Picking up white responsibility, the time is NOW

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Been doing a lot of reflecting and journaling this week, following the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. One of my white friends shared an article on Facebook titled “From White guilt to White responsibility” which spoke to me and helped me figure out how to say things I’ve been struggling with articulating. The article and recent conversations with kasamas have also reminded me that sometimes it’s not about having the perfect thing to say but its being willing to say something. This is a blog I’ve been working on for quite some time and this week I realized, its time I finish and publish it because I can’t (and my community holding me accountable can’t) wait any longer.

As a white American, I’ve become increasingly aware of my privilege and the challenge to not just feel guilty or stop there but instead to have the challenging conversations to learn how I can support people of color to dismantle the racism that my ancestors created but I couldn’t figure out how to put that into words.

The article starts off by talking about the “backpack” of privilege that we as white people carry just by the fact we are white but the ties in the backpack our not ours alone. They belong to the community and its up to the community to decide on how to use them. The author explains it:

“It is not simply unfair that we have certain unearned advantages; and the appropriate response is not simply to feel guilty about it. Rather it is unjust that we possess things taken through theft, and the appropriate response is to take responsibility and take action.

White guilt paralyzes us and maintains the norm. White responsibility motivates us and disrupts the norm.

I was recently asked whether it was acceptable to use white privilege for good. My response was that it is not ours to use; once we know that, we can never use it alone again. We must first gather around the table with those who do not carry white privilege, who we trust to hold us accountable. We must then empty the backpack onto the table, and ask the community how we will use what is rightfully communal property.”

Further in the article, the author gets real about where our backpack of privilege came and that we have to both be willing to accept the history AND take action to stop the cycle of crime that continues to add items to our backpacks at the expense of others.

“…Until we dismantle systems of injustice and white supremacy, the backpack will be ours to carry; attached to us regardless of how we feel about it, because it clings to us as tightly as the skin we are in. Yet, it will become increasingly more heavy as we come to a deeper understanding of why it contains what it contains. Once you realize and accept that what is in your backpack was acquired through blood and death and rape and cruelty; through slavery and the massacre of indigenous peoples; through the theft of bodies and the theft of land; what we were once told was an inheritance we will come to know as an inheritance of others, stolen through the blood of their ancestors.

No, we were not the ones to steal it. Yet, we make ourselves accomplices to the crime if we choose to keep it after knowing how it became ours. That is why we must pick up white responsibility rather than white guilt if we are ever to stop the cycle of this crime.”

As I read and reflected on the whole article, I couldn’t help up also think about my own journey from feeling guilty to realizing the need to take responsibility and action toward dismantling the system. A journey that I continue on today for I know, there is still a long way to go

In my time as a missionary, white privilege was something I struggled with. Feeling guilty about the basic things I could access. Living in Asia where white meant door opened for you, being able to travel, accessing building and spaces my friends and community were forbidden from or had to have special access to and having learned my ancestral history in school. My community abroad worked with me to process these struggles as I also learned what it meant to live collectively. Sometimes there weren’t words in other times they sat patiently explaining what I did with my privilege was the most important thing because I couldn’t change the color of my skin.

Learning the most important thing is listening to my community, working with them to identify how I can best use my voice in solidarity and speaking up and out. My backpack became collective as I sat and listened learning of their experiences, learned more about the history of colonialism, racism, and human rights violations that my ancestors committed to gain my privilege, listening to their demands, and learning how to articulate them when people wanted to talk to me.

The struggle grew even more when it came time to return back to the USA. I better understood the history of what I was walking into but the realities were going to be something I needed to learn on the ground.

As I’ve learned, listened and been reminded that sometimes explaining why I am present to learn is the first step that has to happen. Challenges have arisen, I have made mistakes, mistakes that with the accountability of kasamas and my community I’m working to fix.

In this past week, reading a mixture of reactions to the violence on my Facebook news feeds, I’ve also realized I’ve been silent for too long and in the sharing and quoting of articles isn’t enough. The current mainstream media approach of investigating the victims isn’t ok, these aren’t isolated incidents. The oppression of black people and people of color isn’t isolated, it’s the system that we built to protect our white selves. It is the day-to-day reality that we has white people can either actively work to dismantle the system and replace it with one that is truly balanced OR in staying silent we can continue to support and oppress our neighbors.

Yes God loves all people, yet Jesus says loved the least and the last. Care for the oppressed. Right now in our world that means “Black Lives Matter.” and being the Good Samaritan.

We don’t live in the America of our ancestors, but we live in the America that the actions of our ancestors built. Yes my ancestors included. The time is NOW (or more like yesterday) to start listening, unpacking your backpack of privilege in community accountability with people of color, and taking the actions they request to work toward repenting of the sins of our ancestors and ending racism and the uneven system once and for all. Silence is not an option for silence reinforces racism, oppression, and the killings of our neighbors of color.

#ISurvivedtheMethodist (btr late then never

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That hashtag, a friend used following General Conference, and is something I feel like I can identify quite strongly with.

The following letter is my reflections/reactions to my time at General Conference and moving forward as someone who identifies as United Methodist.

Dear United Methodist Church,

I just called to say I love your people, ALL of your people and the people that you are trying to keep outside. Because “y’all come in now” really means ALL come in and many people are living that out in their daily lives.

But church, I’m getting a bit dismayed on why your so set on making “y’all” mean those who look like, identify like, and act like us.

And church, I even love your connectionalism (and the fact that’s a word that only Methodist understand). I love how we send missionaries from everywhere to everywhere to learn from communities and support communities to uplift themselves. That we’re no longer sending missionaries in to place to tell them how to fix their problem instead are reclaiming the word for what God meant for it to be. And that we as the United Methodist Church know first hand what’s going on in Africa, Philippines, and throughout Europe, from fellow United Methodist.

But church, I’m upset and beyond dismayed, that you continue to hear the stories of militarization, of occupation, of war, of extreme poverty, of destruction of God’s creation, of the health consquenses of the years of human right violations, environmental racism, and war. And continue to justify United Methodist dollars being invested into supporting these activities because we need ‘a strong Methodist voice at the table’. Oh church, “strong voice” has NOT worked yet so what makes you think that it will work some how magically in the future. Even more, that we ignore the people’s request from the communities to stop investing in the companies and machines that are harming them and the facts that the missionaries we send are reporting to us. What DOES works is listening to the cries of the people and taking the actions along side them that they themselves are requesting.

And I can even say church, it makes me proud to worship in a denomintation that ordains women. It was the United Methodist Women who were like my second mothers growing up, taught me what it meant to live my faith in action, and empowered me to follow my call into mission work when many people thought I was crazy. It’s United Methodist Women who supported me into my mission work and continue to support me now even though the “official title” has changed. The one’s who have prayed with me and helped me better understand my women’s health issues of these past few years.

But just to be clear, NONE of my women’s health issues have anything to do with abortions. In the words of my southern grandma “Bless your soul church” for somehow thinking women’s health and abortion mean the same thing. While, I’m thankful that our church still supports women’s access to good and safe reproductive health especially the UMW focus on Maternal and child health care. So I’m not worried that the United Methodist Women will continue to work to ensure women’s and children health are taken care of around the globe. But I am concerned that to many of you church view women’s reproductive health to equal abortion.

I’m most thankful for the warm welcome and reception the Lumad (indigenous Filipinos) received during the week they attended General Conference. From flash tabernacles to concert performances and vigils, the people truly opened their arms, listening to their struggles and committing to journeying with them in their struggle for food, land, and justice. For me, they were the daily reminder that for many people including our United Methodist brothers and sisters, the daily struggle is for life and survival.

The Lumad kept me grounded during my time at General Conference and rooted in why I organize, why I’m still United Methodist in a denomination that calls for the resumption of peace takes in the Philippines, what my calling is to live in ministry on the margins for peace and justice. I know church that many of our fellow United Methodist in Africa, throughout Asia, and even yes in the Middle East and Europe are too focused on ministry in their communities to keep people alive from diseases, militarization, extreme poverty and wars.

Oh church, as the conversations played out about the splitting of the church over one issue. My mind couldn’t help but wonder, do both sides of the conversation here in the United States realize that the one issue which is their main focus, is much different to many others who are trying to keep their community members alive to be able to even have a church. That yes All truly means ALL.

Yet, when our Black brothers and sisters are dying one every 28 hours from being shot by police or vigilante groups, what are we doing to speak for justice to stand along side the Black communities in living out the words of “Black Lives Matter” through our actions? Are we even ready to admit that yes racism still exist and if we don’t do something to end it, it will continue?

When war and militarization of communities are the norm from Africa to Philippines, and communities are devastated from years of war-torn lives, what are we doing to keep them alive, to equip them to minister to each other, to live out our call for peace and justice through actions?

When we’re quick to blame the im/migrant for leaving their family behind and ask why are so many coming to our land, shouldn’t they stay home and take care of their families? Are we willing to admit that yes our US government policies are to blame for the gangs, the war, the no farms, and live in ministry with the strangers among us while pressing our governments to take real meaningful responsibility and work for justice for their actions instead of just passing the blame? Can we admit that it was colonism that played a huge roll in the oppression of the people?

My prayer is if you’ve read this far you understand that yes #ISurvivedtheMethodist and you can see that the discussions in Portland were not just about one issue but many that are connected. I also pray especially if you are an American United Methodist that you’ve found some part of this to challenge you to think differently especially if your United Methodist as the fate of our denomination (and the people of the world) depends on us getting outside of our walls and living with the people, for the people, in ministry just like Jesus did.

I’m still Methodist for now and am looking forward to Annual Conference for I’m blessed to live in an Annual Conference where for many Y’all means ALL and we practice Biblical Obedience. Where the people take time to learn more about what’s going on in other countries and how they actively work for peace in justice.

So church, for now, I’m going to go live my faith out in community on the margins in ministry for peace and justice. If you can’t find me, just look a little further out. Its not your people that concern me, it’s you church.

Sincerely,

A life long United Methodist (and hope to keep it that way) Living a life for Peace in Justice

Back from Portland-kasama reflections

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As many of you likely know, I spent 10 days in Portland with the Portland leg of the Lakbay Lumad USA tour and the UMC General Conference. Now back from a few day’s there’s been time to reflect, get some rest, and begin to get back into the swing of work here. This blog is some of the reflections from the past few days of being back (but not about the UMC General Conference, thats coming later-hopefully). My task in Portland was to assist in the bridging the Lumad delegation with United Methodist. So this blog is reflecting on my time with kasamas.

My time in Portland with kasamas, both from Mindanao on the Lakbay Lumad USA tour and kasamas based in Portland and the Pacific Northwest, was the highlight of my 10 days. Some point along the way, it also turned into almost a “mini-expo” that replenished my energy and refueled my soul for the work ahead. I have so much revolutionary love for the kasamas I got to meet and begin to get to know during my 10 days in Portland. They hosted not only the Lumad delegation but also United Methodist kasamas always seeming to be smiling and have energy, from their leaders to the newest members and allies. Time flew by and it all seemed to so short of a time together. Looking forward to continuing to build with PCHRP and GABRIELA Portland kasamas more in the months and years ahead.

In the 3am doughnut run induced sugar energy, as i was on the plane back, i started to reflect and write down some of the lessons I had learned. What came out over the next few days went from reflections to the following spoken work piece.  I performed this last night at our Justice for Melissa Roxas cultural night.

Google docs, phone calls, and conferences
Can begin to feel mechanical
Even at points the why do we organize
Can seem more over there then what’s right here
Here in the Belly of Beast,
Head on facing the Neoliberal policies

We struggle to remember, keep the fire lit with in
But we fight on, together with our kasamas hand in hand
Single moms finding their voice,
collective support to raise our families
Students learning lessons from history
putting them in practice for todays reality

The why becomes Real
In the masses of the Philippines

Peasants in the country side farming
Dole’s plantation land to survive
Lumad fighting for the ancestoral home
protecting the land, fighting for their lives
Church workers disappearing from communities they serve
Because they dared to give their lives to the people….to care
Doctors and nurses forgoing big contracts overseas
Instead training the people to offer services in their country

We stand united from land to land
Because fighting for human rights is done hand in hand
Building a new culture where we support each other
In the struggle for basic rights for the farmers and the workers
We all fight against shared enemies,
The imperialist governments and companies
Learning to link arm and arm in solidarity

Knowing that the future is bright
From the country sides to the cities
Crying for justice for we’re doing something right
Our fighting spirit running beyond the task at hand but in our souls deep
We fight on for we must not tire
Instead igniting our energy and strength from each other
Collective living, support and accountability
Together we’ll win the revolution, for a Philippines that’s truly free

So to the Kasamas: Maraming Maraming Salamat sa lahat!  Looking forward to seeing many of you more in Mindanao this summer, know your always welcome in SoCal.

(PC: Kasama Pele)

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Tribute to Kasama Sol

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In the whirlwind of the past days, there’s also been the processing of the passing of one of my first mentors in the National Democratic Movement and my organizing, Ate Sol. In the words of UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK “So, how does one pay tribute to a woman, a migrant and a leader such as Sol Pillas? Probably the best way is to ensure that this soul of activism remains with us, inspires us, and propels us to pursue our dream of a better society….Sol suffered a stroke in the middle of a legislative hearing on the case of Mary Jane Veloso. At the very end, she was in the thick of the struggle. In this struggle she shall remain with us, and we shall remain with her.”

There aren’t enough words in any language to say Salamat Ate Sol and share about her but as she was laid to rest and a few days of passed. As Hong Kong kasamas prepare for their memorial tribute, seems like the best time to share this publicly out.

 

From her soft-spoken fierceness when dealing with the authorities
To her whole-hearted laughter and smiles when she was with the workers
She taught so much through her actions

I’ll never forget by first time getting to know Ate Sol
On our hunt for a bed for my new apartment
Along the way I got to know her and how she had ended up in Hong Kong

She welcomed new interns with open arms
Always maximizing her cases as ways for interns to learn
Not one to hold back when you could have done something better

One of my first translators on Chater Road
When I started integrating with workers
She then just started talking to me in Tagalog and English all the time

Because she said “best to learn at least how to understand”
And to this day, I still have a decent level of understanding
Her caring heart, the work was deep in her Sol

She had learned how to speak some of Indonesian Bahasa
On the front lines of working with the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body
Instilling leadership qualities in 3 languages she never gave up

The first kasama to really teach me in a 2 day retreat
About PSR and the 3 basic problems i the Philippines
Using the Tagalog presentation which she carefully translated word for word

Her passion shown every time she took the mic
Whether a forum or protest action
Her heart and love for the basic masses were obvious

Who could forget the protest where
her heart and soul were on her sleeve
Even if the chant came out a little wrong

There were also moments of sadness and smiles
lots and lots of laughter and reminders that its ok to laugh
When the world seems to all just be falling in

To not be afraid to stand strong for our shared principles
Stay strong and militant in the fight
For the protections, human rights and true freedom of all

Love who you are and respect where you came from
But remember you make your own destiny
Embrace where your called and don’t back down

Just some of the lessons she taught me and many others on the streets of Hong Kong, but it’s not just about the lessons she taught. But how we continue to follow her example and fight on for the protections of all workers in the true freedom of the Philippines.

Paalam Ate Sol!

A Poem leadning into UMC General Conference

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As the United Methodist World prepares for General Conference, a poem my father shared with me seems like a great reminder. How we act and relate speaks much louder than the words we say.

Sermons We See
By: Edgar Guest

I’d rather see a sermon
than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me
than merely tell the way

The eye’s a better pupil
and more willing than the ear
Fine council is confusing,
But example’s always clear

And the best of all the preachers
Are the men who live their creeds
For to see good put in action
is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it
if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in actions,
But your tongue too fast may run.

And the lecture you deliver
may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons
by observing what you do

For I might misunderstand you,
and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding
how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness,
I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles
and a strong man stays behind

Just to see if he can help him,
then to wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful
as I know that friend to be.

And all travelers can witness
that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them,
but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many,
Men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed
is worth forty that are told

Who stand sixth men of honor
Learns to hold his honor dare,
For right living speaks a language
Which to everyone is clear

Though an able speaker charms me
with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon
Than to hear one, any day

“Women Hold up Half the Sky”

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Been writing more recently and trying to regain confidence in sharing new poems and spoken word pieces I write. This one was inspired by the first ever piece I wrote when I moved to SoCal and the many strong women kasamas I’ve met along the way from HK, the Philippines and here in SoCal. Still not sure if its done but wanted to share it with the worsening Human Rights Crisis as a reminder that together we will win peace and justice.

Women hold up half the sky.

She was the oldest of two
Working factory jobs just to get through
Realizing, Her family couldn’t survive on her pay
She cried knowing domestic work abroad is the only way
No options left, she was forced into the agency for a job
There, to start her training they cut her hair to a bob
Cooking, cleaning, child raising all the classes made her feel like a slave
Agency staff Beating abusing her if she misbehaved
Never allowed to leave the property
Until her visa came in, She suffered in quiet misery
Over seas she ends up locked inside
Passport taken, from her male employer she couldn’t hide
Each day she’s up before the sun
Knowing she’s got to get all the house work done
Quietly each day she prays that time will fly by
Her family in mind, each night as she falls asleep she cries
Until the day she learned about her rights
From another helper who heard her cries
Encouraging helping providing safety,
With time she decided she was up for the fight

Ran away and found herself
Started fighting for her health
With her friends she joined the revolution
Knowing it was the only solution

Her parents work took them out of the country
Her and her siblings left in the care of yayas and extended family
A kind soul, loved those who had less
Over time realizing, that the system was truly not balanced
Preferring to play with the children in the streets
Then learning the proper way to act in her school seats
In middle school she got the news
Moving overseas full of excitement and blues
If she had a choice she would have stayed
But the eldest in her family, she knew how to behave
Looked forward to being a family again
But not wanting to leave her home land
For years she worked so hard just to fit in
Learning to speak English without her Tagalog accent
She kept her parents happy finishing college degree
Knowing her education will give her many opportunities
A doctor seemed to be the perfect dream
Yet, her heart and soul was not complete
Until the day she learned bout the movement, and the workers fight
The struggle for National Democracy in the Philippines, she knew it was right

Joining the struggle, she discovered herself
Starting fighting for her siblings and her health
With her kasamas she joined the revolution
Knowing it was the only solution

For years, she farmed and lived off the land
That was passed on through her ancestral clans
Her environment, she respects and loves
Now there just doesn’t seem to be enough
What used to give her life and keep her family breathing
Now, mining companies think its theres for the taking
Instead of familiar clank and laughter of the farm each day
It’s the click-click-click of military boots and guns in the way
Their land taken each and every day and night
She’s too scared to even go outside
With time she and her community realized what’s going on

Building schools, Learning their rights from night to dawn
Getting organized, her community fought back
Through education all ages learned to read and write the facts
When asked the people’s movement came to their assistance
Making sure to respect their cultural of resistance
Until the day the AFP returned, their schools and supplies were burned
The time had come, a united decision to make their voices heard

It wasn’t a decision just for herself
The Bakwit was for their collective health
With her community she joined the revolution
Knowing it was their only solution

Each woman from a different sector
Learning from the women who came before her
Learning not just about her rights
But how connected we all are in the fight
From Luzon to Mindanao, the mountains to the cities
We all fight against shared enemies
Connected from Forced Migration, to militarization
It’s not just the struggles of family seperation
It’s truly more than gender inequality and discrimation
But a fight for all the people’s total liberation
Joining their voices together in the streets
Fighting for basic rights against unjust economic policies
Ending corruption, protecting their lives and ancestoral land
It a struggle that all goes hand in hand
Until the Philippines is free from Foreign countries and companies
We struggle Across the seas in Solidarity
For it is together we’ll achieve our dream
A Philippines that’s truly free

Committed to the struggle beyond herself
Our’s is the struggle for more than health
A life long struggle to win the revolution
We won’t stop until victory is the solution

 

Under an hour until my birthday

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We’re under an hour here in California till its my birthday. Though after living in Hong Kong, the birthday messages started coming in hours ago as they are either 15 or 16 hours a head (i can never remember with DST). As with my past few birthdays, I’ve used these “in between hours” to reflect and quietly give thanks for my blessings and begin to figure out my birthday goals for the coming year.

Just to get it out of the way: I’ll be turning 29 in a matter of minutes. Though this year, as I’ve counted my blessings and reflected. The events of the past 10 or so days in Kidapawan, Philippines continue to be at the forefront of my mind.

For those who don’t know in short: The province of North Cotabato, where Kidapawan City is situated, was declared by the Philippine government to be in a state of emergency after being hard hit by the El Niño drought that ravaged the farmlands in the area for over 7 months. The farmers and their families were literally starving. So in the end of March farmers and indigenous people’s came down to the city of Kidapawan and blockaded the main highway in the area demanding for rice. At 10:00 a.m. on April 1, police and military personnel opened fire on the unarmed farmers and Lumads (indigenous peoples) who blockaded the highway. Two were killed by bullets and thousands sought refuge in the near by United Methodist Center. In the following days, the United Methodist Bishop for the area was threatened because the church provided refuge to the farmers, police continued to patrol, barricade the United Methodist Center, intimate farmers and act like their was no law. I could go on and on but instead you can just go check out our Cal-Pac Taskforce Philippines Facebook page here.

As we’ve responded, the most glaring fact has been that it was “my church” a United Methodist Church that is now being directly targeted for living out their faith. I’m not going to lie it hurt, I was angry and upset. My heart broke for the farmers, the children and for my Methodist brothers and sisters. This being just the latest in a long line of Human Rights Violations committed by the government of President Aquino and the latest massacres of farmers by the Aquino family. Yet, as word has spread more United Methodist wanted to know more, they wanted to know what they could do, how they had never heard about the struggles in the Philippines before. The past 10 days have been a whirlwind of phone conferences, press statements, fasting, memes, prop, conversations, and at some point grabbing a few hours of sleep.

With all the quick response prop, turning of statements, and phone conferences, one of my biggest blessings is for the kasamas who take a few minutes after phone conference agendas are finished to check-in, beginning to let the events process, the short text in the midst of a 24 hour fast that its in the struggle together we find strength, and the simple words of encouragement to keep on moving forward.

Now my birthday officially starts in my time zone in under an hour, and reflection or not, I’m so grateful for the international birthday greetings that have already begun to come in through my Facebook newsfeed. So this seems like the best time to let the world know, I’m going on a Solidarity, Advocacy, and Medical Mission to the Philippines this August to visit the Lumad and farmers. But I need your help to get there. I’ll write more in the coming weeks about this but if you want to give me a birthday present. Donate to help get me to the Philippines. You can contact me directly or mail send Checks Payable: CalPac Conference UMC, (write Taskforce Philippines (Joy) in Memo line) Mail to: CalPac Conferece Office | Attn: JCEMT Rev. David Farley | PO Box 6006 Pasadena, CA 91102-6006. You can also donate to send rice to the farmers still seeking refuge in the UMC center in the Philippines.

Well its my birthday soon, and its Monday tomorrow so guess I should get some rest before another week begins. Thanks for reading this far and know I count you the readers as one of my blessings.