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On Mobilizing Outrage

Updated: May 31, 2023

On a recent webinar, as the pandemic sealed us off in corners of bedrooms and makeshift home offices, the check-in question of the day was “How is this moment changing you?”

Suddenly, I was struggling, feeling tears well up at my exhaustion; of the overwhelming nature of recent events, the current uncertainty. When I dug a bit more deeply I confronted the depths of my own rage at the unrelenting racism we are witnessing every day; the abuses of power that go unchecked from our leaders and the inequality that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. I was overwhelmed trying to take in the ever-extreme range of the roller coaster feelings I was feeling. I was uncomfortable with these new corners of rage I was holding. I almost didn't recognize myself.

However, at the edges of this darkness was a glimmer. I saw at the jagged ends of my grief and exhaustion a glimmer of truth: this moment was making me more radical. I didn't say it out loud, but I saw it. I could feel it; this truth sitting at the edges of my overwhelm patiently waiting.

To get to a place of new truth-telling and edge-walking and embracing the radical, I had to lean into this new kind of rage and outrage, not shrink from it. I had to expand to hold more of all of the feelings, expanding to be able to hold the pain and rage while also being able to function and be purposeful to show up and do my job and to still be able to take care of myself.

This wasn't the first time I felt this way. Not too long ago I stood on the land of the Sioux Nation at Standing Rock and listened to Elders, endured endless meetings full of "Karens" and had to constantly shield myself from the macro-aggressions (there is no such thing as microaggressions). I had sat at immigration court and watched the proceedings of asylum seekers, stood at the border wall watching CBP, attended the funerals of black young men killed by police, observed policy-makers make budget decisions with little regard to the humans affected, watched the news of the 2016 election, etc., etc., etc.. This wasn't the first time and it of course wouldn’t be the last.

I knew that this outrage needed some movement some way out of being labeled "outrage." It cannot be in vain and it can't take me out of my purpose.

For outrage to be righteous and rooted it must be of service to the collective.

To be of service, I had to resist the urge to shrink; to let it eat me up. I had to undo feelings of shame because some folks think outrage is too much. It is too unwieldy. I had to undo my own feelings of defeat because I had internalized that outrage meant I was failing to show up with love.

I had to accept the outrage without judgment and also hold close that if I wasn't outraged at the things I was bearing witness to, was I even being this work?

How could I be an ally, agitator, change agent, strategist, speaker, coach and co-conspirator if I didn't feel outraged? How could I do the work of justice, equity, and inclusion if I rejected feeling pain and outrage?

To do this work, you have to be in it in your heart, soul, in your cells, your muscle memory, your synapses. You have to let what you bear witness to change you. Otherwise, it is performative caring.

I had to decolonize and recenter that outrage, channeling it into collective service, which is love. Outrage channeled into self-care, protest, chanting and speaking truth is love.

Transforming outrage into love takes work. It was and is at times exhausting.

It has taken lots of practice to be in my body; of deep breathing literally expanding myself, making bigger with every breath my every cell. It takes meaning-making (not sense-making – it is impossible to make sense of racism and injustice), writing, running, and yelling, and eventually coming to a place in which I let what I saw and felt change me.

I let the outrage change me.

I let the outrage fuel getting bigger in this work, holding more space for those who bear the direct pain and suffering, getting big in the hurricane of white supremacy that tells me to get small.  I refuse to lose my purpose because being outraged can be paralyzing and pushes me away from bearing witness to more and more (and more) truth. 

Outrage makes me more honest in this work, more aware and more present to the urgency. Letting outrage change me amplified the truth-telling. It created action where helplessness used to live, joy married to purpose, confidence where there was silence.

And so, I will let the outrage of this moment change me, again. I will let it radicalize me, expand me. When the call to action is mighty, commit to no small vision.

*I am grateful to have been invited by a colleague to participate in Indigenous peoples gathering, which due to the pandemic has shifted to a virtual space. It was a sacred space, and the invitation to be present in their space and wisdom is something I am so grateful for.

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