Author’s note: I am a white woman living in Vermont and recognize my perspective is shaped by both my own privilege as well as my personal trauma. I am writing with a frame of reference that is informed by living in a predominantly rural, white environment, and from that frame, how white, rural areas can work towards transformative justice.
We are all microcosms for the larger sphere of our human existence. The impact of transformative justice is grandiose, yet the actual steps to affect change are small, requiring us to take responsibility for our everyday words, actions, and responses to people and situations. When many, many, many people make repetitive adjustments to the behaviors that cause harm to themselves and others, our values, beliefs, and perspectives begin to change and we find ourselves co-creating cultural transformation.
The depth of interconnectedness that cycles through our emotions plays out in our behaviors. Being able to hold space for the beauty and the pain, and all of the emotions that flow between and around shapes how our behavior informs the culture of communities, organizations, and society.
If we can believe that a future centered in love exists and not let the vision be sabotaged by the fear, we will enable ourselves to create a more beautiful future with less pain and more joy.
To even speak of a path forward, I first had to navigate my own personal relationship with love and fear, which for me means relinquishing the fear of judgements and learning to trust my needs will always be met, even if I have absolutely no idea how. It means making decisions based on how I want to feel instead of the expectations of others or the fear of not having enough. It means using my voice to advocate for those who do not have the same privileges as I, and being committed to the path of antiracism and class equity. It means believing in myself and the vision I am meant to share. None of this is easy and takes hard work every single day. Living in the consciousness of love and committing myself to beauty, hope, possibility, and justice keeps me grounded enough to continue to show up in this work, including having the courage to release the fear of even just sharing this article.
May the words that follow inspire actions to be taken and truths to be told by more people making decisions for love, and taking actions every single day that support justice—because “justice is what love looks like in public” (Dr. Cornell West).
Transformation of Perspective
I clearly want to state that my ability to offer a vision for the collective is very much due to the transformation I personally experienced. It is also informed by many incredible culture change leaders including adrienne maree brown, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Layla F. Saad, Sherri Mitchell, Resmaa Menakem, Tema Okun, Kenneth Jones, Lasara Firefox Allen, Linda River Valente, Lisa Lister, Kelly A. Turner, David R. Hawkins, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Georg Lakoff, and so many teachers of lessons throughout the flow of each day. My lived experience to “transform myself to transform the world” (Grace Lee Boggs) is foundational to the words I share here and the entire approach to EmpowR’s shared vision to heal the heart of humanity.
Before a cancer diagnosis served as the catalyst for change I had energetically been calling in, my career was in public relations, marketing, communications, and economic development. For several years leading up to the diagnosis I was working on how to address political divisiveness by shining a light on the blind spot of liberal elitism. I worked on social movement campaigns to harness the power of people to unite over shared values and create demand in the marketplace to alter the local food supply chain. I was also very much engaged in emphasizing sustainable economic development as a vehicle for social and environmental justice. Furthermore, I believed in the collaborative approach of multiple government, private sector, and nonprofit stakeholders being able to “put their egos aside” to work together towards a common agenda.
As I sank into the depths of a health crisis, discarded by the very economic machine I spent my whole career serving, I drew the connections between illness and capitalism, inequity and classism, status quo and the oppression of the patriarchy. I studied mindfulness, kinesiology, herbalism, cultural somatics, and energy healing. I began the journey to unpack racism, white supremacy culture, and decolonization of my heart and mind.
I learned that the most tremendous tool for healing is perspective change. It is through changing my perspective that I brought such deep healing to my experience navigating cancer and trauma. My personal transformation was fueled by changing my perspective about myself, my health, my relationships, my values, and the narratives surrounding economics, health, and the status quo.
I no longer believe that sustainable economic development is how we can attain social and environmental justice. We need to heal, not grow the economy. We are all at capacity—as people and as a planet—and so much of what we need to grow is compassion, which cannot be commodified.
Capitalism is the root cause of the racism, classism, and colonialism that plagues this country and displaced the original ancestors of Turtle Island, not only removing people from their homeland but cutting the sacred relationship between people and the land—a cause of climate change that continues to be excluded from the mainstream narrative.
By revealing the root causes and hidden truths, we can no longer deny that healing begins at the deepest layers first. Otherwise we are just continuing to perpetuate the same harms. This is true for the individual body just as it is for the collective society. Pharmaceutical drugs do not heal the root cause of dis-ease in the body. The COVID vaccine will not heal the harms of the pandemic. Turning away and performance equity will not heal racism. The economy will not fix the crisis of humanity we are in. We need to unravel the economics for it is capitalism that causes dis-ease, depletion of habitats that lead to pandemics, and curates the scarcity mindset that fuels the hate and injustice that plagues this land.
I no longer believe that government, private sector businesses, and nonprofit leaders are able to work towards a common agenda that prioritizes the social and environmental needs of the people and planet until the leadership is centered in the voices of the people served, not the privilege elite. Only then can the systems truly be transformed to meet the needs of the people instead of being in service to the capitalistic machine.
New leaders bring new perspectives and solutions, including how to shift from the addiction to money and the fear mindset of scarcity to one of abundance centered in community. What we need now are communities of healing, connecting, and rebuilding to create something new. Decision making for our collective healing cannot be driven by economics. Healing the heart of humanity cannot be for profit.
Community-centered approaches are the hope for our future and that is not something that can be controlled by government or hierarchal institutions. One thread of synergy that exists among marginalized communities of color, gender, ability, and class is that these voices are under-represented or not represented at all in decision-making. A major hinderance to strengthening this thread is liberal elitism, upper class saviorism, and progressive exceptionalism.
Blatant racism can be readily called out by Progressives and Democrats in the name of white supremacy. Yet the culture of white supremacy is deeply internalized regardless of political party, representing itself as paternalism, superiority, and perfectionism (and so much more). Elements of this same supremacy show up in the “woke liberal” rhetoric, which is just as much a contributor to the polarization and divineness as conspiracy theory arguments. Let us not forget that Trump support is so much more about anti-liberalism than has been communicated effectively for those who do not understand the Republican mindset.
The liberal approach to racial justice as top-down politics misses the mark of centering decision-making in the most marginalized communities based in the simple fact that it centers politics rather than communities. This approach also fuels anti-liberal hate and anger, which perpetuates the polarization and divisiveness, rather than working to strengthen the thread of community, which is laying some beautiful roots in mutual aid work, that are a foundation for much deeper, inclusive change.
While policy, plans, and programs are imperative components of navigating racial justice, the depth of racism lives in all of our bodies, and while it may be expressed differently based on our political affiliations, it is foundational to the American experience because this country was founded on racism and genocide.
Racism and Classism
We are in a revolution trying to tackle how to redistribute wealth and power in ways that can both heal and not cause more harm. Just as we need new systems and new leaders to create those systems, we need to be inclusive of the perspectives of ALL marginalized communities, even if we do not agree with their politics. Absolutely, the most marginalized communities— People of Color—must be centered. At the same time, the white liberal narrative needs to consider how we communicate so we don’t cause more harm which can be seen as middle-of-the-roaders shy away from “woke liberalism” and turn a blind eye to racism. Let us be very mindful that the direction of apathy and silence leads to more fear, harm, and hate.
It is absolutely essential to draw the connections between racism and classism. White people need to see ourselves as a part of the social justice movement, not separate from it. We need to unlink the social justice movement from the liberal agenda and find ways to decouple it from politics and make it about healing and community. When white people can see and understand the path to liberation is through the intersectionality of racial and class justice, then we can start to heal from the divisiveness. When white people can understand that changing systems and culture, by centering the most marginalized in any community, will address ALL of the subsequent inequities in that community, then we can work towards unity and minimize the harms of polarization.
Racialized trauma in this country effects people of all skin colors and there is healing for every single one of us. To address the vicious cycle of polarization, we need to embrace a culture of healing, where it becomes a societal norm to directly relate the traumas associated with race, gender, class, age, health, and ability to our rights to be healthy, safe, and free. We will not be able to come together as a society of many identities until we have been able to heal with groups within our identities. This is why People of Color affinity spaces are crucial. It is also why the “woke liberal” approach to antiracism needs to uproot and sharply pivot to an inclusive space to heal white culture. Until we heal and change white culture, it will not be safe for People of Color. And to heal white culture, we need to be inclusive of all the kinds of white people.
How do we educate and re-educate, unlearn and relearn across society? We need to find the entry points for people to engage in conversations and have a full spectrum of diversity in decision-making roles. In order to do that, we need to slow down.
The Simplicity of a New Path to Slow Down
From my perspective and shared vision with many who are aligned with transformative justice, I offer the following guidance for individual people, organizations, and collective efforts:
- Breathe more deeply.
- Walk slower, talk slower, move slower.
- Learn how to feel and express our emotions and witness the emotions of other people.
- Take responsibility for our behavior and the impact of our actions.
- Listen to each other and the Earth.
- Be in dialogue with each other and the Earth.
- Build and join communities; weave connection between communities.
- Heal our trauma; personal and ancestral.
- Support work to redistribute wealth and power so new leaders can emerge and be empowered to lead who represent the full diversity of marginalized communities.
- Create the conditions where we can all share the gifts from our hearts to create a new world that is just, inclusive, and leads with compassion.
Institutions and systems are directly led and influenced by people who have their own behaviors and mindsets. These institutions and systems can only change if the people behind them change their behavior. People resist, repel, and refuse to be told what to do. So the only way people will change their behaviors are when they are influenced by their hearts and minds. No plan, policy, or program is going to change our hearts and minds, that is up to our own self determination, supported and empowered by nourishing community. A determination that can be directly influenced by being offered and afforded the space to slow down, listen, and engage with each other in ways where we can hear and believe each others’ stories, trust the lived experiences of people regardless of how uncomfortable that experience is, and find compassion for the depth of human suffering.
I believe in the power of human behavior to change systems and I know we can do it—it is the next phase of our human evolution and we are living in it right now. We have the power to wield it towards love or towards fear.
Money and Time
All of this can sound easy in theory and then we look at the actual roadblock of money—circling us back to the current economic engine that determines where time can be spent, by who, and how much it will cost. There is no profit in healing or community building—WHAT WE NEED MOST—and unless we have the time and privilege, how can more of us afford to engage in healing and community building when our lives are committed to the machine of capitalism?
There are so many incredible people who are alive at this time on the planet to do this work, yet many are unable to make a living by sharing the gifts needed most for healing and community. There are so many people who believe in this path, yet the fear of not having needs met keeps people from living from their hearts. Feeling forced to live in a paradigm to work in order to live, even though everything we need is provided by the Earth, is the lie of generations of our lifetimes. It is time to remember our relationship as being of nature, not separate, and to learn of the sacred relationships of reciprocity the indigenous ancestors of this land tended to and cared for before we capitalized the “working landscape.”
We are not alive on this planet to make money. That is a lie and it is one that the wealthy elite of ALL political persuasions have weaponized to turn us against each other so we will put energy into our differences rather than the power we could have together. This weapon is deployed in many forms, especially marketing—using our emotions to convince us we are not enough and we need more, with the most impactful being fear—which keeps us from seeing the truth. A truth that resides in love for each other and healing from our individual and collective traumas.
Empowerment to Heal
Let us envision more people coming together in community to care for and nurture each other. When we take the time to slow down, listen to, and support one another, we shift into the consciousness of love and learn how to release our reliance on the crutch of fear. The power of people coming together to fight oppression is the biggest fear of those with the most wealth and power. This is not our fear! Let our love be our power! Let our compassion help us be more inclusive in the quest for justice. Let us give ourselves the time to listen more deeply, dialogue through the discomfort into understanding, heal the wounds of our ancestors and all the harms those wounds caused.
“If only we had the time” is a fear…and this is where we are at in THIS moment in time. It is up to more of us to advocate for the time, to speak up for slowing down, to demand conversations instead of excuses.
If we can empower each other to care for one another—beginning with the most marginalized people within a community—we co-create a new way of living. We co-create the future we want to live in and we believe it is possible because it is already happening. Let us live in a reality defined by love, and support each other in the audacity to co-create a culture of healing.
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