Showing Up for Our Birthright at She The People Summit 2018
I was late to the summit. Bay Area traffic had me waiting for decades to cross the Bay Bridge. Agitated with myself and the world for many a reason, I circled the downtown hills of San Francisco locating a parking garage nearest to the event. The attendant had to check the trunk of my car and my driver’s license in order to let me in. “Damn, I thought. Security is not playing today.”
It had taken me sufficient time to toss on 5 probable outfits that I could wear to She the People. Should I go black girl patriotic style? Classy board room meeting style? I settled for my black slip on dress with leggings and bronze shoes. Feeling comfortable and rather put together, I searched for signifiers that I was at the right event.
The elevator attendant ushered us (latecomers) to floor 15. We stepped out and peered in several possible directions of where we might find 500 women of color that we belonged with. A few folks pointed us in the right direction of the ballroom. “There’s standing room only so good luck! Just nuzzle your way in.” Nuzzle I did. I’m not one to walk up to the front of the class and take a seat so I side stepped all the folks that had gathered in the back and kept tiptoeing around the length of the room until I felt a tap on my shoulder and a familiar face welcoming me into the event. Thank you, Miko!
I was right on time for Linda SarSour! Having just watched her protest and get thrown out of the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, I was delighted to see her face! She began speaking about why we are centering Women of Color saying, “We are closest to the pain which means we are closest to the solutions!” It became very clear: my birthright is courage.
Rashida Tlaib, jumped on stage next and gave us a rallying reminder that we own the ocean. “I don’t care about waves, they come and go. Own the ocean.” Sitting with a collective sigh and gasp of shared truth, I nodded my head in agreement. It felt good to claim, alongside a stellar gathering of women of color, the ocean to which we all belong. And better yet, to feel the power of the oceans gravitas.
Dolores Huerta encouraged us to take our power every step of the way. Her reminder was that we are also fighting for anglo children to no longer be fed the poison of white supremacy. “Wherever there is a meeting, SHOW UP! They are going to make the wrong decision if we don’t SHOW UP!” And then she quoted Helen Keller, “Apathy is the greatest evil of all.”
Sayu Bhojuwani stepped up. Her words were a plea to shape the democracy we want by stop longing for freedom. Take action instead. “Make your existence cause trouble.” A statement that the crowd agreed to.
Ashlee Marie Preston gave us a command to step up our feminism. Several folks had already spoken about Intersectionality in the progressive wave (ocean) upon us, but Ashleigh’s words implored us to search deeper into the nuances of this concept. We should be exceptionally proud when a porn star is the one to set into motion a public take down of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. One can’t help but remix the “White People Won’t Save You,” art piece to sing “Trans people WILL save you, Sex workers WILL save you, Domestic workers WILL save you, Immigrants WILL save you..” You get the picture.
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
― audre lorde
Somewhere in this line up the audience was asked to take a 10 minute break. It was a much needed moment to look at the women surrounding you, catch your breath, and bask in the tenderness of sisterhood. For me, it was a palpable feeling of extreme hope. This feeling that had been buried deep in the ethers of my internal processing a few years ago.
Vanessa Daniels words were “They aren’t just driving us into a ditch, they are driving us over a cliff. We are done postponing our freedom. We are grabbing the keys!” Followed by, “Women of color are the MVP’s of social change. We know how to turn a ‘what if’ into a reality.” DROP THE MIC, VANESSA! Say that again.
Nicole Boucher gave us humor and story! She walked us through a narrative where Mitch McConnell was serving the Harris family (Kamala Harris) at a restaurant. He had to think through they layers of choice making that went into his labor as a server and his role as a citizen. It was a taste of imaginative justice. The audience got to feel a repositioning of power and sit with the divine taste of having black female leadership take all the reins of power. She then introduced Holly J. Mitchell as the gold standard of leadership in California. Holly told us she was glad to be alive during this time so that we can collectively kick “his” ass!
Two important statements were followed by Alicia Garza. “My name is Alicia Garza and I believe that Black people deserve to be powerful in politics,” and “What do you want to see for your future?”
The She Power didn’t stop here. It was one pulsating line of energetic, fierce, unbought and unbossed truth tellers course correcting the illegitimate supremacy of white cis male dominant culture. We’re DONE!
I’m not going to be able to capture the full line of women who are bringing full shape to this movement but I do want to highlight Deb Haaland who, if elected, will serve as the first Native American woman in Congress. Yes, let that sink in for a minute. Saru Jayaraman, spoke to her work disrupting the $2 an hour wages for workers in America and insist on living wages. The idea of tipping workers has its origins in racism. Workers in the restaurant industry have not had a wage increase in 80 years!
Nina Turner, reminded us that “Fierce women shake the world!” and Barbara Lee who speaks for me, told us that “The power of women of color will help regain the soul of America.” Believe them. Believe us.
The wave of Women of Color leadership that is arriving is not going to be fleeting. Linda is right, we have always lived closest to the pain and for centuries have compiled knowledge about life that centers love over rules, belonging and forgiveness over cruelty and separation. We know how to tend to a bleeding climate, a bleeding city, and a bleeding soul. This nation deserves our leadership. We take courage like Harriet Tubman, and lead with dedicated fierce love.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman
Mariah Rankine-Landers is co-founder and co-director of Rise Up! An American Curriculum inspired by Hamilton, An American Musical to support teachers and students to critically engage with and analyze historical truths through the lens of Narrative, Lineage, Power and Embodiment. She believes in the power and role of the arts to activate dynamic racial healing in the United States of America.