It is our duty to fight for our freedom
It is our duty to win
We must love and support* each other
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
This movement moment is many things — decentralized, leader-ful, fast-paced, intertwined with shifting demographics, and includes a still-emerging-yet-undeniably-central move toward healing as essential for justice and a deep holistic shalom.
Focus on healing in movement spaces is often reserved for times of crisis — or is reduced to individual consumerist self-care like a glass of wine and a pedicure. In our leadership development, community cultivation, and organizing models, focusing on resilient, integrated, whole selves is considered extra — a fun and indulgent add-on to the “real work of organizing.”
As an organizer, leader of a faith-rooted congregation, or one of the many people stepping up in this multi-stream leader-full movement, the meetings, campaigns, and crises never stop. Attending to your soul, examining your own wounds, even focusing on accompanying each other with love, can seem like a luxury of time and energy that we can’t afford. We sacrifice personal transformation on the altar of social transformation — our bodies and souls burn up in the fire of a colonialist framework of justice that recreates systems of oppression within our movements.
As the director of Healing Justice for Faith Matters Network, I spend a lot of time exploring the intersections of personal and social transformation. Healing justice is justice that includes embodied health and wholeness as a part of building beloved community and a just world. We know in our bones that the means used to get us to justice are indivisible from the ends we will experience — but we often maintain movement spaces that recreate soul-killing, empire-sustaining, white supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchal systems and relationships because we’ve yet to commit to another, more unfamiliar way.
We are, as Adrienne Maree Brown says, creating a world we’ve never seen. Or perhaps we have seen parts of it — small experiences of beloved community, of shalom that we can piece together as a fragmented map. I actually think we are not the ones we have been waiting for, as the popular saying goes; we are becoming the ones we are waiting for. As we experience transformation and love within ourselves, we are able to bring more and more of it into the fight for our freedom.
Parker J. Palmer calls it living the undivided life; Brown talks about fractals and emergent strategy; Jardana Peacock talks about liberatory leadership; and I talk about Brave Space. What we and many others are exploring as core to sustainable, resilient movement leadership and strategy is deep personal work as central to outward public work. The only way we are going to create a truly different society is by creating and living into it now.
If I want to create deep sustainable social change, I have to be willing to live into it now. I must believe it is possible to live that way. I have to examine my prejudices and privileges and cultivate relationships and communities where I can start somewhere and grow. I have the right and responsibility to examine the scars I carry and those I contributed to — and to have them held and healed in community.
All of this is an invitation; the alternative is just more of the same. And it’s a never-ending cycle of policing each other, hiding our flaws from one another, disappointment, betrayal, and fear. That’s living into the politics and frameworks of empire not beloved community.
We can continue to prop up young, charismatic, mostly male leaders who are unequipped to dismantle the very systems that put them in place. We can continue to posture and pretend we are fine when we are overworked, exhausted, lonely, and fantasizing about exit strategies. We can say “peace, peace” for the world, when we know there is no peace in our souls. We can drag people we barely know while avoiding disagreements with people we love. We can rant about someone else’s area of not-yet-wokeness. Or we can disengage from disposability politics and become practitioners of the deep work of co-evolution. In short, we can commit to building a better world together as we create a better internal world for each of ourselves.
“In the collective vulnerability of presence, we learn not to be afraid.” —Alice Walker
How are we going to heal our hearts, relationships, cultures, and communities? Is shalom — a truly harmonious way of mutuality, diversity in unity and equity among all living things — even possible? I believe, I hope, I organize as if it is an achievable miracle — if not for us, for the generations beyond us. We will have to cultivate brave space within ourselves and with others that will nurture deep personal and social transformation. We must create beloved community as we live it. We will have to fight and win and love and support; we have nothing to lose but our chains.
*I have also heard this chant with the word protect here. The chant is a living element of protest and direct action in the Movement For Black Lives and therefore always changing according to the hands and mouths from which it comes.
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