Friday, June 12, 2020

speech written to give at a march

I wrote this for a march in Medway last weekend but then didn't give it there after all. They decided to go with other folks. I got a lot out of writing it anyway. 
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Hi, my name is Debra G_____ and I live in Ashland. Let’s start by taking a moment to ground our bodies. Focus on your breath. If you want, take in a deep breath and sigh it out loudly. And again if you want. 

Feel into your body. Where and how does it experience pain or discomfort right now? Where and how does it feel good? Where does it feel constricted? Where does it feel relaxed? Do you want to move or activate? Do you want to release? Simply notice the sensations, vibrations, and emotions in your body instead of reacting to them. Accept any discomfort and notice when it changes instead of trying to flee from it. Stay present in your body as you move through the unfolding experience with all its ambiguity and uncertainty and respond from the best parts of yourself. 

Now feel your feet on the ground. Feel the ground beneath you. I acknowledge we are on the stolen land of Nipmuck, Massachusett, and Wampanoag Peoples. Are there any members from these groups here now? The rest of us are guests on this land. Let us respect and care for it like we do any home we go into as a guest.

Let us take a breath to express gratitude for the land we are on, the Indigenous Peoples who lived here, and modern  day Indigenous leaders, educators and healers. We need a lot of education and healing. 

In a moment I will ask you to indicate if you know you are white and that you know that comes with advantages. Indicate that now as boldly and publicly as you are able. 

I am white and I acknowledge my advantages. I had them even when I was a 6 year old child and a minority on the west side of Chicago, and when I lived in Japan, and when I was in Korea as a teenager. White people have power everywhere, even if you don’t know it.

I did not begin to understand my advantage, or the responsibility that comes with being white, until it touched my family. My younger sister was a part of The Somerville 18, linking their bodies together across the I-93 highway in Somerville in January of 2015 stopping traffic for 4 hours. After the challenge for me of being a part of a call-in campaign and letter writing to the DA of Somerville in July of that year, to get the extreme charges reduced, I knew I wanted to get stronger, to learn and do more, so I started leading a Boston Knapsack Anti-Racism Group series of meetings in Medfield in Nov. 2015, that led to many other meetings I organize and co-facilitate now.

Ever since The Somerville 18’s very risky and brave protest, I’ve been doing everything I can to learn and build an anti-racist community in and around where I live in Ashland, mostly in Natick, and over Zoom at this time. 

What will it take for you to act to make changes to the systems that give us an unfair advantage? We won’t lose anything, we will only gain.

I want to center people of color I have learned so much from (please forgive me for mispronunciation of names): 

Ibram Kendi taught me in his book How to be an Antiracist that if you're not actively working to fight racism you are supporting racism because that is status quo. Want to repeat that after me? 
If you're not actively working to fight racism… (repeat)
you are supporting racism… (repeat)

I learned from Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow about the resources we lose by incarcerating so many black and brown people out of fear and our racial biases. 

I learned from Angie Thomas in The Hate U Give that “a brush is not a gun” and people should not be killed by a cop because there was a hair brush in a car door pocket. 

I learned from Beverly Daniel Tatum in Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria about racism that is deeply embedded in our schools and that we much to change there.

I learned from Tommy Orange who wrote There There about issues and loss that comes when culture and land is stolen from Indigenous Peoples. 

Along the same lines, I learned from Ilan Pappe who wrote The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine about the traffic loss of Palestinian homes and land, and the intentional growing of trees to hide this. You might think that has nothing to do with you, but American tax payer dollars fund Israeli weaponry and supports the government that makes life still intolerable today for many Palestinians. Me saying this does not make me anti-Semitic. What Zionists are doing is not what all Jewish people support. 

Just like what some white people are doing is not what all white people support. 

Just like what some police officers are doing is not what all police officers support. 

Just like what some protesters are doing is not what all protesters support.

It is powerful to be public about what we support, otherwise we might be lumped into a superficial idea of our group.

I learned from Ijeoma Oluo in So You Want to Talk About Race that if you unintentionally offend a Person of Color (which you will) and they tell you the impact it had for them (which they might if you are lucky), to listen and learn and don’t do it again. And not to give up trying.

I am learning from author and therapist Resmaa Menaken in his book My Grandmother’s Hands about the strength and resiliency of black people and white people and police officers…and also the historical trauma in black bodies and police officer bodies and white bodies. I am learning some techniques to self-soothe and control my white body. I learned we need to build a different culture for the changes we want in society. Resmaa Menaken inspired the grounding exercise I started with and that I will repeat in a moment.

That is just a few of the many many lessons I have learned in the last 5 years since my little sister's protest woke me up and I started work to build my racial justice muscles.

Do what you can to learn and strengthen yourself and build a community of racial justice activists. Don’t believe for a moment that white people are fragile. Whatever we practice, gets stronger. And we are stronger and better together.

Before I end with a quote, let’s do the body awareness practice again. Notice if anything has changed for you:

Feel into your body. Where and how does it experience pain or discomfort? Where and how does it feel good? Where does it feel constricted? Where does it feel relaxed? Do you want to move or activate? Do you want to release? Simply notice the sensations, vibrations, and emotions in your body instead of reacting to them. Accept any discomfort and notice when it changes instead of trying to flee from it. Stay present in your body as you move through the unfolding experience with all its ambiguity and uncertainty and respond from the best parts of yourself.

I will end with this quote out of Resmaa Menaken’s book by Angel Kyodo Williams:

“Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.”
repeat after me:
Without inner change… (repeat)
there can be no outer change… (repeat) 
Without collective change… (repeat) 
no change matters… (repeat)

Thank you for your time and willingness to join us today in solidarity.

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I will be doing a Boston Knapsack Anti-Racism Group meeting this evening inspired by my writing this speech: 

Speech/Talk Writing Practice to #EndWhiteSilence (over Zoom)
RSVP to join us (and see more with that link).

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I haven't been posting much on this blog due to the meetings I organize and facilitate with Boston Knapsack Anti-Racism Group. We did 3 actions in local towns last week, weekly action call groups, monthly book and racial justice discussions, history activities, and more.

Please join us. All are welcome. We meet over Zoom now due to the pandemic.


I am also helping a lot with the mutual aid group: C19helpsquad.com.

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