Fertile Ground: A program is born

Fertile Ground: a program is born
by Marnie Jackson

This is more than a job to me. It’s a community, a constant education, and a home for my work in the world. Over my three years as Whidbey Institute Communications Manager, my personal advocacy and activism has become rooted in this fertile ground.

This spring, I hosted a program of my own for the first time. I started big, bringing 135 people together for three days in March for the Intersectional Justice Conference! It  The next day, conference participant Corvus shared these reflections:

“My slowly encroaching misanthropy and nihilism have been halted. I’ve seen actual evidence that the social interactions and radical movements I’ve dreamed of (or never even imagined were possible) do indeed exist.

I’ve shared space with new (to me) people of so many backgrounds and experiences doing unimaginably complex, transformative, and amazing work. I’ve had interactions I’ve only dreamed of. I felt safe.

When we make room for people who are often marginalized and excluded, we get to witness whole human beings, instead of just the parts dominant culture deems useful. I feel eternally grateful that people felt safe enough to share their emotions and vulnerability with us and am very grateful that people also made me feel safe enough to be vulnerable as well. Unlearning oppression is liberating for EVERYONE, not just the marginalized. We get to have real interactions when we make things safer.

I believe that if I’m still around 20 years from now, I will look back on this past weekend and say, “I had the privilege of being there for that,” when discussions pop up about the progress these people have ignited and influenced other movements to make.”

This Intersectional Justice Conference would not have been possible without several preceding experiences that built my leadership potential.

Through Powers of Leadership, I learned about the importance of building a team. It was there, in that 9 month retreat cycle, that I formulated a vision of an inclusive and collaboratively-led animal and human rights conference . . . and it was during that cycle that I first began to invite others to the work with me.

Through Bioneers, I deepened in my understanding of the essential role of anti-racism work in any liberation movement, and of the need for a more inclusive look at systems of oppression.

Through Warrior Monk, I realized the importance of authenticity, vulnerability, and presence in my own leadership. I realized that nothing can be done well that is not done whole-heartedly, and that my personal mission requires not just compassion but also honesty—and sometimes conflict. I learned that safety and happiness are not always synonymous, and that I might need to become uncomfortable in order to grow.

Hosting the Intersectional Justice Conference was frightening, exhilarating, and impactful beyond my wildest dreams.

My team of co-facilitators have become lasting friends, and the speakers and sponsors who participated in the experience with their fiscal, intellectual, and emotional resources have become treasured members of my larger community. The work is growing, and just this week Vegfest UK announced their intention to host a pro-intersectional vegan conference in the United Kingdom this October with many of the same speakers on their roster. One of the most exciting things about the Intersectional Justice work is that I’m seeing the conversations continuing, the work growing in impact, and the community continuing to expand in size and influence. In fact, I feel I’ve been liberated from leadership, in the traditional sense, by the incredible leadership-richness of the community that heeded my call to gather last spring.

As Lauren Sprang of Vegan Outreach recently wrote, “supporting vegan intersectional activists doesn’t mean finding a place for them in the existing animal rights movement. They’re thriving in the spaces that they’ve created . . . these activists know how to do their work–they’re doing it!”

I’m proud to have played a role in providing a place for that work to be shared and amplified, and I’m grateful to the Whidbey Institute for providing a context and experiences which allowed me to grow into my own capacity to learn, lead, and inspire.

View Pax Ahimsa Gethen’s photos from the conference here.
View Photon Factory’s videos from the conference here.

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