This I Believe...

Open Communities' Lead Community Organizer, Ted, invited me to speak at State of Our Communities to highlight what I believe in. Below is a written copy of my speech, which was followed by statements from other community members about what they oppose/resist and what commitments they will make to their beliefs.

I struggled to write this speech. How do I stand in front of a room full of people and figure out how to frame my words when there are folks who have talked about this stuff a thousand times and folks who never have before?

I believe if we all keep working together, we’ll all be on the same page before we know it.

I believe in creating welcoming communities.
I believe in affordable and accessible housing.
I believe in a livable wage.
I believe in celebrating difference and diversity.

I believe in lifting up voices of those directly impacted by oppression.
I am still trying to figure out how to balance the decision of when to use my voice and when to be quiet so that other people can speak and be heard.

I believe in inclusive language.
When someone in authority uses terms like boyfriends and husbands to me rather than something inclusive like partners, I feel unsafe. Heteronormative language makes me fearful. Am I not being seen? Is my lived experience not real? If I needed someone to help me, would anyone be there? How do I know if they’re not against me and my existence?
A seemingly small choice of vocabulary puts me on alert. Conversely, using inclusive language helps me identity places I feel that I belong and will be accepted.

I believe it is necessary to be uncomfortable to make progressive change.
It is uncomfortable for me as a white person to realize all the ways in which I’ve ignorantly been complicit in or have perpetuated white supremacy. It is uncomfortable to truly listen to people’s lived experiences that are different from my own. Acknowledging reality may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary if we want it to change.

I believe in self-care.
We can’t do it all and we can’t do the work all the time.
We’re in this for the long-haul. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to pace ourselves and to take care of our physical, spiritual and emotional needs. This looks different for all of us. Only we can decide if we’re doing enough, too much, or not enough. It’s relative to each of us.

I believe in standing up for others.  
A few weeks ago, my friend, who identities as a trans woman, was being called extremely offensive words on the train. Nobody said anything. After a few minutes of her trying to ignore this person, they punched her in the face and broke her nose. Nobody said anything. Someone handed her a Kleenex.

I believe in disruption, especially when it is uncomfortable.
It may be uncomfortable to be at marches, rallies or protests standing up for our belief in justice for all, and I believe that sometimes it’s even harder than that. I believe we need to disrupt the exact injustice we are standing for as it is happening. My personal definition of integrity tells me that if I march for you; I will also stand up for you if you’re being harassed.

I believe in righteous anger.
Marginalized folks have had enough. We get tired of educating others. We get tired of being tokens. We are just tired. So when someone is angry, I hold space for that. Oftentimes when someone’s anger seems personally directed at me, I see it as systemic and I use that as fuel to continue the fight rather than getting defensive.

I believe in validating feelings and acknowledging fear as very real.
Sometimes I’m not aware of people’s feelings because of certain privileges I hold. Regardless of my understanding, I work hard to validate feelings of anger or fear and everyone’s lived experience.

As a good friend of mine, says, I believe that truly creating inclusive communities is letting people tell you who they are rather than assuming.

I believe in normalizing this notion.
This is why I typically introduce myself with my pronouns (which are they/them, or she/her) and use them in my e-mail signature. I believe we need to let people tell us who they are or what their gender is before assuming.

I believe in making mistakes and acknowledging them are necessary for growth.

I believe that a threat to one person is a threat to us all.

I believe in intersectionality.
We all hold multiple identities at once and the way we interact with the world is shaped by these intersecting identities.

I believe in the #NoBanNoWall.
And in terms of immigrant and refugee rights, I acknowledge that a lot of my LGBTQIA family are experiencing oppression daily due to multiple marginalized intersecting identities. I see that in addition to national origin, race, religion, gender identity and many other identities are conflated.

I believe in Tim Wise’s words: “Be soft on people and tough on systems”
Empathy and compassion calls us look past respectability politics. When folks experience marginalization every single day of their whole lives and I am just becoming aware of it, the way they explain it may be harsh for me but I look past the tone and words and focus on the lived experience and systems of oppression.

I believe that ally is a title that’s given, not self-identified.
Marginalized people and folks who are directly impacted define who their allies are. Labels and actionable solidarity are exclusive concepts. Understanding that intention and reality aren’t equal is one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp.

I believe in you.
I believe that your presence here today makes you my ally. I believe the resistance and commitments you make for justice will be powerful and will effect change.

I believe you will cause a ripple effect.

I believe that we are more than the sum of all our parts.

Update 2/14/17:

Daily Northwestern: Schakowsky, activists encourage political engagement

Winnetka Patch: Community discussion to state core beliefs, plan local action

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