I accept that writing and teaching can both represent, in varying degrees depending upon the practitioner and situational context, forms of activism. Having practiced both, I have also found them seductive in that they can allow for greater levels of control over media and messages than, say, showing up for a forum at which most individuals are strangers to me and giving over some of that control to the group and its evolving agenda(s). For example, I wonder if a number of otherwise liberal but anti-religion activists might avoid a community meeting because its host location is a church, even though as a recent diary by Simul Iustus et Peccator suggested, I think accurately, religious and spiritual leaders, organizations and traditions have contributed to progress in human rights for centuries, as much as if not more than, to the abuse of those rights; however, you'd hardly know the former phenomenon even exists via some discussions involving progressives. Among some liberal/progressive individuals or groups there does at times seem to be a dismissive or presumptuously hostile attitude toward genuine contributions to progressive causes by religious or spiritual leaders, religion being to such individuals, of course, based in superstition and subjugation of human thought and free will.
It happens too often that I hear or read the thoughts of someone whom I otherwise admire, when they get into the "religion" thing, and then proceed to rail against religion and spirituality as if it were all religionist or "fundie" propaganda being consumed along with various brain-numbing, eventually self-defeating Right-wing talking points by the duped, superstitious masses. That same person is then liable to casually name-drop the much-esteemed or venerated "Dr. King" and his "legacy" into a conversation or an essay, conveniently (apparently) forgetting that Dr. King was trained and practicing as an evangelical preacher up until his assassination. The irony is not even cringe-worthy anymore, yet I have no doubt that virulently anti-religion stances serve more to divide than unite communities that otherwise have much in common, in terms of their aspirations and what deters achieving them. Whatever my personal biases with various religious traditions (rooted most often in my own experience), it serves me better to set those aside when I venture into events such as this one. There are rewards for this. But I digress.
Even if the forum, format or some of what one might hear at an event such as this causes discomfort and even hurt feelings, I would still recommend going. For me, it was an invitation outside the bubble I sometimes create within my own head. To actually get out from behind the screen and join those who truly are our brothers and sisters, even if we sometimes don't agree on all particulars, releasing control of the ideological sphere to which I allow myself to be exposed (or to which I contribute) can lead to surprises and challenges galore. At this event that certainly was the case.
When Anita Bellamy Shelton took the microphone, some might have expected another history-based presentation. She is, after all, a retired former Director of DC's Office of Human Rights and founder of DC Women in Politics. Instead, she recited a poem that began with "some of my best friends are white," and challenged a number of stereotypes directed at white people, encouraging listeners to reconsider racial profiling from several perspectives, that of the object of stereotyping and that of the listener to race-based observations from a person at whom those observations are not being directed. That is, someone "speaking for" members of another race. It was a bit discomforting and, to me, very effective.
I find that this is perhaps already going on long enough, so I will end for now. I was tempted to share all I learned about gentrification and its impact on communities in the past and now. Or a conversation at the table at which I sat, in which two African American women said that race in politics is neither bad, nor good, necessarily, as our group discussion guide seemed to suggest. Race in politics "just is." Both women, veteran activists in DC Women in Politics and in other organizations, said the race of the person running for office matters less than her (or his) commitment to the community. Instead of going on into too much detail, I'd rather just show you why I left the meeting feeling better about my community, and my nation, than I felt going into the meeting. I left feeling some old ideals rising up and cynicism withering away. I left thinking to myself, "Let's keep the conversations going. Let's do this again. Let's get to work."