Each time I peer at this new look of transform., I get a feeling of satisfaction that a process that we began over a year ago–transitioning from an Oakland-based meditation center to situating ourselves squarely in the center of this work we call “transformative social change”–is essentially complete.
I’m more struck, though, at the great big American flag that looms above in our welcome section. I took that picture in the airport at Jacksonville, FL after a 2004 Election Protection campaign. You remember, don’t you? The last presidential election was all about Florida because that was the scene of the year 2000 crime that gave America a president that many of us couldn’t or wouldn’t call our own.
Looking back, it seems strange that I even took a photo of a US flag. After all, I’ve identified less and less with the flag, being American, and even America itself, since my 4th grade protest of the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Like a good social justice practitioner, I recognize the privilege foisted upon me because I was born a US citizen whenever I leave the country. Even if my rights aren’t well-regarded when I’m here at home, I do (still) get special treatment elsewhere in the world. Personally, though, I was one of those heathen “unpatriotic” Americans that, far from feeling a swell of pride whenever “Oh, say can you see…” was belted out by the latest pop star on a football field, felt a burdensome combination of shame and irritation. Shame because from sea to shining sea, America stood for something far from liberty and justice for all. Irritation because apparently a bunch of folks still think if we don’t wave the flag until our arms fall off and stick little pins on our lapels, we’re Enemy Combatant #1 and should get ready for an all expense-paid trip to Gauntanamo for a little waterboarding excursion.
So you can imagine how strange it seems to now reacquaint myself with what it means to be American.
But here I am…here WE are. A scant 8 years after “we wuz robbed” of what should have been the first Green President, we’ve got the first Black President. Having in Al Gore a President that would have acknowledged our path of environmental destruction before Katrina could have restored faith for some us, but having a post-9/11 President with an Arabic name meaning “blessed” is too much for even the most hopeful of us to have ever anticipated. Does anyone think that whoever is pulling the swtiches behind the curtain of the Universe doesn’t have a sense of humor?
After Obama’s election I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone in my arms-distance relationship to being American. Over and over again I heard people–conscious, justice-seeking people: black people, white people, poor and privileged, from behind the scenes and on the frontlines–each on an outbreath of relief say: “I can finally be proud to be American.”
On the one hand, 2009 brings with it the incredible challenges of the freefall of an economic house of cards built with smoke, mirrors and lots of dishonest spit, an unjust war built on outright lies. and a devastating attack on a people that the world can no longer deny is on the short end of a harsh stick, built on a 60 year theft. On the other hand, we are embarking upon a new year, a new era, and a strange, new hopefulness that real people, tired of being polarized by fear, hate and separation can organize for hope, progress and change. And together, our collective will can make a difference.
I debated taking that flag image out many, many times. But it stayed. And for now, anyway, I stay. I stay here to reimagine and fully claim being American because I can finally exchange some of my stalwart commitment to see change happen for an actual experience of change being possible. And it’s change I can believe in…imagine that?
angel Kyodo williams, the “change angel,” is Founder Emeritus of Center for Transformative Change. She now serves as a Senior Fellow and Director of Vision. A social visionary and leading voice for transformative social change, she is the author of the critically-acclaimed Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace.
angel Kyodo williams’ next public talk:
Thursday, November 15 @ CXC