Intentional Connections

Well, now that I’ve experienced it, I can tell you there are hardly words to describe how amazing a total solar eclipse can be. Yesterday, we traveled to Russellville, Kentucky to watch it happen. Truly, that was one of the most beautiful and spectacular things I’ve ever seen in my life. The moment of totality, when it all locks into place, is exhilarating. I love that everyone cheered and then made sounds of wonder. We were collectively mesmerized.

But also, long before we got to that moment, the day was really meaningful and fun. Lots of folks gathered at the Logan County Public Library for the viewing in Russellville. We arrived at 7 AM. People were already there, and throughout the next few hours many more came. It was a good number of people, but there was enough space outside for people to spread out. We spent a lot of hours together, waiting.

And I noticed that the stranger barrier just kind of came down. People were in a super good mood, glad to welcome people from a lot of different places. There was a lot of kindness. There were a lot of conversations. There were a lot of connections made. It was really refreshing.

Perhaps recognizing that it was a special day, people made a more intentional effort to connect well with each other. It was beautiful to watch. We didn’t solve any of the complex problems before our nation or world, but for a while, I think people felt safer with each other. 

And that made me think of this:

Connections matter. The way we relate matters.

I don’t believe that mere kindness solves all our problems. Far from it. We need more than that. We can’t dismantle and heal the impacts of white supremacy, for instance, by just being nicer. Repspectability politics and tone policing can also be very harmful, so let’s not go there.

But I do believe that greater kindness cultivates greater relational safety, and this allows people to bring their more energized, grounded, and convicted selves to solving problems.

So those connections you make today might do much more than you know. You might lay the groundwork for something greater.

– Renee Roederer

Social Eclipse

We’re headed to Russellville, Kentucky this morning to view the eclipse of the sun in the path of totality. I’m really looking forward to seeing this monumental yet somewhat rare occurrence.

Over the last week, I’ve been pondering ancient understandings of solar eclipses. Throughout the world, in cultures unknown to each other, some themes developed. Many told stories of gods, animals, and forces eating the sun. Most believed it was a harbinger of calamity. Many believed it was a sign that power was shifting – namely, that the emperor  was losing power.

What will people ponder today when the sun is blotted in the sky? Will we tap into our ancestral fears? Will we add our hope to this moment?

I think it’s interesting that three times this morning, I have accidentally said “social eclipse” instead of solar eclipse. Clearly, some things are on my mind. 

When it happens around 1:26pm in Russellville, I want to channel my best intentions, that as society shifts – it doesn’t need an eclipse for it; we are already living monumental shifts now – it shifts toward the empowerment of voices long silenced and human dreams yet to be imagined.

The Social Eclipse of 2017. In the sky but from the ground.

Renee Roederer

May Goodness Surprise Us Too

nationalspark

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a wonderful surprise. It took months of planning to pull it off, and it went smoothly without a hitch. One of our closest friends was very surprised, indeed! His closest friends traveled from five states to a Nationals baseball game to surprise him for his 40th birthday.

It was pretty amazing.

In fact, this group of people is our closest group of friends too. We all lived in Austin, Texas during the same time. The group formed in connection to a campus ministry at a Presbyterian congregation in Austin. Then, after folks graduated from undergrad, for a couple of years, we got together every Thursday night for a weekly ritual to eat food, watch tv, laugh, and connect about things going on in our lives.

We are undoubtedly chosen family. We’re not a small group either — actually, about as large as an extended family. Now that we’ve married and partnered, we are fourteen adults and four kids. Since then, we’ve all moved from Austin. Now, we live in Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; New Braunfels, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Glen Dale, MD; Prince George, VA; Louisville, KY; and Ann Arbor, MI. Once every year — usually in October — we get together for an annual Friendsgiving to share a big meal together. Very special.

But this year, we changed our annual gathering for this birthday surprise. We bought tickets to a Nats game and all traveled to D.C. We entered the stadium together (and tried not to run into our friend!) Then we sat in our seats and waited for him to show up, knowing he would soon look for his family’s own seats.

When he did, we all stood up and just looked at him with blank stares. Then one of us said, “Happy Birthday!” He was completely stunned then completely overjoyed. After the initial shock wore off, we also told him, “Oh yeah, one more thing. We’re all staying at your house for the rest of the weekend.”

It was lovely.

All the particulars of the surprise and all the particulars of the connections were wonderful. Also that night, I kept thinking this: For months, we’ve been planning this very good thing for a very good friend without him knowing any of it. I wondered, how often are people planning goodness, not necessarily for a birthday surprise, but for our benefit. . . or for the benefit of the larger community. . . or the benefit of the world. . . without us ever knowing about it?

I am no pie-in-the-sky thinker when I view the deep levels of pain happening in our nation and in the larger world right now. Our birthday surprise, as amazing as it was, did not stop what happened in Charlottesville the same weekend. And many do not have the financial luxury to afford traveling across the country to visit a friend. Violence and inequity abound.

And without dismissing or ignoring any piece of it – we shouldn’t; we can’t – I still believe goodness abounds too.

It is there, right alongside everything else. And most of all, I believe in us working for its cultivation, even if others will never know about it, especially as it alters the violence and inequity around and among us. Sometimes, this involves hard work. Sometimes, this involves real risks. Most of all, this involves commitment – a recognition that people should be valued with goodness and everything it entails.

And sometimes, goodness can surprise us.

Look for it.
Cultivate it.

Renee Roederer

 

More Than The Bare Minimum

In response to the violence at Charlottesville, other cities have held vigils and rallies to speak against white supremacy and show support and solidarity for people who have been targeted. Ann Arbor, my city, held a vigil the day after the violence.

Today, I invite you to watch this speech by Dr. Austin McCoy. Dr. McCoy is a scholar, historian, and activist in Ann Arbor, and he shared words of real challenge on Sunday night. When it comes to racism and white supremacy, we often speak out against hatred. Without question, racism and white supremacy are frequently hate-filled. But when we name the problem solely as a particular emotion — certainly, a dangerous one — we might shield ourselves from having to question and oppose the realities which reveal white supremacy to exist at the foundation of many of our institutions. We might protect ourselves from recognizing the ways that white supremacy is internalized and socialized inside ourselves.

Dr. McCoy’s speech is the first ten minutes of this video. Have a watch, and if possible, please watch the speeches that follow too, also by black residents in Southeast Michigan. In the first speech, Dr. McCoy reminds us that when it comes to white supremacy, any of us can do the bare minimum, showing up at a vigil to call out actual Nazis. But what will we do beyond this? How will we recognize the lies of white supremacy that we carry inside ourselves? How will we act to change the structures and institutions that give white supremacy its primary platform?

Have a watch.

 

The White Supremacy Within

CAWS

On Sunday, after the wake of the horrific display, violence, and terrorism of white supremacy in Charlottesville, the Collective Against White Supremacy in Ann Arbor released a statement that I’d like to share here as well. It is a reminder that white supremacy pervades through much of our collective American life. And it is important to remember that it is internalized within us. Anti-racist work is a lifetime effort of internal reflection and external action.

Statement from CAWS

Yesterday, hundreds of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville wielding torches and nazi salutes and at the end of the day, one of their members drove his car into the crowd of Black Lives Matter activists and antifa, injuring many and killing a young member of the IWW, Heather Heyer. Today, folks across the United States and the world are saying “This is Not Us” and declaring the events Un-American.

We, the Collective Against White Supremacy (CAWS), a predominantly white group, denounce all forms of white supremacy and refute any claim that white supremacy is “not us.” We denounce not just the proud declarations of white superiority and dominance represented in Charlottesville yesterday, but the entire spectrum and multitude of white supremacy, from systematic oppression of Black folks through law and order, to classrooms that teach alternative histories in which Black folks and Native folks are only oppressed and never their own liberators, to white families sitting at dinner tables letting “casually racist” speech slide. We say that what happened in Charlottesville IS US. The foundations of social life and civil society in this country are racist. We, white organizers and white community members, contain multitudes of implicit and explicit racism through every day of our lives because it is how we were taught, how we were raised–it is in our good intentions, our yard signs, and our anti-racist rallies. To deny this is to challenge only the racism that is not within ourselves, allowing our own complicity to continue.

In Ann Arbor, white supremacy is the Alt-Right and Identity Evropa flyering on U-M’s campus. It is also Ann Arbor Police Department’s murder of Aura Rosser, a Black woman in crisis. White supremacy exists in historical gentrification all but demolishing the Black community in Ann arbor; in affordable housing budgets dependent on approval of funding of profitable downtown development projects; in the surveillance of housing insecure folks throughout public spaces in the city; and in the destruction of tent communities. White supremacy exists in the construction of pipelines over local lands and lakes, and in Ann Arbor activism declaring this “our land,” erasing Michigan’s Native populations, among the largest in the United States, and a long history of genocide and dispossession. White supremacy is in Ann Arbor City Council not approving a Citizens Oversight Board for Ann Arbor Police Department, it is in I.C.E. eating breakfast and then raiding Sava’s restaurant this spring, in I.C.E deporting Lourdes Salazar and Jose Luis Sanchez-Ronquillo this month, and I.C.E. consistently harassing mobile home communities. White supremacy is in U-M students of color being called racist for asking for a space to organize against white supremacy without being silenced by white people White supremacy is in the daily criminalization and targeting of youth of color by the police, then in inhumane sentencing and incarceration in our Juvenile Youth Center and Adult County Jail.

This is white supremacy under the guise of a wealthy white liberalism. This is white supremacy in our white people’s name. White supremacy lives within us, in our internalized racial superiority that manifests in the maintenance of a white supremacist system.

Let us be reminded of a long history of Black struggle with these words by Martin Luther King, Jr. from Birmingham, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963.)

We do not call for unity as that is asking for the status quo — we call for agitation and justice. This looks like:
— active life-long engagement from our fellow white folks committing to a LIFE of anti-racism.
— reparations (i.e. donate to Black-led organizations like BLM, to start)
— breaking white silence – talk to your white family and friends today, right now.
— educating yourself – sign up for an Undoing Racism workshop or organize a local reading group alongside folks who have been doing anti-racist work
— joining and/or showing solidarity with anti-fascist and anti-racist actions employing a variety of tactics aimed at dismantling white supremacy

What happened in Charlottesville is also “us,” in the sense that though we may have a lifetime of work to do to change the ecology of white supremacy in our social lives and our institutions, there will always be folks who stand in solidarity against the KKK, nazis, and the murder of Black and brown people in the name of law and order. Like the people of Charlottesville who faced armed white supremacists of many uniforms, who were doused with chemical weapons, struck with blunt objects, and charged with vehicles–we will look white supremacy in the eye, stand our ground, and state without hesitation that This is Us and we will root it out of ourselves with every ethical tactic that leads toward liberation.

Charlottesville

Today, we need to call it what it is: Terrorism.

That’s what happened in Charlottesville yesterday. It is rooted in centuries of internalized belief and externalized violence that white people and a myth of a white nation are inherently superior, and all people who we deem not “white,” (a reminder that “white” is a made-up category, though with disastrous effects), especially those with black and brown skin, are not fully human, not fully deserving, and not worthy of full empathy.

“Both sides” is garbage. Worse, it is dangerous fuel on the fire of white supremacy.

There was one side of violence yesterday when a white supremacist drove a car intentionally into a crowd, murdering a person with a name, a family, dreams, and a courageous conviction to be present; and injuring many more with names, families, dreams, and courageous convictions to be present.

There was one side of violence when clergy made themselves present yesterday — as they said, determined to be a presence of truthtelling and greater love — and were then met with brass knuckles and baseball bats. 

Folks may not like hearing their friends get angry on Facebook about the consequences of the last election, and that language may be strong. But you know why? Some fear for their very lives. Yesterday, we saw the clearest example of why this is so. Don’t “both sides” that. It’s a dangerous false equivalency.

Speaking out against racialized hatred and violence and standing up to it in self and community defense will never, ever, not for a moment, be a “both sides” situation. White supremacy is the catalyst, the motivation, and the actualization of a wave of terror taking place in our nation.

And in the wake of it, we better ask ourselves some challenging, internal questions.

Above all, in the wake of it, we have the crucial occasion to decide that we will stand definitively alongside the most marginalized people in our nation. 

“Both sides” is a great way to deny the reality of that marginalization, while pouring fuel on the lie that it actually belongs to people bearing torches.

Bunny Update!

On Tuesday, I wrote a piece about the two cottontail rabbits who have lived with us over the last three years.

Well, I need to update that because there’s a new, third bunny! Lita had a baby, and her little one emerged out of the nest yesterday.

This baby is tiny and remarkably unafraid of us. Last night, we sat on our deck, and she (they’ve been shes so far, so I’m just going with that) kept hopping closer and closer to us. At one point, she jumped right next to Ian’s shoe. We kept talking to her, and she was totally cool with us.

So welcome Lou into the world, short for Litalou.

And remember this too: Though the world may feel heavy at times, there are joys, surprises, and new life that cause us to feel a great sense of wonder.

Keep seeking those out.

Much love and many bunnies,

Renee