“Collective Visioning” Reading and Book Signing with Linda Stout
150 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060
December 1, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
“Collective Visioning” Reading and Book Signing with Linda Stout
150 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060
December 1, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Today I am reflecting on the question I’ve heard several times recently from friends, activists and donors: “How can you hold on to hope when things are so bad?”
I have to admit that sometimes it’s hard. But because of the work I do I get the privilege of seeing huge victories and changes happening when people join together and follow their vision toward big things. Traveling throughout the country on my book tour has brought me and our staff lots of excitement and hope. People are looking for “different” ways of approaching huge societal problems and wishing for a pathway to join together to make big leaps into the unknown.
I have also found hope in some government policies. For example the health care bill, while not all that we wanted, now makes it possible for thousands of children and young adults to get health insurance who were previously denied. I know this not only from news reports but because children in my family have benefited from this change. Also, for the first time in 15 years, I will have the ability to choose to move back home to North Carolina because both my partner and I will be allowed to have insurance despite pre-existing conditions.
Fortunately, I’ve learned we don’t have to leap into the total unknown. The answers are there – within environmental work, education, economics, healthcare and food sustainability. We need to build a real, strong and connected movement around these issues. This means we have to go beyond the “converted” – those we mostly talk to — and educate and mobilize a majority of the public.
My book tour took me all over the country and I was a guest on countless radio and television shows. While most of the stations were progressive or fairly liberal, several were very conservative talk shows. People were interested in what I had to say because I talked about values – the future of our children, a good education, a healthy environment – things that resonated with everyone. Somewhat surprisingly to me, I found that we all agreed on many of the same things – even though we sometimes had different ideas of how to get there. Many people were interested in how we work together across our differences to move forward to a more just and sustainable world.
As we move into the next ten years at Spirit in Action, we are beginning to address these questions and hopes through POWER UP Networks. In this newsletter you will learn of two new networks we are starting in the coming year: Standing in Our Power and EMERGE for Action.
So this is a time for boldness – not giving up. It is a time for great courage – not letting our fears stop us. If we just work on small changes, though they are fulfilling and valuable, we will not make long term, big changes in the world. We have to bring all the puzzle pieces together—small changes, individual work and big ideas — in order to create a different world.
I’m prepared to jump off the cliff into the unknown and work for the revolutionary change we need. I hope you will join me! I promise to share my parachute.
Peace and Power,
Executive Director, Spirit in Action
Tune in to FOCUS on WMUA 91.1 (or listen live on the web) this Sunday, July 24 from noon until 1 pm (ET), to hear FOCUS co-host Leo Maley in conversation with long-time community organizer and author, Linda Stout. (Interviews begin following our theme song at approximately 12:03 p.m.)
We will be discussing Linda’s experiences with collective visioning and how to organize most effectively for progressive social change.
Linda explores these topics in her new book, Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future.
This well-written, insightful, and provocative book is a must read for anyone interested in community organizing, social movements, and progressive social change.
Linda Stout grew up poor in North Carolina. Her father was a tenant farmer, later factory worker, and her mother worked in the textile mills until she became disabled when Linda was five. Growing up in poverty, and being 13th generation Quaker, Linda wanted to make her community better but thought the only way to do that was through prayer and making small changes. It was through the Quakers (Society of Friends) that she first became politicized and understood organizing for change.
Linda’s first job at the age of ten was working in tobacco and after high school, becoming a textile mill worker, and later a secretary where she began to get more involved in work for change. Linda went on to become a community organizer with a keen awareness about the need to speak the language of people who didn’t know the language of social change and organizing.
Her awareness of her own roots and of the people she wanted to reach let her create along with many others from the community Piedmont Peace Project. One of the most successful grassroots organizations in the Southeast in the 1980s, PPP was formed in the midst of a daunting mix of well-organized corporate interests, including textile giant Cannon Mills and icons of intolerance such as Senator Jesse Helms and the Ku Klux Klan.
PPP made historic political and social change in local communities and brought Linda experiences such as Piedmont Peace Project being featured in the PBS documentary, The Rage for Democracy; appearing on a panel with Hillary Clinton and Bill Moyers, and one of their proudest moments, being featured in Family Circle, a magazine most of her community read. Linda was appointed the Public Policy and then Bunting Fellow at Radcliff/Harvard. There she wrote her first book, Bridging the Class Divide: and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizers, with a foreword by Howard Zinn (Beacon Press 1997).
Now, with Spirit in Action, the organization she founded in 2000, Linda follows her passion to make movements for change welcoming to people of all backgrounds working from a place of heart and values. She helps bring people together to build trust so that all voices are heard as part of creating a collective vision for the future.
“Focus,” a progressive weekly news and opinion program, airs Sundays from Noon until 1 p.m. on WMUA, 91.1 FM (Amherst, Massachusetts). Our signal can be heard throughout most of the Pioneer Valley.
The program also streams live on the web at www.wmua.org
FOCUS co-host Leo Maley works as a community organizer for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, a union of over 22,000 registered nurses and other health professionals.
Help spread the word. Please forward this email to your personal and activist email networks.
P.S. I highly recommend Linda Stout’s book. Consider ordering a copy of Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future from your locally-owned independent bookstore (such as Food for Thought Books in Amherst, MA, or the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA), or to order the book online click here.
P.P.S. I also recommend Linda’s earlier must-read book, Bridging the Class Divide and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing, which can be ordered from your locally-owned independent bookstore or can be purchased directly here.
Anti-Poverty: Present, Past, and Future
The Kojo Nnamdi Show – WAMU 88.5 FM
July 13, 2011
The term “anti-poverty” was once a powerful concept in American policy, but you rarely hear politicians or the media use it anymore. How we view and treat the poor has undergone a transformation since the Clinton era. We’ll consider the changes that have taken place, and see where the anti-poverty movement is headed.
To listen to the interview click here http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2011-07-13/anti-poverty-present-past-and-future
The Center for Transformative Change highlights the work of Linda Stout and Collective Visioning in this recent article in their newsletter called Transform. To read entire article follow link below.
As people celebrate Memorial Day today in honor of the soldiers who have given their lives, I reflect back to last year April 2010.
Our phone rang at midnight. My first thought was who would call this late at night when I’m deep in sleep. My second thought… something must be wrong. It was my sister, telling me my nephew had been injured in Afghanistan.
James had joined the Marines the year before and had been deployed in December as part of the new buildup in Afghanistan. His job was to drive large trucks to transport supplies and men to remote places where the Taliban had the greatest hold. He was promoted to driving an armored truck that was supposed to be “land mine” proof. He told us of his fear when an IED – the new term for road side bombs– blew up three feet in front of his truck. Although it scared and the noise was deafening, no damage was sustained. We were so thankful he was in an armored truck.
My sister got the call telling her the bomb went off right under the driver’s side where James was sitting. His left leg was mangled and his bones were blown to bits.
The first friend I told said, “Thank God! Now he will be out of that hell hole with his mind and most of his body intact!” I knew she meant well but wondered how much of his mind would come out unbroken from this experience.
My uncle, the patriarch and Christian fundamentalist of the family, said “Well, that’s the price you have to pay to protect your country.”
My sister, a Jehovah’s Witness, who has not spoken to me in over 20 years because I’m a lesbian, called me at midnight to express her concern and wanted me to keep her informed.
While we waited for more news, I wondered, what kind of system do we live in, where a young man who was the first in our family to ever graduate college, yet unemployed five years later, a pagan and 14th generation Quaker, who was against this war, felt forced to join the military as his only way out of poverty?
It’s a familiar story and one that reminds me of organizing poor people in rural piedmont North Carolina during the first Iraq war. Our organization, Piedmont Peace Project (PPP), worked as tirelessly as any other peace organization, but possibly for different reasons. We coined the phrase “No Blood for Oil” because over 500 people connected to our organization were called to serve in that war. Our community was decimated, losing many of our doctors, dentists, lawyers, and nurses, etc. Why? Because it’s only through the military that most poor people are able to gain these skills. It’s a very common way poor people in the South overcome poverty and get an education.
PPP decided to organize after understanding that this war was not about national safety, but for profit and control of oil. We knew the war was starting even before most peace groups did because of our communications with members and family. Our organizing efforts became national almost immediately.
We called at the beginning of January to warn national groups, including PDF, of a major bombing invasion on January 17, 1991. Most people did not believe us, but Meg Gage, PDF’s director did. She moved immediately to raise money to help us organize and continued to fund us throughout the organizing efforts. In addition, Dan Petegorsky at PDF helped us translate the complex issues of this war and what was happening so that we, the organizers, could understand and communicate them. One of the founders of PDF, Bob Mazer, especially stepped up to make this work happen along with many other supporters in Boston. It was a powerful and amazing partnership. None of this would have happened without their belief in our work
We started organizing “Silent Coffee Breaks for Peace” in the textile mills where many of our members worked educating mill workers about the “real” reason for the war. Since everyone in the mills gets a 15 minute coffee break, it was the perfect opportunity. Some of our truck driver members drove all over the country to the different mills carrying the “Silent Coffee Breaks for Peace” organizing packets. We received a call from a truck driver in Kansas asking us to overnight organizing packets to a truck stop in Nevada where he would be the next day.
Then the truck drivers began to talk to other drivers on their CB radios and all of a sudden we were getting calls from drivers who were not even part of our group or region asking for packets. Although some drivers were hostile to the idea, when one would begin to talk about his son, daughter or other kin who was serving, the tone would change and more and more people became sympathetic and joined in the cause. USA Today published an article about this spontaneous phenomenon of truck drivers organizing against the war.
We decided to hold a national press conference. The advice from the national peace organizations was to “forget it” because two national marches were happening in Washington, DC during the same time and they felt that we would not be able to get coverage. We proceeded with our press conference anyway.
We created a large temporary wall – a wall for the living – and told the press we never wanted to have to build a wall for the dead again. Everyone who had a family member or friend was asked to add their name, and as anyone who has seen the Vietnam Memorial, they likewise added pictures, tokens and letters. We set the wall up in front of Cannon Mills with their smoke stacks spewing in the background. We invited the public to come and add the names of their loved ones.
At one point, I noticed the Grand Wizard of the KKK walking in our direction. I was frightened and started looking for police protection. He walked straight over to the wall, bent over and added a name and picture, I assume of his grandson. Then he quietly walked away. This was a man who had led the Greensboro Massacre 12 years earlier, and had led protests and violence against PPP.
We made national headlines in papers like the Washington Post and USA Today, and our members speaking about their children and family serving in a war for oil was picked up by CNN.
The following week we went to the Lobbying Day in Washington, DC, organized by the national peace groups, to ask our congressmen to vote to stop the war. We worked desperately to get information to our representatives who were on the floor. We soon found out that the only way to get information to the congressmen was through the young Congressional Pages who went directly to the representatives on the floor.
I immediately took off speeding in my wheelchair to our congressman’s office across the street. I went in and tentatively asked for a page to deliver information that Congressman Hefner “had to have.” The office person picked up the phone, called for a page, and within 10 minutes he delivered our packet to Hefner. After that, I went rushing to each NC congressional office – 11 total – and in an authoritative voice said Congressman So & So needs this information right now. Please call a page and have him/her deliver this immediately. No one questioned me and I was successful in getting our packet to every single NC congressman on the floor. We know for sure that we changed five “no” votes to “yes” that day.
My nephew James had 16 surgeries, with several more to go, and has a rough road ahead of him, but he’s very much alive in the past year. It is questionable about how much use of his leg he will have and amputation is a serious consideration.. I think about James and about all of the other young people I saw at the hospital when I did visit him, who felt forced to join the military as the way out of poverty. I’m thinking about all of the newly disabled people in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m thinking of what the next step will be so that James and all of these other young people can have the future that we all want for them, and for ourselves. We must join together to create the power to change this!
And I also wonder where the solidified, strong national peace movement is today. It seems they’re almost invisible when at one point we were so organized and strong. Now I read about protesters standing at military funerals and wonder how that message can possibly have any effect. I’ve been a lifelong peace activist but I would have real problems with the lack of understanding of peace protesters if it had been James’ funeral I was attending.
(Most of this blog was published by Peace Development Fund’s 30 Anniversary Newsletter.)
May 26, 7pm
9 College Street
South Hadley, MA 01075
Reading at Village Books, Bellingham, WA
I opened today’s reading by sharing a bit of The Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870, by Julia Ward Howe. Howe’s vision of peace and mutual respect among all women is even more compelling because she also authored the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Her story speaks to the profound connection between inner and outer transformation. We need to remember that Mother’s Day began as a mass movement by women to end all war, sparked by one woman’s change of heart. This Mother’s Day, we honor all the dynamic roles women play in our lives and our communities. We recognize that all kinds of women leaders—mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters—are joining forces to honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
Reading at In Other Words Bookstore, Portland, OR
Spring has sprung in Portland and we marveled at the flowers blooming everywhere while navigating our way to this feminist community center. Some new friends from the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) came out for the reading and asked some super questions, including this one from 18 year old Anna: “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the injustices…and I don’t really feel a part of a community here, so how or where can I start doing the kinds of organizing you’re talking about (which seems geared towards people who are already in a strong community or organization)?” Answer: It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the problems—and opportunities—in our world, which is why visioning is key because it helps you focus your energy while being a part of something bigger than yourself. Also, the process of creating a collective vision can itself be a means of building community. By bringing a small group of people together to do the activities described in the book, you’ll probably find that there are many ways you can support each other and work together. Finally, I think it’s critical that young people have mentors, so look around for the folks who’ve been doing things that you admire…and ask them to teach you!
May 2nd: Social Justice Philanthropy Northwest, Seattle, WA
This evening we held a joint fundraiser with Social Justice Fund (www.socialjusticefund.org). It was incredible to learn how many ways the work of Spirit in Action and the Social Justice Fund connect, especially in how both organizations prioritize creating innovative spaces for multi-racial, multi-class, intergenerational collaboration and learning. My favorite question from the discussion was “Does it make sense to have the requirement that 50% of participants in an event/workshop/group must be people of color in regions where there are few people of color?” Answer: We need to push ourselves to reach out to the most marginalized communities if we are to build powerful, broad-based movements. Often, people of color are made invisible in our communities. If we set a benchmark of 50% people of color, that gives us something worthwhile to strive for. What we learn in diverse groups is so much richer and deeper; it’s well worth the effort!