A Self-Acceptance Speech for Activists

This speech was given in April 2018 by Christy NaMee Eriksen (Owner of Kindred Post) after receiving a Carla Timpone Award for Activism from the Alaska Women's Lobby. 

Good afternoon. I'd like to first acknowledge my Tlingit cousins, the rightful and original owners of this land, and especially the Áak'w Khwáan, L'eeneidí and the Wooshkeetaan clans. Gunalchéesh, thank you, for the privilege of speaking and living on your land, and for your ancestors who have guided me and so many Alaskans to where we are today. Kamsahamnida, thank you to my own Korean and American ancestors for the poems, small and large, they wrote in advance of my arrival and the dreams they had for me that are still unfolding. It's an honor to stand here on the shoulders of giants. Thank you to the Alaska Women's Lobby for lifting up all our women, families and children through your advocacy and your leadership, and to Carla Timpone, who sounds like a fighter, a truth-teller, and someone who I understand had a wicked sense of humor - I never met Carla but I value the opportunity to learn about her and follow her through this experience. Thank you to my friends, my worse come to worst my peoples come first, my community, my family, my son. You are the reasons I'm living my best life.

This is an incredible honor for me, as in incredulous, as in I questioned its credibility for choosing me, and I questioned my credibility for receiving it. Maybe like some others in the room, I have high expectations of the world and high expectations of myself, and we both fall short often. Have you ever gotten so used to resisting, you start resisting you? Perhaps you can understand why I struggled to write an acceptance speech, it is not something a woman like me experiences often. I fought myself for awhile, and I ate half the kitchen writing bad rough drafts, but I decided that today in exchange for this award I'd like to offer you this: a self-acceptance speech for activists - in my experience the most difficult award to receive.

To give a self-acceptance speech we as activists would have to acknowledge our soft work, our shortcomings, our rest. We'd have to also list the lowlights, the times we questioned our own dedication, the times we were uninspired. When we got lazy, when we got depressed, when we raised our voices louder than was effective.

Are we here for that, too? Are we here to accept the flawed parts of our activism?

When knowing everything we knew about engaging, we left.
When knowing everything we knew about organizing, we were a mess. 
When knowing everything we knew about building, we collapsed.

I've come to my activist jesus so many times, I meditate the most when I'm angry. My prayers are often mistaken for to-do lists and, as such, many are left unanswered.

Any dreamer is also cursed with doubt, because more of our visions are unrealized than not.

Likewise, any self-reflecting genius is also the editor from hell. I myself look up to Ernestine Hayes, who suggests "killing your darlings" as a revision practice, which is a fantastic skill in writing but is a vicious tool to take to our memories. 
I've looked back and killed so many darlings - a criticism I should have kept to myself, a frustration I should have not brought to a meeting, a morning I slept in instead of testifying - and the ghosts of them follow me around until I make the choice to love them anyway,

to accept them anyway.

Once, not too long ago, a group of white people were antagonizing and making racial comments to my friends and I on Franklin Street. They were drunk and they didn't like the way I looked at them, because I wouldn't say my name, because I wouldn't say where I was from, and because I wouldn't smile. I've smiled a hundred times in situations like this before - from bars to board rooms. But *that* night, I *wanted* to be an award-winning activist, I wanted to accept and be accepted, I wanted to be valuable.

I wouldn't give them my name, I wouldn't give them my country, I wouldn't change my face into the face they wanted, and as a consequence, they physically attacked us. Afterwards, assessing injuries, assessing the bad endings we'd only lucked out in avoiding, I was so

sorry. What had I done, what had I allowed to happen because I had too much pride, which is still not as much pride as others. I wondered- What kind of danger do I put us in when I simply refuse to know my place in this world?

I carried this darling with me for days and this is always the worst part of an attack, the part where you destroy yourself from the inside out. My friend Kolene James, who is a queen and a healer, watched me break and then she hugged me for 3-4 generations. When she let go she said,

You come from a long line of gentle people. 
Your ancestors gave you voice. They gave you your beauty, your talent, your skills.

She shook her head and she said: There’s no room for regrets here.

What raw and limitless version of activism is ignited when we who have been taught to expect and accept our own destruction, say instead: no. When our greatest form of resistance is existence.

I was asked to speak about the role activsim plays in my life, and I hope you're not disappointed to learn, this is most of it, just me, being here. Perhaps it's true for you, too, you who may not be the color of most hollywood heroes, who shudder at the sight of police, who must convince policymakers you own your own body, maybe your religions don't get paid holidays, maybe doors don't open for you, maybe your love comes with repercussions. Still, when everything asks you to disappear, here you are.

I wrote a poem in 2010 for Oscar Grant, a young black man who was shot by a police officer in the back while lying face down on New Year's Day. I wanted to write about the haunting way we as brown mothers are asked to raise our children. They are born into riots, really. Their expressions of beauty make them dangerous to those who feast on ugly. In the poem I write, "a brown mother's love is her greatest protest." Choosing to appear, choosing to defiantly exist, holding our names, our homelands, our own faces and calling them precious. Taking in the view with our children and saying, this world, this shared world, is also yours - this is our picket line.

But we who have our eyes on the prize, we too get weary - waving a sign we never wanted to hold, chanting an anthem that reminds us we are desperate, singing songs that make clear we have so much to lose. We who plead for freedom, for love - how strong is our activism when we cannot also accept her - she who is tired and broken. She whose grief cannot possibly go on.

I'm humbled today to accept this award on behalf of that darling in me, the one I so often want to cut out, erase, change - the one who is the most activist in me, because she tells the truth.

If you too are honest (as you surely are) and if you too go on and on because you are steeped in the fight to be safe, to be valuable, to be beautiful (as surely you do), then I trust you too come from a long line of gentle people, that you too are brilliant and weary and proud. Please, accept all of it. Your love, too, is the greatest protest.

The darling in me honors the darling in you.
May we be each other's keepers.

1 comment

Oct 06, 2018

I surrender.
I surrender.
I want to know you more.
I want to know you more.

Evanthia Linou

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