I love that we are using the narrative of people's lives as the source of power to transform lives. I especially love what Angela Ferrell-Zabala says about RCRC being the bridge between people and communities ("It’s incumbent on us to live into our goal of reproductive justice by listening to each community, and bring in resources and support to help amplify the work that is already being done.") and what Rob Keithan has to say about the Blues and the work of justice.
This is Michael Mitchell, RCRC Director of Communications. Harry is down south with Director of Field Operation, Angela Ferrell-Zabala and Director of Public Policy Rev. Rob Keithan, but wanted to make sure that we let you know what they were up to. When I caught up with them by phone, they were on the road from southeast Mississippi toward Jackson and were all recovering from an incredible feast that was pulled together for their visit. I had to sit through a minute or so of Harry going on about a life-changing gumbo and fried turkey.
MM: What are you doing down in Mississippi?
HK: As RCRC retools our work in order to deepen and expand it, we have decided to work this year in five strategic states: Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, South Carolina and Mississippi. In the first two states, Ohio and Wisconsin, we have strong affiliates and we are supporting them in raising faithful voices against measures aimed at severely limiting access to comprehensive sex-ed, contraception and access to compassionate abortion care. We know that opponents to women’s self-determination and access to healthcare are targeting these five states and using their very conservative legislatures and governors as laboratories for new, restrictive legislation.
RCRC’s deep dedication to working with women of color and people living with poverty means that the three other states are naturals for us. In Florida and Mississippi, we’re building on work we did in the last couple of election cycles.
MM: Angela, you’ve spent a lot of time personally in Florida and Mississippi in the last few years. What have you learned that informs the work you’re doing to build power on the ground now?
AFZ: There are two big things that I pulled from that work. First, our approach has to be customized and come from the needs of the community. By that, I mean we cannot jump on a plane from DC, land in Mississippi or any other state with a plan written in stone under our arm, and throw it down for them to execute. Strategies coming out of Washington are not going to apply to local communities. Second, we cannot write off a place based on the hype that we hear from the media or current legislators in power. If we followed that formula, we would only be working in places where progressive issues already have a strong foothold. It’s incumbent on us to live into our goal of reproductive justice by listening to each community, and bring in resources and support to help amplify the work that is already being done.
When people aren’t connected to each other, the work feels very heavy. RCRC can be a convener of people who may not already be connected, and create a safe space for folks to really talk about the challenges and pull together our resources so solutions are customized to local challenges. RCRC’s faithful voice is a beautiful thing in those situations, as we can serve as a bridge between people and communities.
We’re creating a shared commitment, a shared strategy and a shared narrative.
MM: That’s really powerful stuff!
AFZ: It is powerful! It really is what wakes me up every morning to get to work. What drives me is being able to meet these people in their communities. When we’re sitting around the table sharing a meal with old and new friends, it’s a very spiritual thing. We’re building relationships, we’re building community.
MM: Rob, what’s your take on organizing in the South?
RK: The blues offers us a great model for both theology and organizing.
RK: Oh yeah. A local blues historian from Jackson told us yesterday that old blues songs didn’t have a single writer, but were created by a community with each person adding their piece so that it was a living product owned by the whole community. What we’re here in Mississippi to do is find partners in the struggle and add RCRC’s unique piece.
We know policy change here and in other places is going to take time, and the only way we’re going to get there is through strong relationships, partnerships and collaboration. Amazing people are already doing courageous work here with limited resources. I’ve been so humbled on this trip to see the heart and soul that people put into our movement. We’re here to connect and amplify, not tell them what to do.
MM: How does this translate into policy change?
RK: It’s pretty simple. When people work in community and connect through each other’s stories, they access a great power that can then be directed to elected officials and other folks in power to make change. This trip is a good reminder of the power of local communities to make change.
It may take time, but change will indeed happen.