020 Nicole Cardoza

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Nicole Cardoza is shaking things up in the wellness world. And we dig deep in the latest episode of CTZN Podcast. We tackle the wellness gap that separates who gets to be well and who doesn’t, we acknowledge how white supremacy is playing out in wellness, we confront the harm of corporations and institutions that continue to put profits over people. And we reckon with our own complicity and responsibility in participating in a system and culture that upholds inequity and exclusion and what we need to do about it.

We’re in a really messy moment in the world—navigating big entrenched systems that are set up to keep some people well and some people out. But as Nicole reminds us, even as things fall apart, new ideas and innovations are emerging that are redefining wellness and what’s possible when we expose the myth of a wellness that is rooted in capitalism and white supremacy and invest in people and programs that take care of everyone.

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019 Charlie Engle

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In this episode, we’re talking to the writer, runner recovering addict, Charlie Engle, who I met many years ago over our shared love for running, but whose story blew me away. Known to many as the running man, Charlie managed to go from rock bottom to resilience many times over. And he continues to push the limits of what is possible for the human body and for human kind. 

I refer to him as the “Anthony Bourdain of running” because he is relentless in his curiosity to learn, in exploring the edges of human potential and in experiencing the fullness of life on the planet. Throughout his journey, he has been pushing himself beyond addiction, beyond physical and mental limitations, beyond a criminal record and beyond hopelessness. 

Throughout our conversation, we talked about his rocky road to recovery and the role that running and spirituality has continuously played in helping him overcome enormous obstacles and achieve super-human feats, like running 4300 miles across the Sahara desert   

And his next adventure is nothing short of amazing: to be the first athlete to trek from the lowest point on earth to the highest summit on every continent. He calls it the 5.8 vertical mile sliver of space in which all humans on the planet live...a space that has nothing to do with nations or borders; it’s about depth and shared humanity. Charlie is running for something greater than personal highs and lows or our differences and disagreements. He’s running for all of us. 

This episode is all about resilience and what’s possible when we push beyond our limitations and discover our greatest potential. 

Check it out.


Kerri Kelly: Charlie Engle. It's so good to see you, my friend.


Charlie Engle: Thank you. You too.


Kerri Kelly: It's been a couple of years.


Charlie Engle: It has.


Kerri Kelly: I'm so happy to have you on this podcast... just like knowing you and what you have to offer to this conversation about - I'm going to like describe it as “how the fuck do we get through our lives”? That's the unofficial theme of this podcast.


Charlie Engle: I've been stalking you online, so I know what you're doing.


Kerri Kelly: Yay. Well, the feeling is mutual. So when I describe you to people, I say that you have mastered rock-bottom to resilience many times over in fact, does that resonate? 


Charlie Engle: It does resonate. I think sometimes I'm not comfortable unless I'm at least touching a toe down onto rock bottom. And that of course can be a problem with my growth, my own personal growth. But my rock bottoms have been both self-inflicted and put upon me by others.


Kerri Kelly: As most are.


Charlie Engle: Yeah, and some of them of course are a combination is I have a big addiction history, and so some people would argue that that is in fact self-inflicted, I would argue it's not, many of the choices I made were self-inflicted, but the actual addiction part of it I was absolutely born with and it manifested early and often and it just was a matter of time before it took over my life and that was pre-ordained and nothing was going to stop that.


Charlie Engle: So then it becomes a choice after I actually know that there is an answer and I don't have to live that way, then the choices I make after that become my decisions and my problems that I have to have some responsibility in.


Kerri Kelly: And those are the choices of recovery.


Charlie Engle: Absolutely, recovery, whatever form that might take, you know, for me, 12 step recovery was the right way to go, specifically AA. Interestingly, I really wasn't an alcoholic per se, I certainly could have been and I'm very grateful that I was a drug addict because did I am a drug addicts, because it pushed me so hard, so fast for 10 years that I reached a point where I had to choose between living and dying, and had I just been drinking, I'd probably still drinking today, I mean very badly, I'm sure. But there's a good chance that I'd still be at it.


Kerri Kelly: Functioning.


Charlie Engle: At least whatever that means, we all know functioning alcoholics and know this is a disease that touches absolutely everybody. Somebody's got an uncle, a brother, a kid, a parent or themselves who has an addiction issue and that doesn't take the form, it doesn't have to take the form of course, of a substance. It can be a behavior, it can be anything, it can be almost anything. And if it takes over your life and you simply cannot function without doing that action or it's always on your mind, or you spend all your money and can't find your car, then that's probably an indication that there's an addiction.


Kerri Kelly: Does addiction, I have a friend Nikki Myers and I was just talking about her in one of my talks, who says that often addiction is possible when we're trying to like avoid something.


Charlie Engle: Oh, I mean 100%. I mean, it makes sense, it's a way to avoid pain, actually, but it's not even just pain, it's a way to avoid anything, feeling anything. As an addict, as you all know, I became a runner and some people would say I became a running addict, but as a drug addict, all I cared about was hiding and being invisible.


Charlie Engle: And if there was a feeling that came up, "Oh, I just drank it away or drug that away," whether it's a good feeling or a bad feeling, you didn't have to be anything. It's just, I didn't know how to actually have it, I was like, I make the joke sometimes, very poor joke about like Dexter or anybody's ever watched Dexter? You know, which is Dexter's a serial killer who watches other people to try to take cues on how to have a feeling like that's well after the fact, I was like, "I get that, I get that," because I would watch other people in order to like understand how I was supposed to feel in a certain situation.


Kerri Kelly: Well, and I relate to what you were saying about becoming a running addict and I'm curious about that because, my addiction is perfectionism and workaholism, which is pervasive in my life and continues to this day.


Charlie Engle: And destructive. I mean, that's no joke.


Kerri Kelly: It's no joke and I work with it everyday and it's taught me a lot about addiction. when I hit rock bottom and pivoted my life from corporate workaholism to wellness, I very quickly became like a yoga wellness addict. And I realized later on that it was just another way of bypassing my pain. Do you catch yourself often with running in that? Like how do you keep your running honest?


Charlie Engle: Yeah, well, sometimes I find myself spending so much time helping and I'm doing air quotes for people who can't see right now, helping other people. And that helping allows me to not have any focus whatsoever on myself.


Kerri Kelly: Yeah. It's not convenient.


Charlie Engle: Although the person who like volunteers at the church and they're involved in five charities and chances are very good, that person spends absolutely no time with personal self-growth and it's a great deflection because you look good doing it, so wellness…


Kerri Kelly: You're describing me Charlie, by the way.


Charlie Engle: Yeah. Well, so wellness and running are two very common ways, I think for people to deflect, any real effort towards not any effort towards self-improvement, because of course you are continuing to improve yourself physically and mentally and helping other people is actually the core of, I always say to keep it, you have to give it away. It's an old saying and I love that one. Anybody who doesn't get it, I'm not going to be able to explain that to them. But you know, if it's your money, your wisdom, your time, whatever it is, if you're not giving it away to other people to a certain degree, then you're probably not going to be able to keep it. And even if you do, you'll be miserable. So with running, for me, running was the exact opposite of addiction, where addiction was hiding, running is like having a bright spotlight shining on me all the time.


Charlie Engle: And I feel everything and I'm fully present, which means that I'm fully present, of course, for the good and the bad and it stops me from running, stops me from deflecting the way that I used to and always finding ways to hide, not just through addiction but even in recovery. I still would manage to find ways to really not be present. And obviously being a workaholic and being a perfectionist is part of my makeup too. And so I'm sort of unfortunately too, it's all or nothing. So it's like if I'm not good at it, then fuck it, it's not worth doing. Which isn't really the case, it's just because I'm not good at it then therefore it becomes not worth doing. It is the definition of a vicious cycle.


Kerri Kelly: I remember after my divorce, I took a dance class and I was so bad, I was so bad, like I was maybe one of the worst people in the class and it was intolerable for me. But I had like the awareness that like this is a good place for me to be in, like how do I do something and really suck at it and survive?


Charlie Engle: Yeah. Well one of those own funny, this last few days here, I mean here we are at this Wellspring event which is filled with people who are so much better at the things that they do, well than I am at the things that they do. Yoga, meditation, a lot of body work, I am a very aware athlete. However, I do stay in my lane too often. I continue to do things that are easy for me to do, which it sounds funny to say to go run for six hours or something is easy but it's actually easier for me to do that than it is to do a 90 minute yoga class, because every second of that yoga class is actually hard for me.


Charlie Engle: Due to inflexibility, it's actually not, I don't have any ego around it in the sense that I'm after all the shit that I did during my addiction years, the last thing I'm worried about is being embarrassed because all my stuff is out there. There's photos of it is, it's not something that I worry about looking funny. It really is genuinely the fact that I'm uncomfortable and I have yet to really understand the way yoga and a lot of other body work makes me not just physically uncomfortable but it makes me emotionally uncomfortable because it never occurred to me that, that kind of thing could draw out feelings that I didn't expect.


Kerri Kelly: And that's sort of the purpose, a lot of that work.


Charlie Engle: I didn't get that.


Kerri Kelly: And you're like, "Oh shit."


Charlie Engle: I thought the purpose was to make me a better runner.


Kerri Kelly: Or to feel good, I think a lot of people come to feel good on the mat and they think it's going to be juicy and they're just going to get automatically flexible and it's really to reveal the parts of us that are stuck and unreconciled and unhealed. But I imagine running also serves that purpose. I mean, I've heard you say that running for you is spiritual. And I imagine you have moments, I mean, let's give context to like the kind of running you're talking about for our listeners. This isn't like you're not a marathon runner and for a lot of people that's a reach. You're like an ultra, ultra, ultra, ultra. I mean, how do people define the kind of running you do? Besides like crazy?


Charlie Engle: Yeah, idiotic would be one, absolutely one way. And it's a funny thing. So what I found is very simply, the farther I go, the more I learn and it's not, it's really, obviously it's a metaphor, but it's also a reality when it comes to running. So I started, when I got sober, I was 29 clean and sober and that was at the end of a six-day binge where my first son had just been born a couple months earlier. And my expectation was that he was going to save my life just by being born. Like, surely I wouldn't put my kids through this life, this kind of addicted life.


Charlie Engle: And of course two months later there I am again sitting on the ground watching the police search my car and it's got bullet holes in it and that were put there by somebody who wanted to shoot me. And the realization hit me that nobody, Brett, my son couldn't save me, nobody was coming to save me and I had to make a choice between like living and dying and the dying, unfortunately, would be a really long slowed. I mean it could be a short death with a bullet or a drug, but more likely it would be a long, slow, decades long descent into the abyss.


Kerri Kelly: What was that question that you asked yourself? Like in that sort of crossroads?


Charlie Engle: Yeah. Or you know what, it's really funny, and this is the true version of what happened in my head. I'm sitting there watching the police go through my car and this policeman reaches under the seat, the driver's seat, and he pulls out a crack pipe and he turns really slowly and looks at me and he's shaking his head. And it's that condemnation, that judging that he's doing in that second and it hurt. And anybody, even remotely rational person in my position would have been going, "Oh shit, I'm in some serious trouble, like this is not good." Bullets, drugs, paraphernalia, all that. All I can think is, “so that's where that pipe was.” I wonder if there's anything left in about some sick thinking, like that's where I was, I was pissed. Speaking of perfectionism, because I looked for that damn thing for like three hours, but I had taken it and tucked it under the edge of the underneath of my seat and I couldn't find it and he found it. But then the next, really the next second was, I'm looking around, like shaking my head. I'm like, "This seems like a pretty good time to quit." Like it really was that simple in a way and realizing that nobody else was coming to save me was actually such a blessing and in the sense that I no longer had to wait for that person. I had done everything quit from my job. I mean quit, drugs for my job, quit drugs for my wife, quit drugs for my kids, quit everything. And never though had I done it.


Charlie Engle: It's not that I didn't want to for me, but I had never done it that way. So the way the words went is I had to choose between living and dying and I chose running.


Kerri Kelly: That's great.


Charlie Engle: And running, that day and night I went to an AA meeting and I had been to AA meetings before, but I was very puzzled by the fact that people had actually quit doing drugs and alcohol. I thought they were just there to manage it.


Kerri Kelly: Oh no. What a disappointment?


Charlie Engle: Right.


Kerri Kelly: Oh shit.


Charlie Engle: So this is the first time I'm in there going, "Wait, okay, I get it now." So I went to a meeting that night and I put it on my running shoes the next today and for three years, three straight years, I did those two things every single day. And without missing a single day and that was that created the platform for me to move forward with my life. And I couldn't make it around the block to begin with, for obvious reasons. And not long after I was running marathons and I ran 30 marathons in those first three years, I was like, because clearly I had that whole addiction thing under control.


Kerri Kelly: It just shape shifted for you. But it was a step forward too, I mean those things are probably two at the same time.


Charlie Engle: It was. And then I accidentally, it's too long of stories, I'm not going to tell you, but in Australia, I went to Australia like four years sober and I literally, I was so stupid. I accidentally entered an ultra marathon, it was 52 kilometers. And I actually thought I was entering a 5K-


Kerri Kelly: Oh my God.


Charlie Engle: ... because it never occurred to me that anybody would actually run that far.


Kerri Kelly: I hope you didn't clock the first 5K the way you would.


Charlie Engle: I didn't. But it is a very funny story, I'm there at the start, I'm picking out my number on it and I hear people saying like, "God, I hope I can finish this race before dark." I'm thinking, "Man, these Australians are slow. What are they doing? Crawling?" And I laughed, and this guy's going, "Hey, you know, crikey mate, you ever done a 50K before?" And I'm like, "No. Why?" I like I break out in a cold sweat and I walk over to the table, there's this super cute girl sitting there and I'm like, "So is there a map of this course?" And I looked at the map and it says, "Then Engle rain for us, 52K." I looked down at the number on my chest and it says 52K. I'm like, "Man, you are stupid."


Charlie Engle: And anyway, I was there and I decided to run the race anyway and I was going to quit though, it's a three loop race, so I was going to quit after the first loop and I come across, they'll start finishing that day. Announcer's like going, "Oh here's the American, he's actually in 10th place. I didn't know these guys could run." I'm like, all of a sudden I'm representing all of North America."


Kerri Kelly: Oh my God.


Charlie Engle: Anyway, I do the next two loops. And when I get to, I realized after the second loop that I had a chance to do something accidentally, like the universe had put me in this very unexpected place and I could choose to either quit or I could just go forward and see what was going to happen. And so with no expectations, I actually ended up winning the race.


Charlie Engle: So I'm there with no purpose, no expectation. I ended up winning this race and it was then that I would like, I want to see just how far I can go. And that's what I've spent really the next now, 21 plus years since that time doing is seeing how far I can go.


Kerri Kelly: That doesn't sound like an accident, that sounds divine-


Charlie Engle: I agree.


Kerri Kelly: Like that sounds totally by design and I'm curious if you believe in God, because I know the first step of the AA Program of the 12-step program is I think Nadia Bolz-Weber described it as the, "I'm fucked” step, and that you have to admit that you're powerless to something bigger and greater than yourself. Like, did you do that when you entered the program?


Charlie Engle: Well, I did. And I will say, the only religion I ever knew as a young person was my grandparents Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina. So I like at five, I knew my thoughts alone were sending me to hell, like I hadn't even done any of them. So to say that any of my recovery is based in God, in any traditional religious sense would not be true. I don't have anger or bitterness around it, I wasn't abused by the church or have any of those memories or scars but I also don't, I think it drives a lot of people away from recovery from 12-step recovery because they are put off by the word God, and while the founders of AA were brilliant in a lot of their language and they go to great links to explain, they're talking about it being a higher power of your choosing, it could be anything.


Charlie Engle: It still turns a lot of the people off and I try very hard to, when I'm telling someone about it, it's almost always their first question. If they're reluctant to come in and almost always revolves around the word God, they read the first 20 pages or whatever and of the big book and decided it wasn't for them or they go to one meeting and there is always that person in the meeting who clearly is talking about God and they're talking about God, like the Christian God or the whatever. I mean, that's what they're talking about. And it makes it really hard for people, I'm not that person at all, I'm spiritual. I talked to my grandfather, you know, when I run, I have to tell you this quick story, but it's a short one, but it's a meaningful one.


Charlie Engle: I went to a very well-known, I won't name it but retreat in Arizona several years, probably been 10 years ago now. And they gave me, you got like treatments every day so it was really expensive and I was there actually for a symposium on love, which was wonderful and these amazing people and we're spending these days, so I'm at love and you've got to treatment every day. So I had a massage, then I had a hot stone massage the next day and the last day I'm like, "I don't know what to do," and I call the front desk and I said, "I want something different."


Charlie Engle: She's like, "Well, we just had a cancellation with our shaman for a spiritual cleansing." I'm like, "Yes, I'll take that. Why not? It seems like something I should do." And so I walked in to this guy, he's native American, he's an MD, he's so freaking like, just being around him, I felt warm and like just one of those people that makes you know that there is greater power in the universe. And obviously he'd never met me and knew nothing about me, whatever, he's got a hand on my shoulder for the first five minutes just talking to me.


Charlie Engle: And he goes, "You had a very famous grandfather who ran track," and I did. My grandfather was an all American in track and he was the track coach at UNC Chapel Hill for 40 years, very well-known man. And he says, he wants you to know that he runs with you every day. And it was, it was such a pivotal moment for me, like it is one of those times when knew, I knew I was on the right path.


Charlie Engle: And that when I do talk to him, like, I mean, he was telling me, he's listening. And so that's how I described my spirituality. I mean, AA is so powerful and you and I have talked it's a guide, it's a guide that can actually be translated to any part of someone's life. The steps really do work if you apply them. Even if you're not about addiction and you apply it to something else, you should have the sponsor or mentor or whatever you want to call that person sort of helping you saying things out loud to someone else, your deepest darkest secrets to at least one other person in the universe is the most powerful thing I've ever done.


Kerri Kelly: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And it's funny, and I have like a brief experience with AA and Al-Anon actually. But you know, because I see it as like a map, it's almost like they give you the map for transformation in the context of relationship, which I think is like the secret sauce, that like you've a sponsor and you're like doing it together and you've got each other's backs. And so much of what the transformation I often see in the wellness world is really individual, it's isolated, which to me means it's why it's so unsustainable and it often doesn't last and it's really shallow. But with AA, I wonder like if we applied the 12 step program that map to some of the stuff that we're addressing in society today, like dismantling white supremacy and deconstructing racism, like understanding misogyny and the gender relationships and the gender spectrum. I just wonder, like, if we would have much more productive and kind and transformative experiences of social justice.


Charlie Engle: Well, I have no doubt that we would, and I think it would be so amazing, the problem of course, and I hate to start right off with the problem, everything you just said is awesome. But you know, the first step of AA is of course admitting that you have a problem and unfortunately, and look, I fall on a particular side of the racial political side which actually is very liberal, very focused on social issues in particular. And the problem that I see is, and of course they see the same... I don't even know if they see the same problem in me on the other side, but what I see in them is they can't even get to a place of admitting or not admitting they have a problem because there's not even acknowledgement that there's a topic to talk about.


Charlie Engle: And which is why you and I, and people like us struggle so much with, you really want to pick a metaphorical hammer, usually, metaphorical and hit them over the head with it because that's what it feels like. The frustration of just getting someone to take a minute and listen is really it consumes me at times. And I admire so much about what you're doing right now and from the time we met, you have clearly evolved tremendously in those years. And not that you weren't magnificent before, but now you've taken your platform and you are being an agitator and I call it, I sort of hate the language of the day, but a disruptor. And I think it's something I struggle with because I have a platform of my own and I struggle with wanting to remain, not neutral, but where sponsors are concerned where things like that, you know, once you go down that road, it's pretty hard to come back.


Kerri Kelly: It's tricky territory.


Charlie Engle: It is.


Kerri Kelly: And yet nothing is neutral. So like, even by trying to be neutral and I'm also now air quoting like nothing is ever neutral, like we're constantly navigating choices around like how to stand in our values. But what I want to say about you is like everything about your life and how you've lived it feels so integrous to me, like you really say yes to walking through the fire. Like you're not afraid of the shadow, and I just think like when I think about what you've been through and how you have overcome, like there's never been a bypass, there's never been like a shortcut for you. I mean, I think actually like your running style is like a perfect metaphor, like you go the distance through the darkness and through the pain and through the suffering to get to the other side and it's admirable.


Charlie Engle: I want to be there. Like I actually like I run hundred milers all the time, and I say even though I question this stupidity, like when I get to that moment, but I always get to at least one moment where I want to quit. Like how can you not run a hundred mile, I don't care who you are, you're going to have highs and lows and it's going suck. But I want to get to that point and then push past it, find a way through nutrition and hydration or just in my mind to get past that moment and understand that in fact, in my opinion, we spend 99.9% of our time in life and in running and sports and everything else, preparing for that 1% of the time when things go to hell. Like that's what we're preparing for and what you're made of and who you are at your very core can only be revealed in those moments.


Charlie Engle: In my opinion, you can't find it without some self-inflicted pain or getting in touch with the pain that others have caused, or the combination of those things. For me, in a controlled setting, I get them beautiful benefit of going and running a hundred miles, I know it's going to take me somewhere between 15 and 25 hours, like so on. And I'm choosing, I remind myself all the time and this is you know the Middle East or somewhere where somebody shooting at me or where like I may, like I can quit when I want. So it's my choice to like get to that place physically and emotionally.


Charlie Engle: I always picture like scraping out, like literally scraping out my insides, like with a knife or something and getting in down into the deep little edges and then I get to fill it back up with something new.


Kerri Kelly: So you make it through addiction, right? You're on the road to recovery, you're playing the long game, you're like, you're out of the woods and by accident you're running ultras and then you end up in jail.


Charlie Engle: I do. And let's actually use the proper term, it's prison.


Kerri Kelly: Yeah.


Charlie Engle: Not that there's any, there's very little distinction but I always say jail is like going to the county or whatever, and I ended up in federal prison. And so you know about my, I did this, you alluded to it in the beginning. I ran about 4,500 miles across the Sahara desert years ago and it was this crazy adventure through just a bizarre idea that I had and managed to sucker other people into coming into it with me, Matt Damon being one of them. And there's a film and I end up being the co-creator of, which is the world's biggest clean water nonprofit. You know, I raised about $6 million for that during my run. And so I had these amazing experiences and running across the Sahara desert kind of like put me on the map, if you will, and Jay Leno and NPR and all the morning news shows.


Charlie Engle: And I got a chance to do all those things, and it was cool. I got speaking gigs, I got corporate sponsorships, all of these things were happening for me, and I was enjoying what I was doing and I got a chance to be a proponent of the things that I believed in. And I was out running here, I was at home, I was out running errands one day and I came back to my house and, and six armed federal agents came out of a coffee shop next door and actually handcuffed and shackled me and put me in jail for the night, that was jail for the night.


Charlie Engle: And without knowing what was even going on and ultimately I would come to learn that a small town IRS agent, I had seen running this Sahara and decided that he was going to open an investigation into my taxes. And upon finding nothing, because there was nothing to find and it's all in the memos, he just kept digging and ultimately I became the only person in the country to be charged with and I mean only person to be charged with allegedly overstating income on a home loan application from 2005, a no doc loan as they called them.


Charlie Engle: And for that, I could go to prison for 20 years and I fought the charges because I didn't do it and I wasn't going to admit to something or take a plea, which is what almost everybody does and I lost in a seven-day trial and I was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. And I got to prison in Beckley, West Virginia and I was pissed. I was angry, I was frustrated by what had been done to me. That's how I saw it “look at what's been done to me”, and it took me like almost no time to realize that first of all, I was not going to get through this experience, if I did it with bitterness and anger, and I couldn't find a way to get past that.


Charlie Engle: And it didn't matter anymore if it was fair or unfair, I was in prison and that wasn't going to change. And so I had to find a way to get through it, and so I went back to 12 step recovery. And as cliche as it is, sometimes, it was “one day at a time”, and I focused on what was right in front of me and didn't worry, I focused on the day I was living rather than the day I was going to get out because that was so counterproductive, and of course I started running.


Kerri Kelly: And did they have a program in the prison?


Charlie Engle: For running?


Kerri Kelly: For 12 step.


Charlie Engle: No, I mean talk about…


Kerri Kelly: These are like self-study?


Charlie Engle: Yes, but talk about craziness. How can you have a prison system with millions of men and women who are incarcerated for drug related charges? And there is no AA, there's no recovery meetings, there's no drug treatment program. They claim to have a drug treatment program but what it amounts to is if you've got a 25-year sentence for especially if you're a black man in this country and you get a 25-year sentence for a tiny amount of crack because you shoplifted twice before and that's your third strike. And you end up basically getting a life sentence for a gram of crack cocaine and ad maybe you are an addict, but you go to prison and there's no treatment whatsoever for any of it. You're just left to your own devices all the time.


Kerri Kelly: Well, and the prison system is not designed for rehabilitation.


Charlie Engle: No.


Kerri Kelly: It's designed for profit.


Charlie Engle: I was going to say, people assume it's designed for punishment. I'm like, "Fuck you. It's designed for punishment." And you know what, where politics is concerned, that's an equal opportunity thing, both sides of the aisle we're talking about Reagan is the one who kind of did the tough on drugs, you know thing, but Clinton who I loved Bill Clinton, but he's the one who put it on steroids.


Kerri Kelly: That's right.


Charlie Engle: Incarceration rates went up 600% while he was president and because basically he said, "Fine, you guys want to lock people up, let's make money at it."


Kerri Kelly: And so you had a really different experience, I hear that like you're really conscious that like you're a white man who went to prison for like a white collar crime and yet our prison system is deeply racialized in this country, right?


Charlie Engle: In my 20's, I never would have made it beyond 25 or whatever without going to prison, if I'd been a black young man, 25 years old, driving around in the neighborhoods where I was. And so it was just, I would have been in prison because I would have been stopped as a white clean cut looking kid during my 20's, driving around those neighborhoods. It's not one time ever, ever did I get stopped.


Charlie Engle: So flash forward, 20 years later, here I am, I land in federal prison in a way something I make jokes because I like to use humor to deflect. But I didn't even know what kind of like a tattoo to get, what kind of prison tat that you got for like overstating income, like a fountain pen or something? So it was almost embarrassing to tell people while I was there, but I was, I was angry and it was unfair and then there's an African American man next to me in the cell, 60 years old and he got a 26 and a half years sentence for the same amount of crack that I had in my hand 100 times.


Kerri Kelly: Whoa.


Charlie Engle: So his whole life was taken away, and nobody talks about, there's what? 30 shows on television that cops and locked up abroad and all this that shows you criminals getting caught, people in prison, and there's not a single show about people getting out of prison. And there's no, people are basically just thrown away and proportionally black men are thrown away at a rate 50 times greater than any other group in this country.


Kerri Kelly: Did that experience inspire you to get engaged in that issue?


Charlie Engle: It did, but I'm still not fully immersed other than I'm very comfortable having this kind of conversation, which makes a lot of other white men uncomfortable. I actually, I went to a function last night and there was a really just lovely African-American woman sitting next to me in her late 20's, and we had this same conversation in a way, and she was actually, she could not have been more shocked at what I was saying because things have become like so divisive as you know, that there is no even racist used to soften the edges of their comments.


Charlie Engle: Now, there's nothing but a sharp blade on the other side. And it's all or nothing all the time, and so that's why we need more people like you, and that's why also we need more people.


Kerri Kelly: And you.


Charlie Engle: Well, we need more people like me speaking up and it is part of what I need to do a better job of.


Kerri Kelly: Yeah, well I really appreciate the way that you're talking about it now and it does make me feel like we need to be telling the truth with as sharp a blade, as people on the other side are tearing people down and using inflammatory language to inspire and incite harm. And I hear that you have those words and you clearly have that platform, and I think it's really powerful for you to be using it to speak out on this, especially given your location in society, especially given that you're a white man.


Charlie Engle: Yeah. Well, I live in North Carolina too, so I live in Durham, North Carolina, which is a tiny little blue dot in a very red screwed up state and in a lot of ways. And I need to use my voice more and be more open and honest and upfront about these things with the people that I come in contact with. And I have a platform that is called Surviving Anything. Actually it's my new thing I've launched recently and, and this idea of it being sort of an overarching idea because we've all survived something. And there are plenty of platforms out there to be able to talk about surviving things.


Charlie Engle: But my hope is that through video and some things that I'm doing that people will actually tell their stories, themselves and their own words on this platform and begin to continue, I shouldn't say begin, continue to challenge the powers that be.


Kerri Kelly: Yeah. You've survived like 1800 thousand million things. I feel like, you've had like nine lives.


Charlie Engle: Yeah, at least.


Kerri Kelly: And you're also one of the most like ambitious human beings I've ever known, I resonate with you that way but you just blow me out of the water Charlie Engle. How do you measure success? How do you define success? What's enough Charlie?


Charlie Engle: Yeah, there's never going to be enough, no.


Kerri Kelly: Is it a thousand mile race?


Charlie Engle: Success, I guess to me, looks like planning the next expedition, it is, and it's not that, why should there ever be enough? I mean, I'm 56 years old and I will very, very boldly say that anybody my age who is using their age as the excuse for why they're not doing things is just absolutely, they need to look inside and be a little more bold in the decisions they're making because even if there are physical limitations, "Oh, I got bad knees, or I hear all this stuff all the time." There's always a way to do the next thing. So for me, I know we were talking earlier, my next thing is in fact to go from, I mean, other huge expedition and it's the biggest I've ever planned and it's actually to go from…


Kerri Kelly: By huge, you mean like huge.


Charlie Engle: Shit every way, yes.


Kerri Kelly: Oh my God.


Charlie Engle: Yeah. I call it 5.8. So I'll tease it that way. So it's called 5.8 and I'm going to go from the lowest place on the planet, the Dead Sea land elevation. I'm going to swim out into the Dead Sea and I'm actually going to do a free dive to the lowest point that I'm capable of reaching.


Kerri Kelly: Whoa!


Charlie Engle: I'm going to come back up hopefully. And swim to shore and dry off and run basically 2000 miles across the Arabian desert. So including an area called the empty quarter which is just like what it sounds like, I get to Oman and I basically get to the tip of Oman and I'll get in a kayak and paddle a thousand miles across the Indian Ocean. And when I reached Mumbai, India, I'll get on a mountain bike and cycle to western Nepal to visit an orphanage that a friend of mine runs there. And then continue on to Everest base camp where we're I'll do what all climbers their attempt to do and I'll reach the top of Everest.


Kerri Kelly: Holy shit.


Charlie Engle: And when I get there, I'm going to pour out a little flask of water that I carried with me from the Dead Sea as a symbolic joining of the ends of the earth. And I call it 5.8 because that expedition is about 4,300 miles all together. But in reality, it's only 5.8 vertical miles-


Kerri Kelly: Whoa!


Charlie Engle: ... from the lowest place to the highest point. And you know what? You and I, everybody at this conference and everybody on this planet actually lives within this tiny little 5.8 miles sliver-


Kerri Kelly: That's cool.


Charlie Engle: ... that covers the earth. We're all in it together whether you want to be or not, you're already there. So you might as well get busy.


Kerri Kelly: That's deep. Literally, that depth.


Charlie Engle: It is.


Kerri Kelly: How long will it take you to do this?


Charlie Engle: If all goes well, about four and a half months. So that expedition itself will start January the first 2020, which I think symbolically it's a really great time to start.


Kerri Kelly: And what do you hope to accomplish?


Charlie Engle: Part of, when I started running across the Sahara, I had started this tiny little clean water nonprofit but I didn't know if it would amount to anything. And today it's the biggest clean water nonprofit in the world. The right thing is going to appear for me.


Kerri Kelly: Good.


Charlie Engle: In this. I'm partnering with Red which focuses of course on the aids epidemic in this country. will be a partner, but I will find a way, I hope and it will make itself known.


Kerri Kelly: You're listening for it.


Charlie Engle: Yeah, what that's going to be. I think maybe it's just hope, I mean, it sounds so cliche and I hate that kind of language in a way, but I feel so hopeless sometimes these days, like environmentally especially but that there's nothing I can do to make a difference. And look, we see death and destruction and human suffering every single day on television and everywhere, we see enough of that, we don't have to even try. What I want to show people is this magnificent 5.8 miles space where we all live.


Kerri Kelly: Well, when I think about you, Charlie, you embody for me, you defy like all practicality and when I think of like what you've been able to accomplish is just so beyond, I think the limitations of our mind. Like you just are like, you continue to blow up any idea we have of like what possibility could look like, every time you challenge and reach and say, this is possible. I do think actually it does seed within us an invitation to think bigger and to dream bigger and to imagine better what we're all capable of, despite how fucked up the world is right now.


Kerri Kelly: And I really appreciate that you're like putting that true north forward for us that we can actually, we can point to that like holy shit, that's possible. And I would never, ever in my wildest imagination have thought that that was possible. Were you not taking this risk?


Charlie Engle: Man, you summed it up so well there, and I mean that means everything to me that you feel that way and I think what you do is what I talk about all the time, share the struggle. The mistake that people make quite often I think is to only share the success that they're going through, they may acknowledge the struggle to a certain degree but I believe that as human beings, we actually want to know that other people are struggling too.


Kerri Kelly: When we have to.


Charlie Engle: When the camera goes on, when the mic turns on, if you're not sharing your struggle and letting other people know that despite what outward success other people might see in you, it hasn't been easy, and it's not about like telling some sad story about how hard it's been for you, it's about just sharing. I know when people turn on, if they were watching me run, who wants to watch me run 50 miles a day? I don't want to watch that. But they'll turn on to see me, puking and crying and you don't want to see someone make something look easy.


Charlie Engle: And I think it is this idea that no matter whether it's athletics or criminal justice or human rights, it's not easy. And so you do have to show and share the hard stuff with other people and allow them to understand they're part of it.


Kerri Kelly: Rock bottom to resilience.


Charlie Engle: Perfect.


Kerri Kelly: Right?


Charlie Engle: There we go.


Kerri Kelly: Full circle.


Charlie Engle: It's going to be on my t-shirt.


Kerri Kelly: Charlie. Thank you so much.


Charlie Engle: My pleasure.


Kerri Kelly: Every time I drop in with you, I'm just like amazed by who you are and who you're becoming, like you just keep kicking it up like 10 more notches and challenging us to like go bigger.


Charlie Engle: Right back at you. Right back at you.


Kerri Kelly: Go bigger, go.


Charlie Engle: Thank you.


Kerri Kelly: All right. Until next time.


Charlie Engle: All right.




018 Maytha Alhassen


This conversation is right on time. Dr Maytha Alhassen is a Syrian-American journalist, poet and scholar, working to bridge the worlds of social justice, academic research, popular culture and healing arts. And on this episode of CTZN podcast, she schools us  on the history of immigration and white domination in America.

May was born a learner only to grow up in a White America that treated her multi linguistic skills as a deficiency. She always found school to be regressive and disappointing, and set out to learn all the truths on her terms and is speaking them out loud. 

When talking about muslim bans or immigration issues, May says that its not about whether immigrants are welcome or not. It's about white supremacy. Trump’s travel ban was not the beginning but a continuation of a legacy of immigration restrictions and bans in America. And it began with the naturalization act of 1790 which said only free white people could be citizens of this country. 

What we are witnessing right now - with travel bans and family separation and caged children and overflowing, unsafe, unsanitary concentration camps was built on that legacy. 

And witnessing is exactly what we need to do. Not the kind of empathy that centers our feelings of others pain and just sits there. But the kind that takes action because of what has been witnessed. The word in Arabic is Shahada - which translates directly to act of witness and testimony. May calls it a kind of “with-ness”, one that is interdependent, active and engaged. One that understands that we all have a stake in transforming systems of oppression because we are all connected. 

And she leaves us the critical question and contemplation: who is witnessing what is going on all around us? And what will we do about it? 

This conversation is real time and essential. Take a listen.



Welcome May Alhassen.


Thank you. Thank you for having me here.


I'm so excited you're here.


Kerri, yay.


I was thinking before, by the way, that we know each other in two contexts. We know each other in the yoga context. We met many, many years ago at Hala's house-




... I think. Then we met again in an activist network. I love that because it's weird that I have yoga friends who are activist friends, and you're one of the few that stand fiercely at that intersection, so I'm so excited you're here.


I'm excited to be here too and to make that integration even more on point I guess.


Yeah, yeah, totally. I have no doubt you're going to do that, just knowing what I know about you. When I was thinking about how to introduce you I was challenged. You're an academic, an activist, a healer, a yoga teacher, a writer, a translator, an artist, a poet, an actress, a commentator, a speaker, an organizer. I'm sure I could go on. I was like how can anyone properly introduce you? I love that because I love how many super powers you're bringing to your work. But I'd love first for you to tell us about where you come from, and even more specifically, who you come from because I would imagine that has everything to do with the work that you do in the world.


I'm going to start with where I just intuitively, in my mind, just visualize which was I was born in Southern California, that's strangely a big part of my story because I'm kind of, as I joke, an LA stereotype in my granola, crunchy, plant-based, yoga every day lifestyle. Thinking about the ways that I'm connected to nature, disconnected by virtue of systems that are around us, however, I was born, literally in Little Aleppo because my father got into business with his brothers and through the business they bought out a track of houses that were model houses in a cul de sac. I literally grew up with his family on that block. We'd take plastic chairs outside and eat watermelon. I don't think people know that Syrians eat watermelon.


That's my dad's side of the family is that they're from Aleppo. He grew up in a very different environment to me, which was a Syria that had just become independent from French colonizers. 1946 is when Syria becomes independent and months later he is born. He's born into a new reality, but also a reality that shifts the generations of his own lineage. His father is a Bedouin from different city completely and that's part of my story that distinguishes me from other Syrians in America which is I have this direct ancestral connection back to southern Arabia. You're looking at me here, but the listeners can't see me, I have curly, black hair and I looked a little bit "darker" than the usual Syrian. My grandmother on my father's side has red hair and blue eyes.




That's actually the common story. Syrians are like the white Arabs, which I didn't really connect back to until I finally visited there in my 20s and why did it take that long? My mother's side of the family who was all over the world, Canada, Spain, U.K., Saudi Arabia, I think somewhere in Syria, we would converge in the south of France where her parents lived. Actually, to this day, my grandmother on my mother's side, is buried in Nice, in the south of France. We would go there every single summer and this was a divergent story from the Arab immigrant or the children of immigrants in the U.S., which is they would mostly go back home in summers and that's why their Arabic improved and they had a strong connection to the land. For me, I was going to Cannes and these places that are ... I didn't realize it as a child because I was just going to see my grandparents and my cousins, but I didn't know this was the film festival land, the partying, the St. Tropez, the upper elite, aristocratic lifestyle. I would come to find out later that those were the folks that my mother's family was partying with. It would lead to some interesting complications, especially with my own politics.


I then am raised in this smaller city, which some of your listeners might know about because of pop culture, called West Covina, California, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend put us on them map. It was a city at the time, I grew up in the 1980s, that still was a Republican district. What that meant is even though there were a good amount of people of color there was still this sense of white dominance because all of us Asian, Indian, black, Mexican, other Latin Americans, we all try to fit within the standards of white aesthetics, white culture-




... to feel like they were accepted. That was my earliest memory, one, waking up in Aleppo, then going to school in white America.


Was that a conflict for you?


Oh incredible conflict because I didn't know that I was supposed to hate myself until I went to school, actually. I grew up speaking Arabic and English. I was put into ESL classes even though I had already been speaking English, but I don't know if most folks know that when you go to a public school and they ask you what languages are spoke in the household, if you put anything in addition to English, even if you put multiple languages and English is still on there they'll put you in ESL classes. At this point, I'm already speaking, I've done math, I'm doing a little bit of reading and then I'm put into a class where they show me an apple. This is, I think, around first grade. Or no, I think it's kindergarten.


They were showing us an apple and I was like, "This is a motherfucking apple," like I know what this is. I go back home and I tell my parents, "What is this school thing? It feels very regressive." I didn't use the language "regressive" but as a kindergartner, but that was definitely something that I felt and sensed. Had I not told that to my parents, they wouldn't have gone to the administration and said, "Hey, what is going on?" The administration's response was, "Let's test her." They tested me and not only did I test into a non-ESL class, like a mainstream class, but they skipped me a grade and they put me in gifted.


They would never have done that-


If I didn't go back.


... if your parents hadn't have been like, "What the fuck?"


Exactly. Had I not said that to them they would have not known what my school experience was like. They didn't grow up here.


They didn't even inquire into it.




They weren't testing for competence-


Right. They were noting that bilingualism or multilingualism was a deficiency.




Right? Imagine-


And not a strength.


Right, not a strength. Of course, now we have scientific research that's producing all these reports about how fundamental it is to have a bilingual, multilingual brain as a child, and what that turns into in terms of critical thinking, problem solving, acclimating and adapting in different environments. At that point, English and Arabic-


I wonder if that policy still exists. It's such a subtle policy of exclusion, but I would imagine, just even knowing the school that I grew up in outside of Manhattan, that was exactly what was happening when I was growing up. I just wonder is that still the line in the sand that they use to determine who gets into what class.


Totally, I mean-


I don't know enough about education to know that, but especially in Trump's America I wouldn't put it past our school system.


And the different ways that school plays out across the nation.




What I think is really interesting I think, we're around the same age, during this time there were shifting ideologies around education and culture in America. I saw the move from the melting pot to the salad bowl, to the mosaic, to multiculturalism as sometimes a diversity marketing ploy, right?




Also saw the transition from having Christmas break to holiday break.


That's right.


From Christmas show to holiday show. Actually during this time, folks might find this really interesting, like I said, I went back home ... Let me back up a second. During this time, the other part of my response, this is where the conflict around self-hate comes from, yes I was strong enough to tell my parents that this wasn't okay. But the message that was communicated to me that was that me speaking Arabic was not okay, so I started speaking Arabic back to my parents. My little kid brain was like, "Oh, Arabic, bad." That's the association it made. I tried for decades to separate myself from being Arab and tried to find another identity to lean on. For me during this period with the transition to holiday show, to tolerance of other religions, it was being Muslim, ironically, pre-9/11. I just invested in that identity.


Do you ever think about what your path would have been like had you been assigned to an ESL pathway-


Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


... and not accelerated academically because you have such an academic ... I don't know what you'd call it, pedigree. I just wonder, had that fork in the road not happened for you.


Well, I think about two things, one is that I think about all the other children that didn't go back to their parents and say this was not okay, and where their lives ended up and where they could have ended up.


Then for myself, I think about this continued to be the story with my engagement with public education was that it was never challenging enough. My parents also didn't have the experience growing up in the system to know what I was being dropped off into at 7 AM and what they were picking me back up from at 3 PM.




One of the first things I did when I got on the internet was look for boarding school. I was like the little Mathilda get, I felt an outsider. That was the other part of it, I was bullied, mercilessly, for looking like another. There were not other Arabs in school with me besides people who had my same last name, because there was the Alhassen clan that lives on the cul de sac up on the hill. That continued to be ... Well, I should say, contribute to a lot of pain as a child was not just reconciling those two worlds, but really finding like I didn't fit in any of them in the way that I was told to. Later in life I would come to see that as a strength, but as a child I was actually very depressed and I've spoken about more publicly about the kind of depression that I experienced as a little kid, like a seven, eight year old. We're hearing stories now about what's happening with young kids. I think I read somewhere about an epidemic of young, black children with suicide now. That lack of attention to creating conditions that speak to embracing people, that's still continuing today. We've moved forward, allegedly.


And have we, right?




It just makes me think about ... and I didn't plan to talk to you about education, but you're like now got me thinking about what it's going to take and how critical it is to transform the culture of education, and how we understand. That's the beginning for so many kids.




Not just in academics, but in culture.




What we learn in school, what we learn from other kids, what we learn from other parents, what we learn from teachers and administrators, it shapes us.


No, definitely. Not having an Arab woman be my teacher until graduate school was a big deal. This is another part of my story. A lot of people who hear me talk about who I am and how I came to be and that was the other part of your question, know that my father played a big role, and that's a story you don't hear in the U.S. context of talking about Arab and Arab-Americans is the role for some people and some families that Arab fathers have on the career path or the trajectory of their daughters. It's usually told in a context of counter-terrorism, like our men exist to make us submissive, to be at their beck and call, and we are hidden behind the sheets, black sheets, and we have no say.


I don't want to generalize. That's also not the best strategy in countering that kind of prevailing stereotypical thinking, but I also do want to mention during my childhood period, my father was very involved in local organizing, so that's another part of you were hinting towards my activism. I was introduced to so much in the municipal context, in the state context. I don't think any of my other peers, in terms of people in the Arab-American community really came close to until after 9/11.


Well and just hearing the story about how your parents protested your assessment at the-


Yes, yes.


... school-




... was like an act of activism.


My father would take us to city council meetings. We'd-


That's awesome.


... go to political fundraisers, do canvassing, go to phone banks. I'm sure I did a phone bank and I was underage to do it. We protested as dump sites that was supposed to be closed near our home.


One of the funnier things was that my father would always take me to political fundraisers. At the time, I was somebody who loved belly dancing, so I would only agree to go if I could dance at the political fundraiser. Here I would dress up in a custom my mom made, like a really skimpy outfit for a six year old. I call it a little JonBenét Ramsey-esque. Then my father would introduce me as his future congresswoman. Had I not had that, given the world around me, the pop culture imagery, where totally absent was that of a strong Arab or Muslim woman, what would have I become? What would I thought was possible?


Your dad and your mom migrated to the U.S.


My mother, the reason her parents were in the south of France, because-


They're both Syrian, yes?


The complications. What's funny, I think that we forget a lot of these countries and these notions of nationalism come to be in the last two centuries. When borders are created then identities are created. Syria comes into being in 1946. Before that, that whole land before French and British colonizers came in, was Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, that was called Land of Syria. Because of the way that the Ottoman Empire, which preceded British and French colonialism would rule the area, which was very decentralized, people identified with cities and not a nation/state identity. That's why I led, actually, this conversation talking about being from Aleppo, which in Arabic is Halab. There was a strong identification of being Halabi, which is the noun around somebody who's from Aleppo.


My mom's story is that she was born in Syria. Couple generations back her family is from Egypt, actually. We only uncovered that when we went back in my 20s. I was like, "Whoa, how come I didn't know this part of my story?" But when she was very little they moved around all over the place. Her father was a diplomat, so my marriage between my mom and dad is like the marriage of the princess and the pauper. She moved from Egypt, to Turkey, to Spain, to all over the place, and then finally settled in Lebanon. She really identifies with Lebanon. That's why we would travel there frequently.


However, another plot twist, her family has Saudi citizenship. On my birth certificate it literally says I'm Saudi and Syrian.




When people look at me they're like, "What? How is that part of your story?" It's also an interesting conversation because it tells you, your podcast is CTZN and we think about citizenship, how citizenship plays out differently in the Middle East, or what I like to call Northeast Africa, and that is what passport you have is your entry point to navigating that place that you're living in. If you-


It's not even just place-based.


Right, right. There are very few people in the Emirates who have an Emirati passport. It doesn't get directly handed down either. Your father has to be an Emirati to be handed out. My mom had a Saudi passport, she couldn't hand it down to me, which someone would say, "Who would want a Saudi passport?" But for somebody who was a Muslim, going and being able to go hassle-free to visit one of the holiest sites in our tradition, Mecca and Medina, that would give me easy entry.


I'm going off on a little bit of tangents, but talking about education, before this current administration Saudi Arabia, there was a policy of offering scholarships to Saudi students to go study anywhere in the world, and mostly American universities. That included graduate school. That also included healthcare. At a certain point, I really wanted to go back to law school, but I wasn't willing to have that quarter of a million dollars of debt, so I was trying to look back to see if there were any ways that I could navigate and get that money. But now that's not the case anymore. The new administration pulled all that out under the rug following suit with American financial advisors who have instructed them to take money out of social services, like healthcare, like education, and redirect it to a defense budget.


Sounds familiar.




Your parents come to America. This is my question ... but thank you for taking us on that tangent. I have a feeling you're going to school us this whole podcast. I'm just going to keep asking you questions because I'm learning so many new things. But what do you think inspired them to get political right away? Is that something that they had been oriented to from where they came from or did they feel compelled in America to get engaged?


The other part of my mom's story I did not finish is that she grows up in Lebanon and in 1975 it was the start of the civil war.


That's right.


Her father, at this point, is a diplomat there involved in politics that are going on that would have spelled danger for his family. He gets wind of what's happening and before there is a submergence or total explosion of violence, he takes his family and moves to the U.K. and my mom finishes up her last year of college there. Then they moved to the south of France. In her early 20s she's there.


My father, at this point, he comes to the states in 1968 and literally just a couple months after MLK has been assassinated, so this is a very interesting time and climate for him to be here. He was somebody who worked as a busboy, took community college classes to transfer to an engineering school. It was his dream to be in an engineering school where he would learn how to build cars. Cars were his big, big passion.


He hasn't publicly told this story, but I think it's a fundamental part of who he was, he was working at a cafeteria, I believe on campus, and he was promoted ahead of some of his white colleagues. One day he was walking to work and he was jumped by two of them. They I guess walked on his back and he was injured so severely he was in rehab for six months. The idea is that this dirty Arab gets this job before them, and this is southern California, went to school in San Gabriel Valley, Inland Empire area, and that was still something he experienced.


To be honest, I don't know what really led him in, but the irony is because my mother's father was so heavily entrenched in politics and she saw what that meant in terms of displacing them, especially for her, somebody who loved Lebanon. Her heart still is there, it's in Beirut. She has so much distance from politics, it's like she's allergic to it. She doesn't want to get involved. We'll tell her who we think are great candidates to vote for and policies that are important for us, but ironically, she does get heavily involved in PTA. That's the kind of work that speaks to her is something-


Local political.


Local politics, exactly. For my father, coming from a Syrian context where the party that the Assad regime is a part of comes to power in 1963. For five years, my father's adult life he sees what that dictatorial nationalist transition, some people would call it socialist, but we can have disputes around terminology, what that did for him. Which is that when you're under a really oppressive, tyrannical dictatorship, that political participation is not only stripped from you, but your ability to engage in freedom of expression and speech is also as well. I think there was a part of him that because he was so heavily excluded as a Syrian in that period from the political process, wanted to be engaged in it. I know that he wanted to desperately run but he said to me once, he's like, "I have an accent. No one's ever going to elect me in this country."


Speaking of tyrannical dictatorships, you know where I'm going?


Mm-hmm (affirmative).


I want to talk about the Muslim ban.


Oh actually, I thought you were going to jump back into Syria, but that is a tyrannical dictatorship too.


Yeah, I know. I figured that was a good bridge. We don't hear so much about the Muslim ban now years later, and yet, it was the tone, I think, that really shaped the last two years under this administration. You and I were together when that executive order came down in LA. I'll never forget it because I was so grateful you were there and Linda Sarsour was there, that I was actually in your presence while this was happening because I didn't understand what it meant. Right away, I got this incredible context, like this is what this means, this is where this is coming from. Since that day, I have always been like whenever I had a question about it I have always been like, "What is May saying? Follow me." At CTZNWELL we featured your Facebook Lives, really you have helped us make so much sense of this. I'm so grateful to you. We just stand in the place of it is so important to listen to the voices who are most proximal to those who are most impacted and you have been one of those voices for us, so I'm grateful for-


Thank you.


... how outspoken ... I'm sure that has been challenging for you, how outspoken and committed you've been to really helping people make sense of this.


I want to read something that you wrote because I think it gives better context to how we should be talking about this. You said when you were talking about the Muslim ban you said, "Their geographies are in places that we call the Middle East and Africa, but the bigger story of this is the fact that a ban is part of the logic of white supremacy in this moment." I think that's really important because even to call it a discriminatory policy against Muslims feels too innocent. This has everything to do with our legacy of control and colonization, of policing bodies, of harassing and harming others, of detention and incarceration.


You wrote a great blog, everybody should read this, about how we have to go beyond the immigrants are welcome narrative. But this is not the story we hear in the media.




It's even not the story we hear on the left and in progressive communities. It feels like we actually need to be telling another story. What is the story that we need to be telling about not just the Muslim ban but this administration policies against not just the migrant community, but communities of color in general?


When the Muslim ban came down as an executive order it was right after the inauguration, but it also was part of a series of other executive orders that targeted the indigenous Native American community in response to Standing Rock. There was another executive order that was a response to federal oversight of police and law enforcement that had come in response to Ferguson, so that oversight was stripped as well. The message that was communicated in those first couple of weeks, in my mind, was that any community that isn’t aligned with white supremacy is under attack. If we're not thinking about it in that intersectional way, then we're losing... Yeah, we're losing the plot, we're losing the story of what's happening.


In fact, what I've been saying is that white supremacists see us more unified than we do. Imagine if we actually saw what was happening in Standing Rock with what was happening in response to the protections of law enforcement against police brutality, or protections around police brutality, I should say, and also the ways that the Muslim ban was transpiring. All those things are happening and then of course that plea for the wall, which it just shows us how much this administration and the white supremacist agenda which was also was very much set literally the day after Obama was elected. There was a convening of white supremacists in Tennessee and they said, "What are we going to do to oppose this administration at every turn and what's our story going to be?" Their story was white genocide. If they could prove and show that any other community was infringing on the reproduction of whiteness, whether it is the physical demographic bodies of white people, or if it was also the rights of white folks that was being taken away, allegedly, as if rights are this scarce resource by other groups of people. Then they were going to wage an all out war. That was their story. We never came up with the story.


A counter story.


Sorry, right. They've been riding with white genocide since 2008, but we haven't even been able to pinpoint that.


Fast forward, we also did not put pressure on the Obama administration to move past liberal policies, liberal policies that in other people's hands could be easily exploited. For example, what you were quoting was from right before Obama exits they pass a budget and part of the budget was this visa waiver program, which reversed the visa waiver for anybody that had nationality in Syria or Iraq. What that meant was if you're a European who's from Spain, like my cousins are, my Syrian cousins, and you're Syrian, you can't come to the U.S. without getting a visa now like any other Spanish person. That made them second-class citizens in their own country by the U.S. doing. That existed before the Muslim ban and people were like, "Oh whatever, it's an additional issue and inconvenience maybe. They just have to go to the consulate." But what that effectively did was it gave DHS, Domestic Homeland Security, the jurisdiction to be able to add as many other countries as it wanted.


It was like they cracked the door open.


They cracked the door open and then the Trump administration actually cites this Visa waiver program-


And kicks the door in.


Exactly, exactly. They start with countries like Syria and Iraq because there was a geography of violence created around them, which-


Supported that affiliation for them.


Right, right, right. That geography of violence, which we never have a conversation about comes because of the destabilization of the Middle East because of the Iraq war and other decades of U.S. interference in the region and military bases, and so on and so forth, and drone strikes, and bombings. None of that is part of the conversation, it's just in an unconscious American person's mind, here's the Middle East, this is where violence occurs and people are born and bred to be violent. If we just block them from coming here we'll be safe.


I think this is so important too because I think there are so many people who woke up on November 9th, 2016 and --


11/9, I call it 11/9.


11/9, right, right. 9/11, 11/9 and thought that this was the beginning of a tyrannical trend when in fact, it was the continuation of one.


Right. Going back to this idea of why the ban signals another iteration of white supremacist policy is we've had migration, immigration restriction bans that were exclusionary to every group except Northwestern Europeans many times in our country's history. When people went to LAX to JFK and said, "Immigrants welcome, this is a part of our history", Statue of Liberty says, "Bring me your tired, your downtrodden", no, it's actually not a part of our history. What you read from was an article I wrote for the Boston Review on I called it the 100 Years History, but I went a little further back, or 100s of Years History of the Muslim ban, which starts after the Constitution is passed there's a law in 1790 that says only white, free people-


That's right.


... can be citizens of this country.


The Naturalization Act.


Act, exactly. What that meant was that effectively, every kind of legislation was trying to include other people who were not that, whether it is women, free black folks, any other group. But the whiteness is so prevalent and strong that in the early 20th century when Syrians were migrating here ... There's actually in law school a lot of discussion is around Syrians coming in the early 20th century because they are the ones that flipped what they call naturalization cases. What was happening was that an Indian person, a Japanese person-


That's right.


...  were trying to find any argument to become a citizen, but they had to use the claim that they were white too to get citizenship.


Which assimilation, the very assimilation that you were talking about.




Conform and we'll reward you.


Right, right, right. It's not really immigrants are welcome, it's an immigrant is welcome if you can demonstrate that you can assimilate into a white culture or whiteness. While other groups were unable to prove their whiteness, the Syrians were around a very interesting argument, which was what they called cradle of civilization argument. Basically they stated, "Oh, you all are white Christian folks, right?" Most of the Syrians coming into the U.S. at this point were Christian. They said, "Well what do you call home? You call Jerusalem home? You call Paul of Damascus home? Well we're from there, so if you're white and Christians are white, we're white too because we're from there."


Well and there is the history of Christian domination --


Exactly, exactly. That's how they were able to flip it a little bit, but that didn't mean also during this period that Syrians weren't being lynched and had crosses burned in front of their house-


That's right.


... in the south. That's what was also happening at the time.


You also said it's not enough to say no ban, no wall, but rather, no prison, no cops, really gets at what we're talking about because white supremacy sees immigrants and people of color the same way. What is the relationship? Can you help us understand the relationship between the immigration debate and mass incarceration in our country?


The Muslim is racialized as this brown foreigner. When we say Muslim ban, automatically people are thinking about that even though some of the countries on that ban are from Africa, so effectively, as we've seen around free 21 Savage, nobody's thinking about black migration to the U.S. and how they're undocumented folks and how they're affected by the same policy, so that's one thing. But systemically, a lot of the stuff is rooted in a system of anti-blackness that creates the logic around the need for prisons, for a penal system, for restrictive immigration policy, and it's actually black organizing that reverses some of the stuff.


What I was telling you about restrictive immigration, there was a National Origins Act that was passed in 1924. It was only totally gutted in 1965 because of the liberalizing trend of the Civil Rights Movement. A lot of folks were able to come after 1965, so all those quotas for non-European countries, non-Northwestern Europe countries, were dissolved, but people came here and they didn't see the black freedom movement that was responsible for letting them come into this country. There's a disconnection in that point to what they owe in terms of black struggle. As we saw with the 1790-




Yes, that the first group of people to expand that were black folks when they were emancipated after the Civil War. There's that element to it.


Which led the way for women.


Yes, exactly. Precisely.


That's another connection we don't make, we fail to make, especially as white women.


Right, right, right. But also, black women were involved-


That's right.


... in the abolition process as well. It's that historical nod to the struggle that preceded us, so that's one point of it. But, like I said, that logic about restricting people that are not white comes from a rooted anti-blackness.


Why do you think that as a movement we have such a hard time with intersectionality? We stick to our issues, we stick to our identities and we fail, to your point, to connect the dots around how our liberation or emancipation, our right to vote, has all been very interconnected and interdependent. Do you think it's self-preservation? Are people just struggling to survive and don't feel like the movement is strong enough for us to band together and to tell them we're complexed? What do you think is at the root of that?


I think people, this is going to sound harsh, are still invested in the possibility of ascending to white, middle class status. Hierarchically, the way they're positioned, let's just take a system that is rooted in anti-blackness, if you're brown and you have documentation, you're looking at somebody as undocumented as holding you back.


As a threat.


Yes, from being included conceptually as being worthy of having an American citizenship. People are just racking their brain, they're like, "Why are some of these Latinx folks in Texas voting for Cruz? How did that happen?" Well, it's because they are believing in this mythical universe of their ascendancy to white, middle class social culture. I think people are still holding out for that.


For the American dream.


Dream, right, right. What would it mean for us to see these also as not just abnormalities of the system. I think that's what people are seeing and banking on, so the people that come-


Versus a mythology.


Right, right, the mythology that they're invested in, which they're thinking that these are temporary detentions. They're thinking this is a temporary hold back in their fulfillment of economic mobility. This is a temporary moment where the wall might just be up for a little bit. This is a temporary moment where some of the people who look like us are in detention, but we're not supposed to be there because we work hard, because we own a business and --




Meritocracy, right. If black people worked a little bit harder than they would be like us. No, absolutely not.


Well and this is no different then third, fourth, fifth generation-




... white European migrants who I think make up a good part of Trump space-


Right, right.


... who are defending their turf. Gore Vidal said this is like the United States of amnesia because we are against migration and movement and yet, we come from it. It does feel like there's a shared ideology there, to some extent, even though it's happening in such different ways, such different groups of people of defend your turf, self-preservation, hold onto the mythology of the dream, keep going, don't let anyone get ahead of you, there's not enough to go around. All of these ideologies conspire to get us stuck in this stalemate with one another.


Right. Lack of putting this in a better way, but this is why white supremacist culture is so boring too because you can't know about any other part of your story beyond a couple generations, and then you have to carry on the myth that it's always been like that, so how am I going to break this system that has been in place for centuries, no, it actually has not. This is a relatively new process in the modern history of people, of folks around the world is this idea that actually a very small group of people, in terms of global population, should control all the resources around the world.


Which is going to, by the way, end the world.


Yes, yes. I'm going to test out a pretty, I don't know if it's going to be an unpopular thought, but I've been sitting and thinking-


All unpopular thoughts welcome on this podcast.


I've been sitting and stewing around how we talk about western civilization. We all enter college and we have to take West Civ I or West Civ II, and continue the process of being trained around the history of modern thought comes with Enlightenment from Renaissance era-


All positive things.


Right, right, right, right. No other history existed before, like thee was a Medieval period that everybody was, I guess, in the world under ... except the fact that it was actually only concentrated in western Europe and that's it. These are the stories we're told and this is the other part of the story we're told is that knowledge production exclusively comes from this process and this period, but that knowledge production was sponsored and subsidized by colonial enterprise.


Right, well industrialization is also a part of that story-




... which has wreaked havoc-




... on Earth.


Right. My maybe unpopular-


I know where you're going and I totally agree.


I want people to hear Western civilization and think stigma in their head, have a bad association and say Western civilization equals destruction of organisms because it's not also just us and the livelihood that we could have in this habitat that we're ruining and destroying, but we're taking all the other species with us.


Totally. I was even thinking of calling the course The Beginning of the End.


Right, exactly.


This is the beginning of the end. It's so funny because when I think about ... I feel like I'm a cynic, so I want to be careful not to assume that all bad things have come from this too. Part of what I see emerging post-2016 election, and has been emerging for some time, for those of us that were in the movement long before that, it is a greater understanding of our interdependence and more vocabulary around it, more shared practice and culture around it. While it does feel like things are slipping and rolling back, I also see an evolving and an expansion of an understanding that our liberation and well-being are bound. It reminds me of one of the quotes that you had on your website. I don't know if this is your tagline or your mantra, but it says, "A kind of engaged withness." That does seem like ... I don't know, we have more words around that and more practice now than we've had in a long time and that even while things are slipping and getting worse, that is also something simultaneously that is emerging. I love the "kind of" part because it's feels like it makes space for paradox, and contradiction and difference, and conflict inside of "withness". I want you tell us what you mean when you say that.


This conceptional framework emerges from my dissertation, which I wrote two years ago. It's the idea that I just struggled a lot with solidarity as a concept of acknowledging and practicing interdependence because how it frequently manifested, I come from an organizing space, was an assessment of reciprocal exchange, and so-


It assumes sameness.


It assumes sameness. It also has a calculation around how much I'm willing to give you around let's say your struggle. There's sameness and separation. Your struggle's over there, my struggle's over here, I give you my solidarity for your struggle over there. But if we take away that engagement or if we take away those terms and say actually I'm witnessing what's going on for you, but with me in the process, then it transforms not just the relationship that you have with "the other person", but acknowledges the difference, but your relationship to the difference.


What I mean by that is that I am very inspired by Islamic spiritual tradition. A lot of that came out of how witness is described in a Quranic and spiritual sense. In English we think about witness as here you are Kerri. I am seeing that you have a bandage around your thumb. My heart might go out to you, but then it just shops there. But in Arabic, the term around witness is shahāda. Included in that definition is "to testify", so you can't have one without the other. If I'm standing there and let's say the bandage fell off I would just say, "Oh, Kerri's just in pain," that's it. It would just end there. But if I was like, "Is there anybody around who has a band-aid," that's me testifying.


It sounds like you're defining the difference between empathy and compassion-




... like you can have empathy in which you can retain a sense of separateness, like I feel for you, whereas, compassion calls you to act on their behalf.






I've spoken publicly about some of my frustration around how popular empathy has become because it also always centers our feeling of the other's pain and just sits there. That's cool, but it's also a little self-absorbed, was that oh my God, I'm so empathetic, I just carry all these people's pain around all the time.


What if I'm an empath? What do I do with that?


Oh yeah, I'm an empath, yes. Exactly. What do I do? I just have to protect myself from everybody else's suffering. Well no, now it's all about your feeling other people's suffering, but now we should feel for your suffering.


Oh my God-


Yeah, so-


... I love you for saying that.


Well I also love compassion too because why did we throw away that term, because it does call to action. If you look at the history of how witness is deployed it's deployed around conversations about the Holocaust, who was witnessing the genocide, conversations around slavery, who was witnessing what was going on in slavery. For a lot of international tribunals and other genocides the term witness comes up and we think of it also in a legal juridical sense in the U.S. But if you saw those as..., how differently are you oriented in the world? I have this conception, which is now people are going to get a little afraid, but sahāda means "witness to testify" it also means martyr and that's where people are really afraid of what that term could possibly mean.


Well it means different things in different contexts too.


Right, right, but the way I interpreted the connection of all those terms together is if I'm witnessing an injustice, a part of me dies. The only way I can be reborn is through the telling. That's why the dissertation is called to tell what the eye beholds.


I don't think that's radical or controversial at all because I think it even reminds me of our relationship with the term ally ship right now and also the prevalence of white savior syndrome, which seeps into so much of our activism, or the othering of I'm going to help that person over there, regardless of who is doing it. But if there's no skin in the game, right-


It's the stakes, it's us understanding that we all actually have a stake in transforming the systems of oppression, but more people in the world are experiencing the not, but also the people who are allegedly privileged, because they're part of the destruction of their own life.


Everyone is suffering under white supremacy, I don't care where you're ... You know what I mean? In different ways, certainly based on our location and our proximity, but not healthy for anyone.


Right. I should also say that the part of the influence of engaged "withness" is James Baldwin, so a "kind of". He was asked what he considers himself, is he a writer, and he said, "No, actually, I'm a witness and the pen is my weapon." That's how he saw himself. We started off this podcast talking about all the different ways I show up in the world and spaces I show up. I guess I don't see them as separate. We were talking about how we collide in such a rare way, the yoga community and the organizing community. But for me, it's all witness because that interdependence is the genetic code that I guess I've existed in the world with and that integration of mind/body/spirit.


When that hasn't been acknowledged those moments of depression as a seven year old, those moments of depression when I was forced to have cerebral processing as my way of being as an academic, that's led me to say, oh, something's out of balance, because everything should be talking to each other. Mind/body/spirit should be talking to each other. I should be talking to the art community, the organizing community, the near death community, the media community. Just that separation doesn't exist for me, not that there aren't proper boundaries that people should have and spaces should have, but that's the fiction of Western civilization is separation-




Binary. Oh yeah, how the Victorian period fucked us all up. That's where homophobia comes from is just this investment in an idea of a white, male rich person who is heterosexual as the ultimate citizen. That tiny little place called the U.K. just exported that all over the world and we're still paying the price for it.


That's right, that's right. I want to talk about healing, because I feel like you're going there.


Yes, yes.


Healing also as a wholeness, because I feel like that's also what you're naming is in our culture because we've been indoctrinated under all these ideologies and exports, thank you very much England, and other colonizers, we do a lot to contort and exclude parts of us, and neglect parts of us, and deny parts of us, whether that's mind/body/soul. I think of that also in terms of community and meta community. When we don't understand that we need all of our communities to be healthy and whole, then we see that it's possible for us to separate and to actually work against one another. One of the things that we talk about and we explore at CTZNWELL is this idea that the wellness culture sells us a myth that you can do self-care and wellness-


I'm so glad you're talking about this.


... by yourself, and in isolation, and that's enough. When in fact, we're like, "No, no, actually you can't achieve wellness when other people are suffering." I feel like that's our version of testifying. We witness and we testify, and therefore, we must be engaged in the well-being of everyone because our well-being is intrinsically tied up in that.


I know that you're a healer, you're a yoga teacher, you're a Reiki master, you're all sorts of-


Almost a master. I just completed level two, so I don't want to misrepresent myself, but yes.


In 2017 you piloted a trauma-informed yoga program geared towards displaced and marginalized people. You piloted it in Greece, it's called Yoga To Displaced People. I want to hear not just the role of healing in social justice and liberation work. But more specifically, the best practices of how we do it because we do healing a lot of different ways, and we do wellness, as I just mentioned, a lot of different ways. A lot of it is perpetuating systems of separation and systems of white supremacy and systems of oppression. How do we do healing with one another? How do we do yoga and wellness with one another in a way that supports and reinforces like that truth that we have amnesia about?


Just to pick up from the pushback around self-care culture, which is I'm not saying that you can't have that bubble bath and feel good about it. I think part of that movement was I don't want to feel guilty for taking time for myself. That's fine, but it's not a revolutionary thing to have a 16 day filled with gig economy capitalist labor production and be-


An appropriation.


An appropriation, and tear up your body and say, "Okay, I have a bubble bath now. I've reversed all of that." I think that's the trap it gets us into is that our real work, we have to do all that stuff, the caring for ourselves, but maybe we don't actually need that much maintenance if we didn't have systems that took away so much from us. As an example, let's think about the folks coming from many different places. I think the misconception around refugees is they're Syrian refugees, there's Afghans, because clearly we're responsible for their displacement. There's a lot of Africans from Cameroon, from Congo, folks from all over the world had this moment to leave where they were going. What I frequently heard was that had they know how different it would be and what they entered into maybe they would have just died back home. The thing was, "back home" before the intervention of war, of economic systems that made it untenable to live, they had a community.


I hear more people talking about community care and why that's so fundamentally important is that pregnant mother from Syria who gave birth in Turkey on her way to Greece and had an infant that she's taking in a boat, and then comes there and doesn't know what's happening to her child, in a community of elders she would have. She also would have a community of elders that would take care of her kid when she needs to go take a shower. That isolation, that individualism, that disconnection from an ecosystem of care, that is radically felt in the new experience for displaced people on the Western European continent, especially within a refugee camp geography.


For me, I thought I can't change the EU, not that those things aren't possible. But in the immediacy of now, what can I do if I can't change international law and the sweeping, overwhelming anti-immigrant sentiment that's hitting the U.S. and Europe. Let me give people a chance to mindfully breathe. That's been a little bit of my mantra in addition to an engaged witness because how much of us running from something is a continuous running? When do we get a moment to breath?


I worked with a women's center in the island of Chios, which is one of the three islands that most people come to on their way to try to get to the mainland of Europe. These are almost extension war geographies with how not just chaotic, overwhelming, how securitized these islands are. There were shifting tides but at the point that I came two years ago, if you weren't a refugee you couldn't go in and out of the detention camp because they didn't want you to see the deplorable conditions that folks were living in because they're afraid of you reporting back food poisoning, everything.


Anyways, what could I offer? The women's center on the island of Chios was almost like a bit of a shelter because women could spend their whole days there, get therapy, medical training, and I asked if I could do a trauma-informed yoga series of workshops. I was trained by Hala Khouri, who we both know. That's part of my trajectory. Then to also try to teach in Arabic. It was fun because-




Well the thing we always forget, because we just think about how difficult people's situations are and where they're coming from, and how we just think challenge, everything is dark and dreary. What they need in some of these moments is not just mindful breath but play, and fun and laughter. My pronunciation is not the best because I stopped speaking Arabic for decades and then didn't pick it back up until college, so I was trying to say breath, like the most essential word in yoga. I just didn't pronounce it right. They all started cracking up and I felt in a way, I was like, "No, I should laugh at myself too." They were like, "No, it's really cute the way you're saying it. It's funny. It's cute". Here they were laughing in yoga, we do have laughing yoga. I'm just like, "No, let it be. Let them have their moment."


At the end of doing this for a week there was a teenage girl from Iraq that came and she was a quiet person. I just noticed this moment in Savasana there was a smile on her face that just glowed, was glowing up the whole room and I was like if I could just give this young girl a moment to feel okay, and that's great. But it's not even me giving this moment, it was you have these tools available to you and hopefully you can employ them and think about getting back into your body when your body has been so radically not just displaced, but racialized as not wanted, excluded. How can you get back into your body and say it's okay being me in this space that doesn't want me here.


Despite all the things, despite what we're witnessing, and despite your life's experiences, you still have a vision-




... for freedom. I'm like, "How the fuck is that possible?" Yet, I'm like, "Please have a vision for freedom for all of us." What is that and how do we get there?


After Trump was elected in the couple minutes of 11/9, I just had this download come to me that was like what you need to invest in is divine feminine work and art. I come from an organizing background that centers abolition. A lot of people do, a good friend of mine, Patrice Colors and I, constantly have conversations around this and she is somebody who I've really looked to, to lead the way around how to think about abolitionist frameworks for transformative justice, for organizing, for conceiving of not just new communities, but new ways of relating to each other and within ourselves.


But that moment I just had this stark intervention from the spiritual realms and I started to do ... Well actually, I was asked to hold spaces to use Islamic spiritual practices geared towards the divine feminine rising and sacred femininities. I started to do those and I realized that a lot of women that come from the same demographic as me, women of color, also raised in a Muslim household, were taught a very mechanic version of it that was fixated on a practice of assessing piety and performing piety in a public way, so-


Like Athena.




Yeah, like the Greek god Athena is very much like that.


I didn't even know that's the way that-


That's the way I heard it.




Performative, strong.






I see her as-


... rigid.


But she's the warrior that is born out of Zeus' head-


Mm-hmm (affirmative).


... right? Okay. I see that. Now I see that.


I started holding those spaces and low and behold, this was something that most of these folks are either my age, younger, were desperately searching for, was a connection back, especially within white supremacist capitalist, homophobic, transphobic [crosstalk 01:03:04]. Yes, all of it, that system, because a lot of that work is also about disconnection, not just from each other and us, but from the spirit world. That's been something I've been invested in. The Reiki came after this moment in this aftermath. I'd already been doing yoga, but that's the stuff I'd been cultivating.


I would also say on a practical sense, that I see a lot of work for transforming who we are and our societies local, local organizing, local pressure on local politicians. We've seen a turning tide, clearly, on the national stage when it comes to do the tide that's come in, women of color, the AOCs, the Ilhan Omars. But we've also seen the resistance they've received as these young women of color with a radical agenda for justice that people are unwilling to let go of. One, we support them, but we also know that on the federal level, that's not going to radically shift our everyday lives. It does have a large influence and I'm not going to say that it doesn't, but the local work, if we want to take over city councils, if we want to be the head of school boards, we are shifting if a little Maytha is going to go to ESL, or going to be sent on the educational pathway she should have been destined towards. That work, it's not glamorous. It doesn't get you on MSNBC sometimes, but it's the most critical, crucial, vital work we could be doing. At the same time, using that experiment to say how could we think of freedom and justice differently, especially with these local structures connected to a country that has such a violent, damaging history, that has a constitution that wasn't meant for so many people, well maybe these places are the pockets of freedom. That's been all my mentors is the grassroots bottom-up storytelling and organizing is what can transform. We need to flip and invert the ways we've invested in the top-down because we're actually like Republicans then. It's trickle down freedom --


It's a bypass, right?


Yes, yes.


Just to use your phrase again, we can't "bypass the withness". We need the proximity to better understand one another and to witness, and testify. We can't do that from afar. We have to actually build that in these, Adrienne Maree Brown calls it fractal moments, fractal relationships. That's what I hear you saying is let's start with you and I-


Right and see the tangible work that your everyday laborer towards freedom and abolition is doing on the ground level.


Los Angeles had an amazing victory happen last week or two weeks ago around putting a stop to a $3.5 billion jail expansion plan that has been set into motion over a decade and a half ago. Patrice, we mentioned, and her organization, Dignity Empower Now, and the coalition that Dignity Empower Now is a part of, Justice LA, has been doing this work. They were able to convince a board of supervisors that has a budget of $30 billion plus to say, "Guess what, these prisons aren't going to do anything for us. They're just going to cost us more money and what about if we create decentralized mental institutions or centers instead. That's a re-imagining of what it means for us to have agency in the process of freeing ourselves.


I'm so grateful at that fork in the road between you being put on one of two paths at school and your parents speaking out and protesting that you got on this path-


Oh thank you.


... because you are such a force. Every time I'm around you I learn so much that, speaking of withness, I just wouldn't know or learn, or understand in the way I need to were we not in relationship in this way. I'm just so fricking grateful for you being on this podcast and you being in my life, but you also being in the movement. We will continue to follow you and listen to you-


Oh thank you.


We will testify.




We will testify.


Testify, I love it.


It's like I'm being reminded of Madonna. I'm going to testify my love, but I mean it now in a whole other way because of you.


I'm going to testify for justice.


I'm going to testify for justice. Thank you for being here May.


Thank you. Thank you for having me.


You got it.



017 Michelle Cassandra Johnson

CTZN Album Cover (2).png

Michelle Johnson: I actually think if we really live into yoga and practice yoga that it demands that we understand that duality.

Kerri Kelly: Welcome to CTZN Podcast. I'm Kerri Kelly. I'm super excited about this week's episode where I sat down with Michelle Cassandra Johnson, social worker, yoga teacher, longtime race equity trainer, and now author of the book Skill In Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. She is shaking things up in the yoga world and speaking all of the truths about toxic culture and white supremacy so that real healing is possible.

Okay. This episode is going to change your perspective about self care. Michelle Cassandra Johnson learned to be fierce and radical about her self care after her colleague, Cynthia Brown, passed away from cancer, which she believed in many ways was caused by white supremacy. It marked a huge turning point in her life. When she decided that she wasn't going to let this world kill her. She was going to thrive.

But in that process, she realized that it is impossible to heal when you're navigating a system that wasn't designed to heal you. And so she wrote a book called Skill In Action, to help us redefine and reclaim what yoga and wellness really looks like in a toxic culture. Yoga and contemplative practice is a pathway to healing, but only when we are willing to do the difficult and uncomfortable work of acknowledging and feeling into the truth of a culture that is dominated by ideologies of whiteness and individualism. The pain of that culture of separation demands to be felt, and that is the only way towards healing.

She challenges us to hold the reality that we are both one human interdependent family and, and this is a big and, and that we are living a very different experience based on how institutions and culture are set up for our particular identity and social location. There is a shared experience in how we get free, and there are unique roles and responsibilities that we each play given our location, and that is part of the skill in action that we need to cultivate.

The truth is, we are not really doing yoga. We are not really being mindful. We are not really well unless we center a level of consciousness that acknowledges the truth of who we are and how we got here. Otherwise we're just replicating the toxic systems that we're trying to transform. But Michelle reminds us that we are bigger than white supremacy, and we can do better. We can construct something better, and we have to, for the sake of all of us. Check it out.

Kerri Kelly: Let's say brilliant things on this podcast, shall we?

Michelle Johnson: We will. Always.

Kerri Kelly: All right. I'm here with my dear friend Michelle Cassandra Johnson, who is so many things. She's been a social worker, a race equity trainer for 20 years, former elected official. That's impressive. And of course a yoga teacher. I'm here with her in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where today she's done, and I'm not kidding you, a self care intervention with me.

Michelle Johnson: Yes.

Kerri Kelly: Because it's my first day off in, I don't know how long. And she made a mandatory rule that I wasn't allowed to open my computer. But somehow I convinced her to do this podcast with me, which really isn't work.

Michelle Johnson: No, it's fun.

Kerri Kelly: It's a labor of love.

Michelle Johnson: Yes, and it's birthing new things. We're creating.

Kerri Kelly: But you really model this way in which you do fierce, hardcore work in the world, and you have a relentless commitment to self care. How do you find the discipline to do that?

Michelle Johnson: I feel like the discipline around self care came after my colleague Cynthia Brown passed away. She passed away in the November of 2016, right after Trump was elected. A week after Trump was elected. I remember having a moment of feeling like I might die because of white supremacy, and Cynthia certainly had an awareness that she was sick. She had cancer because of white supremacy. She named that, she told me about it. I just felt like I'm not going to let this world kill me, because it's set up to kill me. So I'm really going to be fierce and radical about my self care because I'm doing big work in the world. And so for all of the big work that I'm doing in the world, I need that amount of self care to recover and to be able to persist. That's when it transformed for me.

Kerri Kelly: Is that when you wrote the book? Is that when you decided to write Skill In Action?

Michelle Johnson: The idea for the book happened, I think a month before that, and I didn't start writing until January of 2017. But Cynthia certainly had something to do with it, and she's in the book. I wrote a section about her and white supremacy, and how she was navigating cancer and trying to heal from cancer in a system that was set up to harm her because she was a black woman. I had a moment of feeling like, "It's impossible to heal when you're navigating a system that wasn't designed to heal you. So what do you do?"

Kerri Kelly: Or that's designed to heal some people and not all people.

Michelle Johnson: Right. Right.

Kerri Kelly: So the book is called Skill In Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. In the book you say this, "The experience of being a black person in a whitewashed America takes my breath away. The experience of seeing people who look just like me, black, female, young, and ambitious, being murdered at the hands of police and white supremacy takes my breath away." That quote always break me wide open, and it brings me back to Eric Garner. That's what it reminds me of, and his quote, "I can't breathe," when he said that, at the hands of police in New York.

Kerri Kelly: I've heard you say in many of our trainings that it's a radical act to breathe, but I... It's funny, I have a really hard time breathing. You've told me this before. I just wonder how we're supposed to breathe in the face of what's happening in the world? How we can conjure the will and the conviction to keep breathing, to take care of ourselves. All the things that you're naming, we still need to do, despite what's constantly coming at us. How do we do it?

Michelle Johnson: We remember that we'll die if we don't breathe.

Kerri Kelly: Why is it a radical act?

Michelle Johnson: Because the culture's set up to kill most of us, or to harm most of us, or to limit our space to breathe. That's how the culture was constructed, and once we really understand that on a cellular level, then we'll understand the necessity of breathing. Because the dominant culture's not going to make space for us to do it, so we have to break through spaces and create breath, and do it collectively to heal and to breathe and to live.

Kerri Kelly: Can you define for our listeners what you mean by dominant culture?

Michelle Johnson: Yeah, the simplest way that I describe dominant culture is to talk about who decides who's normal and who's not. Who fits the norms and who doesn't. Who should be free and who should suffer or die. And dominant culture defines reality for itself and everyone else. If I think about myself and the way that I'm socially located or the way I'm positioned, I think about how many institutions I've navigated and my experience of not being able to define my reality in the institution.

For example, when I got to the doctor, the medical institution has been conditioned in a particular way by dominant culture not to see me as human, not to trust me as a black woman, not to believe that I know my body. So dominant culture has an idea about what it means for me to be in my body, and then makes decisions that define how I experience the system. And really then how I'm able to heal and live and receive medical services. I think about dominant culture as the group of people that say, "This is normal, and this isn't normal. We're going to push out anyone who is not normal."

Kerri Kelly: It's hard, and yet it's important for me to hear this because I live in a white body and I actually get to move in those spaces and in those systems like I belong. I feel like for white folks without proximity to people of color and without the consciousness of a system that's designed to keep some people well and keep some people sick, or leave some people out, you don't need to see it, unless you see it. White folks get to move in the world and see only what they need to see to take care of themselves, to take care of their families, to take care of their communities and cul de sacs.

What do you feel like are the ways in which, for white folks who are not yet conscious, not yet awake, not yet seeing, how do we get white people to see more clearly what's really happening in the world?

Michelle Johnson: I think on a spiritual and soul level white people have to recognize the reality around their... They're dying as a result of white supremacy. They have had to give up their traditions, their culture, their language, their customs to be white-

Kerri Kelly: To assimilate.

Michelle Johnson: Right? And that's the goal of institutional oppression or racism or cultural racism is to say, "Assimilate so you can be part of the white group and belong." But that means shedding layers of who you are. I feel like white people have to realize that or recognize it. I don't know if white people will be able to shift the reality around that. I feel like white people need to realize that to be able to understand people of color are moving in the world and having a very different experience, and having to shed layers all of the time. There's some common experience between you and me, right? That you have to shed layers to be white, and I have to shed layers to survive. Because the culture's set up for you to survive, based on race. Not based on other identities, but certainly based on race.

I feel like it has to do with white people recognizing that they're losing something. In a culture that's all about scarcity and competitiveness and individualism, that they're losing something on a spiritual, soul level, that they're harming people, that they're dying as a result of other people being harmed. That's what has to happen for transformation to happen.

Kerri Kelly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know that that's what it was for me. It was the understanding that my wellbeing couldn't be fully realized. My truth and my purpose couldn't be in full integrity if I were to not actually see systemic racism, see the culture, the indoctrination of white supremacy full on. I think that's when it became... It became my problem, too. I think for a lot of folks of privilege, they get to say, "That's not my problem," because they don't feel like it's impacting them directly. And yet we know that people are being impacted deeply by systems of oppression, by systems of racism, but the oppression, the burden of upholding white supremacy, of abandoning who we really are. Forfeiting our lineage, assimilating and conforming. So there's something around, when you go back to breathing, there's something around breathing into that radical expression and disruption and reclaiming that feels essential to becoming who we need to be together.

Michelle Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). In a culture that says, "Think. Don't breathe, and don't feel." That's part of the ask, right? To lean into whiteness, to live into whiteness, is to intellectualize everything, and not to feel. If you start to feel, then it means you're going to change. If you actually start to feel and open your eyes and see what's going on and understand that things are set up to be inequitable and that things are set up, meaning the institutions and culture, for some people to thrive and other people to die, that then calls people into something bigger. It asks, it requires something bigger. And the pressure and constraints from the culture are, "Just think your way through this. Just intellectualize, just be smart enough. Just be perfect enough. Don't feel, because if you start to feel, it means that the culture will shift."

Kerri Kelly: Well, then that feels like just another way of being a bystander. Is that where yoga comes in?

Michelle Johnson: Yes. I think yoga and contemplative practice is a pathway to transformation because, at least in this country, in the US, people usually enter the practice of yoga through a physical practice. Moving in their bodies. The culture of whiteness also says, "Don't really move in your body unless you're competing to be thin, or you're competing to be better." People enter the yoga practice, I feel like, and our body is the densest part of who we are, to start to transform. And then what's opened up for them is the, I think more subtle parts of who we are, and the deeper parts of who we are in a lot of ways underneath the physical body.

This is where I think it gets tricky, because the subtle and deeper parts are about the awareness that we are connected in a culture that says we're isolated. This is actually where spiritual bypassing comes in, because there's an idea that we are one and we're connected, and that's enough. It's absolutely not enough. So the practice is a pathway to move through all of the toxicity that the culture conditions us into, or inoculates. That's a word that you use a lot around it. The physical practice is a way to understand we actually can transform and change, and then we get into the real discomfort underneath the physical transformation and we're called into shifting the way we think and the way we are, and the way we relate, and the way we're in community.

Kerri Kelly: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). It's funny, because I hold this belief that if you really do the yoga fully, the whole work, it becomes inevitable that you begin to see what's really happening in the world. We're right now seeing so much speaking truth to power, and yet, even in wellness worlds that center embodiment, we still hear a lot of, "We are all human, we are all one, positive vibes only." It's a lot like the way feminism is whitewashed when framed in terms of, "We are all women." So how do we balance that knowing that our wellbeing is bound and we are interconnected and interdependent, and the kind of intersectionality that you're talking about?

Michelle Johnson: I think it's holding multiple truths in a culture that says we need to think in terms of a binary, so an either or, or right or wrong, or one way, or one truth, or a singular experience. I think it's holding the reality that we are one. I absolutely believe we are one. There is no separation. There's no separation between you and me in this conversation, and our lived experience. There's no separation in what's happening around us outside of my home and what's happening inside of this conversation. There's no separation in what's happening in the culture in the world and what's happening inside of this room right now.

It's holding that truth. We're one, there's no separation, and understanding that we're in a culture that says separate based on difference and identity. And understand we're living very different experiences based on how institutions and culture have been set up for us. So it's being able to hold the duality of that. What do we do with the reality that we're one and we don't actually get to move in the world in the same way?

Kerri Kelly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, and the yoga, I feel like, allows us, invites us to build a capacity to actually hold that paradox.

Michelle Johnson: I actually think if we really live into yoga and practice yoga, that it demands that we understand that duality. It's not even an invitation. That's not how it feels.

Kerri Kelly: And if we're not, are we really doing the yoga?

Michelle Johnson: We're doing something, we're moving.

Kerri Kelly: We're moving our bodies.

Michelle Johnson: We're changing shapes. We're inhaling and exhaling.

Kerri Kelly: We're exercising.

Michelle Johnson: Right.

Kerri Kelly: I think that's such a powerful and provocative calling up of the yoga community. If we're not centering this level of consciousness and these kinds of conversations inside of the yoga community, then are we really doing yoga?

Michelle Johnson: Right. And more yogis need to ask that question. Like what am I doing, why am I doing it, what's motivating me? Is this yoga?

Kerri Kelly: We'll be right back after this with Michele Cassandra Johnson.

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Kerri Kelly: One of the things that you often ask and we often ask in our trainings together that I think is a really powerful practice is the question, "How are we replicating systems of oppression?" And I think it speaks to how insidious the ideology of white supremacy, of individualism, of capitalism is, even inside the most sacred spaces that we hold together. For me it feels like and everyday... Holding that question for myself feels like an everyday practice the same way that meditation feels like an everyday practice. I often find myself replicating before I even know that I'm doing it. Like I take on the shape of white supremacy before I even know I'm doing it. And even with all of the work I've done and all of the training, and all of the skill building, and all of the vocabulary that I have, I can be quick to shape shift into a superior and supreme state in the world. And that blows my mind how internalized it is-

Michelle Johnson: Right. Right.

Kerri Kelly: And how indoctrinated I am. I'm just curious about, what do you think that practice demands of us as activists, as yogis, as spiritual practitioners in the world, so that we can be a constant disruption to what we know is playing out over, and over, and over, and over, and over again?

Michelle Johnson: The practice of yoga demands that we remove the illusion. And it demands us to remember to remember. I always say this, that there's a cultural amnesia, and what oppression asks us to do is to deny and forget and pretend and lie about the truth. So yoga pushes against that and says, "Remove the illusion and actually see your true self." If we take that to collective experience and talk about it that way, not just my individual self, but the collective, which means we have to account for history. So yoga demands that we actually account for history and we name it and we understand how systems have been set up to serve some and not others. Yoga demands us to live into our dharma. To do our work in the world and to remember we're connected to something bigger than us. This moment is bigger than me, it's bigger than you, it's bigger than us in this room.

Yoga asks us to heal and reminds us we have the capacity to heal. Yoga asks us to move through discomfort, which is really resistance if we think about movement building and organizing and anti-racism work, resistance shows up because the paradigm has to shift. So yoga says, "Sit with your discomfort, move through your discomfort. Discomfort is different than pain." Yoga demands us to be a different way. It demands us to be countercultural if we think about dominant culture. It offers principles and philosophy and practices to move through when we're feeling uncomfortable.

I feel like everything is, if we truly understand what yoga is, everything is there for us to actually move through the moment that we're in right now, politically, the moment we're in culturally, the moment we're in institutionally. We just have to start practicing it in the way it was intended.

Kerri Kelly: For folks who are listening who may not identify as yogis, or who may not even think they're practicing yoga, how would you define yoga in an accessible way? What is the thing that you're describing that calls us up to interrogate and hold ourselves in integrity in the most holistic way possible?

Michelle Johnson: I always say, or often I say in meditations that the mind limits us. The mind actually, the monkey mind limits us and makes us create narratives and stories, and then we respond to those narratives. What yoga is about, it's about the breath, which the breath is life, and the breath has the capacity to connect us to our true self. So the essence of who I am, I will find that out through the breath. I will find that out through my inhales and exhales, which is really like my pathway to liberation.

So when I think of yoga, I'm not actually thinking about a physical movement in the body. I'm thinking about the reality of connecting to my true self in a culture that tells me all sorts of things about who I really am. The breath is the pathway to the essence of who I really am, which is counter to what the culture says I am, based on being in this black body and moving in the world. I don't mean... We do need to use our minds. I believe that. I more mean the stories that we've been told about who we are based on some people being superior and other people being inferior. That's what I mean when I say the mind will limit us, and then it makes us shape shift, as you named earlier. It makes us operate in particular ways. It makes us compete. It makes us power over, instead of build power together, stand in solidarity. That's what I mean when I say the mind will limit us. But the breath will actually allow us to be free and understand that our liberation is bound. The breath is that powerful, and that's yoga. That's all it is is breathing. That's how I think about it.

Kerri Kelly: And we see what you're describing in all sorts of spaces. In movement spaces, in political spaces, in change-making spaces. We're replicating, we're shape shifting. We're suffering from the disease of white supremacy everywhere. We see it everywhere.

Michelle Johnson: Everywhere, yes. It is everywhere. It is insidious. It is alive. It is pervasive. It informs almost everything we do, individually and as a collective. And it's powerful. Such that we can replicate it in the systems that we're trying to create to counter the culture that's harming all of us.

Kerri Kelly: Have you always been this convicted about anti-racism? Obviously you grew up a black woman, but were you born a resister and an activist? Was that always your calling?

Michelle Johnson: I believe so. I found out about my birth story about three years ago. I knew I was a preemie, so I was born two months early. I knew that from a very young age. My mother told me the story of my birth. But then three years ago she told me more about my birth, and she told me that the afterbirth came out before me, and that I wouldn't come out. And that the doctors said that I was small, they told her that, and she was terrified because she'd already lost a baby. They told her they had to do a C-section, an emergency C-section. So they put her under anesthesia and they pulled me out. I think it's significant that the afterbirth, which is after birth, it's not death, came out before I actually came out of the womb. I actually feel like I decided to come out in this lifetime. I feel like it was an act of, I have something to come into this lifetime to do, and I'm going to do it.

I was two pounds and three ounces-

Kerri Kelly: Whoa.

Michelle Johnson: So you could hold me in your hand. I really had to choose to survive. I had to say, "I'm going to live." I'm quite sure that that was my experience in the incubator for a month, that I was telling myself in my soul, "You have to live." I'm sure my ancestors told me that I had something to do and I needed to live. So I feel like I was a survivor in that way. I am a survivor, and that I was resisting in that moment in a culture that was not set up for a black baby who was two pounds and three ounces with a black woman who was birthing me, with no father around, to survive. Neither of us were meant to survive. We weren't set up in that way. And yet I did anyway, and my mother did. She was very sick when she had me. I feel like, yeah, I came out a resister. I came out an activist, because I had the will to survive.

Kerri Kelly: Is that resilience?

Michelle Johnson: I think that's resilience, I think that's resistance, I think that is the memory of my ancestors, I think that is the awareness that I am my ancestors' dreams.

Kerri Kelly: That sounds like a miracle, and also totally on purpose at the same time. I know that knowing you personally you call yourself a witch and are always using intuition and mysticism to navigate your way through racism and the world as we know it. How do those tools help you? How do they serve you in this work?

Michelle Johnson: I've always been intuitive. As a child I was a loner in some ways. In my neighborhood I was with myself a lot. I didn't have children my age in my neighborhood. At school obviously I'd interact with children, but I was by myself. I was a curious child. My mother has premonitions, my grandmother had premonitions, and I knew that from a young age. I remember feeling like I knew things, or that my curiosity was connected to magic in some way growing up. I understood that. But it wasn't until after George Zimmerman was acquitted and Trayvon Martin was murdered that I really started to lean into my magic and mysticism. The way it happened was George Zimmerman was acquitted, I fell to pieces. I fell apart. I cracked open, the world felt very different for me. I had PTSD in a way that I'd never had before, and I needed something to help me regain a sense of self and something to help me feel like there was some order in the world. And something to help me remember the expanse of the universe.

And so I started to go outside and hike and experience nature in a different way. Because when I was in nature it was the only thing that made sense. There's an order to nature. We're destroying that pretty quickly, but there's an order. We can see things in nature, we can see the ecosystem, we can see the connection between things, in a capitalist culture that doesn't actually allow us to see the connection between each other, right? One another. I started to go outside more and more, and then I started to listen to the natural world, and signs from the natural world. I started to become curious about my capacity to manifest things, to create, to birth.

It's sort of like faith. That's how I think about it. My mother and grandmother... My grandmother passed away in November, but my mother and grandmother, my mom's deeply devotional, my grandmother was deeply devotional. They believed in something bigger than them. I feel like I had to do that to survive what it meant to be in a world where police or where people can just harm black boys without being held accountable. I felt like I needed something to help me make sense of a world where Sandra Bland was murdered, and that could have been me. I needed something bigger to me that had an order and a system and a history to help me feel grounded. To help me feel connected in a world that was making no sense to me. That's how I got into magic.

Kerri Kelly: There's some that say that magic is unreal and unrealistic, and there are many that say that our systems are too broken to fix. That white supremacy is too big to be dismantled. What do we say to that?

Michelle Johnson: I think we say we're bigger than white supremacy. And I think we remember that white supremacy was constructed, because race was constructed. And so if it was made up, and yes it has real power, we can construct something else.

Kerri Kelly: I've heard you say that, "I will not let white supremacy steal my joy." What does that look like?

Michelle Johnson: It's related to radical self care. Because the culture's set up for me to die, that means the culture's set up for me to not feel joy, and my birthright is joy. I will not let this world and this culture take away my spirit and my joy. Because my intention is very different than the culture's intention around who I should be, or how I should be able to live and move. I'm fierce about it, actually, which you can probably hear in my voice.

Kerri Kelly: Well, you were fierce coming out of the womb.

Michelle Johnson: Totally.

Kerri Kelly: Shocker.

Michelle Johnson: Yes. There as ferocity there.

Kerri Kelly: And you're a Leo?

Michelle Johnson: Yes, I'm a Leo. Fire.

Kerri Kelly: And you're still blazing a trail.

Michelle Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerri Kelly: And you are my fellow Leo.

Michelle Johnson: I know.

Kerri Kelly: I'm so grateful to be on this path with you.

Michelle Johnson: It's awesome.

Kerri Kelly: And it's so great to play with you. One of the things I respect about you and I admire and I appreciate about you is how gracefully you move in collaboration, especially with white folks like me and all of our mistake making, and catching up, and waking up, and replicating and failing and getting back up and trying to do better. So I just want to thank you for that, for-

Michelle Johnson: Thank you.

Kerri Kelly: The willingness and the capacity to do that and to move in the world with folks who have fucked up so much shit and believe that we can be better.

Michelle Johnson: And we have to be better.

Kerri Kelly: And we have to be better, for all of us.

Michelle Johnson: Right. We have to be better. And it's another gift from Cynthia. When Cynthia passed away, she said, "Don't leave anyone behind." That was her gift to the people around her when she passed away. I think I knew that, I was living into it, it just took a different shape when she said it. Never leave anyone behind. What that means, and I think this is my yoga practice in the world, what it means, in addition to radical self care and joy, it means that I don't actually want to beat up white people. That's not actually my dharma or work in the world, and I can separate out cultural conditioning from the person. I understand the culture enough to know how it's pushing us to shape shift into things that we're not and things that we were never meant to be. I can see that enough to extend compassion and grace.

Michelle Johnson: I feel like if I extend compassion and grace, I'm on the right path. If I extend harm, I'm just harming myself, because we're that deeply connected. So I think it's in the spirit of not leaving anyone behind.

Kerri Kelly: Well, and I've heard Adrienne Maree Brown call it not canceling people. I just want to say, as a white person, that that's not an invitation to be let off the hook.

Michelle Johnson: Absolutely.

Kerri Kelly: When I hear folks like you say that to me in relationship, it calls me up to hold myself to a higher bar, to hold myself accountable, to hold myself in integrity, to work harder, to try harder and to show up better. And so I'm grateful for, I feel like the generosity of what you're saying, and I just want to invite white folks who hear that to be called up.

Michelle Johnson: Right, because it says I will be here for you and I will extend grace in a world that has not extended grace to me.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Michelle Johnson: And a culture that did not extend grace to my ancestors. And I am willing to extend grace and compassion because I actually love you deeply enough to do that. And I love people I don't even know deeply enough to do that. What would the world be like if we could move in it that way? It would be so very different.

Kerri Kelly: I think that's the perfect end note.

Michelle Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerri Kelly: Thank you, I love you.

Michelle Johnson: I love you so much. So good.

Kerri Kelly: Until next time.

Michelle Johnson: Until next time, Kerri Kelly.

Kerri Kelly: While this episode is coming to and end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to acknowledge where in your life you might be replicating harmful systems of oppression, and to get more skilled in awareness and action. Her book is a really good place to start. Go to to buy her book and follow her at Skill In Action.

Special thanks to our producer Trevor Exter and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, Well Read, at CTZN Podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as one dollar per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care.

And don't forget to rate us on Apple Podcasts and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.



016 Ana Maria Archila

CTZN Album Cover (2).png

Ana Maria Archila is a resistance icon. She’s known by many as the “lady in the elevator” after her confrontation with Senator Jeff Flake went viral during the confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh. But that wasn’t her first rodeo. Ana Maria has been disrupting, bird-dogging and advocating for human rights and dignity since she emigrated here at the age of 17.

She teaches us that disruption is essential in slowing things down and getting people in power to listen. Everyday people speaking truth to power is what this country is all about.

And courage is contagious. We saw that in the wake of #MeToo, in the wave of stories that flooded the Hart Building during the Kavanaugh hearings and most recently, in the avalanche of abortion stories in response to war on reproductive freedom. Our stories, each and every one of us, has been necessary to create a moment of reckoning and make our democracy come alive.

This is how the healing happens, she says...we are allowing each other to see one another more clearly, we are allowing the country to see itself more clearly, and we are weaving a fabric of community care and courage that is changing the game.

That is what real citizenship is all about. Not the kind that requires documents or cares where you were born. But the kind that shows up, speaks out and fights for justice for all.

Check out the podcast here.

And Ana Maria’s work.

And the movement to restore democracy.



015 Heidi Sieck

Heidi Sieck

Today, we are talking with Chief Empowerment Officer, Heidi Sieck. She is the founder of VOTEPROCHOICE, long time advocate for reproductive rights, and bad-ass feminist. And when she is not getting pro-choice candidates elected or lobbying congress, she is throwing down alongside me on the street, in the capital, at the supreme court or wherever we are needed. She’s here with us today to help us make sense of the recent abortion bans that are sweeping our nation and take back our rights.

In this episode, Heidi reminds us that the recent abortion bans sweeping our nation are nothing new. States have been rolling back reproductive rights and controlling women’s bodies for over three decades. But we are, in fact, a pro-choice nation with 70% of Americans in favor of abortion rights. We just need to get organized and get engaged. And like Elizabeth Warren, Heidi’s got a plan.

In a recent article, Laurie Penny wrote “This is not a moment to mince words. This is a moment for moral clarity. Women’s personhood is not conditional. Women’s sexuality is not shameful. The only shameful thing, the only thing that no citizen who believes even fractionally in freedom should tolerate, is a world in which women are treated like things.”

Our rage is righteous and our fight is strategic. And we will not go back. We will tell our stories, take the streets, vote them out and do whatever it takes to protect our bodies and preserve our humanity. Because the choice to show up for one another, is perhaps the most sacred choice of all.

Check it out.

READ: The Criminalization of Women’s Bodies is All About Conservative Male Power

DO: Top 10 Things To Do To Save Reproductive Rights in America

JOIN: VoteProChoice

(Transcript to be added shortly)



014 Nadia Bolz-Weber

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Kerri K: Thank you. Welcome y'all. This is going to be hard for me because I'm going to be doing this.

Nadia B-W: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerri K: We have a live audience, we're here live at WellSpring with all these folks. Y'all can make some noise so people can know you're here.


Kerri K: We're not lying about it. And I'm here with the amazing Nadia Bolz-Weber to talk about all of the things. And true confession, in the 16 hours since we've known each other, we've spoken about everything under the sun. And I think it's been like one long podcast, so we're going to try and sum it up for you all.

Kerri K: But first, I want to tell you a little bit about CTZN Podcast. We are a society obsessed with personal wellness. We see it in jam-packed yoga studios, crowded gourmet markets, and hipster luxury brands, but many people are struggling to survive much less be well. Citizen is asking the question, how do we show up, respond, and create a culture of well-being that works for everyone? We're not afraid to ask hard questions and have radical conversations about politics and patriarchy, white supremacy and worthiness, and we're talking to some of the most badass and brilliant change-makers like our guest today, Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Kerri K: Nadia is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, she's the author of The New York Times bestseller Accidental Saints Finding God in All of the Wrong People and a bunch of other books, I think, and you have one coming out called?

Nadia B-W: Shameless: A Sexual Reformation.

Kerri K: Yes. The Washington Post calls her at a tatted up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left. I love that. And she is committed to making a spiritual home for junkies, drag queens, outsiders, everyone, which is my kind of church. So welcome, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Let's give her hand.

Nadia B-W:  Whoo.

Audience: Whoo!

Kerri K: I'm so happy you're here.

Nadia B-W: Yeah, I'm happy to be here.

Kerri K: So, I want to start with just who you were before you were the pastor. How did you get here?

Nadia B-W:  Well, I was raised really like fundamentalist Christian and left that tradition when I was 16 for a number of valid reasons. And I ended up having a real issue with chemical dependency. I had a drug and alcohol problem, so when I got sober, they were like, "Look, if you're going to get sober, you got to sort of draw on a power that's greater than yourself." And so it sort of reintroduced me to prayer and to sort of having a relationship with a higher power.

Nadia B-W: And then eventually, I found a form of Christianity that made sense to me, meaning, it gave me a language for what I was experiencing to be true. And I think sometimes religion doesn't do that, it gives you a language for what they tell you you should believe is true rather than giving you language for what you've experienced already to be true. So, for instance, one thing is this idea, I actually have it tattooed on my wrist in Latin which is that we're all simultaneously sinner and saint, like, a hundred percent of both all the time. And I was like, "Well, shit. That explains a lot, like, that ... Okay.

Kerri K: That's me.

Nadia B-W:  "Yeah, I get that." Right? So, I was really attracted to Lutheran theology because at the center point, the point of gravity is grace. But most of my friends are not religious. So, a friend of mine who also was sober, and I was a stand-up comic for a number of years before I went to seminary. And he was a comic and he was an academic, and he had been sober for a few years. He really struggled with mental health and lost that struggle, and he ended up committing suicide. His funeral was in The Comedy Works downtown Denver, and it was just packed. But my friends looked at me and they were like, "So, you can do his funeral, right?" And I hadn't been to seminary. I was just the only religious person in my friend group.

Nadia B-W: So, I was giving the eulogy at PJ's funeral. I looked out on the audience and it was academics and queers and comics and recovering alcoholics, and I thought, "Oh, my gosh, they don't have a pastor." And then I went, "Oh shit. I think that's supposed to be me." So, my calling, as we say, is to be a pastor to my people. It's not to be a pastor to the institution of the church even though I'm in that. It was to create a community among people who wouldn't normally show up to church, and I'm included in that group, so ...

Kerri K: I'm going to ask you lots of questions about being spiritually lost because I'm a recovering Catholic. When I left the church and then was seeking spiritual meaning and ground and structure, I went to a priest in my life. I said to him, I said, "I don't know what to do about all of the things within the Catholic religion that I don't agree with. I can't reconcile that." And he said to me, and I'll never forget this, he said, "Just pick and choose what you like and leave the rest." And I was like, "Eww." I just was like, "Ugh." And yet, I imagine that ... I don't think that all religions need to be pure, but how do we reconcile affiliating with a denomination or a theology or a church, a religion and not agreeing with it a hundred percent? I wonder that about you. Do you feel like you're like all in, all in, all in? Or are there questions that you still hold and that's a part of being spiritual?

Nadia B-W: I think different people have different wiring in terms of their ability to stay within a system that has things that create dissonance for them. For some people, the most faithful thing to do is to leave and not have anything to do with it. And for other people, they do have the capacity to remain in a system, and they can think, "Hey, there's not enough wrong with it to leave, but there's just enough wrong with it to stay," and they're going to disrupt while they're there. That's fine, too. But, for me, the thing about being a sort of spiritual refugee from the symbol system that you were raised in is that part of it is still mine, right?

Nadia B-W: So, even though I spent a decade outside of Christianity and there were so many things I despised about my religious upbringing, so much of it was still mine. There are these hymns that will always move me my whole life, and there are prayers that are so deeply meaningful to me still. And there are stories of Jesus I will never let go of, right? And so it's not so much how do I relate to the institution, it's that how do I honor that which is mine still and knowing that it came from a source that also wounded me? So, that dissonance can be hard but, for me, it was liberating to be able to say, "No, there's things that are whole," because what fundamentalism gave me is dualistic thinking. Everything is good or bad, you're either saved or you're lost, your us or you're them.

Nadia B-W: Dualism, what happened was I left the church, but I didn't leave the thinking. I just transferred it to progressive politics. I was the same way in terms of dualistic thinking. I was so angry about my upbringing, and I detailed all the things I hated about it. So easily, they just flowed from my mouth and yet, I was the same person in a different context in terms of being dualistic in my thinking. And the moment I was free from that anger from my upbringing was the moment I could look at my upbringing and see it non-dualistically.

Nadia B-W: When I could look back on my upbringing and not use the dualistic thinking I inherited from it and say, "Oh no, there were beautiful things, there were good things, there were things worth saving, there were good things about me that it gave me." And that doesn't discount the harm that the bad things did me. I think the reason we have a hard time with dualistic thinking when it comes to stuff like that is that we think it's a betrayal of the part of myself that was hurt if I admit that there was anything good. And I don't think that's true.

Kerri K: It's not unlike the contradiction we have to hold about just being alive in the world right now, that we're systemically fucked. And we're good, and we're good at the core, too, at the same time. There's so much bad and broken about us, and yet, we're here. I wonder, is the thing that you're naming, is that grace?

Nadia B-W: For me it is, and grace is this weird thing. We don't really even talk about it that much, but I've really dedicated my whole career to talking about one thing in some weird way. It's that there is this power from which we were created. Why is there even life to begin with? That's grace. Could I have become worthy enough to have taken my first breath before I took it? No way. There's so much that is a gift, and we don't earn it, we just live and respond to it.

Nadia B-W: To me, grace is such a power, but as we were talking about earlier, there's no way to talk about grace if we're unwilling to admit needing it. So, if we can't talk about our shadow side, if we can't talk about the broken parts, we will never experience the real power of grace because we're like, "No, we're fine, we got it from here." You know?

Kerri K: I've heard you say that the church that you were imagining was inspired a lot from the AA system, and I feel like this is like a lot of the kind of grace, the brand of grace that you're talking about.

Nadia B-W:          Correct. That's exactly right.

Kerri K:         And we were talking earlier about how you can't even walk through the door of Asian American. You don't get to belong or get in if you haven't walk through the fire. Right?

Nadia B-W: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Kerri K:If why you haven't like, had to contend with your darkness, if you haven't hit rock bottom, which I think is fascinating, right?

Nadia B-W: Oh yeah.

Kerri K: Because most spiritual doorways are like, "If you're good and light and perfect, come in." And yet, the AA doorway is, "You're fucked, welcome."

Nadia B-W:Right. And it's one of the most successful organizations to ever emerge out of the United States of America. A country that is obsessed with status and perfectionism and getting over on other people. And yet, one of the most successful organizations that's ever emerged out of this country is the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. And the way you qualify to be there is by being a failure. But you also ...

Nadia B-W: I'm interested in the real transformation of the human heart. What really does that, what really creates the transformation of the human heart? Not cosmetically but truly. And the only way in my life that that's happened is by being desperately in need of it happening, if that makes sense. It's never come through my intentions or manifestation or positive thinking or whatever.

Nadia B-W: It's come by being completely fucked and then somehow getting free. So that's why I think any system that doesn't take the dark part, the shadow part of humanity seriously has a limited capacity to transform the human heart. And that's why the Twelve Steps has a sort of a track record for actual transformation because it takes ...

Nadia B-W: Francis Spufford wrote a book called Unapologetic. I read it at least once a year, and I know the word sin has been misused and people don't like it and that's totally fine. So he goes, "I'm not going to use that word. I'm going to just use this phrase the human propensity to fuck things up." Who's going to be like, "I don't have that." Right? No, of course. We all have that. Right?

Kerri K: Yeah.

Nadia B-W: And so if you can take that seriously, then I think transformation is possible. But if you don't, if you bypass that part, then it's a cosmetic thing.

Kerri K: And the spiritual part of that, I heard you talk about this yesterday. Because I've done some work around Twelve Steps, and my recovery has been around workaholism and perfectionism. And you said yesterday, "When you get fucked and realize you don't have what you need to save yourself, that's a good thing." And if I'm being honest, I've always struggled with the first step.

Nadia B-W: Yeah. Of course.

Kerri K: I've always struggled with the first step. I remember being like, "I don't know if I buy into this," and the first step is, "I am powerless." Right? And I feel like we're in our culture, especially like in individualism culture, like a culture of individualism, we're taught that we have the power and agency to choose whatever we want. We can change whatever we want. So I was always in conflict with that. Am I powerful or am I powerless? And what is the doorway to the kind of transformation that you're naming?

Nadia B-W: Right. Well, the thing about to admit you're powerless over something is that then you're able to access a power that's not just you, a power greater than yourself. So, to me, it's not depressing to say that I'm broken and can't really fix myself. What's depressing is to say I'm broken, I could fix myself, I just haven't managed to yet. Like, I haven't worked hard enough yet, I haven't made myself worthy enough yet. That's depressing. But if someone says to me, "There's a solution and it's not you," I'm like, "Oh, thank God," because the me shaped solutions have just always created more problems for me.

Nadia B-W: So it's one of the reasons I ... Richard Rohr calls the Twelve Steps America's single yet very important contribution to human spirituality. I'm interested right now in compassion. Now, not in the woohoo, like, "I'm such a nice person because I am really charitable and very warm and considerate thoughts towards people who are super shitty." Not that kind of compassion. I don't care about that, I never have. But what I care about is I look at what is the effect of compassion? Not like why we should have-

Kerri K: The action.

Nadia B-W: Yeah. What happens when somebody is approached with true compassion and how does that move the needle and us accessing our humanity? I mean, you and I have had a couple conversations yesterday about just work around white supremacy and whiteness. And I've had some people in my life who were women of color who were compassionate enough towards me to help me move the needle in terms of accessing my own humanity in a way that just confrontation would make me defensive or make me stop listening. So, I just know their compassion and love towards me has moved that needle.

Nadia B-W: I had a conversation on stage at a ... Oh, my God, forgive the term because it's insufferable, but a thought leaders. So, Lance Armstrong and I had a conversation on stage at the Nantucket Project. And throughout the day, people were like, "Don't go easy on him. Give it to him." And I'm like, "Lance Armstrong literally has never done shit to me. Why would I give it to him? I don't care." And so the first thing I said, my opening thing was, "So, Lance, I see from my notes that you took drugs you weren't supposed to and then you lied about it." "Oh, my God, I did that shit so many times." And I was like, "You raise your hands if you ever took drugs you weren't supposed to and you lied about it." And people were like, "Yeah. Fuck it, I did that."

Nadia B-W:  I didn't care what he did or didn't do. I wanted to have compassion towards him as just a human being with a, who had a mom who was 16 when she had him. You know? And it was them against the world and just having curiosity towards him. And I think that having the compassion piece, the reason I can, when I can do it, it's only because I've gone through the fire. And I think it moves the needle in him accessing his own humanity and not being defensive in a way that it just made me super curious right now about how that works.

Kerri K: One of us your mottos for the House of All Sinners and Saints is anti-excellence, pro-participation.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: In fact, this is what you're modeling for us right now, actually.

Nadia B-W: Because I'm...

Kerri K: But it's also what you did with Lance Armstrong and it's what you were naming that black women in your life have done for you, right?

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: Like we fuck up and we make mistakes and we fall on our face and we fail and we hit rock bottom and-

Nadia B-W: And we're still in it.

Kerri K: And we're still in it.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K:  And we're still human. I really think that's countercultural to the culture of white supremacy and performance and productivity and perfectionism. And so, what does that practice look like? What is the experience of being in your church where you can be anti-excellent and pro-participation?

Nadia B-W: Okay. So, just as an example, my congregation, when you walk in, all the little booklets for the liturgy are lined out with all the jobs at the top. The first thing you're asked is, "Do you want to read the gospel or do you want to do the closing prayer or do want to be the assistant-ing minister of the Eucharist or do you want to serve communion?" So you can have never been to a Christian service in your entire life, and the first thing you're asked is, "Would you like to do the Holy things? We trust you with the Holy things just because you showed up."

Nadia B-W: I think a lot of people in communities get that they don't understand the difference between being friendly and being welcoming. So people think they're welcoming when really they're just friendly. What's welcoming is to say, "You don't have to be good at the thing, we just want you to do it anyway." And so it ends up allowing it to be a really non-anxious space. When the excellence piece is off the table, it's non-anxious. Also, we've never started on time, we start when it feels like everyone got there. That's our starting time. It's like within 20 minutes of 5:00, generally. So-

Kerri K: It's like the story of my life. I've never ever I think experienced a non-anxious space.

Nadia B-W: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kerri K: That sounds so foreign to me.

Nadia B-W:  Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Also, as the leader, I have to let go of thinking that the way things are going is a reflection on my value and worthiness. And so if something doesn't go well or if it's super embarrassing, I have to have enough self-awareness to know it's not a reflection on me. And if I can know it's not a reflection on me, I'm not anxious. And as the leader, if I'm not anxious, no one else is anxious.

Kerri K: You were talking about white supremacy, you and I've been talking about whiteness over the last 16 hours of our relationship. The first 16 hours of our relationship.

Nadia B-W: That's right. Correct.

Kerri K: And I've heard you describe it as systemic sin. Can you say more about that?

Nadia B-W: There is an impulse in the human heart that opposes flourishing, and I don't know why that is. But that's what we're talking about with the broken part, the shadow side. That piece of us, when we act out of it in the building of institutions, they are institutions that are really built on human sin. And then along with it becomes the self-justification about why it's okay, which is such a powerful, powerful force, the self-justification about why this is okay, why it's good. I actually think that we're in the most danger of doing the most harm when the thing that we're protecting is the notion that we're good. And so this ...

Nadia B-W: I travel a lot in other countries, and if you're in Western developed countries for any period of time and you're from America, they ask you some questions. They're like, "Oh, my God, we got an American. Ask her the question." And so they are curious because our societies are similar but there are some differences that really are puzzling to them. So, eventually, there are three things they have curiosity about. One is our gun laws. They're like, "Can you explain why you guys have the gun laws that you have?" Because they say, "Okay, here's our gun laws and here's the number of deaths we have in our country from guns. Here are your gun laws and here's the number of deaths you have."

Kerri K: Yeah. They just do the math.

Nadia B-W:  Yeah, it's not ideology, it's fucking math. Right?

Kerri K: Yeah.

Nadia B-W:So, they're curious about that. And then they're curious, you could probably guess what that the others are. Mass incarceration and the death penalty. And so, I think having to answer those questions I had to think about that stuff in really particular ways. I'm like, "There is no way to answer that question without talking about white supremacy. There's no way to answer that question without talking about it." Because the origin of the country ... We never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there's never been any kind of repentance. There has been-

Kerri K:... repair or reparation.

Nadia B-W:No. There's been nothing except for self-justification which makes everything worse. And so, we're protecting something. The psyche of our country almost can't stand to actually look at the truth of its origin and so it just keeps building systems to protect us from having to do that.

Kerri K: On the individual level we do that especially in I think faith and wellness communities through spiritual bypass. Same thing.

Nadia B-W: Say more about that.

Kerri K: Well, just the way that we validate and self-justify how to avoid the truth, how to avoid pain, how to seek only feeling good and not feeling bad, how to duck the shadow. All the little strategies, the positive vibes only, all the things that you've been naming.

Nadia B-W: There's no freedom.

Nadia B-W: There's no freedom to be had in that. None.

Kerri K: And there's no truth.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: And no healing. No liberation I think can come from that pathway. We just stay stuck.

Nadia B-W:In doing pastoral care as a parish pastor for 10 years, the thing I said in pastoral care more than anything in the world was I said, "Just because you're feeling bad doesn't mean something's wrong." That's not a message we hear much. "Oh, I feel bad. I have to fix something." No, it might just be a message you need to listen to. You know? It may mean a change of perspective. Whatever. It might be grace knocking at your door. It might be the fact that you need to actually give up ... Our community, the Lent of 2017, so the first Lent that we had after the election, people talk about giving things up for Lent. Our whole community said, "Fuck it. We're giving up for Lent. We give up for this period, for 40 days, we're going to just give up. We're going to give up all the things we think that are going to fix us, we're going to give up all the ways that we think that we're not already worthy, we're going to give up the conflict in our relationship with our parents." We just were like, "We're just giving up." And it was a spiritual practice just to go, "I give up."

Kerri K: You are a spiritual disruptor. Is that okay that I call you that?

Nadia B-W:Well, I've never heard that term until they put me on a panel that said I was a spiritual disrupter.

Kerri K: You're disrupting spiritual spaces willingly I mean. And I totally resonate with that because I play that role in the wellness space. I like to disrupt and mess things up and stir up consciousness and challenge and question all the things. And I'm curious how you navigate saying the truth or doing the thing in a room that might not be ready for that. How you navigate and do cost analysis around the risks that you take in speaking truth in certain spaces.

Kerri K: I say that because I think as spiritual influencers I think right now in this particular moment, we really need to provoke people to take more risks in their lives. To get out of the comfort zone, to have skin in the game in terms of fighting things like white supremacy and the systems of oppression, for having messy political conversations especially in the culture that we just named where we like to be comfortable and we like to feel good and we like to avoid all of those things. So, I'm just curious how you model that. How do you model risk-taking? Because you do that, right? You're like, "Fuck it," and you kind of say the truth.

Nadia B-W: That just doesn't feel risky to me, to be honest. What feels risky to me is that I made and kept a dentist appointment recently. For me, it was seriously a huge thing. I don't know, saying things that might piss people off in front of bunch of people on stage doesn't feel risky. We're all just wired differently, so it's not bravery, it's just personality, I think. I don't curate a version of myself that I think different groups will feel more comfortable with. Because I'm around so many different kinds of groups, it would be exhausting to do that. I have gone on a rant about the guns and mass incarceration and death penalty is, the foundation of all of it is white supremacy. Speaking in the South. It's going to land where it's going to land, you know?

Kerri K: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nadia B-W: It's not my job to take care of everybody's feelings and the audience. I have compassion if it's hard for them or if they're reactive to me, but that's about them, it's not about me. I mean, if I took in everybody's reactions about me as being information about myself to myself, I could never leave my apartment.

Kerri K: I think my question is how do we call our congregations up into more bold courageous action in the face of so much suffering?

Nadia B-W: I loved what you guys said on the panel yesterday about it being about I have to call myself up. All I can do is be as honest as I can. That's what I model for people. It's not how to be brave and take action and be right, it's that the Sunday after Charlottesville, a lot of liberal pastors were like, "I hope everyone's preaching against Nazis Sunday." I'm like, "That's a fucking high bar preaching against ... Ooh, you're so brave, you're so prophetic." Right? How about in your sermon listing as many ways as you can fathom that you've benefited from a system of white supremacy in your own personal life? Do that as the preacher. Not call out Nazis.

Kerri K: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Own it.

Nadia B-W: You know what I mean? Own it. And I did. And it was hard. I'm like, "Look, as a former drug user, you know that I'm seven times more likely to have been incarcerated for drug use if I was a black woman than a white woman?" The fuck is that? What do you call that? That I didn't do any time, I mean, my parents ... When my parents die, I will inherit money. You know why? Because they own their home. You know why? They weren't redlined out of it. You know why?

Kerri K:You know why? Because they're white.

Nadia B-W: Exactly. So, what? We fucking earned that? That's not true. And then how do you fight a system that's done nothing but love you back your whole life? You know? I mean, I think as white folks having that conversation and that ...

Nadia B-W: Okay, so, I say horrible things about myself in my books and in my talks. I just admit the worst things that you can't ... And you were like, "I can't believe you told people that." But I don't care because I believe in grace so much it doesn't, it's okay, but I don't do it to be like, "Oh, I'm the worst of sinners." I do it because I want to create a space around me that's safe enough for other people to step into it and admit what that thing is for them. That's all I ever do. And so it's a form of leadership I call, "Screw it, I'll go first."

Kerri K: The dentist.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: What was that about? Was it about making the time to take care of yourself?

Nadia B-W:No. I hate the-

Kerri K: You just hate the dentist.

Nadia B-W: No. I just have a couple of things that cause me deep anxiety. I can stand in front of tens of thousands of people and not break a sweat, but I can't drive in the mountains because it just makes me-

Kerri K:  You live in Denver.

Nadia B-W:I understand that. I'm from Colorado, but driving in the mountains is ... I mean, I have horrible anxiety. So, you know, we all have things that are hard for us.

Kerri K: And the dentist is hard for you.

Nadia B-W: I don't like the dentist. I can't breathe.

Kerri K: It's kind of up there for me, too, if I'm being honest.

Nadia B-W: What?

Kerri K:  It's kind of up there for me, too, if I'm being honest.

Nadia B-W:  Is it? I feel like I can't breathe. Anyway.

Kerri K: Okay. Let's get back on track.

Nadia B-W: I know.

Kerri K: What do you tell people who are disillusioned about this political moment? what's the spiritual meaning behind this fucked up moment we're in in America?

Nadia B-W:  It's apocalyptic. What I mean by that is that in Greek, the word apocalypse means to see what's underneath, to be revealed. So, there's not a sudden uptick in racism that we're now seeing or sexual harassment, it's that the corner has been peeled up and it's being revealed what's underneath. And so think that-

Kerri K: Just to some of us because it's been revealed to many of us for hundreds of years.

Nadia B-W: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I think now people who ... The whole system colludes to keep you ... If you're the one benefiting from it, the entire system colludes to keep you blind to the system. It's the matrix, and so now people are asking the question, "What's the matrix," you know? So, I feel like there's some hope in that. I do think of it spiritually but in a almost more conservative way in the sense that there are powers and principalities at play with all of this. It feels like we live under a beast and the beast has to be fed first fruits. And the profit margins for the 1%, that's us always feeding the beast and never being able to question why that's happening. The systems of white supremacy, that has to do with power and principalities. To me, there is a spiritual element to this that I think is really important to understand and to see how seductive it is and how we've been seduced by things.

Kerri K:  And indoctrinated.

Nadia B-W:  Completely.

Kerri K:  Completely indoctrinated.

Nadia B-W: Also, I think one of the things that's very dangerous right now is to go, "Look how bad the Trump supporters are?" Because I think that it's very tempting to take all of my xenophobia that's in me and to easily thrust it on them because they're so clearly worse and to be grateful almost because now, I don't have to look at my shit because theirs smells worse. That's a classic scapegoat move, you know?

Kerri K: Yeah.

Nadia B-W: This is what happened with ... Remember Brian Williams the newscaster?

Kerri K: Yep.

Nadia B-W: This is what happened with him. We loved people like Brian Williams. You know why? You know what happened? He did not falsify a news account, he exaggerated a personal story which we've all done. And when I exaggerate a personal story, it creates an icky feeling in me. And so what happens is those icky feeling build up and I got to do something with them. So, Brian William comes along, and I'm like, "How dare he?" And I get to take all my icky shit and just put it on him.

Kerri K: reject it.

Nadia B-W: And then kill him, you know? I mean, that's what it ... Rachel Dolezal, it's like, "I never have to look at any of my cultural appropriation because she's so clearly worse. I'm so grateful." You know?

Nadia B-W: So I think that the danger is to look at this moment and to just thrust all of it on them as the problem and then never have to look at my own shit.

Kerri K: It's funny because right after the 2016 election I was going around and doing house parties, and everybody was reckoning with their one Trump cousin. Like, "My cousin who voted, and I didn't talk to him and I should have. And now I feel like I have to have a conversation and understand. Now's the time." And literally, everybody was reckoning with that. And after a couple of these sessions, I finally said, "I want you to make a list of all of those really bad people in your life. How many there are." And people would make a list, and it would be like one person, two people. And then I was like, "And now I want you to make a list of all of the people closest to you who have gone back to sleep." It was like 40 people. And it made me feel like proximity is powerful. It's so ...

Kerri K: Because there's a bypass in point over there and deal with this shit over there, the bad stuff that's worse than mine, but even in addition to the way in which we need to deal with our own shit, like the people who are closest to us, it's like we have the hardest time dealing with that. Dealing with family members, talking about these issues across the dinner table, taking responsibility for friends who have totally checked out and just don't even participate at all. How do we bring them along do you think?

Nadia B-W:I mean, all I have are just my own stories of having somebody else bring me along, right?

Kerri K: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nadia B-W: That's all I have. I don't feel like ... I'm a beginner with this stuff and so I think being honest about being a beginner and the things that I ... The things I know now that I didn't know one year ago about certain issues and kind of almost the humiliation of that, like, how could I have not even thought of that? I think just telling ... For me, I just try and tell those stories because hoping it's an invitational for other people. Honestly, just reading memoir, it has been really powerful for me in terms of-

Kerri K: Other people's memoir?

Nadia B-W: Yeah. There's an amazing book that a girlfriend of mine wrote. I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

Kerri K: Oh yeah.

Nadia B-W: Austin Channing Brown.

Kerri K: Yes, yes.

Nadia B-W: She's in my-

Kerri K: Oh.

Nadia B-W: We all have matching tattoos. It's not a cult. I feel like it's super important to say that.

Kerri K: I have that book.

Nadia B-W: Do you?

Kerri K: Yeah.

Nadia B-W: You have Austin's book?

Kerri K: Yeah.

Nadia B-W:  So, things like that. Reading those books and going, "Oh wow, I never ..." There's so many things I never have to think about, and it's so easy to go my whole life and never think about it.

Kerri K: Well, and that feels like grace, too. Actually into the, "I have no fucking ... I don't know." Even the more I do this work of unpacking my own whiteness and understanding systems that I've never had to see because they've been invisible to me as a white woman, every nugget of learning and aha and awakening, it's almost more revealing that I have so much more to learn. And this is going to be a lifetime for me of unlearning so that I can learn the thing, the truth that's being revealed as you said per the apocalypse.

Nadia B-W: That's right. But I think there's a way in which the system of whiteness hides our own souls from us that ... I think you guys addressed a little bit yesterday but ... There's some hope there, too. That there's actually more for us that's real that we have also been kept from in the system and a richness to life. So I think there's some promise there, too.

Kerri K: Is it that we need to understand that everyone is suffering at the hands of the power and principalities?

Nadia B-W: The beast, yeah.

Kerri K: And that our liberation is bound up? We actually all have to get free together?

Nadia B-W:  Correct. That's...

Kerri K:  In different ways but ...

Nadia B-W: Yeah. It's….

Kerri K: As you choose to live into these questions and do the shadow work, right?

Nadia B-W:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerri K:  It's like we choose that, right? I'm going to continue to lean into that part of myself.

Kerri K: I saw on your Instagram yesterday. Can I say this? What did it say on your Instagram that like, sometimes I love myself-

Nadia B-W: I know I said ... I put up, I love myself, but some days I wish I could stab my personality in the throat.

Kerri K: And I so resonate with that because I feel that. I have brief moments of self-love but most of the time, I'm either judging perfecting, which I think is a version of that, and hating on myself.

Nadia B-W:I just get angry about everything. My first reaction to everything is fuck you. Now, I almost never stay there, but I almost always start there. And so navigating a life where I'm constantly reacting against stuff and feeling like I have to preserve myself, I have to defend, I have to fight for myself to protect. It's exhausting.

Kerri K: It's so funny because mine is fuck me. But it's like ... And I'm asking this because as we ... For those of us who are choosing to be in these hard conversations and to lean in and to do this work and to see the things that we haven't wanted to see for so long, and to take responsibility and to raise our hand and be like, "I did that." and to fall on the sword, you know? How do we do that and simultaneously hold grace? And simultaneously have self-love and simultaneously take care of ourselves? What does that look like?

Nadia B-W: I think it's just like committed to the idea that there is more, there is more for us than the thing we're trying to protect right now. Right? I have to be aware of when am I ... Al I'm really doing is trying to protect a cherished idea about myself. When I'm doing that, I'm actually short-selling myself. And I feel like what I'm doing is protecting and preserving myself and I'm not.

Kerri K: The grace in not knowing, the grace in being wrong.

Nadia B-W: There's more.

Kerri K: The grace in failing.

Nadia B-W: Absolutely. There's more. There's more. There's more to be had than what we think we're grasping for.

Kerri K: It's funny, we talked about this last night, but to me, that gets at like ... Our limited understanding of what's possible is actually holding us back. We just don't know. And what would it look like to imagine beyond? Imagine beyond the incremental surface, like little adjustments that we make to our awareness or to our lifestyle or how we're engaging in the world?

Kerri K: In the panel that we had yesterday we talked about breaking the table and imagining what's next. That's so much more beautiful and complex than the thing that we know now.

Nadia B-W: Yeah. I think there's more. I just think there's more.

Kerri K: It's a perfect segue into question and answer.

Nadia B-W: Oh yeah.

Kerri K: So, here's how this is going to go y'all. We have a mic, and we want to invite questions if you have them. And we'll include it in the podcast, but there might be some awkward pauses so that we can wait for your voice to be on the mic and you can be actually heard through the podcast. Sound good? Who has a question? And will you say your name, please?

Amanda Jones: Sure. My name is Amanda Jones. I have a question. I am a lapsed Catholic and one who raised my children Catholic. And now I'm starting to come to the realization that there's so much more to life than what I was raised as. And as I think about the first 16 years of raising my children, I'm asking your perspective on how do I undo a lot of the things that I raised my children to be and to think now that I've had so much more of this sort of awakening?

Nadia B-W:  I don't think you can undo it. I think that ... I believe anything's redeemable though. So there might be something really powerful and redemptive to you going, "I think I might have gotten that wrong." So much more so than if you had gotten it right from the beginning. Do you know what I mean? Modeling, I mean, I made a lot of mistakes raising my kids, but I can say this, that they ... My children heard me say, "That wasn't okay, and I'm sorry and will you forgive me?" And to me, I think it taught them more than me getting everything right and never having to say that, yeah.

Kerri K:  Question.

Mary Ellen Hall: Hi. I'm Mary Ellen Hall. It's great to be here. I have been in sobriety for three years, and I'm struggling with my daughter who is involved in this huge marijuana dab pen situation. I come from a long line of family members who are not addicts or not anything. I am the first one in my family.

Nadia B-W: Congratulations.

Mary Ellen Hall: yeah, so ...

Nadia B-W: Groundbreaker.

Mary Ellen Hall: Because of that, my daughter is now striking that pattern, and I'm struggling with the blame for that. Hence, so she's living with her dad currently, and now, she's been out of school for two weeks and no one's telling me why. So, I have a feeling that she might be somewhere because before if I wanted to get her help, it was, "Well, her problem is because of you, so if you want to get her help you pay for it." And I had no family support, so I'm trying to figure out how do I deal with that shame of like ... How do I help her when she's not involved in my life because her problems are because of me?

Nadia B-W: Yeah. I think it's really important to understand the difference between blame and involvement. I doubt that you are to blame for whatever is happening in her life. She has her own path, her own wiring through a lot of factors actually in her life you had nothing to do with. But you might have had an involvement, and the involvement to me at least invites us into remaining involved and taking some responsibility, right? But blame doesn't do much. And yet, in our culture we're obsessed with blame. It's because we actually believe in free will too much I think in this country and that actually so much of what we do and what happens in our lives is determined by so many different factors and influences. But we want to know who to blame. We want to take full credit when something goes right and then we want to take full credit if shit doesn't go right. Or we want somebody else to have full blame, right?

Nadia B-W: But the thing is is that everything that happens is influenced by so many different factors, and I think that allows for some grace as well to go, "You're not to blame." I don't think having blame and then feeling shame for that actually is effective or helpful for anyone, not for you, not for her. But to go, "Yeah, I had an involvement," and that means I'm going to keep involved, I'm going to keep the door open, I'm going to make an invitation. I'm going to model something. Those can be enough for when that person's ready because she has her own path. You can't determine it.

Kerri K: It makes me feel like ... Because you talked about being redeemed and redemption. Lot of people are talking about redemption, especially these days. And how redemption is really only possible in relationship and blame cuts relationship off, right?

Nadia B-W: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerri K: But involvement is still in relationship, and there's a pathway to reconciliation and redemption there. And who knows what that looks like? But at least it's possible. Whereas blame and shame I feel like is the block.

Nadia B-W:   Right. Oh yeah. Just stops. Yeah.

Kerri K: Question.

Anne-Marie Fela: My name is Anne-Marie and I was drawn to your books. I can't exactly remember how I first got turned on to them, but I've been doing a lot of shadow work and a lot of other things. The Idea of Forgiveness, that's what it was. I saw a MAKERS video about how to forgive assholes and the word assholes is what made me click.

Nadia B-W: Clickbait.

Anne-Marie Fela: Yeah. All the curse clickbait. And somehow, the way that the language you used that forgiveness is a big giant pair of bolt cutters and cutting a chain that ties you to this person has wounded you empowered me in a way that I always felt that forgiveness was required me to be weak somehow.

Nadia B-W: Yeah, that's exactly right.

Anne-Marie Fela: And I wanted to just read more and listen to more about just hear your language. And I guess my question is, I am also a recovering Catholic, did not raise my kids that way, and I think what a lot of us reject is dogma is shame, guilt, punishment. I love the idea that God has a giant surveillance system. That's something you've put [inaudible 00:51:10]. And so there was a part of me, it struck me as ... why does religion, where does ... It's almost like you could say all the same things that you said and not bring Jesus into it at all, and it would still be a hugely powerful message. And so part of me, at least initially, was saying, "I love everything she's saying, but I don't need the Jesus stuff." It can come from ... It sounds like ...

Anne-Marie Fela: As often as not, I almost feel like you're saying what you started off this podcast as saying it was a way to contextualize the truth I already felt was there. But I'd love for you to say more about that because part of me wants to reject needing a higher power to have this institutionalized name. You know, Jesus I associate with Catholicism, with an institution. But I haven't stopped reading, and I haven't stopped listening, but I'm just curious because I feel like it would be equally as powerful without that association but clearly, you believe the opposite. And I would just love to hear more about that.

Nadia B-W: I think Jesus was a huge spiritual disruptor. I mean, you know, of course, he's been sort of domesticated for institutional reasons. But he touched the impure and he healed the sick and he touched lepers and he ate with all the wrong people and he hung out with sex workers and he pissed-off the religious authorities. I mean, he's my dude, you know?

Nadia B-W: I love your question, and I guess all I can say in response is I have the same question right now because I handed my parish off to the next generation of leaders in July, so I'm not in my parish. I'm just working as a public theologian, and I have this feeling like there's so much within Christian thought that could be really transformative for people that are never going to intellectually assent to the same theological propositions I do. I believe all the crazy shit about Jesus. I'm like, "Oh, yeah. Virgin birth, miracles, raised from the dead. I'm all in." I don't know why, I just fucking believe it. But I'm uninterested whether other people believe it. It doesn't matter to me.

Nadia B-W: And so I guess all I know is that I feel like I'm trying to find this path to sort of articulate the perennial wisdom that's available to all people that's really in Christian thought. And people can't get to it or they don't even know it's there because it's so packaged in so many layers of institutional bullshit. So I'm trying to go, "Oh, my God., there's so much here. Just forget that other stuff," you know? And also, the church isn't doing great right now. I mean, at least the mainline Protestant church. The Catholic church, they're struggling, right? I mean, membership's dwindling, it's aging, there's a way in which church as we know it is going by the wayside in certain traditions.

Nadia B-W: And yet, I think people are still going to gather in the name of God and talk about the night Jesus was betrayed and give each other pieces of bread and say it's his body and blood and it's for forgiveness of sins and tell stories and sing songs and pray. I think people will just always do that. To me, that's what Christianity is. That's the core of it, not all the rest of it. So, I'm not really worried about the church dying because I think there are going to be crazy people who believes all the shit like I do and we're going to do these weird things and still do them.

Nadia B-W: So, you don't have to believe in this stuff and do those practices to access the perennial wisdom and the tradition. Also, any part of it that you or ... I mean, there's stuff that's yours if you were raised in it, and maybe just find the things you do cherish. Maybe you're still secretly into Mary or whatever. You know what I mean? It's okay to have these things and to reclaim them and to love them again is like actually heals some of the religious wounds that we walk around with I think.

Kerri K: Can I share something just because this is really alive for me since I've been in conversation with you over the last 16 hours?

Nadia B-W: It's almost 17 now.

Kerri K:  I know. The first 17 hours.

Nadia B-W: The first 17.

Kerri K: I just feel like your question resonates with me and my own spiritual crisis is what I will call it. My impulse is to reject institutionalized religion the same way in which my impulse was to reject AA because I was like, "I don't get this. I am powerless shit." And yesterday and today, I think I'm wondering if it is more spiritual to reject or to actually hold the question of is there more for me here? And not only is there more but can I actually exist in the messiness of it? In the contradictions for me? Can I sit in the mess and be in it and hold capacity for the whole of it and I reckon with it constantly versus I'm not into that, I'm into that. Which feels more binary thinking.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: And more monolithic, right? So I'm holding that question for myself around ... And I think it brings up questions for me when I think about the religious idols of like, "Why don't I trust them? Why don't I trust them?" So anyway, I just wanted to name that like, I'm really in a contemplation since we've been talking around what is that? What is that like clear rejection for me? And is that a true? Is there more spiritual capacity and depth and juiciness in actually leaning into the question and being curious.

Nadia B-W:I also think there's a lot of power in redefining and re-tradition-ing it and rethinking rather than just rejecting. So I do that. I will sit with a biblical text a lot because I'm like, "Look, that stuff is too potent to leave it to the people who are going to use it just to justify their positions of dominance." It's so rich and there's so many ways to look at it and to repurpose and redefine what that is. So, to me, I like that move rather than just reject because it keeps me in the game in a way that annoys the people in power.

Kerri K: It's adaptive like nature. It's actually natural.

Nadia B-W: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kerri K: We have time for one more question. Anybody. Hold that thought. Let's just see if there's someone else. Yeah. Anybody? Anybody feeling called to ask a question or share something?

Allison Murphy: Hi, my name's Allison Murphy, and my question for you is can you share a little bit about your own personal practice? What does what does it look like for you day to day as you're learning and reflecting and processing and engaging? How do you practice self-care and continue to step up?

Nadia B-W: I do have a yoga practice that's in a personal way really important to me in sort of like keeping me in the moment and in my body that I'm really grateful for. I put a premium on my personal relationships, so I spend time on the phone every day with my group. We call each other The Hedge of Protection. So there's a group of 12 women who are scattered across the country, very diverse group. Well, and one gay Chinese guy. But we're really, we made a decision a few years ago to love each other. It really was a decision to be completely for each other and to think if something's good for one of us, it's good for all of us, and if something's hard for one of us, it's hard for all of us. So we bury each other's burdens and share each other's joys, and I stay connected to them every day. So, I'm on the phone every day with people who I love which is a, that's a big part of my life.

Nadia B-W: I've been trying to read more. I'd say that's part of my practice. And I spend a lot of time alone. I eat food made out of food but not in a super strict way. I also ate chocolate cheesecake last night. I mean, I guess different things like that end up being really important to me. I don't have a community right now, so publicly, I do a lot of Q&A in my talks. And so I travel every week as a speaker. And I've been saying publicly I'm actually really lonely. I mean, I'm in an amazing relationship with somebody I'm very in love with so not in that way, but I mean when you leave the church that you served, and I'm ordained in a Lutheran church, you're not allowed to be part of that church anymore. And so the community I spent 10 years building I don't get to be a part of anymore. And I'm sort of going, "Where do people find community?"

Nadia B-W: Literally I was on a couple weeks ago thinking, "Maybe there's like a book club in my neighborhood." I don't know how to connect. You know? So I think it puts me with a lot of other people. I think a lot of people don't know where to find community. And so, in a way, even though it's uncomfortable, I'm grateful to be having that experience because it makes me relate to what I think a lot of people experience. I don't know what's going to come of that, but ...

Kerri K: I'm really looking forward to like the re-imagination and the reinvention of what church might look like outside of the brick-and-mortar. I mean, since you're there, since you're like a floating pastor now. I'm curious how that's going to emerge. Kind of the visual of the floating pastor. But how that's going to emerge-

Kerri K: ... for you, and I think as someone who feels spiritually homeless, I'm curious about that. What does that look like to be a part of something that's more permeable and welcoming and radically welcoming in the way that you named. And as that emerges for you, I want to know about it. I want to be a part of that congregation.

Nadia B-W: I miss seeing the same people every week. And it doesn't even have to be those people. I mean, I think it's really hard for me to grow spiritually if I'm not annoyed by being around the same ... I'm not kidding. To love people you find annoying.

Kerri K: That's right. Proximal.

Nadia B-W: I mean, that's been a huge part of my spiritual life has been the lessons I've learned by being around people who I wouldn't choose out of a catalog, too. Truly. Yeah.

Kerri K:  And to stay.

Nadia B-W:   And to stay.

Kerri K: And to stay.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: Well, I am so grateful for you.

Nadia B-W: Yeah. Thank you.

Kerri K: I'm so grateful for the first 17 hours of our relationship, and I can't wait for the next 50 years.

Nadia B-W: I agree, I agree.

Kerri K:  On every podcast, we give the audience a call to action because we believe that it's not enough to have lip service, we actually need to practice what we are preaching, and I think you are the perfect embodiment of that. So what do you want to tell our listeners to do or who do you want to tell them to be? What's a message you want to give them?

Nadia B-W: I actually do think it's important to read the personal narratives of people who live in a different social location than you. So I think finding a memoir that is from somebody who is very different than yourself, it's just this invitation to realize what you don't know. It's been really instructive for me.

Kerri K:         I love that. That's perfect. Thank you, Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Nadia B-W:          Yeah, my pleasure.

Kerri K:  Like I said, and I think a lot of people here might agree with me, wherever you go or whatever emerges in this new church of whatever, whatever the fuck. Maybe that's the new name because I know you love that word. The church of whatever the fuck.

Nadia B-W: yeah, I'll take ...

Kerri K:  Keep us updated because I think there's an opportunity and a craving and a yearning to be a part of something like that.

Nadia B-W: Yeah. Actually, can I say something really quick?

Kerri K:  Yeah.

Nadia B-W: We were talking a lot about the negative aspects of the institution of the church. I feel like it's important for people to hear me say something which is that my bishop is one of the best man I know on this planet. I've known him a long time, and he is issuing me an official letter of call from his office to be a public theologian. To do what literally I'm doing right now is supported by my bishop. He wants me to be doing this and having this conversation, so I just think it's important to say nothing's ever only one thing. You know?

Kerri K:  Yeah. I love that. A perfect ending to an awesome conversation.

Kerri K:  You can follow Nadia Bolz-Weber at Do you have any social media things you want to say? What your Twitter handle is or your Insta feed which clearly we've already heard is...

Nadia B-W: Instagram is sarcasticlutheran.

Kerri K: Do you tweet? Are you a tweeter?

Nadia B-W:  Yeah, sarcasticlutheran.

Kerri K: Also.

Nadia B-W: Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah.

Kerri K: Across the bar sarcasticlutheran.

Nadia B-W: Yeah.

Kerri K: All right. Special thanks to our producer, Trevor and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at And thank you you all for being here today and for listening. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLREAD at CTZN Podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care. And don't forget to rate us on iTunes and share the love by telling everybody. Do y'all hear that? Rate us on iTunes, write a ... What is it called? A review? Write a review about this conversation and say really cool things about Nadia and I and then tell all of your friends because that's how we keep going, yeah?

Kerri K:Thank you all, thank you WellSpring, thank you Nadia. Thank you all.

Speaker:  And that's a wrap.

Audience:  Whoo!



013 Rachel Cargle

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Rachel Cargle: I've been teaching a lot on the fact that anti-racism work for white people is not a space for self improvement. The point of anti-racism work is to protect black lives, so if everything you do within the anti-racism work is for your benefit, then you're just enhancing white lives. You're not protecting black lives. It's not just a space for you to go to a conference and get a gift bag and take a picture with me and post it on Instagram. None of that translates to black lives being protected.


Kerri Kelly: Welcome to CTZN Podcast. My name's Kerri Kelly and have we got a treat for you. Rachel Cargle joins us today for a special live interview, and if you don't know who Rachel is, you must be hiding under a rock because she has become one of the most prominent and provocative voices in intersectional and inclusive feminism. She's a writer, speaker, academic, and activist who uses her platform to speak truth and wake white women up.

Kerri Kelly: This conversation is fierce and it's important. And while white folks need to do the work, as Rachel says, it's not really about us. It's about protecting black lives, and so she invites us consider how we are really showing up and for what purpose. It's not enough to attend an event or post something on social media. Real allyship looks like going to get our people, paying our privilege forward, and listening, really listening, to black women and following their lead.

Kerri Kelly: This podcast is gonna change everything. Check it out.

Rachel Cargle: Thank you.

Kerri Kelly: All right. Hello. Welcome everyone. Welcome to CTZN Podcast. I'm Kerri Kelly and we're having conversations at the intersection of well being and social justice. We're not afraid to ask hard questions about politics and patriarchy, about white supremacy and worthiness, and today is no exception. We're here with the amazing Rachel Cargle, who is a writer, a speaker, and activist, whose work is rooted in providing intellectual discourse, tools, and resources that explore the intersection of race and womanhood. You may have heard of her on social media because she reaches over, I think, 200,000 people each week and really has become a prominent voice in intersectional and inclusive feminism. So please help me welcome Rachel Cargle.

Rachel Cargle: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. There's so many people here.

Kerri Kelly: I'm super happy that you're here. I've been following ... It's such a weird thing to be like, "I follow you."

Rachel Cargle: What's even weirder, I have people who DM me like, "Rachel, I was sitting next to you on the plane but I was too scared to say something." I'm like, "What the fuck was I doing on the plane?" Who knows? It makes me so anxious about what I might have been doing.

Kerri Kelly: It's probably a whole other level of who's watching, who's recognizing me.

Rachel Cargle: This visibility is very different now, yes.

Kerri Kelly: Well, I want to dig right in because one of the things I really appreciate is that you are relentless in your truth telling. This is obviously International Women's Month, and I really want to begin with the history of women's rights in this country, because like with all American history, we seem to have some amnesia about how things really went down and how we got here. A big part of your work ... and I attended one of your workshops this past weekend ... is re-educating women about the real history of feminism in America. And so, what is the real story that we should all be telling about women's liberation in America?

Rachel Cargle: Well, I think it's super important not to forget what this country was founded on. It was founded on the white community using the black community to build the wealth that they now have. And that's why it's the greatest nation only on the backs of, and the land of, and on the work of people of color ...

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: ... across the country, whether it's the black people that they enslaved, the Native Americans that they pushed out of their spaces in order to get their land, and it continues on today. And so I think that that racism is thread throughout every part of our existence, because it was the foundation of how the country started. It didn't dissipate at any point, and so-

Kerri Kelly: It didn't happen when Trump got elected.

Rachel Cargle: No. And so you have to be incredibly critical in how you rationalize what's happening, because it's not like there was ... One, it's not like this was eight million years ago. It's not like it's the dinosaurs and we're like, "Oh, where'd it all go?" The racism is still very much here, it just manifests in new ways. And so I teach a lot about modern manifestations of the things that we saw before, so that's a lot of work that can be talked about in the future and on your own time, but I think that it should be clearer that even a movement like the feminist movement has those same strains of the racism that this country was built on. It should be obvious.

Rachel Cargle: What I teach on in my Unpacking White Feminism lecture that you attended is just the ways that, often within the feminist movement, women's rights always mean white women's rights. If black women benefited from it then good for them, but it was never intentionally inclusive across the board. And if you look at the heroes of the suffrage movement when they were going out to campaign, they were obviously campaigning to white men, which were the people who had the power at the time. They were saying things like, "If you give women the right to vote," ... aka white women ... "we will uphold white supremacy." White women were always aware of what their position was and aware of how they could use it for their agendas. And as the movement continued, if women of color benefited from it a little bit then it was kind of like the scraps of the movement. It was never intentionally inclusive.

Kerri Kelly: And you wrote in this Huff Post piece ... and I'm gonna quote you ... "No longer will I skirt around topics to make others comfortable, nor will I be apologetic for taking a stance that caters to the two parts of me that need to have a voice." And you just named this, but white women have a history of trading their womanhood for their whiteness. We saw that in the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, and it wasn't much better in this last election. I think it was 51% of white women voted with the Republican party. We see it with tone policing, we see it with white tears. So what does it look like for white women to take responsibility of those two parts of themselves?

Rachel Cargle: Well, I think it's a really hard pill for white women to swallow that they can both be oppressed by the patriarchy and the oppressor of race. There's a space there that you exist in, and so that's something that you need to digest and deal with in a way that should ... it shouldn't be too wild of a space to be in, because if you have been oppressed ... which we all have been by the patriarchy. The patriarchy's literally killing us all. And you know that feeling but you decide to distance yourself from the realities of how you, in your white privilege, oppress people of color, then what that really is is a disassociation of you really needing to keep any power you can get.

Rachel Cargle: I've been teaching this a lot and I always say, if your feminism is intended to have equality with white men, then you will automatically be oppressing someone ...

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: ... 'cause that's the only way men got power ...

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: ... is by oppressing full groups, whether it was women or whether it was people of color, whether it was poor people. That's the only way. So if you are looking to have this ... if your feminism only is looking to get what men have, to get what white men have, then I don't even want that feminism because it automatically means you're gonna have to oppress someone. Someone's gonna have to be put under the bus in order for you to have any type of power. So look into what the successes of what your feminism is. If it has to do with who's getting the jobs, looking at the glass ceiling ... if the glass ceiling breaks, right now looking at the way white women function, all that glass is landing on women of color, I promise. So you need to consider who's all going together and what your feminism reach is for, because if it's just the type of power that white men have, someone's going to be continuously losing.

Kerri Kelly: And it's funny, I was having this conversation as I was telling people about this event and what we were gonna talk about, and someone responded on my Instagram feed, "Not this white woman." And then another woman said, "Not this white woman." And then another woman said, "Not this white woman." And I've had that feeling, too. I've been in spaces where I've been like, "Oh, no. She's not talking to me because I've done this work, or that." And I really just feel like I want to stress this, 'cause I heard this from you loud and clear this past weekend. It's all white women. It is all of us, because regardless of how woke we are or how well behaved we are in these situations, we're all implicated because we all benefit. Correct?

Rachel Cargle: Well, what I always says is two things. Whenever I go out and speak ... and I didn't say it here, but ... this is not a room full of the good white women and we're talking about everyone else. I'm talking to the people in the room and the people who you have connections with. But then also, I had posted something and I had a follower give this description and I kind of continued to build on it to make the most sense in the way that white privilege is a wheel and every single white person is a spoke on the wheel. Even if one spoke breaks and that's the woke one, the wheel's still going. You're still benefiting.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: So until the entire thing is broken down, we have not made the progress necessary to do what this anti-racism work is, which is to protect black people. And so even as woke as you are, as broken of a spoke as you are on that wheel, the wheel's still turning and you're still benefiting from it, whether you are aware of it ... your awareness isn't the change. It's a start to it, but you coming to this does not make you an ally. You following me on Instagram does not make you anti-racist. It's the every day work that makes change in the community, so you being aware ... Someone said, "Oh, I had no idea about all this, Rachel. Now I know. Thanks so much." And I'm like, "You're cute, but also you knowing is the least of things." 'Cause you knowing is what people of color have known for their entire lives. So you becoming aware is the least of it, and so for people to say, "Not me," it is you, 'cause you're still rolling on that wheel even though you're one of the broken spokes.

Kerri Kelly: I want to talk about white fragility, because I feel like that's often where that emerges. We think we know and then we have this default reaction of defensiveness or desperation. I mean, often I find that it's very irrational behavior when women get fragile. And just to kind of bring everybody into this conversation ... Robin DiAngelo coined the term white fragility to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged, and particularly ... and this is what you were just naming ... when they feel implicated in white supremacy. And I know that you're fielding white fragility all day long in your social media.

Rachel Cargle: All day.

Kerri Kelly: All day. So can you give folks and idea of what white fragility looks like in action? 'Cause you're right, it's not just enough to have the words or the perfect post, but it's how we behave. It's how we show up, it's how we respond, it's what we do every day.

Rachel Cargle: Yeah. Well, looking at the idea of white fragility, it's really interesting because I get the most fragile reactions. And I want everyone to know, when I say I, I am not speaking on behalf of black women but I'm representative of a lot of experiences of black women. So it's not just me when I'm saying I. I am speaking to experiences that I know happen to a lot of other black women, so take it as a black woman you might know might be experiencing this as well. But it's usually the people who seem to be most interested in this conversation that show the most fragility because they are so desperate to be one of the good ones. They're so desperate to be seen as one of the good ones that they will do anything necessary to have the affirmation of ... I'll just say that marginalized group, 'cause this looks this way across a lot of marginalized spaces.

Rachel Cargle: But it's all rooted in two things. It's either rooted in ego, like, "I don't want to feel like I don't know things and in order for me to move through the world the way I want to feel, I'm gonna pretend like my feelings matter more than a person's experiences." And then also, I've been teaching a lot on the fact that anti-racism work for white people is not a space for self improvement. You showing up to these spaces is not for you to be able to go home and sleep better tonight knowing that you came to listen to a black girl talk. The point of anti-racism work is to protect black lives, so if everything you do within the anti-racism work is for your benefit, then you're just enhancing white lives. You're not protecting black lives.

Rachel Cargle: So consider how you're really showing up. Consider how you're really coming into spaces to actually protect and pay your privilege forward, as Brittany Packnett says. Paying your privilege forward in order to ensure that actual black lives are being protected and it's not just a space for you to go to a conference and get a gift bag and take a picture with me and post it on Instagram. None of that translates to black lives being protected. So consider how that looks.

Rachel Cargle: I do workshops when I tour and one thing I do is that I have everyone in the room tell me ... and it's usually a room full of white women. Out of my 205,000 followers, probably about 200,000 of them are white women. So in my workshops, I say, "Tell me why you came. Why did you pay money to talk about race?" And I have everyone go around the room, and it's usually a mix of, "I started dating someone of color and so I want to be able to show up for them," or, "I moved into a neighborhood and there's black kids there and I want to make sure I'm showing up for them," or, "A friend shared your work and I saw that you were coming to my city and so I wanted to show up."

Rachel Cargle: So I let everyone go through and I take tally of what people are saying and at the end I say, "Wow, not one person said they are showing up for black lives." Not one person says it. In all of my workshops, maybe three or four people in all of the cities have said, "I saw a black man die and the police go unsentenced. I saw the way that little black boy got harassed at that bodega in Brooklyn and that white woman had no consequences." So I encourage you to consider ... And the thing is, black people have been dying from police brutality, from medical racism, from the variety of things that happen in this country for years. So it's not like there's any new material for you to stumble upon to care all of a sudden. So you caring all of a sudden, you coming to this moment ... which a lot of white women say it's from the election, and which that shows us that they didn't care about all of us until they were personally affected.

Rachel Cargle: But also consider why you show up and who's being protected in each time you're coming and saying that you're doing anti-racism work. 'Cause if you're willing to come to my lecture, but you're not willing to say anything to your racist uncle at the dinner table, then you might as well not come to my lecture.

Kerri Kelly: I feel like this is a really important point, because I know that often the interactions on your social feed get people fired up. And that's particularly because white folks, white women in particular, are used to being taken care of all the time so they don't like the feeling of fragility or being defensive, and that's just white supremacy at work. But what I'm hearing you say ... One of the things I really appreciate about your feed ... and it really does feel like a gift to white folks and white women that you are so revealing of your truth-

Rachel Cargle: Can I speak about that really quickly?

Kerri Kelly: Yeah.

Rachel Cargle: I have to remind people that my work is very white facing.

Rachel Cargle: Oh, hey Destiny. Sorry.

Rachel Cargle: My work is very, very white facing, but the work that I do is for the black community.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: I get that all the time, like, "Rachel, thank you so much." And I'm like, "This isn't for you." And my goal, in all of my work ... The best compliment I've ever gotten after a lecture is a black girl who came up to me and said, "Wow, I have never been in a room of white people and felt so comfortable." That's what I do and who I do it for. And that's why the work is so hard and it's so exhausting and it's so mentally straining, because I'm not where I want to be, which is usually in a room full of women of color, which is where I feel safest and most heard and most loved and most taken care of.

Rachel Cargle: And so as I do this work, I have to constantly think in my head, "What is this for?" Because when I speak to white women, I'm doing it for the black person at their job. I'm doing it for the black person that their kid’s playing with. I'm doing it for the black lady at the PTA who's not being heard. So that's who it's for, and I want that to be known and clear and understood, that even though my work is white facing, the work that I do is for my community of color.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah. And that was gonna be the second part of my point, because I know a lot of people are like, "Why can't you say it nicer?" Like, "Why does it have to be so combative?" And I think a lot of people refer to it as the call-out culture and when I hear you talk, I'm thinking, "People are fucking dying. People are fucking dying and it doesn't matter how you get the message, if it's polite, if you feel like it's in a trusting environment." We get a lot of this in the wellness community, like ...

Rachel Cargle: Oh my gosh.

Kerri Kelly:  ... "There's not enough trust here and so therefore we can't have a hard conversation." It's like, who fucking cares? Sit back and listen to the message that you need to hear because people are dying.

Rachel Cargle: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there have been spaces in which white women felt they needed a safe space to talk about race. White women are never unsafe in the conversation of race.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: Ever. That's like a bunch of men saying, "We need to get away from women now and figure out a safe way to talk about feminism." That's irrational.

Kerri Kelly: That's right. It's ridiculous.

Rachel Cargle: And it also perpetrates the idea that black women are dangerous, like if we're in your space we're dangerous and white women need a safe space. So that's that.

Kerri Kelly: And it feels like it's also about accountability, right?

Rachel Cargle: Yeah.

Kerri Kelly: Like we need to be fierce in our truth telling and in our confrontation, because we actually need accountability, and that's not a bad thing.

Rachel Cargle: It's the most necessary thing. Yeah.

Kerri Kelly: I had a teacher once who said, "I hold you accountable because I value what you do. We need you." And that changed my whole perspective on what accountability is. But we do demonize accountability, I think, in our culture all the time and nobody wants to be held accountable.

Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I can see that.


Kerri Kelly:  I want to give a special shout out to our community of supporters on Patreon who are making it possible for us to create content that matters for citizens who care. CTZN Podcast was designed for truth seekers, bridge builders, and emerging activists who are yearning to make a difference. We're not afraid to ask hard questions and have a radical dialogue about politics and patriarchy, white supremacy and worthiness, and we're serious about showing up for one another and taking action for the well being of everyone.

But making a good podcast takes a village, and so we're building one on Patreon. By joining our Patreon community for as little as $1 per month, you get lots of good stuff from us like radical meditations, community forums, and lifestyle content that you can trust. Not only does it keep us going, but it keeps us honest and real and pushing the envelope of courageous conversations that are independent, transparent, and authentic. So check us out on and build with us as we create a culture of well being that works for everyone.


Kerri Kelly: I heard you speaking this weekend about decolonizing intellect. I want to talk about decolonizing wellness.

Rachel Cargle: Please do.

Kerri Kelly: Because that's the domain that we operate in, and I think a lot of people here probably have some relationship to wellness. And the wellness culture has been effectively indoctrinated into the ideology of white supremacy, capitalism, individual ... I mean, I could go on and on and on, but the way in which mainstream wellness culture is showing up is doing more harm than helping, I think, in many ways.

Kerri Kelly: You have this great quote that I think has gone viral. "I don't want your love and light if it doesn't come with solidarity and action." So in your perspective, what does decolonizing wellness look like?

Rachel Cargle: I'm gonna grab my wine for this conversation.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah, yeah. Wait, hold on. Let's all just adjust. Everybody get comfortable.

Rachel Cargle: I wouldn't say that I exist in the wellness space. I'm not up in those conversations. There are a lot of incredible black women who are in those conversations doing that work, and I encourage you to go into their spaces and learn from them to have more of a perspective about decolonizing the wellness space in particular, 'cause they would know more than I know. But I do know a few things.

Rachel Cargle: I want us to really consider the idea of wellness and the idea of health and the idea of a person's autonomy in taking care of their bodies and feeling good in their bodies, and how white supremacy is latched onto controlling that and deciding who gets that, who gets to feel it or not. I'm gonna take it all the way back to the continent of Africa in which so much colonization happened. I took a course last semester and we were talking about decolonizing things like motherhood, decolonizing womanhood, decolonizing areas of our existence that we don't even consider. We talked about decolonizing domesticity, the fact that in Africa, a lot of people in various countries in Africa, they eat with their hands. And that's just a normal ass thing to do there, but colonizers came in and made school children learn how to eat with forks and spoons in order to decide how they existed in the world.

Rachel Cargle: And so even things as little as how we eat at a table is part of white people coming into spaces and saying, "What we do is deemed civilized and what you do is deemed not." And that's what we think. So when you see someone eat with their hands, you're like, "What are you doing?" But that's absolutely normal and dignitaries do it in various countries, so consider where colonization comes into those.

Rachel Cargle: But particularly ... just to take an example and then you all can think critically and go beyond and do your own research into other ways that this has happened ... but particularly around ... and which is a big thing in the wellness world, looking at birth, giving birth, and how privileged you have to be to have a doula. You really have to be privileged to have a midwife or a doula. But in these countries that were colonized, that was the norm. And these were people of color that the older women would be birthing the children and then white people came in and said, "No, you have to use our hospitals." And what they ended up doing is that they would train younger girls in order to push out the older women who were actually birthing children, so they were controlling the culture so no longer could older women be doing it. They got younger women who they could now teach whatever they wanted to teach to them to move them out of the space.

Rachel Cargle: So think about how wild it is that they took something away from people of color, and now we have to pay and we don't even have access to it. And so I want you to consider what that looks like across the board. How much is your yoga class? How much is the class that you're taking, and can the actual people of color from the origin countries of yoga come and afford to take what they have fucking gifted you with? There's so much that people of color gift Western culture only for them to commercialize it and make it out of reach. So consider how so much of what you have ... even something as much as fruit water. The fruit that you can put into the water. You can buy it now at Whole Foods for $8. Why is someone who immigrated here from Jamaica not able to get the type of water that they could make at their house? It's so wild that there's this grip from white supremacy and from capitalism onto everything they can in order to make ... everything that they can find to benefit them, I should say.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: They're literally ripping it away. And now it's like if there's a little girl from India who can't afford a yoga class, she's shunned even though it's probably part of her culture 100%. So consider how white people in this room are thriving off of a culture that was stolen and commercialized and people who gifted it to you, that you value it so much it was a gift to you, they don't even have access to it.

Rachel Cargle: And so I think ... I'm gonna propose this for the first time ever. If you're taking a yoga class, if you can't afford for you and a person of color to donate it, then don't take it. If you can't afford to gift it to someone else. 'Cause that whole culture was a gift to you. If you can't gift it to the people of color who have been oppressed in this country who gifted it to you then don't take it. You can't afford it.

Rachel Cargle: That's an exclusive.

Kerri Kelly: You heard it here first, people.

Kerri Kelly: I also think about how powerful the images are that we advertise and distribute of what wellness looks like, who gets to do it, body types, race, sexual orientation, gender, and how much we have to untangle and dismantle those images, too, so that we actually send a message that other people are welcome in their own way. I think we have a way of telling people, like, prescribing wellness. Like, "It needs to look like this. You roll out your yoga mat and you drink a green juice and you drive a hybrid." That's the American-

Rachel Cargle: Well, that's all capitalism. "I want you to buy this in order to make you feel good," obviously. But capitalism is inherently racist because of just the way that it's set up and the fact that, speaking as a black woman, our culture was enslaved in order for you to have the wealth that you have.

Kerri Kelly:That's right.

Rachel Cargle: Just consider what that looks like.

Kerri Kelly: And it's thriving off of a culture that's telling us that we're not good enough and we have to do ...

Rachel Cargle: All the things.

Kerri Kelly:  ... all the things to feel whole, which is bull shit.

Rachel Cargle: Yeah. My friend Dana Suchow, she taught me ... and I think about it all the time, and she probably got it from somewhere, or maybe she thought about it herself ... this idea like whenever you're feeling bad about yourself, who's profiting off of this. So when I feel bad that I didn't shave my legs and I'm like ... before a trip, like, "Oh my gosh, I have to go. I have to go buy a razor, I have to go buy this." Why are people profiting off of how I feel about my natural body hair? Or if you feel fat and you're like, "Oh, I have to go do this and I have to go do this. I have to buy this." Who's profiting off of how you feel about your body? And think about that every single time you have a hurtful feeling about who you are or how you feel. Just consider who's profiting off of it and be like, "Okay, well you're not getting any of my time, money, or thoughts," and then go on with your day.

Kerri Kelly: I think even when you're having a good feeling. I mean, to me, that's one of the ... you were saying before go back and do research and inquire. But part of I feel like what we need to do ... especially as those of us who are associated with dominant culture, white folks, cisgender, straight ... need to be interrogating ourselves every freaking day on who benefits, how am I benefiting ...

Rachel Cargle: At the cost of someone else.

Kerri Kelly: ... who is this harming, on whose back. And I feel like the only way to get to a place of clarity is to actually ask that question every minute of every day.

Rachel Cargle: And not just in your head. Out loud. Ask it out loud to the owner. I was recently ... I'm having a friend visit and I was looking at spas, and I was like, "Oh, let's just go to the spa." Part of the wellness world. We can talk about that. But I was like, "Oh, let's go to the spa." But he's a transgender man and I was like, "They're going to make us separate and go to different gender-based bathrooms before we get into the spa," and I just melted 'cause I'm like, do we have to have this turmoil within ourselves before going to the spa? And that's a privilege that I have that I never had to think about that. I can go anywhere, and the idea of having to go into a changing room doesn't affect me one bit. But it really affects people and how they show up and whether they even want to go to a place 'cause they have to explain themselves or have fear of how other people will take them.

Rachel Cargle: And so even in my own privileges, I have to be asking the questions out loud, make myself incredibly uncomfortable, call up the spa and say, "What the fuck? You're about to lose money because people are feeling uncomfortable in a space that's supposed to be ultimate comfort."

Kerri Kelly: That's the paradox.

Rachel Cargle: So say it out loud. Agitate. Your job is to realize where your privilege is and use it to agitate every single system that you have the privilege in. 'Cause as a black woman who's agitating the white supremacy, the marginalized people are going to agitate 'cause they have to to survive, and so your job is to do it every single chance you get.

Kerri Kelly: To choose to do it.

Rachel Cargle: To choose to do it, yeah.

Kerri Kelly: Because we have the privilege of choice.

Rachel Cargle: Yeah, yeah.

Kerri Kelly: I want to talk about so-called allyship. My friend Reverend angel Kyodo williams calls it "so-called allyship" because so much of allyship has become performative, like proving and saying the right thing and putting the perfect meme out. I mean, you were already naming a lot of those things. The kind of desperation to be the one who knows, and making sure everybody else knows that you know.

Rachel Cargle: Knows that you know, yeah.

Kerri Kelly:But it does feel like, ultimately, allyship is about relationship, authentic relationship, learning how to be in relationship, learning how to locate yourself socially in relationship, learning how to get out of the way. So I'd love for you to share how so-called allyship or authentic relationship across lines of difference shows up in your life. What does it look like?

Rachel Cargle:Yeah. What it looks like ... Well, I want to talk on the so-called allyship. I still use the word allyship, but I am happy to share the way a lot of other activists of color have showed up to have this conversation in saying we don't need allies, we need accomplices. We don't need someone to be our friend. We need someone to be breaking down the system with us. It's just like the same conversation. It's not enough to just be not racist. You have to be actively anti-racist, or you're complicit in the system. That's it. There's no other options.

Rachel Cargle: So there's no real need for allies because we just don't want a lot of people saying, "We see you, we hear you." We need people saying, "We're here to keep you alive. We're here to ensure your family gets an education. We're here to ensure you eat. We're here to ensure you have opportunity." So consider that. So I will use the word allyship, but I really want you to start using allyship and accomplice interchangeably.

Rachel Cargle: How it shows up ... Well, let me go back. My equation for allyship is knowledge plus empathy plus action. If you take any one of those out, you're either doing it for your ego ... this is either a self help space for you, or you're ... it's either for your ego or for, like, a self help. So consider how you're showing up. If you're doing something without knowledge, if you're not actually learning the history of these people, you're not actually doing research, and you're not actually trying to have a intellectual understanding of their existence in the world ... because I promise you your entire education has been whitewashed so you really don't know. And so unless you're knowing and you're only doing something off of how you feel and then taking action, then you just want to feel better. So you really need to learn about them.

Rachel Cargle: And if you're intellectualizing only and then taking action ... You cannot intellectualize the experiences of people of color. It's not an academic space. It's an actual, real, live space that people are existing in, so if you're only feeling like, "Well, I've studied ..." Like all of the white African American studies professors, like, "I've studied black people and I know what they experience," and then they try to take action without picking up the empathy part, then what they're really doing is hardcore fucking colonizing. Like, "I know what you need so I'm going to take action," without picking up the empathy part of the equation to say, "I know what's happening. Now tell me what you need and how can I take action on behalf of you?" So consider you need knowledge plus empathy plus action.

Rachel Cargle: How this shows up ... and it's something that I talked about in Bend, Oregon where she saw me speak ... is that ... One of the spaces is I have lots of white friends and there are times when they'll call me and be like, "Hey, Rachel. We're having this event." And they'll say, "But I just want you to know you'll probably be the only black person in the room if you come here, so let me know if you want to come." So just being aware of how I exist in the world and the fact that I rarely want to be in a place where I'm the only black person in the room.

Rachel Cargle: Or if I'm having an event or a ... say I have a sleepover and I post it on Instagram. I don't feel any feelings about how my white friends are gonna feel seeing me with all my black friends, 'cause they know that's what I need. So they don't have fragility around like, "I thought I was your friend. I thought we were all the same and I could come to your party." No. You know that I need to be in black spaces. And so those are very practical ways that it shows up ...

Kerri Kelly: That's helpful.

Rachel Cargle:  ... in the ways that my white friends interact with me. But also, all the way to how people are voting. Regular allyship. But like I said, if your work isn't centering black lives, then it's not anti-racism work. It's, "I want to feel better about how I happen to be born" work and we don't need that.

Kerri Kelly: What about mistake making and repair? And I've heard you say white folks can't move through the world and be afraid to make a mistake, and so they don't engage or they silence themselves. But when mistakes happen, what does repair look like?

Rachel Cargle:  I encourage everyone to consider in a question like this, reframing it with men and feminism. So if a man makes a mistake and he does something incredibly misogynistic, how could he repair? I'm interested to know your answer.

Kerri Kelly:  How could he repair?

Rachel Cargle: Yeah, if he did something incredibly hurtful to the community of women that he's part of.

Kerri Kelly: I would imagine that he would take responsibility for it and name it and maybe ask like, "How did this feel?" Or, "I may have done something wrong," or, "Give me feedback," or, "I want feedback." So there's some kind of responsibility taking and self accountability, I would say. And then I would say an apology. But even that doesn't feel like enough. Then I feel like practice. Continuing to navigate doing the right thing and continuing to take responsibility for mistakes and continuing to build relationship and showing up as a reflection of accompliceship, essentially.

Rachel Cargle: So that's the answer.

Kerri Kelly:        Okay. That was tricky, Rachel.

Kerri Kelly: I've heard you say that we need new heroes. And I think about this also in the feminist movement, how we've heard a lot about Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but we don't hear as much about Sojourner Truth and Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells. And it's not surprising that those women have been erased from our history. And that's not historical. I mean, that happens even today. We were with Tarana Burke this weekend and she tells a story about how she was almost erased from the Me Too movement and how it took a lot of people being like, "Wait up."

Kerri Kelly: I know this is a part of your definition of intersectional feminism, but how do we co-create a new story that centers black women, new heroes, lives on the margins, and really invites white people to get out of the way?

Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I make a post every so often where I challenge people to think, like, looking at the books you've read this year, who writes them. If you've read only books written by white people, you're putting yourself in this white-warped space again than what has already been taught to you. Whose music are you listening to? Whose books are you reading? What movies are you seeing? What means something's valid to you?

Rachel Cargle:  I realize that a pillar of my work is decolonizing intellect and that also goes into this idea ... and I'm writing a book right now ...

Kerri Kelly: Yay.

Rachel Cargle:... and I'm working right now on the chapter called Your Heroes Are Not My Heroes, where we're really digging into our understanding of who gets celebrated and why. Even aside from the incredible women like Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, those women along with the normal people we sometimes hear about ... Sojourner Truth or Ida B. Wells ... Even who do we deem as a valid source of knowledge today? Who do we deem as a valid entertainer today? Or even ... let's talk about the Oscars. What do we deem as valid? Until you're awarded by a group of white people?

Kerri Kelly: Who gets to decide?

Rachel Cargle: Who gets to decide? And so I'm deciding and we need to decide who our heroes are, because we definitely don't have a Malcolm X day. We have a Martin Luther King Day, who he was deemed super peaceful and that's why, and he was the one-

Kerri Kelly: Which he wasn't entirely.

Rachel Cargle: Which he wasn't entirely.

Kerri Kelly: That too was whitewashed.

Rachel Cargle: So that too was whitewashed. But if you really look into who gets chosen to be cared about and why they're chosen. Really look into who gets to be valid in this country and why, and you'll see that it all pours into the white supremacist agenda, that of course they'd choose Martin. He was the one saying, "Why don't we all join hands?"

Kerri Kelly: He was palatable.

Rachel Cargle: He was palatable. Of course he'd have a day just to honor the civil rights, which really didn't manifest into anything super concrete today. And so looking at who your heroes are, who you celebrate, who's valid. It goes into who are you reading, who feels valid to you. And even taking it away from heroes, taking it down to human-to-human perspective. At-Nehisi Coates in his book Between the World and Me ... which is required reading in my world, not that I have a class or anything, but ... he says that one of the most tragic things about humanity is that white people really think they're white. They think that their whiteness means something.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: They really, truly do. They walk through the world-

Kerri Kelly: Even if they don't see it.

Rachel Cargle: Even if they don't see it, they exist with some type of hierarchy based on their skin color. When if we think about it, the people who started ... They could have chosen anything. They could have chosen height. They could have chosen hair color. They could have chosen anything, but they chose white skin and white skinned people actually think that it materializes into something meaningful as in hierarchy of existence. And white people are not the default of existence. In decolonizing intellect, in decolonizing heroes, white people are not the knowers and everything else is to be known. That's how the world works now, like in academia and the world. White people discover things. Shit was existing before white people laid eyes on it. Why are we talking about people being discovered? Do you know how supremacist that is that you are the center of existence and you get to go out and find the rest of the world and then it ... It only exists after you've discovered it? That's some crazy shit that you really think that.

Rachel Cargle: As I'm getting more into the academy, I'm learning so much that every canon of every field of work is filled with white people, mostly white men, and that is honored as the understanding, the theory of that field. And so within all of our education, white people are the brains and everyone else either gets to learn from them or they're going out ... We have African American studies, we have Asian studies, and every other culture gets to be picked apart and scrutinized. Who's picking apart and scrutinizing how white people exist? Because they ...

Kerri Kelly: Assumed.

Rachel Cargle:  ... understand themselves as the default and it's wild. It's absolutely wild. So that's that.

Kerri Kelly: So that's that. I just want to point out that you do have a social syllabus on your website and you do have a class. It's called Instagram and we're all in it. So what is the other required reading in our class, Teacher Cargle? Professor Cargle, tell us.

Rachel Cargle: Like I said, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me completely kind of shook up the way that I understood a lot of things. You really need to pull from ... Right before I came here, I ran into Brittney Cooper and I was like-

Kerri Kelly: Like literally outside?

Rachel Cargle: Well, on the way here. I was at a co-working space and she was there and I ran into her and I was like, so hype. I was thinking out of all the celebrities I've seen walking through New York City ...

Kerri Kelly: That's really cool.

Rachel Cargle: ... I literally did a cartwheel to Brittney like, "Hi, Dr. Cooper." And she's like, "Who are you?" So anyways, read her work. I hope this makes up for the way I ambushed her earlier today. Dr. Brittney Cooper, Imani Perry ... she writes a lot of incredible work. I encourage you, whatever field you're in, Google "black innovators in this field," and you will find some people who are doing incredible work that you probably have never heard of because they don't get cited and they don't get put into things, but I promise you they're probably developing knowledge for your field. So look into that and consider who those are because even ...

Rachel Cargle: I'm speaking from the space of black women who are doing race-based work, but that's not the only people you should listen to, the black women talking about race. You also need to listen to the black woman engineer. You need to listen to the black woman artist. You need to listen to the black woman teacher. It's not just the people who are out here on the front lines doing the work whose voices are valid in this space. Every single black woman is a fucking expert in this and if you're not listening to her, if you're only listening to me, a light-skinned, Ivy League educated, well written, well spoken, super cute black girl, then you're only listening to me 'cause you find me palatable. It's just like when men only think the women they're attracted to are valid. If you're not listening to the women you're not attracted to, then you're not really listening to women. And if you're only paying attention to the black women you find interesting or you find palatable, then you're not really listening to black people.

Kerri Kelly: So you've had the wildest two years ever.

Rachel Cargle: It hasn't even been two years. It's literally been like, nine months.

Kerri Kelly: Since the Women's March, your picture went viral.

Rachel Cargle: Yes. That was two years.

Kerri Kelly: You all know that picture, right?

Crowd: Yes.

Kerri Kelly: I mean, everybody's seen that picture. I'm sure bagillions of people have seen that picture. So that goes viral. You're in school at the time. You're a nanny at the time.

Rachel Cargle: I'm a nanny at the time. Yeah.

Kerri Kelly:  And then what happens? Because your 205,000 Instagram people later. How did that unfold for you and how did you navigate that?

Rachel Cargle: I'm still learning how to navigate it. When that photo went viral, I think I had like, 2,000 followers and then kind of all the sudden my face and my feminism was kind of in the front of my existence and I had to talk about it a lot more 'cause people were associating me with that photo, and so me, I'm not gonna show up without a depth of knowledge of where I'm showing up. And so I started doing my own research and I wasn't in school yet, but I was nannying and so I had more time and more brain space to do this research and I was watching videos and I was thinking more critically about my own experiences as a feminist, as a black woman, and this was the first time I was bringing them together. So really, these last two years have just been me fusing these two parts of myself and how I'm showing up in both of those spaces.

Rachel Cargle: That was one of the big things is when the photo went viral, I just had a bunch of conversations that I had to have with myself, with my white friends, with my ancestors, with other black women in my community, and I'm like, "Where are we situated here?" And so then I just kind of started speaking as I learned, talking on it and writing about it as I went, and I just started building a following who was listening, going on this journey of learning with me. And then what really kind of boosted things was in July of last year, I got in an argument with a white woman on Instagram and pretty much our interaction went pretty viral.

Kerri Kelly: Is that the Nia Wilson ...

Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I made a post that said, "Where are all the white feminists now that Nia Wilson's died?" And I told my followers, I said, "Tag your favorite feminist and ask her why she hasn't mentioned it" and it caused a shit show of grand proportions. Well, it caused a shit show of white fragility. But what it really did, it gave me all the teaching material I could ever need.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Rachel Cargle: It was textbook of everything I had been teaching and talking about and learning about. And so after that happened, I think my following ... I think a lot of white women who followed that woman ... and you can go to my Instagram page and there's a whole highlight on it. But I think that it came up that people were ... that was the first time they were coming up against that conversation. They had never really considered how their white feminism played into race relations in the country, and I think I got, like, 40,000 followers that weekend, of white women like, "Wait, I never thought about this. I never considered this." And I started just developing more content around that conversation and I think in June I had, like, 10K followers and I have 202 now and it's just people coming in part of the conversation, part of the conversation.

Rachel Cargle: Even with my lecture tour, it's all been just people on the ground saying, "We need you here to have this conversation with our community," and so they connect with my assistant and they get everything together. So it's been very much so a ... I always say when I come into spaces, "I am here in conversation and in community," because that's how we're all showing up in order to start talking, and then my little brown fingers can be crossed that it will lead to more action.

Kerri Kelly: And I think it has. Just knowing who I know that knows you, your words are resonating, your teaching is resonating. People are listening and watching you for a reason and it's really helpful.

Kerri Kelly: You asked this question to Tarana, and so I want to ask it of you.

Rachel Cargle: Oh, don't. I'm gonna cry. Go.

Kerri Kelly: Knowing what you know now, what would you say to your younger self?

Rachel Cargle: To my younger self, I would say your words are powerful. I always wrote. I always enjoyed it, and it felt very wispy, like what I was writing didn't really mean anything. And so I would definitely tell my younger self that writing is part of my power, so I would probably encourage that. And I also would just say, dig into your curiosity. I was always a very curious kid. Even my application essay to Columbia was all about how the university would benefit from my curiosity, like that's why they should bring me in.

Kerri Kelly: Nice.

Rachel Cargle: I wish I just dug more. Like, read more crazy books that no one else was picking up, demanded more critical conversation from my mom and my friends when I was like ... I remember being young and being like, "I've learned about the cycle of poverty and we need to talk about this," just pushing more critical conversation with people who didn't want to be part of it but realizing that it was always important to me. So just tell myself to go deeper.

Kerri Kelly: I'm so glad ... Clearly you've had that seed, because after the Women's March you went deeper and you could've opted out. You could've went back to your life. You could've just followed along, and it feels like, to me, that you just pulled out all the stops and leaned in. I don't know this from personal experience being a white woman, but I know that choosing to do the work that you do, especially given the fact that you spar with white fragility every day on your social media feed, must be really intense. That's not just an intellectual thing. That's direct. It's real. It can be violent at times. And so I just want to acknowledge you.

Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I always say, with this work I didn't put up a sign that said, "200,000 white women, come follow me. Let's talk about race." I didn't call on this, so I have to assume it's my work. Nothing about how I existed in the world was like ... I definitely wasn't a little girl like, "I'm gonna grow up and talk about race," and my race and my womanhood. It wasn't something that I did. But I think that now that I'm in this space, I am recognizing how different gifts that I have all lend to this, and so it's been an incredible experience to feel purposeful and feel on a path that's meaningful because I recognize that not everyone gets to be in that space at one point in life or another. But also, like I said, it's so deeply meaningful when I have 16-year-old black girls say, "I didn't know I could talk to white people like that." I'm like, "Girl, talk to them like that."

Kerri Kelly: You were saying before that you didn't choose to work with white women, but here you are, and that if your vision was realized, your community, your spaces would look really different. What is your vision for our future? How will you know you've been successful? What will it look like?

Rachel Cargle: It'll look like a deep ringing in my ears of black girls. It'll look like voices of black women and girls just being wildly heard. Not just spoken, but heard. Not just existing, but heard. And I just want to be overwhelmed by the voices of black girls who are demanding what they deserve and what they're not accepting anymore and what they're expecting of the world and what they want in terms of existing. I always say I have a deep commitment to making white people uncomfortable. That's my work right now, is going throughout the country and making white people uncomfortable. And I hope that I just have an army of black girls behind me making white people uncomfortable.

Rachel Cargle: I have very little hope that much will change in my generation, just going off of how things have progressed. But I do believe that with social media ... which is such an interest ... I can't wait to read academic work on social media now and activism and organizing and things like that. But I just hope ... my dream and my hope, by the time I'm like, 70 years old, releasing another book and getting to go out to universities and lecture is for me to have a room full of black girls who are like, "This is what we've been saying. This is what we've been doing. This is why this university has you." A deep ringing in my ears of black girls is my dream.

Kerri Kelly: Yes, yes. Thank you for that. Everyone, Rachel Cargle.

Rachel Cargle: Thank you.


While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to do the work. Not to simply engage with it on social media, but to put your privilege on the line and take a risk. You can follow Rachel on Instagram @rachel.cargle, and check out her website at to attend a lecture and download her social syllabus on how to be an ally to black women.

Thanks to our producer Trevor Exter and to DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, WELLread, at CTZN Podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care.



012 Robin DiAngelo


Robin DiAngelo: I've spent weeks asking white people, what is it you need to trust, will or won't happen before you can work on racism? What it came down to was just, I need to trust you won't think I'm racist before I can work on my racism.

Kerri Kelly: Welcome to CTZN podcast. I'm your host Kerri Kelly. In this episode, we're talking about white fragility, with the woman who coined the phrase Robin DiAngelo. She's been training on issues of racial and social justice for over 20 years. Her groundbreaking book White Fragility, explores why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism and what we can do to engage more constructively. All right white folks, this episode is for you. Not because you are special, but because you and me have some catching up to do in theory and practice about white supremacy and racism. Our guest, Robin DiAngelo wrote the book, White Fragility which is an in-depth examination of the defensive moves that white people make when confronting or challenged with racism.

White fragility can look like anger or fear or guilt or tears or just about anything that allows us to escape our discomfort. It's not just causing harm to the people of color we engaged with, it is holding us back from any kind of meaningful dialogue and work across lines of difference. Now, for all of you thinking, this is not me, I'm a good white person. No, this is you and it's also me, because racism isn't just about bad people. It's about a system and culture that is designed to uphold white dominance. As I discovered in reading her book, the behaviors attributed to fragility are more subtle than you think because that's how white supremacy and cultural racism works.

It's insidious and often invisible especially to those who benefit and in this episode, you'll hear Robin say, "The game is up. You are a racist." When we can get there, when we can acknowledge how and when and where we are being racist, then we can get to work. I am one of those people and this conversation unlocked a whole other level of my own racism and really challenged me to recon with where am I still actively participating in white supremacy. How am I attached to the unearned benefits it affords me and what am I willing to risk so that we can all get free. What I've learned is that we can survive our discomfort and fragility but we may not survive the violence of white supremacy. This episode is both a reckoning and a call to action for all of us who are ready to do what is necessary to transform ourselves from the inside out. Here we go. Let's get started.

Kerri Kelly: Hello. Welcome Robin DiAngelo.

Robin DiAngelo: Hi. Thanks.

Kerri Kelly: I have a million questions for you and as I mentioned before we got started in almost every conversation that we have at CTZNWELL about dismantling racism and raising consciousness, we invoke you and your work around White Fragility so thank you for giving us a vocabulary for this conversation.

Robin DiAngelo: Thank you for the acknowledgment.

Kerri Kelly: I want to start at the beginning and ask you about that moment, I think there's always a moment for white folks who are on this path of waking up to racial consciousness when we become aware of our whiteness, when we become aware of our race, that we have been ... it's almost like the illusion that we have been living under, that we have been operating from our whole life. For me and I've heard this from other white folks, it can be a gut-wrenching moment when we realize that we've been operating from a place of illusion and from a place of lies, really and indoctrination for so long and that it's had a real harmful impact on the lives of other people. What was that moment for you?

Robin DiAngelo:     I was sitting, I can tell you where I was sitting, right? I can tell you the room but just to back up, I've been a proudly angry feminist for most of my life, right? I grew up in poverty. I had a very acute awareness of inequality and oppression and I could tell you in great detail all the ways that I had been oppressed or had less but never occurred to me to think about where I had more. Never occurred to me to think about where I make, including what someone else's oppression is. It's kind of the missing piece of the coin, right? When you experience heavy oppression, like that's where your focus is. I'm sitting in a friend's office, he's a black woman and she gives me Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege article and I had an out-of-body experience, right?

Robin DiAngelo: It was like this moment when I realized, "Oh my God, I have a racial world view and it's white." It's like that fish being taken out of water. I wouldn't have not been able to tell you I had a racial world view. I mean, I just saw the world through my human eyes. In that moment, I realized, no, I see the world through white eyes. Then, I got this almost like an image of myself, standing on the ground and I had always understood that there we re people under me and that was tragic that they were lower, right? In my mind, I thought about black people and I understood that they were kind of stood upon but I suddenly realized, no, you're not just standing on level ground and some people are below you.

Robin DiAngelo: You're elevated, you're lifted up above that ground and I actually didn't want to go outside the room. I didn't want to go outside. I felt so hyper-conscious of being white that I thought it was loud and everybody could see it because for me, in that moment, it was really loud. I think what's really important however is that, that didn't last and years later, I signed up to be a diversity trainer and I'm still running the same oblivious patterns because it wasn't sustained. I mean, along with it, wasn't the, "And you better keep your focus here or you will lose it."

Kerri Kelly: Right.

Robin DiAngelo: Right. It's a lot like water dripping on a rock. What I often say to groups of people is that everything I've shown you today, that I've helped you see today, the moment you leave this room, all the forces will push you not to see this anymore and you ... they'll be seductive because you don't really want to see this, do you, because it mean something. It challenges our identities as good people. It requires something of us that we don't really want to give, right? I mean, this is not a small task. Without that sustain pressure and accountability ... even though there was that moment really for me, it's been a decades long process and it's never complete.

Kerri Kelly:  It almost sounds like what you're describing is recovery from addiction.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, people have used that analogy and if it's useful, I don't have any immediate problem with that. I'm sure people have critique that analogy. It makes sense, right, that you're never free of the addiction but you can maybe manage it.

Kerri Kelly: That's right, to the best of your ability.

Robin DiAngelo: You're a little less harmed.

Kerri Kelly: With practice and community and ongoing commitment and accountability and diligence. I want to ask about ... because in the book you talk about how we need to understand socialization better and that's the water I think that you're describing, that we swim in and that we can't see because we're the fish.

Robin DiAngelo:  Yeah.

Kerri Kelly: I know for me, that's how my racism has shown up throughout my whole life. It hasn't been so overt and obvious as like, direct words or actions but it's been more stylistic, like the culture of white supremacy that Tema Okun talks about. The way it showed up for me is in my perfectionism and in the way in which like I had to be perfect at all costs, right? Even as an ally or in the way in which I felt entitled to take the lead in rooms or in collaboration or to take responsibility or project manage spaces, right? Those were the more insidious ways and subtle ways that I think my racism, not just showed up but really like impacted and oppressed the people that I was working with.

Kerri Kelly: I'd love to hear from you like what do we need to learn and understand about the ways in which we've been shaped by systems and by culture? What do we need to unpack to better see the whiteness that we've been indoctrinated into?

Robin DiAngelo: Okay, nice, deep question. I take notes as I'll lose all the great places you went in that question. The first thing is we are all in water and there are currents in the water, so people of color are in that water too and they're being conditioned and they're minds are being colonized, all of that is happening for everybody, of course with different results based on where we're positioned in the water, in terms of the currents. I think about it as I move with the current and they're swimming against it. We're both swimming but the efforts, the outcome of my efforts in that current are drastically different and you've ever swam with the current, you know that it's ... you don't notice it's there until you just, " Whoa, man, did I get far," right, just by swimming. When you swim against it, you're acutely aware of it, right? That's just ...

Kerri Kelly: That's a great analogy.

Robin DiAngelo: Metaphors work for me really well.

Kerri Kelly: Yup.

Robin DiAngelo: I think about it that way. It appears that most white people don't understand socialization and I think the irony is just because one of the ideologies that's so precious in our culture is individualism. Now, it's only granted to white people, racially, right? I mean, I'm just teacher but we mentioned a dear friend, Michelle, she'll always be the black teacher, right? There's the writer and then there's the black writers or the Asian writers. Individualism has this thinking that we can be exempt ... that we're just unique and even some of these new age kind of ideas like find yourself. I need to find myself.

Robin DiAngelo: I need to my true self, what is that? I mean, where is this idea that there is some kind of intact unique special person in there that is untouched by anything and that is just unchanging? No, I'm different selves and different context. This is where I love graduate school, okay, for all my critiques, post structural theory. We think we can just be exempt from all of this because we want to be. If we take a really ... it's not even a hard look once you start to see it. Just look around, I mean, the messages are relentless. Children by three, all children who grew up here by three years old know it's better to be white. Who doesn't know that? You don't miss it. It's not an isolated singular message.

Robin DiAngelo: It's just relentless. You see it in the ... the difference between whether people are literally going to survive their births to how long they're going to live, right? Group identity matters. I don't think anybody would deny that, when a baby is born and it's labeled boy or girl, the trajectory of its life is radically directed at that moment, you can fight it but you cannot truly ever get away from it. I think we know this. You're going to get deep messages that are going to be different. It's the same with race. When it comes to race, we just want to say, "Oh, it's just about fond regard and as long as I have fond regard, there's nothing happening."

Robin DiAngelo: Okay, so the other piece I want to talk about ... one way to get to it, I do offer a lot of questions in the book, kind of walk people through some questions that can help them get in touch with those early messages. You were naming some of the ways that your racism manifest, right, because you and I, we're never going to say the N word. I mean, I cannot deny that I have very ugly racist thoughts that pop into my brain at times and unsettle me. They pop in so that they're there but I kind of am uphold by them and I'm never going to say those things.

Kerri Kelly: That's part of the socialization, right? That we've been sort of indoctrinated.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, your whole life, you've watched movies and then associate an image with the word, right? You see somebody and pop goes that word, that term, right? I use this example of Trump and some people have misunderstood it but I will say, I don't actually think Trump is more racist than I am. I mean, I absolutely recognize what comes out of his mouth. When he says those things about Mexicans, it's not like I've never heard those things about Mexicans.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: That's a familiar narrative to me. The difference is I work really, really hard to challenge it, in a couple of ways, right, and think critically about but also to have relationships with Mexican heritage people and to see their humanity. The difference between us is he embraces and uses it for ends that I think are deeply oppressive and problematic but the essential socialization, we're in the same water.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah. I've heard you even say that you believe white progressives cause like the most daily harm to people of color and that's I think what you're getting at.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, daily harm, you have to think about it as kind of climate of hostility. It's not going to look that way to us. The example I like to use, I use to work with a black woman, we worked really hard. We were doing these trainings and I actually said to her, let's get away for the weekend. Let's take a nice quiet weekend up at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and she just like looked at me, like, "Yeah, no, that does not sound like a relaxing weekend, Robin." A little tiny town up in Coeur d'Alene where the area of nation is built in a compound of Hayden Lake, a few miles down the road. Just for me, everything is open, right. For her that's a hostile climate and maybe I don't know if that image is right, pretty little picturesque town.

Robin DiAngelo: How could that not look attractive but what is the climate, right, and why do I not see it and why does she see it, right? I think white progressives, we just tend to be so attached to an identity of progressiveness that we can refuse any kind of feedback about what we're doing inadvertently, right? We're so ... we tend to be so arrogant, so not humble, so sure and we spend most of our time credentialing ourselves in ways that actually are not remotely convincing to people of color, right? They're rolling their eyes but I'm just sure if you knew I saw Black Panther five times, you'd know I wasn't racist.

Kerri Kelly: Even an allyship, I see like a lot of proving and performing, right, in the ways in which we use the right words and we have the right moves and it's ... yet, we still benefit and then we're even benefiting from our allyship which I think is an ...

Robin DiAngelo: I know, I know.

Kerri Kelly: It's a mess.

Robin DiAngelo: I know my people really well, so right now if any listener is going, I give up. Don't give up.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: It reminds me of something a dear friend of mine once said, Malena Pinkham. She's an indigenous woman and she's ... in one of her I'd say rare moments of having some kind of compassion for my struggle, she said, "Wow, being a white person committed to enter racism must be a little bit like being a cat on a hot roof. There's nowhere you can step that you don't stepping in." I'm like, yeah. She said, you just get stay up on that roof and you keep stepping.

Kerri Kelly: Well, and keep getting dirty, right?

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, don't expect to be free of that. I mean, watch where you're stepping but don't expect that to ... I mean, the last thing I wanted to own is one of the ways my racism I think looks at, you talked about perfectionism and I think apathy. Apathy is really deep. I'm going to say something provocative. I think most white people don't actually care about racism or racial inequality. If you show us an extreme picture of somebody being beaten, of course we will feel upset by that. The incredibly inequitable outcomes day in and day out that all of our institutions produce, right? I don't think we really care that schools are profoundly unequal as long as my child has the best of everything. In fact, I kind of need schools to be unequal or how would my child have the best of everything. My precious unique. I'd like to joke, I've never met a white middle class person with an average child.

Kerri Kelly: Well, I wonder if it's like that we don't care or that we care more about benefiting. Is it preference?

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. I did a ... I co-wrote an article that ... it was called, we put it in terms of not nice, anti-racist parenting and we interviewed white parents who identified as anti-racist, like what are you doing differently in raising your children and the bottom line was, nothing but feeling more guilty about it.

Kerri Kelly:  They have more words. They're more educated on it.

Robin DiAngelo: They feel bad the gentrification.

Kerri Kelly: They can go on social media and yell and shout about the injustice.

Robin DiAngelo: Also, those moments of realizing, a really powerful ... two really powerful moments for me, one is like the highlight of my presentation. There's like an emotional pit to my presentation and it's when I get to the end of talking about how race has shaped my life, and I say that I could be born into, I could play. I could study. I could learn. I could work. I could lead. I could love and I could die in racial segregation. Absolutely no one who's ever mentored me or guided me or loved me has ever conveyed that I've lost anything of value. In fact, white people describe the value of our lives by the absence of people of color.

Robin DiAngelo: I know what a good school is. I know what a good neighborhood is. I know what's happening when a neighborhood is coming up. These are such powerful messages. We have to understand yes, that's the N word and then there's calling a white neighborhood good. Just pause for a minute, it's good because it's white. It's safe because they're not there. Those are very deep messages that we internalize. I show a picture of my wedding and then I show a picture of a funeral and I said, it's all white and I just say, why would my funeral not look like this? Why would, not the end of my life, in segregation like the rest of how I've lived my life.

Robin DiAngelo: That was powerful. That's the place in which I got a deeper message and the place in which I try to help other white people see it and then there's the moment when I realized that I actually thought people of color suffered less than we do. This is also kind of a deep thing to say but I was watching a movie, it was obviously Apocalypse Now and there's a scene where they show all these ... I guess they would be Cambodian people hanging from trees and I just realized they'd never show white people hanging from trees like that. The bodies, in the same way that women's nude dead bodies are shown over and over and over but not men's nude dead bodies.

Robin DiAngelo: The dead bodies of people of color but we can't even show the coffins coming back from Iraq if there are people and all of the images I've seen of brown women in other countries weeping over war and there's just this kind of abstract, I realized that I kind of thought their pain didn't count the same ways ours did. That it was something they just always had and it didn't ... I mean, that's a really hard thing to admit. A recent study showed that up to 50% of medical residents believe that black people feel less pain. These ideas are not alone. They circulate relentlessly and they keep each other alive.

Robin DiAngelo: We have to get better at recognizing them and the messages they're sending or we can resist them but if you put that all together, and then you can think about so what does this look like in Robin's life? What does that going to look like? That's the life long task, right? Not, "I couldn't have been exempt from any of this, what's it look like in my life?" You want to be an individual, figure out how your unique life set you up to glue with racism.

Kerri Kelly: That's right. I want to give a special shout out to our community of supporters on Patreon, who are making it possible for us to create content that matters for citizens who care. CTZN podcast was designed for truth seekers, bridge builders and emerging activists who are yearning to make a difference. We're not afraid to ask hard questions and have a radical dialogue about politics and patriarchy, white supremacy and worthiness and we're serious about showing up for one another and taking action for the well-being of everyone. Making a good podcast takes a village and so we're building one on Patreon.


Kerri Kelly: By joining our Patreon community for as little as $1 per month, you get lots of good stuff from us, like radical meditations, community forums and lifestyle content that you can trust. Not only does it keep us going but it keeps us honest and real and pushing the envelope of courageous conversations that are independent, transparent and authentic. Check us out on and build with us as we create a culture of well-being that works for everyone. I want to get into White Fragility and I think you're already getting towards this. I have seen ... and I'm sure I have been one of them, white folks cling to their defenses and their rationale and their narrative like they are holding on for dear life.


Kerri Kelly: Not only does it appear irrational, sometimes it feels like a trauma response like the way in which people react. Acute, being adamantly about they're not racist and so I'm just wondering like why are people so defensive, like, what are they afraid of? What's underneath, right, that I'm right, I don't understand you're wrong, we're all one. What's the underpinning of that, do you think that causes us to have such an embodied reaction?

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. I think there's actually a whole bunch of threads. I think about them as threads or pillars that hold that reaction up. Not just one single one but so many in fact that it makes us crazy, like it makes us irrational. You mentioned trauma. I think there's a kind of moral trauma that we sit on because we know what we've done and we know what we're doing. It's not just the past. If you know your history, it's not the past. There's this kind of moral trauma.

Kerri Kelly: It's the present.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, that we can't really look at, right? It's unbearable and along with that goes guilt but also resentment because we feel entitled to what we have and they're ... I'm going to say another provocative thing. No white person grows up not knowing it's better to be white.

Kerri Kelly: That's right, and not benefiting.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, there's this deep superiority and entitlement to everything but we can never admit that either because that would mean we were bad people. That's going on, what I call the good, bad binary. Taboos on talking about this. Feeling that we would have to give up something that's rightfully ours and so that's not fair. Myth of scarcity, capitalism, it's kind of all these things.

Kerri Kelly: Right, individualism.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, the place I try to at least help women access it. Those who identifies women is ... everything I say about white supremacy, I could say about patriarchy, right, that from the time a boy is born pretty much, he knows it's better to be a boy than a girl, right? I mean, you might have to fight that message but no little boy knows, who doesn't know it's better to be a boy than a girl. How do you teach boys to be boys, don't be a girl.

Kerri Kelly: Don't run like a girl.

Robin DiAngelo: The risk of name, that don't be a pussy, don't be a fagot, don't be weak. Everything is don't be female. Don't be feminine, don't be a girl. In fact, violence weights you, seriously. I mean it's a pretty brutal lesson, any weakness the boy show, they risk deep violence.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: Okay. You've never known anything outside of that, you internalize it and then you add all the massaging in the culture. I don't about you but I think male superiority kind of leaks out of their pores. I have this picture I often show of the house freedom caucus. It's all these men sitting around a conference table, Mike Pence is in the middle of it, because it's such a powerful visual representation of institutional power. You look at these men and you know that probably every single one of them went to Ivy League schools, multimillionaires, expect to be sitting at that table. Don't see any one of value not sitting at the table. Would probably not really appreciate you suggesting they should have more women and men and women of color. You can see it really clearly, that's just ...

Kerri Kelly: How it is.

Robin DiAngelo: That's just how they were raised, right. They're always get to be the smartest people in the room. If you've ever had anybody mansplain something to you ...

Kerri Kelly: Which we all have.

Robin DiAngelo: Yes, I can see it so clearly from them and then I have to ask myself, you have the same thing around race and try to figure out what it looks like, because people of color can see my white superiority coming out of my pores and just because in that room with my pants, I would be acutely aware of patriarchy and sexism. It doesn't mean, put me in a room full of white women, bring our friend Michelle in there and she's not going to be feeling acute white superiority from all of us white women.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: It's intersectional, right? It's not just one or the other.

Kerri Kelly: Well, we have lots of evidence of that, right, with the 53% of white women that voted for Trump, 51% that voted for ... it's just like, and Susan Collins and the Kavanaugh hearing is just pervasive and the evidence ... and I love the way you said before around like, you can not see it like once you start to see it, it's actually not ... it's not hard to see it's everywhere.

Robin DiAngelo: Yes. Yes, and we can't trust ourselves fully, right, to see it, because as an insider to it ... like it's the same thing when a man ... have you ever have a man tell you that he's a feminist, tell him about you.

Kerri Kelly: All the time.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, I will be the judge of that. Seriously, yeah, right, yeah. I'll be ...

Kerri Kelly: I get to call you a feminist. You don't get to call yourself a feminist.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah and really be like in any given moment, how you're doing, right?

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: In any given moment, am I actually behaving an anti-racist white, right? Yeah. It's not like a fixed arrival.

Kerri Kelly: White fragility, and one of the things I love about ... the solutions that you offer at the end of this book, that you talk about this idea of like capacity building which I love, right, because to me, capacity building is like practice. It's like the anti-habit, it's like what we choose to do everyday to like stay aware and to be engaged fully and like dismantling these beliefs and these messages that we're constantly getting and disrupting, whatever that looks like, it's like an ongoing constant process and it's probably never-ending at least for me in my life. I assume that I will be on this path forever.

Kerri Kelly: What does capacity building look like, in the way in which we learned to respond on an everyday basis to the onslaught of white supremacy.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, well, we probably can't build our capacity in isolation. I mean, that's one piece that white people we need to work with each other, we need to help each other challenge each other.

Kerri Kelly: That's the legacy of individualism again, right? That they want to keep us apart. They want to keep us in isolation because it continues to uphold the system and we can organize.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. We need to break silence with one another but we also have to recognize that in doing that, we will also reinforce our blind spots, of course, right? We have to also be in relationship across race and be accountable. I think about it as building the capacity to one, just bear witness to the pain of racism but also bear witness to the pain that I have caused. In those moments when someone gives me feedback and that right there would be a moment of incredible trust for a person of color to give me that feedback because most of the time, they don't bother because it doesn't usually go well because of White Fragility.

Robin DiAngelo: Can I just bear it, can I just hold it and maybe take it somewhere else and process it but not have to fix it and I need you to absolve me and tell me I'm okay and tell me you still love me, like just sit with it, you'll be okay, you'll be fine. We can't get there without making mistakes and so that's another pattern that I think white progressives have is carefulness. It's so important for us to ... what we think of a save face. I don't want you to think I'm racist, right? I have a piece called White Fragility and the question of trust, because so many white people, and before they can have a racial dialogue, they need to build trust.

Robin DiAngelo: I'm just like, I've spent weeks asking why people what is it you need to trust, will or won't happen before you can work on racism? What it came down to was just I need to trust you won't think I'm racist before I can work on my racism. What I just say is, yeah, the game is up. I think you're racist. We're done with that. Just start from that premise.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah, we are racist.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah.

Kerri Kelly: That's the beginning of the conversation.

Robin DiAngelo: It's transformative, it's liberating and then from there, get to work, trying to figure out how you're being a racist and stop doing it. That's actually really exciting work but if we can't let go of this I have to save face you can't think I'm racist, it can never show. You will protect all of your racism and you definitely will not be building your capacity, right? Take risks

Kerri Kelly: Yeah.

Robin DiAngelo: Be thoughtful, right? There's a difference between careful and thoughtful in my mind, right? Be thoughtful, don't just, "Oh, yeah, I'm going to blurt this thought out, I just had," but perhaps I'm having a thought that's confusing to me and put it out there in a thoughtful way.

Kerri Kelly: I have to tell you, this is one of the biggest aha moments for me in reading your book was when you talked about trust and I realized as I was reading it, I literally was like in a moment where I was like seeking trust, in an interaction at that time and I was like, "Dammit. I'm doing that thing," and I realized how that was like ... that was entitlement that I believe, that I deserve trust before I can enter into a conversation. Entitlement that white people have and that they take for themselves but you said that the message is more important than the messenger, right? How, where and when you give me feedback is irrelevant.

Kerri Kelly: It is the feedback I want and need and understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it anyway, I can get it and that was like a huge holy shit moment for me, in reading your book. That like, thank you for giving it to me in whatever way you gave it to me, that is the gift.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. That kind of gave me the chills there.

Kerri Kelly: It was right on time for me and it was literally like weeks ago. I mean, it wasn't like years ago, it was like weeks ago and I think I feel like, I'm far ... I'm in this journey but to me, the humility that you keep illuminating around how this is like a process that's constantly unfolding, it's almost like peeling an onion, it's just going to keep going and we're going to get even more clear seeing about the ways in which we're still operating from that perspective.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, well, this is another place individualism comes in I think because we so attach to ourselves this identity as individuals. We expect to be trusted automatically, right, like, "Well, you don't know me, why would you assume I'm racist when you don't know me?" This is a really common refrain for white people, right?

Kerri Kelly:  I don't get credit for all of the ways I'm great.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, we definitely do not like being generalized about or trust me, those are probably the number one thing about the emails I get, is this like how dare you generalized about white people? You don't know me. We expect to just kind of appear in front of you as a unique person and you should respond to us as a unique person and we don't understand, you bring your history with you and it's a history of harm quite frankly. No, you have to actually show you're different, expecting to be automatically trusted is not showing you're different. It's showing you're entitled and unaware of your position as a white person.

Robin DiAngelo: While I might just see myself as Robin, Michelle's friend, Michelle sees me as Robin, my white friend, right? That's always in there and rightly so, in fact it's wise not to automatically trust us. Ijeoma Oluo is a young black woman whose ...

Kerri Kelly: A great writer.

Robin DiAngelo: I love her. Everything she's ever written, look it up but she's got this piece that has a quote which is basically white people will let you down every time.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah.

Robin DiAngelo: We need to earn trust and not just expect and demand it.

Kerri Kelly: Well, and I think that's where the capacity building comes in because when I think about my addiction to perfectionism, knowing that I'm going to fail every time I engage, is like a muscle I need to build. I need to get good at like falling on my face on fucking up and getting back up again and making in a men's ... like not being flimsy or careless about just flinging my unconsciousness all over the place but like to me it's like the more I can build that muscle around, I can make a mistake and still be in relationship. I can make a mistake and still be human. I can make a mistake and still be whole.

Kerri Kelly: It doesn't just determine that good and bad binary that you mentioned. That to me, is like the most important kind of resilient building practice that not only can I work on for myself but that I can openly and vulnerably share with other white folks like I try to model that, that like, "Oh shit, I just did a humiliating thing, and fell on my face again. Let me tell you about that."

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah but man, but you learn from it. I would not be able to articulate, I don't know, a quarter of what I can today, if I hadn't made countless mistakes.

Kerri Kelly: Totally.

Robin DiAngelo: That doesn't mean ... Unfortunately they are at the expense of other people but it's that carefulness that won't give us those incredibly important learning moments and fortunately, many, many brilliant and patient, mentors, people of color did not give up on me but that's because they kept seeing something and maybe it was that I kind of kept going, right? I actually incorporate it the lesson I learned from that mistake and then was different. That is what I think they're looking for and that's what I've been told, right? It's like we don't expect perfection. We know you have this conditioning. We need you, right, in the struggle.

Robin DiAngelo: We definitely need you in the struggle. We're not going to give up on you but what we're looking for is where can we go with you in those moments when it surfaces. If we can't repair it with you then we are probably going to give up or at least not have an authentic relationship. I did have a thought though, you said, we're going to fail. You might not fail every time, right? I mean, you can really have very meaningful interactions. I just want to put that out there.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah, that's right.

Robin DiAngelo: Go ahead.

Kerri Kelly: It's not a recipe for failure but be prepared to be like fail-resilient.

Robin DiAngelo: I fail less which means I do less harm and then when I do harm, I'm pretty good at cleaning it up.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah, and that's a really good point, right? It's like how do we get ... how do we develop a practice of like leaning into repair and not having to save face all the time and like setting those sort of like, shields if you will and defenses down of like I have to self-preserve, I have to save face. I can't tolerate not knowing or being seen as not good, like to my like that, but I wanted to appreciate what you were saying about like, just having ... just really incredible black allies in my life who chose to be in relationship for me for whatever reason and who served as a mirror in some of those times when I fell in my face and we keep talking about Michelle, we're talking about Michelle Cassandra Johnson. She wrote a book, Skill in Action. She's an incredible, incredible woman which author of Skill in Action.

Robin DiAngelo: By the way, she does racial justice training and has a website. It's really good.

Kerri Kelly: She does have a website and I think it's

Robin DiAngelo: I think it's

Kerri Kelly: or

Robin DiAngelo: I refer a lot of work to her because she's really good. A trainer ...

Kerri Kelly: She's incredible and she's also been on the show so we love her and we talk about her all the time. I wanted to just acknowledge that and Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams and then also Anasa Troutman and Nikki Myers. I mean these are women who have just shown up for me when they didn't have to and really transformed my life and shown up for me with compassion and patience. I wanted to name that and I also wanted to acknowledge that ... and you talk about this in your book, that we also can't rely on or lean on black women to be the teachers for white people in this particular moment, especially given the burden that they've been carrying for all of time, for having to ...

Kerri Kelly: I mean, we're white women talking about racism but black women have been telling us about racism forever and it seems like now, we're finally getting the message. I wanted to ask you about the role of white on white organizing and white folks working with white folks to do some of this consciousness raising and to have these vulnerable conversations without causing such a mess and impacting people of color and black folks so intensely. Because I know you talk about this in the book, right, that white folks can work with white folks to break the silence but I'm just wondering if you ... not only what do you think about that but what do you think are the best practices of how white folks can work with white folks?

Kerri Kelly: I think it does seem like there should be some like ... to use your word, some careful and intentional and skilled application of the way in which we organize together, so that we don't replicate the dominance of whiteness and centering whiteness and kind of getting back into that loop all over again.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, so I just want to say I thought about people of color in our lives. So many people of color have put themselves in position to teach white people. They write, they speak.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: Hopefully, they get paid. They're out there. That information is out there. The problem is when we just go to anybody randomly and expect that from them, right, and across relation of power, I want to acknowledge that. I also think that if we truly integrate our lives and think about what would it take to integrate our lives and we just have cross racial relationships, you don't have to ask anything. You just learn by being in each other's lives. You see things you would not have seen before. People begin to talk more openly around you because generally people of color talk way more openly about race, when we're not around so you begin to kind of be in those conversation. It doesn't mean, we can't access it, it's just really important to be conscious of the power dynamics of doing so.

Kerri Kelly: Just to like to put a pin on what you just said, we're not talking about allyship or like the motivation of being in relationships so that we can benefit. You're talking about authentic relationship, how we show up just for the sake of showing up.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. Of course, white on white, the first you said, it's the master's tools dilemma. Audre Lorde. Beautiful quote, right?

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: How do you dismantle the master's house with only the master's tools. There really isn't a clean way to do it but it must be done so it's a both end. When white people get together, they will inadvertently be reinforcing some white consciousness or dynamics because that's what we have, right and we're using kind of a ... I think about it as a colonized mind to unpack the colonized mind. Just kind of keep that in mind and then know that there will be patterns and they do not self-manage. I've never known a group to self-facilitate so I think you have to have a really conscious facilitator or set of facilitators to watch out for white people slipping into the things we like to slip into which is intellectualizing, philosophizing.

Robin DiAngelo: Talking about society, talking about all the other white people who just don't get it. Asking how do I tell so and so about you their racism. There are three top questions I get whenever I give a talk and let me just say for the record, I hate them.

Kerri Kelly: Tell us how you really feel about them.

Robin DiAngelo: The first one is what do I do? I just find that the most disingenuous question. For a lot of people listening to me, that's the first time in their life they've ever thought about this and 45 minutes later they're ready to be given the answer. I think just expect to be given the answer is problematic as if there is one and two, you know they're not going to do anything that I say. If I say, here's what you do, they're not going to go home and do it. Most are not. I guess, I'll just say in response to that one, how have you managed not to know? It's 2019, why don't you know?

Kerri Kelly: How are you like an educated professional person engaged in society and are just realizing this, how the hell is that possible?

Robin DiAngelo: Take out a piece of paper and start writing it down and there's your map.

Kerri Kelly: Google, hello.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. I love to say, what would you do if there was something you really wanted to know? Google the shit out of it. Really, for a lot of white people, just taking the initiative and breaking with apathy. Okay, the other question I really don't like is so how do I tell so and so about their racism? My response to that is, well, how would I tell you about yours?

Kerri Kelly: Nice.

Robin DiAngelo: Then, I just looked at them. My point is that question presumes, of course it isn't me. I'm just going to go forth and change all the other white people and then the third question is how do I raise my children? Please. Let me give you the answer to that in one minute.

Kerri Kelly: In one email.

Robin DiAngelo: Again, there's information on all those things but I kind of digress there to make the point that white groups need to work on this but these are the patterns that they can slip into. We just finished the readers' guide for White Fragility.

Kerri Kelly: Great.

Robin DiAngelo: The readers' guide has really good reflection questions for the end of every chapter. They're all designed to take you deep or not to get you in your head and take you out.

Kerri Kelly: Nice.

Robin DiAngelo: Also, it opens with common patterns when white people talk about racism and how to facilitate those patterns.

Kerri Kelly: That's great.

Robin DiAngelo: That's really inclusive and detailed. Anyway, those are my thoughts about on white ... we have to get together but we have to be really conscious.

Kerri Kelly: One of the most important things that you mentioned in your book that I think should be spoken about in all of these conversations is just how adaptive white supremacy and racism has been over time and how like, even our definition of racism has evolved so that it can benefit us. You talk about how it has a criteria of like racism as only being individual, only when it's conscious, only when it's intentional and I think disrupting that ideology is really essential to understanding the way in which it is the water that we are swimming in.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, because that's so beautifully protected. As long as it has to be intentional like, well, we're pretty much done. I mean, one, most of the time, it's not intentional but if it was, who's going to meet that. I mean, you couldn't come up with a better ... this is actually legal, right? This is the legal definition is intentional. This is why discrimination might be illegal but you basically cannot prove it because you have to prove intent, could you come up with a better way to make it meaningless to be illegal?

Kerri Kelly: Yeah. That's problematic.

Robin DiAngelo: It's probably the first thing that anybody says, any white person says is I did not mean to.

Kerri Kelly:  Totally.

Robin DiAngelo: That wasn't my intention, we do that a lot in the spiritual wellness community, because it's all about good intentions and love and light. You misunderstood me and I always like to offer, you know what if in fact, the person didn't misunderstand you at all. They actually understood exactly what you've meant. What you don't understand is how what you meant is coming from a racist paradigm.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: Wouldn't that just be an amazing thing to consider, that it's you who's missing something. I wish ... I want to shake white people and just say, is it possible you don't actually know something?

Kerri Kelly: Yeah.

Robin DiAngelo: Here's my little vent here when I get this mansplain and emails, what qualifies you to determine whether this is or isn't legitimate. I mean our arrogance is just ... is particularly when racism comes from us, not at us and we're so invested and benefit from it and yet we are so confident that we're objective and they aren't. My God.

Kerri Kelly: As if. I want to ask you about positive white identity, this is my final question and I think it's the hardest one, if I'm being honest because I know that this is something, as I unpack my own whiteness and also like leaning to like, where I come from in my lineage and how I got here and all of the history that you mentioned before that I'm carrying literally in my body, into every interaction and into my perspective and understanding of the world. Ruby Sales did a podcast on being not so great and she talked about how we need a new white liberation theology. I don't even know if I understand what that means but I think it has a little bit something to do with that question that you asked at the end of your book, is a positive white identity possible? That's my question to you, is it, because it feels awfully tricky to me.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, well, there are many approaches to this work and those who are listening who maybe a bit involved in it over time know there's different approaches. There's the white people, have lost something really deep, when they gave up their ethnicity to become white and they need to reclaim that. That actually just has no salience for me. It does nothing for me. I don't connect to it, I don't see how reclaiming my Italian heritage is going to change white supremacy. That's fine if that works but it doesn't work for me.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah.

Robin DiAngelo: This idea that there could be a positive white identity, I just don't think it can be because there's no white outside of white supremacy. There's no white people ... I mean, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about the dream of being white, like it's this illusion, it doesn't mean it doesn't ...

Kerri Kelly: For the privilege, like as if.

Robin DiAngelo: It doesn't have meaning as a social construction, profound meaning. It doesn't mean that we don't perform it because we do, right? It didn't exist before we needed to make up race in order to justify enslavement and genocide and both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram Kendi in his Stamped From the Beginning.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah. Great book.

Robin DiAngelo: Definitive ideas of ... The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. They both argue that first you have racism and then you have race. Many people would say, if you ask them how long is racism been around? Forever. People are just afraid of difference and they just prefer to be with their own. No, it's a relatively new idea.

Kerri Kelly: It's constructed.

Robin DiAngelo: You start with the exploitation of a group of people who have something you want and you can exploit them and in this case, labor and land and then you make up a story to justify exploiting them so you had racism and then you made up race as the justification. White didn't exist. It's just an inherently oppressive identity and I don't know that we can reclaim it in some kind of way. I look at it as trying to be the less white, a little less white. What does it mean to be a little less white. It means be a little less oppressive. Less arrogant, more humble, listen more, believe more, be less defensive, be more aware and educated.

Robin DiAngelo: Be less apathetic. These are all classic white characteristics around race. Arrogance, certitude, apathy, resentment, entitlement, superiority, how about we modify those a little bit, bring them down a little bit. I don't know that I can be free of them but I can certainly try to minimize them and in so doing, minimize the harm of having been raised to be white. I don't know if that helps.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah. It's almost like, if we take a stance of harm reduction, at all times, then that might become a practice of being less white in the context of where we are right now.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, if I go to sexism again, this is ... and I do this a lot because it just helps me, when I want to unpack something, I just think about men and women and if a man just says I'm just not going to be a man anymore. I'm not going to be masculine anymore. I mean, he can't throw off his socialization but he can be way less than an asshole, a way more open, challenged all of his misogyny that he ... you can't help but ...

Kerri Kelly: Or name it at least.

Robin DiAngelo: We live in a woman hating culture, you have to have internalized some of that. Work on that, bring it down. If it shows, don't be defensive about it. Listen to women, that is man that I would want to be around that I would consider an ally to me. He can't just say, I'm not male anymore and I mean, I'm not talking about trans issues. I'm talking about a man who doesn't want to have been shaped by patriarchy. It's not like a cloak you can throw off.

Kerri Kelly: It's a process.

Robin DiAngelo: Anyway, that's how I visualize it.

Kerri Kelly: If we are doing this constant work to decolonize our minds and our bodies from all of these ideologies that we mentioned in our conversation, white supremacy, individualism and so on and so forth, what is the new belief system that we need to center if we are to move forward, and towards, I don't know what. Towards being in the room together, towards thriving together, towards just learning how to be in more authentic relationship together. I don't know what like the vision is because it sounds trite to be like where we're all free but if we're moving in the direction of learning how to be together with more integrity, authenticity, love what do you believe is like the new ideology that ...

Kerri Kelly: I don't mean to like replicate or replace one ideology with another but to me like there has to be a belief that we need to start to center in our conversations and remind ourselves of, that helps dismantle those old ideologies.

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, that's a deep question. In some ways, the first thing I think of is I don't know what it would look like because we've never seen it.

Kerri Kelly: Right.

Robin DiAngelo: Right, but I can just think about what I strive for and I think the first thing is until we dismantle hierarchy and I don't think that's happening in my lifetime, I'm not sure it will ever happen but it is a goal. As long as there has been human domination, there has been human struggle for justice, human struggle, not to dominate that is as old and as natural as domination so I remember that so in order to have a more just society until we get there, I need to always be cognizant of my position in relation to one another because we are in a hierarchy, we just are, there's a hierarchy and we've all been placed in it and so I need to always be cognizant, in this moment, in this room, what is my position and how do I best use it to open and challenge that hierarchy rather than just support it and reinforce it.

Kerri Kelly: That's like social location, right?

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, social location.

Kerri Kelly: Like what is my proximity to power, what is my proximity to access and privilege and all the things.

Robin DiAngelo: It moves in and out so I think about if you put me at that table with Mike Pence and all those people, definitely patriarchy and sexism will be really strong and it's not like I wouldn't play a role in the room but it would be different than the role I could play if I was a man in that room, right? When I get into the other room, which is all white women and just one or two women of color, then for me race is really salient and what role can I play to make sure that those women are heard, that there is space. Just in those ways, you are trying to if not dismantle, bring down those hierarchies and you have to use your position to do it.

Robin DiAngelo: You have to pay attention. You have to always be paying attention and you won't get it right by everybody, you can't but get it as right as you can as often as you can by thinking strategically and intentionally. The moment you kind of relaxed and are off your game, out it slips. I tell that story at the end of the book of that racism I ran at that woman. I mean, I was just off my game, I was so relaxed that I was with my two friends and I just took for granted, a way of interacting, that I had not earned you kind of just have to stay on your game and then if you screw up, clean it up.

Kerri Kelly: Clean up your mess. I so appreciate that about you. I appreciate your candidness and I appreciate the way in which you do tell the stories of making mistakes and repair and what you learn and how you get back up and how you move forward and I certainly try to do that in my own practice but I do think that there's an unlock inside of that, that takes a lot of the sting and defensiveness out of the way in which we are in relationship with this work and I just love social locating as like a constant practice of awareness and revealing and naming and leaning and repairing and how it's just like ongoing all the time.

Kerri Kelly: It's like when it's the ... in the off switch, that's when shit goes down and that's when harm happens and so how can we just keep that light on at all times so that we're just steadfast and diligent.

Robin DiAngelo: Still be authentic and relaxed and real.

Kerri Kelly: Totally. That's right, and still be compassionate and kind and human, right?

Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, I have said many times, there's nothing more intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually challenging and stimulating than this work.

Kerri Kelly: That's right.

Robin DiAngelo: Yet, like for me, what's the point of being alive? Yes, it's hard and it's painful and my God, is it rewarding and deep. I don't think anything has ever put me up against my learning edge than being a white person struggling to challenge racism.

Kerri Kelly: I totally agree and I've been doing transformational work forever and I tell people all the time, I was like, you want to transform, get into this work because there is no greater mirror for who we are and where we are and where we need to go and how we need to get there than dismantling racism so welcome to the transformational experience. Robin, thank you so much. Thank you for writing and for leaning in and for doing all that you've done to like ... to get where you are in your understanding and to get brave enough and courageous enough to name your experience in all of this and for the way in which, you're ... I feel like in some ways, it's like, I can't wait to see what you do next because it's going to continue to help our collective community peel the onion and continue to like lift the veil.

Robin DiAngelo: I got ideas.

Kerri Kelly: Good. I love that. Well, keep it coming.

Robin DiAngelo: You are lovely to talk to. You are a wonderful interviewer.

Kerri Kelly: Thank you.

Robin DiAngelo: I definitely found this valuable so thank you so much.

Kerri Kelly: Yeah, thanks Robin and I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.

Robin DiAngelo: Thanks. Bye-bye.


While, this podcast is coming to an end. Our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to see your whiteness for what it is and to cultivate an everyday and sustained practice of transforming your defensive and fragile behaviors so that we can engage more productively. Get the book, if you don't have it already at Beacon Press and download the free reader's guide at Special thanks to our producer Trevor Exter and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at and thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engage by subscribing to our weekly newsletter

Kerri Kelly: CTZN podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care and don't forget to rate us on Apple Podcasts and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.



011 Adrienne Maree Brown





Adrienne: This is where the numbers do matter. I'm like, "I want those three billion people who signed a petition. I want that to actually be real because there's children that I love in this world who rely on us succeeding at something." When we were not trusting each other, it was nearly impossible to move anything. And then once we started to really do the work, drop in, build trust, have real conflict, move through it, know that there are lines we could hold and lines we could give and compromise on, then the work began to move very quickly.


Kerri: My name is Kerri Kelly and we are back with a new season of CTZN Podcast. CTZN is working at the intersection of well-being and justice. We're not afraid to ask hard questions and have radical conversations about politics and patriarchy, white supremacy and worthiness. And we're talking to some of the most bad ass and brilliant change makers, like our guest today, the amazing Adrienne Maree Brown, feminist, community organizer and pleasure activist. She's the author of the best seller, Emergence Strategy, one of the most formative books in the progressive movement. And her latest book, Pleasure Activist, is sure to shake things up some more.


Kerri:  As always, if you love this podcast, tell all your friends. An engaged community of listeners keeps us honest, inspired and sustained. Rate us on iTunes and check out our campaign at




Kerri: The think I love about working with Adrienne Maree Brown, is that she is never satisfied with the obvious, the visible, the surface, but rather endeavors to dig deeper, to go underneath and to venture beyond what we think we know about ourselves and one another. Her book, Emergent Strategy, has been a disruptive force in the movement in all the best ways, challenging us not just to do better, but to be better. As you will see in this podcast, being with Adrienne is like being on a journey. She takes you to places you have never been and paints a picture of humanity that you never thought possible. And she draws out of you your best self in spite of yourself.


You will hear me tell my own story of humiliation and the harm and how I was held to account by my community. But Adrienne says that “accountability is community”, it's how we hold one another in love and justice. And if we can understand that we are both whole and broken at the same time, we can learn to love ourselves and one another that way. We are writing our future with each and every relationship we repair. And Adrienne encourages us to surrender to the flow of humanity and let it take us beyond what we already know. I am all in for that journey with her and I encourage you to come along. Enjoy the show.



Kerri:  I just want to share with you that I was totally overwhelmed getting ready for this because I just wanted to talk to you about everything.


Adrienne: Oh cool. Well, we'll do our best.


Kerri: I know we'll do our best. I think that's just a testament to how rich, not even your content is, your existence is.


Adrienne: Oh sweet.


Kerri: And the impact that you're having on the world. And anyone whose worked with me or spent time with me over the last two years, knows who you are.


Adrienne: Oh beautiful.


Kerri: And has experienced your work and I think that that's happening in a lot of different places, not just through me obviously.


Adrienne: Well, we have to tell your listeners that we go back, we go way back.


Kerri:   We don't even know how to count anymore because we're at that age where-


Adrienne: I feel like it might be 2010 or something. Like I feel like it was when I was still in the Bay.


Kerri: Yeah, eight years.


Adrienne: I lived in the Bay and that was ... I lived in the Bay ... I left the Bay in 2009.


Kerri: I think you were in Detroit, actually, at the time.


Adrienne: Was I coming back?


Kerri: Because I remember you were coming back for it because it was our community of practice.


Adrienne: I know. Oh, I think that was the transition year, actually. So it was 2011 because we finished and then I went on my sabbatical.


Kerri: That's right, and then you came back. You talk about it in the book as like a time where this was really emerging for you.


Adrienne: Exactly.


Kerri: So we're here, I should say your name. We're here with the amazing Adrienne Maree Brown.


Adrienne: That's rich.


Kerri: That's who were here with.


Adrienne: That's what's happening.


Kerri: And if you don't know, she is the author of Emergent Strategy: Shape and Change Changing Worlds, which if you don't have this book, just get it because it's all the things. I know a lot of people call it a handbook for organizers and it has so much to offer around how we respond to this moment, how we work together more effectively. But for me it's been how we be together, it's just straight up how we be together and move through the world together. And it's been that fundamental, I think in my life and in the work that all of us are doing to try and navigate this moment, whatever that is. And so I want to know, I'm sure this book has been emerging for you forever and ever and ever but what are the markers that you point to around when this book really revealed itself to you and it had to be written?


Adrienne: Well it's interesting because a lot of it was on that sabbatical that I took. So I had been doing social justice work my whole adult life and I had done a lot of different things. I had done electoral organizing and I had done direction action-


Kerri: With League of Pissed-Off Voters which is-


Adrienne: Yeah, with the League of Pissed-Off Voters.


Kerri: I totally didn't know you were associated with them until I read today.


Adrienne: Oh that's hilarious.


Kerri: In a blog.


Adrienne: Yeah, that was one of the first projects where I was there at the ground floor, as they say, right? And watched it grow and got really like, "Oh, this is both exhilarating and disappointing." Right? And then I went to the Ruckus Society but I had started in harm reduction. So I started out in Harm Reduction, which is working with active drug user and folks who are doing sex work and other things, to reduce the harm that comes from drugs and sex in your life.


Adrienne: And it was at that moment, it was the Bush presidency, it was a big push towards abstinence only everything, denying the body, all this stuff. And that actually is what kind of kicked me into wanting to do the electoral work. Because I was like, "Well we have to have our fingers in the electoral process if we want to even just hold the line, hold the barriers around the things that we are learning and liberating ourselves into." And then went to do that work and I was like, "Oh it's a dirty game." Right? It's a really dirty game and I don't know if that's where I can be the most effective.


Adrienne: And then went to do Direct Action which is so exciting and so invigorating. And the Ruckus Society is this small and mighty engine that could it's still that way, it's just like the ferocious body, this ferocious institution. I think it's like if you look what's happened at Standing Rock, if you look at a lot of what's happened with Black Lives Matter, it's one of those things where you can't say, "Oh Ruckus trained all those people." But you can say, "Ruckus has kept that field ripe and kept the skill ripe so that all these folks who have come through that network, and associated networks I have been a part of, building those skills."


Kerri: It's like there's DNA-


Adrienne: Exactly.


Kerri: -in all these movements.


Adrienne: Exactly. And so I get excited about that and also like, "Hey, make sure not to forget Ruckus." I'm always like, "Don't forget, Ruckus is actually training these folks." So I got to do that for five years and in that process, I learned a ton about what executive directorship is and isn't and should be and should never be. And just the funding games, the philanthropy. I was just like, "Oh god. This is not going to get us free."


And then I went to work on the U.S Social Form, I was a co-facilitator at National level for that which was like 60 organizations, 20000 people in Detroit. And by the end of that I was just like, "Okay, I think I can clearly feel what's broken and what's hurting in our movements." I feel like we're longing for each other and then we are constantly competing with each other, manipulating. We're doing all this stuff that I think comes from being steeped in capitalism and steeped in patriarchy and steeped in these things that we say we're fighting against but we're just embodying them all the time.


Adrienne: So went off on my sabbatical and I started thinking about who was saying and doing and practicing other way. And it was like, Grace Lee Boggs, Charity Hicks. Margaret Wheatley had written this book, Leadership of the New Science and those ideas were blowing my mind and I was like 20 years old at the time but I was like, "We have not been reading this." Either the folks I've been moving are not reading that. And then I was like, Octavia Butler's characters are all of the kind of leaders that I would like and I want us to support.


Adrienne: And then while I was on that trip, I was just in the ocean, I was watching birds, I was watching cats, it all started to click together. And I think I had to think of it as being for organizers in order to take the risk of writing it because otherwise it was like, "Oh this is actually all of how to be a human." And it was too much, right, for me even, It was like, "I can't write-"


Kerri: The textbook for how to be a human.

Adrienne: I was like, "You can't write that."

Kerri: And yet you wrote it.

Adrienne: Well, towards the end I did have to say to myself, "If you release this, you have to be willing to let it change everything, right, it could be that also. And you have to be willing to let that be what's coming through. And you have to be willing to let it change nothing like it could be." I always say that I had 12 weirdo friends read it they're just like, "This is great, I love you, whatever."


Kerri:   And it changed the life of 12 weirdo friends?


Adrienne: Right.


Kerri: And that was enough.

Adrienne: It's also like it changed me to write it. The day that I finished, I was like "This is my great offer to the world." I felt a completion in me that was ... it still brings ... it makes me emotional to really feel into it because I was just like, "There's other things I want to do and other things I want to pursue in my life." But there was something about that, and I was like, "This was a piece of your life's work, and you did it." And I feel satisfied. And I had lost a few people during that time. I've also had this real sense of mortality and a real sense of a lot of people don't get to complete something in their life and that's not what their destiny is. And I was like, "I'm really glad that my destiny included completing this book." Yeah.


Kerri: One of the things that you mention as a fundamental principal in this book is this concept of moving at the speed of trust. And every time I name that in a meeting or a facilitation or a yoga class-


Adrienne: Yeah, it's yoga.


Kerri:   Yeah, it's yoga. It stops people in their tracks. And I think part of it is, we're yearning for that and part of it is, it feels impossible in a culture of productivity, in a culture of outcomes and a culture of speed and urgency. And so how do we embody that? How do we roll when we're moving at the speed of trust and coexist in the world that we live in?


Adrienne: That's great. Well I first heard it from my friend Mervyn Marcano who started something called Black Bird which is this brilliant ... basically it's a group of brilliant black people who have been supporting all kinds of black movement work that's happening. And it was just his birthday yesterday. But I first heard it from him and I remember being blown away because I thought of him and all the folks around him, those folks who are moving at the speed of light. But then I was like, "Oh yeah, they are all ..." There's so much trust building that happens amongst teams that are able to move quickly. And I wanted to draw that out.


Adrienne: And then when I started writing about it and looking, there were all these other people who had also said it. It's one of those ideas that feels like it sort of sprung up from the soil from a lot of places, right? And I was like, "I think there's a reason for that. I think it's something we all know that we need right now." And what I had experienced at Ruckus actually, was that early ... when we were not trusting each other, it was nearly impossible to move anything.


Kerri: Yeah, that's right.


Adrienne: And then once we started to really do the work, drop in, build trust, have real conflict, move through it, know that there were line we could hold and lines we could give and compromise on, then the work began to move very quickly and could move quickly. And so I think when people initially think it's impossible, it's because they can't imagine getting to the trust place, right? And they don't realize once you're in the trust place, it's not like you're processing all the time, you trust so you're able to do a lot really quickly. You know your roles, you know your skills, you know how you respond to pressure. There's all these things, I'm like, "Then you can really move." Right?


Adrienne: And so when I offer it to groups, it's not saying, "Move like a snail who trusts the Earth." And it's just like, "I'll get there when I get there." It like, no, take the time to build relationships that will last under pressure. Because what happens is, folks build at the surface level, like we ideologically agree or at least we agree on part where we agree enough to sign a petition together, right?


Adrienne: This is my favorite thing. It's like, "Well we've got three billion numbers, people, that said they're down for this." And they all showed up maybe on one day of marching but they didn't sustain as a movement. Its like, yeah, because there's nothing for them to sustain on or towards. So those things that help build trust are really understanding a shared vision, not as an outcome orientation but as a, this is how we want to be. And if you share that, you start to practice being that way. That builds trust. You really to be able to do conflict.


Kerri: Yeah, you call it generative conflict.


Adrienne: Generative conflict, right? You have to be able to be in conflict that generates new futures, new possibilities, new options-


Kerri: And trust.


Adrienne: And trust. I mean it's amazing. I was on this panel last night for the Spiritual Resiliency Fellowship I just finished at Auburn and I was talking about how ... They would ask, "What is the toxicity in our movements right now?" And I was like, "A ton of it because the people don't know how to fight." They don't know how to fight with integrity.


Adrienne: And because of social media, now you cannot ever directly confront someone who you're upset with, right, and just be like, "I'm fucking pissed. You really messed up." Instead, you can just be like, "I wrote a whole article on medium and I sub-tweeted about this person and I took them down, and we should cancel them. I'm like, "Wait, wait, wait, but did you actually call this person and just say ..." Right? "Did you hire a mediator to sit down and be like, 'We're having a possible conversation, we can't find our way through it.'" I'm like, we owe movement that much to learn how to fight well and to ask for support to have that conflict because we don't have the numbers actually, right?


Adrienne: This is where the numbers do matter. I'm like, I want those three billion people who signed the petition, I want that to actually be real because there's children that I love in this world who rely on us succeeding at something. And we can't succeed if we're in-fighting all the time and getting caught in these dramas stagnant pools instead of actually flowing toward a future where we can all survive.


Kerri: Well and I think it's also a cross-fighting, right? Because I think about the kind of power building you're talking about needs to cross difference in gender and race. And to me, that kind of conflict and language and then understanding for one's self, our particular social location and how we come into connection and relationship, and the messy.


Adrienne: And the messiness, I feel like this too. I will say this has been a really big thing. As the Me Too stuff has been unfolding, I'm like, the desire to cancel gets really turned up, right? You're just sort of like, "That person caused harm, and they caused a harm that feels very familiar to me." I'm also a survivor of that kind of harm and so I want to see that person, I want to see that person pay for what happened to me and what happened to everyone who's ever survived.


Adrienne: And I see this tearing apart of us and the sense of that now we separate ourselves in perpetrators and into victims. I'm like, even there we need to learn new ways of being. And I'm really excited for the leadership of Tarana Burke and excited for the leadership of movement still in these spaces where it's not like there's not the sense of, "We just throw them away." It's more like, we want to hold them in the light until they say, "I can be accountable." And then what does accountability look like? Accountability looks like finding your way back into community. It's not saying, "Go sit on an island somewhere until you die." Right? It's like, "We care about your ...." On a basic level, it's like, "I care about your soul, your essence, your central being. You have caused a great harm, you need to come right with it, you need to come right by me and by yourself and by community and weave it back in." And so to me generative conflict also has the capacity to do that.


Kerri: For harm reduction.


Adrienne: For redemption, it's just like, "You can find your way home." We can all find our way home because we're all causing harm.


Kerri: That's right.


Adrienne: Right?


Kerri: That's a part of our human experience.

Adrienne: That's why to me, that's why it's interesting and important. It's like we all cause harm. We cause it to different degrees, we cause it with different levels of intention but we all do it. And thank goodness someone’s not holding what I was doing and thinking at 16 or 21 or 25 or yesterday against me forever, right? I'm like, thank goodness there's people who've been patient enough to be like, "That really hurt me." I mean I regularly hang out with friends, I'm like, "We hurt each other. We really fucked each other up." And then we got it right and then we kept coming ... Is it okay to say the F, is it okay?


Kerri: We say fuck all the time.


Adrienne: Okay, good. I was like, I don't know.


Kerri: Shit, fuck.

Adrienne: Shit, fuck, bitch. All right.


Kerri:   Well, I just want to name, because I was telling Trevor about you last night and I was talking about your idea of not canceling people. And I was describing my experience of being in the cohort with this amazing group of human beings, Anasa, Taj and you, Navina, Jidan, Jodie…


Adrienne: I look back now, like I can't believe that group of people, actually, got to kick it together.


Kerri: Oh my god. And I remember coming into that group and being like, "How did I make the list?" Like who said it was okay for me to be in here. And it did a lot to affirm ... it called me up quite frankly, to who I needed to be in intersectional relationship in this sort of bigger meta movement. It was just so ... it just really shifted everything for me. But one of the things that changed my life, especially in relationships-


Adrienne: Well, actually, just let me say really quickly, the cohort that you're talking about is we did this cohort and it was a year of learning about decentralization and networks, I think.


Kerri: Yeah.


Adrienne: And it was really -


Kerri:   With the engaged network and move and Strategy center.


Adrienne: And Movement Strategy Center. So everything was like 9 or 10 people in it and we just spent a year in learning together. And I was kind of loosely like the guide of that learning journey.


Kerri: It was Emergent Strategy.


Adrienne: And it really was Emergent Strategy-

Kerri: Before we knew.


Adrienne: but before I knew that articulation, right? But it was like, "Let’s just play and learn and show each other what we know about this stuff." And I learned so much from that year. So that's what we're referring too when we talk about be a cohort.


Kerri: And the cohort. And it stays with me, like the relationships have stayed with me but I learned what I didn't know there too. And I remember this one experience where we were all sort of sharing our work with one another. And I was sharing my vision for collective care and for the role of yoga and mindfulness in transformative healing and in that typical well-meaning white girl well-intentioned way. I remember that in doing that, in my deep yearning of wanting to make change through these practices, I caused harm in that room. I don't know if you remember this.


Adrienne: It's coming back. I'm like, "Oh yeah. There was that sticky moment."


Kerri: I don't even remember what I said but I just think it was just where I was coming from and who I was being and what I knew at that time. And I remember the group really pushing back.


Adrienne: With questions.


Kerri: Yeah, with questions and curiosity and just lovingly challenging me. But it was in that moment that I really got clear about the perspective and the location that I come with when I enter a space of healing justice from this sort of white body, from this white privileged able-bodies ... I mean all of the checklist. And I'll never forget. And I remember feeling crushed I think because I realized that I had caused harm and because at the time, I still didn't understand white fragility, like I didn't understand my fragility and so I was broken but I'll never forget this.


Kerri: And I was telling Trevor this last night and I started to cry. And I haven't really articulated this story to people, but this is sort of how I remember it. Is after that experience, you had everyone come up and surround me and bless me and pray with me even before I could even process ... I mean, this is while it was still happening. And never one did anyone cancel me. Never once. And in fact, many of those folks showed up as an ally in my anti-racism work, in my becoming clear and taking responsibility for my whiteness and my perspective and my impact and have stood feistily by me ever since. So I just wanted to share that with you.


Adrienne: I love that.


Kerri: That it has totally shaped who I have decided to become in this work and also what my role is.


Adrienne: And those kinds of moments, for me, I think this is where I get ... There's anti-racism work and there's anti-blackness and there's anti this and there's anti ... And I'm like there's all this against energy that happens and then it makes it very hard to actually figure out how do we walk with each other through unlearning these systems of oppression that we've all learned and they're holding us all back from our humanity.


Adrienne: So I look at this because I'm like ... I often will tell folks ... This year I did a whole series of Emergent Strategy trainings and I was like, "White folks can come but I need to know that they're doing some of their own work already. That they've gone through catalyst project programs or they're trying to join SURJ…They're doing something that's just like, "I'm aware that witness is part of the burden of this time, that it's something that needs to be kind of unlearned and deified or all these things." Right? And I'm like, "If you're not already on that path, this coursework is not for you. My work is not going to do much for you because it does take that level of self-reflection." Right?


Adrienne: I'm like then in spaces where that self-reflection is present, right, we have to all be able to look at each other as human beings and say, "Where's your work? Where's your edge. And if you're cause harm ..." My thing is always, if you cause harm, and you're like "Oh, I can see that I caused it and I can weave myself back in and I want to be woven back in." Cool. And then the place where I'm like, I don't know what to do about you. If I cause harm and I was told and it was brought up to me and then I continue to cause it. And then it was brought up and then I continued.


Adrienne: So that's where we end up with the Harvey Weinstein or the Bill Cosby or something like that where I'm like, "You caused harm and instead of changing your behaviors to not cause harm, you changed your behaviors to hide the harm. And you created a whole system so that you could continue the harm." Which that's the dramatic, like I've got money to cause harm level. But I think a lot of people do that just on a interpersonal level.


Kerri: Well there's subtle versions of that inside our movement.


Adrienne: All the time, right? I see a lot more people like, "Oh I'll move from one organization to another rather than accounting for the harm I caused here. I'll just go start a new project or do a new thing…


Kerri: I'll separate.


Adrienne: or whatever." Exactly.



Kerri: Since the 2016 election, we had CTZN Well have been hustling to help people navigate who to trust, what to do and how to thrive. So we created WELLREAD, it's a free activist toolkit curating the most important news to read, actions to take and practices to keep you grounded. Every week we turn to the words and wisdom of frontline leaders, spiritual activists and artists and let them guide us towards greater understanding and more conscious action. So sign up to get WELLREAD in your inbox by going to


Kerri: I saw something that you had said when I was looking through this. You said, it might have been in a blog or I don't know.


Adrienne: I write a lot.


Kerri:   And I was just consuming so much of your content when I was getting ready for this which I had already done but it was like I was just trying to re-immerse myself. Anyway, you said, "I see in your trauma, in your relative experience, and I see your whole self beyond that."


Adrienne: Yeah.


Kerri: And to me, I don't even know I would define my spirituality, but it's that. People are like, "You're so spiritual." I'm like, "I don't even know what that means. I'm a recovering Catholic. I practice yoga, I meditate, I believe in humanity, I believe in the world beyond. But when I read that from you, I was like, "That, to me, is the articulation of my spiritual-


Adrienne: That's beautiful.


Kerri: ... belief."


Adrienne: Well and I think this is the thing, I know that I'm both whole and broken all the time. And so I know that I want to be loved in that way, like I want to be loved as a creature that is both and. And if I want that for myself, then I can't deny that to any other being.


Kerri: And vice versa, if you want that for other, you, actually, can-


Adrienne: You can't deny it to yourself. And I think there's something so interesting for me about being a black person in this country or being a women in this country, being a trans person in this country. Being something that has, at some point, in this county been a distinct marker of your less than and you will suffer for being less than a human, right? It's like, "You will not be able to vote. You will be subsumed by these roles, these traditional matriarchal roles and that's all you're going to get access to. As a black person, you will literally only come here enslaved and you will work until you die and you will breed, you will not have children, you will breed." Right? I mean, to survive that and to try to make a comeback into a full humanity, it's like you have to be like, "Someone has to see through the narrative and the messaging to my humanity. And I have to see it. I have to be in it fully in my dignity or else it's never going to work."


Adrienne: And so then we go through these cycles right now. I love this, Michelle Alexander just wrote this piece in the New York Times-


Kerri: I saw it.


Adrienne: Oh, it's so good. And it's basically, we are not the resistance but it talks about how there's this sort of flow of humanity towards being able to see the wholeness of ourselves and towards really being a liberated people in all of this. And it's not right to call us the resistance when actually the resistance is those who are regressing and trying to pull us back into the cave, pull us back into the extreme patriarchy and extreme racism and extreme hatred. And it's like, that regression, that is the resistance towards what's flowing towards change.


Adrienne: It was so compelling to me that I've been doing this tarot reading for the last couple years, I posted a card every day. Since the election I've been posting a card every day that's just like for movement, right? And I started calling it resistance tarot because I was like, "We are the resistance." It was so compelling. I was like, "I'm not calling it the resistance tarot anymore." I call it resistance tarot and movement tarot, I'm going to call it movement tarot because I'm like, we are the moving force that is taking us forward. And it's not that I don't believe ... It's like the park rangers and stuff, I was like, "There are people who are positioned where they also need to resist the resistance." It's not-


Kerri: And we can be both things.


Adrienne: Exactly. But I'm like, at a fundamental deep level, we have to understand that we are actually moving the future, we are moving the future and towards the future. And we are up against people who want to move us towards the past. It's literally that kind of simple timeline.


Kerri: Well and you see that playing out in the Supreme Court.


Adrienne: Exactly.


Kerri: I laid my body down across the Supreme Court yesterday because it's like we're at this, sort of, moment of “will we go back?”…


Adrienne: Did you get arrested yesterday?


Kerri: I got arrested yesterday.


Adrienne: Someone came up to be at the event last night and they were like, "Kerri was going to be here but she got arrested." I was like, "That must be a different Kerri because I'm meeting with Kerri in the morning."


Kerri: No, I got home last night because I was like, "I got to get back for this interview."


Adrienne: Thanks for this arrest -


Kerri: But it's like, that's what it feels like, right? Like it's a fever pitch and we're at this precipice where it's like, will we move back or will we move forward? And I want to-


Adrienne: And every individual action really matters right now, right? So I keep trying to uplift, where I'm like, "Yeah, this is the time where you can be a racial postal worker, a radical banker. How you are in your place of work, how you are with every other person, you're either affirming this regressive move or you are affirming a future."


Adrienne: My parents run a State Farm Insurance office in New Hampshire and they have become the, "They're the LBGT friendly office and they're ...." They're these little ... It's like the mom and pop shop but I'm like watching them and it's, yeah, how you are is really important. That queer people feel safe coming into your office at this moment in history is really freaking important. So like all that small stuff really matters. And that's the whole thing with Emergent Strategy, it's like all the big things that we're longing for are only made up of a lot of small personal radical brave choices.


Adrienne: So it starts to get exciting where you're like, "My whole day is ... I look ahead at a whole day where I get one option, one chance, one chance, one chance, one chance to be my most radicle self."


Kerri: And imagine that happening collectively.

Adrienne: And then happening, right? We're all getting that chance and we all feed each other. I do want to say this is my dream for social media is that instead of it being a catalog of all the crap-


Kerri: Like the wrongdoing, the calling out.


Adrienne: Regurgitating of all the, here's the bad stuff. Just read the New York Times, forget the bad stuff and then we should be, of course, uplifting all the radicle, powerful moves that takes us forward. And I really wish that we could learn to make that pivot and use these structures in that way to lift ourselves up and echo chamber the good.


Kerri: And have that be a part of how we move -


Adrienne: Yes as a distinct move. We're just like, we put our attention-


Kerri: It's like a river.


Adrienne: What we pay attention on grows so let's put our attention on our radical moves towards the future we want. Let's put all of our attention on that. It's like bet the house or whatever it is.


Kerri: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I want to talk about where we're going.

Adrienne: Great.

Kerri: Where are we going? Because I know that you often encourage us to imagine better and to even bring Sci-fi into our visioning of what's possible. And I know you have a new book coming out, Pleasure Activism, The Politics of Feeling Good. So I have lots to say about pleasure enjoy and how it's, for me personally, and I think this is indicative of the movement, how it's fallen away because of the urgency, and the gravity of what we're facing. How it feels hard to do that, how to be joyful, right, given what we're facing.


Kerri: And I also think that a lot of the benchmarks of what we're moving towards, because of how back we've fallen, are things like equality and equity, that's often what we're naming as the thing ... when we win, we'll be equal as if that's not the baseline. It's like, we should start equal and then when we win. And I'm wondering if when we win, will it feel like pleasure? When we win, will it feel like radical expression? When we win, will it be fulfillment? And so how should we be visioning forward? What is this book ... How will this book point us towards the future we want to become?


Adrienne: I love this question, obviously. When I started writing the Pleasure Activism book, it was before this election. And it was like, this is just what's puling, what feels alive in me. It's just like, oh I really want to focus in on ... I'd been listening to the Audrey Lorde “Uses of the Erotic” - you can go on YouTube and listen to her read that essay. And just listening to this part of it where she talks about once you've really tasted that full erotica liveliness, it's becomes impossible to settle for anything less than that, any suffering, any selling yourself short.


Adrienne: I was like, "That feels so important. We are settling for such crumbs right now and calling it, we're victorious." It also got me ... Something I started exploring in Emergent Strategy and I'm continuously exploring, is how we get off the hamster wheel of win/lose, win/lose, win/lose or a pendulum swinging or whatever it is. But it just feels like we're constantly figuring out the next victory and it's so short-sighted. It's just like, the next victory ... We have someone whose actively out there working for their next victory on the other side and how do we scale ourselves out to what we're talking about is not about political victories, but about existence


Kerri: Human evolution.


Adrienne:... existence. Like do we get to go forward, have we earned our place on the planet? And so to me, pleasure becomes one of the measures by which we know, "Oh, I am free. I feel alive in this moment. I am accessing the best of the human experience and that's available to me." And so looking back and history and be like, "Okay, how has people, how has pleasure."

Adrienne:        And it's so funny because when I say pleasure, people kind of look at me like, the Bacchanalia, it's just like everyone's having sex and doing drugs. I'm like, sex and drugs are a part of it but it's much simpler than that. It's really joy, happiness and satisfaction. And do we have access to those experiences? And some of that is the erotic, some of that is having that in the realm of the sexual, right? Some of that is drugs, I talk about week and ecstasy and mushrooms and stuff like that in the book. And just like go on those journeys, explore if it feels good to you or not, do it with harm reduction.


Adrienne: But a lot of it is really, do you feel satisfied in your life? Do you know how to feel satisfied in your life? Who sets the standards by which you measure your satisfaction? How do you articulate what would satisfy you? Do you feel contentment and happiness and do you know what that feels like? Or are you constantly ... Capitalism teaches us, we can never be content, there's always something else we have to have and we have to work for it.


Adrienne: And I see then generation of my parents, and all of our parents, I see how they can't stop working. They've reach the retirement age, they should be able to retire and the setup is like, no, you're old enough that you should be able to retire, and we once understood that humans should be able to retire at this age, you can't. You can't imagine doing it on a financial level but also on a spiritual level. It's like, "Who am I if I'm not working?" And I don't want to have a generation after generation feel like. I want to feel like, "I worked hard and now I get to do something else." And I think a lot of it is creating. I'm like, "Mom, I want you to write novels. You've got novels in you." And it's a different kind of work perhaps but it's also like we spend so much of our time just being a cog in a wheel without realizing it. And so stepping off the wheel and being like, "What is satisfying to me? What is pleasure to me?" So I'm asking a lot of people.


Adrienne: To me, that's the future we should be moving towards, is not just surviving, we can do that. Not just being equal or having equity because it's like equal access to a shit show is not the greatest achievement in life, right?


Kerri: That's right.


Adrienne: And equal access to a dying planet or a planet that we have harmed is also not the win, right? So it ties back to Emergent Strategy in that way too, that I'm like, "There's a relationship were in with the planet, that can provide a lot of this satisfaction and pleasure."


Adrienne: To me, the most contentment I've experienced has been being in the ocean, being in the woods, actually sitting down with the trees... I just rearranged my house so that I could sleep with a tree right near me outside. I was like, "I need that." And I think we all do. So there's a pleasure of being of this planet that I think so many of us are so far from tapping into. And I don't even think it's like a hippie dippy thing, it's just like, we really do live on a miraculous gorgeous stunning and essentially alive planet. And then it's like, we're all nature too. It's like sex shouldn't just be like kind of, "Let's get it done." Right? I'm like, how do you slow it all down and really be, "We get to have sex." Where we are cognizant of the pleasure. That's not even what most creatures do, right? We're not just procreating, there's more to it.


Adrienne: So all of that feels like it's tied up. And in this political moment, it felt like I kept doubting myself, like, "Is this the right project to do next, right now?" But every day it just feels more and more like this is exactly what we need right now, is to recognize that in this moment, where it feels like were kind of in a dark ages, dark ages is descending on us, that there's still this deep underground mushroom like existence that we get to be in that is fungal and primal and beautiful and sensual and pleasurable. And actually, if we can tie together at that level, we will be unstoppable, right? Like we are growing something that can't even been seen by the eyes of this 24 hours new cycle.


Kerri: It's beyond, beyond, beyond.

Adrienne:        Exactly.


Kerri: I could talk to you forever, and ever and ever and ever.


Adrienne: I mean that's how ... To me, this is a also why I like trying to get more people to tap out of anything that's not really lighting your system up.


Kerri: I totally agree.


Adrienne: Right? Because then we get into those conversations, we're like, "This is lighting me up." James Boggs is one of my kind mentors through mentors, his wife Grace Lee Boggs was my mentor who I got to experience and she taught me, “transform yourself to transform the world” and all these important things. But Jimmy Boggs talked about how we get stuck in this thought of leaving the impossible alone and just doing what's possible. He was a labor worker, he was an auto worker, auto industry making cars. And he was like, "I don't think that we're supposed to be doing this. I think technology should serve to take care of a lot of this baking. And we should be able to then use our minds to-


Kerri: Oh, I love that.


Adrienne: ... to something beyond." Right? And I'm like, "Yeah." I still want to continue that expansion where I'm like, "That's the way I want to be in relationship to technology." Right. It's like, let's automate the things that can be automated, that can be done by a machine. But there's some things that cannot be done by a machine.


Kerri: Well, and I love that…like Silicon Valley, you take care of the automation and let humans though, be the innovators, the dreamers, the “imaginators”…


Adrienne: Right, and I know that there's some space. Because I'm like, so many of the structures that we're communicating with each other are created by people who are machine-thinking oriented instead of soul-thinking oriented.


Kerri: Yeah.


Adrienne: Right? And so we started to connect with each other in the online sphere but in a very machinery way, right? We’re it's just like-


Kerri: We embody the machine.


Adrienne: ... “I said what I felt, you said you liked it, that was”…Like whatever it was, instead of like, "Oh we found each other, we actually got to ..." I think of slugs hanging from a tree and they're having sex and they wrap around each other and it becomes this one gorgeous mass. How do we create-


Kerri:   How do we become that -


Adrienne: ... structures for connecting that kind depth that way? So that to me, I'm like, how can humans figure out, "We need to be off doing something on a whole different level." I've been re-watching Sense Eight and I'm like, there's other levels that we need to be exploring and playing and moving.


Kerri:   Sense Eight, right. Oh yeah.


Adrienne: It was so good. And it's so good in that way of like, this is Emergent Strategy, this is what I pictured-


Kerri: Yeah.


Adrienne: How do we stop seeing ourselves as individuals and start seeing ourselves as a part of one much larger organism? How do we communicate inside that organism? How does that organism survive and feel pleasure? And really earn it's right to be a part of this universe?


Kerri: I'm so excited for where you're going to take us next in this way in which I feel like we deserve better and we can reach further. And so I'm so freaking grateful for you and for the way in which you've just gifted us, this book. And you're about to gift us another one and you gift us your words and your tarot readings and your facilitation and your spirit all the time. And we are better because you are with us. Thank you.


Adrienne: I have to say ... I mean I really want to say, I feel like such a conduit life, like in a really good kind of way because I just really get to interact with such high quality beings on a regular basis and just so much of what moves through is saying yes to that. And if you want to have a great life, just say yes to the most interesting people. Just keep pursuing that line. You don't have to say yes to the job that gives you the most money, you can say yes to something else and it'll actually feel better in the long run.


Kerri: Say “yes” to the people.


Adrienne: Yeah.


Kerri: Say yes to the people. Thank Adrienne Maree Brown.


Adrienne: Thank you, thank you, CTZNWELL. I mean the whole thing, this is really exciting.


Kerri: Yeah.


Adrienne: Yeah.


Kerri: While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week’s call to action is to embrace pleasure in your activism. Were often so caught up in the urgency and gravity of what's going on in the world, that we deny our right to joy and pleasure. But authentic pleasure is a measure of liberation. So go get Adrienne's book, Pleasure Activist at And for more liberatory portions and magic, follow her at


Kerri: Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter and DJ for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, Well Read, at CTZN Podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced, that's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for CTZNs who care.





010 Mark Gonzales

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Kerri Kelly: This is CTZN Podcast, where we are exploring the politics of wellbeing and the practice of citizenship. I'm Kerri Kelly.


Mark Gonzales: The only way we know ourselves is through manufactured identity. The identity boxes, the census boxes, the love boxes that we've been given. And until we shape a new lexicon and a new way of knowing each other, and the vastness that every human being holds, then we only reinforce the maze. And the maze itself has fragmented a species in very unhealthy ways.


KK: That's Mark Gonzales, architect, storyteller, creator, and author. And in this episode, you'll hear his bold ideas about our future, and how he is waging beauty on all fronts.


KK: Okay, buckle up, people, because Mark Gonzales is going to stir things up on this podcast. Mark is what I would call a human architect. He is a futures designer, a storyteller, a disruptor, and a creator. And he wrote this incredible book called In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, which is exactly what he does. He wages beauty in the midst of chaos. He sees the potential in failure. He makes magic and art out of nothing. And on this podcast, he invites us to level up – to not just disrupt and push against, but to imagine better, and to dream bolder.

In his book Wage Beauty, he says, "Context is what enables us to remember that we have survived far worse than this present moment, and we will grow something far better." He believes that when we get a taste of the real – of love, of beauty, and of belonging – then we can reject what they are offering us. We are able to discover creativity, which he defines as "introducing invention into existence, and only then can we imagine better, and plot towards the world that is beyond our wildest dreams."

As you listen to Mark's words, you too will start to wonder about what's possible, and wage beauty in a whole new way. Take a listen.


KK: Welcome, Mark Gonzales.


MG: Thank you, thank you, thank you.


KK: So good to have you here, so good to see you in LA in your ... Well, is this your home? For this particular moment.


MG: Yes.


KK: All right, so let's start on that note, what that question means to you.


MG: Absolutely. Often, the way I've talked about this is, we live in a time where everyone asks, "Where are you from?" as one of the first questions.


KK: That's right.


MG: And it's a really interesting question, because I find it odd that people will ask a question and then veto your answer like, "No, that's not what I meant. Where are you from?" And it's like, "But I answered your question! How can you tell me my answer is wrong?"

But if we think about the process of asking questions in general, which is just exploring information – inquiry, if you will – that we're trying to inquire something about the person who stands in front of us, whether we've known them a long time, or whether we've known them very shortly. We're like, "How do I inquire and understand you?" And in that spirit, and we'll take it as the best spirit possible, someone who asks that question-


KK: Always with you.


MG: ... I find that that's a really just unimaginative question, "Where are you from?" Because we answer it unimaginatively. We say, "Here's my state of origin. Here's the passport I hold." And I'm like, human beings are so much more vast than that. I was born in Alaska. My mother was French-Canadian. My father's indigenous to Central Mexico and born in Wyoming. I've lived across the globe and call many places across the globe both my home, and that I feel that I'm from, and a part of me will be from in the future.

And so I began asking, "Where do you call home?" as a way of just trying to create a more welcoming space for people who are in front of me, and to say, I'm really interested in understanding who you are. And "home" has so much more of an emotional texture than just this "from" in abstract, and it often ... Where we grew up may not be where we call home. Where we are right now may be not where we call home. Some of us live in places 10 years and we still don't call it home. Like, no, no, I live there, but it's not home.

When you're 20 and you've moved out of the house you grew up in for many years, and you may even be renting a place or staying with people, and you're like, "I'm here the next five years," but for many of us, that didn't feel like home. So it causes a person both to reflect, and I feel that anything that causes a person to reflect, go in, and ask honestly, makes the conversation that much more rich.


KK: When I think of home, I think of spaghetti and meatballs. I think of, like, Led Zeppelin.


MG: Yeah, absolutely! So the home isn't just a physical, architectural space. It's not just a ZIP code, it's not just a geographic location. Home can be a person, home can be an intimate relationship or a marriage. Home can be a child. Home can be ... What I've come to in the last several years is this concept that I want to share more and more, which is, we are the generation that understands home is not singular.


KK: Why is that?


MG: Why are we the generation, or why is home not singular?


KK: Both.


MG: We are the generation in terms of the most interconnected generation in the history of human existence-


KK: Because of technology?


MG: Technology, through the transformation of information. And also interconnected in terms of knowledge exchange, not necessarily emotional connection, 'cause we could say we're actually the least emotionally connected generation-


KK: That's a good distinction.


MG: ... in human history. But with that knowledge exchange, there's an understanding of how vast the globe is, because information is traveling so fast. Versus, if I wanted to understand something on the globe 100 years ago, I had to go there and I had to have the means to go there. And I may not even live in the process of going there or coming back. It's like, oh, he went to there ... and he was never heard from again. Now I'm like, oh, Google Earth! Hey, look what's over there!

And with all of that, and the ability to buy a plane ticket for some of us, and/or take a car, and an ability to cross borders for some of us, whether "with permission" or without permission, or by necessity, or out of desire. We traverse this place we call home, Earth. We can't live anywhere else than Earth, at least in our current design, if you will, as a species.

So in that, as you go across, you just realize ... You're like, "Oh, this is home. And that's home too." And not just in an abstract way of, I am human, and so everywhere is home, although I very much align with that belief in many ways. But also the idea that we have probably one of the most intercultural relational generation, I think, than any other moment in human history, whereas it used to be a big deal to marry across the tribe. We're marrying across planets and we're having children from that space.

And so in that, it's like, oh, actually, no. That is my home, because the other part ... It's partner, wife, spouse, whatever term you want to apply to your love, is from another part of the globe, and you have children, then your child is like, "I'm not choosing. This is home. And that there is home." Which, whereas, you used to have a passport that said, pick one. And then if war breaks out, you have a responsibility that and only that organization. We're saying our identity and our values and our commitments are far more complex than that.


KK: So do you think that's disrupting our idea of borders? You use the word "borders", and I know that's a word we're debating often in this current time, where we're building walls and we're establishing borders, or we're redefining or reaffirming borders. What do borders mean in the context of an inherent home?


MG: So if I think linguistically, or at least in the popular definition of "border", we could say at the core, the core, the core, the core, the core, as angel Kyodo Williams loves to say, and we'll have to have two or three more cores, the core, the core ... and then one more core! It's important to separate what a physical border is in terms of nation-states and what linguistically a border is meant to be. A border can be a point of beginning or a point of ending, as a demarcation that marks beginning, end, separation, or difference. Which, it's beautiful. "Border" in terms of "nation-state" is a militarized demarcation forced upon a geographic region and all the populations that live within that. And so those are very different things. And so that's where I say, for me, that's why it's important. And you've known this. I always say that we operate on an assumption of a shared understanding, that people utilize the same set of phonemes. We don't communicate in words, we communicate in phonemes, sounds. Those sounds represent a word within a specific language we speak, and then we share the words and we automatically assume that we have the same definition, the shared understanding. When in reality, we never unpack, what does that mean, "word"? So you live in a lexicon and someone says "freedom" and we say, "We all believe in freedom!" And I was like, I think we have very different definitions of what the word "freedom" means.

KK: That's right.

MG: You enter relationships and people are like, "I loved you, and she loved me." And then, a divorce, and it was horrible, and it was abusive, and it was like, what happened to the ... We had very different definitions of what the word "love" meant.

KK: So how do we do that? How do we get better at saying what we mean, or getting to a greater understanding in relationship? And I know you founded the Institute of Narrative Growth. You're an architect and a storyteller. In your book, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, you say a better world begins with a better story. What do you think is the role of storytelling in starting to disrupt those assumptions that we're making about meaning and understanding, and see each other in a new and different way?

MG: So, if I think about story, outside of curated language and an arc that involves plot, protagonist, antagonist, I get to really the question of, what is story? Stories are ceremonies, depending upon your worldview. And in my worldview, if you have a technology like storytelling, it's not an art form as much as a technology.

I firmly believe that a better world begins with a better story. Why I believe that comes from this long journey with storytelling, and asking, what is a story, and why is it important to people? Because if we think about it, human beings – homo sapiens, at least – have been around 150,000 years in our current form, and story has been around almost as long as we have. Many other forms of practice, of tradition, have come and gone. Many other lifestyles have come and gone. But story remains. So what is it about this technology, if you will, that is so essential to human existence?

And I think about this in two ways. I think about stories as ceremony, as a person who comes from a Mexican Indigenous background, who's been fortunate to travel and hold listening parties across the globe in at least 16 different countries, and sitting with people and populations and cultures and asking, "What do you feel about being alive at this specific moment in human history?" with so many, from cities to tribes to villages, and people always responding with a story. And when they tell their story, and they really get into their story, they close their eyes. They travel.

KK: Time travel.

MG: You time travel. You plane travel. You dimension travel. You generation travel. And I say that's a ceremony, because in it, you're asking someone to relive and to re-experience a moment. That traveling is not just psychological. It's somatic in a lot of ways, in terms of the muscles.

And then I'm like, wow. Look at this ceremony that is occurring. We don't treat it like ceremony. We often treat it as a marketing tool or as an object of consumption – story and the story sharing process, if you will. But story really is ceremony, and if we viewed it as ceremony, I think we'd have a lot more respect for it and the power it holds.

The other way I look at it is very much, stories are the engine of identity. They're the drivers of human behavior in so many ways, whether it's the narratives that we live under and within – nations, to me, are nothing more than a collection of narratives – or it's the stories we tell ourselves, the looped tape in our head before we go to sleep at night. Whether they're small micro-stories of power and possibility, or micro-stories of impostor syndrome and not being good enough, it shapes how we show up in the world.

And so hacking story and re-authoring story, and then looking at ways it can scale up to narrative, to me ... That is a fundamental part of reshaping the public imagination. And the necessity, in terms of going back to what you were saying, of the role of, right now, storytelling in disrupting our current reality. Or recalibrating our social trajectory to a far more imaginative space – not just disrupting, but plotting towards the world in which we and our loved ones deserve a world of wonder. To me, that has to begin with a on-ramping process. And story is a phenomenal on-ramping process.

KK: Another quote you have in your book is, "Context is what enables us to remember we have survived far worse than this present moment, and we will grow something far better." And I think it speaks to the way in which we're shaped by and are trying to shape something new. Do you think that's what happening in the Resistance right now, given the times that we are living in? Are we on the right track, do you think?

MG: I would never tell someone, "Don't tell that story," even though I'm a firm believer that not all stories are meant for all people, and not all stories are shared in the right moment or in the right space. I think we think of stories just as something to, again, just throw around, versus ... It's more than a marketing tool. It's more than a recruitment tool. You're really dealing with the fundamental subconscious of human beings. I mean, story itself is the foundation of Western psychoanalysts, if we think of talk therapy, Freudian thought. And we know that from the Western psychoanalyst lens, and then we know that from an Indigenous epistemological lens, that all these cultures say this thing is important, so don't use it haphazardly.

KK: Yeah.

MG: So I share that to begin with, create your own stories. Now, if I look and survey or audit, if you will, the current stories that are being told, as someone who lived through the invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan in the Bush years, and watching that and trying to pretty much build a social engagement strategy that says, "This is not okay, we deserve better than this," as someone who lived through the Reagan years as a young child, as someone who sat with people across the globe to hear what they've gone through in order to get a big picture view at this moment ... The moment we're living in is in very much ways a moment that we've lived before. And I don't say that in order to minimize the moment. I created the language and collaborated in the engagement strategy for the We The People series with Shepard Fairey, Amplifier, Ernesto, Jessica Sabogal.

KK: It launched with the Women's March in 2017.

MG: Right.

KK: Like, iconic. All of the images that we see associated with the Women's March really came out of that campaign.

MG: Yeah. So if you're holding up Defend Dignity, if you're holding up Protect Each Other, if you're holding up We The Resilient Have Been Here Before, you're holding up my language. And that's not just language, per se. It was an engagement strategy about articulating the values that we need to remember instead of just doubling down on an identity strategy, which is, don't do this to this group of people.

Because for me, I feel a lot of the reason we're in the place we're in is because the only way we know ourselves is through manufactured identity. The identity boxes, the census boxes, the love boxes that we've been given. And until we shape a new lexicon and a new way of knowing each other, and the vastness that every human being holds, then we only reinforce the maze. And the maze itself has fragmented a species in very unhealthy ways.

So going back to the images holding up, Ernesto's image, Ayse Gursoz, an amazing Turkish photographer out of the Bay Area caught an elder, Lakota, Dakota elder, at the NODAPL Standing Rock activations holding her fist up. Took that beautiful photo, got her permission, and then gave it to Ernesto Yerena, an amazing Chicano Indigenous Yaqui artist.

KK: So good.

MG: One of the brilliant lithograph and street artists of our time, fine art maker, who then turned it into this image. And then you see We The Resilient Have Been Here Before, and a large part of that came from Ernesto's and I's conversation about the way that I do feel we focus on youth, because we've given up on our elders. And because we've given up on our elders, we don't sit with the elders. And when you don't sit with the elders, you don't understand the amount of wisdom or experiences they're holding.

And I don't romanticize elders. My father's 81 and I love him dearly, and I've come to see him as a person who came out the womb, and at 81, has that same brain he came out the womb with. He's just had so many experiences, positive and painful, that have shaped him. And when you sit with elders with that, and then they share the stories that they heard as children, you begin to get the context, the bird's eye view that we miss of this moment that allow us to say, "Oh, this didn't just spontaneously happen." Whether we say Trump's election, we say the 45 administration, that is more than an individual, and we say, "This is not America ..." We have to talk about the vastness of a nation that's over 250 years old with 300 million people in it before we just dismiss and only highlight good parts.

KK: Right.

MG: I'm a firm believer, it's part of one of the principles of the Wage Beauty book, and was even a part of the principles of CTZNWELL, which is, we cannot heal what we cannot face.

KK: That's right.

MG: And so in that for me, are we telling the right stories in the moment? I don't think we've created spaces and stories of authenticity and vulnerability that can allow us to get honest with how we arrived at this moment. And without honesty, I don't know if we can really honestly start to move in a new direction. Because if I look back at the moments that were challenging right now, every moment is a new moment. So, same strategy or same action can create new possibilities where they previously failed, and the strategy or belief in a lot of people who were like, "Well, now it will get so bad that people will have no choice but to change the world."

KK: We've said that many times.

MG: And I'm like, so-

KK: What are we missing?

MG: We're failing. And that's one of my favorite questions, sitting with elders across the globe, and thought leaders, philanthropy leaders, and everyday people, is ... We have more people engaged in the conversation than ever before, and on every metric, we're losing. So what are we missing?

KK: Right.

MG: And so that will make me feel that ... I don't want to say the stories we're telling are wrong, because when I think of Carmen's work, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour and the Women's March, and the Sisters, and the Resistors, it is absolutely necessary. What I will say is that I still think it's incomplete.

KK: Mm-hmm.

MG: And I don't know what the missing part is. And the beautiful part of being a believer in participatory design is that you don't get to choose what's missing by yourself.


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KK: How do we move towards that thing that we cannot name, or that perhaps we cannot see yet? What is the practice of how we get there?

MG: So if I think of it from an architectural standpoint, or what is the wireframe that we begin to build this world-building process on-

KK: (laughs) Yeah, a wireframe of world building.

MG: Yeah, and if we think about it from that, then I think about it as two parallel tracks. And they're literally the kind of tracks that I'm dedicating 2018 to. One is, what are ways to excite the personal and the public imagination in very real, profound, intimate, and bold ways? How do we expand our ability to dream?

KK: Mm-hmm. Because it doesn't feel like we're dreaming right now. All we're able to do in this particular moment is defend and protect and resist, and so that's really interesting. Is that part of what's missing?

MG: Yeah. If I thought about my design statement, if you will, then a key part of my design statement is disruption through creation.

KK: Right, which is both.

MG: Right.

KK: Death and birth.

MG: And that you don't have one without the other. I think we disrupt, but we don't disrupt through the creative process, or through ... And creativity, if we think about it as introducing invention into existence ... That's, to me, what's at the core of innovation. That we think we're being creative, but we didn't introduce anything. So is it really creative?

KK: We're replicating.

MG: Yeah. We're using new language. One good friend would say we're caught in a particularly dimensional sphere, i.e., stuck in the same level of the video game.

KK: (laughs) That's so sad, Mark.

MG: And so the video game replicates itself.

KK: That makes me so hopeless!

MG: No, well, I think it's actually very real when you come down to it. If you think about relationships and you're like, "Dammit, it happened again!"

KK: Oh, that's right, yeah. I did that thing again, shit!

MG: And it's like, why?! It's like, oh, because the lesson I was supposed to learn kept on coming back.

KK: And Pema Chödrön says that too. Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to learn. And every time I read that quote, I go, "Dammit!"

MG: Yeah, and X said that's the invitation to level up.

KK: That's right.

MG: And so I think about that, and I think about that passion capital, that constant passion is contagious.

KK: Yeah.

MG: That that's disruption creation, that you show something, and it's like ... I've been stuck with this dried out, old, dehydrated, non-nutrient white bread, and I thought it was good. And then I went to Paris and had pain au chocolate and a croissant. And I was like, "This is what bread's supposed to taste like! Oh my God, I've been denied my whole life."

KK: (laughs)

MG: And in that same spirit, it's like, when you get the taste of the real that you really begin to reject what they're offering you. And I think that's what we're really missing, is that creation of our authentic real. That it's like, don't you see how beautiful this is? Because we spend all our time pushing against. Against. Most of our time is spent in negation.

And I don't minimize that, because negation is essential. The Zapatista principles, Zapatista being the Indigenous movement in Chiapas and Southern Mexico – the most successful, probably, in the modern era. 20th century, 1994. Rage Against the Machine. Everything can change on a new year's date. We're 23 years after that and they're still going. We can't think of another successful moment like that.

The Tunisian revolution, I think, would be the most closest thing we've had. And they're still in just the beginning stages of that, and being in Tunisia in a lot of ways, where people are frustrated with the pace. I'm like, well, after 50 years of not being on control of your country and then 100 years of colonialism, not being in control of your country, I think having an unfair expectation for us to right and correct and readjust and recalibrate and unlearn and design and create new ways, in two years, in three years, after centuries of not being able to, I'm like ... We need to love ourselves, and part of loving yourself is being patient with yourself.

KK: Do we need to be patient with change? I feel that theme everywhere right now, that we want immediate, right now, real-time change. We want the metrics of change that we can see and touch. And yet, is that realistic, given all that we have to undo and unlearn and reclaim to transform?

MG: I think of two thoughts simultaneously that may seem to contradict one another, but they're actually complementary. And it's like, how do we hold both of these as truths? Yin and Yang. One is, we are a generation raised in an era of immediate gratification. Even immediate download. Grace Lee Boggs, before she had passed, one of her last interviews on PBS where ... Is it Bill Moyers?

KK: Mm-hmm.

MG: ... Was interviewing her as a changemaker who had been at the forefront of every major human rights movement of the 20th century, now fascinated by urban farming. And he's like, "Why? After knowing all these amazing people across the globe, and Kwame Nkrumah proposing to you, why have you come back to urban farming?" And she's like, "Well, I think it does something. It reshapes your understanding of time, of space, your relationship to your food." And he says, "Why? How does it do that?" And she looks at him and she says, "Well, if you go to a machine, and you press a button, and food comes out, and you think that's how the world works, you're in a hell of a mess as a human being."

KK: (laughs)

MG: So I think there's something to be learned about this kind of desire for immediacy that prevents us from loving ourselves and being patient. That is the truth. Then I think of Bryan Stevenson and his reminder that if we cut 50% of the prison population in the United States tomorrow, we still incarcerate more people than any other country on this planet. This idea of gradualism is also a trap. That also is the truth.

And so I don't have an easy answer for that, because we're in complex times, and I deal with both of those. It's like, both dreams, and I think maybe bold changes, and then seeing Prop 47, largest prisoner release in US history.

KK: In California.

MG: Through de-escalating 10 felonies to misdemeanors by understanding that most of the things that a particular group of people were being incarcerated and imprisoned for were not criminal issues, were actually health and addiction issues, and that it was costing us more to lock them up, and harming not only them but their family, their future. Therefore, they were doing two sentences at the same time. That if you actually took them out of prison, provided some support, you not only save taxpayer money, you actually saved human life, human capital, social capital, et cetera. By creating that, in one year, they literally had the largest prisoner release in US history, and saved the California budget $80 million in a single year.

MG: Then earmarked that for education and the schools, which is the most known preventer of incarceration. And that was a one- to two-year architect, engage, do process. So I don't want to limit us in our imagination. I think we're not patient with ourselves in process, and we're too limited in our dreams. You dream bolder, you become more patient. I don't want to be patient for mediocrity.

KK: You go around the country – the globe, really – and host listening parties and storytelling parties. What do you hear are the questions being asked by people right now in this moment?

MG: That's just a great question. I think every human being right now is dealing with questions of, are we going to be around as a species? I think that's a real question.

KK: Will we survive this? Yeah.

MG: And we ask it in different ways. Some of us ask it from the place of, I don't know if I'm going to be here tomorrow. So the human species that is my being is asking it from a very personal place of, I don't know where the next meal's coming from. And then you scale that up to people not knowing where the next check is coming from, and then you put that in the context of, what is it, 40-50% of all US jobs will be lost on automation in the next 15 years. Not even two decades. 15 years. And you put that in the context of, I don't know where the next meal is coming from.

People are really scared in a lot of ways about where we go. And I think in that place, another question, which I feel we're completely missing – and this goes to the Department of the Future that we were talking about earlier – is, at the core of a lot of the questions we're asking is a common back end. And to me, this common back end are age-old philosophical questions that human beings have been asking as long as we've been here. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the purpose of a society? Literally, I've sat with people in the United States from across the political spectrum, to "we pay too much taxes," to "I voted for Trump so we could cut these things," and et cetera. And one of the things that really amazed me was, I was just, like, "Why do we have a society?" And people would pause, and I would find out we actually haven't even answered that question.

KK: We don't even know what that means.

MG: It's just, like, I need more returns 'cause maybe I need more money for food, or I need more money for this desirable thing, fancy stuff I want. But this idea of that, we're actually in ... Whether we say a circle, a globe, a box together. And that we have a responsibility to each other, and that we all contribute to certain things, and everybody benefits on certain things, and that if you don't pay on the front end, you're going to pay 10 times as much on the back end ... This idea of a society of taking care of one another, it's just gone.

KK: Like, our wellbeing is bound.

MG: So those are the questions I find, are just these age-old philosophical questions that are informing the design challenge that is in front of us at that current moment, 'cause disrupt, design, reflect. Pivot. Disrupt, design, reflect. Pivot. It's like, we're talking about disrupting, but we're not talking about designing. And I was like, everything we see in front of us is really a design challenge.

KK: And the questions, it sounds like, are the unlocks to design fodder.

MG: Yeah. And designs are built in a public and personal imagination. So our current imagination as a nation-state, if you will – I'm not saying individuals, but a nation-state's imagination – for what keeps it safe is physical structures and militarized apparatus, security apparatus is the technical term. And I find that unimaginative. But I can say it's unimaginative, and I can also say, so what is the design challenge? The design challenge is, how do we, on a personal, and at scale, design new frameworks of safety?

KK: And belonging, and love.

MG: Yeah.

KK: Really, those are all of the themes I hear about in your book, and this book, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, I think that there is no more perfect invitation for us as a community and as a society to begin to contemplate those questions that I hope and believe will point us in the direction of where we are to be going.

MG: Thank you. I think of one thing, of when ... The book was originally written three years ago as a guide. A guide for healing and hope in the 21st century, because it really is a different time than every other moment. Every moment is, but it really is unique. And when I think about the values of Wage Beauty, it always came back to love, beauty, and belonging. And not just as abstract words, but really understanding, when I look at self-harm, when I look at addictions, when I look at interpersonal violence, when I look at large-scale conflicts, how much of it in a lot of ways was driven from this idea of love, beauty, and belonging are essential components to the human psyche, and to the social fabric. And when any one of these fall out, a person or a people do not feel loved, a person or a people do not feel beautiful, or a person or a people do not feel they belong, then it is almost always that harmful things then follow. Whether that person and people do to themselves, or do they do to the other.

And so I don't see it as "the answer" to everything, but I do understand these are integral ... not only values, but they're the DNA of wellbeing.

KK: Mm-hmm.

MG: On a micro and macro level.

KK: Yeah. Personal, social, systemic, cultural. And to invoke Rev. angel again there: the core, the core, the core, the core, the core, the core.

Mark Gonzales, we are so grateful for you, for all that you give us, for all of the ways that you challenge us and call us up and love on us. I could do this with you all day long, and so let's talk again soon, but thank you for pointing us in the direction of the North Star.

MG: Absolutely. Love it.


KK: We are reimagining a citizenship where everyone belongs. And that calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us. We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities. You can learn more about how to engage at and

While this episode is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to be bold and imagine better. Not just to push up against what's wrong or broken, but to create and design a new story of who we are and what's possible. To learn more about Mark's work, check out

Thanks for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLread at

CTZN Podcast is community-inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care. And don't forget to rate us on iTunes and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.

Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at



009 Erin Schrode

Erin Podcast-01.png


Erin Schrode: We're talking about issues that will disproportionately affect us, yet we have no place at that decision-making table. That is why I want larger representation of women, of people of diverse backgrounds, of people of all ages -- just because that is America, and that is where we're going. We have people making decisions about our education system, on average, graduated from college 40+ years ago.


Kerri Kelly: Meet Erin Schrode, environmentalist and youth activist, as she tells us her story of waking up, getting political, and how to run for office before you're ready.

This is CTZN Podcast, where we are reimagining citizenship and how we show up for each other and the whole of society. I'm Kerri Kelly.




KK: Erin Schrode is impressive. She's young and passionate and hungry, and it's not that she's fearless, but rather, fear-with. She can face her fear and do it anyway. And at the age of 24, she surprised even herself when she decided to run for office, becoming the youngest person ever to run for Congress.

In our conversation, we talked about what it takes to make big leaps like running for office, and it reminded me of an article I read recently that said, "The problem for women is not winning, it's deciding to run. When women run, they are just as likely to get elected as men." But as Eric described her process of deciding, you could hear that narrative that women in particular embody, that we are never ready. Never good enough, never smart enough, never resourced enough to do anything, much less run for office.

So I was inspired by Erin's story of choosing to go all-in, despite what was stacked against her. And she had me reflect on what gets lost when we wait for the right time, what's at stake when we don't go for it, when we don't live up to our potential. And her secret is this: before she decides to do anything big, she asks herself three questions. Where can I be most impactful, what am I most passionate about, what best sets me up for a lifetime of service? We can start before we're ready, and often when we do, we surprise even ourselves around what we are capable of. Check it out.



KK: Erin, welcome.


ES: Thank you for having me. I'm delighted to be sitting down to chat.


KK: I have been following you forever, and I just realized yesterday in our conversation that I met you for the first time exactly at the time where you thought for the first time of running for Congress.


ES: You did. It was at an event in my hometown, in Marin County, in March of last year, and that was the origin.


KK: That was the origin moment, and I got to be there for that.


ES: You were. History in the making.


KK: What a blessing. We'll tell that story many years to come.


ES: Oh, we will.


KK: So you say that environmentalism is the lens through which you live your life. I've heard you say that before. So tell us, how did that come about?


ES: Well, it has to rewind to before I actually entered this universe, when my mom was pregnant with me. And she read a book called Diet for a Poisoned Planet by David Steinman. And in one day, she completely transformed the entire house, and therefore the world into which I was born. And I grew up thinking that was normal, in this beautifully warped but never weird reality. And in the bubble which is Northern California, the Bay Area, in Marin County, we went to the farmers' market every weekend, and I had my glass water bottle, and we carpooled all the time. And it was these little things that made sense to me.

And I never rebelled, because why would you when it seemed so in line with my values, but also practical? And it just snowballed to really encompass every aspect of my day-to-day.


KK: Yeah, yeah. It's incredible and such a privilege that we grow up exposed to that way of living in the world.


ES: I thank my mother every day for shaping my mentality, my view, and for showing me a new possible in everything.


KK: Yeah. And so 24 years later, you are in The Sweetwater, one of the great music halls of Marin County, giving a talk about place. Tell me about that talk, and why was that significant for you?


ES: I am who I am because of where I was raised, because of Marin County and Sonoma County. I went back and forth between the two, my mom and my dad, as a kid. My values, my identity, my professional path. And I'm so grateful and recognize that every day.

And I walked off stage talking about Marin County in the context of launching a new entity around science and agriculture, and this gentleman came up to me and said, "How do we get you to run for office?" And I laughed in his face!


KK: (laughs) What?!


ES: I don't fit the mold of what I think of as a politician. I was 24 years old. I'm a woman. I have never held prior elected office. I don't have tens of thousands, let alone tens of millions of dollars, in the bank. And right here with you, I can go on and on about why I shouldn't run, why I would never nominate myself, why I don't think I'm ready, why I would put up all those roadblocks. And he said, followed by many more people near and dear to me, "That's exactly why you need to run, and you need to do it now."


KK: Yeah, and so I was at that event with you at Sweetwater. It was the first time I was exposed to ... And I remember thinking to myself, "Who is this girl, and how can we replicate her and seed her around the country?"


ES: Thank you!


KK: Because we need more people like you who ... I just remember, I remember feeling your enthusiasm. We talked yesterday about your ripe naivete, but it was pure energy, and it was brilliant, and it was bold.

So in some ways, I'm not surprised that you said yes to running for Congress, but I totally get that we will come up with a laundry list of the reasons we can't run, especially given the role of money in politics these days. And especially given the culture of who we see representing us in Congress. Who are the people, what are the faces, what are the colors of the people that we see representing all of the major policy decisions that represent the whole of who we are in America.

So I want to hear more about your decision-making process. So you're approached by all of these people, which I'm sure felt great.


ES: Eh, great-ish.


KK: But you still are making the biggest decision of your life. What was that process like for you?


ES: First, I just completely discredited it. This is preposterous, who was this person? And I went home, and I couldn't get it out of my head. And I started to talk to very, very close friends. Mentors, people that I respected. And when they echoed his sentiment, I was further perplexed, and I did what I need to do when I need my ego smacked down to size, which is, call my best friend.


KK: (laughs)


ES: And she was walking home from work, and I was reticent to even vocalize this idea. It was something of impostor syndrome. I couldn't run for Congress!


KK: Yeah, how dare I.


ES: How dare I even broach that? Again, I said, my ego check. Who was I, at 24, as a woman, to even entertain this far-off notion? And [Christina 00:08:14] said to me, "Sure. There are a million reasons why you could wait, but why not run while you wait?"

And there's some words you'll never forget, and her words resonated so deeply within me, because that somehow took the onus off of me. This idea, sure, I could wait. Some would say I should wait. But what happens when we don't wait, when we throw that rulebook out the window? If I were a political pragmatist, I never would have run for Congress. But thank goodness I didn't listen to the norm, to the status quo.

And I had 11 days between then and the filing deadline, and I-


KK: A lot of sleepless nights.


ES: A lot of sleepless nights, and I'm a note taker. And I got on the phone, and I was writing down everything that everyone said. Not that I was internalizing everything, but I needed to hear different ideas and opinions and responses from those closest to me. And it was overwhelming positive.

But my mother was one who challenged me the most. And this is my mom who's the co-founder of Turning Green, my best friend, my role model, the ultimate epitome of our motto, which is "Dream and Do". And she was my fiercest challenger.


KK: Nice.


ES: And she said, "Why would anyone vote for you, given that you have zero name recognition, no money in the bank, and are challenging an incumbent with 70 days until the primary election?


KK: Those are good reasons.


ES: Yeah.


KK: But not all the reasons.


ES: Not all. But I had to outline even more explicitly why I was running, and what did success look like? Yes, I wanted to win the election. But what was I going to do? And I started to write. That's how I process, that's how I make sense of these. And I had to convince myself before I could go out and convince anyone else.


KK: Yeah, yeah.


ES: And create that framework. So I decided to begin to draft an open letter to the world, and came up with three main ideas that were driving my desire to run, and would be the pillars of our campaign, around redefining civic engagement, reinvigorating a culture of public service, and expanding the definition of who can be a politician while adding value to to society. I wanted to make those 70 days count no matter what, and I'm a boots-on-the-ground activist, so there we were. This was my home turf, and I wanted to be up and down this district, and so I wrote this letter, having no idea how the world would respond.


KK: And how did they respond?


ES: Keep your [inaudible 00:11:01] ...


KK: And what happened next?


ES: On Tuesday, March 29, 2016. I was sitting in my bedroom. People think that it was this whole elaborate machine. It was me, solo with my dog at home, and I sent one Facebook, one Instagram, and one tweet. And was going live with a Medium blog post, because this was how I was going to put my message out into the world, to use the tools that are native to me growing up as a millennial in this day and age.

And I pressed "send" ... Before I pressed "send", my finger hovered over that button.


KK: (laughs) I bet.


ES: Am I really going to do this?


KK: And no turning back.


ES: No turning back. That was a major life decision. I never imagined that it would carry me as far as it did, that people would respond, that this would birth such a movement. But I knew that something was going to shift.

And the messages started rolling in by the tens of thousands that day, the likes of which I'd never seen in my life. I'd never done anything where I'd felt more relevant, where I felt people coalesce with such an urgency. There was a young boy from the northern part of my district, near the Oregon border, and he wrote to me. He said, "Erin, I was never interested in politics because nobody ever looked like me. Nobody talked like me. Nobody remotely understood what it was like to be me. How can I volunteer for your campaign?"

And those sorts of messages, and people going ... that I know, "Erin, where did this come from?" Yet it makes so much sense. So that idea that it is a leap, because we view politicians as a different breed of human being. However, it's a natural progression from activism and civic engagement.


KK: And about winning and losing ... Because one of the things I love about what your friend said reminds me of a quote from one of my professors, Marshall Ganz, who always said, "Start before you're ready." And I think one of the reasons we never start is because we hold ourselves to a bar of winning or perfection or success, and we don't leave room for anything else. And I think it was Nelson Mandela who said, "I either win or I learn. I never lose," something along those lines.

And I think that's a symptom of our culture, that it's like, how dare we fail. And you talked a lot yesterday, about all of the different political positions that we could run for, and I heard a statistic a couple months ago that there are, I think, 300,000 state assembly positions in our country. 70% of them go uncontested.


ES: Uncontested.


KK: But regardless, I think the spirit of engaging politically in this way and claiming our commitment to representing our communities and to just going for it isn't about winning, it's about learning. And maybe it's even about losing.


ES: I think back to when we started Turning Green, and you mentioned that as a 13 year old, I was going up against a multi-billion dollar beauty industry.


KK: Yeah, no big deal.


ES: Well, if I knew then what I know now, I never would've done it.


KK: That's right.


ES: But when you are that age, when you are a child, you don't call it failure. You see you failed. You fail again, you fail fast. You call it learning.

And nowadays, we overthink things as adults, and we're so concerned about our reputation and about what other people will think and being seen as a failure. So guess what? We did not win the election. We came up 6.6 points short of advancing in the June 7 primary. We did far better than anyone thought. We got 21,000 votes, and I had friends saying-


KK: 21,000 votes!


ES: It's 20,994, but who's counting? But I think about what happened in those 70 days. I think about the micro-movements that we started. I think about the ways in which we drew these direct connections between people, voters, our constituents, and policy decisions. And that was beautiful to happen in my home state and in our community. But the message went so far beyond the borders of California's 2nd District, what it represented.


KK: Yeah.


ES: And you said, Glamour Magazine! Why was Glamour writing about our campaign? Because a 20-something woman is their target demographic.


KK: That's right.


ES: However, they've delved into soil. And I'm obsessed with dirt. I think the answer to climate change lies beneath our feet, and I have all sorts of other puns. It's the new bottom line.


KK: (laughs)


ES: But to see that was exciting. And to see the Today Show show up and walk door to door, to see how we were leveraging technology to make up for millions of dollars, months of time, and that's success.


KK: Oh, yeah.


ES: So there are so many ways in which the message spread, people became engaged, often for the first times, politically. Or realizing that there were things they could do in their own communities, within politics and far beyond.


KK: So I heard someone say ... I went to a run for office seminar, and they said, "It's rarely run and win. It's run and learn, run and learn, run and win." Eventually you run and win, but one of my questions for you is, what did you learn? And I'm sure there are many points along the way, 70 days of, I'm sure, 24 hours a day of leaning in and going for it, because you can't ever question. You have to go all the way.

But what did you learn? Did you have doubts along the way? Do you have, like, "I totally would've done that differently if I could go back"?


ES: Yeah. I learned a heck of a lot. Abraham Lincoln, they say he lost every election he ever ran until he won the presidential election.


KK: That's right.


ES: And you see so many politicians in our day and age. However, I just want to set the record straight. I was in this to win this. I wanted to implement the solutions about which I spoke, but I think going through that process, sure, I had doubts. It's not easy, and it's been really interesting to see now, to be able to have the privilege to be a resource for people running for office. You don't realize the degree to which you put yourself out there, and people think everything's fair game, and they can attack you for all of it. Thicker skin.


KK: Did you feel exposed?


ES: Absolutely.


KK: And, I'm sure, vulnerable and ...


ES: Yes, but that is all part and parcel of this game. And thankfully, I have thicker skin than I ever knew. But again, politicians aren't human. They're something else, so we can go after them. But what I saw-


KK: Right, like putting politicians on pedestals is sort of what you're talking about.


ES: Yeah.


KK: We forget that they're human, we forget that they make mistakes, we hold them to a higher bar. We don't allow for the humanity.


ES: We forget that they listen to the things that we say.


KK: Many of them are, in fact, doing things that are horrible.


ES: Yeah, and-


KK: And out of integrity, but they still are human.


ES: It became exposed, in two articles, if you will, that I was Jewish, right before the election. Well, I got-


KK: That was "exposed".


ES: ... hit with neo-Nazis by the hundreds of thousands.


KK: Oh wow.


ES: And the alt-right. Unbelievable anti-Semitism.


KK: Wow.


ES: But the love and the support that I received far outnumbered that. I think I learned a lot about movement building, and if you want to run for office and you want to win office, two things are critical in that. Money and name recognition. Now, was campaign finance reform a key pillar of our campaign when we started? No. Is it an absolute imperative if we want to accomplish any change in this country? 100%.


KK: Big time.


ES: So I think you need ... If you see it as a ramp, 70 days wasn't long enough. And you have to start early, because you need to get your framework in place. And there's a lot that you can do with social and digital media, and we had a video that went viral and got 6.5 million views. That put us in a new stratosphere.


KK: I saw that video. It was amazing.


ES: Yeah, and it was simple, and I had on no makeup and my hair in a messy bun, and we shot it at 7:00 a.m. But hey, it was about the content. And I think that it was also about-


KK: Yeah, and it was also you.


ES: It was about me, but I think more than me, our campaign slogan was Erin for Us, and yes, the name on the ballot was Erin. So that needed to be a part of it. But it was about a generation. It was about a nation. And we talked about policy solutions. And I've seen now in a number of people who have run -- young people, people of all ages, all genders, all backgrounds -- that you actually need the substance there.

And, so, yes. I want people to run, but I challenge them with what it is, why they are running. What it is that they stand for. And in my life, it's always been about purpose, not position. And the position's not Congress, as of June 7, 2016, at least not right now. However, steadfast in your purpose, and I think that's so important when you're considering whatever life path you're going to take. What is your purpose? Why are you in it? And if you know that and you can effectively communicate that to others, that's beautiful.


KK: Well, I think that's what I meant when I said it was about you, because I think your purpose was felt in that video. And I also think, it's not about the candidate. It is about the way in which candidates put their skin in the game, put themselves on the line for the wellbeing of everyone.


ES: You've gotta be all in, 'cause these campaign trail lives, they aren't easy. But I'm so grateful to every single person who stepped up, to every single sleepless night, to every small event, to every first political donation. It takes a village.


KK: And you were saying that you needed thick skin to navigate the exposure and the learning and the mistakes, and I can't even imagine the transformational arc of that 70 days for you. But I have to believe that there were some people in your court, stakeholders, people that you trusted, your trusted advisers, that when you felt most exposed or most vulnerable, or when you were questioning, "Why the fuck did I ..." I don't know, I'm putting those words in your mouth. But I imagine there were moments when you were like, "Whoa, this is hard." Who were those people in your life, and what about having them at your back made it possible for you to move forward?


ES: I am so grateful to my friends. I am so grateful to the messages, just of checking in. "How are you?" Not Erin for Us.


KK: Did you eat today?


ES: You, the human. The friend that showed up on my doorstep with glass containers full of plant-based food that she knew I needed. The people who reminded me to go to sleep. Those that said, "What do you need? What can I do?"

I honestly forged new friendships. People who have been through the political circus have a certain knowledge that you cannot gain through anything but experience, and I've had two dear friends run for office since, two who were involved in the political arena and were so supportive of my campaign. One of them, he ran for mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, and lost by 200 and some votes.


KK: Oh!


ES: And he was the first person to call me when I announced my campaign. And that meant the world and then some. So it's just those little check-ins, again, to remind me that I too am human, and that it's okay to be on this journey. And then the people that stepped up in my community and said, "Erin, you do that. We got this covered." And that's the ground game, that's the support and the basis. Sure, you can have people cheering you on from around the world, but they're not there. They're not in the trenches with you. And they're not voting for you.

So the people in my community who put their name on the line. I was a renegade challenger candidate. They put their reputation on the line to some degree to host events for me, to post on their social media about me, and that was so beautiful. I am so grateful for everyone in my community who took a chance and said, "Erin for Us."


KK: And I want to acknowledge that I really do think you won-


ES: Thank you.


KK: ... in all of the ways. Just in who you were, what you embodied throughout that campaign, 'cause I remember watching it, and we were totally rooting for you. But also in the way in which you did change the narrative -- getting Glamour to write about soil is one example -- and to lift up things like regenerative farming as radical policy and strategies forward. And you changed the face of what a politician could look like, and I think those things are radical. In a culture where it looks like only certain people get to hold positions of authority and decision-making on behalf of the whole, you changed the game.


ES: Well, first of all, thank you. I'm humbled. But yesterday, I got a note ... I think it came on Instagram, it came in a text, from a young woman who's running for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And she wrote it just to tell me she was running, and that I was her inspiration behind running.

So it is not lost on me, the symbolism of a young woman running. However, what you said first, I don't know if it makes me more proud, but the fact that we talked about policy positions. So yes, I get what my candidacy represented, the same way I understand what Barack Obama -- not that I am equating myself to Barack Obama -- but for so many people in America who identified with Barack Obama. For Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. You have these historic moments and people saw someone that they'd never seen as a politician able to run. And that empowered them.

However, there was substance beneath it, and that's the policy -- the environmental and public health, learning and the future of work, human rights, tech innovation -- that were backed up by statistics, by policy positions, so people were inspired, but then also could really get behind tangible ideas for progress.


KK: Yeah, and I think that's right. I think that it wasn't just a symbolic run, I want to be clear. I totally agree, you had a rock-solid policy platform that was clearly articulated and tangible, and it was translated in such a way that I think people could really understand. And so I totally agree with you.


ES: Well, I had all my policy wonks -- they know who they are -- writing, because I ... First of all, I wanted to come out of the gate with things that we were clearly standing for. But people started asking questions about a multitude of topics, and I wanted to have that available on our site, but also to be better versed in my myself. And policy wonks are policy wonks, and I am very well-versed in some, but not well-versed in all. And you have to know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. And I am so grateful for all the work that went on behind the scenes, so that I could figure out a way to translate it into terms that people understand. User-friendly politics, if you will.


KK: Yeah, that's right.




KK: I want to give a shout out to our community of supporters on Patreon, without whom this podcast wouldn't be possible. CTZN Podcast is reimagining citizenship for all of us. Not the kind that requires documents and papers, but an everyday practice of how we take care of each other and the whole of society. We're daring to ask hard questions about who we are and who we are to one another, and what's possible when we show up for the wellbeing of the whole.

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So check us out on, and build with us as we create a culture of wellbeing that works for everyone.




KK: I love also what you're saying about how everyone has a part to play. Not everybody has to run for office. We need organizers, we need marketers and comms people. We need policy wonks. We need people who are going to show up at your door with green juice, and remind you to sleep and ask you how you are. We need spiritual leaders to help us make sense of these moments.


ES: But also, yes, all of that, and that roughly falls within a political arena or support system. But for me, we need the disruptors who have startups, that are building new economies. The people that are leveraging technology to take media to new heights. Those that are delving into the depths of science and research, taking nonprofits to places we'd never before seen. I want all of that to continue, but I also want people in those fields, at the top of their game -- those that I would want to run for office -- to not count out that possibility of translating that innovative, entrepreneurial mindset into the policy arena.


KK: So unlike most people who, I think, at some point in their life, have a "wake-up call" ... Something happens to them, or they see clearly for the first time -- and many of us have had these in many different ways -- and then finally feel called to social change and activism ... It is clear that you were an activist in the womb, you already-


ES: Thanks, Momma!


KK: Thank you, Mom ... And came out kicking and screaming as an activist, thank God. But something happened to you in your work with Syrian refugees that made you realize there was something much bigger at work, and that changed, I feel like, your perspective on how change works and how change should happen. Can you tell us a little bit about that?


ES: For sure. It was one of the more transformative experiences of my life. I'm an activist, that's how I self-identify first and foremost. A citizen activist, which is, I think, why we get along so well.


KK: We do!


ES: For me, I've never been one to shy away from taking action. My mother raised me to believe that small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, to quote Margaret Mead, and that you cannot stand by idly in the face of injustice. So I have shown up. That is my knee-jerk reaction. Is it always the best one? No. But there is a role for people to play in showing up, and when I saw a picture of a 3-year-old boy wash up dead ashore in Turkey, something inside me snapped, and I thought, "If this is really the largest humanitarian crisis in our world today, if there are more people on the move than ever in history, why is more not being done?"

And I went to Lesvos, Greece, just off the coast of Turkey, and I worked, welcoming refugees. At that point, it was about 65% Syrian. And I came back and I went back and I wrote, and these pieces went viral, and I came back, and I was on CNN talking about refugees. And I came back, and I brought volunteers and supplies and money. And my friends said, "Erin, are you just going to keep going back?"

And I said, "No. We need systemic change if we want to see anything shift in this landscape. We need to address it from a policy perspective." I did not know what form that was going to take, but I was watching governors in my country at that time close their borders to the most vulnerable among us, and thinking, "Something's gotta give."

So I hear Helen Keller's words in my head all the time. "I cannot do everything, but just because I cannot do everything does not mean I will not do something." And that was my something. Showing up and taking on this issue in a powerful way. But it's not just that issue. It's the compounding of so many issues. And sure, we can try to address all of them, but there is a dearth of holistic, systemic policy solutions and people with the political will to engage and to not be beholden to special interests, or to a decade-long career in politics. I have not been entrenched in any system -- in business, in law, in government -- for decades. So we need people who have that experience, but we also need bold, fresh voices who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, who are more willing to reach across the aisle to unearth common sense solutions for the common good.

And this was my thought process. My last trip to Lesvos was in February of 2016, and March was when I announced the run for office.


KK: That's right. That was the impetus. And do you think, had that-


ES: That's the last straw, yeah.


KK: Yeah, and had that not happened, you might have been like, "Run for office? What?"


ES: I think it was a perfect storm of many things, and when we started Turning Green, it was always twofold. It was about behavior change, it was about conscious consumption, it was about grassroots, it was about bottom-up, it was about movement building. But it was also top-down. It was about legislative action, it was about advocacy. And we realized that they had to go hand in hand. And I was involved in legislation in my town and my county and my state, at the federal level, around green chemistry, around public health, around toxins, around hemp, around agriculture. The list goes on and on.

And so I always was watching that, but more from the periphery, never thinking that I could get involved in the system.


KK: Yeah. And I hear you talking about another system, too. In effect, that something broke inside of you in that experience, and also in the way in which you described how governors within our own country were closing our borders. And since then, obviously, we're experiencing a laundry list of rollbacks that feel like they are going in the opposite direction of dignity and wellbeing and freedom and fairness. And I feel like that has something to do with our consciousness and our culture and what we believe about each other. What would compel a governor to close their borders to the most desperate, or to deny rights and freedom, basic human dignified rights, to the most vulnerable?

And so, what do you think about that, the ways in which not only do we need to engage in the political levers that enable systemic change, but what do we need to reckon with within ourselves and together about what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about humanity?


ES: We have to recognize the humanity in the other to honor human dignity. There's this beautiful South African phrase, Ubuntu, "I am me because you are you." And too often, we get caught up in our own lives. We're busy and we live in these echo chambers. We have a lot going on, and you don't take the time -- we don't take the time, I don't take the time -- to meet someone, to look them in the eye, to attempt to understand their lived experiences, their truths, their realities.

And when I was living in New York City ... We've been hearing for all of time, but it had peaked, around young Black men being shot dead by police officers, being locked up and incarcerated at startling rates. This epidemic, this legacy, in my mind, of slavery and mass incarceration, which Bryan Stevenson talks about a lot. A hero of mine.

And now, this was in my city. This was someone that was-


KK: Which has always been in your city.


ES: It's always been in my city, and we can talk about Marin City and Marin County. But Eric Garner was strangled to death by the NYPD when I was living in New York. I could not not show up. I could not turn a blind eye. And I took to the streets for the first time in my life, and started to recognize this role, first of all, of white privilege. But that I have, not just as an ally, but as an accomplice, to put skin in the game however and wherever I can. And I recognize that in breaking through police barricades when friends would ask me to do it, because the chances of my being arrested were so much lower.


KK: That's right.


ES: But being a voice for these Syrian refugees. Well, if you're not going to send a news camera to the island, or it's too dangerous to go to the home country, or whatever political bias won't allow you to do either of those things, put someone on who has that firsthand footage, who can try to elevate that narrative. We saw it again with Standing Rock this year. I was shot by police with a rubber bullet on the front lines. The irony is not lost on me that the white girl getting shot at Standing Rock got more news coverage than almost anything else at that point to date.

This is not about me. This is about a compounding oppression of hundreds of years-


KK: That's right.


ES: ... of my Native American brothers and sisters. But if I can do anything to lend my voice, to use my privilege to join forces arm in arm with my brothers and sisters of any background -- faith, nationality, race, you name it -- use me. I'm there to be of service.


KK: You and I had a conversation yesterday about how, especially in the health and wellness community, how easy it is to get stuck in the bubble, and how in many ways, we can choose to just take care of ourselves, especially those of us that are privileged. We can choose to live outside of the healthcare system and pay for our acupuncture and chiropractics out of our pockets. We can choose to buy organic, because we have access and money to afford it. We can choose to go onto the front lines or not. We actually have that choice.


ES: The first gift of all of those choices is the gift of knowledge. We know to know.


KK: I really think this is a part of what you're talking about, about redefining civic engagement, about reimagining citizenship, is ... how do we see one another in a different way? How do we get outside of our bubble and get outside of our box? How do we put more skin on the game and really embody the role of accomplice, and not just ally, and not just a Facebook post in support of different issues? And that's not to say that's bad, but what do you think is the role of how we show up?


ES: It might feel like we live in a digital world, and we're sitting here talking to you-


KK: We are in a digital platform right now.


ES: ... via the interwebs.


KK: And thank God for that, right? Thank God for that.


ES: But it's a tool.


KK: Yeah.


ES: It is not in and of itself enough. So, as soon as you're finished listening to this podcast, go outside. Hi. I'm sitting here with you, looking you in the eye, shaking your hand. Change starts in your own community. So, yes, have we been sitting here talking about my work around the world and other cities? Absolutely. But where did I begin? In my backyard.

So if you are looking for a pain point and injustice, a wrongdoing, you don't have to go so far.


KK: That's right.


ES: You can start right where you live, and you cannot replicate something until you do it. You cannot scale a solution until it's a reality. So you have to begin. You have to start somewhere. And that is this incredible power that we all possess in our own local communities, as individuals.

So that's how it begins. I believe that's how we start to address any of these seemingly insurmountable challenges, is by breaking it down and saying, "Okay. I'm an expert in my own community. I care passionately about X, Y, and Z cause." There are three questions I ask myself before I do anything. Where can I be most impactful, what am I most passionate about, and what best sets me up for a lifetime of service? And I believe that-


KK: Everybody, write that down.


ES: I want to say, I asked myself that when I was 13 and we were starting Turning Green. I didn't. I absolutely asked myself those three questions before announcing the Congressional run, and now, in every decision I make. And you've gotta choose. You cannot take on every ill in the world, or you will fail. So where can you be most impactful based on your experiences, your circumstances, your identity, your location? X, Y, and Z. Where can you be most impactful? What are you most passionate about? Because let me tell you, this business of world change, it ain't easy. And there's a lot of people that will be up against, and it's a lot harder than you think it is.

So you need to be willing to put skin in the game, put in that sweat equity, stay up late at night, sacrifice things. What are you most passionate about? What lights your fire? And what best sets you up for a lifetime service, because this is not about me, and it's not about you, I'm sorry.


KK: I can handle that.


ES: This is about something so much larger. So take yourself out of the equation.


KK: It's about all of us, actually.


ES: And all time, what do you want your legacy to be when we are gone? And that's humbling. And so thinking about that, where can you be most impactful, what are you most passionate about, and what sets you up for a lifetime of service?


KK: So you said yes to really putting skin in the game and running for Congress, and I want to name a couple statistics about why that's significant. Right now, women represent 51% of our population, and currently, there are 84 women in Congress, which is about 19.3% of our population.


ES: Which is a huge leap from last Congress's 18.4%.


KK: That's right.


ES: 0.9%, bravo, ladies.


KK: The 115th Congress, which is the one we are in now, has leaped forward, one would say significantly, but nevertheless, a huge gulf of representation amongst women. And then, 38% of our population is non-white, and yet they represent 19% in Congress.

And with regards to age, I just saw this great Bloomberg chart that showed what Congress would look like if it matched our generational makeup. And millennials -- are you ready for this? -- would hold 97 seats.


ES: Ha!


KK: Whereas they now, depending on how you define a millennial, hold few, and none under 30. And so when we think about changing the face of politicians, of who we are, of how we best represent the whole of America, what needs to happen? How do we really create a culture of representation in this that honors the spirit of democracy that we all deserve?


ES: So, some people will say, "Well, you're playing identity politics." Let me just say a few things to rebut that right away. I do not want young people running the country just for the fun of it. We are better poised to lead the present and the future of our state. We're talking about issues that will disproportionately affect us, yet we have no place at that decision-making table. That is why I want larger representation of women, of people of diverse backgrounds, of people of all ages, because that is America, and that is where we're going. We have people making decisions about our education system, on average, graduated from college 40+ years ago.


KK: Mm-hmm. 13 men just wrote The Better Care for Reconciliation Act, which I call, better care for some on behalf of everyone.


ES: Right, and people making decisions for women's bodies, for any number of issues. About our incarceration system, about the war on drugs. Who is that disproportionately affecting? Black and brown communities.


KK: That's right.


ES: So here we are, with a largely old, white, male Congress, making decisions for a population that is increasingly less old, less white, and 49% male.


KK: So, where do we go from here?


ES: First of all, we tell people, all people, "You can run. You should run. And I hope you will run." And we support you, this idea ... More voices means more choices. It means a stronger nation, a better democracy. I am a proud American citizen. I believe in the promise of this country, but it is a promise yet to be fulfilled. And we have to be willing to challenge the status quo. We have to know that when Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans run against Republicans and third parties pop up and hopefully grow stronger and stronger, that is democracy in action. That contest of ideals is what we need more of in this country.

So yes, you should run. There are 500,000, approximately, elected positions in this country. So you don't need to run for Senate or Congress. There's state legislature, there's county supervisors, there's school board, there's mayoral races. We need all of that. And if you really want to make this country a better place, then we can't give that shrug of inevitability. We have to believe that we are capable, that we are powerful, that we are rich in our own experiences to run.


KK: Yeah, and I love also what you're saying around how even in our choice of running, we also have to be bold and take responsibility for who else is at the table. And I think in a lot of ways, especially in our political culture, it's ideological. It's about being right or wrong and knowing everything. And I think there's something to be said about how we really don't know everything, especially when we exist through the lens of our experience. Like, I am a privileged, white, cisgender woman. There is a lot I don't know, there is a lot I know I don't know. So it is really important as we work together around solutions for our future that we make space, that we come to the table with people of all ages, all along the gender spectrum, of all colors and ethnicity.


ES: That's why it's so exciting to see so many organizations popping up with the sole purpose of devoting themselves to getting X, Y, or Z type of person to run. Yes, we need more people to run in general, but we need to support specific marginalized, underrepresented, historically oppressed populations to have the opportunity to level the playing field. People who aren't born into privilege, who aren't born into that trajectory to run for office, because that's really who we need to run.


KK: And when we think about who we are becoming as a whole country, the more we can step up and be bold in our own role, but also pay attention and take responsibility to how we can include all voices, and how can we make decisions together, I think the better off we're going to be.

Okay. So obviously, these are precarious times.


ES: Deep breath.


KK: Deep breath, everybody. Whenever I broach this subject, I'm met with equal parts "holy shit" and hope, because it's true that this administration has been rolling back everything that we've accomplished in the last eight years.


ES: In the last hundreds of years of the existence of our country.


KK: Many decades.


ES: There was a newspaper editor who was doing an article in January and asking people what they thought the first 100 days of this administration would consist of, making predictions. And they asked a number of politicos and influencers and X, Y, and Z. And I wrote a paragraph about my fears of the Trump administration taking away the very infrastructure and systems that allow us as citizens to effect change.


KK: Right.


ES: That allow us to speak freely, that allow us to hold people in power accountable. And it was a pretty bleak picture. And he wrote back to me, "That was rather ominous." And, well, let me tell you about what's been happening. We are seeing so much of what I hold dear as an American citizen rolled back, negated, ignored. Cancelled. That is terrifying. That is what we should be afraid of, in my opinion. Not any one issue, but the larger systems that are rolling back our citizen power to speak truth.


KK: Well, I think in some cases, people are paralyzed by that. They're stuck.


ES: Where do I start? It's this shiny object idea. They take us over here and then they take us over here-


KK: That's right. It's deliberate.


ES: We can't fight on all fronts.


KK: That's right.


ES: We're physically incapable.


KK: Well, so, some of us are dissociated because it feels hopeless and because it's too much. It's overwhelming. And for those of us that are in the game, we're running around with our heads cut off. And I think, that's not to say that we're not making progress in the Resistance. I really think we are, and I think our show of force has been remarkable in the last couple months.


ES: We're leading this completely organically. There is no one leader of the Resistance. It is arguably the most powerful resistance force our country has seen. It's amazing.


KK: Yes, it's so incredible, and I think we have to keep remembering that it's happening. And that while there is this big rollback and rewind in many ways, there's something-


ES: (singing) History is happening!


KK: History is happening, and we are moving forward very powerfully. And it might be a slow cook, but something is happening, and we are changing not just what we are doing, but the shape in which we are doing it, the spirit with which we are doing it, the strategies which we are employing. And, having said that, I do think that it has been hard to hold our commitment to responding to every rollback. Every day there's bad news, every moment something arises that feels critical, quite frankly.


ES: And is critical.


KK: And is critical, and impacts the wellbeing of everyone. And so, how do we do that? How do we respond with courage and the boldness that you describe, and hold a commitment to the long game? And this is the part where I feel like we really need to maybe invest a little bit more energy. Like, how do we articulate and put forth a vision of who we are becoming and where we are going that is far down the line so that we can stay sustained and inspired in this work, so that we don't get fatigued, so that we don't give up, so that we don't throw the towel in and become hopeless and disempowered?


ES: We need those visions, those bold, audacious, revolutionary ideas of where we're going, because that gives us hope. There's two things that I would say about that. One is, we have to set ourselves up for success, and that means stepping stones. That means milestones. That means pausing, not to have a party and say, "Woo, we did it," but to congratulate ourselves and to realize how far we've come, and that we might still have miles and miles and miles yet to go. We might not be able to see even where we're headed, but we're getting there. And that's a morale booster that people so desperately need.

But the other piece is that if we try to do everything, or we are constantly concerned about the latest way in which our power is being ... people are being oppressed, X, Y, and Z, fill in the blank, and you keep shifting gears, you're never going to get anywhere. If you also think that you have to respond to everything, maybe it's not exactly in line with your expertise or it's not your #1 concern. That's okay.

My thing is the environment. I'm an environmentalist. I proudly own that. Does that mean I think environmentalism is more important than any other cause that people care about? No.


KK: It's just your piece of the ecology.


ES: It's who I am. And so the more that we can come to own specific pieces and raise each other up ... This isn't a hierarchy of suffering. This is all of us doing our part to make the world a better, more peaceful, prosperous, just, healthy, sustainable, thriving, delightful, beautiful space. And I'm going to do me. And you're going to do you. And we're going to support each other, because there are probably places where we intersect.


KK: And I share that vision with you, and I love that you articulated that, because I do think that there's also something to the way in which we're obsessed with talking about what's wrong, and we're not-


ES: Doom and gloom.


KK: Doom and gloom and all the problems. And of course we are. We have to. We have to articulate, we have to speak truth to power. We have to lift the veil.


ES: But that's not conciliatory. What we found from from Day 1 with Turning Green and why people responded positively to us is because we wanted to bring them along. We put forth solutions. People said, "Yes! I can get behind that. I can do that." That is activating, that is mobilizing. So while we have to recognize the severity of the place in which we find ourselves right now, and the fact that, yes, people's physical and mental safety and wellbeing and health are in imminent danger, just talking about that will not get us anywhere.

So, what are you doing about it? And if that is one thing and it affects one person, I'm with you. See it through.


KK: Yeah. I think people turn to us at CTZNWELL not because we have all the answers, and I think you've heard-


ES: None of us do.


KK: You've heard in this conversation a number of times us go, "I don't know."


ES: I wish more politicians would say, "I don't know." I wish more-


KK: Wouldn't that be radical?


ES: That specific vulnerability.


KK: Yeah. I don't know the answer to the question, or I don't know what the solution is, and I'm a commitment to ...


ES: And if people ask me questions on the campaign trail, and you see this all the time, and they go, "What do you think about this?" You go, "Well, it sounds like you're an expert," and bringing more people into the fold. And that's something-


KK: Yeah. "What do you think?"


ES: Task forces. That's something we saw in the last administration. People coming together who were experts in this, being raised up by the administration to saying, "Listen. You had a solution that's working over here. Let's do it again."


KK: So I think what we're trying to do with this podcast is not tell people what to do and not assert a specific position on ... And not even act like we know all the things. But really create a conversation and a practice for how we can respond. And part of, I think, the courage of saying "I don't know" requires a deep spiritual practice. It's a capacity to be vulnerable to your point.

And so, what is that for you? What are the ways in which you invest in your own capacity building? You described it before as having "thick skin", but I think it runs deeper for you, just in knowing you and all the things that you've accomplished for your whole 25 years on the planet. What are the ways in which you take care of yourself so that you can respond with courage and compassion? What are the ways in which you practice getting clear and conscious? You talked about the questions that you answer when you're confronted with a situation, and we call this practice, because it's like a habit. And it's the way in which to break with status quo.


ES: First of all, optimism is a value that my mother instilled in me from the get-go, and of all the many profound gifts she's given me, that is the greatest. I would not wake up every day if I didn't believe in something better, and in the power of people to create that. So I see optimism as a piece of my daily practice. Not dwelling on everything that I can't be, that I can't do, but what we are capable of. And it's really about framing. It's about intention. It's about lenses. And that is a part of 24/7. So if I can shift that, that practice is profound for me.

Food is my medicine, and I am incredibly privileged to have grown up in a place with the largest concentration of organic farms of anywhere in the country.


KK: Marin County!


ES: Glorious Marin County. But I think so much about the importance of what we put in our bodies to fuel our physical selves, but also our minds, and how when we don't give that to the youngest among us, and when we cut off access to fresh, nutritious foods, we are cutting off entire segments of our population, and that's what's driving the Conscious Kitchen, which is our Turning Green program that started in Marin City, in my own backyard, in our community.

So for me, a piece of my daily practice is fresh, healthy food. That grounds me, it connects me to the soil. It's a piece of why I care so passionately about protecting our Earth so that it can provide for all of us, and so that it can also sequester all that we put out. But it's not-


KK: Personal and systemic.


ES: It is.


KK: At the same time.


ES: And there's not much else you can do when you're chopping vegetables, so there's something-


KK: Is that your meditation?


ES: It is, truly! I see it in my trips to the farmers market every week, knowing my farmer, knowing from where my food came.


KK: Relationship.


ES: Yeah. And then going home, just chopping. And so I think about that-


KK: We're going to design a chop meditation for you.


ES: Great, I love it. I write a lot. I got a lot of thoughts bopping about this head, and I could spew them, and I often do. I ramble. But when I distill my thoughts, why do I feel that way, why do I believe what I believe? What's really irking me? Where did that sense of pain, of sadness, of fear, of anger, come from? And everybody has their own method. And for me, putting a pen to paper is an incredibly powerful tool.

Again, education. That stems from a solid educational foundation that I had, that I'm fortunate to have gotten scholarships to go to these schools that taught me how to make sense of these ideas. But me and my pen and my paper, we take on the world.

Nature, which is where I feel most alive, where I feel most like I'm living my purpose, where I also feel like just a little speck on this blue dot. And I'm so grateful, again, to come from where I come from, and to feel my feet planted in the sand or in the soil, and my hands in the sky. And it sounds so mundane, but I'm so grateful for that. And there's something so humbling, and it reminds you of just how little each of us are, but also how incredibly capable.


KK: And I think that brings us full circle with your purpose. And if in nature, you feel most alive and most yourself, it's no wonder you have been such a fierce citizen activist for environmentalism.


ES: You protect what you love. And I love our Earth.


KK: Yeah. Well, I am so grateful to be in this conversation with you. Super juicy, and to be in collab-


ES: To be on this journey with you!


KK: I was just going to say, and mark my words, we will work together. I'm excited for what you're up to, and I just can't imagine what you are going to accomplish in the long journey you have ahead in your life, for what you have done in the first 25 years of your life is unprecedented. And so, thank you for being bold and courageous. Thank you to your mother for seeding activism and wellbeing into your cells before you even took your first breath. And let's move forward together.


ES: We've got things to do.


KK: We've got work to do. And that's also an invitation for everybody out there. I think you've heard a number of times from Erin today that we all have a role to play, and even the smallest act makes a difference. And it's the aggregate of all of our actions, all of our roles, all of our purposes, and all of our work together that is actually going to take us in the direction of where we need to go.


ES: I really don't care so much what you do. I care that you do it. Apathy. Apathy is the largest issue plaguing our world today, so this is a call to action to start something, to do something, and to know that we and many, many, many more people have your back, believe in you, and we'll elevate each other for the greater good.


KK: Well, that is a perfect last word. Erin, thank you so much.


ES: Thank you.



KK: We are reimagining a citizenship where everyone belongs. And that calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us. We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities. You can learn more about how to engage at and

While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to start before you're ready. Ask yourself, where can I be most impactful, what am I most passionate about, what sets me up for a lifetime of service, and then do it. You can follow Erin on Twitter at @ErinSchrode.

Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLread at

CTZN Podcast is community-inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care. And don't forget to rate us on iTunes and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.



008 Dr Chelsea Jackson Roberts


Kerri Kelly: Hi, my name is Kerri Kelly, and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast, where we dare to ask hard questions about who we are, and what's possible when we show up for the wellbeing of everyone.

We're here today with Chelsea Jackson, teacher and yoga influencer, as we talk about breaking the silence, real allyship, and how to live up the promise of oneness and unity.


KK: Check one, check two.


Chelsea Jackson: Check one, check two.


KK: Sounding good. All right, today we are here with Dr. Chelsea Jackson. How are you?


CJ: I'm doing well.


KK: Chelsea is founder of Chelsea Loves Yoga, co-founder of Red Clay Yoga, a nonprofit that is working within communities that have experienced marginalization, and with the teachers and educators who are working within those communities. She is a former teacher and a doctor – that's so fancy – of education studies. And she's doing profound and provocative things in bridging both education and yoga, but also social justice and yoga. And you have become a real force, I want to say, in the yoga community, especially over the last couple years. And so I am so grateful to have you here with us today.


CJ: Thank you, Kerri. I'm very excited to be here. This has been a dream of mine to sit down and have a conversation with you. We have many conversations-


KK: I know.


CJ: ... but to be so focused and really excited, especially how timely it is.


KK: Yeah.


CJ: So thank you for having me.


KK: Yeah, you got it. I love talking to you, and any chance I get to talk and teach with you has been such a privilege and pleasure.

So I want to hear just a little bit about your point of entry into yoga. We all, I think, have a moment where yoga enters our lives. For some of us, it's through the body. For others of us, it's through something that happens in our lives. Sometimes we're born into a community or family where yoga is central, but I find that that origin story is often really significant in forming who we become as yogis.


CJ: Absolutely.


KK: So I'd love to hear about that for you.


CJ: Yeah, so I am originally from Dayton, Ohio. I was born and raised there, and left to go to school in Atlanta, Georgia to Spelman College, which is a historically Black college for women, right next door to Morehouse College, which Dr. Martin Luther King actually attended.

And so for me, I started my yoga practice at a time when I felt very fragmented in my body. I had just graduated from college, I had actually gone to Teachers College, Columbia University-


KK: Nice.


CJ: ... after I finished my undergraduate studies. And the time I was there was actually during 9/11, so I moved to New York September 1, 2001.


KK: Wow.


CJ: And then 9/11 happened, and so that was my first experience of really being aware of the ways I felt fragmented. I felt very disconnected, I felt scared, I felt confused. I grew up in this kind of small town, it was a city, and then went to the South and then came to this big city, and then this tragedy happened. And so I realized that there was not, there was something that wasn't quite right in my being, in my feelings and how I moved in the world.

And so I decided to leave New York. I thought that I would've been here for the rest of my life, I saw myself in New York. However, I decided after I finished my program to go back to Atlanta and become a school teacher. I've been in the field of education for quite some time, so I decided to start my school teaching there.

And so during that time, I really started to come into connection with issues I had around my body. And so you had this experience of coming from New York, experiencing trauma, then coming back to Atlanta and realizing that this is living inside of my body, because of the ways that it was showing up in my relationships, it was showing up ... And how it had a relationship with the work that I was doing.

And so I heard about this thing called yoga, and I started to read. I picked up my first book, which was a Rodney Yee book.


KK: Oh wow.


CJ: And so he was like my first teacher in many ways. And so I just started to self-teach and explore, and then I decided to go into my first hot yoga class. I'm very intense still, and my yoga practice has certainly evolved in a way that has allowed me to balance a little bit more. But I started going with hot yoga. I only understood yoga at the time from a physically perspective, and I was like, "Oh, I want to get in shape, so I'm going to go to yoga." But I think-


KK: Yeah, I totally relate to that. I think so many of us came into yoga through hot yoga.


CJ: Exactly.


KK: 'Cause it matched the intensity of our culture.


CJ: Exactly, it was certainly the gateway for me into exploring this relationship with my body. Well, things started happening when I looked at myself. My eyes in the mirror, I started to notice the conversations I was having. Not always the most, I guess, healthy for me, in my understanding of what a healthy conversation with myself was.

And so my yoga practice started to take a turn, and I didn't even realize it, 'cause I didn't have a teacher to tell me what was going on. And so during this time, I was also a school teacher. I was an elementary school teacher, and then I was met with another tragedy. My best friend from college, Misty Carter, was murdered. And it was really hard for me to understand again, because I don't think I even paused after the 9/11 experience to reflect on what it did to my life.


KK: Right.


CJ: And then this other tragedy that was deeply intimate happened, and I was working and teaching in this elementary school that was a Title I school. So Title I, the majority of the students' families are below the poverty line. So I'm experiencing this individual trauma on my own with this huge loss, but then also observing the collective trauma that was happening in the families and the lives of the students that I was serving. So I started going deeper into my yoga practice, and then I found a yoga ashram that was super intense, and I found my teacher there. And that's when I really started to see the components of even social justice starting to enter my life, because I then started to reflect on the trauma that I experienced along my lifetime, and how it related to my identity as a Black woman.

And so that is how this journey began, completely physical, and has led me to a space that I never knew was even possible.


KK: Well, and it sounds so unexpected, right?


CJ: Yeah.


KK: The apertures and the openings-


CJ: Absolutely.


KK: ... that sort of break us open to seeing more clearly.


CJ: Yes, yes.


KK: And I hear so much of that in your story.


CJ: Yeah, yeah.


KK: I want to hear a little bit about what you were just mentioning around ... You were saying you were having this personal breakthrough when you lost your best friend, but you were also seeing very clearly a system in place that was reinforcing that, that was not creating the conditions for children to thrive.


CJ: Right, right.


KK: And that was really putting kids, especially in Title I schools, especially kids who are living on the margins, in a one-track path.


CJ: Mm-hmm.


KK: Tell me a little bit about how that started to reveal itself for you, and how the yoga started to seep into that work.


CJ: Yeah, so for me, I began to get really frustrated. I had an experience where I was in this Title I school, but then I had also had an experience where I was in a predominantly white school. The majority of the parents were upper middle class in an Atlanta suburb, and so my experiences were vastly different, where I started to get angry and frustrated as to why these students had access to certain resources, and the other students didn't.


KK: Right, of course. And that's a story playing out all over the country.


CJ: Absolutely, and so it started to show up into my yoga practice as well, when I would go to yoga studios, or when I would go and seek out yoga magazines to find, well, who else is practicing yoga, 'cause I wanted to ... My heart was on fire with it. And what I noticed was that the people who looked like me were not present, but I knew that we existed, because they were there in spaces and community centers and basements of churches. They were in spaces that we had to create as a space of refuge, to really reclaim the voices that had been silenced as Black, in the context of the United States, as Black Americans.

So for me, I was hypervigilant and aware of my image, my voice, not being included. So it was deeply related to what I was experiencing in the classroom, and being in an under-resourced public school, and then going into spaces of yoga, which are supposed to-


KK: Which are indulgent.


CJ: Right, right, which are supposed to be healing, and I'm supposed to feel great, but I could not separate what I was experiencing in the world and how it started to show up in my yoga classes.


KK: Yeah, and I love what you were just saying about how these healing spaces have really always existed for people of color. They've just forged new paths and new structures and new spaces to find collective healing.


CJ: Right.


KK: And how those spaces are really segregated.


CJ: Right.


KK: In our country, but specifically in wellness.


CJ: Right, right, absolutely. And for me, when I started practicing, I also started my blog, Chelsea Loves Yoga, as you mentioned earlier. And that was really for me. It was the most selfish act of trying to start a system that would support my practice, because I would open up a magazine and I would say, "But I know that we're here. I know that teachers like Maya Breuer exist.


KK: Yeah.


CJ: I know that teachers like Dr. Gail Parker exist. Jana Long. But I did not see their stories being shared, and so I started Chelsea Loves Yoga, and the yogi in the community segment, simply to interview people of color who have used this practice as a tool, not even just for healing but for social change. And that's when I started to have some major "aha!" moments.


KK: Yeah, yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about that, the ways in which our yoga spaces are changing. And I want to read something from Octavia Raheem, who is a friend of yours. She's in Atlanta, yes?


CJ: Yeah, she's in Atlanta, and actually the co-director of Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for teen girls.


KK: Nice. And I didn't even know that. I think I just stumbled upon her on your Facebook feed, and now I can't get enough of her. But I want to read an excerpt from The Future of Yoga, which was featured in Yoga Journal that I think speaks to how our spaces are evolving right now. It says the following: "We are being called to practice advanced yoga on and off our mat right now, and forward. It can be profoundly uncomfortable and will likely put some at odds with old narratives and environments that have gone unquestioned and unchallenged too long. We will ask the questions, 'Who is missing from my class or studio? Who is missing from my experience? Who holds the seat of the teacher? Who is not on this conference roster? Who is missing from this festival, who is missing from this publication? Why? What within me hasn't missed the other until now? What am I afraid to notice?'"

And this really hit me, because as a white woman, I have always had the privilege to move in spaces where I have been a part of the dominant culture, and wellness is certainly one of those spaces. But I feel that something is amiss, and I feel like I have become more aware of it through my relationships with people like you. And through exposing myself and expanding my exposure to the teachers of color that you even mentioned – Gail Parker, Reverend angel Kyodo Williams – and really learning, I think, so much more than I would have, had I stayed in my bubble.

And so I want to hear a little bit about your perspective on this, and what you think the yoga community has to do to live up to the promise that we often say within yoga of oneness – we are all one, we hear that all the time – and the unity that is inherent to yoga.


CJ: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, yes to everything Octavia said. She's a brilliant trailblazer, not just within the Atlanta community, but across the globe, I feel like, in many ways. The ways that she can really harness the experiences that we go through and use it as a way to reach so many different communities in a fierce, very fierce energy-


KK: "Fierce" is the right word.


CJ: Yes! So I just needed to pause just to say yes, and take that all in, and for me, when I started the practice, as I mentioned, it was very frustrating, because I kept hearing this narrative of, we were all one. And that wasn't necessarily my experience. I did not feel included all of the time.


KK: That's right.


CJ: I did not feel seen, heard, or valued when I would step into spaces. I think there's a lot of assumptions made that our yoga practice or a yoga studio is just a space of refuge, and that everyone who goes in here is going to have a great time, and they're going to find peace. Or the only thing that you have to be concerned about is your physical body, and that's not the case for everyone. As a woman of color, as a Black woman in the United States, I have to be very deliberate about the way that I move. That is not a privilege I have, to not think about, well, can I go into this certain area of town with this body that I live in, and people not make assumptions about who I am? Or, can I go into this space? Do I not have access to certain people's ears because of who I am?

And so I think for yoga, that this is a space where these assumptions are carried out as well. A lot of times you'll see that yoga spaces can actually perpetuate the injustices and inequity that we see in society.


KK: Absolutely.


CJ: And what makes it the most frustrating is that you can walk away thinking that you are unclear about what's going on, or perhaps you're overreacting as a person of color, because everyone else seems so very happy about this practice, right?


KK: So cheery, yeah. Look on the bright side.


CJ: Exactly. And it's all about what you think.


KK: Go to the light.


CJ: And you can change, and for me, that is not my reality. That is not the reality, and I even acknowledge the privilege that I have now as I move through different spaces and have been invited entry and access, and also know that that is not the reality for everyone else. And I still experience the spaces where the door is closed in my face.

And so when I think about yoga and I think about this embodied practice that does not remove, the oneness for me is that. And I always go back to what Seane Corn reminds us of, that it pushes back on any illusion of separation.


KK: That's right.


CJ: And so we cannot think that when we step into the yoga studio that all of our issues around exclusion and oppression and privilege and power will just go away for our hour and 15 minute class. Actually, it gets even larger of an issue if it's not addressed.


KK: Yeah.


CJ: And so for me, I think the yoga-


KK: Like the shadow.


CJ: Exactly. And so yoga, yoga teachers, yoga practitioners who have been able to tap into the mind and body connection, we are in a very unique space that we can actually impact the ways that people process injustice. And because our practice is so focused on being in tune, being aware, having integrity within our body, being honest, practicing ahimsa, practicing satya, practicing all of these things, that hopefully are really what yoga's all about ... If we actually applied all of those principles, if you think about the yamas and the niyamas, if we apply those principles to what we're seeing in today's society-


KK: It would look very different.


CJ: It would be very different.


KK: Yeah, that's right.


CJ: And so I think that that is the task that we're met with. The more understanding, the more knowledge that we get through this sacred practice, the more responsibility that we have to pass it along in that way.


KK: And I really appreciate that context, and I ask this question all the time of my community. How are we not in alignment with the principles that we teach? And that's not to say that we need to be perfect, but how do we lovingly hold one another accountable to more fully embodying those principles?


CJ: Right, right.


KK: And as a white teacher, one of the things that I have come to learn is that my experience of yoga, my experience of being alive, my experience of community, my experience of truth, is just so limited when I don't include the whole of who we are.


CJ: Right.


KK: So I think in those spaces where there's an illusion of bliss and joy and enlightenment, where people ... Instead of embracing the pain and the complexity and the messiness of who we are, sort of go around it, or go above it, I really don't think they're actually experiencing the full essence and depth of who we are.


CJ: Absolutely.


KK: And that makes me angry, and it makes me sad. It makes me sad.


CJ: Mm-hmm.


KK: You, I know, this past weekend, had the privilege of speaking at Riverside Church, the great Riverside Church.


CJ: Yes.


KK: At an event called Breaking the Silence: Beyond the Dream. And I believe you spoke. Who were some of the speakers that were there, that you were in the company of, just to name a few?


CJ: Yeah, I couldn't believe it, honestly, Kerri. And I can't believe it, because I'm stepping more and more, walking, knowing that this practice is real, and so what I'm experiencing is real, so-


KK: And just roll with it, because your practice is evolving.


CJ: Yes, yes.


KK: I mean, if your yoga practice takes you to Riverside Church, keep going.


CJ: Right, right, right. So I was in the company of Reverend Al Sharpton, as well as Soledad O'Brien. Forest Whitaker actually said the words that Martin Luther King said 50 years ago in that same space, using the same podium that Dr. King used. There was the Howard University gospel choir, who had a tremendous, beautiful showing of just, through the words and through that soulful expression of, just the Black church in general, who has been very much a pioneer in social justice-


KK: That's right.


CJ: ... throughout so many different communities. So just having all those different elements there. There were a lot of youth performers there, performances. There were a lot of people. Nelson Mandela's grandson spoke.


KK: Oh wow.


CJ: And so for me to be ... I'm getting chills thinking about it right now.


KK: I am too.


CJ: So for me to be there was quite full circle. One, because it was just down the street from Teachers College, where I was studying international educational development, where I'm like, I'm doing that now. It was full circle to be associated with something that had to do with Martin Luther King as a Spelman graduate, and he went to Morehouse. It was full circle to have some of the young ladies, the young girls, at Bronx Elementary School Girls Prep, Bronx Elementary School, there, because they practice yoga daily at their school. So all of it was just an experience that will live in my heart forever, and actually gave me the fuel to go out into the world again and continue to ruffle some feathers.


KK: When we were together the next day, and I remember feeling the energy of that day just off of you, you mentioned some quotes from that speech, that famous speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave. "Beyond Vietnam: Breaking the Silence", I think it was called. And one of those lines was, "There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal," that I think really speaks to the theme that we're talking about.


CJ: Absolutely.


KK: And there was another quote that you had mentioned that really hit me.


CJ: Right, and it works directly with breaking the silence, and Dr. Martin Luther King, during the time of this speech, he was even reflecting on his position of his platforms, where he has the ability for his voice to be heard. And he said, "Well, it's time now. By breaking the silence, I move to really share the burnings of my own heart." And really to speak about the injustices that are happening locally, across the world. And so for me, the other thing that stood out for me that Dr. King said was that a lot of times when a dreadful conflict comes about, or we're at war, or we have social injustices that are pervasive across continents, really, we're always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.


KK: Mm-hmm.


CJ: And for me, this is where yoga becomes this tool that we can use as a tool for social justice, connection, being understood, seeking understanding. All of these things that my practice has been for me on an individual basis. Now it's time for us to do this, the work that we do with each other and communities.


KK: And it sounds like even Dr. King was speaking to his own practice.


CJ: Right.


KK: Of, I need to hold myself accountable to break my own silence.


CJ: Right, right.


KK: And I think we're all feeling that. It's incredible to me how timely this speech is-


CJ: Absolutely.


KK: ... for these times in particular. But I'm just thinking, in the wake of Charlottesville and the nonstop killing of Black and brown bodies by law enforcement, Dreamers potentially getting deported, healthcare, literally in this particular moment, trying to get ripped from the hands of so many Americans, leaving us really vulnerable ... I think my question is, what is the message of this speech in the context of our practice? What does our practice ... 'cause I really heard that in his speech, that he was in his own practice, and it is ongoing. But as we face these uncertainties, as we face constant suffering, as we have to grapple with the inequities that ... the real wellbeing gap that exists in our society, and how we move in the world is really different.


CJ: Right.


KK: We may be one as humans, but we are having a really different experience of being on the planet, based on the color of our skin or our religion or our sexual orientation and so on and so forth.


CJ: Right, right.


KK: So what do you think? What do you think is the role of practice as we lean into these very overwhelming things that are in front of us?


CJ: Yeah. It's so tricky, yoga as a practice right now can be really tricky, 'cause it's really, for me, has been a way, as I mentioned, a solace. And so you mentioned it, Kerri, as far as you have to work not to stay in your bubble, because you leave a yoga class, and you're like, "I feel great now, and I don't want anything to take this feeling away, so I'm not going to turn on the TV. I'm not going to watch the news. I'm not going to look at the newspaper." But for so many people, myself included, that's not my reality-


KK: That can't be.


CJ: ... and I don't have that convenience, right?


KK: Right, right.


CJ: Yeah, and so-


KK: You don't get to turn it off.


CJ: No, I don't get to.


KK: You live it.


CJ: I don't get to, and that's where these courageous conversations, this courageous, radical practice of yoga has to be put to task. It has to be put, now, to work. Now, this is when the yoga practice actually starts.


KK: That's right. This isn't for [crosstalk 00:24:26].


CJ: Yes, us getting in tune with our bodies, our breath, all of this is for this moment of connection, of speaking up for those who have been silenced, especially when it's super scary. When you mentioned Charlottesville, that was a very scary time. A time where people of color who were under attack, we need support right now because a lot of times, we are on the front lines, advocating for ourselves. I am grateful to be in partnership with allies and friendships like you, Kerri, like CTZNWell, like Off the Mat Into the World, like all of these different spaces that see the value and the worth in having allyship.

And I think that in these spaces, where we combine and integrate a physical yoga practice and have these courageous discussions, that's when we're going to start to see us making a lot more ground and a lot more movement when we continue to use the two together and not in isolation – when we continue to use the two together and not in isolation. Because we sometimes use our yoga practice and meditation in isolation, and again, I don't even want to go back and turn on the TV or look at my Facebook feed, because I'm just like, "Oh my gosh, another Black man was killed. Oh no, another hate crime has happened against a person who has immigrated to this country."

So these are the things that we have to be mindful of, that we don't get caught up in using our yoga practice as a way to disconnect, but as a way to fuel ourselves for courage in order to make these really hard and radical connections, and open our awareness.


KK: And I love that you say that, because I'm a doer and I'm addicted to action, and I'm all for the words of Dr. King when he said we need to move beyond uncertainty. I know that for myself, I feel that for our community. We need to move beyond the words and the intentions and pay more mind to impact and action.


CJ: Right, right.


KK: And I know recently you spoke as a part of that Future of Yoga conversation, and so I sort of ... I kind of want to end here. What does that movement towards action look like for us? What are some ... And I feel like it can happen along a spectrum. There are the radical conversations that we can have that change ourselves and one another, and there are things that we can be doing at a studio level that change the face of what practice looks like, and that allows people to feel more included. And then there are certainly the things that we can be doing on the street, the things that we can be doing politically.

And so what do you think, where are the pathways for us as yogis, as spiritual practitioners, as allies, as communities, to move beyond?


CJ: Yeah, for me, personal experience of an example for what it looks like to be an ally or to be in support of ... I was involved in a conference, and a very well-known yoga teacher had the opportunity to deliver the keynote, and she chose not to deliver the keynote unless I was invited to do so as well, because I am a woman of color and because it was a conference that was focused on inclusivity, body awareness, body image. And to have only this face of a white woman who looks very ... The normalized image that we see representing yoga.


KK: On every magazine cover.


CJ: On every magazine cover.


KK: In every advertisement.


CJ: Exactly. There's small steps that are starting to move, but we still have a lot of work to do. And so what it looks like is saying that going to major festivals and not seeing the presence of any people of color, or a variety of body types being in the seat of teacher, and all of these different ways that we understand yoga to be practiced, those are the questions that we have to ask.

So on this particular conference, I was invited to be on this platform. And on a certain magazine cover, I was on the cover of Yoga Journal Magazine in 2015 and 2017. To have that door open, I use it as an opportunity to talk about inequity. I use it as an opportunity to allow the entrance of voices that have been silenced. What it looks like for people on a local level in your own yoga community is to go back to what Octavia Raheem questioned in the Future of Yoga and that article. Who is not here? And whose voice is missing? And are we okay with this? And if you're not okay with it, what can you do and how can your yoga practice feed into you making this more known to your local communities, that you've heard of a yoga teacher who you would love to bring into your community to share. Or perhaps you go to a yoga class that is led by a person of color.

A lot of times, Kerri, what's funny to me is that when I go to a yoga class, most times, I'm the only Black woman. Most times. There may be a few. I've taken yoga across the country and even outside of the country, and for me, that's normal. But if a white person were to go into a Black-led yoga class, and there's a majority of Black students in there, then you're going to a Black yoga class. So it's like-


KK: Not just a yoga class.


CJ: Right, it's not just a yoga class. But because people of color or African Americans are now the majority in numbers, it is very obvious, right? And so now you see this shift.


KK: Well, it's that we see color, often, before we see whiteness.


CJ: Right, exactly.


KK: As a part of the dominant culture, it gets to be invisible.


CJ: Exactly. So my hope is that the future of yoga will begin to reimagine what a normal yoga class looks like. I don't think that white is the normal way that it should be understood, and if it's majority people of color, then it's a people of color class. So I think we need to reimagine who, where, why. All of these things when we're going into these spaces that are saying to be grounded, and intentionally working to practice oneness.


KK: Yeah. By rebuilding new structures.


CJ: Right.


KK: And I really love this as a call to action. I really appreciate what you were saying about, you're in a constant contemplation about, how do I use my resources and my platform, whether I'm on the cover of Yoga Journal ... And I can imagine that's quite a burden for you at times.


CJ: It's hard. It's hard.


KK: But I really want to say this, especially to white allies within spiritual spaces, who have influence, who are part of a dominant culture. What are the ways we can disrupt old narratives, old systems, old structures? So as to not just reimagine, but to rebuild. What does it look like to rebuild?


CJ: Right.


KK: And I think there were some great ... You gave some really, really great, tangible examples. And I think we need to challenge ourselves and one another to do better.


CJ: Mm-hmm.


KK: Because we can't just lean back and wait for some people to do the work for us, and hope that it's going to get better, and someday we'll get to oneness. It's going to take us to move beyond uncertainty-


CJ: Right, right.


KK: ... and to do the hard thing and to break the old structures down, and build up ones that really have the capacity to hold everyone.


CJ: Right, right.


KK: And so I love that.


CJ: And for me, Kerri, if I can just say this ... I always like to bring it back to our yoga practice, and thinking about the first time we stepped onto the mat. And for me, it wasn't the easiest thing to do. It was scary, it was vulnerable, it was messy in many ways, because things started coming up that I didn't even know existed. And I think if we return to that first time ... So all the yogis who are listening out there right now, think about that first time you stepped onto the mat.


KK: That awkward, uncertain beginning.


CJ: Awkward, uncertain, scary.


KK: That's right.


CJ: I got angry at the teacher because I heard things that didn't resonate with me. And so it's the same practice.


KK: It's the same practice.


CJ: And we have to remember that. And it didn't happen overnight, and we had to be deliberate, intentional. We had to make room for it. And so I think that, I know that if we apply those same principles to the ways that we are in the world with each other, and our advocacy for justice and equity for all, then it'll be a lot less daunting.


KK: I think that's a perfect ending for this conversation. Mic drop. Chelsea, I love you. Thank you.


CJ: I love you, Kerri. Thank you.


KK: Please keep doing what you're doing, and keep calling this community up, and keep challenging me and all of us to do better, because I can feel that things are shifting when I'm in spaces with you in particular.


CJ: Thank you.


KK: And I do think that there is a future to this practice and to our community. So thank you for being a trailblazer in that.


CJ: Thank you, Kerri.


KK: Thanks for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLread at

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007 Jamia Wilson

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Kerri Kelly: Hello, Jamia Wilson!


Jamia Wilson: Hi!


KK: It's so amazing to have you.


JW: Thank you for having me, I'm excited. I've been really looking forward to it.


KK: I know, we've been talking about this for a long time.


JW: Yes.


KK: But I feel like every time I talk to you, it's like we're on a podcast. Like, it's that juicy. So I feel like we've been practiced many times before.

Okay, the first thing I want to ask about, this is really important, is ... I understand that you really like trashy TV.


JW: I do. Oh my goodness, I love reality TV. I love Sister Wives, I love Seeking Sister Wives. I love 90 Day Fiance, which is the worst-best thing ever to happen in the world.


KK: I don't even-


JW: It says so much about humanity.


KK: I've never even heard of these shows.


JW: You really want to protect your brain, probably.


KK: Netflix?


JW: (laughs) Yes.


KK: You're like, I don't want to want to do this to you.


JW: Oh, I actually pay to download them from iTunes. It's really ... It's a habit. I could be saving that money and putting it into my 401(k) or something like that.


KK: That's not as much fun. Like, what could I be doing with the money that I throw away to distract myself from reality?


JW: And I get really invested in these people's relationships, like Married at First Sight. That show is wild. Who gets married at first sight?


KK: Does it make you feel better about yourself?


JW: Oh yes.


KK: Okay. (laughs)


JW: Oh, all my wildly past inappropriate relationship choices ... I mean, just saying that in case my husband hears this podcast. "Past" is the operative word, Travis, hey, what's up? But I just ... There are people in this world who ... It is not their cultural inclination to marry people at first sight, but signed up for a reality TV show to get married at first sight. Tinder has gotten people to that point, so that fascinates me. And then I live vicariously through them and thinking, "I am that crazy." I'm just so glad I missed the boat.


KK: We're not alone. I'm not alone.


JW: Yes, and I'm not alone! (laughs) 'Cause I totally would do something like that if I already hadn't found my person. I would be that person who would say, "What? Oh, I believe in fairy tales. Let's try it."


KK: And these are really courageous people who not only are doing things like what we did, but are courageous enough to do them in front of everyone.


JW: It's so true, and at 24/7, when I see this one woman who's on it now, and she's this Black woman and I see myself in her in so many ways, and just the way she walks around in her sweatpants and with her headwrap on and everything, just is a celebration.


KK: Yeah, that's right.


JW: In front of the world.


KK: I aspire.


JW: Exactly! (laughs)


KK: Okay, so I was on your website today, and your website starts off with, "Jamia is many things," which I love and totally relate to. But you are an activist, a feminist, a storyteller, a media maker. And it also says that you're a thought leader. And I've used that term a million times, and I've called people "thought leaders", but then I was like, what does it mean to be a thought leader? So what does that mean to you to be a thought leader in this day and age?


JW: Thank you so much. So that bio came from my speakers bureau, FRESH Speakers, and when they wrote it about me, I felt so honored, but also so seen and heard, because I think what they were really saying is that I dare to speak truth to power. I'm someone who will see things or intuit things, and dare to say them before they might be popular, or dare to say them before there's a consensus, if that's the direction we should go.

And when I think of the archetypes that I have really connected to in my life and in my spirituality, et cetera, they have been people who weren't always liked. Joan of Arc, for example, or Cassandra, or other kinds of archetypes. Mainly women ones -- interesting, too, that I'm now making that connection -- who have always just had a vision of a different possibility than where we are now and talked a lot about it, and people had various reactions to them talking about it.


KK: Yeah.


JW: And I have a therapist who I've recently started seeing after not going to therapy for years, and she said to me early on, "You're a truth teller, and that means that people are either going to love you or hate you. Did you know that?" And it just really made me laugh because-


KK: Yikes.


JW: ... I feel that that's been an experience I've had since I was a very young child, and I think that I learned as I was starting to drive my career toward activism and media work to really focus on my strengths, but also to recognize, oh, this is just so integral to who I am, I can't not speak my truth. Otherwise I feel like I'm dying, and that's ... It's just something I finally figured out how to make a part of my work.


KK: I love that. And the other thing I really appreciate about you, and I feel like you and I get into this a lot when we meet, is that you have this way of holding the complexity of issues. You can read between the lines, you see the spaces in between and around issues, that are non-binary, that are filled with gray matter and uncertainty and messiness. And you speak about that really well.


JW: Thank you, thank you so much, 'cause I feel sometimes that people don't like to live in the gray, and I think that makes sense, because we live, like you said, in a culture where there's a lot of polarity-


KK: That's right.


JW: ... and binary, and people don't like the nuance. And I even thought about it today, someone was saying something to me, and I was talking about an experience I'd had with someone and a point that had been brought up. And she said, "Oh, but just focus on the one part that says this," and I had a little breath that I took back in because I thought, "Oh, but that's not the whole truth of what was said."

And so although I recognize in the way that that person communicates, that she felt, "Oh, you just need to say this one thing, because that's going to get us the result," but to me, I thought, "Oh, but if we leave out the accent," so to speak-


KK: Yeah.


JW: ... that's there, the meaning of what occurred and the meaning of what is going to come out of this truth, is different. And so that's a thing that I always go back and forth around, how I navigate and negotiate this. That sometimes I think the gray is inconvenient-


KK: Yeah.


JW: ... and that's why people like us struggle in certain spaces, because especially math, for me, was really hard, when I was studying less complex maths, for example, because there was a right or wrong answer, and I've always kind of wanted to know more, what's the beyond? What's the sideways? What's the outside the line? That's what I'm most interested in.


KK: The in-between.


JW: Yes.


KK: Well, we're often debating in this country about freedom of speech. And like you, there are so many people right now finding their voice and speaking truth to power. So that's becoming popular and mainstream, and I think my question is around ... Do you think there's a practice to speaking truth, or do you think it's just okay for everyone to be speaking truth? Like, is there a skill or a muscle that you had to develop around how to speak truth in the most productive way?


JW: Such a good question. I think we are taught to lie about our lives, and we're taught to lie about how we feel, even in terms of how we are conditioned to answer the question, "How are you?"


KK: Right.


JW: In this culture, specifically.


KK: "Oh, I'm fine."


JW: Exactly. No one tells you when you're learning these thing, or when you're even learning another language, no one tells you in your first French class, and they teach you, "Ça va bien," they're never telling you how to say, "I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I'm drained. I'm feeling crap today."


KK: "I don't know."


JW: Exactly.


KK: "I don't know how the fuck I feel right now."


JW: Exactly. "I need help." Those things aren't what we're taught, that those things we're taught go beyond the pleasantries that ... We're not supposed to talk about the unpleasantness. We're supposed to just power through and suppress and repress. So I think about that a lot, in terms of how I want to embody truth, and also those times when I forgive myself for not leaning 100% into it, when I say I'm fine and I'm not fine.


KK: Right, right.


JW: Because we are conditioned to do that.


KK: Or when we edit or contort ourselves-


JW: Yes.


KK: ... or our words to take care of other people. Like, how limiting that is, not just for ourselves but for the experience that other people should be having of our truth.


JW: That's true.


KK: Whether they like it or not.


JW: And it's so powerful when we do tell the truth, because ... I was thinking about a meeting I had been in once where we were talking about race, and a space where I was the only person of color. And it was right after the election, and people were having all sorts of uncomfortable conversations, and I said some things that made people really prickly, because they were uncomfortable with me speaking my truth. And one person said, "Okay, well, we just have to get back to business, because that was really strong language, and we can't talk about this," and this other person said, "Are you okay?" And I said, "No, I'm not okay." Like that. And you could've cut the tension in that room with a knife.

And I said, "I'm not okay, but I see that he wants to continue with the business, so let's move on." And then it kind of came back to a thing where other people said, "Oh, we really need to talk about it," but it freaked people out. And just to watch the way that ... It's almost like when you watch animals scattering before a storm.


KK: Yeah.


JW: The way that people did that when I just said, "No, I'm not okay, but we can move on since you clearly don't care." And it freaked people out.


KK: If we can't tolerate our own discomfort, we can't tolerate anyone else's discomfort.


JW: That's so true.


KK: So it's like, the depth to which we can go within ourselves is probably analogous to the depth that we can go in for other people. So I love that you stand for speaking the guts, and not just the good stuff but the tough stuff. The deeper that we're willing to go within ourselves, in our own ability not just to speak the truth, but to know it, I think, is analogous to what we can hold for other people.

And it feels like this is a time where we need to be able to hold that for other people too. When I think about the other people in that room with you, you deserve to be heard, even in your most uncomfortable, sharp ... Like you said, you'd cut the air, like a knife. Like, that too deserves to be felt, because that's your human experience.


JW: And I really believe that sickness, having had autoimmune diseases and things like that, comes from repression. That there's all these biological reasons, but for me, I realized that there's a physiological experience that I have when I can't speak my truth.


KK: That's right.


JW: And so I have to be protective of that. And it's interesting, because in my attempts to try to practice suspending my first judgment when people have those sorts of reactions, I've learned that sometimes when people have time to reflect, they will react differently. So the lesson that you were talking about as well, which is so great, is, "Oh, that person really wasn't necessarily trying to shut me down. It was about shutting down the discomfort they had with the fact that maybe they wouldn't be able to speak their truth, or that they didn't want to deal with having to get into the intimacy of that conversation," and that person happened to be a cisgender male. So I was thinking, "Oh, he probably doesn't even want to talk about what he sees as 'feelings', or these sorts of things, because it's going to dismantle what he has learned about how he has to perform masculinity."

And it was just really interesting, because we later had a conversation when I cooled off, and he brought up again, "Oh, you sometimes have a really strong way of saying things. Now I know why people say what they say about you," kind of said it in that way. And it was almost wagging a finger, and I just listened, and then he said, "But you know, me being in the position that I'm in in society, as a wealthier, older white man," he said, "I am worried about social disorder, and I can just tell that you're eating it up. And it makes me uncomfortable because social disorder means that people are coming for me."

And so it was interesting that this moment that I see as people getting a more even distribution of resources and speaking truth and unleashing burden that's been weighing them down, he sees as a potential onslaught of harm or things being taken away that can never be replenished. And that was really interesting, that I had a level of compassion for thinking, "Okay, that's why a fear response would happen, if somebody saw the world in that way."


KK: And that feels so, also, important to the practice of speaking truth and being in relationship. It's like, how do we hold equal parts, unapologetically speaking truth no matter how it impacts other people, and of course, we want to be responsible for that too. But also having compassion for the way in which it lands.


JW: Yes.


KK: Like, how do we find that dance between, "I have to get this truth out of my system or it will become sickness and disease," and, "How do I hold the experience of the other in relationship, in authentic relationship?"


JW: It's true, and I think about that relationship, because this is a person who has had my back many times that I've developed relationship with, but is someone I would've never imagined that, over the years, we would have built a strong relationship, or that I would also be someone who is actually able to communicate to this person in a way where even though they disagree, they like the logic with which I think. And so that's taught me just a lot about never assuming who our friends might be, because they don't always come in the packages that you might expect.


KK: That's right. So let's talk more about relationship, and I've heard you speak many times about being a feminist. And it's funny, when I think ... I identify as a feminist, but when people ask me about feminism, I often think of you, because you've been so articulate and unwavering in your standing in your full feminism. And the question I have is really around this idea of intersectional feminism, which I know you've talked about a lot, but specifically across racial lines, between white women and Black women. And I say that knowing full well that white women have often fucked shit up, and continue to do it, because that's how we are conditioned. And I say this as a white woman, obviously, who's cisgender and privileged beyond beyond.

And historically, white women have upheld, actively upheld, systems of white supremacy and oppression, and have played a real role in getting us to where we are today. But I'm curious about what it looks like, what feminism looks like across racial lines, what it looks like to be in authentic and healthy relationship, Black women and white women, as we hold up this vision, this bigger vision, that takes care of everyone.


JW: I think it's so important for there to be a real understanding that intersectionality doesn't mean that someone has to sacrifice one or the other cause or identity to be able to be in solidarity with another. And I think that when I come up against a lot of dissonance with white women who sort of say, "You have to choose," or, "You have to say that being a woman causes you more suffering in society," or, "You are choosing to put race before gender because you are somehow affected by Black patriarchy," or all the different sorts of tropes that we've heard about ...


KK: Right.


JW: It often comes from a place of fear that somehow, their notion of feminism and their understanding of what equality means is being threatened by my demand for my full humanity to be seen, which includes my racial background, which includes my immigration status, or includes my ability or disability, and all of those things that affect how I live because of systemic realities.

So what I often like to talk to white women about who are struggling with these issues is to say, "What does it look like when you've been conditioned to center yourself in a narrative, which would then make you think that when someone is attacking a system or a series of behaviors that are upholding a harmful system, that they are attacking you?" And that has been a way that I've successfully achieved getting people to reflect on sometimes those fear-based responses, or responses that are based in the need to dominate or to control the direction of an agenda, to understand, "Oh, wait. Maybe I am enforcing a habit or practice of white supremacy, because I've been conditioned to do that. And maybe someone's naming that, and it doesn't mean they're saying I'm a bad person."


KK: Right.


JW: "Or that I'm not worthy, or that I'm not valid. But they're saying that systems have led me to be conditioned in this way, and right now, I am upholding those systems." And so I do like to reflect that back by talking about the systems and the behaviors, and also clearly expressing to people that it's not about your personhood, but the fact that you're making it about your personhood is something you should interrogate to understand why that is. And I think that I also have made this comparison about when men do that to help people understand why, because as soon as I explain to them an example of a man doing that, then they suddenly understand.


KK: That's right.


JW: But it's different because they can't see themselves as perpetrators when they see themselves as victims.


KK: Oh, that's such a good point. And I think also about how I've come to understand liberation as intrinsically tied to dismantling racism.


JW: Mm-hmm.


KK: Like, my liberation is tied to your liberation, and so for me, I can't be a feminist and not fight to dismantle white supremacy. And I can't be a feminist and not fight transphobia and transaggression. But it took me ... I had to get to a place where I understood the mutuality in all of our places, regardless of our location, as a way to understand my place in the movement and how to best show up in relationship.


JW: And I think that's so important, because I think a lot of times when people are threatened by these sort of intersectional discourses, or that not being in the center of them, that they feel that they will be left behind.


KK: Mm-hmm.


JW: And what I explain as my own realization about the experiences of trans people, that when the most marginalized trans woman of color is free, I'll be free, because if we had the systems and institutions and culture set up that would support that person who is experiencing, in this culture, so many attacks to their personhood, then they will be liberated and they will be covered, and I will be liberated and I will be covered.

So, for example, when I received a hate mail from someone who wanted to be taken off of our subscription list recently because of some appeals we did about supporting immigrant writers and why immigration is a feminist issue, who said, "This has nothing to do with feminism! You are being stupid." And I thought, "Wow, this is really problematic. You are being racist." But one of the things I really thought about and pondered was, "Wow, this person doesn't really realize that when undocumented immigrants in this country have access to all of the social systems, all of the cultural support, and all of the privilege and power that she enjoys, then she will be more free, because when those systems are set up, that means that everybody's covered."

So it was just really interesting for me to think about that in terms of the scarcity mentality, that if we think about resources as being finite, if we think about "domination over" versus "power to collaborate", or to build with other people, we really are creating a more toxic and harmful world for other people, but we're also hurting and damaging ourselves. And so I think about that, and I say when Syrian refugees in this country are free, I'm closer to freedom.


KK: That's right.


JW: And when people who are disabled in this country are closer to freedom, I'm closer to freedom. And it's something that's harder for people to understand sometimes, because they see their own struggles, and they don't understand the interconnectivity. And one example I just wanted to share, because we talked about the trashy TV, is Kody Brown, who's the patriarch on the Sister Wives television show. He was really not happy with the fact that some of his wives went with his newly out queer daughter to the Women's March, and he said, "People are going to think it's political, why are you going? Women have their rights, Blacks have their rights," is what he said. He said all these things, "But we don't have our rights. Why aren't our kids fighting for polygamists to have our rights? Everyone else has their rights, and we don't. And we don't have the right to build our own families." And I just kept thinking, "Wow, I really wish I could teach you about a one-on-one on building coalition, my brother."


KK: Yeah. (laughs)


JW: Because I sympathize with your issue! As long as consenting adults want to form a family together and live in a poly situation, I'm down for it. I would come and march in your march. I think you're patriarchal for other reasons, but if these women consent to wanting to be married with you, and they also want to share the caretaking labor, all power to you. But the fact that you are very erroneously, one, claiming that women have all of our rights when we're not even constitutionally protected because there's no ERA, or that brown people in this country don't experience discrimination anymore just because there are some rights on the books but not others, you're really only seeking your own liberty from a very individualist standpoint, which makes me less inclined to want to build with you, because you're not really trying to create a situation or scenario where all of us are free. You just want your freedoms. And I think that that's really a part of the problem, that it hurt me to see that the women around him, at least in the edit that I saw of the show, didn't challenge him on that.


KK: Yeah.


JW: Because I think that there could be some real learning, that he seemed in despair when some of his children didn't want to march. And I know and understand that despair. wish he would just have that same sort of empathy for us.


KK: Yeah. So these values, and it's almost like worldview, of interdependence and intersectionality, are really central to the Women's March, which ... When I think about what's happening in our country, people really fighting for their rights and no one else's, and then there are people who are fighting for all of our rights, the Women's March has really been a beacon of articulating that vision.

So you just wrote a big portion of Together We Rise, the story of the Women's March, and the first passage that you wrote reads, "The story of the Women's March is a story of legacy and learning. One reason to bear witness to preserve its history, as I have in my interviews with 30 people central to its creation and through the voices of others who attended and observed all over the world, is that lessons in this document can help us continue to show up to work for a better future." And so, what is that legacy and learning that you discovered in that process?


JW: Wow, there were so many gems that came out of that process for me as an organizer, as a feminist, as a writer. I had worked on the 2004 March for Women's Lives, and at that point, it had been the largest mobilization on Washington for women and reproductive justice, et cetera-


KK: So you had history even before this.


JW: I had history before it, and they completely just changed what my vision of what possibility and vision was, and we had had over a year to plan, and they had 10 weeks-


KK: 2 months.


JW: 9 weeks. And it just blew my mind. So they really expanded my scope and vision of what feminism looks like, what movement building looks like, what coalition looks like, what it means to have faith. I think about the Martin Luther King quote about taking that step when you can't see the staircase. They had to do that. In the beginning, people were saying-


KK: There was no staircase.


JW: There was no staircase! Where is your money, where's your structure, where are your backers? There were just problems, problems, problems. And they said, "We see this. This has to happen, damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead." And there were just so many things I learned, that Bob Bland could bring a life into this world during the planning process and be in active labor having a meeting with Tamika Mallory before-


KK: That's feminism, by the way.


JW: This is feminism for you! And be able to make this happen, and then go right back to it. And this is what women can do when they work together. I learned that people who had not been on the same page about the election, some of them Bernie supporters, some of them Hillary supporters, could come together and create this march and put those issues aside.


KK: And people like to talk about all of the drama and the controversy over the coming together of the Women's March, but we never really talk about the resilience that you're naming, that we can have conflict and we can disagree and there can be messiness, because of course, something is being birthed. It's always messy. And yet.


JW: And there was beauty.


KK: Yeah.


JW: It was messy, but beauty too, because of the love that they have for each other. They were really a family, and even where I saw spaces that could've been like, "Oh, sibling rivalry," or different things of humans being human, dissonance ... But there's still this respect that people had, who you knew, okay, maybe these people aren't all best friends now, but they are bonded, and they see a vision and they're working together toward it. And some of them are best friends now, and some of them are family now. That one experience led to the broader movement being built, and I think that's really beautiful.

There were so many things I learned, and I think from a feminist perspective, as someone who had been in this space for a long time, seeing people who hadn't necessarily had feminism at the talk of their talking points all the time being the leaders of this was something that I embraced, because that is one of the reasons why we're able to get so many diverse people to show up, and it was very intersectional. And also, there was a lack of jadedness that was there about certain things, that I think if it had been me, that I'd think, "Oh, well, this is what people are going to say if we put this in the mission statement, and this is who we're going to have to talk to about this to get that." But I felt like having people come forth with a different sort of perspective was fresh and was a great jolt of energy to the movement. And although imperfect like any movement, really valuable and important. And so it was a deep honor to witness that and experience that, and they've made me think about my feminism differently, which has been cool, a cool side effect.


KK: We're often exploring in this podcast what it looks like to show up for one another, and I feel like they've been asking that question for the last 14 months. And that's, I think, not just the "what do we do", but it's like the deep democracy work. How do we show up for each other, why do we show up for each other? When people ask you, and I'm sure you get this question all the time, "What can I do?" What is the first thing that you tell people? Is there a go-to in your theory of change that you really encourage for people?


JW: I think it's really interesting, because I feel that we're in a moment right now where showing up counts. And it always has mattered, but I think it's something that we can do, and we can do it in so many different ways. So showing up means showing up at the rally. We need bodies, we need numbers.


KK: That's right.


JW: We need people.


KK: We need feet on the street.


JW: We need feet on the street, boots on the ground. We need people who are showing, I am here. We need to be able to say in the picture that we had more people than were standing at that inauguration, because other people might say it's fake news. We, more than ever now, in this so-called post-truth world, need to show up. We need to show up for each other and check on each other and create a culture of care in our movements and to say, "How are you doing? I saw that you seemed to be having a tough week," or, "I saw you posted something about a loss on Facebook, and what can I do to help? How can I help care for you?" I think we need to show up and put our money where our talk is.


KK: Yeah.


JW: If we have those resources and we can invest in movements and show up as donors, even if you only have $5 to give that you can spare to your favorite non-profit or to your favorite legal defense fund, for people who are able to show up on the streets, that is exponentially important. And I think about research that I've done around earlier movements, like the anti-lynching movements, and they were doing that. People were showing up by creating plays, showing up by selling buttons, showing up by creating movies and getting them broadcast as public service announcements then. And we have even more technology now that we can do the same thing, and to go to marches, and to create culture. If you're an artist, use your art as your megaphone.


KK: And your books.


JW: Yes, and your books. One of the things I love about being at Feminist Press is that books have the power to create revolutions, and-


KK: Especially your books.


JW: (laughs)


KK: For the record.


JW: Thank you. Thank you. Every day I come in, I feel hugged by the books. The shelves around us, and going into our book room. If I'm having a day that's hard, I'll just think, "Oh, these books exist, and there's a reason people tried to bar my ancestors from reading books, because they knew that books are powerful." There's a reason why the fascist governments in Europe were burning books in World War II. That books are that powerful. There's a reason why there were people trying to burn copies of Teen Vogue because they didn't want teens to get access to comprehensive sexual education, just a couple of months ago.


KK: Deeply political acts.


JW: Yes. Very deeply, and so I think we show up with our strengths. I always say to people, you have something that you were given in this world, a gift. Be it a talent, access to resources, powerful voice, what can you do to use that gift or series of gifts to make change? And so for me, it's power of communication. I can write, I can speak, and I can sometimes move hearts and minds. So that's what I do.


KK: Sometimes.


JW: (laughs)


KK: I debate that.


JW: And sometimes I will passionately try, and I will fail, but I still really mean it earnestly. And I think that comes from having a very deeply religious family and missionary, evangelical tradition. I tell people all the time that that is one of the reasons that I am a feminist, that that tradition taught me how to be okay with spreading the good word and having people shut the door in my face and moving on to the next.


KK: Wow.


JW: That I really believe in redemption, and that people's hearts and minds can change. And so that is an asset for me, as someone who's an activist publisher and as a writer, because I think, "Oh, I actually believe that people can change." I think that if I didn't believe that this work had the ability to shift perspectives, then I'd be wasting my time.


KK: Why would we do it? Yeah.


JW: Yeah, exactly.


KK: I feel like what you're naming that feels interesting to me is that a lot of these things, they're not just authentic, they're easily accessible. What you're describing are things people can do every day that don't take a lot of time, and sometimes I think the reasons people don't show up is because they think it's too hard, or it's going to be too big a lift. But you're like, "No, showing up is every day, it's authentic, it's what we do best." It's our lifestyle, it's how we engage.


JW: Yes, and when you know you showed up ... I put that in the book too, in Together We Rise, that I want to tell my future children that I was there. I want to say I was not complicit. And I put that there because I was thinking about Bob and her child Chloe, who was the March baby, and how Bob will be able to say, "Mommy loved you this much that she did this for you to have a better world."


KK: That's amazing.


JW: Because I had that. My parents were civil rights activists, and my mom was jailed over 20 times, and just for fighting for the right to be free, just for wanting to eat at the same lunch counters as everyone else, and to not have to attend segregated school like she did. And they fought for that, and I've grown up my whole life knowing, "Wow, Mommy loved me so much that she sacrificed to create this new vision for the future for me, even when other people were maligning her. Even when people made it hard for her to do this, or there was backlash."

And I think about that a lot in terms of the showing up piece and why I do it, and when we get yelled at or when we get hate mail, or when all the things happen that can happen, still thinking, "That's not as important as legacy. That's not as important as what we will leave behind for the next generation," and that always inspires me to show up even when it's cold out and I really don't want to go to the rally, or it's snowing, or ... In the Together We Rise book, we talked about people freaking out over the permit.


KK: That's right, I remember that story.


JW: And it was so interesting, because Linda Sarsour has this great part in the book where she said, "Did anyone ask Martin Luther King where his permit was?"


KK: Doubt it.


JW: Doubt it, exactly. And what is it about women congregating in a place where people have to make it a public safety issue to silence our voices? So I think that the showing up part is really important, and showing up for ourselves. Every time I go to these things, I also think, "I'm showing up for me."


KK: Yeah.


JW: I am showing up to say I have righteous indignation and deserve to heard, and I also believe in voting as an example of that showing up. I'm showing up for the people who can't vote, the people who don't have access to vote because they're undocumented or because of their legal status-


KK: Or because they're too young.


JW: Because they're too young.


KK: The future.


JW: Oh my gosh, if only all the kids who are doing the walkouts right now could vote.


KK: We're working on it.


JW: Exactly, yes. I trust them to legislate more than some of the people who are in elected office right now.


KK: That's right.


JW: So I think that showing up is really important, and to show up for ourselves, and that's something we can do in this life.


KK: And what about the Solange syllabus?


JW: (laughs)


KK: When do we pull out the Solange syllabus?


JW: Oh, well, I think there's a Solange syllabus moment for everything, as I love her.


KK: I know.


JW: But yeah, I think what I love about Solange is that when I did interview her for Bust Magazine, she said that she was not someone who had been able, because of the trajectory of her career, to go to college and learn about theory and some of these things in the way that some of us had. So she said that she looked to people like myself and Salamishah Tillet and Brittney Cooper and people like that to hear from us online, what we're writing about as online Black feminists, to inform her theory. And so we did the going to grad school and all these other things to then popularize these kinds of ideas so that other people who might not have been able to do that but were taking up the space in a different, equally important and valid way, different forms of knowledge and creativity, to share it in her way.

And so I love that, because also what she was also saying is that we have some ownership in the Solange syllabus, which I thought was so beautiful and interdependent and collectivist, and the beautiful visionary-ness of Black feminist pragmatism, that she's also giving us a piece of the connectivity and saying, "Yes, you influenced me." And so that, to me, was really beautiful, and what the syllabus is about, and the fact that she was crowdsourcing it.


KK: So cool.


JW: All of it.


KK: And I love that ... How did that feel, that she was looking to you, were you like, "Oh my God"?


JW: Oh, so, I was waiting for the pub date of it, thinking, "Oh, I'm not going to be able to say anything about this for a while." And then Solange dropped it on Twitter, and next thing I know, I'm getting texts from my high school play mates ... Oh, sorry, my preschool play group mates-


KK: So cool.


JW: ... who I knew when I was 3 years old, saying, "Girl, did you know Solange just tweeted about you?"


KK: Amazing.


JW: And thinking, "What?" So she dropped it, she scooped it, and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I can't, I die." But meeting her, it was very similar to the conversation we're having right now, two hearts that just really connected. We were both tearing up, we had so much synergy and just a vision for a better future for our people and our community, for each other. And what she really showed me was, wow, a person can ascend to some pretty powerful places in this world, and the way that they use and distribute that power and access is really the lesson and grace in spirit and in power. And I really got that from her, that she ... She even said, I remember when we sat down and I said, "Oh, I love this restaurant, where are we at?" And she said, "Oh, they have a lot of really wonderful people from Mexico who work her, and I really like that they have people of color laborers who are doing this work who are treated really well at this establishment." And the fact that she was having that level of analysis in terms of who she was thinking about supporting, in terms of being at their business and knowing that that was going to elevate the profile of it-


KK: You were like, "I love you."


JW: ... was just amazing. I love her, that she is walking her full talk, and I have the utmost respect for Solange Knowles.


KK: And then another person that you interviewed for Bust was Auntie Maxine.


JW: Oh my goodness, I love Auntie Max. Yes.


KK: And she said in your interview with her, "First of all, women should try very hard to get in touch with themselves. Who am I, what do I really like, what would I like to do, who are the people I respect and look up to, and what qualities do they have that I can internalize? Build confidence, get in touch with yourself, get grounded, examine yourself, and be who you want to be." What does that look like for you?


JW: Oh my goodness. So I died during this interview in every good way, because Auntie Max is amazing. I felt like if she had the time, which I know she's reclaiming, I would've been like, "Be my life coach! I will pay whatever it takes!" Because this woman knows what she wants, how to get it, and has an unparalleled confidence to very few people that I've seen in the world. She is brilliant and dropped so many gems.

And so when she said that to me, I thought, "Wow, I really aspire to keep living my life in a way where I can be more fearless about leaning into my purpose, trusting my instincts, and understanding that I'm powerful." Understanding my power, and knowing how to channel it. I think my biggest weakness is, one, acknowledging the power, and then figuring out how to channel it as if ...


KK: I relate.


JW: And Meggan Watterson talks about that a little bit, about the Hogwarts, where's the Hogwarts for a spiritual warrior woman? And I think about, yeah, sometimes my Quidditch stick, I discharge it the wrong way and then all hell breaks loose.


KK: Yeah.


JW: But I know, I have a barrier to understanding and knowing my own power, and my partner is a really amazing person. He always says that sometimes, he'll say, "You do not understand your power, woman."


KK: Yeah.


JW: He's like, "It scares me sometimes, but you just need to understand your power." And sometimes I make very awkward mistakes because of it, and so right now, what I'm trying to do-


KK: Because you're navigating it.


JW: I'm navigating it, or I repress it, because I'm taught I'm supposed to shrink. I'm taught I'm supposed to shrink, or people have reactions to me being a woman who holds and knows her power, and then I then repress it, and then I can not be a great person to be around. I was really aggressive with one of his friends recently who has a different political belief than I do, and I still hold fast to the things that I said, but the way that I said them was completely unacceptable, and I was aggressive, domineering, and made this person cry, who's a grown man, who's definitely, I think, maybe almost a couple feet taller than I am. And he was really hurt, and he said, "That was one of the most hurtful things anyone's ever said to me."

And I thought, "Wow, okay, that was me not knowing my power," because I was so overcome with righteous indignation that I just was like, "Oh, hell no," when he started talking. And a year of me not really speaking truth to him about how I was experiencing the things he was saying and the energy and everything, me repressing that, led me to-


KK: Explode.


JW: ... practically levitate, as one of my friends said, who was in the room. She's like, "I actually feared for what was going to go down." So I made him leave the house, 'cause I was just like, oh, I cannot. And so for me, it really helped me realize, okay, yes, understand your power, because that was not my best self.


KK: Yeah. Well, I think about ... I relate, by the way. I have never been called domineering-


JW: Only the best of us.


KK: ... or bossy or ... No, I relate, and I think about what we need to do to take care of ourselves, to take care of our truth, we ... As people like us, maybe, or we as women, right? What is the way in which we need to cultivate and channel that power as we start to rise up together? And I'm just curious as to what do you do to take care of yourself, and what are you doing to build community around that?


JW: Thank you so much for asking. So I actually got back into therapy, which I hadn't done for years, even though I'd been going through a lot of things. Just, people in my family having gotten sick and other things, just a lot of transitions. I hadn't done it, and I thought, "Wow, you need to invest in therapy, because if you had been able to manage your experience of this person and the things that they were saying, you wouldn't have expended powerful energy that you could've put in the service of your vision in the world." And that was really an important thing for me, and then I did a breathwork session with a friend, Kathleen Booker, the Jedi of Calm, who did breath work with me and really, during the breathwork ... 'Cause she does a lot of work, and I know in this space, I can talk about it ... She does a lot of work of connecting with your ancestors and the people who are present when you're doing these meditations, and she said, "Oh, you're someone every time who has a lot of folks in the room. You have a lot of ancestors who come with you. And they all are saying it does not have to be that hard."


KK: Mm.


JW: And it was really, it just overcame me because that's something I just have felt, that I have been conditioned to believe, oh, it has to be hard, so I've always gotta come 150%. You need to know my force. Crystal sword is always the way that I say, like I'm charging with my crystal sword.

And sometimes, I don't need that. I think sometimes, I remember an ex of mine, when we broke up and finally got to talk, 'cause of course, knowing now my personality profile, in the moment, I was like, "Oh, I cannot believe you. Out of my house!" And when this happened, we talked later and he was talking about the power, and I think I said some things that were just about ... To let him know that you will not overcome me, you will not defy me kind of thing. And he said, "Oh, I don't think you understand the power that you can hold and the power you can hold over other people." He said, "You really needed to make clear to me that I was not going to penetrate your being, and I knew that within five minutes of knowing you."


KK: Wow.


JW: But there was something deep inside, my inner 8th grader, whatever insecurities and the systemic inequalities and all those things that felt like I needed him to know, 'cause I think his thing was ... He said, "Oh, you didn't cry. And this was really hard, and the fact that you didn't cry ..." And I said, "Yeah, I worked with every fiber of my being to let you know that I was irrepressibly impenetrable." But of course I went home and fell apart, and so I think that that is the thing that I'm really exploring right now, around how we can hold all of those facets of ourselves and be proud of them. What is it about me having fears about the vulnerability, and what might happen if people were to see me fall apart, versus me being like, "Oh, you harmed me? Here's my crystal sword."


KK: Well, this is what I love that's rising up around Sisterhood.


JW: Yes.


KK: That we come together and we can be that. We can reveal those parts of ourselves together in ritual, in practice, in storytelling, in hysterical laughter, in drinking wine and whatever, eat gluten free pizza.


JW: Yes!


KK: But that there is something, I feel like, that I get to turn to in Sisterhood and in small circles of women who are just coming together and putting it all on the table for one another so that we don't have to do this alone. It's sort of like the real time analogy of your trashy TV.


JW: Yes! I love that, I love it.


KK: We're coming full circle in the conversation, but we're not alone, and when we come together and we can feel belonging in this really human ... In between trying to figure out how to be our full selves way of being in the world, then maybe we can get all the way together.


JW: I totally agree. that's where I get so much of my energy, and I have groups of women who I've grown up with at different times in my life who I just text with sometimes. We're just rapidly texting all the time about our experiences. And some people, it's dating. Some of us, it's family things. Some of us, it's work things. And I can constantly tap into that energy no matter where I am, and I realized, "Oh, I need to know I'm not alone and that they're going through these same things, or they went through them and so now they're helping me, nurture me." Or helping me think about, "Oh, if this happened to her," the experience I'm having now, "what would I tell her?"

And I think that those relationships are really important, and that's why I am really grateful that my mom had always imparted upon me to remember that as I started dating or having relationships, that my relationships with other women were things that I needed to really cultivate even more, because those would be the people who would be with you throughout your life as your sisters, especially since I don't have any biological siblings.


KK: For the long haul.


JW: Yes, exactly. Through Golden Girls, another show that I love!


KK: Oh my God, I hope that we're going to be Golden Girls together, way down the line.


JW: I love it.


KK: And we're going to, like, "Remember that podcast we did?"


JW: Oh, well, we're going to have our own feminist retirement home. That's something I would love to get funded. I've always been like, "When are you going to have a feminist retirement home? You could teach the yoga." (laughs)


KK: I love it. You can do a journaling class.


JW: I would love it! Yes.


KK: (laughs) Well, I have had such a blast talking to you, and like I said, every time we get to hang out, it's like we're having this conversation. It's just so real and grounded and gritty and necessary, and I'm just so grateful that not just we have you in the movement, but that I get to have you in my life.


JW: Oh, right back at you, love. Thank you so much for having me, and I'm just thrilled about the work you're doing. And you have helped me feel like I can tap back into yoga and movement, because embodiment is something that is a struggle for me sometimes, and I started leaving some of the classes feeling like I couldn't connect, for all the reasons I know that you work to dismantle. But you're one of the people who's inspired me to start going back to yoga and being in my body, and I'm really grateful for that too.


KK: We need each other.


JW: We do.




006 Paola Mendoza

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Kerri Kelly: Hey everybody, my name is Kerri Kelly, and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast, where we are reimagining citizenship and exploring how we show up for the wellbeing of everyone.

What does it mean to be a woke household? Well, that's what we're talking about today with Paola Mendoza. In this conversation, we will explore the art of activism and the creative ways we can open the heart of America and resist with joy.


Paola Mendoza: So we put out a call on Facebook to professional musicians, most of them, and said, "Hey, we want to get together and sing in community. Come join us." The first rehearsal, 30 women showed up, and it was so special and so beautiful, and everyone felt healed and empowered, and everyone was like, "This is amazing." Next week we had another rehearsal, and a different 60 women showed up. And we were like, "Wow. Okay. Something's happening, and it's joyful."

And we also talked politics and joy, and politics and joy, and both of those things again can exist in the same world and in the same moment when you can be laughing, and then you can be talking about organizing around DACA. And I think it's because people realize, like you, they want joy in their life. They need joy in their life.


KK: Paola Mendoza. Filmmaker, author, mother, and Resistor, is taking on some of the biggest issues facing humanity, like immigration and poverty and its impact, particularly on women and children. And she believes that artists have a unique and essential role in catalyzing change and opening the heart of America.

In our conversation, Paola talks about our capacity to hold two truths at the same time. And she really embodies that. She is relentless in her resistance to the racist policies of this administration, to defending and protecting the undocumented community, and to fighting for the freedom and wellbeing of women and children. But she is simultaneously passionate in her expression, ecstatic in song and dance, and generous in her love as an organizer and mother. And she shows us that we can be many things at the same time, and we need to.

One of the things that really hit me in this conversation is the essential role of joy in our activism. And I've struggled with this, especially as a white, cisgender, straight person, with lots of privilege points. And my activism has been intense and serious and sacrificial. I didn't give myself permission for joy. I was righteous in my commitment, but I was constantly burned out and tired. I became snarky and cynical, and I forgot how to have fun.

What I learned from Paola, and what I'm starting to practice myself, is that joy itself is a resistance. In our conversation, Paola said, "Without joy, you can only resist for so long before you break." And communities on the front lines are really modeling this. Joy is the medicine. It keeps us resilient, it keeps us inspired, and it keeps us going. When we claim our joy, it is a radical act of defiance. In it, we affirm our existence and worthiness. Our expression in and of itself is disruptive to the status quo that tries to get us to be complicit and conform. When we sing and dance and draw and sculpt, we are shaping a new story of what is possible for ourselves and one another. One that is centered in love, justice, and interdependence.


KK: Welcome, Paola.


PM: Thank you for having me.


KK: Thank you for having us in your beautiful home.


PM: Oh, I'm so glad you're here.


KK: Which I recognize, by the way, because it was featured in Mother Magazine recently.


PM: Yes, it was. Which is a super fancy layout, like, gorgeous, professional, celebrity-


KK: The fanciest.


PM: ... centerfold. My house has never looked nicer, I have to say, than in those pictures.


KK: Well, what I love about this article is that they talked about ... The theme of the article was what it means to be a woke household.


PM: Yes.


KK: And I've never heard that term. What does that mean?


PM: I'm not really sure, except for the fact ... Maybe if you look at our bookshelves and you go into my son's books, it's all about trying to be woke. So, my partner Michael Skolnik and I have been together for a very long time, and we have had the pleasure to ... We met when we were 22 years old, and sadly, we are no longer 22. So we've had the pleasure of literally growing up together, of going from young adults to parents. And that, in and of itself, is a beautiful ride. A complicated ride nonetheless, but a beautiful ride.

But with that, our understanding of the world has really grown together, and so when we decided to have a child, Mateo Ali, named after Muhammad Ali ... Kind of cliche for our woke home, as we have Muhammad Ali looking over us-


KK: Or perfect.


PM: Yeah, exactly. We obviously brought the values, and wanted to bring the values, of how we saw the world and how we experienced the world and what we want for the world, with our son. And really, having Mateo in our lives has really crystallized what's important to teach a child about the world. And for us, what we've realized with a boy in particular, is what's the most important thing for me, is compassion.

And so in that concept of "woke household", we're constantly talking about compassion and opening your heart. So Mateo, he's obviously a joy, but one of my favorite qualities of his that he's had since he was, I don't even know, one year old, is when other children cry, he cries. He can't handle when other children are crying in front of him.


KK: Empathy.


PM: His empathy is enormous, or if he'll accidentally be playing at the park with a friend, he hurts a friend, the friend falls and the friend cries. The friend cries, Mateo starts crying, and then the friend stops crying, and Mateo cries for another hour. It's like, it is long!


KK: Oh, he's special.


PM: He's so special, but what he says, the way he explains his feelings is, "It broke my heart open." And so that, to me, is the purpose of a woke household, is to pass that concept of compassion to my child.


KK: Well, and I don't know this to be statistical. I'm sure you could speak to this, but what I thought was really significant about this article is that I imagine that there are so many mothers in the movement. When you look at the Women's March and who makes up the Women's March, in my experience, I've come across so many mothers waking up to injustice and finding their voice, and hitting the street and calling their congressmen. And then you have this wave of kids, we just had the National Walkout, hitting the streets.

So there is something, I think, really important about having a conversation. Not just about what it means to be a woke citizen, or what it means to be a woke activist or a woke ally, but what it is to parent in the context of this moment.


PM: Yeah, I think clearly ... So the Resistance, the studies that have been done so far, the percentage of women that are calling into their senators and their congressmen and their congresswomen ... The study that they've released recently said that 87% of those phone calls were made by women. They didn't talk about parents versus non-parents, but if you think about that, and we know that calling Congress and your senators is an effective way in which to make sure that they are voting how you want them to vote-


KK: That's right.


PM: ... holding them accountable.


KK: Exactly.


PM: So 87% of that is being led by women. It's an astounding number. If we also look to those that are running for office ... So, in 2016, EMILY's List had about 500 women inquire around wanting to run for office. That was the year when we were supposed to have the first female president elected into office, so obviously female pride and being engaged was very, very high at that time.


KK: Yeah, yeah.


PM: 500 people. In 2017, they had over 25,000 women inquire around running for office. So again, how many of those women are mothers? I don't know, but what I can say is that at the heart of the Resistance is women. And I think that part of the success of the walkout is the fact that students took this into their own hands and decided that this was an issue that they wanted to stand against, but I also firmly believe it was conversations and support from their mothers.

The fact of sending your child to school, in particular in this incident, is a fear that all parents have-


KK: Yeah.


PM: ... if it's not safe. The fact of-


KK: Particularly if you're a parent of a child of color.


PM: Of course, and that's exactly what I was going to say. If you are a parent of a child that is walking down the street and the neighborhood is not safe, that is a fear that you are living with, and it is your worst nightmare. So I feel that part of the success is also that connection to child and mother, and saying, "Yes, go and do. Yes, go and have a voice. Yes, stand up to potentially being suspended or detention." Or, I read that in the South there was some folks that were being ... Their school was giving them corporal punishment.


KK: Yeah, for-


PM: For walking out.


KK: Yeah, because it was ... And then there kids that were kneeling and ... Kids got innovative about the way in which they were willing to break the rules.


PM: Mm-hmm, and I think that's related to parents and parenting.


KK: Yeah.


PM: Not taking away any of their power, but saying there is something there. So I think that mothers in particular in this moment, across all spectrums, have a connection to being involved in the Resistance. It's personal, it's personal to fight in this moment, because they're fighting for their kids, they're fighting for the planet, they're fighting for the future of their kids.


KK: So I want to hear about your personal story of growing up. You were born in Bogota, Colombia, came to the US when you were three years old, and I just recently watched Entre Nós, which is a documentary that you made about your mother – and starred in – about your mother, and her journey from Colombia. And the story is incredible. It's beautiful and heartbreaking and poignant, and it tells a story of her relentless commitment to making a life for you and for your brothers.

And now, you're a mother, the mother of Mateo, as you mentioned. How has becoming a mother changed your relationship to your own story, and your relationship with your mother and how you got here?


PM: So, part of the story in there, just to give the audience a little bit more context, is when my mom, my brother, and I first arrived to the United States, my father abandoned us very quickly after arriving to the United States. So my mom's relentless struggle was making sure that her two children survived. We were homeless at a time, we were on welfare, we lived in the projects. And the reason we survived is because of my mother's extraordinary love, and her extraordinary determination to not just survive, but to make our lives better. So both my brother and I have college degrees, master's degrees. Both my brother and I have a family.

So all of that to say is now, as a mom ... And it's interesting, I was just having this thought. My father left my brother and I just about at Mateo's age, when my brother was 6. Mateo's 5.


KK: Whoa.


PM: So now, I see it from a perspective of, what does he understand, his relationship to his father. If his father were to just leave, though, he would never ... What would that do to a five year old?


KK: At that developmental stage.


PM: Yeah, what would that do to a 6 year old? And so it's a very deep understanding, but also ... My journey with my father has been very long. I don't speak to him, I haven't spoken to him in, I don't know, 20 years. For a very long time. But in that process of making that movie, a surprise that happened was that I was able to forgive my father, because I saw him not as the monster I thought he was my entire life, but I saw him as a very flawed human being, and as a weak man.

And now, as my son is about to be 6 years old, I even have more compassion for my father, because to pack up and leave that child that you've had a relationship with for 6 years is painful. You had to be really in a bad, fucked-up place. I don't think it's just, he's a monster. I think he was just in a really scared place.

And so that's kind of where I am now in my healing process around having more compassion for someone that did something horrible, and I think it's important for people to understand, at least for me, anyways, having compassion does not mean that one has to have a relationship with that person you have compassion with.


KK: Yeah, that's right.


PM: So you can free yourself of being, like, "Well, if I have compassion for them, does that mean I have to talk with them?" I'm very clear that I don't want a relationship with him, but my heart still hurts for a man that made a decision that he's also had to pay for his entire life.


KK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Is that the healing power of art, do you think, and storytelling? I know that you've said that artists have the power to open up the heart of America, and it sounds like you even had this transformational journey, making this movie, to finding redemption and forgiveness for your father. What is the role of artists in this moment in the movement?


PM: Yeah, I think absolutely, art has the power and the potential to heal. I never had imagined, I made that movie, I made Entre Nós, as a celebration to my mother, to shine a light on the unsung heroes of America. I did not make that movie ever expecting myself to forgive my father.


KK: Yeah.


PM: And I made that movie when I was 30 years old. I finished it, and I had had literally 23 years of pain and anger and frustration around my relationship with my father. And it was the making of that movie that allowed me to release that pain and anger, even though I had been in therapy ... It was that. And it was a gift that I gave to myself that I never imagined I would have.

And with that, I realized, "Oh. Art can heal deep, deep wounds." And now where we are now, at 8 years later, is ... I do believe that in this moment in time, the role of the artist is critical. The role of the artist is to expand the heart of America, because what I believe is happening in this country at this moment is that we are suffering from a mass contraction of the heart. And policy can't open up our heart. Voting can't open up our heart. What can open up our heart to our neighbors, to the other, to the person that we don't know, is art, is hearing their stories, is planting a seed of love and compassion into someone's heart that's closing off and fighting, and letting that seed grow and pushing that heart open and expanding it, even if it's just a little bit.

And I think that artists have to take responsibility to do that, and to create art that does that. And that kind of art, in my eyes, is subtle and beautiful and entertaining and heartbreaking. It's not propaganda. I'm not saying ... Propaganda has its place. Amplifier Foundation is a great organization that does incredible art, that does propaganda art in many ways. And I'm okay with that, that's cool.


KK: Yeah. It's a tool of the movement now.


PM: It's a tool, exactly. But what I'm talking about is something at a higher frequency with regards to the heart, and I think that we're seeing that. We're seeing that in Moonlight, as an example. I think that was a beautiful example of a film that was not created as a Resistance film, but ultimately did open up the heart of Black gay men that were poor. Like, shined such an extraordinary light on that story in such a different way we're used to seeing, and that's just one example of, obviously, many.


KK: Well, and I think that the part that you're speaking to, 'cause I think there's a role for transactional politics, like the voting and the lobbying and the calling your senators and the ... We need that to push up against the system. But that's often short-term and limited, and the kind of change that you're talking about – and we talk about this a lot at CTZNWELL – is real, transformational change that, to your point, can't be controlled. It's emergent. And for me, art and even relationship and being in community with people, and being engaged on the front lines with people who have been impacted, learning how to be an ally and a co-conspirator ... All of that relational work, to me, is the work that unlocks, to your point, the unexpected, the beautiful, the vulnerable, the deep crevices that actually give us access to that healing on a bigger level.

So I know along those lines, you have been shaped in your life by your experience, and that has obviously made you a fierce advocate for immigration rights. And last year, on September 5, the day that Trump rescinded DACA for 800,000 undocumented youth, you and I and a very courageous group of Dreamers and allies blocked the intersection in front of Trump Tower for 30 minutes, and landed ourselves in jail.


PM: Yes.


KK: And I know that wasn't the first arrest for either one of us. But for me, it was one of the most beautiful demonstrations of solidarity that I've ever been a part of, because at one point, I remember sitting on the ground, locked in arms, chanting and singing together, and the crowd formed a halo, do you remember this, around us.


PM: Mm-hmm.


KK: That was, like, 15, 20, 25 people deep.


PM: Yeah.


KK: And we were doing chant and response, and the cops were barricading them away. But it was as if we had this protective force field around us, and it was, in all of my activism and demonstration and civil disobedience, one of the most potent moments. And it was so great to share that with you.

And yet the DACA deadline now has passed, leaving so many people and so many families in limbo. And I just know that you have spent so much of your life, you've lived this experience as an immigrant coming to the US, you've spent so much of your life advocating for the lives, the wellbeing, the liberation, the belonging of our immigrant communities within the US. What comes next?


PM: Yeah, the past years in the immigrant space, immigrants rights space, have been very, very painful. And in particular, and I'm talking about specifically from the moment that Donald Trump announced his election, obviously we know that the day that he announced the election, and how he announced the election was by throwing Mexican culture, Mexican people, under the bus by saying that we were rapists, or we, they, however we want to say it. I'm not Mexican, I'm Colombian, but nonetheless. I grew up in LA, so I identify with Mexican in lots of ways.

But the point is is that from that moment in time, he started his campaign by hating undocumented immigrants, in particular, Mexicans. And we saw, for the next two years of his campaign, that he was willing and able and found joy, I think, in hating undocumented immigrants, and riling up that hate and that fear. And so-


KK: And leveraging it to his base.


PM: Sure. He won the election on the backs of hating undocumented immigrants and Muslims in particular, those two groups. He tried to strip us of our humanity, he tried to strip us of our dignity, he tried to demonize us. And for his base, he succeeded. And then beyond that, when he was elected, the fear I felt ... So I came home, and I'll get to your question eventually, but I came home that night of the election. I was at the worst place to be on the planet, which was the Javits Center.


KK: (laughs)


PM: Yeah, pretty horrible. I came home at 1:00 in the morning, straight to my son's room. I kissed him on the forehead, and I whispered in his ears, he was asleep, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." And I was saying that I was sorry for a lot of reasons. I was saying sorry because we had failed him as a country, because we had failed all children like him. And I was also saying sorry to all of the young people, all of the young kids whose parents are undocumented, because I knew what the fear was, and I knew the real terror that happened that night on November 8. And the next day, I had lots of calls from lots of friends of, "What do we do?"

And November 8 'til today has been another horrible roller coaster of uncertainty, and the undocumented community again has been used and abused by the Trump administration, by the Republicans, and also by the Democrats. And so the undocumented community has been a pawn in a really fucked-up way, because they're using the undocumented community as a political pawn, and forgetting that there's 800,000 young people that are attached to that, that are living in a moment of fear that they will be deported. And we have seen DACA recipients, people that have DACA that are supposed to have protection, that were granted that protection by the United States government ... We have seen them detained and we have seen them deported.

So our government, once again, has lied and gone back on an agreement, on a treaty, on something that the people here in the United States that I believe are citizens really – and we can talk about that more in depth – have put their trust and their faith in the government, and the government has backstabbed them.

And so where we are now is a moment of hurt and deep reflection, but also in a moment of reorganizing and being very focused. I think what's extraordinary is that United We Dream, which is one of the larger organizations that works with DACA, their focus for the summer is a summer of joyful rebellion. And I love that term, because we expect the community to be broken, and we expect them to be in despair, and yet they are defiant even to that.


KK: Yeah.


PM: They are defiant, and they are saying, "No, we are going to continue to fight, but we are going to fight with joy and love and fortitude," which is what we need to be able to do in order to ultimately win. And I think that we will win eventually. I know that for us to win, for us to get a permanent solution, which is a law that will protect these young people and beyond, we will have lost a lot of people along the way, in that they are casualties. And that breaks my heart, that individual people that have children and are children, some of them themselves ... Lives will be derailed, lost, and destroyed in order for the majority of people to have some protection.

And the only reason that has happened is because Democrats and Republicans have refused to be as brave as these young people are, and I say that all the time. If these politicians had an ounce of bravery of what the Dreamers have, we would be so much farther along. We would have permanent protection, but they're cowards.


KK: And resilience. They just keep going, despite it all.


PM: Yeah, because what is ... They have no other choice, and that is the reality of ... I'm currently reading, right now, the autobiography of John Lewis, and obviously, they were political pawns in the '60s as well, and their humanity was stripped, and their dignity. They tried to take away their dignity, and they kept going at the expense of people's lives being lost and destroyed and hurt. But they had resilience, because the other option was just unacceptable, and I think that that is the same moment where we are with Dreamers. They have resilience, and they will keep going, because the option to live in the shadows and to be forgotten about and to having no power and no future in this country is unacceptable.


KK: What is it going to take for so-called allies, and I'm thinking about people who have the "privilege", and I say that in quotations 'cause I want to talk about that with you, of citizenship, whether that is by virtue of the color of their skin, or where they were born or what language they speak or what documents they have, because we know that that's the  way we define citizenship in this country, unfortunately. What is it going to take for those people ... What do you want to say to those people in terms of what we need from people, and I'm thinking a little bit about what you were saying before about empathy, and how we have to open our hearts to what we can't understand because of our privilege. But also, what do we need to do?


PM: Right. So there are specific things that you can do. You folks need to get educated on the issue. It's a very complicated issue, but you just need to know the basics. So go to United We Dream and get educated. Donate to United We Dream, because what's happening right now is, again, it's very complicated. But at this very moment, people that have DACA can re-apply for DACA.


KK: And they need fees.


PM: And they need fees, and it's very expensive. It's $500, and we're talking about a community that in general is very young. That's the point of Dreamers, that they're students, most of them. So we all remember our student days, that we were broke and that $500 was our rent.


KK: Yeah.


PM: So you're asking someone to pay a fee in rent. So go and donate specifically to that. And show up to marches, that's really important. Again, follow United We Dream on social media, and they will tell you what's going on.

So those are the practical things of how to be an ally, and on a more general level, and this is what folks don't have an understanding about because it's so complicated, it's even complicated for me at times. But it is no secret that there are two white supremacists that are creating the immigration strategy for the future of the United States: Steve Miller and Gorka. Gorka's no longer in the administration, but obviously, he's still around and involved.


KK: An operative.


PM: Yeah, but Steve Miller is 100% involved, and what they are trying to do, and DACA is the first step in the strategy to their ultimate strategy, is they are trying to cut legal immigration into the United States. And the immigration that they want in the United States, they want it to be specifically of European descent. And the reason behind that is we can look and see that immigration in the United States over the past 20 years has been predominantly brown and Black people, and we know that the studies are showing that brown and Black people will very soon surpass white people in this country, and what does that do to a power structure-


KK: And population.


PM: And population.


KK: And not wealth.


PM: Exactly, exactly. Very important. What does that do to a power structure that is built on the idea that white men in particular are the ones that own this country? So you're seeing them be fearful. So ... And I can go into this in much more detail, but we don't have the time. Just recently, it was about maybe three weeks ago, for the first time in my lifetime for sure, there was a law that was passed. It was actually in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that this law was legal, that legal immigrants, so folks that have green cards, can be held in detention indefinitely.


KK: Indefinitely. I saw that.


PM: So that means that around immigrant issues ... So that means if I have a green card and there's an issue with my green card, I get pulled over 'cause of a taillight, and they're like, "Oh, there's something funky with your green card, we're going to put you in jail until we figure it out," you can stay in jail for years on end until they figure out whether or not your green card issue is correct or incorrect. It might have been just a glitch in the system, and so that is the first time ever in the United States ... Well, I shouldn't say ever, because in the '60s, it happened all the time ... but that an immigrant in this country that is here with all the appropriate documents can just sit in jail for years. And that is a scary thought, because that is a slippery slope into what can happen eventually.

So there have been folks that want to get rid of the 14th Amendment, and that's a crazy thought, to amend the Constitution. The 14th Amendment is that anyone born in the United States has citizenship. Anyone. What folks like to refer to as "chain migration", so that's part of it, and so that is a first step down a very long road. I'm not saying that it happens next, but down a very long road of getting to a place where white men feel much more secure in this country when they're able to manage, contain, and curtail the immigration of, what Donald Trump refers to as a shithole countries, what I refer to as most of the rest of the world.


KK: I want to give a shout-out to our community of supporters on Patreon, without whom this podcast wouldn't be possible. CTZN Podcast is reimagining citizenship for all of us. Not the kind that requires documents and papers, but an everyday practice of how we take care of each other and the whole of society. We're daring to ask hard questions about who we are and who we are to one another, and what's possible when we show up for the wellbeing of the whole.

But making a good podcast takes a village, and so we're building one on Patreon. And what we love about this platform is that it's mutual. It's about supporting one another. By joining this community, you get lots of good stuff from us, like practice tools and meditation, community forums that inspire conversation, and lifestyle content that you can trust.

And not only does it keep us going, but it keeps us honest and real, and pushing the envelope of courageous conversations that are independent, transparent, and authentic. You can opt in for as little as $1 per month, or $5, or $10, and so on. And think of it this way: for the equivalent of one coffee per month, or one yoga class, or one dinner, you get to be a part of something bigger, a call to action to become better citizens for humanity.

So check us out on, and build with us as we create a culture of wellbeing that works for everyone.


KK: So let's talk about the culture of citizenship, 'cause I think to your point, it does have a lot to do with the culture of white supremacy, the culture of oppression in this country, the culture of how we value not just citizenship, but citizens, and who has a right to be here and belong. And we're constantly contemplating this issue, because when we were even talking about the name "CTZN", we really struggled with that, because we know the impact that that word and that term has on so many people. And we, by no means, want to take that word for granted.

And so we know that in the system of now, the concept of citizenship has been reduced to where you were born, what documents you have, building a wall. And I know Jose Vargas, who you know, another fierce advocate for immigrant rights, has been known to say, "I would actually argue that undocumented people in this country show Americans what it is to be American, because it's something you earn." It's something you fight for. It's not just something that lands in your lap.

And so what do think ... How do we reimagine or reclaim what citizenship really means for us as allies, people, humans in this country?


PM: I think what we've been living through for the past two years, or year and a half since Donald Trump was elected president, is how we reimagine and we rethink of citizenship. I'm talking about those on the left and the right. I don't agree with anything from the right, to be honest. I am extremely far, far to the left. But I think that as the left engages in the civic element of this country of making it better, and that is running for office, that is protesting, that is walking out, that is making phone calls, that is ... being creative in how we want to see this country, and putting an effort into how we want to move this country forward. That, to me, is citizenship.

On the right as well, even though I disagree with their vision of the world, I think it's important for them to also engage in those elements and in that way. So the Tea Party was an extraordinary example of how they engaged as citizens.


KK: Right.


PM: And super grassroots, on the ground, personal.


KK: Yeah.


PM: And gave us essentially, again, Donald Trump. Again, I don't agree with it, but I respect their engagement in the political process, and wanting to create a better country in their world, in their eyes. And I think that's where we have to be inspired to have citizenship, and that excites me, and that's where we need to move forward.


KK: Does that mean that it's not just resistance, it's creation, it's-


PM: Of course, of course. I think it's critically important at this moment to resist, but we are moving into a space, and I think that we're going to win in 2018 for sure, we're going to win back the House at the very least. There was just a poll that came out recently that there are 120 seats available that are running in Congress in 2018 that Donald Trump won by 20 points or more. And we know in Pennsylvania, we just flipped Pennsylvania-


KK: That's right, with Lamb.


PM: ... where Pennsylvania was a state where he won 20 points or more.


KK: 20 points, yeah.


PM: So if we take that example, which was ... We never thought we'd win that House-


KK: It's a good direction.


PM: We have 120 seats, we only need 23 seats to flip the House. So I think the House is looking very likely. The Senate, more complicated, but potentially. So when we flip one of those things, one of those houses, the House or the Senate, we have to come with vision. We cannot do the same thing that the Republicans did, which was be the party of obstruction, and then when they get into power, have absolutely no vision. I don't think we are there, I think the Resistance knows that we have to not only resist, but we have to put forward a vision and a plan. And why I think that will happen as well is I think that personally, I think the Democratic Party needs to step out of the way and get the fuck out, 'cause they just tend to fuck shit up.


KK: Yeah, yeah.


PM: And the people will do that. This resistance is being led by the people, it's not being led by a party. And so the people will have the vision for the country that they want.


KK: And then Women's March, you know – Donald Trump gets elected, enter the Women's March – has been a big part of redefining that culture and what it's going to take, and putting forth a plan. And, I think, also articulating a vision of who we are and who we are together, I've really appreciated that about the way in which the Women's March has been steadfast in standing for an inclusive and intersectional vision of who we are in America.

And it's been complicated, being in the Resistance. It hasn't always been roses and marches and wins. It's been complicated, and there's been conflict and infighting. And I know the Women's March has come under fire a bunch of times, which ... I think, for any bold leader who steps to the front of the line and takes a risk, they're always going to come under fire. But some of that conversation, I think, has been productive. And some of it has been downright hostile, quite frankly.

And I'm wondering, as we put forth this vision of what comes next and who we want to be together, what is the practice of holding people accountable with love as opposed to tearing people down and getting famous for bullying people on social media? There's a lot of that happening on the left.


PM: Yeah, I think there's the woke purity test, which is ... people have to walk through, which I think-


KK: Tell that to us step by step, please.


PM: ... is pretty much some bullshit.


KK: Yeah.


PM: I think people and leaders ... Let's just start with people. People make mistakes.


KK: Humans make mistakes all the time. That's just what we do.


PM: Yeah, that's what we do, and the question becomes, when we make a mistake, how do we deal with our mistake? And I think the way in which we deal with our mistake, for the most part ... This takedown culture's a very dangerous place, obviously. But for the most part, how we deal with our mistake will affect the outcome of what comes next.

So we were talking about this earlier, but Louis CK in the #MeToo movement, he was accused of sexual harassment, pretty horrible sexual harassment, very early on in the #MeToo moment. And I respect the fact that he came out the next day and put out a statement and said, "Yes, I did this. Yes, I was wrong. I have to figure out myself in this moment. I'm going to go away." There was no, "Yes, but." It was, "Yes, yes, yes, and yes."

So he did that, and that allowed me as a woman who has had her own experience and sexual harassment and such, to say, "You know what? I'm interested in having a conversation with you," because I know that we can't just tear everyone down in that moment and destroy them all. We have to have conversations. There have to be consequences. I believe in restorative justice in all aspects. So in this moment, and this is a very personal moment where we have to say, "Okay, I want to put into practice what I believe.

So I want to have a conversation with someone that admitted his mistake and admitted he was completely wrong without excuses, and teach you, make you a better man, because ultimately I think so many conversations that I've had with men around this concept is, they say, "I didn't know. I didn't know it was that bad." And we as women say, "How the fuck could you not know? What planet do you live under?"


KK: That's right.


PM: But, that same conversation that comes out when Black people say, "This is my experience," and white people say, "I didn't know."


KK: "I had no clue."


PM: And Black folks are like, "What the fuck? How could you not?"


KK: "Where have you been?"


PM: Exactly. So if you are the oppressed, most of the time, the oppressor has no idea what's going on.


KK: Yeah.


PM: And we understand that in very fragmented circumstances, but it can be applied pretty much across the board. So again, I think we need to be having those open conversations, and be open to ... A mentor of mine, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, the Black Consciousness Movement, said, "It is the responsibility of those that are conscious to walk others through the door of consciousness at all times."

And so that's where we are, and so I think that that is a more productive place in which to take this movement, because we will grow with vision, as opposed to just tearing down and destroying. And we'll be able to learn, heal, and be better.


KK: Well, and lift one another up, right?


PM: Mm-hmm.


KK: We were talking with Tarana Burke a couple weeks back, and she was also saying that this wasn't her vision for #MeToo. Tearing down the patriarchs is not tearing down the patriarchy, and that there has to be a place for healing in all of this, or else we don't move forward in fact. So then we just create a lot of disruption and a lot of pain, and hold people accountable.

And I think disruption is necessary, but where is the place for healing, where is the place for forgiveness, where is the place for redemption? How do we learn from each other, how do we have ... 'Cause I think what you were naming before around, for so many people who, because of their privilege, they can't see. It's blindness in many ways. We need, I think, a practice and a resilience to lean in, make mistakes, get back up, start over, stay in relationship, stay on the front lines, stay engaged, make mistakes again, get back ...

And that's what I love about what Louis CK did too. He fell on the sword. He said, "Fuck, I did that. I'm going to do my work." And he went to do his work by himself and didn't air it all over the media, and didn't make a whole publicity stunt of it. And I'm not saying he's the beacon of how this should be done, but I do think that there's something to be learned from the way in which we can model for one another.


PM: Totally.


KK: That practice, and also the way in which we can support one another, even if you are the person holding that person accountable. Can you hold them accountable with love?


PM: Mm-hmm. And again, I think it was Sarah Silverman, and I'm only bringing up celebrities-


KK: Oh, yeah.


PM: ... because they just are public and we know about their process. But she came out and she said, "I'm hurt and angry at him, but I still love him." And I think that that is all true. So one of the most dangerous things I think Donald Trump has done to us is that he has taken away our ability to be nuanced in conversations. Everything with him is right or wrong, yes or no, win or lose. There is no gray, there is no conversation. And that's a very dangerous place to be. That is where we find ourselves in this moment as well. You're great, you're holy, you're perfect. Oh, wait, you fucked up. I'm tearing you down.


KK: Tear them down.


PM: So what we need to do in the Resistance as well is to not fall into that trap of black and white, of right and wrong, of nuance. Two truths can be held at the same time.


KK: Simultaneously.


PM: And that is extraordinarily important, and that is how we push forward. So I think what we need to do in the Resistance is to start resisting against the binary as well.


KK: And I feel like you're doing that in some radical way with the Resistance Revival Chorus.


PM: Yes.


KK: To some extent, it's like covert, heart-opening, ecstatic lovemaking through song and community and joy and dance. And one of the things that I was mentioning to you before was that I had a moment a couple weeks ago in a session with you where I realized that I had totally lost joy. Like, I couldn't find it anywhere. It's like, somewhere along the way I had dropped it, and then when someone tried ... inspired me to be joyful, I couldn't locate it.


PM: Right.


KK: And I was like, when did that happen, that we got so serious, so intense, so committed, so fierce – all of which is good and important – but, that we forgot the radical part of us that can laugh and dance and sing in the face of oppression, and I loved what you were saying about the immigrant community before, around how in some ways, that's the most radical thing that they're doing. They're like, "We're going to fight and we're going to have fun. And we're going to be joyful and we're not going to lose our center and our wholeness."


PM: Yes. So what we like to say in the Resistance Revival Chorus is that joy is an act of resistance. And I firmly believe that to be the case, because when you're able to take away joy from a person, you're able to take away so much of their power. You're able to take away so much of their resilience, because without joy, you can only resist for so long before you break. And while I'm smart, I'm not that smart, so the concept of the chorus-


KK: I disagree deeply with that.


PM: Well, the concept of the chorus, I should say, was not mine alone. It was actually, we were in Mr. Harry Belafonte's office during the Women's March, and he came in to visit us, and I had the opportunity to sit down with him. There's a great picture of Mateo in my lap talking with Mr. B at his desk.


KK: Oh, nice.


PM: And we were just having a great time, and I got to ask him his advice. He's 90, at that time, he was 90. So I asked him about art and music and resisting and activism, because that's what he did and that's what I am doing, and he said to me ... He said, "When the movement is strong, the music is strong." And I thought that that was so brilliant and so perfect, because it's absolutely true. The movement, and I'm not just talking about this movement, but I'm talking about ... We go back to Black Lives Matter, that has been in this movement and this struggle for years and years and years, and you can see the direct effect of Black Lives Matter starting, and how that pushed, literally, in this case, music forward. There would be no Lemonade without Black Lives Matter, right?


KK: Yeah.


PM: There would be no Kendrick Lamar without Black Lives Matter. There would be no Black Panther without Black Lives Matter, and there would be ... There would not be two incredible, revolutionary portraits of Michelle Obama and Barack Obama without Black Lives Matter, and that is the direct link of, when the movement is strong, the music is strong, right?


KK: Mm-hmm.


PM: So I think we're starting to see that right now with regards to the women's movement and the feminist movement, and we're starting to see how the movement is influencing and creating art, which is exciting. And so with that concept in mind, I came back to five of my other co-founders of the Resistance Revival Chorus, and we said, "You know, let's do something with music. Let's see what happens if we bring together women and music."

And so we put out a call on Facebook to professional musicians, most of them, and said, "Hey, we want to get together and sing in community. Come join us." The first rehearsal, 30 women showed up, and it was so special and so beautiful, and everyone felt healed and empowered, and everyone was like, "This is amazing." Next week we had another rehearsal, and a different 60 women showed up. And we were like, "Wow. Okay."


KK: Holy hell. Something's happening.


PM: "This is something. Something's happening," and I was like, "I want to do a video! Let's launch this to the world with a video, and we're going to do a takeover in Times Square." So we did a takeover in Times Square. We sang two resistance songs from the '60s, and the video went viral, and then we were like, "There's something here."

And so since then, we've been doing monthly shows in New York City – they're called the Resistance Revival Nights – where we bring the chorus together, but we also bring female musicians, and we do a two-hour set of resistance songs, and it's joyful. And we also talk politics and joy, and politics and joy, and both of those things again can exist in the same world and in the same moment when you can be laughing, and then you can be talking about organizing around DACA.

And the success of the chorus has been pretty extraordinary, and I think it's because people realize, like you, they want joy in their life. They need joy in their life.


KK: Yeah. We can't survive or sustain this without it. I really believe that.


PM: Mm-hmm. And we can't feel guilty about laughing and dancing and having joy. We need that.


KK: Yeah, yeah. What were the songs we were singing in jail? We had a five hour ... We were in jail for a very long time.


PM: It was so long.


KK: So we pulled-


PM: I refused to go to the bathroom.


KK: ... every civil rights song out of the archive.


PM: Yeah, yeah. We were singing "Ella's Song", which is an original song by Sweet Honey in the Rock, and then we also sang "Rich Man's House", which is a Union song, inspired by the Union. And then we sang "Woke Up This Morning"-


KK: Oh, I love that song.


PM: ... which is also. Mm-hmm. So one of the best things that's happened, and I'll be brief with this story, but the chorus comes and rehearses at the house.


KK: Here?


PM: Yeah, here.


KK: Nice.


PM: 30 women show up here. And then Mateo's here most of the time, and so his favorite song is "Woke Up This Morning". So every night when I'm putting him to sleep, I sing him "Woke Up This Morning", and he says, "Mama, let me sing Hallelu," 'cause that's what he calls it. But it's extraordinary for me every night as a reminder, and for him to hear every night, these words. And the lyrics are ... I'm not a singer, ironically, so I'm not going to sing. But I will say the words, which is, "Woke up this morning with my mind stayin' on freedom. Woke up this morning with my mind stayin' on freedom. Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah."

And then the next verse is, "Ain't no harm with my mind stayed on freedom. Ain't no harm with my mind stayed on freedom. I'm singin' and dancin' with my mind stayed on freedom. I'm singin' and shoutin' with my mind stayed on freedom." And those words, to say every day, every night, has become my personal mantra of focus, and to be able to share that with Mateo at nighttime is extraordinary.


KK: I love it.


PM: Yeah.


KK: Paola, thank you so, so much. This has been amazing. I'm so inspired and grateful for the way in which you lead us with so much grace and empathy and fierceness.


PM: Well, thank you, Kerri, for all the things you do. You bring in your community into spaces and worlds that are making them stretch, and that is how we move forward. And you are an incredible ally, you put your body on the line, you have difficult conversations, and I think your role of being a bridge is critical as we move forward, and being able to tap into two communities and bring those communities together, 'cause that's the only way that we win. That is the purpose and the point of intersectionality.


KK: Yeah. Thank you.


KK: We are reimagining a citizenship where everyone belongs. And that calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us. We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities. You can learn more about how to engage at and

While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to show up with joy. Be fierce in your activism and resistance, but steadfast in your expression and self-care. You can follow Paola at Twitter, @paolamendoza, and the Resistance Revival Chorus is not to be missed. Check out their schedule, @ResistanceRev on Twitter.

Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLread at

CTZN Podcast is community-inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care. And don't forget to rate us on iTunes and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.



005 Sharon Salzberg

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KK: Hi, my name is Keri Kelly and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast where we are exploring the practice of citizenship and the politics of wellbeing. Today, we are talking about love, not the mushy, romantic kind of love but real love. How to love when it's hard or less obvious, how to love when we don't agree, how to love in the face of so much division and oppression. So we are turning to the incredibly wise, Sharon Salzberg, meditation master and bestselling author. Sharon Salzberg has been teaching meta meditation or loving kindness since 1974. She's been seminal in just bringing meditation and mindful practice to the West but by modernizing the practices, making it relatable and accessible.

Her latest book, Real Love, does just that. This book really challenge my ideas about love, especially given the state of the world. It's hard to love people who are perpetuating harm and separation. But if I'm being honest, I equally struggle with loving myself. Whenever I'd hear or read about self love I'd roll my eyes. It just seemed impossible to me. Instead, I had my own flavor of love, one that was conditional and perfectionist, a perspective I realized that's not very different from the culture of scarcity and supremacy that is profiting off of the idea that love or worthiness much earned, that one must be good enough to get or give love.

But that's not what Sharon is talking about. Instead, she offers a more complex and inclusive perspective on real love. She says, "Real love is not about letting yourself off the hook. Real love does not encourage you to ignore your problems or deny your mistakes or imperfections, you see them clearly and still opt for love. Love has the capacity to exist beyond difference and division, beyond imperfections and mistakes. When we understand real love for ourselves, we can understand it for others especially when it's hard." What Sharon is teaching and what I'm learning for myself is that love, too, is a practice. Welcome Sharon Salzberg. It's so great to have you here.


SS: It's great to see you.

KK: So I want to talk about love right out of the gates.

SS: Good.

KK: You wrote this amazing book, Real Love. Well, you've written a lot of books, a lot of amazing books in fact. But I do feel like this book really gets at the heart of why we're all here. I devoured this book. So I'm going to ask a question that I'm sure you've gotten a lot, especially in the last couple of months because we're living in a time where there are people in power doing really unlovable things. In the book, you talked about loving everyone but I personally have a really hard time with love given the context of our country right now and given the things that are happening and the harm being done. So how do we reconcile this idea of real love, of loving everyone with this moment of oppression or even just with the oppressor themselves.

SS: It's nothing like starting with the hardest thing.

KK: Is that the hardest question? I mean, that was the first thing that came up for me when I was reading your book, it's like, "Okay, I want to be about real love but I've got feelings I'm not proud of."

SS: Yeah, yeah. Well, I've kind of watched the trajectory of my students or people I'm spending time with over the course of the last year and maybe at the beginning of the year, people were saying, "I'm so angry. I'm so outraged. I'm so freaked out," and more these days they're saying, "I can't bear my own mind. I can't live with myself anymore." It takes a real exploration and a deep exploration like, "What do we mean by love?" Because if we mean complacency, then it's outrageous. One shouldn't go there.

But there are many, many layers and levels of meanings of love. I tell a story in the book actually about I got to spend the day once many years ago with this man, Myles Horton, who began a place called the Highlander Folk School, in those days, it's called something else then, in Tennessee and it was kind of a training school for a lot of civil rights workers.

KK: Yeah, Highlander.

SS: Yeah. Very early environmental workers but it really came to prominence in the civil rights year, because it was like an integrated place in the South and it was scandalous and there were kinds of lawsuits and stuff like that. So he and I got to spend a day together and at one point we were talking about loving kindness meditation because it was me, right?

KK: You're the loving kindness person.

SS: He said to me, "Oh, Marty," Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, "Marty used to say to me, you got to love everybody. I used to say, 'No, I don't. I only have to love the people who are worthy of being love.' Marty would laugh and he'd say, 'No, you got to love everybody."

Before this was in the book, I very rarely I found, told that story, but every time I told the story, I would get a lot of pushback, like, "Well, look what happened to him. He got assassinated." I thought, "Isn't that interesting that we tend to see cause and effect there," that if Martin Luther King, Jr. Have been vicious and conniving and full of hatred, he would have been safe.

KK: Yeah, like where did love get him kind of a thing?

SS: That's right. Exactly. But what if we disentangled that sense of cause and effect and not define love as a weakness and making you too open and all of that, but really seeing it. I mean, the Buddha taught loving kindness meditation, they say, as the antidote to fear. Now, that makes some sense, right?

In our time. Another part of it is that when you see how people can treat other people when they have declared them other, they depersonalize, dehumanize somebody and it's one thing if you kick a table, it's nothing if you kick a person, you feel like you're kicking a table then we're really in trouble. So I mean, some kind of inner commitment I think to not duplicating that. But that doesn't leave us resigned and apathetic and weak. It actually leaves us very strong because love can be a strength and compassion is a strength. But this hasn't come to ... It's come to by experience which means experimentation, not by being lectured or trying to lecture yourself or force yourself to be in a place you're not ... I think it's a real stretch and it needs to be genuine. That's why we practice. We kind of check it out like what it's like. We don't start with the most unthinkable person because that's like really reaching too far.

KK: Like what I'm doing?

SS: Yeah, exactly. It's like a bridge too far. You start with somebody you feel a little conflict with at work or something. You kind of say, "What it's like when I wish him well?" I wrote one book with Bob Thurman called Love Your Enemies.

That book... actually, it originally had a different title, for a long time it had a different title, which is based on Bob having seen a movie and in the movie there was a church and in front of the church, there was like an electronic billboard as there often is and there was a saying on that billboard which was, "Love your enemies. It will drive them crazy." That used to be the title of the book and then-

KK: Like kill them with kindness, that kind of [crosstalk 00:08:01].

SS: Yeah, exactly. The best revenge is living well. I'm not going to get sucked into that. I'm going to-

KK: Yeah. It does throw people off, right?

SS: Yeah.

KK: You give into their trick when you break down and freak out and replicate their behavior.

Ss: That's right. That's right. Exactly. So I was very sad when the book title changed. It simply became Love Your Enemies. Bob, we used to get asked that all the time, Bob was fond of saying, "Of course you want your enemy to be happier. If they'd be happier, they'd behave better. They'd be so much less of a jerk." Sometimes the most we can bring ourselves to say or think with somebody in the ... Because that practice, that particular practice depends on phrases, it's like offering, maybe happy, maybe peaceful. I've know people who really the most they could say was maybe free of hatred and I think that's enough.

KK: Yeah. It's funny because I think your book gets at this but we're seeing this I think play out across the movement, this sort of multidimensional idea of love, like love being redefined in many different ways. I think one of the great examples of what love looks like in public right now is the way people are speaking truth to power. Because I love you, I'm going to tell you how I feel. Because I love you, I'm going to reveal to you the truth of your actions. That's a really brave and bold expression of love. Are you surprised by what your seeing?

SS: I am in a way. I am a child of the '60s.

KK: That's right. So we're coming back around.

SS: I have always, always thought of the civil rights movement as a deeply spiritual movement as it was. Certainly, you watch those documentaries of freedom writers going out and praying, crouching down and praying before they went out and were beaten and whatever. The whole concept of nonviolence and it was-

KK: It emerged in the church, right?

SS: Yeah, definitely emerged in the church and then all those rabbis are going down and marching. It was a deeply, deeply spiritual movement.

KK: We're seeing that play out again. It's like we're returning to the thing that gives us courage and capacity to keep showing up. I think the other thing that I always learn from you and certainly it's central to this book is nuance and discernment, right? You talk about acceptance and what it means to accept how things are, with one's self or with the conditions that we live in. Then there's the fighting to change them. How do we navigate that? Because I think you were just getting at the before when you were saying that it's not about being resigned but there is a tension there between we can't tolerate how things are and we do still need to accept how things are. It's almost like a simultaneous contradiction.

SS: Well, it's the complexity of using the word acceptance, which can mean a lot of different things. You don't want to be obsessed with Your disagreement, like fighting life all the time because then you're just obsessed. It's like when you get obsessed with someone's faults or a particular person's faults and we go through the list again and again and we never even think of new faults.

KK: Or with ourselves.

SS: Or with ourselves. We just do it again and again and again. A friend of mine who is very involved in AA so I kind of suspect it's AA saying was when he's talking about his basic obsession with somebody else's faults and he said, "I've let him live right free in my brain too long."

KK: Oh wow.

SS: So we want to free our energy. The more we are entangled and obsessed and fixated on what's wrong and we don't let in the light, the more tired we get.

KK: Burnt out.

SS: Burnt out, the more overwhelmed we get.

KK: It’s like an epidemic in the movement.

SS: So we're just talking about balance. I'm never kind of totally got behind the word accept anyway, even as the definition of mindfulness which it often is used as. If you're mindful, you're going to accept things the way that they are because it does sound kind of inert. Once someone asked me when I was talking about being mindful of sounds which is a particular sort of meditation, he said, "What if it is the sound of the smoke alarm? Am I supposed to sit here mindfully knowing the smoke alarm is going or should I get up?" I said, "I'd get up, actually. I think it's a good idea," but it sounds that way.

KK: It doesn't mean inaction, right?

SS: It doesn't mean inaction. But maybe we're not coming from the usual place of reaction. Some people, in trying to hit that nuance will say, "Well, we're responding instead of reacting. Maybe we're not driven to the same kind of reaction." It's interesting to look at the consequences of certain mind states that we might nurse or develop. It's like I first met Mallika Dutt who was by that time, she'd founded Breakthrough which was an organization working against violence against women.  We sat on a panel together, that's how we met. She said that she had first sort of woken up in that political sense, social justice sense, when a friend of hers was in a hospital in India and, as it happens when someone is in the hospital, you kind of need to take care of them or at least supplement their care. So she was spending an awful lot of time in the hospital with her friend and her friend just coincidentally had been put on the burn unit because that's where the empty bed was. A lot of the women on the burn unit have been burned by their husbands or burned by their in-laws or something that so she was horrified and changed her whole life to become an advocate, a powerful and incredible advocate out of that outrage. Then she said on the panel, "But I don't know how to dial it down. I don't know how to turn it off." She said, interestingly enough she said, "My whole organization is like that, so we just turn on one another."

KK: Wow. That's deep.

SS: It was amazing. She's done a lot of searching since that point and she's actually no longer there but she's doing great work and she's practicing all kinds of things. She's amazing. So I always, I try to listen deeply to my friends who are the most ... Who are like the strongest activists because they know what the experience is and I just learn from them.

KK: Well and it's like what are the things that inspire us and activate us and what are the things that take us too far. Sometimes, they're just two sides of the same coin. I remember, I saw that interview with you and Bell Hooks up on the Upper West Side and I remember her talking about your book and saying that she often contemplates the ways in which action, the action that she's taking reflects love. And I do think to your point, we are seeing a lot of people, sort of, take their meditation off their cushion these days especially right since the election...there is more of that.  But there does seem to be still a gap between well intentioned, contemplative and wellness communities and then those on the other side of the spectrum to your point that are hard core activists who don't know when to say no.

How do you think we can bridge that gap? How do we integrate? Because I think that's one of the challenges. I mean, I'm one of those people that, like your friend, just goes all the way until I burn out and then I have to put myself back together again and it's hard for me to say no.

SS: I'm not sure, I mean, there is a problem, we all have to say no. But I think there's also a problem a saying yes, like more, so in a way. I remember early on, I hadn't been back from India all that long in the States and I was talking to an activist trying to remind me, he says, "I can't even let myself enjoy a banana." I said, "Really?" He said, "Well, you know the conditions." He also happened to be an extremely depressed person. I thought, "Well, maybe if he let himself enjoy more, he'd have more energy to try to make this world different." So what do we have to be grateful for? Many people think that's just an excuse for doing nothing or but can we appreciate. It's kind of a interesting consideration.

KK: Well, the ways in which that practice allows us to be more effective in service and in action, right? I don't know that they're separate. I'm learning that the hard way. As I want to be of service, especially as white privileged woman with access to wellness, it's not about me excluding myself from that mission. It's about me including myself so that I can be of service and I think that's a really hard balance to strike.

KK: In the book, you said, "One does not have to completely self loving to love others.

SS: Bell and I got into a disagreement about that.

KK: I remember this but I feel you in this question because I think a lot of the ways in which I don't take care of myself and I don't say no has to do with my relationship to myself and I how I feel about myself and what I think I'm worth and what's enough, right? So what does that mean? How do we reconcile those two things at the same time?

SS: I think the point there is trying to make this up, we don't need to love ourselves completely.

KK: Like perfectly.

SS: Perfectly.

KK: You don't have to wait till you graduate from perfect self love.

SS: That's right. That's right. Yeah, because then it becomes a project and it's all we do. It's all we think about. But there is a certain way in which we forget that there's a balance that we're looking for and there's got to be a balance for it to be a sustained effort and you can't leave yourself out totally because in the end, I think the motivational fields in the whole field of intention from which one is acting will get distorted, it will get weird.

KK: Right.

SS: It's like if you give someone a gift and it's a freely given gift, that's one thing and I think it brings us a lot of joy in the giving. If you give someone a gift because you feel you don't deserve to have anything yourself, that's a whole other thing. It just won't be that kind of source of joy. No matter how they respond.

KK: Well, and there's another quote that you have in here that says, "To truly love ourselves, we must challenge our beliefs that we need to be different or better," right? Which to me is the culture that we're swimming in, right? Even the self help community, we're going to talk about the one billion dollar mindfulness community in a moment.

SS: Where are they?

KK: Where's the money? But it's tricky, right? Because even within the context of our community, we're swimming in a storyline of you're not good enough by this, that, by this workshop and we're a part of that dynamic too. So, what does that look like to be invested, right, in taking care of ourselves but also not buy into the sales pitch of “you're not good enough” and you need to do all these things to be whole?

SS: I think one of the most subtle refinements of mindfulness is looking at your motivation before a conversation, before you sign up for that workshop, before you buy something. Just take a look so that you know.

KK: Like why are you doing that?

SS: Yeah, where am I coming from? Even just hanging out with that, whatever you discover for a while because it will be very, no doubt, a nuance. But it's very interesting to discover that and kind of keep an eye on that as we evolve. What do you expect? What do you think has to happen from this workshop or retreat that you're doing? Where's the disappointment coming from? Was you're expectation reasonable? We have some remodels of self perfection and nothing is good enough even if it's great. It's just not enough.

KK: Yeah. I think about the role of attachment in that practice...If we're attached to the idea, the body image idea or the intelligence idea or the perfect meditation idea then I think something has gone sideways and so how do we dance with the destination but be on the path?

Well, I mean, some of it I think is just reminding one's self of wisdom we already have which is that perfection is unreal. It's like a piece of fruit that's perfect for like a second and a half then it's decaying. Or I bought a new car and it was not long before this bird pooped on it which I thought was outrageous, "How dare you?"

KK: This is my car and it's perfectly shiny.

SS: In the course of really - exploring loving kindness as an example and loving kindness for one's self - you begin to see that, "Oh, isn't that odd? It's hardest for me, even harder than the enemy. What's that about?" We see all kind of things in which we kind of discount ourselves or leave ourselves out. There's certain meditations where you're actually receiving the loving kindness of others and you might see, "Oh, I would rather not be in this scene after all with those two, loving kindness to one another." It's kind of amazing the sort of things that we discover but it's just conditioning.

KK: Well, in going back to the first question, I asked you the doozy, when I think about sometimes my relationship to self love, it looks a lot like my relationship to number 45, there are times where I really have self loathing and instead of projecting my like, "I must love the enemy," maybe I should stay in a practice that I must love myself and then the-

SS: Well, I mean, it's a process. I was just recently talking to somebody who said, "My meditation is not working." I said, "Why do you think it's not working." He said, "Because I sit and have all these negative emotions." I said, "Did you think about not calling them negative and calling them painful?" I said, "I have this sort of goal in my whole life." We all use the language kind of recklessly anyway but every time I say I have a bad knee, I try to correct myself and say, "It’s not bad. It just hurts." It's like you shouldn't be ashamed.

KK: You're not judging your knee.

SS: Dreadful knee or bad.

KK: Well, and you have a chapter in your book called “stories we tell ourselves about ourselves” and I think it's the same thing. I have many of those. But how we catch ourselves into the ones that are particularly in loop?

SS: Well, it's a result of mindfulness and not just noticing that they're happening but kind of playing with our attitude towards it. So another thing I have in the book is a suggestion that if you have a persistent critical voice that's sort of useless, not a useful one.

KK: Like an unproductive one.

SS: Yeah, an unproductive, nasty voice that keeps coming back again and again, give it a name. Give it a wardrobe.

KK: Like befriend it.

SS: Yeah, give it a wardrobe. Give it a persona and then see how you relate to it and in effect that's exactly right. We want to befriend it, not let it take over. That's something else. But not have so much hostility and fear toward it.

KK: This is what I love about this book. There's another quote that you have which says that “real love is not about letting yourself off the hook”, right? So you're not saying like, Let's let ourselves off the hook entirely. “Real love does not encourage you to ignore your problems or deny your mistakes or imperfections. You see them clearly and you still opt for love,". So there's so much. I just feel like everything about what I would read in your book, it was like reading between the lines about love and about showing up and about forgiveness and about radical acceptance. It's not about the obvious, right? It's not about the binary. I think as I've practiced with you and others, that to me is when the practice gets really juicy, what is in between? What is the messy, uncertain, unpredictable truth of what is. So I'm super grateful to you for that.

KK: Okay, let's talk about the one billion dollar meditation business? When I asked you about this before, you're like, "Where's the money?"

SS: Well, I keep hearing that. I think, "Really?" I literally don't know where the money is.

KK: Well, and globally - because we do this research all the time to try and get a sense of how much "power" this community has - this collective wellness community. The global wellness market is like a $4 trillion market which is like a lot of money.

SS: So that's yoga, meditation, vitamins.

KK: Yoga, ecotourism, vitamins, healthy food, right? So it's like the whole healthy, sustainable, mindful conglomerate if you will. But meditation its own right is now a billion dollar business. We've politicians meditating, our dead friend, congressman Tim Ryan. We've got celebrities, many celebrities swearing by meditation. CEOs now, there is an article a couple of months back that Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter did the Vipassana. People, this is really becoming mainstream. Big companies are getting in the game. Ford Motor Company, Google, Goldman Sachs, General Mills. Is there a danger do you think in the mainstreaming of this practice?

SS: Well, many dangers. But I don't mind. I'm kind of a big advocate of the movement and when I-

KK: Yeah, because of access?

SS: Because of access. People complain about people who teach in corporations for example, which I've done and do, I said, "I've never got into a corporation and had an employee say, 'I'd like to be more soulless so I can work harder and be more productive.' It's like everybody talks about their alcoholic brother or their teenage kid or their own sleeplessness." People are just people. So I don't get the sort of ideological...Although some people have it for sure, but I just don't ... I'm not there. But there are lots of dangers. I mean, there's a big emphasis because of access and I think it's well motivated and by good hearted people who ... What they talk about is how do we scale this, how do we get this in the hands of more and more and more and more and more people? I always say, I just said this in Virginia the other day, "I don't know that the world will be more radically changed by 15 people going deep than a 100,000 people just having a casual acquaintance”.

KK: Well, why does it need to be a trade off?

SS: Yeah. That should too. But part of the problem - well it's a personal decision about where you're going to devote your own energy - but part of the issue is in order for something to scale. Either you have more and more and more teachers with less and less and less training or somehow technology steps in and takes the place of the in-person relationship with the teacher.

KK: There are consequences to that obviously.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

KK: Its evolution.

SS: Yeah, and some people are trying for sure. Which I think if also great. But by the time friends of mine ... Because part of what happens is that in many institutions and organizations, they kind of want their own people trained up so they can deliver the service and...

KK: Like performance base? Oh, I see what you're saying.

SS: Yeah, no. They want in-house yoga teachers. They want in-house meditation teachers. From my point of view, as I'm sure your point of view, I asked somebody once in one of these situations where there were the person having the conversation with this massive organization and would that organization really take meditation to heart? There could be huge implications for that. She said, "But they really want some kind of train the trainers program." So I said, "Well, how long is the training to be a meditation teacher?" She said, "Eight hours." I said, "You cannot do that. You just cannot do that. Don't let that happen." I said, the very, very least, don't have people feel like done at the end of eight hours of training.

KK: Yeah, like this is just a taste.

SS: Yeah, have them form a community and help one another and share best practices with one another. Just don't have them do something for eight hours and then [inaudible 00:31:36] and say, "I'm there." Because it's so dangerous. It's dangerous to the person and who knows what they're really going to say.

KK: What might come up, right? Right. Well, and it's a powerful position to be in, right? To facilitate a transformational experience. But I agree with you. I mean, like all things, these practices are evolving. I often say from a yoga perspective, like I don't care how they get to the mat, I just want them to get to the mat. I also do think that there's the pendulum swings often too far and I think about the intention for a lot of these sort of big companies to democratize these practices might be good but the impact might not, right? I'm even thinking about corporations that are leveraging mindfulness and wellness practice for performance and retention and, right, is like ... I know you speak often from a personal standpoint around our attachment to those things, right, backfire on us often. So are we going to miss the point? Will the message you think get lost when we start to translate these tools and practices into just another tool of capitalism? Do we miss the point?

SS: Perhaps. But that doesn't mean that state is forever.

KK: Right.

SS: I mean, I guess one fear is that it is forever because you have certain intention or goal and you've met it and you stop or you dismiss it, something like that. But I think, at least just as often and probably it's just much more often somebody gets a taste of something and then thinks to themselves, "I want to see where this can take me. It doesn't have to stop here."

KK: Yeah, I mean, I'm sort of amazed at the proliferation of these practices and I even do think that there's a role that they're playing in the movement, whether we can see it or not or point to it or not, the fact that people are grounded and centered and curious and compassionate, I think is a testament to the fact that these practices have become, have been seated, they've kind of infiltrated the culture in ways that we can't even identify anymore.

SS: Yeah, well, back to your earlier point about loving one's self, it's like, I think, to stand up to the stories, it's not just stories we tell ourselves, it's stories other tell about us to us, like your life is worth, was it a dollar and five cents or a dollar and 50?

KK: Yeah. From the march.

SS: From the march, yeah. It's like if you're a kid going to school in Florida where your senator receives money from the NRA, they divided the amount of money you see from the NRA divided by the number of school children.

KK: That's right.

SS: My life is worth, I think it was a dollar, five cents. You've got to step away from the stories others tell about you and realize how much you're worth. Then you fight.

KK: Then you can change the story.

SS: Yeah.

SS: One that's funny as I think about maybe the impact of these practices on our culture, I think about the Emma’s, I think about these kids and what they pulled off with march for our lives. It was so skilled and sophisticated and intersectional and inclusive and compassionate, things that it took me 40 years to understand. So I'm like there's something about the youth that are coming up that have already been programmed with some of these real tools. Do you think, of all of the things that we practice, loving kindness, compassion, empathy, courage, love, is there one ingredient that you think is the thing we need to center right now given this moment that we're in? Is it compassion? Is that the thing we really need to keep coming back to as we fight?

SS: I think it's wisdom actually. I mean, it's everything of course. It's not just one thing but I think it's wisdom, it's perspective. There are times I've seen, I mean, I get afraid. I don't like being in New York city and realizing that swastikas are being painted two blocks away. I have very visceral reactions to that and probably genetic reactions to that. In the fear, you just perspective and you make all kind of crazy decisions because you don't realize there are options and there-

KK: What affects your nervous system...

SS: Yeah, totally and everything shuts down and you just don't see clearly. It's kind of the nature of being overwhelmed by those states. So all those remind us we're true of ourselves and we offer one another because sometimes we really need someone, we need it to come from someone else, and that everything changes and that we don't know the answer right now or we see it's in front of us, it doesn't mean it's the end of the story and even the good that we do that seems very small is important to do.

KK: Fractal.

SS: Because we don't know where it's going to go and that we're not in control of the universe because, that things take time.

KK: How do we source that wisdom? Is it meditation and listening or is it being exposed to one another in relationship? Is it seeking teachers? If someone was like, "I want more of that thing, wisdom, that Sharon's telling me to get more of," where do they find it? Do we want to find them to books? Do we point them to teachers? Do we point them to themselves?

SS: Well, it's always one's self right in the end but I think it's a ... I mean, for me, of course it would be meditation because that's my background. That's how I formed this sense of integrity and clarity, about what was important to me. Now we're fed so many lies and myths about what strength is or what will make us happy. We're taught day in and day out, like vengefulness is the way. But you really look at your mind the last time you were consumed by vengefulness, it wasn't a very happy place.

KK: It wasn't pretty.

SS: It wasn't productive. It doesn't serve. And then in these experiments, we're always looking like how does it feel to be compassionate? Am I really just a sucker when I'm compassionate in the way I always believed or was told? So we get to decide for ourselves out of being able to pay attention.

KK: Is that what you mean by idiot compassion? I saw that referenced. Is that what it's called? Idiot compassion?

SS: Yeah, that's what Trungpa Rinpoche called it. Idiot compassion which was his phrase was really kind of like compassion without wisdom, without an understanding and the idea that compassion really needs to be accompanied by discernment and clarity and at the very least understanding the context in which you are standing right then. So maybe what is truly most compassionate in a certain situation for example is saying no, it's telling someone, "No, you can't move back," or, "I'm not going to give you any money if you just to do what you're doing with it."

KK: Or saying, "I don't know."

SS: Yeah.

Or saying, "I'm sorry."

Yeah, and that's not the same as, "Oh, I'm compassionate. I must give them the money."

KK: What's the difference between compassion and empathy? Because I feel like those terms are sometimes conflated.

SS: Yeah, they must because conflated. I think, we would say empathy is like a necessary but not sufficient condition for compassion to arise. We need empathy. I'm glad for all the empathy training that seems to be happening.

KK: All the science. I mean, there's so much being invested in empathy right now.

SS: Yeah, which is great because it's a cold, cruel world, it really is. But empathy is just not enough because you might have a genuine sense of empathy for someone, like you see them or you witness them and you feel into the, "Ooh, that must really hurt. That must really be scary." But maybe you have a genuine moment of empathy and that frightens you and you just want to run away or maybe you're so tired. You're so fatigued and overcome anyway. You hear someone's story, you just want them to go away. Or maybe you blame them. I was talking to a therapist not too long ago and they said, I've gotten to this bad and kind of weird little loop where I'm blaming all my clients, like, "I told you six months ago." Not out loud but just...

KK: Get it together.

SS: Yeah. So maybe that's our response. So the empathy was genuine but the next response after that is something we would not call compassion.

KK: So empathy is the feeling and compassion is the response?

SS: Yeah, I mean, you could say that. Empathy is the resonance, it's like we're vibeing with somebody. Compassion is the potential response.

KK: That's great.

SS: Many, many possible responses.


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KK: You were just recently in Charlottesville.

SS: Yeah.

KK: I imagine that that is a place, given what happened this past summer where empathy and compassion are needed to understand what went down there. What did you experience there? What amazed you? What surprised you? What did you learn?

SS: I find it pretty intense. I went specifically because of that, what happened last summer, and because I got invited and just barely fit into my schedule. It was a little set back by the snow but I flew from California to D.C. and a friend drove me down to Charlottesville.

I was there for a few days and then I had a car back to D.C. and then it was really complicated. It really kind of blew me. I mean, I went because I felt so much for those people and there's a really big insight meditation community there. My Life Institute, who are friends of mine, also moved back down there. So it's just like so much connection and it was intense. People had this charm. They kept calling it “events”...”the events last August”.

KK: Wow.

SS: I thought it was interesting, person after person.

KK: Like that was like a change moment.

SS: Yeah, and people talked about trauma a lot. Somebody drove me by the place where the girl had been mowed down. There was flowers. But people are shellshocked but it's really ongoing. It's not like it's over. They know that.

KK: Yeah. What is that? Did they say they needed something or what was the ... How does a community like that recover?

SS: I think they have to recover together ... I mean, there were several communities that I was with, different times. I think it's partly communities joining within their community. Like not feeling so solitary with one's own feelings.

KK: Like coming together.

SS: Yeah, coming together. Mostly, I think it's very difficult to do but I think there's a lot of recovery that happens to action. So one of the things I was trying to do there and I don't know how artfully I managed to do it really but I was trying to make a distinction between the kind of action I would encourage when you're thinking about having a more civil conversation with your uncle at Thanksgiving dinner because they voted in a way that you did not really like. There's a lot of energy all around the country going toward that. I think that's great but I said, "This is different. These are people with Nazi flags."

I said, "For me, trying to have a conversation and understand where they're coming from is a fraction of what I would feel moved to do," which in part what I'd feel moved to do would be doing everything I can to engage in the political process so those particular people who are waving Nazi flags don't have the power to legislate because the consequences are very severe. I said, "This is not hatred and it's not out of some kind of corrosive, demeaning of them but I think it's enough."

KK: Well, it's wisdom? It's like choose your actions wisely. Right after the election, I heard a similar thing. I was traveling around doing house parties. People were inviting me to just help facilitate where to go, where we go from here, which is kind of the thing people were asking for. I was hearing the same thing, like people were disturbed about the people in their life that had voted for Trump and how the yearning to reconcile that, like they were determined to have some kind of transformational conversation with that person. I heard this over and over and over and over again and finally I was like, "Hold up." I said, "Make a list of the number of people in your life who voted for Trump and it would be like, one, my cousin from blah, blah, blah, my aunt from ... Three, two or three depending on where people were from." Then I said, make a list of everyone in your life that have gone back to sleep and it was like 40 people. I was like, "Where do you think our problem is?"

It's sort of like what you were saying to me before. It's like you have to pick the furthest person to love. Just how about love all the people around you first and start there? It was like a real awakening for me around how do we organize. Because we tend to go for the hardest thing. Like if I fix the hardest thing then things will be right. Where we're trying to fix the thing that we just can't accept within ourselves. But really, it was about engagement. Like “what's going on that our peers and our coworkers and our family members are all going back to business as usual”? What do we do with that?

KK: So I want to ask you about voting and civic engagement.. because that's really what this podcast is about, it's about not citizenship as defined by papers or where you're from and also not citizenship as defined by an election every two to four years or a crisis like in Charlottesville. It's citizenship as defined by practice. Like what would it look like if we engaged everyday in public service the way that we engage everyday in meditation or yoga or drinking green juice or the one billion dollar mindfulness movement? But one of the things I have admired about you and we've known each other for a long time is that you have been an outspoken teacher for civic engagement, for political engagement, certainly for voting.

KK: I mean, you have an election time meditation. You give election resources when the time comes and you've been such an ally to our work in the way in which we're kind of mobilizing this community. But there is like a gap, right, in how we show up, right? It's like either because we have to or because social media just blew up or because the election is around the corner, because we're responding to something like Charlottesville. What do you think it looks like to transform our culture so that citizenship is as synonymous as meditation, right? So that citizenship is as frequent as eating healthy or these things that we buy into so frequently within the wellness culture but politics is thing that we do only occasionally when we have to. How do we close that gap?

SS: I suspect it's going to be small circles of people who find not only joy but meaning in those kind of common actions, like somebody said to me they have this idea that maybe people should meditate together, some group of people would meditate together and then just go phone bank, just like whip out their phones and then talk about, because this is the interesting part, talk about what came up in their minds. Because we have that capacity because presumably as meditators, we were cultivating that very thing and to be able to share that and not just sit with the hear and think, "Oh, I humiliated myself. I'm never doing this again," to really engage even on that level because I think we will find a lot of support in one another.

So of course, when I was in Charlottesville. We've talked about voting and everybody looked stunned. I don't think they were expecting that because I think a lot, in their hearts, they're really trying to come to terms with their own fear and hatred and everything inevitably would arise in a situation like that. But I think it was always in terms of their minds and their personal efforts. I don't think it was, it had nothing to do with voting, but because one of my things was that maybe having civil dialog, first of all, it's not going to happen but, with some people, but maybe it's not enough. It's kind of not the point.

KK: Well, I'm with you. Like how do we bridge civil discourse with action in a way that reflects our practice, in a way that reflects our values. I think what I love about what you're saying to bridge that gap and we think about this all the time, right, and we facilitate small circles and I do love the idea of civil discourse and I think for meditators and yoga practitioners, they're predisposed to a compassionate practice that might allow for a more productive exchange sometimes, I think, when we're centered and resourced. But I agree that conversation without action is limiting, the same way that action without consciousness and compassion can be harmful. So there's a way in which I really want to see all of those things come together in some kind of civic expression.

KK: But I love what you're saying around we're called to meditate because we value it, because it makes us feel good, because we see the way it's transforming our lives. I do think that people don't believe or aren't sure whether that will translate for them politically. Often, people, we hear people say, "My vote doesn't count." We hear that all the time around why they're so passive about voting. So I'm wondering, as you're describing what you experienced, I'm wondering what are the ways in which we can help people realize that their vote, their voice, their small circle meditating and phone banking actually does in fact make a difference.

SS: Well, it does. I mean, look at these elections that are being decided by 62 votes or something.

KK: Well, we've got the blue wave happening, right? Like there is something shifting in the way in which people are showing up. As we kind of end this conversation, is there ... What is the call to action? I feel like that's one of the things that I love about you is you rarely leave a meditation without a context. There's always like, "This is what it looks like in your life." Given that we're in front of a midterm election, given that we're coming out of a year of rollbacks and resistance, what is the thing that you want to remind people of in addition to their practice that we can do that can move us in the direction of progress?

SS: Well, I think whether it's a question of affirming your love for yourself, like "I'm worth something. I'm worth decent treatment, decent opportunity," or love for another whether it's your grandchild, someone's going to be trying to breathe long after we're not here anymore.

KK: Hopefully.

SS: Hopefully. Yeah, maybe not. Or it's this kind of more general sense of love for life. We're moved to try to do something whether it's the small good that's in front of us or kind of helping put more systemic change in place.

KK: That reflects love.

SSL Yeah, that would never be just one person but it's like a collective effort. It's over and, not or, but and voting. It's like we've got to participate in this system as it is.

KK: Democracy is love.

SS: Yeah, it's engagement.

It's how we take care of each other.

That's right. No, it's true. I was once talking to a person who was kind of a new friend and his son was going to be turning 18 just before the presidential election. There are different members of the family where there are three voters and I just assumed they voted and at one point, he said, "We don't vote." I said, "No, you have to vote." It's like, "You have to vote."

Basically, his commentary was more like, "Well, they're really kind of the same, these two candidates," which turns out not to be true, "but they're really kind of the same except the margins." I said, "People live at those margins." If you're talking about the difference between a $10 an hour minimum wage and a $15 an hour minimum wage, that's a big difference in someone's life. You've got to vote for them. I think it's true. I mean, won't be true for long but I think as life is fairly apart from the kinds of things, they're not endangered of being deported. They're not ... There's all kinds of stuff that we are all-

KK: They're insulated.

SS: Yeah, they're insulated. But that won't be true forever. It's just won't.

KK: Well, and I love that we're ending on this note of real love is voting. Real love is loving the people on the margins enough to fight for them and vote for them and advocate for them. I know that you have said, I think, “voting is our commitment to ourselves, to one another and to the whole society”. We like to say voting is collective care, right? It's how we voice our love for each other. So I love that being sort of the end note for this conversation. We started with love. We started with the big question of how do we love the hard things and now we end with how do we embody and vote love and voice love and so thank you for being a commitment to that and for fiercely advocating and stewarding the democratic process.

KK: I'm so grateful to have had you in my life for the last couple of years especially when politics and meditation weren't very popular. It was always nice that I could turn to you and be like, "We've got to get this community to the polls," and you'd be like, "Hell, yeah." So anyway, thank you Sharon for always being out front and pushing us to stretch our practice to the next level.

SS: Thank you so much.


KK: We are re-imagining a citizenship where everyone belongs and that calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us. We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity and respect for our undocumented communities. You can learn more about how to engage at and

While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week call to action is practice meta or loving kindness, not just when it's easy but all of the time. Tune into Sharon's podcast, Meta Hour and check out her teaching schedule at Special thanks to our producer Trevor Exter and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at Thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engage by subscribing to our weekly newsletter well read at CTZN Podcast is community inspired and crowd sourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care. Don't forget to rate us on iTunes and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.



004 Tarana Burke

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Hi, my name is Kerri Kelly, and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast, where we're exploring a citizenship of solidarity and how we show up for each other. We're joined today by the amazing Tarana Burke, the original founder of the #MeToo movement. As we tease out the true meaning of #MeToo and what's beyond the hashtag.

So let me set the stage. My friend and colleague Amanda Stuermer contacted me about interviewing Tarana Burke for a video to be featured at the Muse Conference in Bend, Oregon. Of course I said yes. I'd been admiring Tarana Burke since #MeToo exploded last fall, and was super excited to get her take on the movement. But if that wasn't enough, Amanda called me a few days later to inform me that they had found a location for the shoot: Gloria Steinem's apartment. At that point, I nearly died. Two of the biggest feminist icons in one place, both trailblazers in their own right, but representing definitely parts of the movement, I knew this was going to be a conversation I would never forget.

And it was. As you will hear, we covered so much ground and really got to the heart of what #MeToo is all about. How the movement actually began over a decade ago in Alabama to support brown and black survivors of sexual violence, and how what we really need to teach our girls is who they are beyond what society tells them they should be, and how if we're not centering the voices of marginalized people, then we are doing the wrong work. The story of how #MeToo came to be is symbolic of that point. Tarana's efforts were almost erased when white popular women put #MeToo on the map.

But this is not just a movement for white cisgender women. It's about giving young people language, people who are survivors a way forward, and the community coming together to combat sexual assault. Tarana's vision is much bigger than hashtags and callouts. She believes #MeToo is a way to radicalize the notion of mass healing. While the recent iteration in social media has put attention on the perpetrators, Tarana is putting survivors at the forefront of this movement, and uplifting radical community healing as a social justice issue.

And on that, we could not agree more. If we are not healing, we are not transforming, and it starts with healing marginalized communities to achieve the inclusivity the #MeToo movement strives for. Tarana set this movement in motion well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal or the Alyssa Milano tweet or the Time's Up campaign. She is a visionary, a healer, a joyful revolutionary, and we need to follow her, because she is leading us towards the personal and collective healing that we all need to transform our communities and our country. Have a listen.


KK: Oh, hi.

TB: Hello!

KK: So we're here in New York City live, reporting back to all of our friends and family at Muse Conference, and I could not be more blessed to be here with the amazing Tarana Burke.

TB: Oh, thank you.

KK: The founder of the #MeToo movement. We're sitting intimately close to one another, so we've gotten to get to know each other a little bit over the last couple minutes, but I'm excited to be in this conversation with you.

So the last couple months have been, I'm sure, a whirlwind for you.

TB: It's an understatement, but yes.

KK: It's an understatement. Tell me one "holy crap, this is happening moment" that you've had over the last couple months that has just blown you away.

TB: There have been quite a few. Probably Time Magazine was the "holy crap" moment, because people ask about it all the time, but it's not a thing that you grow up wishing. I never met anybody that says, "One day, I want to be a Time Person of the Year!" Right, it's just not a thought. And even when we were nominated, because it was so new and some people knew that this was something that I started and other people didn't, I didn't even know that I would be a person that they would call on to represent it. And then Time was so laid back and kind of ... It was like, "We have this little project, we wanted to know if you wanted to participate."

KK: Little!

TB: Yeah, and was like, okay. And they had called Alyssa too, and then we started putting our heads together when nomination, when the poll came out. We were like, could this be ...

KK: Wow.

TB: And even then, I was like, that's not going to happen. That's just not going to happen. And then it happened, and I was like ... Oh, yeah.

KK: Big deal.

TB: Yeah, it was a big deal.

KK: Big deal. So you set this movement in motion well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the Alyssa Milano tweet, the Time's Up campaign. Could you ever had imagined that it would get this big?

TB: No. Actually, I had a vision, and I found this written in a journal, 'cause I've just been pulling out all kinds of old stuff, that one day maybe it would be sort of a beacon of light for survivors. I thought that there would be bumper stickers and window decals and the world wouldn't necessarily know what it meant, but they'd see it everywhere, but we would know what it meant, and it meant, oh, that represents a safe space, or that's a person that's safe to talk to. That's a fellow survivor.

And that was sort of the vision, but also, we didn't live in a world where it was okay to talk about sexual violence publicly. We didn't have a national dialogue about it, so I just didn't have any space to dream about this.

KK: Well, and that was back in 2006, right, when this vision emerged.

TB: Yeah.

KK: Can you tell us about that beginning? How did it start, who inspired it?

TB: Yeah, well, a couple of things. I've been organizing since I was a teenager, and there was always ... Not always, but for a while, there was sort of a nagging thing about, why don't we organize around issues around gender, or gender based violence? We didn't call it that, I didn't say those words, but I had a young person who was ... I used to run a leadership camp, and I had a young person at camp who really was trying to find space to confide in me about her experience with sexual violence, and I was 22 and still grappling with my own survivorship or whatever. And just didn't have it for her.

And that stayed with me for a very long time, because just even as a person who works with young people, you just want to get it right. It's just a thing, even as a parent, the thing you just don't want to do is mess up your kid. So it's a couple of things. So it was that, and then as my friend and I started doing this work with young people, and it felt like the girls needed a different kind of attention. It just ... Not necessarily, not even around sexual violence, just different. And we started doing that work with them, really specific work with girls, and again, every time we got a collection of young people together, young girls together, there was always this moment when they started talking about their experience, even if they didn't have the language. It was what we understood to be sexually violent, but they didn't know it.

And it just became a point when it was like, I want to do something. We have to do something. And I tried not to. I felt like it wasn't my lane. My lane is leadership development, I can teach you how to organize, I can teach you how to do a campaign in leadership development, but it just wasn't, I thought, my lane. But after trying to find resources in the community, trying to find people who felt as passionate about it or who could help in some kind of way, I couldn't find it. And that's the kind of heart you have-

KK: The need emerged.

TB: Yeah, the need emerged, and I was like ... Well, I know what I do have. I have experience, and I have a passion for this. And so I took that experience and I thought, "What would I have needed at 14 and 13? I'm a survivor. What could somebody have said to me or given me or gifted me with, or made me feel like when I was that age that could've made me change the trajectory of my life?"

KK: And what was that for you? Where did you get to with that?

TB: It was empathy. It was ... It feels like a simple thing, and sometimes when I talk about it now, I think, people think that's it.

KK: Yup.

TB: It's the start, though. I think one of the misconceptions even about this movement and the work is that #MeToo is a destination, and it's really a starting point.

KK: Yeah, yeah.

It's not just about the declaration and that's it. For me, it was these women who I met who were really vulnerable and transparent and shared their stories with me. So they gave me language, they write. I would say victim and they'd call me a survivor, and I was like, oh. Just little things like that starting changing how I thought about it, and it also ... It's like, these women who I met gave me permission to heal. They gave me an opening to start that journey.

And we don't ever think that kids need those things, or young people need those things. And even in our communities, we don't talk about healing. We don't talk about what we need. As an organizer, the thing you hear all the time is, you have to meet people where they are, and you have to meet their basic needs. And it's always food, clothing, and shelter.

TB: Yeah.

TB: And I'm just like, we have other needs. Other really basic needs. Those are tangible needs. There are this wealth of intangible needs that we have, and I feel like it's unfair to ask somebody to get out in the street, fight against whatever. Police brutality, economic disparity, political blah blah blah, and we are cracked up in pieces on the inside, and nobody's taking care of those needs.

KK: I've heard you talk about that, the need for a movement that radicalizes this notion of mass healing. I love the way that sounds. And it does feel like that is missing from the mainstream #MeToo movement. We hear a lot about pushing back, speaking truth to power, holding people accountable, but we don't hear a lot about healing.

TB: Healing. This is a movement about healing, period. And it's about healing in two ways. Individual healing and community healing. And the pushback on all of that is a part of community healing. We have to deal with both at the same time. For me, and I think ... I'm glad you said mainstream, because there's this false narrative that's existing, that #MeToo is about all these things that it's not. Not even from my perspective in terms of the body of work that existed. Even from the first tweet that Alyssa put out, she literally said, "Say this thing if you've experienced this thing."

KK: In solidarity.

TB: Yeah, it was about a declaration, about a statement to show the gravity of the issue. Even before #MeToo even went viral, the women who came forward around Harvey Weinstein, those women didn't call for anything. These are women who were trying to find a space to tell their truth. They literally just told their truth.

KK: Which is a part of it, but not the whole story.

TB: It's not the whole story, but the idea that this is a movement to take down powerful men and we have targets on men's backs, that's a corporate media made thing. That's not real. This is about healing. There are, for all of the people that you see in the media every day and all of the things you hear about #MeToo in the media, I get ... I want to say thousands, 'cause it feels like that, but definitely hundreds of letters and emails and DMs and social media messages from people who are in pain, who have held this thing and have been holding onto this thing for their dear life for God knows how long, and they're like, "Okay, help me. What do I do with this?"

That's what this movement is about. It's about helping people understand that there are several entry points to a healing journey, and I can't tell people what their journey is, I can't teach them how to heal, but I can certainly help people find entry points to start their journey.

KK: Well, and I love what you said about how this is the starting point, and when we think about healing, healing's hard.

TB: Yeah.

KK: And it's a long journey-

TB: It's forever.

KK: It's forever, and it's emergent. And so what do you think are the components? What do we need to build in order to tend to this mass movement of healing? Because it feels like the mainstream #MeToo movement is predominantly online. What's beyond the hashtag that will allow for this sort of relational healing process?

TB: I think it's online and offline. I think for us, when I talk about the #MeToo movement, I talk about it from the perspective of the work, the body of work that we'll carry. And that is created. Even online, there's not a space that you can go to right now, if you went to Google or whatever, that helps you heal if you are a survivor of sexual violence. And I think about all the different ways that we have these quirky existences, and then we craft this way that we get through life.

KK: Right.

TB: And it feels really strange, it can make you feel abnormal, it can make you feel all these different things, and until you find a community of people that are like you. And so I want to create a community, an online community, where people can go and feel safe and feel protected.

And so I talk all the time about ... I have a terrible memory, and that is directly related to me being a survivor, because I spent many years trying not to remember things.

And crafting it so that I don't go certain places. It's like a maze, I always think of it like ... Oh, can't go down that corner, gotta turn this way. I've been really intentional about that, and as a result, I have a terrible memory. People don't understand that.

Yeah, and it's related to that wound.

TB: Unless you've been through this thing. Right, right. So you need to ... And when I tell that, I always get survivors who are like, "Oh my gosh, that's ... I know exactly what you mean." So we need a space where you can go find information, where you can go find like-minded people and really feel community online. But also, we need a space online where people can be active, and so to get the guidance to do what you have to do on the ground.

One of the ways that worked, happened for us as we were doing this, once we started, was creating healing circles. And so the hope is to teach the world how to create healing circles in their own community, 'cause essentially, we want to fill in the gaps for all the people who don't have access, if you don't have therapy or you don't want to go to therapy, or whatever the various reasons are, giving people access to the tools they need to craft their own healing journey.

And if you want to be active in a community, people need action steps. So for me when I think about it, I think about three things that have to happen. The first thing is narrative change, which we can get to, but really changing the mainstream popular narrative about what this movement is. And then building the thing that people need. It takes time, though. I spend the first part of, the first few months, feeling like ... just in a frenzy, trying to respond to everything and not really knowing how long we had. Everybody I know that does this work has a sense of urgency, like, we don't know how long they're going to let us talk about this.

KK: The moment is finite.

TB: Yeah, and so I spent the first few months just really trying to move at the pace of pop culture. It's impossible.

KK: Yeah. Not the pace of trust.

TB: Yeah. It's impossible.

KK: Right.

TB: And so right around ... After Time Magazine, there kind of was a crescendo, and I was like, okay, I just have to pull back. I have to do what I know, and I have been doing this work ... Not just this work around sexual violence, but the work in service of people my whole life. This is now how we work, this is now how we're effective. I wasn't being thoughtful or strategic, and so I had to take a step back, I had to pull in other people that I trust, and create a plan. And let people know, I know you want something right away, but you have to wait, because we want to craft something that's going to work and it's going to last and it's going to be around and sustainable.

KK: Yeah, and healing, it takes time-

TB: It takes time.

KK: -to build that kind of movement.

TB: And it's forever.

KK: I want to talk about the narrative, because you brought it up. And in a lot of ways, the way that this happened for you is symbolic of the thing I think you're naming. Like, we all know the story of the Alyssa Milano tweet, and some of these statistics blow my mind. 24 hours later, the hashtag had been used on Twitter 825,000 times, and 4.7 million had used it in 12 million posts. And in a way, though, it took off without you.

TB: Oh yeah. Not in a way, it absolutely took off without me, yeah.

KK: And for how long, 'cause I remember hearing about it, and then hearing the voices of Alicia Garza, people intervening and saying, "Hey, hey, wait up. This is the work of Tarana Burke."

TB: Yeah, it was really a day later. It just was sort of a slow burn, so October 15, I'm laying in my bed on Sunday.

KK: Same. Normal day, normal Sunday.

TB: Yeah. I decided I had to go to church, so when my phone went off, I had one friend who sent me a message and was like, "Hey, congratulations! This is really great, I'm seeing #MeToo everywhere." And I was like, what? What do you mean? 'Cause what people don't know is that I had been planning and plotting with all these people who do work with me to make a big splash around #MeToo this coming April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and so I saw the post and I was like, what is this?

And I'm 44, and I'm not a Twitter person. And so I called my 20 year old daughter.

KK: Call the people who know.

TB: Right, and I was like, find this thing, find it. I can't, I don't ... 'Cause I went on Facebook and I didn't see it. 'Cause, you know, that's where we live.

KK: Yeah. I'm a Gen X-er as well.

TB: Yeah, you know. And my daughter came and my daughter was like, "Mom, it's on Twitter." And literally for a day, for most of the day, I sat there. First I was panicked, like complete panic, 'cause I was like, okay. Nobody's going to believe that I have been doing this for the longest time, that we've used this phrase, that this means something. And I'm a black woman, this is not coming from black Twitter or the black community. I'll just be erased. That was my initial panic. And it was really panic.

And so I called my friends and I started, like ... What do I do? This is my life's work. And my friends are like, "Calm down, we don't know what's going to happen." And as the day went on, it was more and more and more people. The feeling of, that feeling just intensified. So my daughter found it on the internet for me, and on Twitter, the way you can watch just a hashtag ... And so I started watching the hashtag obsessively.

KK: Oh my God.

TB: And meanwhile, I'm talking to my friends, and my one friend said, "You have to calm down. You've been doing this for years. You have years of receipts. There's no way people are going to not know it's you." I was like, "Oh, I know, but who's going to believe it?" Blah blah blah.

And so I kept watching the hashtag, and somewhere about, I don't know, 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, 'cause I really was obsessing, I was still watching. I was laying in bed. I would go away and come back and it's like, people are still saying it, oh my gosh. And so ... But I clicked on somebody's story, and it was somebody's Twitter thing, and her story popped up. It was a longer story, I don't know how she had attached it or something. And I don't know who this person is, meaning I don't know the race or anything, the age. And I started reading the story, and I was completely convicted. And I had this moment of, I've been spending the whole day trying to figure out how I was going to save my work, and my work was happening right in front of me, all day long. It was right there.

And so I was like, oh my gosh, Tarana. I needed to take a step back. I mean, my fear was real. I think that the fear of thinking that my work would be erased-

KK: It is historical. Right, that happens all-

TB: Right, we had evidence that that would happen. But what I know is that I have spent my life ... I made a decision about my life really early on, and so this was one of those moments where you have to say, it's like where the rubber meets the road. So I had to decide, am I going to be in conflict, or am I going to be in service?

KK: Yeah.

TB: And I had to be in service. And not just for my own sake, but also the other thing that was happening was that the panic was about my work, but it's also like, I'm watching hundreds of thousands of women publicly disclose, and there's no container for them to process.

KK: Right.

TB: There was not somebody, something chasing the tweet saying, "Hey, if you're saying #MeToo, call this number, or let me help you out."

KK: Or, here's some tools.

TB: Here's some tools. There was nothing like that, and I know that I have those things. So I have to insert myself in this conversation, but not from a place of, this is mine, I want to save it, but, if you want to do this, let's jump in. If you want to do this, I need to tell y'all something. There's an idea behind this. Nobody was talking about ... These words, the reason why these words are resonating with you, because you're feeling a sense of empathy from somebody else. There's a connection happening that you didn't know you needed until you got it. And somebody needed to say that.

And it worked. I'm still, every day, like, wow. Oh, wow, they listened.

KK: And thank God you brought in that piece of, okay, now, what do we do with this, so that we can sustain this work and so that we can learn how to take care of each other.



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KK: One of the things that I've heard you say related to this is that if we don't center the voices of marginalized people, then we are doing the wrong work. And I think that's why your original story is so significant, because it's totally typical of the mainstream media to focus all of the attention on white, high profile people and places, and exclude and erase women of color. And so, what is the cost or the impact of not centering voices and stories of those who have been most impacted?

TB: I mean, what we've seen historically is that when marginalized people, when people of color or queer people or trans people or disabled people are not at the core, at the center, they get lost. They get pushed to the margins, that's how they actually become marginalized. And what we also know is that when we focus on those groups, everybody else benefits. Trickle down doesn't work. If we start at the top and we just hope that some of this goodness will just fall on these people who desperately need it, it'll never happen. But if we build from the bottom up, we build this foundation, then everybody gets served.

And so that's why it's the wrong work, if we're not starting with these groups and saying, look who needs access, who needs the most access, who needs the most resources, then you find all these other people will also benefit. It's not just, it's not from a selfish place at all. It's from a place of actually thinking about everybody. If you want to have the most impact among people across all race, class, gender lines, then you have to start with the people that are often pushed to the margins.

KK: And I've also heard you say something like, the #MeToo message might be the same, but the response is different.

TB: Oh yeah, sexual violence knows no race, class, or gender, but the response absolutely does, and we can see that all the time. We're looking at it right now in the media. So we, as America, just as American people, we are trained to respond to the vulnerability of white women. It's just historically how we know-

KK: How we're wired.

TB: How we're wired, right, how we're socialized in the country. And so it's not surprising, and that's not to take away from it, because I really want to be careful about the women who came forward around Harvey Weinstein, around all these other people, are survivors of sexual violence. And not sexual harassment in the workplace. Like, sexual violence, not to say that it's not both violent. So I don't want to diminish them, but they're also not standing up and saying, "Make it about me! Only talk about me!" They're not doing that.

The media does that, and they do it because we exist in a culture that elevates celebrity in all ways. And so in some ways, we have to sort of examine and interrogate the way we elevate celebrity to a certain status so that they only matter.

KK: Right.

TB: I've met some of these women. They are absolutely not trying to keep ... Not all of them ... keep the attention on them.

KK: Some of them.

TB: Maybe. But for the most part, these are just people, they're just women trying to have the same thing that everybody else is trying to have. But again, they are privileged in many ways, and so the other thing I always say is that privilege is not inherently wrong to me, necessarily. Some people may say it is. What I shouldn't even say, it's not inherently wrong. I don't think it's going anywhere. And so it's really about how you use it. If you don't use your privilege in service of other people, that's when it becomes problematic.

KK: Yeah, yeah.

TB: So if you know that the media is going to focus all attention on you, or if you know that you're going to be the focal point and that other people have been pushed to the margins, it is up to those of us who have privilege in various ways to shine that light and say, wait, we need to bring these people in.

KK: And I love the fact that the #MeToo movement, in many ways, especially the piece that you're bringing to it, is affirming that our healing, our wellbeing, our liberation, our bound ... Like, that empathy and resonance that you're talking about, we need each other. And so if we can have that understanding, then we can't not center ...

TB: Exactly. Exactly.

KK: I know you've worked a ton with girls. And that was how this work began, correct?

TB: Yeah, that's how the work, yeah.

KK: And I heard you once speak about the different between self-worth and self-esteem, which I think is such a great distinction, because there is what we believe about ourselves, and then there's what we're taught we should be. Can you speak a little bit about that?

TB: Yeah. When we started doing the work, when Just BE Inc., the organization that gave birth to #MeToo, was founded, it was because, again, I felt like the girls that we were working with in our community needed a different kind of attention. And whenever, and this is across race, whenever people do programs with girls and think about stuff with girls, it's always these =kinds of baseline things they do. We've gotta teach them etiquette, and it's always like, we're going to build their self-esteem.

And what I know, and particularly in our community, in communities of color, people ... I can say to you all day, you are beautiful, you are amazing, you're intelligent, you're gifted, and all of these things. And then I'm going to release you into a world that's going to tell you something absolutely different.

KK: Yeah, and it profits off of that.

TB: Right. So you have these girls who, I can say this to you, you trust me, I love you, you know I love you, but the world doesn't also always feel like that. So you don't see yourself, you don't ... In movies or TV or radio, you don't see yourself represented well, and so for me, it was about ... These girls need more than just self-esteem building. They need to be grounded in a sense of self-worth, so that when the world tries to tell you these things, you can identify the lie. And you know the truth about who you are. And for us, it was about giving them historical context. Why does the world think of you this way? And when we talk about etiquette, it was about ... Well, it was sort of a play on it. But it was like, who do you want to be in the world, how do you want to show up? And once you decide that, what are the tools you need to do that? How does your life need to ... What trajectory do you need to be on to get to this place, to show up exactly how you decide?

And it was also, the world also tells girls that everything is qualified. You can't just be worthy, you have to be the fastest or the prettiest or the smartest or something in order to earn that worthiness. And again, it's double down for girls of color, and so for us, it was like ... The reason why it's called Just BE is because we wanted you to just be. Just exist, to know that you're worthy literally because you exist in the world.

KK: And this feels so core to the healing that you were talking about. What we believe about ourselves informs whether or not we feel the courage to speak up, to acknowledge our story, to acknowledge our survivorhood, and to speak truth to power, to hold people accountable.

TB: All of those things come from-

KK: To me, all of that is interconnected.

TB: That's right. It all flows from the same place. You have to ... That worthiness is almost like a muscle that you have to keep exercising, and it has to keep being fed as well.

KK: By other people.

TB: By other people, and sometimes you can't get it from other people, so part of what our work was to help them build a toolbox. We have these -isms that ... I'm terrible, I created this thing and I can never remember them, but they were like, just be patient, just be kind, just be resilient. And our last one was just be you, and part of it said, don't be afraid if that's a different thing at different times, because inherently, you'll always be who God made you, and when all else fails, just be.

TB: Just stand in who you know that, who you are. Nobody tells our children that, nobody tells adults that, right?

KK: Yeah.

TB: But at least adults have the benefit of going out and finding somebody or some book to read or some guru to follow, whatever. Young people don't ever get that, and young people in low wealth communities absolutely don't get validated in that way.

KK: Yeah, and it does feel like that syndrome of scarcity and you are not worthy is so pervasive in our culture-

TB: Oh, yeah.

KK: -for women and girls in particular, that to shift that mindset within each and every one of us could actually shift the story and the narrative and the culture. And I also just want to acknowledge how much I love that ... It feels like your work is as much about what we're doing on the outside, to serve one another and to heal together, and what we're doing within ourselves.

TB: 'Cause it has to happen at the same time.

KK: Right.

KK: I really, really believe that you cannot do, we can't do the work alone, and so we have to build community, and if we're going to build community, we have to be in support of each other, in all kind of different ways. Those two things have to happen in tandem. I've seen so many times, and we separate the two, and it just doesn't work.

TB: Yeah, it can't be polarized.

TB: Yeah. It can't be, you do one thing at one time and you do ... It has to be simultaneous.

KK: It has to be simultaneous.

KK: So I just want to acknowledge that in my own unique way, I ... When this emerged, this movement, I located myself in it, as have millions of women and men. Everyone's being impacted by this conversation.

TB: Yeah.

KK: And I think I want to get to ... What do you want, for people who identify with #MeToo, they use the hashtag, they're claiming it as a part of their identity, they're claiming to be a part of this movement, what do you want them to be called to do? What do you hope people are called to, 'cause to your point before, the movement has many messages, and so I want to give you space to be very clear about, this is what we should be called to do for each other.

TB: Yeah. I feel like if you are identified with this movement and you say I'm a part of the #MeToo movement, that means that you've made a decision to, one, be committed to interrupting sexual violence, and it doesn't have to be out on the street, in these big bold ways. But in all the ways that you can, in your capacity, you are committed to interrupting sexual violence.

And I think the other part of that is that you are committed to a healing journey, both personal and in the community. I think those are the main components of being a part of this movement. We want people to ... It's almost like a la carte. I want you to be able to find the different tools that you need and pieces you need to craft together your healing journey. That's what being in this movement is about, it's about entry-

KK: 'Cause it's not one size fits all.

TB: No, not at all. But there are so many different ... The things that work for me may not work for you, but you seeing that I'm on this journey lets you know that it's possible. It'll look completely different, but it's possible. And so those are the components, I think, of people really being a part of this.

And it's not just for women, which ... I try to be clear about that. We will always be at the forefront and the face of it, because women largely are the people who deal with sexual violence. But I think it's so odd that we say one in four girls will experience sexual violence by the time they're 18. One in six boys will experience sexual violence by the time they're 18, which means that there are scores of adult survivors.

When we first started this, people were like, "Men can't say #MeToo." This is not the Women's March. I'm not saying that to be disparaging.

KK: Yeah, totally.

TB: I'm saying that this is very clearly a woman's issue in some ways, but this is a human issue. It's pervasive in ways that we have not even thought about, and boys are included in that, queer people are included in that. Trans people are included in that.

KK: Big time.

TB: So we have to think about the spectrum of people as well.

KK: Yeah, yeah. What gives you hope?

TB: My daughter. And I know that's sort of a canned answer, but my daughter has blossomed in this moment in just a way that I just didn't see before. Realizing, watching them ... My daughter's pronouns are "they", and watching them talk about their experience, what has been living in the home and watching me do this work all these years, and how it's affected them, and my daughter's represented me at stuff I couldn't go to, has gone and talked-

KK: Amazing.

TB: And I just have been like, this is what I'm talking about. And honestly, it's my daughter, and it's that age group, too. I've been traveling around, talking to these young college students, and they get it. And they get it like that.

KK: Yeah.

TB: And they have a ... Every generation is sort of like, well, this generation does know so much more, though, 'cause they have so much more access. Their analysis is on point. You don't have to dig in and explain a whole bunch of stuff, and they're like, healing? Check, got it. What do we need to do?

KK: Yeah, yeah.

TB: So that makes me hopeful.

KK: Yeah. I am so grateful for you. I am so grateful for the courage that you had and the foresight to see this movement before people even knew it was needed, and I'm grateful for the way in which you are stewarding it to keep it on course, and to really center healing and inclusion so that everyone can get well together. So, thank you so much.

TB: Yeah, let's get well together.


Yes, I love that.

Thank you.


We are reimagining a citizenship where everyone belongs, and that calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us. We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities. You can learn more about how to engage at and

While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to invest in healing. Not just your own individual healing, but your healing and relationship to the healing of the community as a whole. Our healing and liberation are bound, and it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and one another. To learn more about Tarana Burke's work and get engaged, check out

Big gratitude to Tarana Burke for sharing her story and for all the amazing work she does in the world, and special thanks to Amanda Stroomer and the World News for sharing this footage with us.

Thanks for being here today. Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at

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003 Seane Corn

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KK: Hi, my name is Kerri Kelly and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast where we are exploring a citizenship of solidarity and how we show up for each other. In this episode we're talking with world renowned yoga teacher Seane Corn about navigating privilege and power and what yoga has to do with social change.

She's blunt, brilliant, hilarious, and an abundance of wisdom.

Seane Corn is a world renowned master yoga teacher, but to just call her a yoga teacher feels absurd. She is a provocative and moving public speaker, she's the founder of the nonprofit Off the Mat Into the World, which has trained over 5000 people in how to bridge personal transformation and social change.

They've raised over four million dollars for humanitarian efforts around the world and they continue to push the boundaries of yoga beyond duality and inter radical and inclusive relationship.

Seane's about to be an author for her first book, which knowing her, will be a juicy “tell all” about her journey from spiritual practice to social action. But, what you will experience of Seane on this podcast, and what I know of her in person, is that she is relentless in her pursuit of truth and transformation.

She doesn't just preach about getting into the world and taking action, she walks the talk. Her process is real time, and raw, and vulnerable, which is why I think she's so popular. People see themselves in her stories. She gives us permission to be broken and beautiful at the same time.

I've had the privilege of knowing Seane for many years as a teacher, and friend, and collaborator and I can attest to her integrity and commitment to doing the hard end messy work of transformation, both on and off the mat.

I think it was her embodiment of the practice - more than the philosophy or the sutras or the anatomy training - that taught me what yoga really is. How it is the embodiment of our values in action. How it prepares us for the uncomfortable and uncertain experience of being alive in the world by building a capacity for those feelings on the mat. How it shows us over, and over, and over again, that we can do hard things, whether it's standing on our heads or speaking truth to power. And how the division that we are seeing played out in the world around us is actually playing out within us.

Only when we transform ourselves can we transform the world and only when we transform the world can we transform ourselves. In our conversation she says,

“We can't stand on the sidelines. We can not sit back and have magical thinking that suddenly this is all gonna transform without actually getting involved.”

There is nothing sideline about Seane Corn. She is all-in and head-first and she is showing us that transformation is possible from the inside out.


KK: I'm looking at her right now and she's making laugh with her big smile and she's known for her big smile and curly blonde hair. She's already giving me googly eyes and a really big smile, so we're gonna have some fun with this podcast I think.

She's the cofounder of an organization that's very dear to my heart called Off the Mat, Into the World that really has been bridging personal transformation and social change for at least ten years now. Off the Mat has trained over 5000 leaders, whether they're yoga teachers, or organizers, or politicians, or moms. They've raised over four million dollars for humanitarian issues, both here and abroad and Off the Mat has really been a trail blazing organization in the way in which they have really uplifted the relationship between yoga and spiritual practice and social change and conscious activism. So much so that, it's really changed, I think, the spirit of the yoga industry in America.

She is currently writing her first book, which I can't wait to get, which, Seane, to my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong, is a tell-all meets personal practice meets next steps and a call to action. Is that correct?

SC: Yes.

KK: Can I be your publicist?

SC: I wouldn't say it's a tell all. There's not much to tell, but it does juxtapose personal experience with the varying practices of yoga and transformational work. It allows me both to be very forthright and disclosing within my own experience and then to make the parallels to the practice of yoga and how to reframe your own personal narratives.

I feel like that's been your gift all along. The way that I think people experience you teach the tools and the wisdom of yoga is really though your own human experience, and you've never been shy of telling humiliating, self deprecating stories about you in the middle of yoga class.

KK: I really thing that that is actually the thing that breaks through to people. People see themselves in you, they see their humanity in you, they see their imperfection, and their humiliation, and their mistake making and they see also the potential, and the beauty, and the wisdom that you also embody and I think that that is such a unique way of imparting this practice on people, because I think it meets people where they are.

SC: That had always been my intention as a teacher just to be as ... just as forthright and as human as I possibly can be within my own experience. What's interesting about writing this book is I'm not a natural writer. That's something that's ... that really pushed my edges. I'm a communicator, and I'm very fluid in myself expression, bu the book writing has been very alchemical. It has taken me by surprise.

The thing that I'm learning most about myself is that as open and as transparent as I believed I have been in the yoga world and my work, I really have controlled my narrative and that's what I'm learning because this book is forcing me to go into places that I've never exposed publicly before, pull back some of these veils and dig even that much deeper and I am so uncomfortable. I'm really resistant and I realize that in all these years, I ...

That's the only wording that I could come up with. I control my narrative. I give as much as I feel comfortable and safe with giving then I step back and this book is forcing me to go to another level.

KK: Is it revealing ... 'Cause I've always experienced you as authentically telling the truth in most every moment of your life. It's just who you are and how people know you. I imagine you're going to a whole new dimension when you start unpacking these memories and stories and feelings. I imagine that this has been deeply transformational for you too and illuminating, maybe what you didn't know consciously about how you have become... who you are.

SC: Absolutely. I really have. I've learned so much and I'm proud of how I've shown up in the world. I've been very comfortable in the way that I've put myself out there. I've always had this skill, something that my mom always does with me, is she'll say, "We're in a kitchen. The wallpaper is yellow. You're wearing a blue dress." All of a sudden I'll say, "There's a birthday cake to my right. There's a chair and there's a pink cushion on the chair. Someone just drops a glass." And, I'm only two years old when my mother's giving me this information.

I have this ability to, once you give me a couple of indicators, it has to be something my senses can grab onto, a scent or something in a visual, I can put myself in that place, and I've done it even younger than two.

KK: So it's like time travel.

SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And have very ... I can hear conversations and my mother will affirm whether ... and she always gets ... She's like, that's just freaky. But, what the book is doing is very similar, where in the past I've told some of these stories, but because I've shared these narratives so many times, there's just rhythm to it.

In the book, as I'm writing it and I'm describing certain places and scenes, suddenly another layer will come out and I'll start to visualize where I'm at, what I'm feeling, who else is in the room with me, and different levels of the story that I had buried. That's been really ...

It's a little scary at times, very intense, really emotional, and that's why I say, I control my narrative. I have been very good in just having these particular bullet points and I share these stories and this book is forcing me to have to go into certain memories that have been convenient to bypass.

The book's not letting me bypass it. It serves me right. This is exactly what I teach. This is what I support and value.

KK: That's right. You asked for this.

SC: Totally. I'm resistant, but every once in a while I'm like, son of a bitch. Dammit.

Do I really stand for this? This is hard? Is this what I teach?

KK: In the spirit of full disclosure... about what you're talking about, I want to give a little context to our relationship. Because, you are not just another guest. You are my teacher, my friend, my ally, my collaborator, and more. I was doing the math this morning, Seane, and we have known each other for 15 years now.

I remember very specifically meeting you in San Francisco at Yoga Tree, Castro. You were there doing a youth aids event, and I had just moved to San Francisco from New York and I remembered the minute you opened your mouth, I heard home for me. 'Cause you're from New Jersey, I'm from New York, and everything about who you were was like a homecoming for me. It wasn't just about your accent or your New York style, it was about what you were saying that spoke to a part of me that changed me forever.

I think it was along the lines of ... and this was a year after 9/11, so I had just lost my step dad in the World Trade Center. I was a mess, quite frankly. On and off the mat. You said something like, "What if we turned our wounds into service? What if we turned our wounds into something else?" That changed me forever.

That was 15 years ago, pre Off the Mat Into the World. I just think so back so much has changed.

I can't even begin to articulate the experiences that I have had over the last 15 years and the way in which it has informed me personally and the way in which it's impacted the community in which I love so dearly.

SC: I hope, in a very positive way, I was so naïve when I first started talking about that intersection between yoga and service. I really knew nothing. I think that that's what my biggest take away in the last 15 years is how little I knew, that I couldn't have anticipated the way in which I was going to have to get educated to understand what it was that I was even putting out there on a public level.

It was so complex, so nuanced, and I was really immature in my understanding. I was right, but I really didn't know what I was right about.

KK: You didn't know what you didn't know.

SC: Exactly. I think, again, very alchemical. I keep ... that word has been popping up in my life so much. Even that statement that your wounds ... for me, at that time, I believe it a little bit differently now. You're wounds become the place in which you will end up being the most informed to be of service, the most qualified in a way. That is such a deck full consideration. It's also incredibly problematic.

KK: Right.

SC: I couldn't have known that then. It was correct in my soul, and yet, I hadn't yet unpacked what that would and could mean. I think the last 15 years has been an intense education. It has been inspiring in watching people step into leadership, encouraging people to engage the way that they have.

Me personally, I have had to wake up to so many aspects of myself, my limited beliefs, my own privilege and have had to unpack perceptions that I didn't even know needed to be awakened. I didn't even know these questions needed to be asked. It was very magical to me in this way.

KK: It's funny because I was literally just talking to someone the other day about naivety. She was a young activist and she was so naïve, which made her bold and impulsive and courageous in many ways. But, she said that if she knew what she knows now, she wouldn't have done it.

I'm sure there have been times where you've been like, did I say yes to this?

SC: So many times, except that I'm also deeply connected. My relationship to spirit is so strong, so I always believe that I’m a part of something that I can't yet possibly understand. When things are revealed to me, I feel compelled to continue within that trajectory. I feel an obligation to it because I sense that something's unfolding that I'll understand later.

For example, in the past 15 years, again on a personal level, not based on what I've taught in the community, but what I've had my ass handed to me, is I've had to really look at, like I mentioned before, my own power and privilege. I've had to look at themes around internalized oppression and belief systems that are inherited that would impact my understanding of racism, of sexism, of homophobia, of transphobia, ageism, of ableism.

These were conversations that I never had to have because I'm a white woman with privilege and doing this work with Off the Mat, and going into environments in which I went into, bringing my ignorance along with me, there was so many moments where it was like, "Oh, honey." Like, wake up.

I had to get educated. I had to-

KK: Thank God for those people, right?

SC: Yeah. I got called out so many times. Deservedly so. I wish it could've been kinder, that would've been nice, but that's not the way it went down.

KK: It was the gift.

SC: It forced me to have to recognize that I'm not exempt from any of the behaviors that perpetuate any kind of a separation or oppression and that the real ... if there was a real crime in this, it would be that I stayed so attached to my ignorance because I can. That would make me complicit. That I couldn't tolerate.

KK: Right.

SC: The knowing that I ... that because I didn't ... I don't have to look at this stuff, that makes me complicit, which is something that I had to move towards. Understand, I don't want to be complicit, then what do I have to look at?

I had to look at, where am I racist? Where am I sexist? I'm not exempt from any of that. This was hard and it was humbling, and it was scary, and it was much easier to tell other people have to look at this stuff. But, over the last 15 years, I have read, researched, processed, invited, inquiry, asked people to challenge me, and have really forced myself to look at these issues in a way that help me to understand why people do things out of ignorance.

Why people do things out of their own unchecked privilege. When the election happened, and suddenly, especially among the privileged community, there is all this conversation suddenly about race, and sexism, and xenophobia, and people are can't believe all this rhetoric there's other people within the marginalized communities are like, "Oh, you're just figuring this out now?"

KK: Yeah, welcome to reality.

SC: Right. I all of a sudden, I sat back and I felt like, "Oh, this is why for the last 15 years of my life, I have been on this fast track of education and understanding, and trying to balance, and understanding internally, noticing the trauma within my own body, noticing my natural reaction to any oppression.

Noticing the ways in which I'm complicit. Having to embody that myself, I feel unbelievably prepared to help support other people who haven't in the last 15 years had to ... Especially people like myself, who haven't had to go into this dialogue. Those are the moments where I'm like, "Oh, that's why it happened." I thought Off the Mat was supposed to be something else, and then suddenly it's got it's own little life force.

I trust that, but I do recognize the last 15 years have been an education for me personally to help me to wake up to my own unchecked privilege so that I can be little bit more supportive as we're going through this very critical time to other people and invite them into the process that I was in so they can take their own accountability.

KK: One of the things I love about the way that you do that is that you invite people into your process and not your state of graduated intelligence. It's not like, "I have learned this and therefore I have arrived." For you, it's unquenchable, right? This commitment to constantly uncovering the truth and becoming the whole of who we are. I think that is the practice.

I know that you say often in class, and it's always stuck with me, that when you do the yoga, it becomes inevitable. You are called to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. What was that moment for you in your personal life when you realized that the yoga was so much more than the us ... and even the personal experience of yoga. That it couldn't not be interconnected and interrelated with everything else?

SC: I think like everything, in my experience of my own personal growth within the practice of yoga, is, I was always involved in social justice issues at a young age, but it was very separate from my yoga practice. It wasn't necessarily sustainable. I had a lot of issues personally, I came from an environment where there was trauma. I never knew how to express myself except through anger and through rage or dissociation and shut down.

By getting out there into the world and confronting injustice, it allowed me to express and that discharged energy and that made me feel better. But, it wasn't ... I didn't understand that there was a connection. I couldn't have 'cause I was a little baby yogi.

My first years of the practice of yoga were only physical. They were not spiritual. They were not philosophical. I couldn't have made that connection at that time. I was trying to get introduced to my body and the sensations and deal with my ego, my determination, my competitiveness, all the ways in which I related to the physical world.

For years my practice was simply physical. But, I can look back now and understand that that was a very deep physiological and psychological purification process to help me to relinquish the tension, the deeply embedded tension in my body that was keeping me safe and in control.

When that tension finally broke itself through, in a physical level, then I had an experience where I was feeling. It was never safe for me to feel. Rage was okay, because it's an active, dominating, masculine energy. But, vulnerability, that was something I was unaccustomed to. It was very threatening to my psyche.

I had to go through a process to try to recalibrate my natural need to want to tense up around my vulnerability and creating space for it without trying to make it bad, or even at that point, trying to figure out where that vulnerability came from, just being with the vulnerability. That process helped me become very empathetic to the human experience, my own.

I really understood and had a deep appreciation for just the little girl within myself who found very interesting skills for emotional survival. I understood why I made choices the way that I would make choices, whether it was in my relationship, or in the work that I did, based on this need to be loved, and to be value, and to be seen.

The yoga practice gave me space to have to feel that and to be present with that and to allow room for the healing to arise via my body and also through a shift in perception.

There's a chunk of time now where I am deeply immersed, not just in the physical practice, but also in therapy, trying to make the connection between the trauma that I've experience, not just in present time, but historical trauma ancestral trauma, cultural trauma, and how that lived in my body and how that was affecting the way in which I was seeing the world.

As I moved through that process and really understood the way in which narrative lives in the body, I was able to discharge it in a safer, more integrated way.

It did something just quite organic. I just liked me better, the highest aspect of myself, and I was able to see the higher aspect in self, of self, in others, even if I didn't like them, even if they were going through their own stuff. I really had a strong sense that the way in which their responding to the world is a reaction of their own unhealed wounds historically, or in present time. I felt such a deep compassion for those beings.

What also happened is that when I would recognize people in the world who didn't have access to the tools that I had, I understood why they would drink, or do drugs, or beat their partners, or neglect their kids. I'm not saying that I condone that, but I understood that what they were doing was a reaction of their suppressed experience. I also felt a deep compassion.

Yoga moved for me, from the physical to the more energetic and emotional and it opened me to a level of first, self compassion, and then more universal compassion. As I cultivated these skills ... and they started to work in real time. I started to notice that in conflict I was less reactive. That I was able to ground, I was able to resource, I was able to breath. I could make a note internally, like, "Oh, I feel the impulse that I want to rip their frigging head off."

I could feel it in my body, but I knew that I had the skills to make a healthier choice in that moment that would be more integrative. Then I would process that other, that anger out, at another time, but that I in the moment, I didn't have to react. I could respond and the response was coming from way more centered and way more loving.

In answer to your question, my particular movement in the practice of yoga started from the me, my body, my health, to the me, my emotional health and wellness, my self awareness, and then self responsibility to the we, to the collective. Because, what I think that what I recognized deeply, is that the fact that I have access to these tools, these books, these resources, these support systems, is a privilege and I don't know why.

It's certainly growing up ... this is not something that was inaccessible to me as a kid, but for whatever reason, when I stepped on a yoga mat, the languaging that was being asserted in that space spoke to something very deep within my unconsciousness. I felt I was home and over the years, through the practice and through the literature was able to gain insight and wisdom and practical tools.

It's a democratic experience in that I, through the practice of yoga, I get to ask questions, who am I, what is truth, what is love, to whom will I serve, what is god, do I believe in God, and it's very fluid in the way in which I can self reflect. I became aware that most people in the world, because of systems of power, that include political, religious systems, these people would literally be killed or jailed doing what I get to do each and every day, without question.

It was because of that knowing, that really shifted something within me where I thought, "Wait a second. How dare I not take these qualities that I've learned through these tools," this is not magic, it's practice, "and apply it to trying to create through action and through participation from the inside out, a world that is fair, and free, and equal, and safe for all beings."

Because, the practice of yoga teaches us we're one.

There's quotations marks, if you can see, we are "one". Which, is absolute unrelative. It's not that it's not true.

It's energy. We are all one and ... but if that's true, then everyone should have access to resources, then everyone should be able to love whom they choose.

KK: And yet, we're not having the same experience of being alive on the planet.

SC: Right.

KK: On any level.

SC: Therefore, that's not yoga and if I'm a yogi, then I've got to go towards where the separation exists and do my best to heal it, but the thing is, if I'm participating in it, because of my own ... Again, I'm check privilege, or my own bias, and discrimination, and racism, my own unwillingness to look at my ignorance, then why would I expect our leadership to change? Why would I expect our systems to change. Why would I expect the world to change, if I resist the change within myself.

I really do believe that if you do this work, and are committed to the work, you recognize that the work doesn't end on the healing of the individual. The healing of the individual is what is required to begin to create a shift of consciousness via active and conscious engagement and if we can not stand the systems ... the system are only made up of people.

KK: That's right.

SC: Change the people, you change the system.

KK: Well, I feel like what you're talking about is really tricky for this community to comprehend. Because, we are participating in these systems. We are a part of the problem, whether it's because of our whiteness or whether it's because of our unchecked privilege, or whether it's because of even the ways in which we participate in capitalism.

We pay taxes. Whether we like it or not, we are a part of these systems and I think sometimes in wellness and spiritual communities, we like to believe that we're above them, but we are very much anchored ... we are swimming in them, whether we can see it or not.

One of the things I feel like you've done really well, is articulate that we have to hold that paradox, that we are of these systems, that we are actively participating in them, and, simultaneously we are a part of the solution.

SC: It's funny, I just had an experience of that just last week. I had gone to South Dakota to do a learning and listening tour to learn more about the real American history of the Native Americans and the impact that the genocide and colonization has had on the tribal nations, past, present, and future. I did this kind of education for myself a lot because it's probably the gift of growing up with a mediocre education.

I grew up in an environment where I learned the way that everybody else learned about American history. As I've gotten older, I didn't go to college, so I didn't learn social justice one on one. I didn't learn that stuff. I don't have an academic understanding of anything, really. It's not the way I operate.

KK: It's also not what we're taught.

SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KK: In school.

SC: No.

KK: We're not taught the whole truth.

SC: No, not even close. My interest is actually finding out the real truth, but by the people who are actually directly impacted by it and to listen. Just to listen. One of the reason that I wanted to go specifically to South Dakota and to do this particular tour, is because right now I'm at a place where I'm really looking at systems of power and I'm looking at the impact institutionalized oppression is set up in the most subtlest of ways to continue to disempower and marginalize communities.

I understood this intellectually. Again, because of my own education, I wanted to understand, what's the root of this? Where, in terms of America-

KK: Where did this begin?

SC: Yeah. I thought, "Well, let's go back to the original people where the first true, in the United States, the first genocide happened where colonization happened where it was strategic.

KK: I love that you're returning to that place as the origin, because I think even in American politics right now, I think there's a lot of rhetoric around, we need to return to the values of the founding fathers, who were slave owners, and colonizers. We're like, that's not the truth of how we began, the truth of how we began to your point, is we came to this country as a white dominant culture and we stole the land and we killed people.

How do we tell that story from the beginning, and how do we reconcile that?

SC: There was a saying back in the day, "Kill the Indian, save the man." It's very deliberately what they did was to take them away from the communities to try to annihilate the spiritual practices, to cut their hair, and to try to get them to ... and I put this in air quotes again ... "assimilate" into the culture at that time that was dominating by destroying their natural earth based practices.

It was so systematic and strategic, very deliberate. It still exists today. It's more complex-

KK: And subtle.

SC: And subtle.

KK: And insurgent.

SC: It's in our media, it's in all of the ... It's everywhere. I can see it way more clearly now. Now that I see how it originated, again in the United States. Again, I'm only a week into the process, so there's still so much that I'm trying to-

KK: I can imagine.

SC: Oh yeah, it's gonna take me a while to process this. For the first few days, my head was just spinning. 'Cause it really is the real American history. Even to this day to see what the government is continuing to do and how the Native American people are having to fight for things that they shouldn't have to fight for.

One of the things, we went to this place called Devil's Tower. That's what it's called. That's an offense to the Native American people, 'cause this is a sacred place. It's a rock that was featured in close encounters of the third kind. That's where people might know that rock, that mountain, from that movie.

KK: Which is a whole other can of worms that you reference.

SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

This is ... They call it Bear's Lodge. It is sacred and there are tons of stories that go along with this. It's still a very active place of worship to the Native American people. Yet, it's also a national park. When you get there, there are people climbing up the rocks and taking pictures and hanging out.

Now, he refused to take us to the front entrance. We had to hike just the same way that many of the Native Americans go to worship. We had to hike to the back and sit in a field as he told us the stories, 'cause he won't support, of course, that culture.

He said it was akin to ... if he came to any church or temple and threw ropes up over the building and started to climb up churches or temples. It's the same thing.

KK: Or the US Capital building, or the White House.

SC: Anything. But this is a sacred. This is their church and people are hiking on it and defacing it every single day and it's allowed. There's no place in the entire area that talks about what it really is to the Native American people. No place.

It talks about the butterflies and the wild life, but not what it has meant for thousands and thousands of years to the Native Americans to this day. He showed us examples of that everywhere and the ways in which they have protested to get signs up, at least, just-

Just to get a sign up?

Yeah. Just to get a sign up to explain what these places are and the impact that these places have had culturally to all of these tribes. That's the kind of thing that's like, well, that's still going on. That hasn't really changed and people are still having to fight-

Just for the truth.

And for their own identity. What you see now, right now, it's very symbolic. There's the white male dominance is so prevalent and rich in our ... especially our governmental system and it is so devoid of a sensitivity to the diversity that exists within the country, that existed way before we as white people descended upon it. It was very difficult to be there.

It's not that I felt guilt or shame. I didn't. I'm third generation American. There's something that feels a little ... I don't have that particular emotion. I felt so deeply saddened because we are continuing a cycle of oppression where the end result can only be the same. More genocide, more colonization, and when I say genocide, it's spiritual genocide, cultural genocide, gender genocide, sexual genocide.

It's just so evident and this need for land, this need for power, this need for dominance, I think my trip and focusing on the real American history via that particular perspective was really illuminating.

My hope is that everyone takes a trip like this to all the different cultures that they're not familiar with. That's always my interest. I didn't understand it and the same way I don't understand black culture and the same way I don't understand so many different kinds of cultures because it hasn't been mine.

My culture has afforded me the luxury of not having to have to look and I want to know.


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KK: In my witnessing of you over the last 15 years, you have a hunger for learning and I think we're hearing that in this conversation. You're like in relentless pursuit of the truth that continues to unfold for you. The way in which you go about getting the truth has always been through relationship. I in so many instances witnessed you lean into a relationship and ask really hard, sometimes humiliating questions so that you can better understand who we are, how we have come to be here, to reconcile the ways in which we are different, and the same.

I say that because I do feel like we are in a moment in our country and in our community of awakening and there is a lot of seeking of understanding racism, understanding privilege, understanding an equity and inequality.

And yet, all of the text books and white papers, and trainings in the world, don't compare to the kind of learning that is present when we are in authentic relationship with one another, when we're vulnerable, when we open our heart, when we say, I don't know or I'm sorry. Or, I don't know where to go from here or help me understand. I just think back.

You really have modeled that consistently over the years. The source of your learning has always, I feel like, been inside of relationship.

SC: Yeah. I don't think I ever thought about it consciously. I learned differently. Like I had said, I didn't do well in school. You couldn't give me a text. I could read it, maybe memorize the information, but it could never land in me. I didn't do well in school. I realize now, I didn't learn the way a lot of other people learned. I wasn't linear in the way that I learned.

If you put me into an experience, I'd get very quiet. I'd pay attention, and something happens within my consciousness where all of a sudden, everything starts to click and come together for me in a very different way. I just learn differently. I remember a teacher that when I was 15 who recognized that I learned differently.

He gave me the book The Color Purple. It wasn't on our book list. At that time the Color Book, Purple, because it was dealing with race and incest, and all sorts of homosexuality. Really more taboo subjects for a 15 year old. He gave me those books and he would give me independent exercises from the other students and he would only ask me to write how I felt about the themes.

I could use any language that I wanted and express myself in any way I wanted to. That was very liberating for me.

KK: And radical in an educational system.

SC: Yes. That doesn't make space for that.

KK: Yes.

SC: Mr. Pomaculi. He was only 26 years old when he was my teacher. He was ...

KK: Mr. Maculi, you just got a shout out from Seane Corn.

SC: Yes he did. Uh huh (affirmative). He really helped me to ... Again, kind of like I said earlier. The way in which my mind works, is I'm very visual that way. I'm kind of ... in some ways I'm very left brain. In some ways I'm very right brained. But, I realized I learned differently. The Color Purple was really about relationships and it exposed sexuality and trauma and community, race through a very different lens of all these different relationships.

Something about it connected for me. Then, when I moved to New York City, I was constantly put in situations where they were outside my realm of understanding growing up in New Jersey, just sheltered and suddenly I'm in an environment, there's a lot of drugs, there's a lot of sex, there's a lot of diversity and-

KK: This is when you moved to Manhattan.

SC: When I moved to Manhattan. So I'm 17 years old. I'm a baby.

KK: Culture shock.

SC; Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Big time.

And, because I asked questions and it was probably inappropriate when I look back at it. It was probably really naïve and annoying, but if I didn't understand homosexuality and I was hanging out with a person who was gay, I asked. It didn't occur to me at that time that it might be uncomfortable, it might be inappropriate. I was too young. I just would ask questions.

If I met someone with a different disability, I would ask questions, but I was also open if someone wanted to ask me any question. I didn't-

KK: It was reciprocal.

SC: Yeah. And it would be, not just some stranger, there'd be a relationship developed and an intimacy. It was through this intimacy that I started to wake up more. I would still read in books, but it wasn't the same as actually being in the experience itself and I think that that's always been a very organic way in which I've operated. I started traveling alone at ...

My first trip to Europe I would've been 19 years old and I spent three months in Europe on my own, just immersing myself in the culture and watching the loneliness, the isolation that came up from me. They way in which I felt so out of place in a foreign country.

It started making me think, "Well, if I feel out of place in a foreign country, I wonder what people coming to America must feel like." My education only happened through these experiences where I put myself in them and then reflected. It has evolved from there.

KK: I just wonder if that isn't exactly the way we should be learning. I think about how our educational system doesn't actually make room for everyone's kind of learning style, or capacity, and also doesn't really center relationships in the way in which we learn. I think back to the original way of learning, and I'm sure you heard a lot about this in your listening and learning tour in South Dakota.

That learning happened through story telling and relationship. There are no text books, there was no indoctrinated religion. There was story, and experience, and relationship, and learning, and vulnerability, and suffering, and joy. Yet, it does seem like we've lost that. I just name that in a time where it seems like a crack in an aperture of awakening. There seems to be a grab for the kind of learning that we've been taught to learn.

SC: We're better served, in fact, doing the thing ... You were just saying, I learned differently, and I'm thinking, you learned exactly the way we should all be learning. If we actually can return to a place of, let's be in an authentic relationship and learn together, that's a huge leap forward, especially when we're having to navigate issues of racism, and privilege, and inequity, and corruption, and suffering, and oppression. These are hard things to understand because we come from different places and we have different lenses and different privileges and different access.

KK: We can only learn together.

It's interesting what I learned about myself in this learning and listening tour, because our guide, his name is Rain Bear Stands Last.

Rain Bear Stands Last.

Yeah, Rain we called him. Rain would ... We would sit and he would talk and just drop down these stories for hours. Literally hours. It was a deep listening. Now I've done this kind of work a lot, but normally there's an exchange. You talk a little bit, you have some questions. There was no questions. There was no interruption. You listened.

I can see that this was very much a part of their tribal way. What I noticed in myself was a couple of things. One was, my need to ask a question. I would be listening and in my mind already formulating questions without really recognizing odds are, he's gonna answer that question at some point. It was more my need to actually assert myself into the conversation, which is dominance.

The right that I felt that I had to ask these questions. Again, it's in my body. This, I have that right. Where did I learn that right? Where did I learn I could interrupt? Where did I learn that my question was even of any interest and not just to shut up and pay attention and absorb. That was a real interesting thing to me 'cause I kept saying, Seane, knock it off.

Why do you need to be asking questions and formulating in their head rather than being totally present? That was a really interesting experience to have to just sit and listen and take it in and let it assimilate, the way in which I was always done.

KK: Intended. Right.

SC: At the same time, it really brought up stuff for me, that still, that dominant impulse. It also brought up as a woman. I really watched my need as a woman to have to-

KK: Take up space. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And assert.

SC: Uh huh (affirmative). The oppressed because Rain, although he's a Native American person, he's still a man. I had to look at my own impulse of trying to assert dominance, male female. And be like, look at that. Look at that. Where else does this show up?

This experience, again, always holds that mirror up and that's what interests me. I want to do this well, in meaning that I want to in the small little time that I'm a part of this world, engaging in the way that I am. I want to be effective in my leadership and the only way that I believe that I can do that is if I'm committed to the inner work itself, both without apology, and also without excuses. I don't get to let myself off the hook.

Again, if I do, then I'm complicit. The fact that I don't have to, it's not self beat. I laugh at myself all the time. I'm very well aware.

KK: I laugh at you too.

SC: Thank you. I'm humbled by this. I'm humbled by my humanity. I'm humbled how deep it is. How deep trauma runs and all the different ways our ego will try to assert itself for dominance.

KK: And protect and defend our heart.

SC: And create separation. It's like the macro and the micro are absolutely aligned, but if I can understand and sensitize myself to the impulse that I have, then I can understand why Donald Trump makes the decisions that he makes. I can understand. I don't condone it. But I can understand based on his own unpacked trauma and his need. His survival is dependent upon his dominance.

It makes sense why he's gonna surround himself with billionaires. Why he's gonna surround himself-

KK: With the like minded.

SC: Yep. Because of the depths of his insecurity. I can sit back and if I can see that shared humanity, maybe I can work with that. Otherwise, all I'm gonna do is the hatred that I have for the perpetuation of oppression, is going to influence my ability to communicate to that. I'm gonna come across as shrill, or unyielding, or defendant.

Instead of trying to pull that layer back, see the depths of the insecurity, and recognize, where is that root? Where was the survival of the original people from the 13 colonies? The oppression that they experienced over in England. How is that being replicated here in the United States against the Indians? How is that original oppression still being played out today?

To me, it's all connected because the Donald Trumps of the world are in direct relationship to those original 13, and that oppression, and that need for survival and dominance. I feel like I have to sensitize myself to all of the ways in which trauma plays itself out and let that, with compassion and form my dialogue, doesn't make me any less determined, or fierce, or truthful, but it does make me a little bit more loving and a little bit more human.

Maybe, if more and more people can actively engage in the systems, radically truthful, with determined commitment for social change, but steeped in a commitment to put love above everything, then maybe there's a more creative way in which we can transform these systems from the inside out.

I don't know if that's true or not. What I do know is true that if I keep staying in the unconscious, then I will participate and perpetuate behaviors that are propelling this country towards annihilation, towards true separation and death. The soul of the nation. The death of the soul of the nation.

I need to change. We need to change. We need to transform. But it requires ownership. That's why I laugh at myself in this process because I realize how much I don't know, how flawed my educational system has been, how deeply embedded into my body are these old conditionings based on my religion, and my education, and my gender, and my whole community in which I grew up with and how hard it is to change thought patters when they are so organic to who we are and the way in which we identify ourselves.

It's this deep unraveling. The only way for me to change it is...being in relationship. It's having skin in the game. And, it's being able to take ownership for my own humanity without feeling bad about it. It's like, yeah I'm an idiot and I'm gonna try better.

KK: But you do that for other people to. I think that that's what feels really significant in this particular moment of resistance in our country, where we are facing rollback after rollback after rollback and so many people are going to suffer at the hands of this administration.

Your brand, or your flavor of transformation, it doesn't just include holding the humanity of yourself. It includes holding the humanity of everyone. Including. No one's excluded from that practice. I think that that's what makes your activism for me (and I've been drawn to this for 15 years now) so profound, because it's not a transactional kind of activism that reacts or that blames, or shames.

But, it's a tricky activism that's relentless in it's pursuit of the whole truth and integrates in the way in which it embraces the whole of who we are and the whole history. I don't know if this is really how we're gonna make change, but I do ... I'm invested in this theory that if we can be a commitment to the transformational work of the whole, and including the joy and the pain, and the miracles and the suffering, and the whole of who we are, then that is the only way forward.

SC: Then peace is inevitable. That's the inevitable outcome of this kind of interconnection, and compassion, and empathy. But empathy with action. Compassion with action. And participation. We can't stand on the sidelines.

KK: That's right.

SC: We can not just sit back and have magical thinking that suddenly this is all going to transform without actually getting involved. I know that I have to be involved and share my gifts, and my privilege in the way in which I can to help to support other people into this particular process, and to want to be in this deep inquiry because the more that we can do the inner work necessary, and the more that we can see this interdependency, then wanting to engage becomes the next step natural progression and expression of our love.

That's why I don't see yoga as separate from anything. It's not separate from politics. It's not separate from social justice. It's not separate from animal rights. It's separate from environmental injustice. Injustices. Everything is connected and as our friend Miriam Lumsa says, “you can't be selectively conscious”. Either you are or you're not.

Now, there's a lot of unconsciousness in the world. I understand, it's uncomfortable. Waking up is really uncomfortable 'cause it-

KK: And, you're having your own experience of that, as am I, as are many of us in our own ways.

SC: I think I'm just willing to talk about it. No one told me years ago that I should be embarrassed about talking about my humanity publicly.

KK: Well, we're back to that naivety. If we knew what we know now, would we have said yes?

SC: Mm-hmm (affirmative). To me it was just very natural and plus holding the seat of the teacher, it was very important to me not to buy into those kinds of projections and to be allowed publicly the space to continue doing my inner work and sharing what I'm learning along the way.

Not suggesting I'm better off than anybody.

KK: You're not above it. You're not perfect. You don't know everything.

SC: I'm in it. I just have the ability in a public space in an embodied experience to articulate information, but all I'm ever doing is saying out loud what it is that I'm practicing and what I believe, then hoping that someone else is just like, "Oh, I hear you sister."

I'm still always struggling. But I'm again, grateful that I get to do this work.


KK: We are imagining a citizenship where everyone belongs. That calls us to fight for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Among them, 800,000 young people are living in fear because of the DACA crisis. An attack on immigrants is an attack on all of us.

We need to fight to keep our families together and ensure the wellbeing of everyone. Please make it a practice of your citizenship to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for our undocumented communities.

You can learn more about how to engage at and

Well, this podcast is coming to an end. Our work in the world is just beginning. This weeks call to action is to listen and learn. Get curious about what you don't know or can't possibly understand and then get educated and Off the Mat Into the World trainings are a great place to start.

Check out their schedule at If you haven't experienced Seane Corn in living color, you must. She is an experience that will change you forever. It certainly changed me. Check her out at

Want you to come together.

Thanks for being here today. Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing sound track. You can check out his music at and thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly news letter Well Read at

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1 Comment

002 Marianne Williamson




KK: Hi. My name is Kerri Kelly and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast where we are exploring a citizenship of solidarity and how we show up for each other.

Today we are talking with Marianne Williamson, spiritual activist, best selling author and total badass. What most people don't know about her is that she is a political powerhouse. In this episode, we're talking about the relationship between spirituality and politics, how to be a strong woman in today's world, and getting back to loving America again.

I call Marianne Williamson the matriarch of our movement because she's not just bringing it on the spiritual front, she is bringing it on the political front and blazing a trail for what she calls, "Integrative Politics", a politics that is rooted in love and humanity and what we are here to do for one another.

She is the author of 12 books, seven of which are on the New York Bestseller List. Her mega hit, Return to Love, is a must for anyone trying to understand love, which is everyone. And in it is one of my favorite quotes of all time, a quote that is often been miscredited to Nelson Mandela. But if you know her, and after you listen to this podcast, you can't deny, these are very much, her words.

They go like this: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us." And it goes on from there.

But this quite has been so formative for me in my life, especially as a woman who has been trained and conditioned to be quiet, to small down, to not ruffle feathers, to be a good girl. And I've been reflecting on that since my conversation with Marianne, who I look up to as a strong woman, but who, as you will hear in this episode, has also experienced that stereotypical typecasting for being powerful. Whether it's being called a bitch, or bossy, or too aggressive for things that men would be rewarded for. But, we're at an inflection point I think, in our culture, where women are speaking truth to power no matter the name calling or the consequences, because what's at stake for our children and our humanity is just too high.

We can no longer negotiate truths or accommodate people's responses or contort ourselves into society's image of us. It's time to speak up, to step up and to show up for ourselves and one another and for the vision of this country that we all deserve.

Marianne is stopping at nothing in her pursuit of reclaiming American and I get the feeling that we all better buckle up, because she is going to lead us to a reckoning in this country that may be just in time.

Have a listen.


KK: Welcome Marianne Williamson.

MW: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

KK: So when you ran for congress in District 33 in California, what year was that?

MW: 2014.

KK: 2014. A lot of people were excited that you were getting into politics, but you were hardly getting into politics. You've been in politics for a long time. But, we all start somewhere. And since the election a lot of people, especially a lot of people in our community, have been starting to see that the personal is in fact political, and have been leaning in and becoming more active in civic engagement and politics. So, can you share a little bit about your journey of becoming politicized in your life and in your spiritual practice?

MW: I don't see politics so much a part of my spiritual practice. I see it part of my human practice and I see my spirituality as about being human. I don't see spirituality as a separate category of existence. Here's relationships. Here's the body. Here's finances. Here's career and then over there is another category called spirituality.

KK: Right, like now I'm going to be spiritual.

Well, spirituality is the underpinning to everything else we do, because spirituality has to do with self identity. Who am I? What is my relationship to the universe? What is my relationship to the earth? What is my relationship to other people? What is my relationship to tribe?

So, if my relationship to one person matters, then my relationships to larger groups matter. If my relationship to my family matters, then my relationship to my community matters, and my relationship to my country matters and my relationship to my species matters.

So, you know the original Latin root of the politics mean "of the people." So, I don't get precious with words like "spirituality" and I don't get precious with words like "politics", getting in to politics, getting in to spirituality. I think seeing any of those things, those types of things as separate categories is delusional. It all has to do with who we are as people and the stand we take, on whatever meaning we ascribe to, and whatever values we believe in.

I grew up at a time where ... Because I remember ... I was born in the fifties, so I remember Bobby Kennedy. I remember Martin Luther King ... Well I remember Martin Luther King less. I remember the day he died very well. I remember Eugene McCarthy. I remember a time when we read ... Even when I was in college, you know, we read Rom Dos in the morning and we did the Iching and then we went to an anti-war protest in the afternoon. So, I lived at a time when there wasn't this separation between political activism and this burgeoning spiritual awareness.

After the assassinations, once they killed the Kennedy's and they killed Martin Luther King, and then particularly once they killed the kids at Kent State, there was this separation that occurred because it was as though the bullets that shot them, psychically shot everyone. There was a very loud unspoken message to those assassinations and the message was very clear. It was, "You will do whatever you want. Now, disperse. Do whatever you want in the private sector. But you will leave the public sector alone now. You will go home. There will be no further protest."

We live at a time where everybody likes to think they just invented something, right? This is not something new.

KK; The new politics.

MW: This is something that's been a little bit eclipsed and hidden for a while, but it's really the reemergence of a conversation which was already brilliantly and eloquently articulated by King, by Gandhi and by others who knew than an internal as well as external shift would be necessary in order to fundamentally change the world.

I think at this point, and I think that if Dr. King were alive he would agree, I think we are clearly at a point where it is as true now as it was in his time when he was dealing with racism and the underlying racism that was at cause in the institutional horrors, such as institutionalized white supremacy, segregation in the American south and so forth, that we need that metanoia now. We need that change of heart now, just as urgently or any external changes we make will not be fundamental.

You can't just water the leaves. If you want to heal a plant, to bring a plant back to live, you can't just water the leaves, you have to water the roots. And that is what's happening with our democracy and I think that the left is often far too focused on external issues. If we get it right with immigration or we get it right with the environment, or we get it right with food, or we get it right with income and equality or we get it right with education. But, there's an underlying problem, which has poisoned all those areas, which is basically the hostile corporate take over of our government. The under influence of money on our politics. The fact that we are willing to give short term economic gain to multinational corporations, to give those financial profits and short term gains precedence over the health and wellbeing of our own planet and our own children. That's the underlying poison. And we have to look into our hearts to see what's going on there. And there are so many issues that have to be looked at internally, I think, before we can address them externally in a way that fundamentally makes a change.

KK: Well and a lot of what you're naming, whether it's capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, are all a part of our core wounds.

MW: Well yeah, but I'm not enroll ... You just said something that I'm not enrolled in. I'm not one of those people who sees capitalism in the same category as colonialism.

KK: Runaway capitalism.

MW: Yeah. Capitalism that has deviated from its ethical core. And some people would disagree. Some people think that capitalism is inherently evil. I don't. I think that it is a ... capitalism ... Even Adam Smith said that it cannot exist, it cannot thrive outside an ethical core. So, I don't ... I think it's the deviation of mono capitalism from and ethical core that is a problem.

And so, to really make a distinction there, talk about free market economy. I look at the way you're dressed. I look at the way I'm dressed. Let's not go pretending that we're not participating in-

KK: Steeped in this.

MW: A free market economy.

KK: Absolutely.

MW: And also let's not pretend that it would be a good thing if money stopped flowing. There's nothing beautiful or holy about bread lines.

So, I think that we need to have a sophisticated economic conversation and I think that people in the spiritual community ... There's a danger there of a rank hypocrisy if people who are buying $150.00 yoga pants are just glibly to riding capitalism.

Now one of the things that Gandhi talked about a lot, was how the economics of a nation should be just like the economics of a family. So, I don't think-

KK: I love that.

MW: It's something that we have to ... You know one of the things Gandhi said was that the idea that economics is a verifiable science is one of the great evils hoisted upon the human mind. We have been trained to think that, quote unquote, "economics", is this science that only a certain breed of people, of a certain kind of understanding could possible understand.

I think we need to bring it home. It has to do with how much should I charge for this product in a way that you get a benefit ... Like let's say if I write a book, okay? I'm a writer. So, when things work well, I put in a large amount of energy writing the book. The publisher puts a large amount of investment publishing the book and then the exchange of money has to do with somebody who buys the book, whose life, whose whatever they were looking for in buying that book, will be increased energetically because they bought it. So, when that works well, all three participants in the arrangements benefit.

KK: Benefit, right.

MW: That's economics. That's righteous capitalism right there. That's righteous free market right there.

So what do you think has gone wrong in capitalism that we've forgotten that?

Oh, what we've forgotten is whenever you are looking for ... When you see your fiduciary responsibility, which is the corporate matrix here, as the idea that your making more money is more important than the righteous balance of energy.

KK: Profit over people.

MW: Profit over people.

And I don't think profit has to be over people. Profit can be with people. There is such a thing as righteous economics. There is such a thing as a moral economy. I mean people have been talking about a moral economy since the nineteenth century.

Now, it's interesting because I think a lot of people who talk about a moral economy today, think ... You hear a lot of people talking about how we have a moral economy in a little town in Oregon. That people are real ... Most of the conversation about a moral economy right now, has to do with local economies. And I don't think we can afford to keep a conversation around a moral economy only in terms of local economies, because I'm sorry, it's too late in the game. It is a globalized economy.

But there is also such a thing that you know, we used to call it blood money. You simply don't do it if it's the wrong thing to do. You know one of the things you see in politics today, whether it has to do with the NRA, you hear this a lot of times about the NRA, but all kinds of issues, where politicians don't vote the way their own heart might dictate. They don't vote the way their own conscious might dictate. They don't even vote the way polls show the American people want them  to vote because it would be risking their career.

Well, you know what I want to shout at the television sometimes? "What makes you different than any of the rest of us?" All of us have to make ethical decisions in our careers. All of us have to say at various times, "If I do this, I might lose my business. If I do this I might lose my job. But, it's the wrong thing to do. I'm not going to do it." That's when your society falls apart.

So, you can give it kind of term like spiritual, but I think that makes us too exclusive and a little too precious with ourselves. It's character. It's ethics. It's being a good person. When you're talking about something like a private prison industry, when you're talking about some of the ways that Big Pharma operates with the over prescription of antidepressants and so forth, you definitely have a situation that is blood money, because you're talking about how huge corporate interest look at certain areas of human despair and say, "I can make a profit center out of that." And that is evil.

But, I have to say, let's be careful with ourselves. It's easy for us to have that conversation, not as easy perhaps as it is for us to look much closer to home and see ways that people we know sometimes have conversations about what they could charge for something, as opposed to whether or not that particular exchange of energy financially is righteous and within a field that their heart really dictates, as opposed to whatever they can get.

KK: It reminds me of the concept of mutuality. Right? Like-

MW: It is the concept of mutuality. And this is where your spiritual metaphysical principle comes in. If you're only talking about a material world, then there are only so many pieces to the pie, the zero sum game. So, if you win, I lose. If I have more, you have less.

On the spiritual plane, there are infinite resources.

It's amplified.

And to be honest, a high-minded conservative vision.

You know I do think, even though my ... When it comes to policy, I'm definitely a left-wing Democrat. There's no doubt about it, on policy. But in terms of ultimate vision, I think Eisenhower was correct when he said that the American mind that is best is both liberal and conservative. Because sometimes, really it is the Conservatives who in America today, who will at their best ... And I'm not talking about right wing craziness here. I'm talking about a high-minded conservative principle, which holds the space sometimes a little more, for how it is infinite what can come from human work, human effort, human inspiration and so forth.

KK: Well, and so let's talk about that concept of mutuality for a moment, because when I think about you know, the spiritual community, when I think about the political community, I think often what we see is a spiritual community that is so focused on self-seeking, self preservation and often neglects the collective and the whole. And Then often on the political side, we see the opposite. We see a focus on the collective and a neglect of the person, the individual and it's really a both, and at the same time, under the concept of mutuality.

MW: Well I have a couple things I want to say. One is, I have felt at Sister Giants, that the transformational community as you would say, coming to some of this stuff is wonderful because it's not jaded. It's not jaded. It's not cynical. I mean it's like I remember Chuck Lugar, looking at two thousand people going, "Who are you people?"

KK: Where did you come from?

MW: You know these lefties who are getting standing ovations from huge audiences and they're not used to that. So there, I think the fact that some many people are new to it is great, because they don't know what to be scared of, they don't know what to cynical about, they don't know what to be angry about.

On the other hand, I think that there is simply a conversation going on and it slows us down to be too into what community, etc. There's a conversation we have to have as Americans that I think no matter what side of the political spectrum we come from, whether we come at these things from a religious perspective, a spiritual perspective or just an ethical perspective, is something that the sophisticated person knows, and that is, something is politically wrong and something is culturally wrong.

You don't have to see this through a filter of any particular community. This is just obvious. Something is off. Something is off in policy and something is off in the very fabric of our society and how we treat each other. And I think where the conversation moves into a higher dimension is where we do point out the relationship between the two.

For 35 years I've had a career dealing with ... We say people don't come to me because things are going right. So people in crisis is a topic that has been the core of my work for 35 years, and I know that when your life is in crisis, you can't just fix it by changing things on the outside.

When you really crash, when you really bottom out, you have to look at who you are, what your values are, what your principles are and most particularly, where you haven't been living them and where you have to atone for your errors and seek to change.

But, I've also seen, and I think many people are ... This is what you were saying ... You know, just like years ago, people would take their messed up adolescent to therapy and say, "Fix my kid,", and the therapist would say, "Your child does not live outside the larger context of the family dynamic, so I can't just 'fix your kid'. How does the whole family work?" And I think that that's what we are beginning to see now, that you can't just address individual concerns when the individual is dwelling within a larger social system, which is so toxic and dysfunctional.

And you see this today. You know, I think that we have millions of Americans living in chronic economic trauma and to realize that the same ... All that a nation is, is a collection of individuals, so the same psychological, emotional, and spiritual dynamics that are at work, need to be investigated in order to heal one life, are at work and need to be investigated and navigated and healed in order to change a society.-

And that's what this conversation, the new conversation is. The new whole person politics.

KK: And I really resonate with what you were saying, because I didn't grow up in your era. So, I grew up in that era of separation.

MW: It was already separated.

KK: It was already ... There was already a rift and politics was other and it was dirty and it was broken, and so I've really had to reclaim politics and that has always happened for me personally, through those sort of, broken moments in my life where an aperture opened up for me to see my life in relationship to the whole in a different way. And that has always been when I have found your work. Whether that was after my divorce. That was the first time I picked up Healing the Soul of America. Or, quitting my job and starting a new career ... Like there were all of these moments that were either repairs that I was making in my own human being, or leaps that I was taking that allowed this new perspective to come in.

And I'm just thinking about, you know, I've been to Sister Giant, everyone of the Sister Giant's that you've had, and just this past year, you know you had, I think six or seven thousand people in 2017, come to this gathering to talk about what's happening in our country through the lens of humanity, to use your word. Not even from a spiritual perspective, but from a human perspective. And so something about what you're saying and the way that you're saying it in relationship to who we are as Americans and who we're becoming is resonating with people in a new way.

You know, six thousand people I think, is larger than even the Women's March Convention. I mean, that's an enormous amount of people, a lot of them new people to this conversation, coming together and learning from people like you, Bernie, Pramila ... You know, like all of these amazing political thought leaders. And so what do you think it is about the way that you're talking about politics that's seeping into people in a new and different way, that's a different kind of conversation?

MW: Well, first of all, I want to go back a little bit. When you said that ... And I really hear you about the generational shift, because you don't have the historical memory, institutional memory of a time when it was different.

KK: I mean, 9-11 for me was my big wake up call, because that's when I, that's actually when I had a literal experience of the world landing on my doorstep.

MW: Not just a little one.

KK: Big time. Yeah.

MW: Yeah.

But I think it behooves us to see ... Well a couple of things. First of all, when my career started though, the AIDS crisis was there. So, even in my career as a teacher of the Course of Miracles, larger societal issues were always in front of me, because the AIDS crisis was right there when I first started lecturing. So, I never, even putting aside my historical memory, I never had an experience, even as a spiritual seeker later in my life, of the larger collective issues not impinging upon individual concerns.

I think two things need to be looked at when you say that the, quote unquote, "spiritual community" saw politics as "dirty" and over there. Two things-

Well I think everybody actually in my era had that experience or that perspective.

Yeah, so let's talk about why that is, because I think that needs to be addressed.

First of all, the fact that we stopped teaching civics. If you weren't taught civics, if you weren't taught what the Bill of Rights says, you don't know to be appalled when you start seeing it undermined. If you don't know American history, you don't know what a glorious story this is and you don't have a sense of your own responsibility to its furtherance. That's number one.

Number two, I feel very strongly that the primary paradigm in modern psychotherapy has done a lot of damage, because it has emphasized the idea that one's personal suffering stems mainly from one's personal circumstances. You go into a therapist's office and they say, "Well what's going on in your life?" All about you. And sometimes it's not just about you. It might be you, that your husband lost his job, but you can't address it deeply without realizing that your husband lost his job because of all these unfair, inequitable, unjust, economic forces. So, one of the things that the psychotherapist within that traditional paradigm in doing, is trying to make you feel better, which is particularly become horrifying in the last few years, as the baton has been passed to psychopharmacology. You're depressed about it, why don't you take this, which will only decrease, because you'll have this artificial sense that it's really okay, which will only decrease your motivation to work on the larger political, social, economic issues that need to be addressed in order for your husband to have a decent job.

KK: Right. It's contextual.

MW: Yeah.

And then the other thing is just the basic sense of entitlement. And I think that entitlement has definitely been a part of this so called spiritual community has unfolded, including an anti-intellectual bent. I mean look, I write inspirational books, so it's not like I want people to read fewer of them, but there's more to read than just a self help book.

Pick up a freaking newspaper. Read what's going on. And we've fostered that. So, it's been very convenient for us to say politics is dirty and it's over there. That would be like my saying about someone with AIDS, "Oo, that sarchosy, Ew. I don't want to go there. That's really difficult to look at." Hello. You don't avoid the wound if you want to be a healer.

KK: Well, and I even think that culture of personal responsibility has really played into this shame paradigm that so many of us are caught in. That like, it's my fault, reinforcing that entitlement. It's my fault. Only I can fix it. I have to carry the burden or I have to disconnect and protect myself and it takes us away from moving towards one another.

MW: I'm Jewish and I was raised with Tikkun Olam, " to repair the world". That that's your responsibility. You have a larger responsibility than just yourself. You have a responsibility to your tribe, you have a larger responsibility to your culture, you have a responsibility to your country, you have a responsibility to your world. I feel sorry for people who are not taught that, because when you're not taught that, you don't know your place. You don't know your fundamental relationship.

You know, there's a line in the chorus where is says, "Do not look to yourself to find yourself because you are not there."

You know, when I think about what do we need to move towards-

KK: Relationship with others.

MW: Relationship with others.

Relationship. You don't find yourself by yourself. You find yourself in relationship to others. And a nation can't find itself by itself. It finds itself in relationship to others.

KK: Well that's why isolation is so dangerous, not just for ourselves but, collectively.

MW: That's right. Personally or politically. That's right.

For a nation to be isolationist is no less dysfunctional than for an individual to isolate. It's not a mentally healthy perspective or position.

Well, and it's why this trend of self-seeking, this obsession with this perfecting the self is so ironic, because we can't get to where we're going if we just go inside, we have to go toward another.


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KK: Okay, I want to shift gears. You recently posted on Twitter, this. "The old, I'm gonna call it paradigm, American women think, 'Wow, that seems crazy to me' but keep their mouth shut. The new paradigm is that American women think, 'Wow, that seems crazy to me,' and then they say, 'No.'"

And so I want to ask you about being a strong woman. Because I can relate to being an outspoken woman, but I've also been called a bitch. I've been called ambitious. I've been called aggressive. I've been made to feel unwelcome. I've been made to feel invisible and you too, move in male dominated spaces, whether it's politics or publishing or business. And so, how do we handle that? Right? There's this #MeToo movement, there's clearly this uprising of women reclaiming their voice and their place as a part of the whole. And yet, you know still in our culture, strong women are characterized as too aggressive, you know, too strong, too violent, I mean, all of the things.

So, how do you deal with that personally, and what do you think is our role as women to disrupt that?  Because I also believe that our voice is really necessary and we kind of need to blow through that.

MW: That fact that our voices have been so systematically silenced for so many centuries has not only oppressed women, it has not only hurt women, it has hurt the world, because we are driving with only one light, rather than two headlights. So, it has hurt the entire world that history, modern history, has been forged with only a male dominated, rather than and equally shared perspective between men and women.

I've certainly been called a bitch, a lot. It's funny that you say that you've been called ambitious. If a man is called ambitious it's considered a compliment-

KK: That's right. That's right.

MW: So, I think that we all realize that there's an issue here, that quote, unquote, "strong women" are likely to be looked at a certain way and defined a certain way and described a certain way and criticized a certain way. Not just by men, by the way, but at least as much by other women, I am sad to say, as by men.

So, first of all, just us having that conversation right there, knowing that game for what it is, and speaking to it when we hear another woman criticized on that basis. Not shutting up right there.

I have always felt in my career, that I wasn't saying anything everybody I know wasn't saying, it's just I was saying it when the lights were on and the microphone was on. I have a career saying things that everybody I know is saying but they're saying it sort of in whispers or late at night on the phone and you hear people say, "That sounds crazy to me." If it sounds crazy to you, it's probably because it is crazy.

So, for instance, we have a head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. And there is a particular pesticide, chlorpryphorous, something like that, and under the Obama Administration, because research strongly indicates that this pesticide does damage to children's nervous systems, their brains, during their developing years, all of the scientists at the EPA recommended permanent ban on this pesticide. When Scott Pruitt became head of the EPA, he feels that his advocacy on behalf of Dow Chemical and his serving the financial interests of Dow Chemical to make a profit on this pesticide, overrides the health needs of the American child.

KK: Right.

MW: Now, what American woman wouldn't say, "That sounds crazy to me,"? Well don't just whisper it girls.

KK: Shout it from the mountaintops.

MW: Shout it. Shout it.

You know, when I turned 50, someone said to me, "50 is the age past you don't care what they think anymore." And it was funny because I remember her saying that because it was true. If something happens at 50, what are they gonna do? Throw eggs at me? Particularly, and I've had those eggs thrown at me, but particularly given what they're gonna do to some woman in some of these Middle East cultures ... What they're gonna do to them, hello, if they don't cover their face.

So, I always feel that I have to speak not just for myself, but for women all over the world that don't have a voice. But I'll tell you something even more powerful happens at 60. At 50, you don't care if they don't like it. At 60, you have to say it. It's kind of like when you have a child and the milk is coming out of your breast, it just has to express itself, and it's a beautiful analogy because your breast, your body has to nourish that child or it backs up in your body. And with age, we have to nourish the future or it back up in our souls.

That's why, and you and I have had this conversation, this ageism thing has got to stop. The older you are, the more you know some things and the younger you are the more you know some things. But, I think that the idea of the wisdom that emerges when you've been around for a while ... this isn't your first rodeo and you've seen how these things play out historically and it makes you less scared to say it, is so needed now.

KK: Yeah, it's so powerful.

MW: And I think young people need to see it modeled.

KK: I saw this headline the other day that said, "The Patriarchs are Falling but the Patriarchy is Still Very Much Alive."

MW: Yeah, I read that article. It's a Susan Faludi article.

I also think, I have been somewhat concerned with some of the #MeToo movement issues, because I think the power to accuse must be wielded mercifully.

KK: Well the finger pointing isn't actually getting at the cultural problem, it's just taking down-

MW: That, too. That, too. I think both things. That article that you just referred to was more what you just said, but also I think we need to remember that some of the men being accused ... And in her article she talked about how much easier it is to just point your finger at the patriarch, rather than do this sort of less sexy work-

KK: Yes, the insidious work.

MW: Well, of dismantling the insidious systems, but also I think we want to remember that when you do attack someone, this is someone who as a family, this is someone who has children, this is someone who has to make a living and so forth. So, I think that formally disempowered people and you see this on an individual basis. I've see it in my own life. It has to do a lot with the bitch thing you were talking about.

When you, either in your life or in the life of your gender or the life of your tribe, whatever, have had to not speak your truth for hundreds of years ... or even if it's decades in your own lifetime, there is a tendency when you first speak your truth, to speak it more forcefully, more aggressively, perhaps more angrily, than is necessary and I think maturity in a movement as well as in an individual's life, it's an art form. But, when you learn ultimately, I'm not going to eat my truth, I am going to speak my truth, but I'm going to speak it with grace and kindness. I'm not gonna shut up, but neither am I going to use it as a way to bludgeon you.

That's when you know you've reached a mountain top of self development.

KK: And there's space for both accountability and redemption.

MW: That's exactly it. And when you even use a phrase like accountability and redemption, the very fact that you're using the redemption, means that you understand that there must be mercy and there must be grace.

KK: So you are going around the country this year with a tour called Love America. What can we expect from this tour and what are you hoping to accomplish?

Werner Erhard once said, "You can live your life one of two ways. You can live your life according to circumstances or according to a vision." And when it comes to politics, we are stuck at the level of circumstance and that's not the way to live a life because it leaves you without a deeper understanding of where you're coming from and it leaves you without a deeper understanding of where you want to be going.

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