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.


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.

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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.




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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: 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

CTZN podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, WELLread, at 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.



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.


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 re-imagining 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.

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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. 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.

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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.

The deepest level of understanding is the level of story. When I was little, I went to camp and I come from Texas. And I remember a woman who said to me when I got to camp, "Who are your people honey? Where do you come from?" And that was very typical of the time and the place. "Who are your people honey? Where do you come from?" And a lot of times we ask ourselves, "Who are my people? Where do I come from?" And we think in terms of our ethnicity. We think in terms of our sex. We think in terms of our sexuality. We think in terms of our religion. But, we do not have a deeper conversation today for the fact that we're American and we come from America.

If you're African American, you're the African and the American. If you're a Jewish American, you're Jewish and you're an American. As women, we are women. We're white or we're black. We're gay or we're straight. But we're always American, and when it comes to our identity as Americans, they tend to be separated into two categories, both blinded by their own filter.

One is this superficial faux patriotism, "Rah, rah, rah," that completely refuses to look at America's shadow, where we've gotten it wrong, where we need to atone, where we need repair, where we need to make amends, where we need to pay back.

But then there's another, opposite perspective, which is just as blind. People who have become so cynical and so angry and so concentrated on the places where America has gotten it wrong, that they have no recognition of the larger story, which includes the larger story of struggle, which, ends up minimizing and dishonoring the memory of our ancestors who have addressed those wrongs and made them right in their time.

The truth of the matter is, America is a glorious story. You know, when you look at the founding of this country ... And I understand that Jefferson owned slaves and I understand that Washington owned slaves. We do not look at those signers of the Declaration of Independence and look to them as personal role models, but to look at them without deep respect for the principles that they nevertheless bequeathed to us, is simply blindness about history. I mean, it was based on those principles that Martin Luther King argued civil rights. It was based on those principles that abolitionists argued that slavery therefore should not exist. It was based on those principles that women got suffrage. If they established the principle that all men are created equal, and that God created all men equal, that larger, deeper, philosophical underpinning, all men are created equal. That's why you can have slaves. That's why women get the right to vote. That's why we can't have segregation. That's why gay people should be able to marry, and so forth.

And if we are ... And the principle of E pluribus unum, that out of many, we're one, that's where Identity Politics needs to remember the Unum part. It's not just your color. It's not just your ethnicity. It's not just your culture. It's this underlying connectivity without which we are not dwelling in our wholeness, either individually or as a nation.

So, I'm a romantic about American history and I think the left too often acts like it's too cool to be patriotic, or too cool to talk about issues of morality, when traditionally, the left did talk about issues of public morality. Poverty. Poverty is a moral issue. Economic injustice is a moral issues. Mass incarceration is a moral issue. Environmental desecration is a moral issue. These issues that we think of often as progressive issues, shouldn't even be seen as right or left. Not in terms of what the issue is. They should be seen as a family conversation that we need to be having.

And the very founding of this country, the overthrow of aristocracy ... once again, if kids aren't taught this, if you're not taught civics, if you're not taught history, I want to have this conversation, because to me it's a romantic conversation. It's a beautiful conversation, that before the founding of this country within the western world, the idea of a monarch, the idea of an aristocrat ... I remember when I was little girl I remember being taught that the French king was considered the Sun King, the divine right of kings. That the paradigm ... This is so profound ... That the paradigm was that God gave the king the divine right to rule, and so all of the major resources of the country, by law and by tradition, were in the hands of the king or the king's cronies or the aristocracy and nobody else had any right to ownership of land, had any right to education, had any right to wealth creation or opportunity and had no right to believe that their children could do any better.

The founding of this country, ideationally, philosophically, completely reputed that paradigm. Now you can say, "Yeah, but they didn't live it." Well, duh. You're just new to history class so you think this is like new? The point is that American history and the trajectory of American history has been one in which generation after generation, there have been those who saw that idea, that in this country it wouldn't matter who your parents were, it wouldn't matter your class, it wouldn't matter anything, that you, too, could have an education. You, too, could create wealth. You, too, could own. You, too, could better your life. Self actualize.

This idea of American democracy is so radical ... And we still haven't fully embodied it, obviously... It is not only radical politically, it is radical philosophically. It is radical spiritually. It is really the idea that self actualization should be possible for everyone. That's a holy idea. And the founders said that. God created it that way.

Well, in every generation there have been those who have been seized by that. On fire with that possibility. Lived for that possibility. Struggled for that possibility and in some cased, died for that possibility.

And then there have been those who said, "Oh, let's not." And FDR called them economic royalists. Bernie Sanders called them economic royalists. They basically really believe, and this is what we really need to understand ... First of all, that contest is as alive today as ever and today the new aristocracy, we have subconsciously reverted to an aristocratic paradigm.

KK: That's right.

MW: You can call in corporatocrisy, oligarchy, plutocracy ... It's the same old thing coming back around again. And just like aristocrats of old, they honestly, honestly, sincerely believe, that it's the better way to run a country.

So, the contest is not new. But, when you look at it only from a cynical perspective, cynicism is just an excuse for not helping. You know, in Judaism, there is a saying, "Every generation must rediscover God for itself." And that's what's happening in America. We have to fall in love with this ideal again. We have to recognize the profounditiveness. It's not just about you getting what you want, or about me getting what I want. It's about living in to a possibility for everyone.

You know, even in feminism and sisterhood, I think we always need to always remember, that feminism lacks meaning outside the recognition that sisterhood is part of it. It can't just be that I get what I want. It's that we get. And so if I'm not supporting other women, it's not enough that I'm saying, "Well as a feminist, I deserve."

I started noticing, many years ago ... Because I love American history and I think it's such an amazing story spiritually and philosophically, I started noting years ago, that when you talk to an audience on July 4th ... And John Adams said he hoped that July 4th would be a day when Americans would revisit first principles ... I notice when you talk to Americans, I don't care if we're on the left or the right, Americans have an instinctive understanding that this country has a covenant with history. And I notice people's eyes. They want to hear. They don't remember what they learned in school or they didn't learn it in school, that God created all men equal. E plurbis unum. That religious freedom ... You know we learned it when we were kids. People came over here because they couldn't practice their religious freedom.

Well, there are two ways of looking at it. One is, the fact that Trump is anti Muslim is disgusting. But then there's an even deeper way of looking at it, which is we don't do that here. Religious freedom is a pillar of American democracy. It doesn't matter if you like Muslims. It's just like it doesn't matter if you like gay people. In America, all people are create equal, all people endowed by God with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, whether you like them or not, the Constitution and the Declaration declare that they have an inalienable right to pursuit of happiness. And so you take it beneath just the personal. It's not about whether you like that religion or not, it's that religious freedom is a pillar of American democracy.

KK: It's fundamental.

MW: Exactly.

And as a nation as well as an individual, you can't just live according to your circumstances, you have to live according to your values. Another value in America is that the government is supposed to broker the interest of individual liberty with a concern for the common good. That's how our constitution is written. So, if you don't know that, then the fact that the government is basically bought and sold in this system of legalize bribery by corporate interest, as opposed to concern for the common good, you don't even know to be upset by it.

KK: It's unconstitutional.

MW: You don't even know to say, "Whoa, that's not what we do here."

KK: That's right.

MW: And then of course the last one is one that was not in the Constitution or the Declaration, but was articulated by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, and that's that "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, will not perish from the earth."

Well let me tell you something, if we don't act and act somewhat quickly, it's about to.

KK: Well, and I think that it's profound that you're centering love in this story, because I think that there's a lot of expressions of activism in politics, even on the Left side, or the Progressive side, that leave love out.

Ah. Every bit. Let us not kid ourselves. A smug, self righteous, vicious left winger is no less frightening than a smug, self righteous right winger.

I'm gonna tell you something that happened to me not long ago. I put on my ... I have a girlfriend who is a Trump supporter and she's a close girlfriend and we've kind of navigated this by, for the most part, we just don't talk about politics. And she had asked me to post on my social media about a skin care line that she is promoting. And I thought, "Well, how am I gonna do this on Twitter. My Twitter is really serious and I can't promote skin care," etc. So I thought, "Okay. I'll take a picture of her with her skin care and put it on Instagram and make a little comment about how Alana is a Trump supporter and I'm not, but we're girlfriends and one thing we can agree on is collagen."

I saw that.

I thought it was light and breezy.

Well did you see the comments?

I did not.

Some people were like, isn't that cool? They've carved out this sacred space for their friendship where they're protecting that. And other people, some people, were so vicious and making comments and casting aspersions that were so dark that I ended up having to ... I just took the whole thing down. It just was not helpful. But, I saw that and I ... You know, Gandhi said, "The end is inherent in the means.Vicious, hateful people will not bring peace to the world."

And I talked about that in Return to Love, that if we have bombs going off in our head that we're lobbing at other people, we're hawks, we're not doves. So, that's that place, the intersection of the personal and the spiritual and we can resist. We can passionately resist. We can passionately work in repudiation of authoritarian policies, without personally demonizing anybody.

KK: Well, and we can be angry.

MW: Well that's a word. You know, moral outrage. I don't feel moral outrage is born of anger. It's born of a fierce impulse within the human being to protect life. You know, there is a common anthropological characteristic of every mammalian species that survives and thrives, is the fierce behavior of the adult female of that species when she senses a threat to her cubs.

So, if I see a lion or tiger or a bear going after anybody or any animal that comes after their cubs, do we look at her and say she has anger issues and she's strident and she needs to do some personal work on her anger? Or do we say she is serving the impulse of the propagation and the survival of her species.

KK: That's right.

MW: And any species that does not protect its young, is not displaying, for all intents and purposes, the intention to survive. So, if I'm saying, "Stop right there Scott Pruitt. You are not. I will not have ... I will do anything I possible can to stop you from allowing the distribution and the manufacture of that pesticide that will hurt the brains of a human child", then you're going to call me an angry bitch? Which is a very big issue for women because, "Oh, I want to be a nice girl."

You know, a meaningful life is not a popularity contest and you know, if we're really gonna be in leadership positions, the real leader is not a people pleaser.

KK: What is your vision? Where are we going? Like what keeps you going in the relentless path that you've chosen for love and justice?

MW: In the Course in Miracles, it says that God has the answer to every problem the moment the problem occurs. So, from a spiritual perspective ... And this is where the deeper spiritual conversation to me, does come in. It comes into strategy ... So, there are two ways of living your life and this has to do with both our individual, as well as our collective movements forward.

One is, you have to bring a ... Think of your mind and your life as a computer and you have to bring down a blank document and figure out what to do. The other is that there is an undeleteable file you can call it God's will, God equals love, will means thought, whatever. It's divine architecture. Just like the acorn already has within it the program to become an oak tree. The embryo has within it the program to become a baby. You and I have within us, the program to become the women we're capable of being and the species has within us the programing to have Heaven on earth, basically. A world at peace and so forth.

The difference between us and the acorn is free will means we can say yes or we can say no.

KK: Right. We can choose it or we can-

MW: Now the beauty of the idea that God has an answer to every problem the moment the problem occurs ... This is where you really bring in the spiritual. Or love has the answer, whatever language ... Is the idea that I can't fix it. You can't fix it. He can't fix it. She can't fix it. But in collaboration, with each other, we will, as we allow ourselves to be guided, not just to try with a strategic mind, but to be guided ... So you need prayer and meditation. You have to go beyond the mortal mind, you will be guided. You will be led into kind of personal purification, of fear-based thought forms etc, and at that point, as the Course of Miracles says, "You not be alone, for you will be joined by might companions."

So, you find yourself meeting other people who are bring their skill set, their expertise, and you find yourself in a matrix, in a network of human interaction, where you're not just hanging out with people. You are brought together with people to collaborate in this very exciting, collective effort at bringing forth a goodness that none of us alone can bring forth.

And that's what the sixties had. It was a sense that we were all doing something together and I think that, that's in the air again today and it's about time.


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 and and


KK: While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to participate in democracy. Marianne is hosting online webinars called Democracy Calls and she's touring the country with the Love America tour, discussing how a revolution in consciousness paves the way to both personal and national renewal. You can find out more 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 engaged 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 a little as $1.00 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.


1 Comment


001 Rev angel Kyodo williams

Podcast Headshots-06.jpg

KK: Do you want a drink or something?

AKW: Yes. I'm going to get some water.

KK: No, like a tequila drink?

AKW: That's actually good. Yeah. That's perfect for me, like wet my whistle.

KK: Should we do that?

AKW: I think so.

KK: All right, hold. You ready?

AKW: Put the chocolate there so that I can get it without the noise.

KK: You can keep eating the chocolate. I’m not going to deny you chocolate in this interview.


KK: Hi, my name is Kerri Kelly, and welcome to another episode of CTZN Podcast, where we are exploring a citizenship of solidarity in how we show up for each other. We're joined today by Reverend angel Kyodo williams, acclaimed author and Zen master, as we talk about holding the complexity of who we are in America and why meditation is not enough.

I wish I could share the full, unedited version of this interview, because like all of my conversations with angel, it was deep, and inevitably with her, I have some major realization or breakthrough. Now, that may sound dramatic, but once you start listening, you'll know what I mean. Reverend angel Kyodo williams, born and raised in New York, is an ordained Zen priest and sensei. She is the acclaimed author of Radical Dharma, and Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace, and that is the perfect title to describe her. She is a force of nature.

When I first met angel, what resonated most for me was that she was very much an off-the-cushion meditator, actively engaging in the world in whatever way was most needed, and that was my jam with yoga and being off the mat and into the world. Angel was one of the first people in contemplative practice to integrate racial justice as an essential component to understanding and engaging in our liberation, and that perspective has really shaped my work since before CTZNWELL even existed.

She's made a huge impact on my own journey of waking up to whiteness by holding my dignity and humanity as most sacred. Not because I did everything right, I didn't in fact, but no matter where I was in my learning or what messed up thing I said or did, which was often, she never ceased to love me or believe in me. It taught me about the role of authentic relationship in anti-racism work. I'm often challenged by saying the politically correct thing or knowing the latest ally terminology. It's almost become like ally theater, more performance than purpose, but in this episode you'll hear angel debunk what she calls so-called allyship and really call us up to the deeper and often harder, more nebulous and certainly risky practice of just being in relationship with one another, not because it's the right thing to do but because we must do it.

In her book, Radical Dharma, angel writes, “In truth, we have to integrate our wounds into our understanding of who we are and what we are really capable of so that we can be whole human beings. Only from there can we begin the process of healing the brokenness, the broken-heartedness within ourselves that is the foundation for beginning to heal that in our larger society.” Whoa. Once again, angel totally turns my world upside down and challenges me to go beyond what is politically correct or socially acceptable and do the simple and radical thing of practicing justice and being in relationship with one another.


KK: All right, hi.

AKW: Hi.

KK: We're here with Reverend angel Kyodo williams, who has a very substantial Wikipedia page. She's been called the most vocal and most intriguing African-American Buddhist in America. We like to call her our favorite troublemaker and disruptor. She's a dear friend and teacher, and we are so grateful to have you here with us. Welcome.

AKW: Thank you.

KK: I want to dive right in, because you are one of those people that I go to to make sense of this moment in America. One of the things that I love about you, and really, I've learned about you, is your capacity to hold this moment with both complexity and compassion simultaneously. I think it's often easy for us to default to the either/or, the right or wrong, the binary, the blaming, but you really always bring a much more nuanced and multidimensional perspective to whatever issue we're contemplating, whether it's white supremacy, whether it's the Me Too movement.

I want to ask you about this quote that you sent me that was recently in The New York Times written by Frank Bruni. He said, “There's a pattern of turning righteous causes into indiscriminate attacks, painting with a destructively broad brush and branding certain actors irredeemable, which doesn't leave them any room or much motivation for redemption.” What role does redemption and restorative justice play in a moment like this?

AKW: I think not just in a moment like this. I think for the sake of humanity that the very fundamental underlying glue of our humanity is redemption, and that people are aware that redemption is possible is, I think, the difference between being able to be human and potentially becoming a monster. We have structured society in a way in which we are too often too quick to try to make people irredeemable monsters. I understand and believe in and lean into justice, so I'm not opposing justice. Simultaneously, I think that that is intentional, that this idea that we have that we can decide a clearcut right and wrong, good and bad, belonging, not belonging, is exactly the mental construct that allows patriarchy to continue, I want to say, under-challenged.

It allows the colonialist mindset that founded this country to continue to wind its way through all of the systems and structures that we have. That is to say that what we can do is we can produce things in a human being, the society, the culture, the norms; what is expressed in the culture through an individual can be blamed and burdened upon solely the individual, but the culture remains unscathed. It releases the culture from any kind of responsibility or accountability for what it is we produce in our society, what it is that our culture produces, what it is our norms, what it is the unspoken things, not just the things that are said, which we have a set of behavior codes.

For instance, in Me Too we have a set of behavior codes where we “know” that this is wrong, and yet clearly we watch television, we watch movies. None of this is new, but it has been the unspoken cultural norms, the things that have been accepted that are part of patriarchy, that are part of classism, that are part of sexism and misogyny and how it is we understand that boys will be boys, men will be men, and women have to just bear it. When we point someone out and we use this broad brush that Bruni talks about and we just wipe it over an individual and we single them out, we absolve the culture that allowed that behavior to manifest in society. No one in society is manifesting anything that the culture is not permitting them to manifest and, in fact, feeding.

KK: Right. It's mutual. How do we do that? How do we be the disruptors that we need to be in this particular moment, speaking truth to power while simultaneously holding this commitment to understanding the humanity of who we are at the same time? What does that look like in practice?

AKW: Yeah. I think that what you said, the humanity of who we are, and that's actually where we begin. Because often, what we're focused on and the question is usually phrased of how do we focus or keep the humanity of the other, and where we begin is actually how do we focus on our humanity and whether we are-

KK: Our collective?

AKW: Our individual humanity. It is actually our relationship, and the more nuanced and complex a relationship we have with our individual humanity, the more we are able to manifest a complex and nuanced relationship with humanity of the so-called other. We understand our failings. We understand the ways that we can misstep. We understand our ignorances. We understand the ways that we can do things that we absolutely know that we have no business doing. When we're in a good relationship with that with the full complexity of what it means to be human, learning about where it comes from, understanding that there is a power behind our thoughts, and certainly there is impact behind our behaviors, that we can hold then the humanity of the so-called offender in equal measure with the offense so that what we're doing is, as the saying goes, calling people in.

I like to think of the story about an African tribe in which the way they dealt with someone that did something wrong was to actually bring the person into the circle that the whole tribe would gather. The person would be called into the circle and reminded of all of the good things about them. They are told by the community, by the tribe, “This is who you have been. This is who you truly are.” We're reminded of our highest calling, the full expression of our humanity, rather than cast aside and left into a place in which all we are left with is the behavior that came through that is a manifestation of our confusion about our culture, about our society, about ourselves.

What I've heard you talk about and what I've learned from you is when we talk about self-care, when we're talking about the individual, it's really with a capital S.

KK: That's right.

AKW: And this idea, I think, reinforced by our culture that the self is separate from other and all is really false.

KK: Yeah. Not only is it false, it's convenient to allow those systems of domination to continue. Those systems get to go scot-free. They can actually serve to protect the very same individuals that are later understood as offenders. You can trace something like that back to Hitler, where that person was being protected.

KK: Was benefiting.

AKW: The society thought it was benefiting. Then when it no longer suits the society, we cast the responsibility and accountability for the behavior and put the burden entirely on the individual. This is a very, very powerful function of white supremacy. It's very powerful in that it allows people to both be kept and held and protected, but when that person and their behavior is going to sink the white supremacy ship, then they are cast out alone, and the white supremacy ship continues to go on its way unaddressed. The patriarchy ship continues to go on its way. It's allowed to continue unscathed because we have shifted the burden solely to the individual.

KK: That's what you're really talking about with the Me Too movement, this idea of finger pointing and ostracizing the individual without taking responsibility for the whole structure that's really upholding that culture.

AKW: That's right. That's not to take anything away from the person that has been victimized or perpetrated against in the particular act and behavior. We're talking about a meta conversation about how it is that we as members of a functioning society then in our desire to have some kind of justice in a time in which there feels so much that is injust, we have turned to this behavior of finger pointing and blaming. Actually, what we're doing is we're advancing the very same things that we think that we have an intention to disrupt. We're advancing the tenets of patriarchy. We're advancing the tenets, the machinations of white supremacy. We're advancing the mentality of individualism over collective responsibility.

We do it under some notion of a progressive ideal and the notion of justice, but we are actually advancing, and that's what's so amazing actually about white supremacy, about patriarchy, about dominance, about all of these forms of oppression, is that they have been skillfully designed to cast individuals off when they need to so that they can continue and not be held accountable as an overarching structure and overarching construct.

KK: Let's talk about how we embody that disruption in a way that includes both a resistance and a resilience, a commitment to humanity. I've heard you call this the “back of the bus moment of this time”. What do you mean by that?

I think that we have come to a place in our nation's national memory where most people in the light of day understand that the point at which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus was a point that changed the country for the better. Of course, there's a lot of other history that's around that that created the context for that moment, but that it changed the country for the better. There were some people that didn't understand what was happening and didn't know the right place to be, and so they resisted.

They resisted the Negros riding the bus. They resisted the black folks that wanted to be able to ride the bus. They resisted the people that were then boycotting the bus. They resisted the people that crossed the bridge. They resisted the people that participated in all of the marches, all of the forms of resistance, all of the sit-ins. Those people at this point, most of them would probably regret that decision at this point and hopefully absolve themselves at this moment of, well, I didn't know. I only knew what I was brought up with, what I was raised with.

KK: I was doing the best that I could.

AKW: I was doing the best that I could with what I had, but we are now at such a moment in which we are looking at a pivotal point in our nation's history where we can take a turn towards a very different America. The question is, what side of that conversation are we going to be on? Are we going to sit on the sidelines? I'm not saying that the people that were saying, “Oh, I'm going to do something horrible,” or “Oh, I'm going to do something terrible to black people, I'm going to bash them,” I'm not talking about those people. I'm talking about the people that sat and did nothing. Where are they going to be in this moment?

KK: I even think about the culture of allyship, and one of the things that I've learned in being in relationship with you is that it's not about what you do but how you are in authentic relationship with one another that is really the breakthrough to actually moving our culture forward, igniting a new story, changing-

AKW: I wouldn't call it so-called allyship because I even think that the notion that someone is an ally and that they're not implicated and somehow that they're not implicated as well, that they're not implicated in the harm; that they're not implicated in the destruction; that they're not implicated in the loss of relationship to one's perspective on humanity is a destructive way of thinking, that there is some poor somebody or something that needs our help and we should ally with them. I understand the term, so I'll just call it so-called allyship. The so-called allyship has ended up in a place in which there's a kind of very much part of the capitalist mentality, a set of checklists of things I can check off.

KK: That's right.

AKW: It will tell me whether or not I have met the mark or met the measure of being whatever it is I'm trying to attain. That framework, that way of thinking about our lives and about how it is that we relate to things leaves us empty. It leaves us out of relation because it leaves us out of relationship. Allyship is not possible without relationship. It's not a set of behaviors, as you said. It's not how much you wrote out of your checkbook, though I'm not opposed to people writing things out of your checkbook.

But if people want to be in true relationship and really show up on the line with people that are overt victims of oppression, then what they have to risk more than anything is their vulnerability, is have a willingness to see someone that is different from them in all of these kinds of ways, economically, in terms of access to resources, skin color, religious, the level of persecution that they undergo, gender, how people show up in their bodies and the way in which they're responded to on the basis of that. We have to allow ourselves to truly see those people for who they are, and the only way we can do that is to allow ourselves to be seen.

KK: Yeah. I hear you also saying something around, I mean, it goes back to really looking inward and knowing the ways in which we are responsible and we are participating in upholding that system and benefiting from that system so that we can truly own that as a part of being in relationship.

AKW: Yeah. It's not just also how we're participating. It's how we are actually, when I say implicated, I mean how we are wounded, and so how the person in the position-

KK: So not just implicated as ...

AKW: Yeah. There's a lot of focus on, oh, I'm a part of this; my family has been a part of this, and particularly in the forms of white supremacy and whiteness itself is there's a focus on the fact that white people or men or whoever it is in a particular dominant position in the social strata has perpetrated something or is implicated in perpetrating something. I'm saying that there's something in terms of the relationship in being willing to look deeply at how it is that you are being wounded by it.

KK: Yeah, and oppressed.

AKW: And oppressed by it, and that that is actually the more significant probing that needs to happen. Because we can all go and check off the ways in which we have perpetrated something in some form, but can we look at the ways in which we are wounded and not reify our dominance by suggesting that we are not somehow hurt by it as well. It actually reifies our position of dominance, our position of control, our position of being better than.

KK: When we're immune to it.

AKW: When we are immune to it and we have language that suggests that we're immune to it, when we perform in such a way that suggests that we are immune to it and what we can do is we can heal it; we can try to fix it; we can try to bandage it but that we ourselves are not bleeding.

KK: It goes back to the complexity that you were talking about before that we are both the oppressed and the oppressor.

AKW: 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, but making a good podcast takes a village, and so we're building one on Patreon. 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. 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. 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. Check us out on and build with us as we create a culture of wellbeing that works for everyone.


KK: You talk about a lot of this in the book Radical Dharma, and I want to name a couple things that people have said about this book. They've said, “The best thing I've heard on our current situation in a Buddhist context.” They've said, “Urgent reading!” They've said, “It's like coming home for the first time.” They've said, “It's life changing.” Those are big statements about a book that I know changed my life. I want to know, how did writing this book, how did sharing this book change your life, change you?

AKW: One of the quotes was actually the title of an article that was said about Radical Dharma was “a book made for these times.” That's how it affected me is that it affirmed what I feel like I have honed in my life, in my practice, in my ability to hear, my ability to discern what's real, what's not real in what I'm hearing, to actually have been very, very clear that this book had to happen and that it had to happen when it did. Not only was Radical Dharma made for these times, I was made for these times, and it affirmed that for me.

The book affirms and reflects back to me and people's response to the book reflects back to me the ways in which the time that I've put into my life, to my self-examination, to my care, to working through my wounds, to being in my own relationship to healing and illness and the challenge of having an illness and all of the things, my own confrontation with white supremacy, my confrontation with patriarchy, my confrontation with being a part of a tradition that is borrowed from Zen from Japan and its patriarchy and all of that and all of the complexity, that I've ingested those things and integrated them so that I'm not just puppeting some set of words that say, this is who we should be as Buddhists, or this is who we should be as black people, or this is who we should be as activists, or this is who we should be as liberation theorists, but that I'm living it and that I'm speaking it.

I'm speaking it not from a set of texts but from a knowing. That kind of affirmation, I think too few of us get it in our lives and have the great opportunity of having that out in the world and to have people say something to you about it and reflect it back to you all the time. I'll tell you, when my first book came out, Being Black, I always say Being Black is like my bastard child. I did a book that I thought it was time for. That was in the year 2000. I thought people of color were going to be interested in Buddhism, and they were, and that they needed an invitation; they needed an explicit invitation.

The degree of rejection that I was confronted with in terms of the Buddhist community, in terms of the white bookstore owning community, in terms of even media and media opportunities was crushing. First of all, I was much younger. I was 30, and so we get more easily crushed, but it was also I was confronted with the distinction between what people said about what it meant to be Buddhist or yogis or practitioners or spiritual and who they really were and how they could really show up. I just wanted to get away from Being Black for the longest time. Not only has Radical Dharma been something that I can fully own, it's actually let me fully reclaim Being Black as well.

KK: You've said, “Meditation is not enough.” Is that true?

AKW: Yeah, absolutely. It's necessary and insufficient is what I would say. I'm not one of the people that has a traditional role in the spiritual tradition as Zen, as Buddhist, that is against the mindfulness movement. I think it has its problems and has its challenges that anything else, anything that has been popularized and commodified in this society is going to have and going to run into, but simultaneously, I think that the benefits will far outweigh the potential damage, and in many ways we're making much ado about nothing. What really needs to happen is that we need to be in Mindfulness 3.0 is what I say, that meditation simply can't keep up with the level of destruction that we're at as a society, as a culture, as a people.


KK: Well, and the meditation, the spiritual, the yoga community has also all been indoctrinated in many ways within these systems of power and oppression.

AKW: That's right. The meditation, the way in which when I say the meditation, I don't mean the particular techniques. I'm talking about the theory of being a meditator, the way in which we are holding the idea of what it means to be spiritual, what it means to be Buddhist, what it means to be yogis. All of these things is actually being held, and it's held captive inside of all of these structures of power and oppression so that it's keeping people from actually doing the deeper work of looking at themselves in the context of a larger society. There's a lot of navel gazing going on, or I don't know how yogis would call the form of navel gazing. We're in tree too long or something like that.

We are not called to turn that lens of attention, of insight and all of the potential wisdom onto the collective, and that's because it's not convenient to do so. That's because the way in which we've been sold and had meditation packaged to us does not invite us into the greatest potential for liberation, which is to be in relationship with our bodies, which is to be in relationship, therefore, with our truth. But if you limit the truth to something that's somehow outside of your body and outside of your full technicolor reality, then you're going to end up actually perpetuating the same harm that you have already perpetuated and just doing it in a smoother voiced way.

KK: It sounds good, it looks good-

AKW: That's right.

KK: ... but it ain't the real thing.

AKW: That's exactly right.

KK: I've heard you define intersectionality as something that you've embodied, that you have a specific lens on intersectionality. I would love for you to share that.

AKW: Well, with all due respect to Kimberle Crenshaw, I would never say that I defined “intersectionality”.

KK: Yeah. It's not an Al Gore thing of you founded the internet.

AKW: Yeah. I think that I exist in an intersectional reality. As a result, the complexities that you spoke about my holding are true and natural to my willingness to hold the complexities of what it means to live at the intersection of race--mixed heritage is in my own background--to live at the intersection of class. I grew up not with money. One of my parents didn't finish high school, and yet I lived in Tribeca, New York, which is one of the wealthiest places in New York that you can live. I lived amongst people that had an enormous amount of access, and so I had insight into that possibility. I lived on both coasts.

There's many ways. I'm queer, and I've done all of the things of exploring gender spectrum for myself. I live in those ways. I'm a black woman that's trained inside of a ridiculously patriarchal Japanese tradition that is known for its machismo, that is known for its rigor, that is known in many ways for its patriarchy and for the ways in which it has actually caused harm, has caused conflict and confusion in terms of sexual molestation, misogyny and those kinds of things. I'm living inside and yet I have found enormous peace in that tradition, and I also don't operate primarily inside the tradition. I break free of it and do me.

KK: Well, and you understand intersectionality in a way that I can't. When I think about who needs to be leading in these times, it's people who have an embodied understanding of that kind of multidimensional complexity that you're talking about who can really help us navigate that in our culture, in politics, in social situations.

AKW: When I think about intersectionality and the place that I occupy, and, I think, really, truly a lot of black women occupy, and I want to go even further and say black queer women occupy, is exactly this space of the wayfarer that's the person that creates or admits passage from one land to another in terms of the different locations in our society. Because black women, by nature, have relationship with white women. They have relationships with white men. They have relationships with black men. In many ways, they are a portal to the spectrum of society.

That relationship, for instance, to white men had to do with white folks having black women bring up their children, and so you have black women that could love white men as if they were their own children and then be separated from them. We still hold that sense of love and compassion and complexity, and we can see the wounding of patriarchy in white men in the same way that we can see the wounding of patriarchy in black men. We're kind of this wayfaring station, and if you're queer on top of it, then also the finite lines of gender start to get blurred, and gender expression and how one shows up in the world gets blurred.

I think that I'm embodying something that is true and that in many ways we're seeing, and it's similar for many indigenous people, I think, as well.

KK: I've heard you talk about the fundamental human value of basic goodness and the idea that deep down our nature is good, our true nature is good, despite all of the ways in which we might be acting out other things. I also know you to believe that we can do better. How do we reconcile that? How do we reconcile this knowing that we're doing the best that we can and deep down, and there are a lot of difficult people that we are dealing with these days in our culture and in our leadership, how do we reconcile the idea that they too at the core are good and uphold a vision that we can all do better by ourselves and for one another?

AKW: I think the idea and the term basic goodness was really popularized by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan teacher that headed up the Shambhala tradition in Buddhism and really gave us a very straightforward language, so basically good. I think that basic goodness does not suggest that people cannot be painfully flawed and corrupted by the scourge of domination and the mentality that comes with and that advances a position of seeking after domination over others. I don't have to take away the fact that someone has basic goodness, which is different than saying that someone is basically good. It is to say that they have basic goodness, that it sits at the seat of their very expression as a human being, that that is actually the undergirding of what it means to be human, but it doesn't suggest that everything that they do is in alignment with what it is that they have access to. They possess it.

There's a term, they possess, which is what Trungpa Rinpoche was playing on, is that we all possess Buddha nature; not to say that we're all acting out of Buddha nature but that we possess it. It's a little bit different to say that people are doing the best they can than it is to say, but they can do better. In other words, in some ways if we say we're doing the best we can, we make that finite. It's to suggest, well, that's what they've got, and they're not going to be able to do any better. When we say that people have basic goodness, we're right away leaving the door open, and we can expect more from them. I also think that people can be flawed in a way that in this lifetime is beyond repair, not redemption, but it is beyond repair. We have psychosis, we have mental challenges that are brought on by these systems of oppression and domination that so-

KK: And reinforced over and over again.

AKW: And reinforced. It has so fried people's brains and hearts that I think it is very difficult for the deep woundedness and really the atrophying of their own relationship to their humanity, that they're incapable of seeing it and relating to it in others, or they're increasingly incapable of seeing it and relating it to others that do not reflect them back to themselves. It's not that they don't love and they can't love and they can't relate, but they can only relate to things that actually are reflecting back. This is an absurdly narcissistic state of being, and going back to our original conversation, it's not created out of nowhere. It doesn't just come with that person.

KK: It's by design.

AKW: It's by design. It's created in the society. We didn't get what we have right now in our administration by accident. It's by design. It's a plan. Even if it was a surprise, it was a plan. It's what is called for, but it's called for both from our deepest, darkest, most unaddressed places of this nation, of this culture, of this society, but it's also called for from our most powerful and hopeful places in this nation, in the people of the nation and who we are, that we are calling ourselves into a place in which we must confront it; that we're calling ourselves into a place in which we have to confront the things that have gone unanswered, unaddressed, unconscious for us for so long that it's become untenable.

We have to call up the most monstrous, most demonic things that we can imagine and hold inside of what's possible in our society in order for us to get serious. I think that that's what's happened for us. In many ways, I think we could look at the administration or we could look at what's happening and say, ah, there's an example of how off we are and how off we can get-

KK: How low we can go.

AKW: ... away from basic goodness, but in fact, part of what's happening is that we are calling it forth. Because, as we do in our own personal lives, we get tired of ourselves. We're like, enough of this, enough of the thing that we keep ignoring, enough of the thing that keeps going unaddressed. We call forth a kind of explosive situation that forces us to confront it. I think basic goodness is in play.

KK: And it gives us hope.

AKW: And it gives us hope.

KK: Okay. There are so many angel-isms. That's what we call them behind your back, but I want to talk about-

AKW: That's news to me.

KK: More than we have time for, so I'm going to say a few of them, and I just want you to respond with the first thing that comes to you, that comes to mind.

AKW: Okay.

KK: It's not about love after all.

AKW: We have to express that love. We have to show up. It's not about having a checklist. It is showing up for justice.

KK: Radical.

AKW: Complete, whole.

KK: New America.

AKW: An America that doesn't live any longer and chooses not to live in the trauma of the past but to embrace the context that we're in and to imagine ourselves from where we are now going forward rather than what we used to be, what we thought we could be, what we would like to be.

KK: Wellbeing.

AKW: Essential for everyone, being well, choosing that for who we are and how we are in our lives and knowing that it's not possible for us as individuals unless it's possible for everyone.

KK: Life hacks.

AKW: My favorite. Life hacks is really just making it work for you and figuring out what it is, having a mindset that says, I'm going to make my life work for me, and whatever I have to tinker, grab, learn about in order to make that happen, I'm going to do it.

KK: What's one of your life hacks?

AKW: Naps. The best life hack that there is is to take a nap, is to be a grown person and take a nap.

KK: I thought you would've said coffee.

AKW: Yeah, no. That's my big life hack. I love coffee, but it's not a life hack for me. It is a love.

KK: It's a love affair.

AKW: It is a love affair. Yeah.


KK: While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to get radical, radical in the way that Reverend angel Kyodo williams talks about, far reaching and thorough. It calls us to go beyond, to get radical now in our practice, in our relationships, in our action and in our votes. You can start with her book, Radical Dharma, available on Amazon, and check out her schedule at Thanks for being here today. Special thanks to our producer, Trevor Exter, and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack.

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