The following post is intended particularly for white people who’ve been participating in the #NeighborhoodLoveNotes project.
So, this thing happened: I chalked some love messages to my queer and trans and Black and brown and undocumented neighbors in front of my house. Then, I posted about it on Facebook. Post started going mini-viral, my brilliant friend Rev. Ashley Harness dreamed up a plan to do a reverse chalk offering at her church, a person I had never met asked if they could create a Facebook event for it, and now–20k event shares and thousands of photo posts and hashtag mentions and hundreds of participating churches later–#NeighborhoodLoveNotes has become a nationwide thing that is garnering lots of attention and participation from people all over the country.
Unsurprisingly, the media has picked up on this phenomenon, too. I gave an interview to a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the folks from Al Jazeera’s AJ+ (video forthcoming next week, I think). Several other news outlets have picked it up here in the Twin Cities, and I hear there’s been media coverage of #NeighborhoodLoveNotes in other communities around the country.
Equally unsurprisingly, the reporter I talked to gave a very watered-down version of what I actually said about the project. She wrote:
“The day after the election I was feeling very upset,” Horan said Monday. “I knew how afraid and hurting everybody was in my community, which is full of queer folks and black and brown folks and immigrants. I needed to do something.”
She believes Donald Trump’s win has “emboldened and empowered” people to speak negatively about Muslims and immigrants, make racist slurs, and put down women and members of the LGBTQ community. So on her sidewalk she wrote things like “Black lives will always matter” and “Ninguna persona es ilegal” (“No one is illegal”).
(My chalking actually says “Nadie es ilegal,” but you get the picture.)
Another local outlet, who basically used the original reporter’s story as their source instead of me, started their article this way:
Upset at seeing the division and anger following last week’s election result, Twin Cities pastor Ashley Horan was resolved to spread harmony to America.
The Unitarian Universalist clergywoman from Minneapolis was inspired to start the Twitter hashtag #NeighborhoodLoveNotes, writing messages of love and peace in chalk on city paving and posting photos of them online.
Friends, I completely understand that reporters write the stories that they understand and want to tell, so I’m not gonna throw any shade at these folks. But I do want to take a moment to say a few things that I said in the original interview that I think bear repeating:
1.) In the midst of a national controversy about safety pins, I am completely aware that #NeighborhoodLoveNotes has the same potential to be a feel-good, not-really-acting-action that disappointed and disillusioned liberal white folks can participate in without any real risk to or accountability from themselves. I’ve seen lots of “Love Trumps Hate” and “Everyone is Loved” messages among the thousands of photos, which I think are basically the chalk equivalents of #AllLivesMatter. As the brilliant Amina Pugh wrote on Black Girl Dangerous:
Perhaps this is why seeing another white person holding a “Love Trumps Hate” sign makes me cringe and nearly ready to go home. It is not hate people of color are facing, its violence, deportation, seizure of land, denied resources, and murder. People of color have always dealt with hatred, that is the reality of our existence under white supremacy. Reducing it to hate is a mischaracterization of our grievances. We are not protesting against hate because hate is a feeling. We are protesting against oppression and domination. We are protesting against the predictably of whiteness–that it will always win, which inevitably means we have lost.
The solution to our president-elect is not love, it is accountability. Love is a Band-Aid solution that allows white folks to continue to evade accountability. To continue to avoid the reality that the overwhelming majority of white folks elected Trump and those who didn’t were at the very least complacent. Accountability is essential to creating these loving and supportive communities that are wrongfully imagined as solutions. Love is only effective alongside working to dismantle white supremacy, it is not a solution in itself. Hushing white supremacy into corners with idealist solutions of love are ineffective, because white supremacy, as evident in the 2016 presidential election, will inevitably re-emerge.
Cosign, agree, close the book on this one. I completely agree. To the extent to which #NeighborhoodLoveNotes has deviated into this territory, I regret it.
2.) My motivations for writing the chalk messages on my sidewalk on November 9 were about responding to the calls I was hearing from friends who embody far more marginalized identities than I do as a white, citizen, able bodied, owning-class, college-educated, queer cisgender woman. I heard them say that what happened in the election was simply an affirmation of what they had always known to be true about America’s feelings about people of color, immigrants, disabled folks, Muslims, women, and the LGBTQIA community. I also heard them say that while they weren’t surprised that the kyriarchy had won the day, they still felt alone, betrayed, fearful, and hated… perhaps even more than they had before.
I am blessed in my life to spend a great deal of time working with activists and community organizers, many of whom have modeled for me again and again what it looks like to embody a spirit of resistance while simultaneously casting a prophetic vision for a world that our souls yearn for, even though it has never yet existed. They–and the movements they have been building–have offered me salvation more times than I can count. And many, many of these people I’ve been so incredibly lucky to learn from and follow and co-conspire with were exactly the folks who were feeling knocked flat and deeply betrayed by our country last Tuesday.
These mentors and prophets have been in the work of collective liberation for years and generations. We desperately need them to survive, and to have the spiritual and emotional reserves that will allow them to continue building for the next four years and beyond. And, we desperately need more and more and more people to join their ranks, moving from cynicism and fear into politicized action and mobilization against all the oppressive forces that make our society unsafe and violent against all but the privileged few.
So I wanted to offer the folks who are already leading the work, and those who are poised to be recruited into it, an affirmation that they are loved. That their work, their lives, their experiences, their families matter. That there are so many people who have their backs, and that are willing to throw down to excise the poison of white supremacy and misogyny and xenophobia and trans/homophobia. And I wanted to write specific messages to the folks whose feet would literally pass over the chalk drawings on their way to work or school or the corner store as they passed our house.
So, basically, screw “spreading harmony to America:” I wanted to contribute even a drop into the well of resilience that the folks from frontline communities, whose lives are undeniably even more at risk now than they have been in living memory, will need to survive and lead us forward in resistance and repair of our broken world.
3.) Given all of that, it seems like I should write some explicit best practices for anyone who wants to join in the #NeighborhoodLoveNotes project. Here we go:
- Chalking is not enough, and love is not–it turns out–all we need. For those of you for whom this kind of public act already feels risky, sit with that discomfort and let it propel you to do something else that feels risky, but that also fosters systemic change. Get involved in the city council and mayoral races in your city; attend a protest or a march organized by people most directly impacted by the issues; make significant financial contributions to grassroots organizations that can’t get big donor funding because they’re led by queer folks and people of color; engage your the family you want to unfriend on Facebook in conversations about racism and Islamophobia and sexism and homo/transphobia even when it feels uncomfortable. Develop spiritual practices and community relationships that make it possible for you to withstand the discomfort and anxiety that will inevitably come, and that fill you up when the world breaks your heart and everything spills out.
- Invite people to go with you. Use this as an opportunity to deepen relationships with your neighbors and friends, and spend your time while chalking giving each other courage to make a plan for the NEXT thing you’ll do together to dismantle oppression and halt violence against targeted communities.
- When you choose a location to chalk, think about it carefully. DO NOT chalk without permission in front of the houses or businesses or religious institutions of groups that are already being targeted for harassment and violence. If you want to write messages to those groups and you’re not a part of them, ask permission, and be ready to respect a “no” if you get it. Try to choose a spot where lots of folks will see it–a bus stop, a public school, a park, a hospital, a busy street corner.
- Some places, it’s illegal to chalk on public sidewalks, so find out what the laws are in your community, and then assess whether it’s strategic for you to act within or outside of those laws. If you want to not risk any illegal activity, ask permission from sympathetic business owners or other powers-that-be if you can write messages in front of their buildings. If you’re willing to risk breaking the law, do it strategically: which businesses are funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, making campaign contributions to candidates that support deportation and increased militarized policing, failing to support and protect women and LGBTQIA people, etc.? They would be great sites for pointed, specific signs of affirmation that would serve the dual purpose of messing with the business owners’ minds AND loving up the communities they’re targeting!
- Be as specific as you can with your messaging. Instead of aspirational “love will win out someday” or “we’re all one, let’s get united” messages, which might ring hollow or erase the specific and painful experiences of particular groups, try for things that positively affirm and embrace people right here, right now, in this world as it is, with all its violence and hatred. Or messages that reflect a commitment from you to show up and do your best to build relationships and protect the people in your community. Samples might include:
- Nobody is illegal/nadie es ilegal
- None of us are free until all of us are free
- Black Lives will ALWAYS matter
- Solidarity with Standing Rock
- Muslim neighbors, YOU make America great!
- No matter what they say, remember: you are loved beyond belief
- We support our LGBTQ neighbors
So there it is. If #NeighborhoodLoveNotes provides a pathway to deeper commitment and more emboldened action for justice for some people, I’m thrilled. And if it provides some affirmation and reassurance to folks who desperately need to hear that they are loved and valued, I’m so glad.
I think this is a critical moment for moving mass numbers of people–in particular, white liberals–from commentary toward collaboration, from silent assent into strategic action. This project cannot do that on its own, and it’s not enough. But I hope it can be a powerful “and,” rather than an “or”–that it can be a thing that people do in addition to the thousand other tactics and strategies we must employ, and that it contributes to fortifying the spirits of those who will embody the resistance that will get us free.