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Feeling Political Transcript - Episode Three, Eric Ward: A storm is coming. We are the storm.

A speech by long-time organizer and musician Eric Ward. Learn what one can expect in the first days of the Trump administration and get some ideas of what we can do to get prepared. Feeling Political is a product of The Alternative Historian, Daniel Horowitz Garcia. Find out more at www.alternativehistorian.com.

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FEELING POLITICAL - Episode Three, Eric Ward: A storm is coming. We are the storm.
Released: December 21, 2016
Length: 21:15 minutes

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And if you think you felt anguish on Tuesday night, none of us are prepared for the anguish that is about to come in January.

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I don’t know about you…

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We have to create spaces of opportunity.

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But I’m feeling political…

This is a podcast series about emotions and politics and the actions we take. Or the actions we think we should take. Or the actions we wish we could take. I'm talking to people about how they feel and what they want to do based on those feelings. 

This week’s episode is a break from the Project South conversations. We’ll be coming back to those in the coming weeks though. Today I’m playing a voice memo submitted by a listener. Actually, this is longer than a memo. Human rights defender and musician Eric Ward gave a speech just after the election. He was speaking in Oregon at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Community Alliance of Lane County. Compared to previous episodes, this is a long one. But it’s worth a listen, Eric is a great speaker.

Here’s Eric Ward.

Eric Ward

I promised I would not come up here and speak here for an hour, and that is very true. That is not going to happen. Those who have known me for a long time know that I grew up Southern Baptist, and it’s very easy to go on very long.

But I just have a few things that I want to say tonight. And I had a nice, very energizing speech prepared last week. I think about Monday I finished the notes. On Tuesday, the Devil walked up and whispered in my ear, “A storm is coming.”

We are in a serious time. The recent elections are like none we have faced, ever. And in that moment everything changes, and we have to realize that everything has changed. What I want to share today is of the utmost importance. So important that I’m going to step out of my role as a Ford program officer. I’m going to talk to you as Eric War, the kid who organized and learned his organizing with Clergy & Laity Concerned and many of the community leaders here, in the university and in the city. And if you felt anguish on Tuesday night, none of us are prepared for the anguish that is about to come in January. We have to be prepared. We have approximately seven to nine weeks to be prepared. This calls on us to stand up in very new ways, to take risks we have not taken before. To build alliances and trust in the relationships that have been built over 50 years. This is time for each of us to step up with our own expertise. Every person in here is an organizers. Every person in this room is a rescuer. Every person has the choice to collaborate against those to strip away the human rights of the most vulnerable in our communities, or we can stand in opposition as a resistance. But to be a resistance means to take one’s self seriously. It doesn’t mean we don’t laugh, that we don’t love. But it means we draw a line, a moral barrier against hatred and bigotry. We do not allow anyone to cross that line without a fight. That this is a time where we talk about total equality. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no compromise.

It  is easy to say, “Well, things may not be that bad. Perhaps he was just fooling? Perhaps they don’t mean what they say? We’ll have another election in four years.” You have nothing to base those opinions on. You have not one fundamental fact that tells you that those are the case. Sometimes we need to believe what people tell us. And when they tell us that they are going to deport millions of people, that they are going to criminalize people because of their religions, that they are going to attack journalists and those politicians who stand in opposition we need to take them at their word and we need to be prepared. This is why organizations like the Community Alliance of Lane County are so essential right now. We need organizations. Organizations that are not afraid to mobilize power. 

What will happen, and I’m going to tell you what will happen. I’m one of the folks who said that Donald Trump would win this election. Now I’m going to tell you what happens after winning this election. 

In the first days, long before anyone is sworn in, you are going to see a testing of the space. A testing to test the appetite and the willingness of the American public. It will be tests around if we are willing to let go of rights, particularly around the most vulnerable in our society. When we respond vigorously, what they will tell you is, “Oh no, you misquoted me. Oh, that’s not what we meant.” But it is a test. And at each test we have to be prepared to unequivocally stand up and push back. This will be a war of attrition that will last at least two years as they test the will of the American public. Do not allow them to cross this line.

It will not be the most vulnerable who come under attack. It will be those institutions that are essential to the protection of the most fundamental basic rights in our society. Journalists, who we have plenty of critiques of, right? Media, which we have plenty of critiques of. It will be places like housing and travel. We have to be prepared to defend those institutions. It will call on us in ways that we have not done to hold contradictions. We have our own critiques of the injustices that happen in our society, that are perpetuated by these institutions. We should not let go of those critiques, but neither should we be in any illusion that we have anything in common with those who would dehumanize the most vulnerable amongst us. We have to defend these institutions. These institutions are the bulwark against a losing of very fundamental rights.

We have to dispense with some of the myths that we hold. Arrogance. The idea that Trump somehow fooled rural, white America. This is not a rural, white America problem. This is a problem around racism in America. White supremacy and the rise of white nationalism. What we have to understand is that it’s not because of white voters. It’s not because black voters didn’t turn out. It’s not because of women. That what we are dealing with right now in our society is the perfect storm of individuals who have lost hope in their government. Who have been alienated. Who no longer have opportunities to live, love, and work coupled with the most overt forms of bigotry. It has created a hurricane. A hurricane incompassion. A hurricane of hate. A hurricane that is based off the idea that I must only save myself and be concerned about myself, a narrowing of community. CALC is important because it expands community at a time when it is very needed.

Moving forward, I have some thoughts, but they are only thoughts. As I said before, this terrain is very new. None of us have been on a terrain on this scale, not here in the United States.

One, we should be in open dialog with other social movements outside the US who have dealt with these moments. Organizers in El Salvador. Currently in Brazil. Poland. Greece. The United Kingdom. All around the world there are social movements that have survived these moments. We need to understand how.

Two, we need to immediately open space for our young people to organize, to have support, to be validated in their work. It is so critically important. We have to invest in these young people and do it now. There leadership is so critical. I’ve seen it on the streets of New York City. I’ve seen it on the streets of Portland, Oregon. I’ve seen it on the streets of Denver, Colorado. The younger generation is outraged at what we have allowed to happen. We have to give them the space to respond. Opening our homes. Opening our checkbooks. Opening up spaces. Defending them from attack. We have to trust in their leadership, this will be a long fight.

Next, we cannot make caricatures of folks who voted for Donald Trump. We cannot. There will be a period of buyer’s remorse. I promise you. When that period happens are our institutions ready to offer an alternative? A space for those individuals? If we are not prepared, we leave them prey to those to the right of Donald Trump who will organize them. We have to create spaces of opportunity. Currently, there are folks who didn’t cast their vote in that direction. On my social media I have received at least 60 requests from individuals asking to be plugged into organizations and locales. Raised your hand if you’ve had contacting you. These are folks who have not been part of organizations. We have to open up the space for these folks immediately. That does not simply mean adding them to a mailing list. Or asking them for a check, though you should do that. It means creating real spaces, the space that CALC gave me when I was…I don’t know, I don’t want to say because it might age me but very young…To sit at a table and seal envelopes and to be in the conversation. To be asked to come to a meeting, to join a demonstration, to make a sign, to join a task force. It is so essential that those spaces be open right now. Do we have the volunteer capacity for the folks who are willing to join and want to plug in? Are our organizational cultures ready for that? If not, you have about six to seven weeks to get ready.

Next, in our individual lives, look at the networks that you already have. Maybe it’s in the music community. Maybe it’s a sewing circle. Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe you’re an educator. Maybe it’s in the medical field. The religious community. It’s time to call your friends in those spaces and to figure out realistically what is it you can do in this moment that might make a difference. How do you self organize within your most natural networks, where you have the most expertise? What do you when immigrants can no longer access health care? What do you do when Black Lives Matter activists are arrested in the hundreds and are unable to make bail? What happens when people who own property are told it is a crime to rent to certain people without documentation? How will you be prepared to respond? It is important to think of these things, not because I think the most, worst things will happen, but because simply we don’t know. Prepare for the worst.

At the end of the day, we have to insure that our communities are vocal and visible in this period. I used to tell people back in the day hate groups don’t come to town bringing their racism, their homophobia, their sexism, antisemitism, I will add Islamophobia, to our communities. They simply organize the bigotry that already exists. Our best defense are vocal protests, vocal statements from public leaders, from artists, business leaders saying that we area communities of inclusion. We will not allow anyone to be isolated because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origins, disabilities. That it is simply not allowable. We need to insure that our leaders are saying that every day during this period. It cannot be said enough. If we don’t, we will signal that we are vulnerable. If we signal if we are vulnerable in this period, the worst could happen.

I want to give hope. If this were to happen, I’m so thankful it didn’t happen 10 years ago. I’m so thankful it didn’t happen 20 years ago. I am thankful it didn’t happen five years ago. If this fight is to come, it is come at the right time. It is come at a time when we have birthed some of the most powerful social movements that we have seen since the 70s. Black women. Immigrant youth. People who are working for less than minimum wage or working three minimum wage jobs to take care of their families. Folks concerned about climate. Transgender activists who are unapologetic. Across this country movements have joined up and joined together to stand against bigotry and hatred. Whether it’s Not One More. Whether it’s 18 Million Rising. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter. Whether it’s Water is Life. Whether they are saying, “Model Minority Mutiny.” What they are saying is, “Room to breathe.” They are unapologetic with this demand: that all of us have the right to live, love, and work free from fear. 

My time is up here. I want to finish on this note. Take care of your institution. An institution that took 50 years to build deserves your support and love right now. It is so needed. As I think about this institution, I think about that Tuesday where the Devil came up to me and whispered in my ear that a storm is coming. On that night, I grabbed the Devil back, and I told him, “We’re the storm, and we’re here.”

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That was musician and organizer Eric Ward.

You feel moved?

Have questions you’d like to ask?

Got an idea you want to share?

Take three minutes and use the voice recording app on your phone to tell me how you want to be identified, how you’re feeling in this political moment, and your advice to someone about what to do. Email the file to daniel@alternativehistorian.com. You don’t necessarily have to have advice. You can have a question, a suggestion, a reply, you can have anything. Just record the memo anyway.

You can find more information about this podcast at alternativehistorian.com. 

The music is by Rebel Diaz.

Feeling Political is available wherever you get your podcasts. Go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, SoundCloud or wherever.

Feeling Political is produced by Daniel Horowitz Garcia, the Alternative Historian. The series will be part of the history podcast Change Over Time, coming in Spring 2017. Sign up on the newsletter at alternativehistorian.com. We are part of Amplify, an oral history podcast network bringing podcasting to the field of oral history.

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