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.
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.
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.
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-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
KK: That was, like, 15, 20, 25 people deep.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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So check us out on patreon.com/ctznwell, 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.
PM: And super grassroots, on the ground, personal.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
PM: Yeah, here.
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.
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 fairimmigration.org and unitedwedream.org.
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 djdrez.com. And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter WELLread at ctznwell.org.
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