History tells us the Story: 9 Lessons for Movement Building

Artist: Jess X Snow

Over the last decade plus of my movement building work, I’ve learned that history is my foundation, and spirituality my heart, my process and my frame.

I’ve learned a lot about how to show up as a white antiracist woman, how to work across generation, the important role of healing and practice in our movement building efforts, and the affects of trauma and ways to address overwhelm.

I’ve learned that systems of oppression are deeply interwoven into our bodies, psyches, and even inside of our organizations for social and environmental change.

The work of changemaking is slow and deep, layered and complicated and we haven’t yet figured out a formula that doesn’t marginalize someone.

I’ve learned that perfection is a barrier to my own showing up and my connection with others and myself. I’ve learned that when I make mistakes, when I fall — this is a time of growth and deepening.

However, I am also coming to understand that much of my learnings have been in preparation for this very moment.

Here are some things I am learning, inside of this magnified political and spiritual time:

1.The world has ended as we knew/know it. Regardless of who you are, there is a shift in the energy, the ways we interact, the ways we are more afraid/or bolder in our truth/THE truth. And that truth has also shifted, priorities have shifted and focus has deepened. The magnifying glass is strong and to look in, is to see the festering wounds that have gone unhealed.

For a while, I would say to my comrades and colleagues: “I’m not surprised that who-who-shall-not-be-named was elected.” I wasn’t. White supremacy, colonization, xenophobia, ableism, and queer and transphobia have poisoned the foundations that this country was founded on.

What I felt unprepared for though was the division among people on the same side. The critique, the call out culture and the rejection of people based on how radical or not their politics, leadership and Facebook statuses are, is evidence of healing that needs to happen.

Divide and conquer is as old as the beginning of humanity. When we divide, we allow ourselves to be fragmented and less powerful.

The wound of this nation is an intense one. The ground is soaked in the blood of indigenous people, structures were built on the sweat and backs of enslaved Africans, and the white colonizers and those who stood by without resisting this inhumanity, who enacted this genocide and rape — they too have passed down the oppression of being the oppressor.

The wound is deep. If there was ever a time to heal, to come together, to do the slow and deep work of suturing the divisions — now is the time.

To do this will require white folks to do our work of decolonizing, anti-oppression and healing from the chains around our hearts and spirits as we dig deeper into our own ancestry and reconnect to who we are, where we come from and what we have a choice to step into if we do the continual work of liberation.

For all of us, it’s a time of examining how we are spending our energy, how we are building and how we are taking care of ourselves and our communities.

In order to truly build a beloved community, we all are needed.

Read: Our cynicism will not build a movement. Collaboration will. By Alicia Garza

Remember This When You Talk About Standing Rock By Kelly Hayes

2. Healers and artists are needed more than ever. Healing and art is the vision, the sustenance, the hope and the future. In healing we become restored, regenerate and reconnect. In art, we actualize and connect to beauty, imagination and inspiration. This is the food that will help us survive. It can no longer be extracurricular.

Artists and healers have always been at the forefront of revolutions and radical transformation. They have also historically been persecuted and banned for their art and their healing.

From native people’s persecution because of their spiritual connection to the Earth, to the burning of the witches of the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe and the US, to more recently artists such as San Nweh, Burmese writer, who was imprisoned between 1994 and 2001 by the Burmese military junta for her “anti-government intentions.” Artists like US born Robert Mapplethorpe for his commentary on queer life, Zimbabwe visual artist Robert Mugabe, who was imprisoned for his critique of the government, Afshin Ghaffarian, who started an underground dance company in 2009 Iran even though it was extremely dangerous, and throughout various times the books of Alice Walker, JK Rowling’s and Toni Morrison have been banned.

Yet, art heals, and healers give us life. From the faces of resistance amplified through art at the recent DC Women’s March where Shepard Fairey, Ernesto Yerena and Jessica Sabogal created images that opened people’s hearts and gave seeds to the imagination around what a different US could look like.

Art magnifies our voices, weaves and connects us to the imagination of what is possible. Healers have been holding space since the beginning of time. From the root workers, midwives, magic makers, spiritual leaders and body workers who cultivate connection and healing with our ancestors, nourish us in times of pain and equip us with the tools to show up over and over again.

We need healers and artists more than ever. Let’s not minimize or marginalize their vital role. Contribute to their livelihood so they can create, vision and help us heal. Take the time to connect with nature, art, and your own healing — we need this sustenance.

Read: The Radical Work of Healing: Fania and Angela Davis on a New Kind of Civil Rights Activism

3. Getting clear on how we contribute, is key. What are you good at? What are you best situated to impact? Who are you at your core? And what is the work that you are uniquely situated to contribute? These are questions I ask when saying yes, or saying no to something. The needs are great. They are immense. And you/I am 100% of a person with percentages already taken over with kids and community and family and basic survival needs like eating and sleeping. YES, show up and YES we should be doing and acting and being courageous — and how can that be funneled into what you were put on this earth to enact, exude, facilitate or catalyze.

We must also consider that questions such as, How is my privilege blinding me or keeping me “safe” and distorting the truth of how I really need to show up and where I am best situated to make lasting change, inside and out? How is my fear and my resistance towards relinquishing control holding me back?

Taking on everything is too much and will make us weak, and ineffective. Also, we need to consider the trauma, the fear, the pain weighing in the air we breathe — we need to consider this too when we show up. We cannot show up to everything, and definitely not well.

The only way to show up strategically and most effectively is when we take the time to reflect, listen in and connect to the divinity of ourselves.

Read: I Vow Not to Burn Out By Mushim Patricia Ikeda

The Urgency of Slowing Down By Kazu Haga

4. We need more people, yes. And these are the bodies that can show up, call the state representatives and write letters. We also need experienced people to deepen what they do and how they show up — we don’t need folks who have been in this work for a long time to burnout, to stretch too thin or to be everywhere and do everything (see point 3).

We need to hand over the reins and let go of control. We need to offer support and mentorship. Unless your role is to bring up new people into consciousness, we need you to strategize, vision, and lead. Listen, deeply to spirit, to history and to new folks. Together we can do this.

Read: The Burdens of Self Care, Anecdotes of Collective Healing and the Real Revolution By Jardana Peacock

5. We need alternative structures and systems. Underground sanctuary homes, folks who can accompany and serve as protectors humbly because of their privilege — not because of charity. We need street medic trainings and community potlucks and a different way of supporting and moving liberation forward outside of government.

Read: Parable of the Sower By Octavia Butler

The Fifth Sacred Thing By Starhawk

6. There is no one way. We need to honor folks and the different parts they are playing. It is a time of change and that can feel chaotic. How can we connect, instead of divide?

Read: Sacred Activism: We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For By Jardana Peacock

7. There is a spiritual shift occurring. I do not believe that he who does not deserved to be named is a godsend. I do not believe that he is the reason for revolution. We the people have been at the seeding and cultivating work for a long time. History tells us the story of our arrival. This was a nation founded upon the backs of enslaved African people. Racism is deeply embedded into our culture, psyches, bodies and spirits. We must know our history and know ourselves. This is painful work and it is what will prepare us to show up with humility, clarity and greater dedication.

Read: Be the Change: Six Disabled Activists On Why the Resistance Must Be Accessible

Something Much Greater At Stake By Michelle Alexander

The Link Between Soil, Soul and Society By Satish Kumar

8. We need to hold spaces where folks can be angry and afraid. It is a time for both. We need to hold spaces for folks to show up in love and hope. However, all of these are complicated and deeper than the original emotion. Anger has in it a drive and desire for liberation. Love has in it fear of disconnection and vulnerability. These emotions are dynamic, if we slow down enough to consider them and read behind the lines and go deeper than the surface — then we heal, we understand and we reconnect

Read: This Bridge Called my Back Writings by Radical Women of Color By Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, Editors

9. In closing, we are fierce. Healing is needed. Protest, is needed. Writing, is needed. Art, is needed. New organizing efforts are needed. Find how you can fit into one of the many needs and let’s stop distracting ourselves with the idea that there is ONE way or a RIGHT way. As long as we show up rooted in histories of resistance, openness to change and healing inside and out, and a will to survive, to build, to imagine — we are contributing to the universal arc towards justice. Breathe, and again. It’s a long road and as travelers, we must be responsible: drink water, eat food, build relationships, share resources, hold each other up and get still in order to resist for the long haul.

Join in an online event, Tuesday, Feb 28th from 7:30–9:30pm: Showing up for Liberation: Practices and Strategies for Social Justice.