Category Archives: Activism

Race, Class & Power @ TransFORM

Steve Knight and I taught together for the first time at TransFORM last year in Fort Worth. The workshop was called Challenging White Supremacy. We’re doing it again this year with a few tweaks. We want to make anti-oppression training for white folks in the emergent church really accessible.

We want this to happen so that we can be ready to encounter other movements for change and be ready to work with them in a movement of movements for personal and social transformation.

In order to do this white people need to understand privilege. This workshop will be a safe place to ask questions, express doubts, and be as vulnerable or guarded as you need in facing personal privilege and systemic oppression. If you haven’t gotten down with your social location, this is the one for you.

There are at least two other workshops dealing with race, class and power, at TransFORM.

Marie Onwubuariri is leading a conversation about racial/ethnic self (RES) Awareness as spiritual discipline for missional leadership.   This talk is most suited to people already engaged in an awareness of their social location and focuses on how we engage that awareness for spiritual and social transformation.



Elsie DennisKathryn Eckert and Elsie Dennis are going to present an Episopalian view of the doctrine of discovery. The presenters will share their experiences of the Episcopal Church’s process of responding to genocide, white privilege, and cultural/historical ignorance through historical education, spiritual formation, worship, and community development.


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Transforming Missional Annual Network Gathering in San Diego

TF Digital Card 1.16.14This year I am helping to curate the speakers and workshops at the annual Transform Network gathering.  As an secular activist from a mainline tradition I have a hard time talking about the missional church to my secular movement friends. In fact the only way I know how to talk about it without invoking oppression born from colonization, is to talk about missional in terms of what it is not.  But you can only define things in terms of what they’re not for so long.

The theme that emerged this year is around translating the missional church, (our language, practices and culture) in ways that are accessible, relevant and of service to broader movements for change.

To do this we need to thoughtfully consider and be able to acknowledge the legacy of oppression and Empire that modern day Christians inherit. We want to ask ourselves how we and our institutions are still steeped in empire. How do we disentangle our ministries and faith communities from the tendrils of empire and oppression? What strengths do we have to share with and serve other movements? What do we need to be thinking about in connecting with broader movements for change like Climate Change and Equality movements. Can we become part of a movement of movements and how do we prepare for that kind of intersectional and pluralistic movement engagement as communities of faith?  In short, how do we become the church the world needs us to be?”

To guide us we’ve enlisted some pretty smart people of diverse bacgrounds, theologian Joerg Rieger, faith based organizers Alexia Salvatierra and Paul Engler, activists Celia Alario and Gareth Higgins, contemplatives Teresa Pasquale and Rebekah Berndt, radical pastors Peter Matthews and Anthony Smith, community missions leaders Rachel Goble, Dee Yaccino and Kathy Escobar, activist and author Mark VanSteenwyck facilitating an interactive weekend of keynotes and workshops.  Not to mention a book party with InterVarsity Press and a Homebrewed Live 3D Podcast with Melvin Bray of the WIld Goose Festival gourmet pizza and beer!  Which reminds me of my motto borrowed from anarchist Emma Goldman “If I can’t dance, I don’t wanna be part of your revolution!

Keynotes:Engler Quote
Joerg Rieger – Taking the Church Beyond Empire: Toward Deep Solidarity
— Alexia Salvatierra – Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World
— Pamela Wilhelms – Living Systems for Change
— Paul Engler – Social Justice Organizing Models
— Celia Alario – Spiritual Activism: Uniting a Movements of Movements
— Gareth Higgins – A New Story Makes A New World

Read keynote descriptions

Urban Street Angels Service Outing with Eric Lovett
Sacred Wounds & Healing Spiritual Woundedness with Teresa Pasquale
Privilege Power Shuffle led by Holly Roach and Steve Knight
Contemplative Sex: Learning to let go of judgement, live in the present, and awaken to our god-given desire led by Rebekah Berndt
Contemplative Prayer for the Justice Seeker led by Teresa Pasquale
Christian Responses to Genocide: An Episcopal Perspective led by Kathryn Rickert and Elsie Dennis
Relationships: Cultivating Kingdom Connections for Transformation led by Dee Yaccino
Paradigm Conversion: Nutrition & Wellness in a Corporatocracy led by Allegro Hopkins
SoulEmergence with Anthony Smith & Peter Edward Matthews
The Revolutionary Table of Jesus led by Mark Van Steenwyck
Media Spokesperson Training taught by Celia Alario
Incarnational Communities: Strength & Hope for the Long Haul led by Kathy Escobar
— RSM: Racial/Ethnic Self-Awareness as Spiritual Discipline for Missional leadership offered by Marie Onwubuariri
Preventing Human Trafficking / Sex Slavery led by Rachel Goble
Recovering the Missional Human: 12 Steps to Missional Living with Teresa & Chris Pasquale
Exegeting the Community: The Intersection of Theological Education and Social Justice with Tavonda Hudson, Leigh Finnegan, Elizabeth Mathis, and Scott Bostic

Read workshop descriptions

Panel Discussions:black outlined fist red heart
How the Missional Church Needs to Change with Rich McCullen (Missiongathering), Jon Huckins and Christiana Rice (NieuCommunities), and Bret Wells (Missional Wisdom Foundation)

De / Constructing Youth Ministry with Melvin Bray, Tripp Fuller, Micky Jones, Gregory Stevens, and moderated by Kristen Perkins

Queermergent MultiFaith Panel with Jason Frye and others, moderated by Adele Sakler
Emergent Village Conversation with Mike Clawson and others
SoulEmergence Conversation with Anthony Smith and Peter Matthews
Skeptimergent Conversation with Kile Jones

False Self Anonymous 12 Step Meeting for Everyone with Paul Engler

Read panel and conversation descriptions


We Are Not Free

mandelaLast month I went to go see the new film about Nelson Mandela. It was a powerful film and ver much impacted me, but not in the way I expected. I actually left the theater seething with anger. Now I would never say or do anything to dishonor the legacy and memory of the great Mandela. He was a master activist and spiritualist and is now a legend.  However, I think we are kidding ourselves if we sit back in light of this film and has passing and proclaim that justice has been served. Justice has not yet been served.

Did you know that in the US  there are political prisoners in our jails?  Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and numerous other activists have been targeted for being effective, outspoken, mobilizing forces for justice in their communities. Until they are free, we are not free and until then I refuse to participate in celebrations that proclaim racism and injustice as things of the past.  Instead I am going to use this time to write about two political prisoners who, in my mind at least, are indisputable heroes.  I feel just sick that they are both still in prison after decades of being wrongfully imprisoned and having both now become movement grandfathers.  They are both people of color from marginalized and oppressed communities who stand on the right side of history.

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia was an outspoken activist and radio personality that called out the police sponsored oppression against the Move 9 community in Philadelphia in the early 1980’s. He was framed for murder, convicted to death row and has grown old in jail. A movement to free Mumia has been working tirelessly for decades to free him from incarceration. He is an incredible writer, poet and visionary. I had the honor or working on his campaign back in the late 1990’s. We organized a 24/7 drum in at SCI Green, where he was then on death row. He sent us a written message that he could hear our drumming and felt our solidarity. I wish I could say that I’ve worked full time and tirelessly on his campaign since then, but that would be a lie. I had the choice to work on other things and I did. Mumia doesn’t have choice in his life and this pains me, though I will never know the kind of despair and captivity that he must feel. He is no longer on death row, but he still lives behind bars. Until Mumia is free, we are not free.

Leonard Peltier
Leonard is an Lakota Native American activist from the American Indian Movement.  He was framed for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Incident and he’s been imprisoned for decades. He is a grandfather, a painter and dear gentle soul. I had the good fortune to speak to him on the phone at Leonard Peltier Defense Committee headquarters in the late 1990’s.  I simply cannot believe he has not been pardoned by now and it only serves as a testimony that the systemic oppression that was dismantling movements for change in the 1970’s is still alive and at work.  I carry such a love for this grandfather in my heart and a prayer that today or someday very soon that he will get to go home. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering he has encountered behind bars.

So if you are reading this, please take it upon yourself to lend your voice to the campaigns to free these amazing activists. And know that we live in a society where activists like Nelson Mandela live behind bars for simply calling for a better and more just world. Until they are free, we are not free.


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My Response to 12 Years a Slave is to Listen

I recently went to see 12 Years A Slave.  While I was deeply impacted by this film and had thought I would blog my response to it, I’ve decided not to. Instead, I’ve decided to listen to the responses coming from women of color. There’s a time to listen and hold one’s tongue and I think, for me and maybe for other white folks, this is one of those times.

Enuma  Enuma Okoro “Why I Would Not See 12 Years A Slave with a White Person.”
“I’m not a racist. But I do have a race problem. I finally owned up to it as I was anticipating seeing 12 Years a Slave. In the weeks leading up to its opening in my state of North Carolina, I tried to think of whom among my friends I could see this film with. I have a number of racially and ethnically diverse friends and acquaintances who would love to see it, and yet, I knew I could only see this movie alone or with another dark-skinned person.”

wanzo_1  Rebecca Wanzo 12 Years a Slave and the Problem of (Black) Suffering”
“Looking away has become a national pastime — from the poor, the sick, and the civilians killed by war and drones. It is unclear to me what kinds of representations of suffering can always escape condemnation as sentimental, or manipulative, or “suffering porn.” But when we disparage 12 Years a Slave for trying to capture the essence of pain in chattel slavery, we are disavowing people whose pain can never totally be represented. There are, of course, other stories about slavery and black people that can and should be told. But that does not lessen the importance of this one.”


Agunda  Agunda Okayo “The Women of 12 Years a Slave”
“Undoubtedly, 12 Years a Slave is a film written and directed by men though produced by Dede Gardner, president Plan B Entertainment, who approached McQueen after seeing his film Hunger. Taking a cue from the overt empathy of Solomon Northup, the chief author of this narrative, the film succeeds in eliciting compassion for the many women and men who bore the burden of a life in physical and spiritual chains.”



CC  Christena Cleveland “How Feeling Each Other’s Pain Changes Everything”“This is why films like 12 Years A Slave are so important. Christians of all colors must listen to each other’s stories, learn of each other’s pain and take up each other’s causes. One important step is to gather in culturally diverse groups to watch films like 12 Years A Slave (and other films that highlight various cultural histories/experiences), and create spaces for us to discuss topics like slavery’s enduring legacy of inequality in the U.S. In doing so, we begin the process of expanding our sense of self to include people who are culturally different than us and allowing our souls to be pierced with the irons of the unjust experiences of our brothers and “sisters.”



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Gungor: The Postmodern Anthem Band

It took me a long time to write this. I thought I should try to be objective since I was supposed to be reviewing Michael Gungor’s book.  Though it became clear that I was far from impartial, and yet my responsibility to write about this band loomed. And along the way I decided that Gungor is the perfect anthem band for the Postmodern Church/Movement.  And yes, I confess, I also became a fan.  So here are my reasons wrapped in some very nerdy bits of fan trivia:

1- Michael and Lisa Gungor were raised as conservative evangelicals and they evolved beyond it.  They call their genre of music “liturgical post rock.”

Gungor_300x217_0Song: Cannot Keep You
Lyric: they could not keep you in a tent
they could not keep you in a temple
or any of their idols, to see and understand
we cannot keep you in a church
we cannot keep you in a Bible
or it’s just another idol to box you in
they could not keep you in their box
we cannot keep you in ours either

2- Gungor are activist / prankster / misfits. The music video for “I am Mountain” illustrates it best when Michael and Lisa initiate a colorful water balloon fight with a group of church goers all clad in white in a triangle formation in a meadow. The misfits, with huge smiles on their faces, nail the pastor in the back first,  then folks in the congregation – who all bust into laughter and play, and naturally it all evolves into a dance party.

god-is-not-a-white-manSong: God is Not a Man
Lyric: God is not a man
God is not a white man
God is not a man sitting on a cloud
God cannot be bought
God will not be boxed in
God will not be owned by religion
but God is Love, God is Love,
and He loves everyone
God is Love, God is Love,
and He loves everyone

3- Gungor sees God as a central guiding force that frees and holds the human in spiritual integrity.  I think I feel this most in Lisa’s writing but it’s hard to tell who puts what into the Gungor soup. It for sure shows up  in her solo stuff and on the “I am Mountain” album in numerous tracks. Here’s a blog entry about “Wandering” from Lisa.

iamoitianSong: Wandering
Lyric: I’ve been wandering through this world
Looking for an anchor to hold me
I’ve been stumbling through this world
Searching for the thread that might free me
I am looking to you
I am holding on to you
I am looking to you
I’ve been holding on to you
I’ve been wandering through this world
Looking for a love that might free me

Gungor-Follow-Up4- Gungor is critical of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) world but still exists within it. They live in the tension. Michael writes a lot of about the CCM business in his book and is quite critical of it. At the same time, they continue to play in churches and market themselves in the CCM market.  While Gungor has been forced to draw lines with the CCm world in personal terms at times, they continue to play at churches and to church crowds. Michael has an interesting blog post about this.

5- Gungor is a community, a collaboration between husband and wife and a community of friends.  Gungor used to be called “The Michael Gungor Band” but evolved away from single person celebrity to working, writing and conducting the band as a collective. They recorded the album “Ghosts Upon the Earth” in a vacation rental in the woods, living, cooking and recorded together.

gungorcoSong: People of God Rise Up
Lyric: people of God rise up
rise up and shine God’s love
we are the light of the world
of the world oh
we are the light of the world
of the world oh
love is the what holds it all together
love never fails, it never dies
there is no deeper truth
we know that God is love, our God is love
tear down the walls that divide us
let love rebuild and unite us
all we need is
all we need is love

6- Gungor sees the Earth as alive and an integral part of God and spirituality.The video recorded of this song played acoustically in the forest is the best way to engage with this song, short of playing it yourself. (Yes I bought glockenspiel and performed it a number of times.)

gungor-worshipvj1Song: The Earth is Yours
Lyric: Your voice it thunders
The oaks start twisting
The forest sounds with cedars breaking
The waters see You and start their writhing
From the depths a song is rising
Now it’s rising from the ground
Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy Lord
The earth is Yours and singing
Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy Lord
The earth is Yours
The earth is Yours

7- Gungor are creation cosmologistsWe see ourselves in God and everything, thus everything in the universe within us. It’s a psychology and a theology of wholeness.

Gungor_ACL_900x900Song: I am Mountain
Lyric:  I am mountain, I am dust
Constellations made of us
There’s glory in the dirt
The universe within the sand
Eternity within a man
We are ocean, we are mist
Brilliant fools who ruled and kiss
There’s beauty in the dirt
Wandering in skin and soul
Searching, longing for a whole
I am mountain, I am dust
Constellations made of us
There’s mystery in the dirt
The metaphors are breaking down
We taste the wind inside a sound

8- Gungor as mystics.  They don’t feed the ego and Lisa often talks about how her ideal scenario to play a concert is when everyone’s too busy having a mystical experience to even look at the band.

gblurrSong: Let it Go
Lyric: You’ve been waiting there
Waiting for the right time
Looking for a perfect rhyme
Never comes around
It is all here
It is all now
Open up your eyes and look around
It’ll go
It’ll go
If there’s anything that holds you down, just forget it
Keeping your feet on the ground, don’t you let it
Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go

9- Gungor writes postmodern lyrics.

Song: A Long Way
Lyric: The smartest men, they saw a world with
Corners and endings far, far, far away
But when they drew it out and searched it
They were a long way, were a long way,
were a long way

We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way
The erudite composed a thesis
Everything we see is all, all, all there is
But as an apophatic mystic
We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way
We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way off

10- Gungor has experienced the dark night of the soul and survived to write about it. Michael wrote in his book at length about the burn out that sent him running off to “the best spiritual retreat in the world.”  The song called “Beautiful Things” was written with Lisa in the wake of a  miscarriage.  In 2011, the album and its title track, “Beautiful Things”, were nominated for the Grammy categories Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album and Best Gospel Song, respectively.  I gave this album to one of my more danger prone youth, and a week later I noticed she was singing this song softly to herself as a comfort. I can’t say I haven’t done the same.

BeautifulthingsSong: Beautiful Things
Lyric:  All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

In short: Gungor is the sound track for a new generation of young post moderns who love God and but don’t always see God in church. We look to them for mystical experiences akin to audio divina and narrate our church gatherings with original musical liturgy.  And when we look to them we also see followers of Jesus, living into a collaborative counter culture rooted in the pursuit of beauty, community and love.

the-crowd-the-critic-the-muse-gungorI hope that you investigate these artists for yourself.  “I am Mountain” is the new album from Gungor and “The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse: A Book for Creators,” is the book by Michael Gungor, both are available on iTunes.  Or better yet order product directly from the band on their beautiful site. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the vinyl LP’s of the album are available online.  And I’d be lying if I denied that a record player is my Christmas list for a reason!

The views expressed here are solely my own and not those of the artists collectively known as Gungor, or anyone else I write about for that matter.

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Mesa Friends: All Are Welcome at the Table

MesaRecently I had the opportunity to be a part of an international gathering of Emergent minded Christians from Thailand, Malasia, Hong Kong, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada.  Below is the narrative that we came up with to share our shared values and desire for deeper connections between us. What I was most impacted by was learning about the various networks around the world that link up the work of small faith communities. I am heartened by the attempt to connect our work globally and hope to see collaborations for change evolve out of this conversation.  I am most grateful to Brian McLaren for developing these relationships and then thinking to connect us.

The Mesa Story – October 31, 2013

Over recent years, many of us have felt something stirring in us …

a thirst for a more authentic, honest, and sustaining spiritual life

a hunger to do justice, to show compassion, to walk humbly with God

a desire to understand and engage with the critical problems of our world

a need for a space to grapple honestly with our questions of theology and practice

a loneliness for a sense of shared identity and belonging.

As Christians, we were searching for companions on a journey

a journey from many of the forms and assumptions that were no longer working for us

a journey toward something new that we had not yet seen.

The journey was often frightening and difficult. Whenever we found someone who shared our questions, desires, and dreams, we gathered around a table for conversation. Through conversation, we became friends on a journey. And from our friendships, we gained the courage to try new things.

Sometimes we met each other online. Sometimes we traveled great distances to be together. Sometimes we formed networks in a city, nation, region, or continent. We would share books, ideas, and websites. We would share our successes and setbacks. As our numbers grew, so did our confidence and so did our dreams. We found that we became better together than we were alone.

Soon, we realized that all around the world, similar tables and networks were forming:

in Africa and Asia

in North, Central, and South America

from Europe to the Middle East to Australia.

So we eventually decided to invite people to gather face to face in one place for the first time in Thailand, in 2013. About fifty of us traveled from around the world. We chose the name Mesa, the Spanish word for table, because it suggested a space of conversation, companionship, and nourishment for life, work, and action.

Our group included pastors, theologians, activists, authors, NGO leaders, and lay people from a variety of professions. We began by spending a few days in a poor rural village, sharing in the hard work and beautiful culture of our hosts. Later, in an urban center, we walked the streets where the sex trade is a major industry. We knew that whatever God was doing among us, it must be rooted in a concern for our neighbors who live in poverty.

Then we gathered at a retreat center for prayer and worship. We reflected on the Scriptures and we began to talk about what we thought we might be able to be and do together, with God’s help. We brought different gifts, weaknesses, and concerns to the table, but we shared ten deep commitments:

1. We believe in Jesus and the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love – love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.

2. We seek to know, serve, and join the poor in the struggle for justice and freedom … through advocacy, relationships, and action.

3. We seek to honor, interpret, and apply the Bible in fresh and healing ways, aware of the damaging ways the Bible has been used in the past.

4. We seek to reconnect with the earth, understand the harm human beings are doing to it, and discover more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.

5. We seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions, and we imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people and join God in the healing of the world.

5. We build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable – including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability.

6. We engage conflict at all levels of human society with the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking.

7. We propose new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world and we collaborate with other religious and secular groups in alliances for the common good.

8. We host safe space for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and seeking to express our reflection in practical action.

9. We value the arts for their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity.

10. We emphasize spiritual and relational practices to strengthen our inner life with God and our relationships with one another.

Having affirmed these ten commitments, we prayed for strength and guidance. We prayed that others would join us. We prayed that goals, plans, and resources would be provided as needed. We decided to gather again in four years to see and celebrate what fruit will be born from our little seeds of faith, and to see what new dreams might take shape.

We have many possibilities ahead of us. We also have many unanswered questions and challenges. But we are beginning, and we invite you to join us. If your heart resonates with our story, we invite you to …

Invite some people to gather around a table. Get to know each other. Share your stories.

Talk about the twelve commitments and if your heart moves you, make them your commitment too.

Identify as a participant in Mesa.

Invite other individuals and networks to connect to the network too.

Make use of the resources on this website.

Let us know you’ve organized a mesa community so we can link to it.

Stay informed, participate, and contribute in any ways you can.

Let us know if we can help you.

Report what God does in and through you so we can celebrate together.;; #MesaFriends

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Planning the Party We Wish to See In the World

soil and hands copyIt is quite known in multicultural and social justice organizing, that if you want a diverse group of people at a party, you must have a diverse group of people planning the party.  Inclusivity begins on the ground floor and is part of a systemic shift in the dynamics of who envisions the party, gets funding for the party, plans the party, puts out the invitations to the party etc.

This November there will be a convening of initiators for the Collection Action Network Approach (CANA), a new incarnation of emergent and progressive Christian leaders, activists and organizations who will  be starting the visioning and planning for the party.  The invitation to participate is lovely and inclusive, with much intention put into casting as wide a net as possible. I  believe that the open invitation to help plan the party is an authentic and relational invitation and not simply an attempt to tokenize a few representatives.

To be honest, I have found myself  critiquing the lack of inclusivity of white cultured organizing for nearly two decades and I’ve grown weary. So in the interest of supporting this effort while supporting my dream of multicultural organizing emerging in this context, myself and some friends have decided to raise money.  Funds will go to interested folks from marginalized and impacted communities of color and will cover the cost of flights and hotels.  I know that money alone is not the answer, but for me, I feel that giving up my seat at the table to someone who can speak directly from their experience of marginalization is a step in the right direction.  Collectively, and with very little personal financial investment, we can be a part of helping to set the table for a broader, more diverse collaboration of progressive Christians in this effort to roll out powerful action for change. Will you join us?

If you think it’s important to have voices from marginalized communities in on the ground floor of national progressive Christian organizing for racial, economic, environmental and social justice, please give to this effort right now.

If you or someone you know wants to be at CANA and needs support to do so, please email me

For more information on the CANA initiative, please visit:




International Womens Environmental Climate Summit

logo_iweci2Last month I had the opportunity to join the staff of the International Women’s Environmental Climate Initiative in helping to produce a Summit of 100 women from around the globe in addressing the global climate crisis. The weekend was awe inspiring and included powerful women activists like Jane GoodallVandana Shiva and Amy Goodman. We were joined by powerful male allies like Ted Turner and Larry Schweiger. As an activist who in continually disturbed by the whiteness of progressive movements and conferences in the USA, I was blown away by that the majority were women of color and their amazing presence and contributions. My job at the summit was to help set up and manage the live cast of the presentations. I very much encourage you to watch the videos archived here. Friday night features a conversation that Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall moderated by Amy Goodman (embedded below):

Meeting on Climate Change

logo_iweci2Most recently I had the opportunity to join the staff of the International Women’s Environmental Climate Initiative in helping to produce a Summit of 100 women from around the globe in addressing the global climate crisis. The weekend was awe inspiring and included powerful women activists like Jane GoodallVandana Shiva and Amy Goodman. We were joined by powerful male allies like Ted Turner and Larry Schweiger. As an activist who in continually disturbed by the whiteness of progressive movements and conferences in the USA, I was blown away by that the majority were women of color and their amazing presence and contributions. My job at the summit was to help set up and manage the live cast of the presentations. I very much encourage you to watch the videos archived here. Friday night features a conversation that Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall moderated by Amy Goodman (embedded below):

Toward Collective Liberation: Building Successful Social Movements

First posted on the internet at The Emergent Village Voice on April 1, 2013 By

It wasn’t until recently I realized that I had somehow lost a bunch of digital files off my computer. It was mainly photos and newspaper articles from my activist work when I lived in the San Francisco/Bay Area from the late 90′s to the mid 2000′s. That loss left me feeling sick with the thought that a deeply formative part of my life was gone. My experience with Occupy Movement organizing left me longing to reconstruct what was good, strategic and expansive about our activism back in the day and put those lessons back to work.

Sometimes the very thing that’s needed comes to being and luckily Chris Crass came along with his new book Towards Mutual Liberation: Anti Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy.

The book came across my Facebook feed at the most incredible time. I had been writing on intentional movement building and praxis in relationship to the Emergence Christianity Movement. As a relative newcomer encountering the Emergent movement as a non-evangelical with new age Buddhist leanings, I had a lot to learn in just getting to know the movement, its culture, language and friendships. Prior to this, I had almost literally no idea that there was a thing called Progressive Christianity in the United States. I had encountered faith-based groups in organizing, but never knew the theology behind it. It’s been incredibly life-giving for me and brought me back to the core of my spirituality. So when I say that I am engaged in critiquing the way we go about building our movement, please know that I am doing it from a deep level of love and investment in the Emergent Movement.

This book comes to us at such a lovely time, a time when we are asking ourselves what collective potential we have to build a better world together.We are asking ourselves if we are a conversation or a movement, a network of talkers or doers, and some of us are getting impatient to live out the call toward Justice that we feel compelled by our faith to enact.

Rather than re-create the social movement wheel we can look to the lessons and gains that movements who’ve come before us have struggled towards. Chris does a beautiful job contextualizing the movement culture that we activists inherited back in the 80′s and 90′s and weaves a narrative that is both engaging and informative about the things we learned. I first met Chris when I was organizing in the Art & Revolution Collective and Chris was a Food Not Bombs organizer in San Francisco. Our collectives worked together a lot, and we both ended up at a lot of the the same protests and the 15-week Challenging White Supremacy workshop with the brilliant Sharon Martinez in collaboration with the People’s Institute’s Betita Martinez. Betita had just written a provocative essay entitled “Where Was the Color In Seattle: Looking for Reasons the Great Battle Was So White” written in response to the mass protests in Seattle at the World Trade Organization Ministerial On November 30th, 1999. She starts the piece off with a quote:

“I was at the jail where a lot of protesters were being held and a big crowd of people was chanting ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like!’
At first it sounded kind of nice. But then I thought: is this really what democracy looks like? Nobody here looks like me.”
—Jinee Kim, Bay Area youth organizer

This essay threw the progressive social profit sector up and down the west coast into an upheaval of challenging built-in white supremacist organizational structures and dynamics. We witnessed numerous NGOs fall apart, completely deconstructing their culture and process and starting over again. We saw a lot of progress and experienced the shift in how our organizing was called upon to evolve and become more focused around bridge building. So as I hang around Emergent Movement conferences and hear that same call again from people of color and white allies, I’m thinking, “Wait, we activists have done this work, and we learned a lot that we can share!” And this is where Toward Collective Liberation becomes an amazing tool for progressive Christians in the U.S. Chris Dixon says it better than anyone in his Introduction to the book:

“Transformative social movements are always much more dynamic and intelligent than individual organizers, no matter how reflective, tireless and courageous such individuals may be.  This is one of the amazing things about collective struggle for justice. At the same time there are always individuals who crystallize movement experiences, who distill and share hard won insights and help to catalyze much needed discussions. Chris Crass is one of these people. For two decades, he has consistently given expression to the ideas, questions, and lessons of a generational cohort of radical organizers and activists in the United States.”

In his first essay, Chris does an amazing job of illustrating how anarchist politics and organizing influenced our shared organizing culture. Consensus-based organizing was the norm, many of us working in collectives that practiced feminist,  transparent, non-hierarchical leadership structures but still manage to collaborate with more top-down structured NGOs. I want to challenge us here not to dismiss the strategic politics of anarchists organizing as the chaos and destruction that language and media have portrayed them to be. Much of what we saw in the Global Justice movement, the anti-war movement, and Occupy was based in liberatory anarchist politics, which is a testimony to the contributions of anarchist politics thought this century.

Chris also does a really beautiful job of narrating why anti-oppression work and challenging systemic racism is absolutely essential to movement building. Chris Crass went on to found the Heads Up Collective and anti-racism training collective called Catalyst Project. He has some serious chops around this work, and we’re lucky Chris has a passion for documenting our shared lessons and passing on the knowledge. He’s written countless resources and made them widely available to Occupy movements. Chris understands and rises to the responsibility of passing on the gains that we have achieved in building movement cultures that work.

Chris understands that social movements don’t only just win gains from institutions on behalf of communities, they also embody, live into and become those gains that better serve their community. Let’s briefly look at some of the components of transformative social movements:

Prefigurative Politics
One of the things I’d like us to look at is what Chris has to say about prefigurative politics. We talk about “living into” visions for what we like to see for our lives, we quote Gandhi, and we sloganize his call for us to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” This concept may come from other sources, as truth has a way of cropping up in varied and multiple ways, but I think it’s good to unpack this further. Prefigurative politics is the strategy of incorporating the vision of the future society into the struggle to get there.

Chris writes:

“Social change is not replacing one ruling class for another, but transforming the social relationships of society away from domination toward democracy and equality … Prefigurative politics challenges us to create liberatory processes and practices in the here and now while we fight for the future. This means bringing feminist politics into our daily lives and organizations as much as we can, while recognizing that we need to engage in long-term collective struggle against patriarchy as a system of oppression. Similarly, we should work to understand anti-racism as not only a politics against systemic racism, but for anti-racist culture, strategy, and practice in our organizations and lives that transform the ways we work for liberation.”

Straight to the Point
This is the absolute crux of my critique of the Emergent Church Movement. I feel strongly that if we are not prefigurative in our approach to our collective movement work, we are simply acting out the dynamics that keep people oppressed. If we wish to be a transformative force in our work together, we must work together in a way that challenges all the -isms and systemic means of oppression while working for the world we wish to see some into being — the kingdom of God on Earth. Anything less would be lacking integrity.

Movement Strategy Center
If you don’t know the Movement Strategy Center, I highly recommend checking out their literature. I can write a whole other essay just on the work of their director Taj James. What I want to leave you with is a quote from him that I feel deeply compelled by, and I hope you do to:

“There is a deep cultural change underway in the progressive movement which is radically transforming how we organize and work together. Ask not what your sector of the movement can do for mine — realize that if we do not unite, all of our movements will face continual defeats in the face of a unified and ascendant right wing. The brave organizations and leaders who are driving this change need support from the broader movements. We are not asking for mere words of support but rather for concrete acts of solidarity that demonstrate an embodied wisdom of our independence.”

Steps Forward Toward Mutual and Collective Liberation
I am honored to be teaching on this material this weekend at the TransFORM Southwest Regional Gathering in Fort Worth, TX, a gathering of missional-minded practitioners. I would also like to invite you to take part in a series of Open Conversations that we are having online around the many facets of movement building. On May 21st at 9pm EST we will be hosting another conversation online with Chris Crass, Lisa Sharon Harper, Christena Cleveland, Anthony Smith, Steve Knight, Kimberly Knight and Scott Bostic which will be viewable on SOGO Media TV on YouTube. Viewers will be able to chat in questions and comments. The goal with these conversations is to move forward our collective understanding of liberatory and transformative social movement building in an open and transparent way.  I hope that you join us.

Holly Roach is an activist, organizer, and artist currently living life in Santa Fe, NM.