Cleo Wade | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Cleo Wade, Artist, Poet, and Author of Heart Talk, on how radical activism begins at the table
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Cleo Wade.
CLEO WADE: What does it mean to have a radical life? Where does a radical life begin? Does it begin with radical support in the way I used to watch my mother and her girlfriends gather around the kitchen table wiping each other's tears, helping each other smile through their pain, through their divorces, through their custody battles, through the work days that broke them?
Or does a radical life begin with radical persistence in the way the suffragettes spent more than half a century fighting for their right to vote? And I've heard Carrie Chapman Catt referred to as 52 years of pause-less campaigning.
Does it begin with radical organizing in the way Ella Baker went from small town to small town talking to ordinary black folks making sure that they knew that they were deserving of the basic human rights they had been denied for so long in a country that spent 200 years enslaving and torturing them?
Does a radical life begin with radical leadership in the way Wilma Mankiller became the Cherokee nation's first female chief? Bringing running water to places that had no running water and showing young indigenous girls everywhere that there was not only a seat for them at the table, there was a seat for them at the head of the table. Does it begin with radical accountability in the way Dolores Huerta would sit with the farm workers she organized and count every single sexist comment she heard and reported to the room at the end of every meeting?
The first meeting, she counted 58. The second, she counted 30 and finally, none. Because she was brave enough to show them who they were, they could recognize what about themselves they needed to change. Does a radical life begin with radical endurance in the way we saw Anita Hill sit in that chair while senator after white male senator after white male senator antagonized and patronized her for surviving the sexual harassment of Clarence Thomas?
Does a radical life begin with radical determination in the way Tammy Duckworth did not let losing both of her legs in Iraq stop her from not only running for office in 2016 but also running a marathon? All with a two-year-old at home. She is now the senator of Illinois and pregnant with her second child at the age of 50.
Maybe radical life begins with the radical strength of so many of us who kept hearing no, who kept hearing that they never could, who fought to feel worthy in a world, a life, and a job that told them every single day that they were not. Maybe a radical life begins with radical forgiveness. The radical forgiveness we must have for ourselves in the moment we wake up and realize that we had been living in our privilege and our blind spots for too long, that we had not seen our other sisters, that we had not known or acknowledged the extent of their struggles.
Maybe a radical life begins with the radical compassion that we must have for one another when we look at each other and say, I'm sorry it took me so long to get to you but I am here now. I am your radical comrade. I am ready to practice radical listening and give you my radical empathy.
And when something happens to you, I will not turn away in fear or helplessness. I will stand up in solidarity with you and offer you, and all who are oppressed, my radical love, my radical hope, my radical faith, and my radical work ethic.
This is a promise we must make to each other because a radical change starts with us. It starts in this room not on the hill. It starts in your house not in the White House. It starts in the streets not the Supreme Court. It starts with the mothers who organized against gun violence, the students that organize against rape on college campuses, it starts with those of us who said me too, and all of us who say times up.
You know, as I think about how to activate my radical life during these times where we cannot afford to be idle, I realize that maybe the most important place to start is with the radical imagination. The difference between those who are rooting for liberation and those who are rooting for a continued oppression, the patriarchy, and white supremacy is that those of us who are fighting for freedom are fighting for a world that has never existed.
The oppressor knows what oppression looks like and how it functions because we've been living in it our entire lives. We do not know what the world looks like where women are free, where people of color are free, where people with disabilities, and immigrants, and refugees, and indigenous people, and LGBTQ, and gender non-conforming folks are free, and safe, and seen, and celebrated.
We are the builders who are building something that has never been built before. Let us do this with radical care, with radical creativity, with radical consideration, and radical bravery. And let us do this knowing that it is an imperfect journey. Let us approach our flaws with radical patience, radical honesty, radical mercy, and radical awareness.
I hope that all of you will look around and get to know each other today because your radical life might start in this room, in this place because this is the place where you met your radical family.
Thank you so much.