Author Archives: hollyrsf

Walter Scott’s Killer – an X-Cop – Sentenced 20 Years

I have to control my excitement about this, lest I appear heartless. It’s not that I am happy when people go to prison, but the significance of this sentencing is PROFOUND!

For years we have fought for accountability when police shoot unarmed black boys, men and women down in the streets and last week, we finally saw justice happen. Michael Slager, the former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, age 50, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison.

“This is an historic day for civil rights, in particular for officer-involved shootings,” said Chris Stewart, one of the Scott family’s attorneys, at a press conference following the sentencing.

Scott’s mother and cousin lay flowers down at the site where he was killed.

Slager shot Scott in the back five times as Scott was running from him after pulling him over for a broken tail light. A toxicology report showed that Slager had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of the shooting. Thankfully, there was a video that clearly showed Slager shooting Scott in the back and that was the main piece of evidence that weighed heavily in the sentencing.

By all reports Slager is deeply remorseful for his actions. He reportedly named each family member by name in court and apologized to each one of them. Slager’s wife begged the court for mercy. And while I am heartbroken once again for all involved, I am so happy that we finally see a white police officer behind bars for murdering an unarmed black man. White people have been killing black people without consequence for centuries and it has to stop. I sincerely hope that this sentencing will deter other officers from pulling the trigger in the future.

The New Poor People’s Campaign: A national call for a moral revival

Fifty years ago Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was working on a campaign he called the Poor People’s Campaign and then he was assassinated. A year before his assassination, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff retreat in May 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement…That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution…In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.

It’s in this spirit that the Poor People’s Campaign is being resurrected this spring. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality. A thousand people in 25 states around the country are going to engage in waves of civil disobedience from Mother’s Day to Summer Solstice in 2018, making the demands known across the nation in coordinated actions.  This will be 40 days of continuous civil disobedience, the likes of which, this country has not seen in a long time, if ever.

I am particularly excited about this campaign as my husband is the national faith partnerships organizer for the campaign. But even more so, I am thrilled that the fusionist politics and Moral Monday movement from North Carolina aka Repairers of the Breach are leading the charge along with the Kairos Center from NYC. I think this kind of broad reaching solidarity along economic lines has real revolutionary potential to change the fabric of the systems that keep poor people poor. I have a lot hope for this campaign and I invite you to check it out and show up to participate!

Check out the fundamental principles of the campaign!

FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES

1- We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.
2- We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.
3- We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.
4- We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.
5- We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.
6- We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.
7- We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from personal issues like prayer in school, abortion, sexuality, gun rights, property rights to systemic injustices like how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.
8- We will build up the power of people and state-based movements to serve as a vehicle for a powerful moral movement in the country and to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society.
9- We recognize the need to organize at the state and local level—many of the most regressive policies are being passed at the state level, and these policies will have long and lasting effect, past even executive orders. The movement is not from above but below.
10- We will do our work in a non-partisan way—no elected officials or candidates get the stage or serve on the State Organizing Committee of the Campaign. This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.
11- We uphold the need to do a season of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to break through the tweets and shift the moral narrative. We are demonstrating the power of people coming together across issues and geography and putting our bodies on the line to the issues that are affecting us all.
12- The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.

NC Climate Justice Summit 2017

November 17th to 19th, my partner Steve and I, attended the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit at Haw River State Park in Brown Summit, NC. Our friends Connie and Jodie are the founders of this amazing intergenerational gathering of 190 people that is partly youth led and run. The opening of the summit was done in silence, everyone was asked to enter the room in silence, then prayers and Native American welcoming ceremony led by Vivette Jeffries-Logan from the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi nation. The ancestors of the land we gathered on were honored and the native people in the room were honored. It immediately felt like a contemplative and de-colonized space. It was announced that there was a healing space available and healers circulating in the space and available to give support. There were workshops on the climate change issues affecting frontline communities in NC and the outer work of activism that they called “outer resilience workshops,” but they also offered workshops on inner resilience like yoga, meditation, healing through arts, theater games for liberation, and a song sharing circle (that I was asked to lead and it was great fun!)  The Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing were published in the program and practiced at the gathering. We were asked to lead a white caucus, if needed, but the space was so well held in anti-colonial frameworks, that we didn’t have the need. It was humbling to be able to be in community space that was so beautifully diverse and full of liberators, people who engage in the work of liberation. We were grateful for the relationships we built and the love we experienced there. North Carolina has an amazing frontline climate justice movement!

ICE Cold: Posting a bond at ICE

I have been volunteering and getting trained in sanctuary organizing this past year.  One day a couple weeks ago a message came through the network talking about posting bond for a Hendersonville man who had been detained since an ICE traffic stop last summer. His family had finally raised the $8500 in cash. I offered to help since I was already in Charlotte. The money was deposited into my account. I went to the bank and got a certified check and drive to the DHS offices in Charlotte. I was seen immediately and was able to get my request in to the ICE detention center in Lumpkin. Then I waited for nearly three hours for the request to come back as approved and then to actually post the bond. I was treated respectfully and walked through the process professionally.

During my wait, I observed a woman who was visibly distraught come into the office and go to the window where she was tearfully looking for her husband. She was told that he was here illegally and that he was being detained and deported. She was in visible emotional distress my heart went out to her. Two female DHS officers were called and they escorted her into the waiting room. They asserted that her husband is here illegally and that his case lies with the judge, that being at DHS was a waste of her time. They were unkind and insensitive to the woman was in the midst of a traumatic and life changing event. They kicked the woman out of the building and then came back to the hallway adjacent to the waiting room. We could hear everything they said. I am sad to report that they made fun of the woman. Not only was there no empathy, they expressed great distain for the woman and her experience.

If we are not training DHS officers in handling emotional trauma with therapeutic skills like unconditional positive regard, we are de-humanizing the officers as well as the people they are supposed to serve. I have a friend and co-trainer who is a therapist by training and an activist. When we work together doing racial equity training, she often shares the concept of “unconditional positive regard,” with our students. She shares that she is holding unconditional positive regard for everyone in the room and invites the students to do the same. I have always found that when she does this, the room relaxes a bit and trust is built, which is vital to the work of racial equity training.

The Wikipedia page on Unconditional Positive Regard states that:

“Unconditional positive regard, (UPR) is a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers in 1959, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client centered therapy. The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.”

Why aren’t our police forces trained in trauma and healing? At the very least, could they try to see the good in people?

#MeToo: NOT just a Media Moment but our Past, Present, & (Hopefully not) Future

#MeToo. It’s daily life for the majority of women, boys, queer and trans people.

I was one of the thousands, if not millions of women, who posted #MeToo on my Facebook account last month. I was traveling back from my honeymoon and so was on my social media more than usual. (I tend to ignore crowds of people in airports and on planes by burrowing deep into my technology.) As someone who was molested by a girl as a child, raped by a man on my 21st birthday, and harmed by patriarchy and the neuroses of men numerous ways in life, I never thought I would ever mate for life. But here I was emerging from my honeymoon, deeply in love with my husband, and entering into the cacophony of my sisters cries.

What wasn’t posted on Facebook pages and tweets, are all the hours and days of processing via, chat, phone, zoom, you name it. We were listening to each other, hearing each others stories, crying together, empathizing, working through our triggers and supporting each other.

Until you have sat with a woman and heard her tell her story, you cannot believe that that things done to woman are true, because they are unspeakable. You need to have the experiencing of sitting with a woman and her telling you the story of being owned as a slave, being held in a room visited only by men who raped her. How she escaped, how a random man on the street helped her and bought her a bus ticket out of town. How a family took her in and got her back in school. Until you have heard this story from someone you know, someone you maybe see at work or at school. Survivors of intense violent sexual assault are all around us. Survivors of less offenses are right next to you, they are the women all around you. We have the generations of abused women in our bones, the pain of the histories of owning and subjugating women in our blood.

#MeToo is happening now, but the past is with us. Patriarchy has evolved and continues to evolve. We can never let another teenage girl or boy in Hollywood get raped on the casting couch. This is also about the future. Women and men hurt by patriarchy need to be able to name and heal from sexual violence and to do that, the abuse has to stop. This isn’t just a man problem, it’s going to take all of us to transform patriarchy.

There are paradoxes of this moment that aren’t lost on me. #MeToo is a moment but it’s also lifetimes of female and queer suffering. I am deeply in love with a good man who does the work with me of pulling the poison of patriarchy out, from ourselves, each other, and our lives.  And it’s this love that helps me recommit to pulling out the poison over and over again. Let’s keep working to transform our wounds into healed places and transform patriarchy into love.

Organizing for Social Change: the Role of the Organizer

I was recently asked to write about the role of an organizer. I was excited for the opportunity as I think it’s really important to have a strong understanding of social movement knowledge and strategy.

An organizer is someone who organizes other people to engage them in their agency to oppose injustice through intentional steps of collective action by identifying a social problem, making demands to address the problem and often advocating long term for those demands.

What is agency? Is it the power, resources, hard work and ingenuity that people utilize to “do something” about their circumstances. Community is the petri dish for agency to grow. When are cut of and disparate from each other, we tend to feel helpless to change the conditions of our world. But in community we are emboldened by each other and the potential collective impact of our collective action.

What is collective action? Collective action is when people take individual action in chorus with others in a coordinated way, resulting in the building of grassroots political power.

What are we talking about when we say building political power?

The Momentum Training teaches two main views of power in social change, the monolithic view and the social view of power. In the monolithic view, the organizing targets the law makers who have the power to change the legislation and can be very successful if the law makers comply. However, if the law makers won’t comply, the social view of power relies on a base of active popular support that can utilize their collective voice to put pressure on law makers and if necessary escalate the social costs of business as usual. Engler and Lasoff state, “The difference between an issue that moves and one that does not is active popular support. This refers to the base of people who not only approve, but are willing to take action on behalf of a social movement.” (Engler/Lasoff, p. 60)

The four roles of social change are a helpful tool in understanding the role of the organizer. I first encountered this at a training in Philadelphia called Training for Change. The four roles are represented by a quadrant, the first of which is the helper. These are the people who are in the trenches of direct services and support. The second in the quadrant is the advocate, these people are not directly impacted but advocate on behalf of the directly impacted. The third is the organizer who works with people directly impacted to organize their community and speak out directly for themselves. And the fourth is the rebel who stands outside of the institutions and make their demands by protesting and disrupting oppression as they see it.

I want to be clear that organizing happens all four of these quadrants, so don’t get hung up on the name of the organizer quadrant. Sometimes it is called “change agent” It’s also possible to inhabit multiple quadrants. Someone might be a helper at church and an advocate at work. It’s possible to change quadrants over time. I identified as a rebel and came to age as an activist in anarchist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist organizing in San Francisco. But the anti-racism work that I’ve done has led me into more of the organizer quadrant. But I often find myself identifying as an advocate in relationship to that work and advocating on issues that I am not directly impacted by,  but stand as an accomplice with people who are.

The organizer has to be willing to be with people and to take part of the “multitude.” For faith-rooted organizers in the Christian tradition, Joerg Rieger’s “theology of the multitude” in his book “Occupy Religion” is a beautiful view of what God is doing through the spirit and force of people power. He views Christianity as a religion that needs to decolonize itself from empire and reposition itself with the poorest people. Rieger says, “God in Christ is a different kind of lord who is not in solidarity with the powerful but in solidarity with the lowly…. This position—at the heart of the new world proclaimed by Paul—directly contradicts the logic of the Roman Empire.”

It is one thing to be a leader and quite another to be an organizer. Organizing is a mantle that is taken up by everyday people around the world, most often who do not get paid, who take on challenging the injustices in our world.

Charlotte Uprising & the Church that Broke My Heart

One year ago Charlotte, NC lit up in a blaze of social unrest. A literal uprising, “Charlotte Uprising” was a whirlwind of engagement in mass protests of communities rising up, grieving and healing together after the police shooting of Mr. Keith Lamont Scott.

I will never forget the call that came late that night from my fiancé, a pastor who was down at the protests when shots were fired and a protester was killed. I was two hours away in Asheville but I could tell by the sound of his voice that I needed to get there. He had witnessed the shooting, but didn’t see the shooter. At the time of the incident, his immediate perception was that the shots fired had come from the police. He had been very close to the victim at the time of the shooting. Other people we talked to also perceived the shots as coming from the police line.

The next morning we went into Charlotte for an organizing meeting. We offered the use of his church at the time where he was an associate pastor. I met with a representative of local Black Lives Matter and handed over the keys to them.  What happened next was my dream of church. To me, it was like watching the kingdom of God inhabit a church. There was a full scale mobilization happening out of the church within 6 hours. Supplies were dropped off en mass, medic and first aid trainings were happening a few times a day, mass trainings and meetings, clergy events, a press conference, plus food and sleeping places for anyone who needed it.

Mobilization spaces are beautiful expressions of beloved humanity and community. It’s one of those rare times in life where we are a part of a crowd (the multitude) and have an experience of connection in community, in that liminal space that happens in trauma, when we are good to each other.

Don’t get me wrong, we can be very not good to each other at mobilizations too. We bring the pathologies and poison of the culture with us into movement spaces.  It is why we have to be so vigilant in employing de-colonizing practices in our movement spaces.

I made a mistake that week. I had been told not to allow media into the building and we had passed that along. Well, one morning I had just arrived on site at the church and was trying to make coffee happen when I was introduced to a beautiful black woman who said she was doing a story on our support mechanisms and wondered if she could see the triage area where we do medic and first aid support for the protests. I got kind of lost in the yumminess of the interaction and ended up showing her around. Just then we got a call from the BLM activists who we were working for. They heard there was a reporter in the building and they were pissed. I was able to kill her story. She deleted the photos off her phone. I did the clean up work that needed to fix my mistake. I realized how my sense of safety isn’t everyone’s experience and that a reporter, however sympathetic to the uprising, can release information publicly that can compromise movement work. Again this work pushed me up against my own privilege and assumptions about life.  I’m sorry I embraced that journalist when I agreed not to. My sense of safety and being accustoming to having the power and making decisions led me to making the wrong call in that moment.

SO what happened next was the senior leadership of my finance’s church flew back in town and showed up. The next day was, for me, the unraveling of the dream and the breaking of my heart. The senior leadership systematically shut down the church as a resource for Charlotte Uprising. The senior pastor maintained that having the Uprising at his church had hurt the reputation of the church. While this is going on, my fiancé was given an award for his work at Uprising, was included in a museum show for the same reason and was invited to be one of the grand marshalls of the MLK parade. Clearly there was a plurality of views on Uprising and how it impacted the church. It was difficult to believe that a progressive church was not fairing well post Uprising when he was receiving all this acknowledgement from the community.

But to me it’s not about how Uprising impacted the church. To me that’s the wrong question. How did the church serve the Uprising? That is the question I wish we would really rise to in Christianity. God is doing beautiful things for justice in and through the “multitude” and I really wish the church would honor that work as a divine expression and support it.

Meet the New (Black, Female) Democratic Mayoral Candidate for Charlotte, NC!

This fall I have had the pleasure of volunteering on Vi’s campaign and watching this political star rise! Vi Lyles just won the primary, unseating the current mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, as the Democratic candidate for mayor in the general election in November. Vi would be the first black female mayor in the city of Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte is facing a lot of challenges:

-A city council that has failed to maintain anti-discrimination laws for transgendered people in the face of NC State Legislature’s HB2. 

-A police force that has a steady track record of shooting unarmed people of color which resulted in Charlotte Uprising one year ago.

-People who work in Charlotte very often cannot afford to live in Charlotte.

-Charlotte has had major redistricting and redlining issues that have created poor and under-serviced areas of primarily black communities of Charlotte in the name of “urban renewal.” This has been such an issue there is a current effort to create a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to look at systemic racism in Charlotte.

I believe Vi Lyles, former assistant city manager and current mayor pro team can tackle these and a host of other challenges face.

Here is Vi’s 7 point plan from Vi Lyles.com:

Charlotte is a tale of two cities where the opportunities and tremendous growth we’ve seen have not benefitted all. Unfortunately, in many instances, a heavy burden is placed on our most vulnerable residents. We need to do better for a more equitable, just, and fair Queen City. If we truly value all of our people then we must provide opportunities for all Charlotteans to fully participate and flourish here.

I am committed to advancing the following seven proposals, more an Equitable Charlotte:

  1. Build upon a culture of trust, respect, and cooperation between CMPD and Charlotte citizens by creating community advisory groups within each Police response area.
  2. Examine the structure and procedures of the current Citizens Review Board with community members to ensure its purpose and results are building community trust. The analysis should focus on increased visibility of how citizens can become members of the board as well as complaints and board findings. The board must also better reflect the Charlotte citizenry.
  3. Explore requiring contractors that seek to do business with the City of Charlotte “Ban the Box” on employment applications.
  4. Establish a program to promote the hiring of low-income residents in projects funded with public dollars.
  5. Adopt a meaningful apprenticeship program that focuses on training and development for people with multiple barriers to employment, with a focus on a diversion program for adjudicated youth.
  6. Accelerate the Council goal to provide 5,000 units of affordable housing from five years to three years.
  7. Continue the policy to progressively increase the minimum wage for City employees to $15 an hour.

Defend DACA: Dreamers Are Our Neighbors

On Tuesday, after the announcement that DACA would be discontinued by the Trump administration, I joined hundreds others in a demonstration at Marshall Park in Charlotte, NC.  I wanted to photo document some of the signs that the many Dreamers made and displayed at the demo. Before I took each photo, I asked each person if it would be ok to take the picture. Every time the answer was yes and every time I was struck by the courageous behind their answer. The kids we call Dreamers are facing deportation, being separated from their families and being dropped into a nation and a culture that, in most cases, they have never encountered directly.  The level of heartbreak was palpable. The courage that it took to even sign up for DACA, to be on record with the federal government as having entered the US illegally, is incredible to me. But then to make a sign, to be visible and to have their photos taken to be posted at random on the internet by a stranger? It was difficult to choke back the tears that kept arising when these kids consented to their photograph being taken. I told them they were beautiful and that they were speaking a powerful truth. If they can take the risk to stand up and speak for themselves, shouldn’t we as legal citizens be willing to risk speaking up, sacrificing our comfort, our money and our spare bedrooms to be there for the Dreamers. Perhaps we can intentionally go out of our way to support these kids.

I encourage you to view the images below mindfully. Do so in silence and take the time to really see and absorb their messages. Make it a meditation, feel the pain and the fear they are facing. Let it move you to take action. The time is now.

Love Stands in Solidarity

love-handI wrote this as part of a messaging campaign inspired by Brian McLaren called We Stand with Love, seeking to counter the hateful rhetoric of the presidential election cycle with intentional loving action.  This post first appeared here.

“Justice is what love looks like in public.” -Cornell West

Our contemplative tradition in Christianity teaches us how to extend our range of awareness beyond our family, our friends, and our community. The practice builds our capacity to extend our compassion to the suffering of those we have not and will never meet. This practice rebuilds our awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. And within that deep interconnectedness we find solidarity with the pain of the world.

Solidarity can be defined as “unity born of mutual interest.” As people of faith we are uniquely equipped with the inner and contemplative tools to expand our capacity to discover and live into a mutual interest for the liberation of the most vulnerable and oppressed. But the Church is so often silent to the suffering of those outside of our four walls because we aren’t doing our inner work, so we’ve lost touch with the wider Body of Christ.

The disease that is so talked about in the Bible, leprosy, is the decay that happens when we can’t feel parts of the body. Our culture and our Church has leprosy, and it is systemic. Oppression is systemic and structural so in order to stand in solidarity we need to love systemically and love structurally. May we make that commitment again each day to stand with Love.

Holly Roach curates the contemplative track at Wild Goose Festival and produces a day-long, pre-festival event called Mystic Action Camp that brings elder contemplative teachers together with social change practitioners. Holly is a long-time activist and is throwing all of her being into countering Trump with Love this fall.