Introducing The Next Season of Solidarity Is This
Deepa Iyer, Adaku Utah, and UyenThi Tran Myhre of the Building Movement Project/Solidarity Is team introduce the theme for the new season of Solidarity Is This: how are organizers, community historians, and storytellers reimagining and transforming sites of public history into spaces for understanding, healing, reconciliation, transformation, and of course, solidarity?
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Solidarity Is This podcast. This is Deepa Iyer, and with this episode, we are beginning our 2023 Solidarity Is This podcast season.
This podcast is part of the work we do at Solidarity Is, a program within the Building Movement Project. Building Movement Project, or BMP, is a national nonprofit that catalyzes social change through resources, research and relationships.
Solidarity Is strives to support and anchor movement strategy, solidarity-based stories and narratives, and relationships and connections between social movements and ecosystems. You can learn a lot more about us at www.solidarityis.org.
I am so excited to welcome my team members at BMP, Adaku Utah and UyenThi Tran Myhre, who will be sharing hosting responsibilities throughout the course of this season. Adaku and UyenThi, welcome to Solidarity Is This.
Thank you so much, Deepa. Grateful to be here.
So, I'll start with you, UyenThi. You've been at BMP for about a year. Can you share your point of entry into movement work?
Sure, thank you so much for this question. Yeah, so my point of entry into movement work was through abolitionist organizing in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I'm based. And these last few years, my political home was with MPD150, which is a Minneapolis-based collective that came together in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Minneapolis Police Department.
A lot of that work had already been underway by the time I joined through my relationships with artists and community members and organizers who had been doing that research, who had written that report. And I joined kind of towards the end of that work to help launch the report once it was done in the fall of 2017.
That report, Enough is Enough, is this community history and performance review of the MPD, the Minneapolis Police Department. And although the group, MPD150, has since sunset as a collective, that work I think has just really informed how I got into movement work, and helped me think a lot about what I have to offer and contribute.
Thanks so much, UyenThi, for sharing their resource and also for the work that you and others did in Minneapolis, which I really feel has served as a model for so many others around the country.
And I want to now turn to our other colleague, Adaku Utah, who joined us very recently but has a very long history when it comes to movement-building. Can you share what led you to that work?
Well, first of all, I just want to say thank you again for saying yes to me. It feels super-aligned to get to be here and doing this sacred work with the both of you in this time, in this generation. So, I come from a lineage of Igbo farmers, organizers and healers who survived genocide through collective safety and healing. Literally my life, the life of the generations before me, would not be here without this kind of work.
My parents in particular lived through the Biafran Civil War where over one million Igbo people were murdered by the British Empire, including some of my aunts and uncles and some of their own children. And during that time, and lifetimes before, we survived through reciprocal relationships, with ancestry, with legacy, with the earth and creating interdependent ecosystems with each other.
And so, for much of my life, and for many queer, non-binary migrants like myself, a lot of our lived experiences echo a deep recognition that, in order for us to transform the conditions of violence, that we have to center healing and safety. And in order for us to heal and to be safe, we have to transform the conditions that are trying to kill and erase and punish our people. So, being inside of this constant dance of interdependence between personal and systemic transformation, we need systemic transformation to be able to transform personally, and we need personal transformation to be able to transform systemically.
I got politicized as a sexual violence survivor who found community at eight years old, in Festac, Nigeria, a community that reflected back my own worth and dignity, and also a community that connected me to one of my first organizing campaigns. I didn't realize that that's what it was at the time, but it was a campaign that got rid of one of the teachers that was harming a lot of the students in the school including myself. I feel really proud to say that, 30 years later, I'm still doing the sacred work of organizing and healing at the intersections of racial, reproductive and healing justice, really centered around breaking generational curses of policing, burnout and disconnection and working to co-create the internal, systemic and generational conditions that reclaim and restore our power and aliveness.
And to me, and so many organizers and healers across movements, healing is a necessary political and spiritual strategy to how we embody and integrate freedom, and justice, in our bones and in our communities. Without it, it's so easy to replicate, to be seduced into the violence and harm that we've inherited throughout a lot of our lifetimes. And also, our movements are long-term. This work is long-term, and we center healing to sustain this liberation work across lifetimes and generations, and also sustain our communities as we're being adaptable and generative in a lot of changing chaos and crisis. Healing also feels really vital as we nurture the kind of relationships and share values we need to build the ecosystems that we so deeply deserve.
And I feel like the three of us, even though we come from different backgrounds, have found certain connections between our own family histories and community histories that I think influence the work that we're doing too. So, I want to move us then from the individual to the organizational work that we're doing.
So, UyenThi, I'm going to ask you to share first, and then Adaku, and then I'll close out with a couple of examples of some of the work that we're doing as it relates to resources, relationships and research that build strong, interconnected movements.
So in March, Building Movement Project and the Asian Law Caucus released a new report called Balancing Act: Asian-American Organizations Respond to Community Crises and Build Collective Power. The report's part of BMP's Movement Infrastructure Series and based on interviews with Asian-American leaders on the front lines of addressing targeted violence over the past three years. And it includes a rapid response toolkit for organizations who want to strengthen their crisis response capacity.
So, the report is out now on BMP's website, and we're excited to kind of keep brainstorming and collaborating with other groups in the Asian-American movement space, and beyond as well, just to make sure this offering gets out there to groups who are already out there on the front lines doing this work, but to build these connections, to strengthen the work that they're already doing.
Thanks so much, UyenThi. It has been really amazing to work on this report together with you and to see how folks are reacting to it. So, turning to you, Adaku, what is a program or a piece of work that you are deep in and that is bringing you some joy right now?
Gosh, there's a lot to be joyful about at Building Movement Project, to just add to the water of the work that UyenThi and Deepa have been lifting up with this report. I'm really excited about cross-movement, cross-identity, multiracial strategy and conversations around how we build infrastructure and also build power, considering a number of attacks that are coming at us and attacks that we've experienced.
Solidarity is one of the ways that we will get free, and getting to do that alongside each other, learning from Black-led movements, Asian-American movements, environmental justice folks, learning from repro folks, I think, is part of what will support us in really meeting a lot of these attacks from right-wing fascist agenda. So, I'm really excited to be building a stronger we with more skills, more strategy and more relationships with Black-led organizations who are centering movement-building and power-building inside of their work to learn and journey with them over the last three years, what kinds of external threats, and also internal conditions that have really shifted how folks are building power right now.
The hope is to cultivate even more resources that can pour into, and nourish and fortify Black-led movement-building in this time, that can sustain the depth of organizing work that we're going to be doing over the next couple of years. It's been so exciting to talk to folks across geographic location and across issue areas, where I'm going to be talking to 50, probably more than that. And if you're a Black executive director who is doing community organizing work right now, we would love to be in conversation with you, to learn with you and also listen for what could resource your work in ways that are both strategic and also nourishing.
Thank you, Adaku. And both of these reports that you've heard about are part of BMP'S Movement Infrastructure Series, where we're releasing, and have released, a number of reports that are based on in-depth interviews with movement leaders around the country. So, please take a look at those reports, use them with your funders, with your networks and more.
And in addition to this research work, as well as the movement work that we're doing, by bringing groups in relationship with each other, we also do a lot of work to strengthen organizations and leaders through various tools and resources. The key trainings and workshops we do are around the social change ecosystem framework, and map, sustainability and community care., And the third on solidarity principles and practices. So, if you are part of an academic institution, a nonprofit, a coalition or a philanthropy and are interested in any of these trainings on how to strengthen your own social change ecosystem roles and frameworks, as well as your solidarity practices, please reach out to us so that we can support you and the important work that you're doing.
We hope that all of what we've talked about so far gives you a sense of the Building Movement Project's vision, our strategies, the work that we're doing on solidarity. And as part of this work, we are also excited to build out this season of Solidarity Is This, as an offering to the narrative work that is happening around the country. And we're so excited to actually provide a theme for this season. Our season will explore how organizers, community historians and storytellers are re-imagining and transforming sites of public history into spaces for understanding, healing, reconciliation, transformation, and of course, solidarity.
And this comes from our knowledge that the histories of marginalized peoples here in the United States include experiences with land theft, incarceration, redlining, displacement, just to name a few. And we also recognize that these histories are hardly acknowledged, and in some cases they're also erased or rewritten or even repurposed. So, in this season, you will hear from organizers and storytellers who are removing markers and monuments that reflect racist histories and policies. You will hear from people who are replacing and re-imagining sites of public history, and you will hear about the ways in which all of that is leading to a sense of bridge-building and solidarity in different communities around the country.
And if you're listening and you have an idea or you're connected to a campaign in your community that is connected to transforming sites of public history, please reach out to us on Twitter or via email. We'll drop that information into our episode notes so that you can let us know what we should be lifting up on the podcast this season. In that vein, I'm going to turn it over to UyenThi to close this out with a couple of questions.
Thanks, Deepa. I'm really excited to dig into this theme with you all this season, and I'm wondering if each of you could share a site of community history that is meaningful to you and why. Let's start with Adaku.
I really want to shout out the Weeksville Heritage Center, which is a few blocks down the road, on the corner of Bergen Street and Buffalo Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, also known as Lenape Land. Weeksville is one of the US' first free Black settlements that got created before the Civil War in 1838.
And at that time where a lot of Black folks who were alive were enslaved, this was a free, intentional Black community where folks transformed the space. They created their own schools, their own healing spaces, their own churches, a home for orphans and single mothers, and it was fully Black run, Black-led and governed. It's one of the longest free Black schools in the country. There are about 500 people who live there. It also had one of the highest numbers of Black community and homeowners, and at the time, home ownership was a bridge to Black folks being able to vote. So, they were simultaneously supporting the urgent needs of Black folks while also building Black political power.
And it is a special place. It almost got removed as the city was revitalized over the years, but the community fought really hard, Black organizers fought really hard to maintain Weeksville. It's still present to this day as a site for education, for healing, for community building and for community care. They do things like supporting folks in creating their own genealogies and creating their own personal history archives as a way of resuscitating and reclaiming Black history on our own terms.
They have an herbal garden that grows medicine that Black folks have used across time. I know a number of different Black-led organizing organizations who use their spaces for places to gather people for actions, and to hold strategic planning spaces. It's just a beautiful place that's dear to my heart, with people who deeply care about that land and deeply love Black people, and are continuing our stories and our practices of freedom.
I loved hearing about just this example, right on your block, about a physical space, but also how folks are making history personal and alive. Thank you for sharing.
How about you, Deepa?
So, I wanted to share a site that's important to me of community history that is in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a few miles right outside of Milwaukee. The place that I'm thinking of is called the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. And this is a gurdwara, or a place of worship for Sikh community members there, that was the target of an attack by a white supremacist in August of 2012. In that rampage, six people were killed and several were wounded, and many of the people who bore witness to that attack, both adults and children, really still bear the wounds of being present at such a form of hate violence and gun violence that happened in a space that they felt was their safe space to pray and to gather in community.
And whenever I go back to the Sikh temple of Wisconsin, it is a reminder of the fact that hate violence continues to target people in this country, and it is also a reminder of the resilience of the communities there, in Oak Creek and beyond. And it is a reminder that we cannot forget our community history. And so, I'm hoping that, as we move through this season of the podcast, we can lift up places and spaces that we don't know about or learn about, and understand how communities are building together, in the midst of tremendous trauma and pain and grief.
Thank you so much for sharing that, Deepa. I'm thinking that all of the things that we've shared in this short intro episode so far for this new season, there's so much to dig into with this theme about place and community and history and grief.
And also, that after the media spotlight leaves, or folks' attention kind of fades away and moves onto the next thing, because we know our communities are facing crisis after crisis, that there are still folks in these places that are doing their best to support each other, to continue holding that grief and to practice resilience, which I think is such a tough word. We shouldn't have to be resilient. But we see that our communities are, regardless. So, thinking about that and just how excited we are to get to hold these stories, to share these stories with our Solidarity Is This listeners, we're excited to hear what you think about this as well.
As we move towards wrapping up this intro episode, I wonder if each of us could share just something that we're looking forward to. As I said, coming to you from Minneapolis, it's just starting to be spring here. The snow has just melted, so it feels like there's some hopefulness in the air and things to look forward to. Would love to hear from each of you, what you're looking forward to this spring.
I'm extending a lot of love and libation to our ancestors that we're bringing into these stories, and a lot of the ancestors that we lifted up on this episode and the folks that we're going to be in conversation with who have been co-creating new worlds, and whose lives got caught in the crossfire. I'm grateful for their wisdom and their courage and what we get to learn from them, and without whom I would not be here.
So to answer your question, I have been spending a lot of time with my nibblings, so my two nieces, Rose and Violet. They are three and two. And they are so interdependent. They are so fully in their own bodies, they feel their feelings fully and they express a lot of awe with the world. I've been enjoying relearning and re-experiencing the world through their own eyes and through their own expressions.
It's a joyful thing to see Black bodies, especially young Black girl bodies, that free, and to also witness their parents not be threatened by that freedom and just actually enjoy it, and join in it and be silly in it. So, I'm looking forward to more playtime with them, and also to learn what it means to be fully human, because they are my teachers in that practice. This spring, hopefully we're going to be planting their first medicine rose and making some of their own medicine, so I'm excited to get to pass that down to the next generation of Black healers.
I love that. You need to pass that on to all of us, I think. So, I think that what I am looking forward to, besides this work that we're doing together, is actually leaning into and creating some more spaciousness when it comes to my creative outlets.
And so, as we close, I want to thank both UyenThi and Adaku for your presence, for your thoughtfulness, for your camaraderie. And really excited to bring, to all of you who are listening, some more of the stories that we started to share here. And hope that you will continue to listen, that you will subscribe to the podcast so you can be aware when we drop an episode.
You can do all of that where you find any podcast platform. You can also take a look at www.solidarityis.org for past episodes, as well as episode notes. And with that, thank you for being here, thank you for listening. Take good care of yourselves and your communities, and we will talk to you on the next episode of Solidarity Is This.
Resources Related to the Episode Conversation
- Balancing Act: Asian American Organizations Respond to Community Crises and Build Collective Power (March 2023), a report from Building Movement Project and Asian Law Caucus, provides recommendations, ideas, and resources for organizations responding to community crises while building long-term infrastructure.
- Learn more about trainings and workshops offered by the BMP / Solidarity Is team
- MPD150: abolitionist reflections and resources from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and beyond
- RememberOakCreek.org is a learning hub designed to help Americans from all communities understand what happened in the 2012 attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and how we can take action together to prevent further tragedies.
- Weeksville Heritage Center, a historic site and cultural center in Central Brooklyn that uses education, arts and a social justice lens to preserve, document and inspire engagement with the history of Weeksville, one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America.
Resources Related to This Season's Theme
- The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is the only global network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives that connects past struggles to today's movements for human rights.
- LANDBACK For the People is a new monthly podcast from NDN Collective, getting back to the origins of the LANDBACK movement, digging deep into history, while looking towards the future of Indigenous liberation where everyone has a place in the circle to bring their gifts, skills, and their love for people and the land.