By: Dr. Sharon R. Fennema, Curator, Join the Movement toward Racial Justice
For almost an hour, we discussed the racialized inequities and complexities embedded in each of the justice issues that most concerned him: climate change, gun violence, poverty. Toward the end of our conversation, he got quiet and his eyes started to mist over a little. He said to me in almost a whisper, “I just get so overwhelmed by what I can’t figure out how to fix, and racism always feels like that to me – impossible.” For me, contending with this sense of overwhelm and impossibility is part of what we as a denomination are doing with the Join the Movement toward Racial Justice initiative: we are declaring that there will be an end to racism, that racial justice is possible, and investing in making those beliefs a reality.
Moments of conversation like these – at our booth in the exhibit hall, in the convention center hallway, in the elevator, post-dinner, post-luncheon, post-workshop – were the best part of General Synod for me. I am so grateful for the time to reduce feelings of isolation by cultivating connections, to dismantle individualism by creating support and accountability, and to disrupt “savior” tendencies by listening to others and centering the most impacted. As a person of European descent, I know how easy it is to feel overwhelmed and take refuge in the way my privilege allows me to disengage, and then, too often, get defensive when someone or something (like the presence of the JTM Booth) seems to be pointing that out. We see over and over again how the tactics of white supremacy encourage us to pit oppressions against each other or to separate and rank justice issues instead of recognizing and addressing their interconnectedness. It gave me so much hope to have literally hundreds of conversations with folks who are doing the work and urging their communities to keep moving toward racial justice. Joining the movement isn’t just about getting out into the streets (though sometimes it IS about that); it’s also a chance to connect to others so that we might build and amplify our collective power to practice a new world.
While we were at Synod, several of the Supreme Court’s summer rulings were made public, and you could feel the gathered community reeling with concern over the actions being taken around LGBTQIA+ discrimination, student loan debt, water protection, and affirmative action, even as we reckoned with last year’s decisions around reproductive freedom, gun violence and climate change. The temptation to retreat to our silos of concern as we responded was palpable as we were confronted with what Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart calls the “precarity of freedom.” I’m grateful for her reminder that joining the movement is an opportunity to partner with what God is doing in this moment to make justice and love real in our midst and a way of investing in freedom, so that we can bolster and sustain it for future generations. I hope you, too, will be inspired by her words and join the movement, because we cannot do this alone. As Audre Lorde reminds us, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives” (Learning from the ‘60’s, Sister Outsider, 138).
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