Protest and Politics, Black Women and Leadership

Protest and Politics, Black Women and Leadership
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I write to you from a circle formed by women. They are leading, preaching, singing and protesting the sad state of things. They are also working to transform this militaristic, racist and materialistic society. I am happy to be in this circle surrounded by revolutionary mothers like Berta Caceres, Tamiko Armstead, Signe Harriday, Melina Abdullah , Carmen Perez, and Dawn Price.

Alice Walker, in her antiwar poem - Democratic Womanism- calls for women (dark mothers) around the planet to rise and take on the challenge of remaking this world. She writes:
"You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile."

This political season, I find myself especially dissatisfied by the choice between warmongers and racists hoisted upon us by the mainstream political establishment. This time of year, which celebrates mothers and women who nurture our communities, brings to mind my colleague and movement partner Cori Bush. She is a mother of two, a nurse, Co-Director of the Ferguson Truth Telling Project, and yes - candidate for the U.S. Senate to represent the state of Missouri. This past Saturday, her campaign opened its headquarters in Ferguson, Missouri. At least I don't have to hold my nose for this election.

Pastor Cori and I went to high school together, she was a few years below me. At a Ferguson action council meeting in September 2014, we reconnected. We each had been preparing for this moment, engaged separately in different ways of community activism; me as a peace & justice educator and professor, and Pastor Cori as a community educator, nurse, and healer. She had organized hundreds of Black cultural educational events, while her regular working day is comprised of healing, loving, and understanding people and their sickness; physically and mental, among the most under-served parts of our community.

As a trained and registered nurse, Pastor Cori has always cared for and worked with people and their illness, but it seems her work with Truth Telling, her approach to the Movement for Black Lives and campaign for U.S. Senate comes from a similar perspective.

I work and live circles of dark mother leadership with women like Toni Taylor, Gina Best, Cal Brown, Suhad Khatib, LaKeisha Meyer, Keyshia Cole , Gina Gowdy (protestor, mother and grandmother), CheyOnna Sewell, Ebony Williams, Asia Dorsey, Cathy Daniels aka Mama Cat, Taylor Payne and Kristine Hendrix. I'm happy to be in community with these women because they work tirelessly for justice for their communities.

While anyone working in nursing will tell you that educating folks on their illness cannot be avoided. That advice is often unheeded and sadly leads to more complications. America has not heeded the warning of Martin Luther King Jr; that militarism, racism and violence sickens America. King described this disease as the triple evils and called for a shift in American values. Martin Luther King Jr. described this disease as the triple evils and called for a shift in values. During my many conversations with Pastor Cori, it became clear that the focus of her movement work focuses on uncovering the root causes of our collective malady to help folks learn and take the hard pill by listening and really hearing the truth toward a cure. Her values, which are aligned with MLK's radical philosophy, call for a shift in American values. Cori Bush's platform calls for:

"Supporting a living wage for all Americans and Equal Pay for women and minorities; Expanding Medicaid and reducing the costs for prescription drugs; Fully funding public education and improving the quality of public schools; Fair Policing and Criminal Justice Reform; Eliminating the school to prison pipeline; Tax relief for blue collar workers and small businesses; Eliminating loopholes for corporate tax breaks; Reversing the damage done by Citizens United; Grassroots funding for political campaigns; Stabilizing Social Security for future generations; Mental Health reform aimed at reducing gun violence; Supporting veterans transitioning from deployment to the workforce."

In Cori's eyes, the movement for black lives and her campaign have overlapping goals, going beyond ending police violence but transforming our society so that it cares for people, not things and ideology. Pastor Cori is focused simply on what is required for structural change that acts from as space of respect for human dignity. Human dignity is the underlying concept informing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the phrase 'Black Lives Matter'.

Standing in this circle, I'm happy to be surrounded and led by Pastor Cori Bush, Auriel Brown, Aurora Harris, Gabrielle Burks, Christi Griffin, Natalie Jeffers and Leslie Mac - all mothers and deeply concerned activist working for our collective liberation. The book Revolutionary Mothering points out how women have always, in part from necessity, had to support communities and their families women social structures and men refused.
I speak of many women because I am a man and I fear you have all heard too much from men.

Pastor Cori became involved with the movement when her employer sent community health workers to Ferguson. At the end of each day when the other medical professionals would leave, Cori would too but only to change clothes, return and care for protestors on the front-lines. When her professional engagement in Ferguson ended, Cori continued coming. Her role was as a spiritual presence, witness and ultimately an activist. She went without judging, asking where she could help and what was needed. She checked on the well-being of protestors offering some of the material needs necessary for this new young cadre of revolutionaries who refused to go home when commanded to do so.

More men must join me in this circle of dark mothers! Standing, learning, and supporting them - as they have always stood as holy martyrs in defense of our dark male bodies - building, growing, loving, protesting- to help us build better lives. If we are to have any hope we must open ourselves to work with them not against. Join me in this circle with women of color like Alicia Smith, Linda Alvarado, Dr. Fania Davis, Dr. Imani Scott, Farah Tanis and my mother Janet Ragland.

Alice Walker continues:

" A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has "man" right in the middle of it?
That's one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth's frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist Womanism..."

This election I am happy there is a possibility to vote Cori Bush for U.S. Senate representing Missouri. Alice Walker's poem and Cori's candidacy points out the need to support women of color because they face overlapping hierarchies of oppression as the historic Black Women's Blueprint pointed out. As well as women from around the world and many in LGBTQ communities have been historically deprived of resources, victimized by structural and direct violence and racism but yet continue to unflinchingly nurture families and communities. This is not an assault on men, but a call to transform systems that dis-empower the most vulnerable among us. While other candidates have millions in their war chests, this campaign has grassroots support from everyday folk who have donated their time, energy and funds because Cori is from the people and committed to transformational justice. This campaign and her supporters work in stark contradiction to orthodoxy of the current political establishment. If we hope for justice that supports people, we must build movements and campaigns for women and men that seek to transform our nation's values to people and their lives over profit, policing (the militarism) and policy.

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