1. It’s really late. 10:57 central time.
2. I’m at a social justice conference structured to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and to “go beyond what movements are against and ask, ‘What are they for?'”
3. On May 17th, I gave a presentation at the Kentucky Women’s Book Festival about Louisville arts activism and cross-racial organizing in the 1990s.
4. Vincent Harding died on May 20, 2014.
5. Maya Angelou died today.
6. I received news of her death as I was getting ready to leave for this conference.
Because of all that context, I’ve thought a lot today about Maya Angelou and Vincent Harding in the context of social justice activism. Of these two elders turned historical figures, one (him) was far less known than the other, and for the other, I have no idea what causes she supported or participated in, and because I honestly have no idea what causes she supported or participated in, I know that protests, petitions, canvassing, civil disobedience, supreme court cases, armed resistance, arrests, and everything else I normally associate with movements are not why I loved her and are not how she changed the world.
I think of how Maya Angelou taught sexual assault survivors and women of color more generally that they have a voice. I think of her quotes about what people remember:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
and of the wisdom she espoused to eschew hatred:
Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.*
The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.
and to opt for love:
I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates.
and I think, what a wonderful world this would be if we just followed those instructions.
But then the voice of “reason” kicks in with, “Activism should be more substantive than poetry can be.” Indeed, as I selected which sessions I wanted to attend at this conference, I found myself debating between the “artsy” ones and the ones that would more directly apply to my work.
But then I consider Angelou’s instructions on how we can live in harmony with ourselves, like her last tweet:
Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.
And I know I would be better at everything else if I listened to that voice.
I know I haven’t talked about Vincent Harding in this post for real, but here’s something he had in common with Maya Angelou: he shared his wisdom generously. My way of sharing what little wisdom I have has been writing, but I think I want to try a different thing to share and a different way of sharing it. Not so that I will be immortalized, but just because, change can’t spread unless you share it.
*That’s actually not the quote I wanted to use at all, and it’s not the second one, either.” It’s something about hate getting from the air to the furniture to your clothes and then being all over you, but I glimpsed the quote in my FB feed today and haven’t found it again. If you know what I’m talking about, please feel free to write the quote in the comments section.