddy, because she doesn’t get any love here in the US even though she’s brilliant Jelena Milos, who is a Croatian activist who’s a friend, I remember her saying y’all really predicting. Being like y’all are really into, like, your individual charismatic electoral folks you’re running who are feminist. That’s cute. What is the platform? How are you thinking about feminist governance, and what’s the role of kindness and compassion inside of that? Because she was like for us who actually lived through an ethnic cleansing and war where my uncle killed somebody’s daddy, you know, like, actually part of feminist governance is how do you actually find that, and how do you structurally put that in place? And I would say the thing about that, which I think relates to why I do the work I do now, is that I think she also set up scenarios again and again where people that you were led in her narratives to believe were good people did horrible things and [01:13:00] people who you knew were horrible, who you saw do 12 terrible things, did something that was transformative, critical, and life-saving at the end of a 600 page novel. And she was setting up again and again for this moment where you don’t — the good guys and bad guys dynamic, that’s real cute, you all. It’s real cute when you were sitting in a really fancy women’s studies classroom, frankly, but out here where we actually are, if everybody’s already been divided into the shrillest, purest, good guys and everyone else is voted off the island, right, I don’t see how we’re going to get where we need to go. And it’s an inconvenient fact right now, but we’re not going to get there with .00005 percent of like the army of the woke. I don’t see us getting there. Our work is actually with people. It’s not yelling at other people it’s actually with people where they’re at. And I think that’s powerful. And it’s transformative. And it’s a completely different conversation. Does that mean we roll over and we say oh, we don’t have a political line anymore? [01:14:00] No, it means we got to think about how we’re actually engaging people because it’s not as simple as that. It’s not as simple as that. And if it was as simple as representational politics, you know, we wouldn’t have so much harm done by people from so many different lived walks of life right now, you know. Unfortunately power corrupts people across the board. And so I think when I think about the possibilities in this moment, when I think about what people can actually do, it’s like where is the work grounded in the values and the world that we want to build? And that absolutely who are the folks embodying different lived experiences that are bringing wisdom to help us get there? But that’s not the same as like okay, you know, there’s only five of us, and if we just do what they said then we’re just replicating what I think is a fundamentally white patriarchal model of understanding someone else coming to save us, what they’re substituting in every time. That’s actually what’s exciting about this moment. People are like, I’m not waiting for you to tell me what to do. [01:15:03] I want to be on assignment, but I don’t want to be talked at all the time. And with that I will stop talking.
MA: You all have lived, you all have been in, and you all have studied. Specifically what struggle, what win, what experience of transformation toward life, justice, the unbelievable, what have you lived through or what experience of that gives you hope right now? What’s a story you can tell us that can remind us that we can win, that we can live and thrive? We being the broadest we.
KS: Whew. [01:16:00] That question is so beautiful, Macky, and that’s one that I want to sit on and simmer on because part of being in the ’rona is I do feel like my memory is a little garbled. So I just want to be honest about that. But I think having stared at Breedlove’s face for the last couple of hours, like, one of the things that’s making me remember is that video that SONG put out after we lost the amendment one fight.
CB: Oh yeah.
KS: And to say how you doing, to also say there’s so many random people that I don’t actually know that are friends of friends or friends that are like when I feel sad, when I feel lonely, when I feel depressed I go watch those old SONG videos you all made. And I’m like, are you kidding me? I’m like, word, that’s great, great, great. But like, whoa. [01:17:00]
CB: Because our (inaudible) was great then, Kate. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
KS: To me (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) those were ways that we were trying to build an invitation into belonging and an articulation of some of our values and some of our trying to stay sturdy and be sturdy and keep going. But all of that is to say yeah, we made this video. I believe it was Breedlove’s idea, and the whole team, of course, made it happen after we lost the amendment one fight that Breedlove could talk about in much more detail, but essentially North Carolinians across the whole state organized in every of the hundred counties to oppose a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage and domestic partnerships and a whole bunch of other attacks on different communities. And our people worked their tails off not just doing the sort of [01:18:00] traditional kind of voter contact stuff but actually being like we want to have a million conversations on porches our way with our relationships with our scripts and inside of our context, right. And this is to me, there’s so many other examples even from Abrams, Abrams’s campaign to a million others, even (inaudible) of people being like no, no, we don’t think that electoral is the way. We’re not going to vote our way fully out of this empire. But what we can do is that we can engage this question of governance and resources and power and use this electoral cycle to find our people and actually be able to find our people at scale. I feel like some of the reasons why maybe the left has not done a lot of electoral work is because we’ve been ambivalent and/or scared of growing and of our people. We’re like, let’s keep it with our friends. All that is to say [01:19:00] 800,000, over 800,000 folks came to vote against that or vote for it, I’m sorry, that amendment. And then we ultimately lost but made a video, and we released it the day after knowing that folks were alone in their homes across the state, and not everybody could come to the party at the gay club, that was like let me tell you what we did though, everybody. Let me tell you how we did it and why we did it and why it matters and what it means. And I think that that also is so important in all the different ways. And Breedlove, if you want to speak more on that, because it is like also acknowledging people’s work and courage and sacrifice and reminding us of our timeline and reminding us [01:20:00] of the river of movement that we’re a part of, the broader trajectory and the broader team. That doesn’t change the reality that our elders who have been partnered for 40 years won’t be able to get into the hospital if their partner is ill. Like, doesn’t change the material conditions of all the nightmare of these rules that crush and kill our communities, but it does allow us to put ourselves in context and relationship.
CB: That was beautiful. I mean, I’m really happy to have that work lifted up again because it was again I think us taking the third space in the campaign route because we were told nationally that it was this huge lost and we lost 60-40. Well, when you talk about that in organizing and when you move more than 823,000 people on a Republican primary to your side, you’re actually like, it’s kind of saying to the rest of the progressive establishment in [01:21:00] North Carolina you’re welcome. Here you go. We delivered you the actual base you need to win a lot of other things. So that would be on the electoral nerdy side. I think that what comes up for me, which I think exists in relationship with that is I was thinking the other day, Shapiro, about the action that our folks did in South Carolina of cleansing, of washing white supremacy off the monuments there and off of the former slave market and how people treated that. People were like you’re work is ridiculous. People on the national level would go be like, it’s so stupid. What SONG is doing doesn’t make any sense. I’m glad you’re doing a little theater. Be you all’s selves. I’m glad you think that’s important. I took so much shit for that particular action. I didn’t even tell the staff how much people shit on us for that because it was too demoralizing. [01:22:00] And I think about that now, and I want to be like not even fuck you to individual people but like fuck you to that sentiment questioning the idea of what altars we worship at and what we have monuments too is not critical inside the consciousness. And anyone who’s saying that these monuments coming down is not important obviously doesn’t understand that the far right, particularly in the South, completely understand how impotent that is because that’s why they’re so upset about it. That’s why they’re so upset about it. That’s why it’s this huge thing. And so I think about how powerful it is to be in this time where the origins of those actions don’t even really — telling that story doesn’t really matter because it’s so far in the consciousness of so many people, primarily people under 30, that it is meaningful to remove those monuments that it ceases to matter how much our folks were like [01:23:00] laughed at for that because that’s how social change is. When you’re up there pressing on that line around the cultural, the spiritual, and the change of the physical conditions, and I think of all the shit our SONG people went through in South Carolina and are still going through, still fighting there now, hands down the hardest people, place I’ve supported organizing, harder than many other Southern states because the idea that white wealthy people own black people is so profoundly baked into the structure of so much of the state that it’s pure ownership. I think there’s so much to look at inside of that in terms of how that has given birth — what it means to stay with it in terms of transformative feminist change. And I actually, there was a piece in the New Yorker that came out yesterday about the Combahee River Collective that I think was so important because, no shade to (inaudible), [01:24:00] the other (inaudible) that the birth by primarily black dykes and really amazing black allies at a river in South Carolina of what eventually birthed that thinking, like, we have to go there, y’all. We have to go there to understand how we got here, I believe, because I think that if we’re not doing that then we don’t understand how visceral it actually is and how much like, yeah, yeah, it’s not going to make sense to a fundamentally white heteropatriarchal mind, which is not just about white straight men. That’s now who I’m talking about. I think there’s lots of folks living in that paradigm, frankly, who are elected officials on a national level of every single walk of life, right. I just think that piece is so profound about, like, the fact that we didn’t back down from that as a tactic in a time when it wasn’t even seen as a tactic, it was seen as some weird SONG shit, just some weird SONG shit, [01:25:00] I think is so powerful to look at what that actually means now. And the final thing I’ll say about that is, for folks who haven’t seen it, there’s some amazing images from the Southwest of indigenous people who are moving monuments here and dancing over where those monuments were that are directly inspired from what happened in the South. It’s so powerful to just see how those things interplay, and I just think the spiritual power becomes unstoppable at a certain moment regardless. It’s not about who it doesn’t make sense to anymore. It’s all about who it does make sense to, which is a profound and growing number of people of many lived experiences, you know.
LA: My God, that’s an amen. That is an amen. We have one last question for you beautiful humans. How do you practice joy now? [01:26:00]
KS: I can go.
LA: Okay, Kate.
KS: I’m glad there’s this final question. And I want to speak also to me, to my relationship with Breedlove too, bring it back to that Friends for Life theme is like, being raunchy, being funny, being inappropriate in the privacy of your own home, I think to me that helps fuel and refuel my own sense of joy. And so of course there’s a million of other things, like being on assignment actually gives me joy. And being able to know that I’m making a contribution gives me joy and that I’m trying [01:27:00] my best even though I know that I’m going to mess up every day and that that should be expected. But I do think right now it is around pleasure. I’m trying to get some booty. I’m hoping that that’s going to bring me some joy. It’s hard in the ’rona. Know what doesn’t bring me joy? Online dating, rough. (laughter) But yeah, I mean, I think to me it is the humor and being able to be silly and being able to be imperfect and knowing, to the first question, that people have your back in your imperfections, and they’re still here for it. What a blessing and what a gift that is.
LA: And I know, Caitlin, you have to go real soon to pick up your little one, so just quickly, [01:28:00] how do you practice joy now?
CB: (inaudible) too. It was actually funny you said that. I was definitely going to go with gay sex.
CB: Definitely still making sure I’m homosexual and staying in that because, you know, sometimes it gets hard after (inaudible) (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) but I was —
KS: She did threaten to not stay gay. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
CB: Yeah, I threatened. Things have been hard enough in the past year or so that I may be threatening to have my sexuality (overlapping dialogue; inaudible). So I’m staying gay, but I do also think the piece about humor, because I’m such a heavy stone as a white (inaudible) lesbian Virgo (inaudible) as Shapiro well knows, that I do think there’s just so many times. Also I think that humor’s contagious. Like, Shapiro and I will just have times when we’re in a gay bar. People just start talking to us because we’re clearly having such a good time and think that we are [01:29:00] very funny or people will be like, wow, you two are really a pain in the ass. Or like, in a majority POC space, so like wow, who’s the two weird white people? But they’re funny and weird, and I think that there is, from us continuing to have that side, especially sometimes these days I feel a lot of pressure. I’m supposed to be serious, whatever. But I do think there’s really something about that plus antics, pranks. I think one of the last photographs that I have of me and Shapiro together was when we went to Flagstaff to conceptualize this curriculum we’ve been discussing. And you know, there was a snow fort with some photos inside of it. One night we decide that (inaudible) coded at a bar. Like, we had color-coded the whole thing in the most brilliant way, but unfortunately we had too many beers. The next day we were like, what does any of this mean? It meant nothing. I meant it was [01:30:00] nothing. You know, so I just feel like (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) relationships where you’re just really — you know, and you act out sometimes. I think that really keeps you in touch with the rest of the world who also acts out, just often pretends like they don’t. You’re like I’m an act-outer. Here I am. Still here. Still queer. Still doing it. So yup, I love that about you, Shapiro, really very few people (inaudible) pee-in-my-pants laughing as much as you do. So it just brings up like an oldie but a goodie. Oh, remember when we thought that was so funny for like two years, and we sat (inaudible) and then we forgot about it? And now we’re back, and every morning we say duder. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) Duder. Not quite caffeinated, what’s up? What are we doing today?
CB: Really weird.
KS: Yeah, funny but sad.
LA: All right, cuties. We have a special thing that Macky and I like to say to every one [01:31:00] and to say to our listeners as the way to close us out. It’s a quote by one of our beloveds, Winnie the Pooh. So here we go. If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together —
MA: There’s something you must always remember.
LA: You are braver than you believe.
MA: Stronger than you seem.
LA: And smarter than you think.
MA: But the most important thing is —
LA: Even if we’re apart —
MA: I’ll always be with you.
LA: I’ll always be with you.
MA: You all, it is such a kindness to let us know your love for one another. Just watching you on this Zoom call, you’re being in love is such a beyond beautiful thing to behold. So thanks for being friends for life with each other, and thanks for sharing that friendship.
LA: Thank you so much. We love you.
KS: We loved it. It was so great.
CB: So fun.
LA: Yeah. [01:32:00]
CB: So much love. Take care everybody.
LA: Queer love is a thing.
KS: (inaudible) you better believe it.
MA: (inaudible) That’s our show, y’all. So for more info about Kate and Caitlin, for the links to that video they were talking about, a bunch of the campaigns they’re running, all kinds of stuff about monuments and the like, also things you can do and get involved with, both through Auburn, through Women’s March, through SONG, check us out at auburnseminary.org or go to us on the socials of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. And you know we want to hear what you thought, so email us at [email protected]
LA: It was a joy to be with you today, Macky. It was more than I could have imagined to listen to Kate and Caitlin just drop all of the knowledge and to keep us in [01:33:00] love with what it means to embrace queerness and social justice. I’m excited about what we just did, and I’m really excited for next month.
MA: Sometimes you don’t see the folks behind the show. And we love these folks with all our heart and might. And we thank the folks who made this show possible. We want to thank the people who made it but also the people who made it possible. Auburn as well as The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation are the folks who have given us the resource we need to make this show.
LA: Yes, and the friends for life who produced it, along with Macky and me, are Courtney Weber Hoover, Sharon Groves, and David Beasley, so a thousand thanks, a thousand hugs and kisses to them for all of their hard work and also with the audio [01:34:00] engineering from Dan Greenman and the editing of the podcast, which was done by Macky and David.
MA: Thanks, y’all. We love you. Come say hi to us.
LA: Come say hi. (laughter)
Black Trans Lives Matter, Black Trans Joy Matters, Juneteenth and Stonewall
REVEREND LAWRENCE RICHARDSON: Walking down the street every single day as a black trans man or leaving my apartment or getting into my car, there’s always the thought that I might not make it home. I might not be alive tomorrow. And to be in the middle of the street with thousands of people, queer, cis, trans, black, white, like, all of these different colors of folks, and I felt safe. (music)
RAQUEL WILLIS: We have to continue to carve out those moments to celebrate ourselves. You know, that’s the piece of the revolution that we don’t hear about, you know, or no one really explores. It’s, like, yeah, there’s going to be intense struggle. There’s going to be growing pains, you know? It’s going to be almost like a collective puberty, right, where we’re kind of shedding this, like, skin of the past and shedding these, like, systems [00:01:00] and things that don’t serve us anymore and leaning into evolution. And while we do that, we do find our moments of joy. (music)
LISA ANDERSON: Welcome to Friends for Life from Auburn Seminary, a podcast for friends who give us life and with whom we are in it for life.
MACKY ALSTON: My name’s Macky Alston. I’m a Christian, a queer dad, a filmmaker, and an activist here with Lisa Anderson. Lisa’s Auburn’s vice president and founder of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle.
LA: Hi, I’m Lisa, and I’m also a black, queer theologian who believes that loving blackness is the spiritual calling of our time and that the lived experience of all black people is a sacred freedom text. This is our first episode.
MA: Look, we’re just little baby podcasters, trying to figure out how to be in relationship [00:02:00] with you and with the whole universe.
LA: (laughs) We sat down on June 10th to talk to a pair of our beloveds. The first voice you heard was Reverend Lawrence Richardson, a United Church of Christ pastor, black and trans and from the Twin Cities, from the middle of Uprising’s calling for justice to the murder of George Floyd and to the pandemic of police violence and anti-blackness.
MA: You also heard the gorgeous voice of Raquel Willis, activist, writer, strategist, former executive editor of Out magazine, national organizer at the Trans Law Center, founder of Black Trans Circles. Raquel’s an alum of Auburn Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle’s second cohort. Both Raquel and Lawrence are media trainers with Auburn, bringing their off-the-chain media savvy to leaders of faith and moral courage all across the country. To start on this show, we asked [00:03:00] them four grounding questions: who’s got your back, where do you go to feel better, what song is getting your through, and what flavor delights you?
LA: And then, we ask a few deeper questions: what strategic counsel do you have for leaders of faith and moral courage so that we can survive, thrive, and win in 2020 and beyond? Can you tell a story of when we have won in the past so that we can remember that we are only here today because of the victories of our ancestors and earlier battles of liberation? And finally, we asked: what is a joy practice that is getting you through these days? Thank you for being on this journey with us. We want to hear from you about how we’re doing and how we can be of help. So, email us at [email protected] to tell us how to make it better. [00:04:00] So, Raquel, Lawrence, how y’all doing?
LR: I’m doing. I’m doing well in terms of, you know, in this moment. But in the larger context of life, you know, I’m doing (laughs) a lot of things.
RW: Yeah, very similarly, I’m doing, life is going, things are happening. A lot of things are happening. But weirdly, I feel hopeful about this new era it feels like is emerging around us.
LA: Wow. Who’s got your back in this time of both what you said, Raquel, both feeling hopeful but also this time of so much difficulty and challenge?
RW: Definitely always have to lift up my mom. I feel like she has had my back my whole life. So, she’s always there. My sister, [00:05:00] my brother, my nibblings, and my friends, and my communities, of which I’m lucky to be a part of many black community, trans community, and also local community.
LA: How about you, Lawrence? In light of these times, who’s got your back?
LR: I can absolutely echo a lot of what Raquel said, yeah. And for me, my youngest sister, [Rashi?], she’s got my back. She’s always had my back but especially in this time, you know, she’s then quote-unquote on the front line as an essential worker throughout the pandemic and then with the race riots and stuff that was happening in the Twin Cities, like her store was looted and even in the midst of all of that, she’s calling or texting me, “How are you doing?” So, she’s always had my back.
MA: Isn’t it incredible how people who are in [00:06:00] it still are loving us, still are dishing out the care.
MA: The human spirit is just, is, you know, is profound. All right, y’all, A, I just got to say it’s amazing to see you and I’m so glad, I mean, just seeing your big smile, Lawrence, and your beautiful smile, Raquel! (laughter) It’s heaven and it means everything. I mean, the strangest feeling of being together when I’m actually sitting in my closet. I haven’t seen folk, I haven’t seen my folk for so long, except like this. And yet, it’s just such a gift to be in this space together, whatever this space is, it truly is. Where do you go these days, or existentially, or in life to feel better?
LR: My [00:07:00] car. My car’s name is Maya and she’s black and she’s beautiful. And even if I’m sitting in my garage, (laughter) there’s something about being inside of my car that makes me feel more free, more in control, more at peace. Most of the time, I end up going for a drive but sometimes I just sit in the car.
MA: I love that.
LA: I love that, too. (laughs)
RW: For me, it’s twofold. So, for a long time, I would say, you know, my home was wherever my mom is. So, clearly, I’m a mama’s girl. Like, I hope that’s, like, apparent. And it’s also the South. I was raised in Augusta, Georgia. So, I’m a Southern girl. And I think, like a lot of Southerners, I spent [00:08:00] most of my life trying to get out of the South. And since I’ve lived away from the South, I’ve lived in Oakland, now I live in Brooklyn, I have found a new appreciation. And so, whenever I get there and I get off the plane, wherever I am, whether it’s Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever, that, like, sticky air that used to annoy me so much just feels so comfortable. And the people are just a different kind of warmth and move in a language that just feels like home. So, the South, for sure.
MA: I feel that way so much, too, and it’s interesting how the places you try to get away from, you know, can be the places where you end up feeling like you belong.
LA: [00:09:00] Cool. Wow, I love that. I love that. What song is getting you through?
LR: The one song that I’ve had on repeat in the last couple of weeks since the killing of George Floyd is “Lord, I Love You” by Todd Galberth. And it’s a Christian gospel song and there’s a point in the song that brings me back to the — like, I’m a UCC pastor, United Church of Christ pastor. But this song brings me back to my Southern Baptist roots and there is this point in which they just say the word hallelujah over and over again. But it’s from a place of deep, recognizable pain. And for me to be able to say the highest praise in the moment of my deepest despair is something that I needed to express. And even again and again, I’m expressing it because I’m filled with [00:10:00] so much rage yet so much hope. That song’s carrying me through.
LA: Wow, gosh, I can so relate to that. I’m just, like, I want to hear from you but I want to just speak into that immediately, immediately to say that’s how I feel during seasons like advent and lent where we are waiting. And I feel like that’s the time we’re in right now in this time of — it’s active. It’s not passive waiting. But it’s there’s longing for something else inside of, and inside of pain there’s this longing. So, I completely relate to that. Completely. Raquel, let’s hear from you. What music, songs are getting you through?
RW: I’ve been really into the new Lady Gaga album. I’m [00:11:00] one of those people.
MA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. (laughs)
RW: So, her new album, Chromatica, came out a few weeks ago and it just has a lot of, like, good kind of deep house dance rooted music. And so, you can just hear the elements, hear the influence, right? And we know that house music and dance music is so black, right? So, I think that that, even through this white artist, is translating to me. And going, I guess, further, I think when summer hits, I think about, you know, the parties that people have in their, like, parks and stuff, you know? The black folks just, like, congregate and how that’s just like a thing in the black American experience. Like, Piedmont Park in Atlanta or the house parties, the house music parties in the parks in Chicago, or around Lake Merritt in Oakland. [00:12:00] So, I’m thinking about, you know, the actual, like, roots of all that deep house music. Like, the song called “The Glow of Love” by a group called Change that’s really — Luther Vandross is one of the, like, lead singers in that before he got super famous on his own. And folks like Evelyn Champagne King, I love that stuff because it just — it reminds me of summer growing up. My dad and mom were in their heyday in the ’70s and so I really feel like a connection to that time period.
MA: Lawrence, I can remember when you and Raquel and I were doing work together at Vanderbilt, Public Theology and Racial Justice, and we created a playlist for those trainings that we did for the week. And literally, this song you gave me has gotten me through like nobody’s business, right? Hold on. (singing)
SINGER: This album is dedicated to [00:13:00] everybody that’s (inaudible) (laughter) this (inaudible)
LA: Yeah. (singing)
MA: Hold on, hold on.
SINGER: [This minister?] (inaudible) (laughter) (singing) [please continue?] —
MA: All right, all right.
LR: Yes (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) right? Yeah.
MA: [Listen to him?], amazing song. So, thank you for the gift of that song. Raquel, what flavor delights you right now?
RW: So, it’s a toss-up between lemon meringue, because I had this tart the other day, y’all, (laughter) that changed my soul! I’ve been dreaming [about?] it. It was better than, like, even just, like, real traditional lemon meringue pie. It was, like, in a tart. It had the perfect amount of crisp, because you know sometimes the crust gets a little soggy with all the, like, custardy stuff going on. So, it was everything, perfect amount of sweetness. That. And then, I now have a [00:14:00] hydroponic garden and I’m growing lavender in it. And I love lavender. It’s, like, a power scent of mine. And I’m just loving watching it grow and seeing — you know, all plants kind of start, for the most part, with, like, a similar kind of basic sprout, you know? And watching it mature into something different than some of the other plants I have has just been a beautiful experience. Right now, it hasn’t opened up quite yet and it looks like a, like, living, green, like, royal scepter or something that’s just waiting to, like, explode, like, brilliance all over the place.
LA: Does it smell already?
RW: You can smell it and the leaves a little bit. It’s not as strong as it’s going to be because it hasn’t bloomed yet but, ah, it’s amazing. So, I’m going with the Ls this time, lavender [00:15:00] and lemon meringue.
LA: Oh! (laughs)
LR: It’s interesting, I’m going to have to get some tips from you on growing. Lavender definitely is one of mine. I love the calming effect, absolutely. But it just makes me feel peaceful from the inside out. And my second flavor that I would say is raspberry. My grandmother had a, well, lots of raspberry bushes in her backyard growing up. And so, it was just an amazing taste sensation to go outside in the middle of the summer and to pick a bunch of raspberries and to just squish ’em into your mouth and to feel that tangy sweetness. And it was, like, that is, like, summer to me.
MA: That’s awesome. I mean, you know what’s so wild is just to listen [00:16:00] to your voices when you talk about lemon meringue, listen to your voices when you talk about that growing lavender, you know? Listen to you voice, the raspberry. Just the shift, the shift in spirit as we even just imagine delight. So, thank you for sharing those, that which delights you, and I think that, you know, our hope for those who are listening is that we lean in, we lean into those folks who have our backs, right? We go when we can to the places that give us strength. We listen to the music, we share the music, and we cook up that food for one another when we can and for ourselves because these are rough times. These are hard, hard, hard, hard times. And so, I think we’re going to, at the end, we’re going to talk about joy practices and things that y’all do to make it through and feel better. [00:17:00] But we also invite the listeners as y’all hear what is delightful to Lawrence, what is delicious to Raquel, to consider that for yourself, because we got to bring that up and then lean in. It’s June. In fact, we are just right coming up on Juneteenth, a day when the folks who hadn’t heard finally heard about emancipation, about the promise of freedom. One of the things that we’re committed to as members of communities of faith and moral courage, as friends and as folks who have worked in movement spaces for a long time together, through Auburn, through other places, is [00:18:00] trying to help folks know what to do and how to show up between now and 2020. And, you know, that can mean just don’t forget to care for self, to care for one another, to lean into delight and to have each other’s backs. But I guess the first question that we’re interested in asking the two of you is just to consider — Lawrence, you’re a pastor. And Raquel, you’re a writer and an activist. But both of you, you know, I’ve media trained with each of you and Lisa has been at Mountaintop and in Sojourner Truth leadership circles together with y’all. And you know the folks who are likely to listen to this show. What would you hope those folks who have — you’ve gathered with or led in sessions before might be thinking about now? It’s [00:19:00] June. November’s around the bend. It’s not all about November and we know, also, in November, it’s up ballot, it’s down ballot, it’s all kinds of issues and all kind of organizing today, tomorrow, the next day, and all kind of living and thriving on the other side of Election Day. But what would you want to see us and our folk be doing as we prepare not only to survive and to strive toward thriving but also to win in 2020?
LR: I actually believe that heal thyself is where we all need to focus the energy to be able to withstand not only making it to, you know, November 2020 but beyond that. And more specifically, in order to do the work that we’re doing and do it in a sustainable way, we need to [00:20:00] have spiritual, physical, and emotional endurance to be able to withstand these pressures. And if we’re coming at it from a history of trauma or if we’re internalizing the challenges or the trauma that we encounter because of the work that we do, it’s important to build time in our schedules every single day and sometimes multiple times of day, depending on what you’re doing to process, to heal, or what I like to call remember yourself. And in remembering, it takes us beyond the trauma, takes us out of the trauma and helps us heal that trauma. And so, remembering or healing might include psychological therapy, contemplative meditation, prayer, physical exercise, spiritually grounding yourself. There’s so many things that people, that we all can do. But the more we do this work of activism, [00:21:00] of, you know, caring for the community, of shifting systems, we can either get lost, easily, in the work or we can burn out before the work is completed if we don’t have healing practices built into our everyday schedules.
MA: Lawrence, I’ve heard through the grapevine through mutual friends that you were in protest and got attacked. Is that true?
LR: So, a number of clergy, black clergy, specifically, were invited to a meeting and then to a protest. And we were invited to stand as the barrier between the police and the protesters. And so, I was literally on the front line (laughs) between the barricade and [00:22:00] the police and the protesters behind me. And there was an unfortunate issue that happened where someone in the crowd of protesters stabbed someone else. So, then, the police had to be called. And several big, you know, police units come to the area and then, you know, we’re already there because we’re protesting police violence. And so, then the crowd energy just kind of rises that much higher. And when the police got there, there was a drunk or appearing to be drunk white man who stumbled into the center. And he fell down, so the police ran to him and the guy who got stabbed was about 25 feet away and he was black or he is black. So, then, the crowd is interpreting that and [00:23:00] they’re angry. “Why are you not helping the one who needs help? We didn’t call you here for them.” And someone threw a water bottle into the center area where the cop cars were. And then, the cops were, you know, yelling, “Get back, get back!” And people were, like, “No, this man needs help.” And so, then, that’s when, first, they fired tear gas into the crowd. And I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I heard it, I started to feel it, and it started to, you know, my eyes are burning. And then, I thought I got to move back because (laughs) this isn’t going to go well. And then, the next thing I know, they started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd.
LR: And so, I turned around to kind of run away but I just had knee surgery, so I couldn’t really run. So, I was kind of, like, hopping away. But we ended up going back into the [00:24:00] space because that person still needed to be taken to a hospital. So, it was kind of the back and forth and each time we went back in, you know, we’re yelling, “Don’t throw anything,” you know? “Be calm.” And there was always someone, that just one person would throw a water bottle or a Gatorade bottle, and then that would send the police into defensive mode and they were, again, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. So, that happened, I would say, three or four times before the police left with the person who was going to be taken to the hospital.
MA: You are in Minneapolis. I mean, you are in it. How’s it been and how have you been?
LR: You know, it’s interesting, I have been [00:25:00] deeply grieving and enraged but also hopeful. And interestingly enough, this is the safest I have felt in all of my life in the United States. Out of the country, I definitely feel safe because my perspective and lenses are so different. But walking down the street every single day as a black trans man or leaving my apartment or getting into my car, there’s always the thought that I might not make it home. I might not be alive tomorrow. And to be in the middle of the street with thousands of people, queer, cis, trans, black, white, like, all of these different colors of folks, and I felt safe. And even though buildings were literally burning around us, even though there were people that were clearly protesting [00:26:00] against their own pain and injustice that they’ve experienced, not just what we saw with George Floyd, but there was a sense of solidarity and community that I had never experienced before in the United States. Like, there was no worry that someone’s going to — even though that happened, there was not a worry that I was going to somehow lose my life in the moment of protest. And I was out there every single day, different times of the day. And outside of that bubble, though, it’s challenging to minister to a predominantly white congregation in a very wealthy part of Minneapolis, just miles away from where all of this happened. And I feel like I have, you know, one foot in both worlds, so to speak. So, in that way, I’m really grateful to have had vacation time because it was challenging to navigate those two worlds.
MA: What size is your congregation and how [00:27:00] do they, when you’re up in that on a daily basis, in a sense, they’re up in it with you, right?
MA: Because their pastor’s out there.
MA: So, how does that, for those who are in similar roles, different kinds of religious leaders, how’s that going for you and how do you stay connected in ways that feel helpful but also stick your neck out and be the prophetic witness that you are?
LR: So, I’m, you know, the first black pastor in this church. The church is 118 years old and we have about 300 adults and children that physically come to our parish. And then, we have however many other (laughs) people that participate online because of our online ministry efforts. And there is a lot of truth telling. [00:28:00] I also recognize that there hasn’t been a black pastor in this church. So, I am a lot of people’s black friend and I don’t take it upon myself to represent all of, you know, black America. But I do often get asked questions like, “How do I talk to my kids about racism? How do I explain to my kids what happened to George Floyd? How do I tell my kids that the police will protect them but not other people?” And so, then I have a lot of questions that I am always prepared to answer because of who I am and who I pastor. But there’s a certain part of my community that has been doing this work, work of anti-racism, work of, you know, unfortunately, desegregation. A lot of our communities and neighborhoods in the Twin Cities are still very segregated because of redlining. [00:29:00] So, there’s a lot of people in my church that do the work. We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have teachers, people that work on policy. But we also have the parents and then the grandparents and great grandparents who — they grew up in a, you know, very isolated space and they just were removed from these sorts of problems. So, they really need basic education. They have no clue how to talk about this. And so, I have a list of resources that I send out, you know, to different church members. And the last thing I’ll say is I had a number of my folks also protesting with me. The first day, when I was out there and, you know, got shot with the rubber bullets and tear gas, I was by myself. And then, (laughs) after that, there was people protesting right alongside me. I mean, there were several protests happening around the cities and so we had some people in St. Paul, some in Minneapolis. You know, so it’s just my people are beautiful and wonderful [00:30:00] and I don’t feel like the quote-unquote black pastor but I feel like their pastor and they love the fact that I am black. But they also love the fact that, you know, I write, that I like pizza, you know? Like, it’s not a thing that — they don’t see that, primarily, and I don’t think of it as erasure. I think of it as an opportunity for real integration to happen in a very historically white area. And so, it hasn’t been challenging because of race. More than anything, it’s just been trying to balance it all. (laughs)
LA: Lawrence, when you’re saying all of this, I remember you started off this, the answer to this question, with focusing on the importance of self-care. And I mean that in the broadest sense of the word, not as self-care as, you know, personal kind of self-improvement but as [00:31:00] valuing your humanity and being very concrete about how that valuing both allows you to stay grounded in the work but also to bring other people in in ways that allow you both to become more human, to experience your humanity in the fullest way. And I really appreciate that lens that you help us to look at what it means to be whole and well in the midst of the work and to talk about that in terms of what it means for what we have now and what it means to, like, see a future, future being November or future meaning beyond November where we get to be, you know, a manifestation of the love of community. And I thought that was powerful. And I want to pick up and ask Raquel to speak into this question a little bit, as well. And I want to recall, I don’t know if this’ll work for you, [00:32:00] but I want to recall a post that I saw you put out. It was, I think, around the time, maybe a day or two after George Floyd was murdered, and you posted that your book was coming out, you’re working on your book with the amazing title, which I will let you share, and I heard a little bit of, “I’ve got this beautiful news at this hard time,” but kind of not knowing if it was the right moment to drop that beautiful news. And I just remember sitting there reading it and my soul lit up. And I remember saying to you, “That’s a balm, honey.” It was a balm to hear you say that your book was out. And I want to know: is that part of getting you through? Is that work a part of what gets you through now? Or what is it?
RW: Yeah. [00:33:00] Thank you for naming that kind of weird moment. I think even just having you understand that and be able to articulate that gives me a sense of, like, calm, even now, you know, days and almost weeks removed. Yeah, so it was literally a day or two after George Floyd really kind of inspired these protests and everything. And so, I learned that I got a book deal. My book, The Risk It Takes to Bloom is still a work in progress. So, it’s not quite out yet and it probably won’t be out until next year. But it was just a milestone moment, I think, for me in terms of being validated in [00:34:00] some ways with the work that I’m doing and just a reminder that, like, it matters, right, and that there’s some big thing for me to look forward to, in some ways, I guess, gifting the world, right? Because I think whenever we share stories or our kind of articulations of the world, it’s a gift, hopefully, to other folks. So, yeah, it was weird to kind of be relishing in that news. It also was, like, my birthday week just before that. And so, it was kind of, like, right, you too, yes, because —
RW: — we’re the same day. (laughter) It’s so wild every time I think of it. Yeah, so it was just a beautiful reminder, I think, that even in times that it’s hard, there are still moments of joy that we have to carve out and find. And I think, also, you [00:35:00] know, being able to name even the awkwardness and the weirdness, I think, gave people permission to honor that, gave myself permission to honor that. And a lot of people said similarly to what you said that, no, this is good news, like, that we need to continue to hear these things. So, yeah, so I appreciate you for seeing that moment, for all of the complexity that it was. Yeah, and I think that we have to continue to carve out those moments to celebrate ourselves. You know, that’s the piece of the revolution that we don’t hear about, you know, or no one really explores is, like, yeah, there’s going to be intense struggle, there’s going to be growing pains, you know? It’s going to be almost [00:36:00] like a collective puberty, right, where we’re kind of shedding this, like, skin of the past and shedding these, like, systems and things that don’t serve us anymore and leaning into evolution. And while we do that, we do find our moments of joy, right? I don’t know why I’m hooked on this, like, puberty reference but, you know, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, you know? You still had your, hopefully, your fun times at the mall doing absolutely nothing, you know, and still enjoying your teenage years or you still went to the movies and saw ridiculous things that helped you escape for a minute before you went back to your existential crisis. (laughter) And so, I think that that’s what we have now, right, is, like, we have to take care of ourselves, extend grace and patience to ourselves, exactly what you were saying, [00:37:00] Lawrence. And then, we also have to find those moments of just pure joy and just live in it.
LA: I can’t wait for this book to come out. I remember when we met, you were talking about wanting to write your story. Like, that was a big way that you were oriented and that was, gosh, maybe six years ago, seven years ago. So, it was a minute. And so, I can’t wait. And the title, the idea of risk and blooming together, can you say a little bit about that now? Is it just the title that you’ve chosen or does it have a particular resonance for you?
LR: It is, you know, I’m trying to make sure I get this quote right because it’s like a quote that I’ve, like, held close to my heart for so long. But the quote is, “And the day came [00:38:00] when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” And so, I kind of adapted that and felt called to this idea of, like, blooming, right? And, no, I’ve been talking about plants a lot lately. I think I’m kind of a plant person. And I do think that, you know, we have our moments where we have to decide whether we’re going to bloom or not, you know, whether we’re going to remain in that kind of tight, restrictive case that may have served us at one point, it may have protected us or shielded us from what we perceived as harm. But now, we’ve outgrown it.
RW: And it’s time for us to grow beyond it and find new ways [00:39:00] of existing without that which, at one point, may have been comfortable for us and no longer is. And so, I see that thread in everything, you know? This book is really exploring a lot of not just my story but, I think, my story in the context of how I see the world, how I’ve experienced the world. I talk about my relationship with my father and how his death when I was 19 really kind of pushed me to bloom in a new way, pushed me to confront my identity as a transgender woman in a way that I may not have been able to do if he was still around because he was kind of this protective force in a lot of ways. So, I’m excited to continue [00:40:00] to explore this. And hopefully, you know, inspire other folks to share those stories that may be hard. But if we look at them in a different way, reframe them in a different way, they actually allowed us to be a better person.
LA: Oh, can I tell you, listening to both of your stories inside of our question of what have we got now towards winning, I think about: the through line for me is around what it means to love ourselves, love blackness, and love ourselves as black people. I can feel that through line. When you were talking, Raquel, I think about the fact that even in our BLM statements now, it is all Black Lives Matter. And there’s this way in which there’s this blossoming that we are doing as a community and as people in our activism that will not [00:41:00] leave any of our folk behind. And when Lawrence, when you were talking about, “I’m, of course, a black pastor but I’m not the black pastor. And we are growing this community. And I started out and I was on the line by myself and then the next day, my congregation and my people were there.” Like, I see that kind of tilling of that deeper soil to your metaphor around, you know, plants and growing of that loving blackness, I say, is the spiritual calling of our time, that that is part of what we’re talking about when — winning in 2020. But that winning that embraces an Afro-future for the world that we’re living in, that that Afro-future that we imagine actually does not expunge the rest of the world out of it. But grounding in that makes a possibility for all of us. And the through line I heard in both of your stories just kind of, like, really captured that for me. It’s so inspiring [00:42:00] and I love y’all. (laughs) I do.
LR: I love you, too. Thank you.
LA: Yeah, so I’m going to ask the next question. (laughter) So, [talk a?] little bit about storytelling. The story is remembering a time when we have won as people, as, you know, however you have shown up in movement and activism in your lives. But we want to tell those stories because I don’t know about you but I have heard more than a few people say that the, you know, the progressive folk or whoever, however we name ourselves, that we can forget that most of the advances that we’ve made of a positive nature in our national life have been led by people in faith-rooted communities, have been led by people of spirit. But we don’t tell those stories anymore [00:43:00] as a part of just remembering who we are. And so, I’d like to know if y’all have any stories that you’d like to share about when we won. And because we imagine Juneteenth is coming, I mean, we want people to be hearing this around Juneteenth. Like, what are some of our freedom stories that you might connect with from our past, recent, or long gone that you’d just like to lift up to people, say, “Remember this? We did that.”
LR: You know, I feel like there are a lot of successes that gets overshadowed by the issues that we’re still dealing with. And so, I love this question because it’s kind of in line with what Raquel was saying, you know, being able to celebrate yourself and being able to celebrate us and the work that we have done. And I think about, you know, civil rights legislations, [00:44:00] Stonewall uprising, the marriage amendment. And in Minnesota, actually, and several other states passed voter ID legislation that doesn’t discriminate against people who can’t obtain identification. And then, also, in Minnesota, we’ve able to secure the arrest and charging of all four officers who killed George Floyd. Those are just a handful of things that we have done, that we have all — you know, in terms of people of color, LGBTQ folks, like, very much carrying forward those specific examples that I gave. But there’s so much more that we’ve done and that we are doing. And just remembering that is just so important.
RW: Yeah, you know what’s so funny is I thought about this question and I was, like, Stonewall, duh. [00:45:00] And then, a part of me was, like, oh, well, that’s cliché, you know? The black trans woman is going to talk about Stonewall. But then, I think in this moment and I think also hearing Lawrence reiterate it, the importance of reiterating it. It will never be cliché to celebrate our struggle and making it through struggle, you know? And so, I’m going to name Stonewall, the Stonewall riots. I think it’s perfect because, you know, it’s Pride month, June, and we have to continue to tell the many different chapters of that story, the many different characters, ones we know the names of, ones that for a long time were erased and ignored, [00:46:00] ones that still haven’t gotten their just due, people like Stormé DeLarverie, thinking about figures in that early moment of, like, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson. You know, names that have become, like, the go to names to signal your wokeness or whatever it is. But, you know, they’re more than names. They were human and what is beautiful is also, I think, the little win of the individual to even just wake up and get out of bed on any given morning. And so, if you put that in the context of these people at various points throughout their lives where they decided that they were going to — it was hard but they were just going to wake up. They had no idea that they were going [00:47:00] to be starting and building and bolstering movements. But that little will to get out of bed, leave the door, leave through the front door, led to so much winning down the road. And I guess I’m getting a little emotional. But, you know, I think about that and I think about that little win of leaning into that will, whatever that little force, that little voice, that spiritual being that tells you to continue on, that is a win, a universal win. And there could be countless wins after that if you just listen to it.
LA: Oh, God, you said that and [00:48:00] apropos of your sentence about the things that feel cliché, if you have never heard Fannie Lou Hamer sing “This Little Light of Mine,” you have not lived. (laughs) And that has to exist as one of, that song, as sort of a cliché song. But when you said that little will to get up, that little will to go, and what that can yield? And so, I just recommend to all of us, you know, in line with what both of you have said, that whole idea of this light that gets us up, that keeps us moving, and that it’s never cliché and it’s never too small to be celebrating that. And, again, you got to hear Fannie Lou Hamer singing “This Little Light.”
LA: Macky, we got one more question for our folks. [00:49:00]
MA: Yeah, I’m just so moved by, I mean, I could live and probably will for the next week in this phrase: the risk it takes to bloom. And I think about the stories y’all just told, the risk it takes to bloom. I mean, that might be the spirit of this first show as we all together, as friends for life, as friends in movement, I mean, I’m so moved by Lawrence, Reverend Richardson, going out there by himself, getting shot up, and then the next day, with his congregation. I mean, that’s such a beautiful thing to behold. And so, also this notion of [00:50:00] taking the risk to be fully alive, fully human, as movements and as human beings and how they are so wedded, even to the point of just waking up in the morning and saying, “I gotta, I’m gonna let this little light of mine shine.” So, to that, our last question for you two, which is really a request to give us just a little bit of any suggestions you have as to how to keep on keeping on in these days. What is it? Do you have a daily practice or a weekly practice or something you’ve done more than once that brings you joy on the regular?
RW: Planting. I keep going back to plants. I just need to own my identity as a plant mama. That is the first thing I think about. That excites me when I get up in the morning, is to look around at what [00:51:00] is growing, what looks different. I mean, you know, when plants start out, like, they seem like they look the same for so long. But once you, like, actually just get into a rhythm with them and acknowledge the patience and the grace, again, that it takes to just grow from that, whatever little sprout that it was, you see every day as just a step forward, you know, barring that there’s some drying leaves or you overwatered something or whatever, you gave it too much love. And so, that’s been my grounding, centering practice now for a few years. I finally acknowledged it and embraced it for what it is as a practice because for a long time, I was, like, oh, it’s a hobby, you know? It’s not like a part of my identity. [00:52:00] And then, I was like, well, why couldn’t it be if it brings me joy, if it’s exciting? I think it also just kind of roots me in this kind of, like, ancestral knowledge of how to cultivate things. I mean, I think about my grandma. You know, she would have me out there, helping her plant rose bushes. And she would always tell me, “Oh, you’re the one with the green thumb.” And I’d be, like, “I’m just following the directions,” you know? I’m just putting it in the right place and watering it regularly. And it wasn’t simply just directions. I think maybe at that point it was but it becomes intuition or you lean into intuition. And, you know, how that’s tied to, especially as a descendant of enslaved Africans, like, that [00:53:00] history of cultivation, the history of cultivation even before that, you know? So, I’m honoring that as my grounding, centering practice that I do every morning.
LR: For me, it’s yoga. I have a yoga mat in my office. I have a yoga mat right on the side of my bed so that the first thing I do in the morning when my feet hits the ground is to go into poses and stretches that remind me of not only who I am but whose I am and that the life that is being breathed in is the life that I breathe out. And to take that moment to ground myself and remember that all of life [00:54:00] and all of the universe and all of what I call God is love and that is literally flowing through me right now. And that’s when I can feel it the most, is when I’m in some of those deep, deep stretches that ignite every single part of my body and I just feel so much joy because that’s God for me, to be completely alive in every single way and feeling peace and joy and love and loved is just — whether it’s five minutes or 50 minutes, yoga brings me joy.
LA: Oh, so beloveds, well, at the risk of sounding corny, y’all bring me joy. (laughs) Y’all bring us joy. Thank you so much, beloved Raquel. Thank you so much, beloved Lawrence. This has been a gorgeous conversation. [00:55:00] You blessed us and you blessed everybody who will be listening to us. Macky, we’re going to close now. Macky and I have a closing that we hope will be a blessing for everyone who listens. But I’m imagining these words anointing the heads, particularly of Raquel and Lawrence as we sign off. So, the quote is by Winnie the Pooh. (laughter) “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together” —
MA: — “there’s something you must always remember” —
LA: — “you are braver than you believe” —
MA: — “stronger than you seem” —
LA: — “and smarter than you think.”
MA: “But the most important thing is” —
LA: — “even if we’re apart” —
MA: — “we’ll be with you. We’ll be together.”
LA: “We’ll be together.”
MA: Thanks for being with us, y’all. Thanks [00:56:00] for being friends.
MA: May we stay, you know, stick together, have each other’s backs in these months to come.
RW: Yeah, in these months, these years, these decades. We’re claiming it.
LA: We’re claiming it.
MA: Love you all.
LA: Love you, bye.
MA: Love you.
LR: [Yeah?] (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) (music)
MA: And that’s our show, y’all. Thank you for being with us our first time out. For more information about this show and other Auburn programs, follow Auburn Seminary on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or go to auburnseminary.org, that’s auburnseminary.org. We want to hear what you thought. Email us at [email protected]
LA: It was a joy to be with you in this, Macky. I’m already excited about next month.
MA: I can’t wait. This show was produced by Auburn Seminary and is made possible by a generous grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. [00:57:00]
LA: Friends for Life was produced by Macky and me with additional support from Sharon Groves and David Beasley. Audio engineering from Dan Greenman with editing by Macky and David.
MA: Thank you. We love you. Come say hi. [00:57:19]