My CoFED Racial Justice Fellowship has been an incredible learning experience. Considering the sheer ridiculousness of the current state of the US and the World, I could not think of a more important time to be centering this work. To center food justice in our work is to center all justice; environmental, racial, sociocultural, economic; whoever we are and whatever we do, we all need to eat, and all need to eat well.
This summer marked the beginning of a two-fold journey; on a personal and political level, I learned the importance (and the difficulty) of putting your money where your mouth is. For all my love of urban foraging and horizontal, non-hierarchal learning, in the past 23 years I had never once truly attempted to teach myself the skills I was hoping to gain over the course of these 10 weeks. I had read the books and the articles, had the proper role models, and knew all the right words to say, but too much of my personal shit got in the way of putting theory into practice. From mental health crises and emotional abuse to a jam-packed academic schedule, to helping my friends through their shit and refusing to healthily prioritize myself, I never felt I had the time. My life has been a series of reactions, of following through on plans others have made for me and doing my best to roll with the punches and refusing to take a stand for myself, up until graduation day of 2016. Having followed through on the preconceived plan of “poor brown kid makes it to private top tier college and graduates in 4 years”, I really had no clue what to do with myself. I had “made it”; albeit as a Theatre major, but still. I had made it. There was no plan for after.
My name is Dorian, and I've been working as an activist and ally of the food justice movement since I first started working at the Maryland Food Collective, which is a modest sandwich shop and coffee spot on a university campus. When I first began my work there, I didn't understand the politics around the food that we purchase, cook, and consume. I came to my local food co-op because, like many college students (both undergrad and post-grad), I was in search of a way to earn resources that I could use to sustain myself, and because I needed to be fed.
When I was growing up, my passion for cooking (and for food itself) was almost as large as my hunger for new stories to process and tell. I spent my free time spinning stories in crudely made booklets of printer paper and staples, trying to create space for histories sprouted in my mind’s eye. I created physical subjects from cloth and thread, formed stories of revival and revolution for spaces I hadn’t entered into yet yet, and imagined worlds outside my reach. As I entered organizing spaces in my late teens and early twenties, I clutched my rolling imagination for better ways of working together and coexisting as tightly as I held my own lived experiences as a person of color.
Let's be clear. An attack on DACAmented youth is a cruel attack on all immigrant families. Having arrived in the US as a child, even with the privilege of "having papers," I know that being a young immigrant often means being your family's interpreter, their lifeline to mainstream society, the person who has to negotiate everything from basic cable to basic human rights.
Last Tuesday, when the Trump administration announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals), a program that protected 800,000 immigrant youth from deportation and allowed them to work in the US, the administration also challenged Congress "to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country first." The truth, however, is that the US immigration system is racist and has always put (white and wealthy) citizens first. From the first immigration law passed by Congress (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) to today's Dream Act (which has not been passed yet), the overwhelmingly white political and economic elite have attempted to draw divide-and-conquer lines to maintain a racialized class hierarchy.
As an organization that seeks to build new culture and a new economy by supporting young people to develop food co-ops, we stand strong for immigrant justice. We reject the racialized divide-and-conquer narratives that pit citizens against immigrants, "legal" immigrants against "illegal" immigrants, and childhood arrivals "who committed no crime” against their parents who made "poor choices". Now more than ever, we must cooperate for our collective liberation.
In a capitalist system that seeks to reduce immigrant families to paper -- the ones we own and the ones we make -- co-ops are surprisingly one of the few ways that undocumented immigrants can earn a dignified living. Yet, our racist immigration system forces DACAmented students seeking to learn about food co-ops to choose between risking their safety to travel and attend CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy and staying home. With DACA protections phasing out and immigration reform unlikely to deliver justice for all 11 million undocumented immigrants under this current administration, the co-op movement -- our best chance at self-determination and economic democracy -- is set up to fail. Immigrants, many undocumented, literally build and feed America. We simply cannot build a new economy when the people who built and continue to build this country -- immigrants, Black folx, indigenous peoples, people of color, and poor people -- are living under a police state that criminalizes us for daring to be a part of US society and contributing to our country's successes.
So when immigrants are under attack, what do we do?
Stand up! Fight back! Call Congress to pass permanent protection for all immigrants.
To win economic justice, we have to build movements that are multiracial, multiclass, multicultural, and unflinchingly committed to destroying white supremacy. Co-ops are a critical part of this work. To build sustainable food co-ops that allow communities to survive, thrive, and push back against the corporate colonization of our food system, co-op teams -- especially white people -- have to practice anti-racism in our personal and professional lives.
It’s not easy. As white people, we are conditioned to not even notice white supremacy, even though it’s omnipresent and foundational to the U.S., our entire political system, and economy. We benefit from it, too, every single day. That’s why a commitment to unlearning racism, especially anti-black racism, and white supremacy is both daily and lifelong.
So, we’ve compiled a few resources from white anti-racist organizations and activists to get you started on your path to showing up for racial justice. The anti-racist organizations listed emphasize the importance of white people listening to, following the lead of, and being accountable to people of color in the fight for racial justice.
Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ)
SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves White people to act as part of a multiracial majority for justice with passion and accountability. They work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills and political analysis to act for change.
SURJ has chapters all over the U.S. Check them out here.
Catalyst Project is a center for political education and movement building based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are committed to anti-racist work in majority white sections of left social movements with the goal of deepening anti-racist commitment in white communities and building multiracial left movements for liberation. They are committed to creating spaces for activists and organizers to collectively develop relevant theory, vision, and strategy to build our movements. Catalyst programs prioritize leadership development, supporting grassroots fighting organizations and multiracial alliance building.
Check out Catalyst’s latest video about their work here.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer, ‘white supremacy’ and ‘anti-racist’ showed up in media coverage probably more frequently and consistently than ever before, magnifying a white anti-racist taking direct action to challenge white nationalists and the alt-right. This is a major opportunity to bring white folks into anti-racist practice -- the above list is just a place to get started. It’d be great for you to start some of these readings in a group or with friends and family. But, as Heather’s cousin Diana Ratcliff asked in an op-ed in USA Today, "Why is it that the death of a white woman at the hands of a white supremacist group has finally gotten the attention of white folk?" The answer is that a white supremacist culture reinforces white supremacy in more insidious ways than direct, public displays of racial violence, like the alt-right marching through campus. It’s when white liberals are consistently silent on state-sanctioned violence against and murder of Black people and people of color, but feel compelled to churn out a press statement condemning the actions of white nationalists in Charlottesville when a white woman dies. It’s when Democrats champion diversity commitments from businesses, but support austerity policies and allow corporations to gut regulations and safety standards so that when economic and environmental disaster hits, poor and working class communities of color are hit first and worst.
To challenge white supremacy in all its forms, white people need to take action in solidarity with communities of color. Hopefully, Heather Heyer’s actions -- counter-protesting with a multiracial crew of folks -- galvanize more of us to drop the ‘colorblind-ness,’ neutrality, or passive claims of ‘not being racist’ and instead pick up our responsibility of being actively anti-racist and destroying white supremacy. A death should never be what it takes to push people into reflection and action. But white supremacy will continue to claim more lives, overwhelmingly from Black folks and people of color, until our multiracial, multiclass, multicultural movement for economic, racial, and social justice wins.
The news headlines are constantly changing -- White Supremacists Rally in Charlottesville, homeowners of color lack financial resources to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, Trump administration ends Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) -- but the larger story we are living traces the same threads of racism and exploitation.
My personal journey brought me to cooperatives because I dreamed of a more democratic and equitable world, where communities can hold power and wealth through their ownership of the structures that they live in: food, educational, political systems and more. However, this journey has also taught me that I and other white people must own up to the ways we have benefited from the historic and current ownership structures that are neither democratic nor equitable, and only further the concentration of power and wealth among the white upper class. As a white person with many generations of family living in the south, I know that I am a direct descendant of people who owned enslaved Black people. Now is not the time for white people--especially those of us within the solidarity economy movement--to distance ourselves from the roots or the current manifestations of racial and economic disparities that we live within, but to face them boldly. Yes, in this moment white people may want to distance ourselves from the reality of white supremacy because we feel guilt and shame, or perhaps it is painful to break rank and we fear being ostracized, or we even may resist change and be in denial of the reality. We might look for quick fixes, or strive to have the 'best' analysis without taking any action, or claim that the problem exists somewhere else. But if you too dream of a more democratic and equitable world, we must own up to the reality and our relation to it.
The circle is a universal symbol. It can signify unity, wholeness, infinity, integrity, timelessness, earthly cycles, protection and inclusion, among other divine meanings.
At this year’s Summer Co-op Academy, which brought together 20 young people from various walks of life, the circle was how we began and how we ended, where we told our stories, where we had hard conversations and challenged each other, and where we affirmed our commitment to growing ourselves and our co-ops.
Organized in a circle, we set our Collective Altar...
Everyone offered something of personal, cultural or spiritual significance to the altar, which stayed there for the entire week.
Shared our stories...
Dorian (CoFED Racial Justice Fellow) leads us through a story quilting workshop. Everyone creates a patch that tells a story about their community and journey. As we go around the circle and share our stories, Dorian collects each patch to make a quilt next to our Collective Altar.
Built power for our co-ops...
"P-O-W-E-R, we got the power because we do it like this!" Briana (Maryland Food Collective) shows us that she’s got the power after we learned how to do the Power Circle from Irving (Ignite NC).
Created unity across our various identities and struggles...
From left to right: Enlylh (Spelman College), Malikia (Howard University alum), Hnin (CoFED Co-Director), and Eva (Spelman College). With our collective timeline of resistance in the background, Hnin and Gio (Earthfoods Cafe, not pictured) show the group how to do the Unity Clap, which Filipino and Mexican farmworkers of United Farm Workers used to organize across language barriers. Before the final clap, you say “Isang Bagsak!”, which means “together we rise, together we fall.”
And celebrated the entire process!
On the last day, we formed a large circle under a tree and next to the French Broad River, the third oldest river in the world. We have our Water Ceremony, Graduation and Appreciation Circle. Later that evening, we have an Open Mic to close out the Academy!
Throughout our week together, which participants described as...
"Complex, vulnerable, powerful and well worth it."
"Incredible. Unforgettable. Transformative. Powerful."
"Good! Really learned more about coops and feel pretty empowered."
"Amazing! I loved the setting and the majority of the folks involved are great contacts to have. I feel like we built family."
By Dominique, CoFED Racial Justice Fellow
I’d never actually experienced the sting of tear gas before, but I thought I had prepped myself for it pretty well. I rolled into Charlottesville feeling ready. But when I jogged up to Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, and the tear gas came flying, I was proven terribly wrong. The first tickle in the back of your throat before your throat starts to close up in protest, the slow burn that seeps into your pupils, the involuntary clenching that only stands to make it worse—little can prepare you for that. I ran through a cloud of yellow gas, trying my best to help everyone I could, coughing my lungs out and burning like hell, herding as many folks away as possible. I was surprised by how hard that gas hit me.
I wasn’t surprised by the cops who threw it in the first place.
Or by the Nazis beating a black woman in front of the cop who threw the tear gas. Many things about being in Charlottesville surprised me, but the racism? The violence? The sheer, unadulterated savagery required to descend, six-on-one, upon a person in the middle of a parking lot?
That didn’t surprise me at all.
America is literally built on the back of prejudice; racism, sexism, xenophobia, colonialism; these are the values that catapulted the US to success in the first place. From the laws we pass to the food we eat to the land we stand on, there is no United States of America without someone to subjugate. So I wonder why we are surprised when reminded of that fact. I also wonder how any organization with the word “Cooperation” in their paradigm can rest easy knowing half of their collaborators are constantly in fear for their lives. I wonder how many customers your student-run food co-op is going to get when the crowd of Party City torch-wielding Nazis strolls through your campus? How much diversity can you expect in your membership when the racist mansplainer becomes a worker-owner? How much respect should I give a cooperative organization that will not cooperate with my liberation?
Make no mistake; we are being targeted. Black, Brown, Jewish, Muslim, Indigenous, Queer, Femme, Different, Other: we are all targets for a state that looks for conformity to the status quo. Cooperatives are an alternative to the system, a way to recognize the autonomy, humanity, and capability of everyone and to give us back control over the ways we live and thrive. For too long that control has been held in the hands of the few -- the white, the wealthy, the able-bodied, the cis, the Christian, the man. These dominant voices have drowned out the needs of the rest of us. Cooperatives seek to balance that scale; to give back the power, the wealth, the access to those of us who have not had it. So that we can all have power. So we can all have wealth, and abundance, and access.
At 2:10 pm this past Saturday, I was behind the wheel of my black Honda Civic in Houston, about to drive my partner to work. Like we do on most of our weekends, I was offline and not checking social media and he was going into the lab. We were still parked in our garage when one of CoFED's board members texted asking for CoFED to issue a statement about Charlottesville. Alarmed, I immediately checked the news and then called a CoFED Racial Justice Fellow who I knew was there, protesting the white supremacists and fascists. They were "safe," but what does that really mean in a country hell-bent on wiping us out -- Black folx, people of color, immigrants, women, poor folx, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA individuals, Muslims, and Jewish people?
As I drove that afternoon, gripping the steering wheel tighter than usual to gain control of the adrenaline and anger coursing through my body, I couldn't imagine the amount of hate that would drive a young white man, 20 years old, to crash his car into a crowd of people nonviolently protesting white nationalism, killing one person and injuring nineteen others. I still can't.
That someone so young, a millennial who belongs to a generation that is supposedly more open to diversity, would be driven to terrorism and murder at a college campus, where racial diversity is often a selling point to prospective students, doesn't seem like a story that's possible in 2017. But increasingly the faces of white nationalism are young and millennial. Earlier this year, Richard W. Collins III, a young Black person just 23 years old, was stabbed to death at the University of Maryland College Park campus by a 22 year old white man who belonged to a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” We learned about this tragedy from a CoFED Fellow and worker-owner at the Maryland Food Collective, a student-run food co-op, which organized their community in the aftermath of yet another hate crime in our country's history. Just a few weeks later, worker-owners at the Flaming Eggplant, a student-run food co-op at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, were organizing their community after yet another white man, 53 years old, made threats to "execute as many people on the campus as [he] can get ahold of" after a series of student protests against racism. So when white supremacy claimed the life of Heather Heyer this weekend at the University of Virginia, I felt the pain of a very, very old festering wound that this country refuses to acknowledge.
You know this wound. It birthed this nation, covered in the blood spilled by slavery, genocide, capitalism, white supremacy, colonization, toxic masculinity, and other forms of hate and exploitation. It has too many names, too many of which belong to trans women of color and people with mental illness -- among them are Charleena Lyles, Chay Reed, Philando Castile, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Alphonza Watson, Jojo Striker, Nabra Hassanen, Danny Chen, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Deborah Danner, Desmond Phillips, Richard W. Collins III, and now Heather Heyer too (rest in power). Millions more are trapped in prison and victims of institutional white supremacy. So how do we heal? What do we do?
We are all a part of CoFED because we are united in the belief that building food co-ops, like the Maryland Food Collective and the Flaming Eggplant, is part of the answer. Having the autonomy to take care of ourselves and our communities outside of capitalist and white supremacist institutions mean our communities can build resilience in a culture that doesn't care about our survival. We are also united in our clarity that history will not measure our impact solely by the number of food co-ops we help develop. What matters more are the choices we make every day to bend the moral arc of history to "form a more perfect Union [and] establish Justice" for everyone. As an American who was born in another country, where just three decades ago thousands of students led a nonviolent national movement for democracy against a dictatorship -- and died for it -- I am absolutely clear in the power of young people, and students in particular, to heal and transform the injustices of today and history into a future where everyone can live in safety, with dignity, and thrive as ourselves and as we wish. But we are going to have to fight for it -- in the streets and every day and everywhere we live, work, and play.
For CoFED, this means that we will continue naming white supremacy, racism, and capitalism as what we're fighting and destroying by strengthening food co-ops and food sovereignty -- even though we have lost some financial support for doing so. Because white supremacy is insidious, destroying it requires naming it in all its forms, from rallies of white supremacists with torches to liberal and conservative spaces, friends, family, allies, and in policies, laws, and institutions. We will not stop challenging homophobia and transphobia -- even as we've had to part ways with folks we once called friends and allies. We will not stop centering the leadership of people of color, LGTBQIA individuals, poor and working-class people, women, immigrants and people with disabilities -- even when it means confronting those who see our liberation as their oppression, whether they look like us or not.
We are willing to risk financial support and friendships to build co-ops that are on the side of racial, economic, and social justice because it so deeply matters that we do. People's lives are at stake. Last month at the Summer Co-op Academy, about which you'll receive a newsletter next week, we visited the Three Rivers Market Food Co-op. Three Rivers is the only food co-op in Tennessee today in part because 125 years ago, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart -- the worker-owners of People’s Grocery, a black-owned co-op grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee -- were lynched by a white mob for being too financially successful. We share this with you because far too many people tell us to focus on building co-ops and not social justice (this happens more than you might think), and we know that a more cooperative, fair, and just economy is not possible without dismantling white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and other forms of hate that seek to rob so many of us of our human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
When unthinkable hate continues to drive wedges into our communities or drive young men (and women), often white, to murder those who are different from them, it is up to all of us to end hate and intolerance in all its shades of gray. CoFED is queer, of color, working-class, immigrant, differently abled, multiracial, multicultural, multifaith and multiclass. We know where we stand in the fight for America; it's in the hope that all of us stand together on the side of destroying white supremacy and fighting for racial, economic, and social justice.
Meet the 2017 Summer Co-op Academy cohort in their own words! Below they explain a bit about what they've been up to with their co-op or their ideas on getting one started.
The theme of Kreyoleyez is founded on 'return of the roots' because our ancestors left us the blueprint for what we need to do to heal our communities and rebuild them. We envision opening marketplaces and farmer's markets focused on health conscious lifestyles, mutually beneficial partnerships, the power of the collective, unity, and holistic healing approach.
Our team is committed to racial and economic equity. The R’Garden and R’Pantry were spaces initiated by students of color on campus who saw the need around food security. We continue to center these spaces on students of color. By providing students with food and fresh produce, we help alleviate the struggle for a moment in time. Our hopes are to create a sustainable food coop with more access to fresh produce and nutritious foods so that students find community, are well nourished, and connect with one another.
The Moon Children Co-op
The Moon Children Co-op grew out of the leadership of Enlylh and from the revolutionary organizing body Atlanta University Consortium (AUC) Shut It Down, where some of our team met. Although the neighborhood where Moon Children is based is rich in culture and history, due to racist policies and economic underdevelopment, this area is a predominantly black/low-income food swamp/apartheid. Grocery stores, markets, and fresh food vendors are scarce, but fast food chains can be found on every block.
We want to attend the Summer Co-op Academy because we are passionate about encouraging food intimacy in our neighborhood and building community!
Student Food Collective
We are interested in the clear connection between food and well-being and how it is affected by almost all factors in a person's life: ethnicity, education, occupation, etc. We also engage much with college students' particular vulnerabilities regarding food insecurity, which greatly affects performance in academics and life.
We want to meet people who approach cooperative practices in ways different from ours in order to expand, further engage, and get to know more about how the issues of food insecurity and praxis of food justice vary across the country. Most of all, we want to attend the Summer Co-op Academy to contribute to the dialogue around food co-ops and imagine alternative economies on a grander scale.
We would like to attend the Summer Co-op Academy in order to increase our knowledge of the cooperative model and learn business and management skills that can allow us to implement our vision for a Macalester Co-op. Additionally, we would love the opportunity to collaborate with other college students that share our similar values, and our commitment to healthy sustainable food, as well as the goal of expanding this personal commitment to fulfill the needs of the community. Lastly, we are interested in attending the Summer Co-op Academy in order to learn ways in which we can put our anti-racist mission at the core of our work on this project.
Loaded Ladle and the Dalhousie Student Union Market
We want to learn about more ways that we can collaborate between the Loaded Ladle and the Dalhouse Student Union Market, two student run coops/businesses on campus. We also want to know how to make coops more sustainable within the economically oppressive (as well as racist and ageist) institutional structures of the status quo. Both the DSU Market and the Loaded Ladle lift each other up and both organizations seek to help the student community in alleviating food insecurity.
Maryland Food Collective
We want to learn more about co-ops other than our own and we want to learn how to better actualize the radical political feeling that created our co-op.
As a co-op, we have a few capabilities that individual people do not have; we can provide food, we can provide a public space, we can connect with a large base of people, etc. We would like to use all of these things to provide resources and support for people who could use them. We would love to collaborate with other cooperatives and collectives on how the Maryland Food Collective can continue to better the ideas that are working and correct those that are hindrances.
People's Market and Earth Foods Cafe
Attending the Summer Co-op Academy is an incredible opportunity to learn more about food coops, how they’re run successfully and how to establish a stronger sense of solidarity among co-mangers and the student businesses at Umass. We want to actively decolonize our practices not just in how we get our food, but within our hiring and democratic processes as well. As our student business network is starting the process of possibly incubating either a new student business or expanding the People's Market into a more traditional food co-op, the SCA would provide invaluable insight, experience, and guidance in making that endeavor come to fruition.
These co-ops don't have names yet, but these cooperators are actively thinking about how to turn their ideas for co-ops into reality.
Together, we've been growing vegetables and the next step is to develop a student co-op so young students can begin to get involved. Most campus food is not focused on real food, we plan to make our co-op the fun learning co-op. We have worked with different groups of urban farmers and discussed co-op and long term employment. We would like to come learn more about co-ops because we feel co-ops will be a way of the future.
In the economy, I think that more of the families are low-income families and they are the ones that need more help. Having them know and giving them information to help themselves; it's good for each other. I commit myself to bringing information from the Summer Co-op Academy to my community and letting our people know that whatever it takes it will be good.
Read more about CoFED's 2017 Racial Justice Fellows here.
Huge thanks again to all of this year's Summer Co-op Academy Sponsors!
Support CoFED with a contribution here!
Without a doubt, CoFED's Racial Justice Fellows represent not only the future of our community but also the future of the cooperative movement.
This year's Fellows, chosen from a competitive pool of 45 applicants across the US, embody the vision, values and spirit of our Racial Justice Fellowship, the only Fellowship there is for young people of color to deepen their leadership for racial justice and community-ownership in the food system. They exist and create in ways that only they can, radical acts in a world where simply being oneself is a dangerous project. And with the deep courage to bring communities together for collective liberation, they infinitely expand the possibilities for a safe, sustainable, and socially just world.
Dorian Blue (they/them) has worked as an ally in the food justice movement and a co-owner of the Maryland Food Collective since June 2015. During their time at the Maryland Food Collective, they have studied the power of food co-ops and collective power in communities. As a Racial Justice Fellow, Dorian Blue is cultivating a documentary titled “Through Word of Mouth,” which will integrate community interviews and collective narratives into a future resource for cooperatives, collectives, and radical start-ups. In response to the growing fascism and aggressive racism permeating social spaces, Dorian Blue hopes to unite fellow cooperative leaders and young activists in the fight for racial justice. Feel free to reach out to them at Dorian@cofed.org.
Dominique (he/his, they/them) describes themselves as an ethnically eclectic queer from Compton, whose first and last love is food. But as someone who grew up food unstable, it has also been one of the largest stressors in life. They have spent their life searching for ways to live that intrinsically connect to the ways they want to eat: communal, cultural, loving and sustainable. Dominique recently graduated from Oberlin College and moved to Baltimore, Maryland to work at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, a worker-owned cooperative. After learning and building with that community, they moved to Everyman Theatre, where they work as a Development Assistant, helping to bring relevant, accessible and incredible theatre to communities historically denied access to the art form. For the Fellowship, they are conducting a 6-week urban food justice intensive, aimed specifically at queer people of color. The intensive will encompass a multitude of skill shares, workshops, field trips and discussions, lead by local activists, healers, farmers and teachers. Feel free to reach out to them at Dominique@cofed.org.
We asked Dorian Blue and Dominique a few questions about inspiration and social justice, and they asked each other a question of their own. Check out their powerful responses below:
Q: Which movements inspire you the most?
Dorian Blue: As a student of literature, and as a Black activist, I am inspired by the Black Arts Movement, which was a movement started by artists and poets in response to the Black Power Movement. The Black Arts Movement moves me because of the way that the artist of the movement utilized lyric, melody, poetry, and their own passion to articulate their unique experiences. The Black Arts Movement gave a lyrical voice to the unspoken for, and gracefully expressed a need for recognition and change within the system. While the militant approach of the Black Power Movement had its own power and place in Black liberation, the Black Arts Movement engaged initiated a powerful call-and-response between artists and activists within the movement. When I think about the Black Arts Movement, and its connection to the Black Power Movement, I think about the ways that we can weave powerful narratives around our activism, and create a network between our on-the-ground action and the art that is built in response.
I’m motivated daily by the movement for LGBT Rights, but I’m most inspired by the Stonewall Riots that were the beginning of that movement. I’ve been considering the power in the legacy passed down from the Black trans women who fought for transgender rights, and to end the oppression of the LGBT community. In the 1960s, members of the LGBT community were engaged in a constant fight for the normalization of their identities. Police frequently raided gay bars, invaded the safe space that community members had set up in these LGBT spaces, and targeted LGBT members for arrest and assault. The Stonewall Riots had their place in the LGBT Rights movement, as other rebellions have had their place in movements before ours. When I think about the Stonewall Riots, the LGBT Rights Movement that was intertwined with those riots, the Black Power Movement, and the Black Arts Movement that was a response to the Black Power Movement, I consider the ways in which our own movement can create a lasting change for our nation and for our communities, the ways that we can engage art and activism in a resounding call-and-response, and the most effective ways that we can fight for racial and economic justice today.
Dominique: I generally find that I gravitate more towards movements that are quite intersectional; the multiplicities of my identities (queer, Black, non-binary, etc) are rarely cohesively included in any movement, so the ones that do so stand out. The occasions that allow me to put my entire self on display are the movements that I lend my energy to, and those have been primarily Black Lives Matter and the current fight for Indigenous rights and water sovereignty. As two racial groups with a very complex history with themselves and each other, I have seen all the ways that space is being given to queer folks embodying a number of different identities, including two-spirit and non-binary folks. I’ve also seen the ways that activism is being made more accessible to disabled and neuroatypical folks, as well as the honor and respect with which these movements endeavor to treat both elders and youth. It is so hard to define a group of folks to fight for; that’s not how oppression works. However, the willingness to bring in and envelop all the folks on the fringes of their own people; the folks who have felt forgotten by movements past; this willingness is what inspires me.
Q: Who is someone who has impacted your approach to leadership?
Dominique: My Auntie Gina has probably had the biggest impact on the ways I endeavor to lead. As an elementary school teacher, no one knows the issues of corralling a group quite like her. Folks don’t perform well unless they are personally and specifically engaged, and she is an expert in tailoring her engagement technique to each and every one of her students. In that same way, I as a leader have learned how to revamp, reinterpret and relay my goals in a myriad of ways to showcase their relevancy to all of my collaborators, not just the most like-minded of them. I want to lead folks who are enthusiastically participating in this movement; the best way to do that is to show people exactly how they, specifically, are benefitted by/connected to the movement and the work being done.
Dorian Blue: My friend and fellow organizer, Jim Nolan, has shown me a lot about how to lead through his facilitation in collective spaces, quick thinking in organizing meetings, and a constant action towards creating new connections and new change. In my time organizing with him in activist spaces, I’ve learned that leadership is often about facilitating community, rather than demanding or directing. While working alongside him in collective spaces, I have found that leadership means stepping back and letting other people speak, nodding as you listen, and then prompting a discussion that leads to the discovery of an equitable solution. While partnering with Jim, I have learned the difference between order and bureaucracy, and that owning power does not equate to a right to dictatorship.
Q: What are your superpowers?
Dorian Blue: In my free time, I create erasure poetry, which is poetry made from words that are already present, whether it be on a page in a book or from any other source. As an art form, it inspires me to get creative about where I see new stories, and how I can piece them together. When working with histories and narratives as a researcher and as an organizer, finding meaning in those narratives requires a respect for the linearity and original meaning within those stories. However, as an erasure poet, erasure and augmentation of the text functions as a creative way to subvert the power imbued in normative texts.
I also like to think about erasure poetry in terms of how we find and build poetry (and other forms of art) from the narratives and histories in our communities. Through we learn the histories of countries and wars from the bias of schoolbooks, we learn about our family’s lineage and history from oral stories and anecdotes. As a person of color with a large extended family, I also know from experience how difficult it is to find stories about histories that have been lost in time, emigration, and language. In our families, and in our neighborhoods, how do we build new understanding from our discarded histories? I like to think that I have a superpower in finding new stories inside of old ones.
Dominique: Superpowers include a near-endless abundance of empathy and a plethora of scathing comments to deploy, both in my everyday life and in the movements I am a part of. Combined, they make me a pretty powerful support person; my abilities allow me provide comfort, sympathy and an actively listening ear, without cutting folks too much slack for the problematic things they engage in. Providing both criticism and comfort is extremely difficult, and often leads to folks either resenting folks for their candor or dismissing criticisms due to their emotional nature. However, a healthy dose of pragmatism, approachability and straight-up directness allows me to circumnavigate both of those pitfalls, and engage with folks on a level that most cannot.
Dominique asked Dorian Blue, "What food reminds you of home and why?"
Growing up vegetarian, my family meals put a large emphasis on tofu in all forms. Growing up, I ate tofu pan-seared and spiced, curried in coconut milk, crumbled with chopped green peppers as a breakfast scramble, and stuffed into whole wheat pitas. When I began working in the kitchen at the Maryland Food Co-op, I learned more about the politics, health, and production of tofu. In a Maker’s workshop last November, I learned the ways in which tofu could be made from raw materials. While cooking hot specials for the Co-op, we learned together how to make it stretch; through trial and experience, we learned how to make tofu dishes that were wholesome, tasty, protein-filled, nourishing. To me, tofu represents nourishment, but it also presents its history of production: unlike soybeans, tofu does not sprout from the ground as an edible product. Tofu requires hands to produce it, and arms to transport it, and therefore it carries its own politics. I also think about its versatility, and the may ways one can manipulate tofu to be nourishing and filling. Though many things in my life have changed since the years of my early childhood, tofu continues to remind me of home, while simultaneously reminding me how humans, too, can be versatile.
Dorian Blue asked Dominque, "What story inspires you to take action"?
I recently got to visit the office of The Real News Network, and speak with former Black Panther Party member Eddie Conway; it truly was one of the most important moments in my activist life at the moment. Eddie told us his story; how he was left in prison for 44 years, spending his time organizing and educating himself from the inside, then was released and immediately continued his work; rejoining the movement and joining the Real News Network. I told him I was tired; that I knew I had not fought long enough to deserve the feeling, but there it was. I asked him, as an active radical organizer, how he stayed energized and hopeful. He looked at me, very matter of fact, and told me he spent the first 6 months out of prison volunteering with kids in South Baltimore, showing them how to grow food in the abandoned apartments and warehouses littering their neighborhoods, before joining the Real News Network and continuing his liberation work. “Once you get woke, you stay woke. You can’t forget; there’s no fallin’ asleep again.” Those are words that I strive to remember for the rest of my life. They remind me that this is a responsibility that we cannot abandon. You cannot just be woke; you have to stay that way.
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Dominique and Dorian Blue will be attending CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy in July. Be sure to follow CoFED on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest on how their projects are coming along!