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women leaders

Happy New Year — The Wisdom of Alice Walker

This seems a great way to begin 2013.  Alice Walker read this poem on September 28, 2012.  Her reading was replayed this morning on Democracy Now!


Democratic Womanism

You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile.
Another is that our old buddy Nostradamus
comes to mind, with his fearful
400 year old prophecy: that our world
and theirs too
(our “enemies” – lots of kids included there)
will end (by nuclear nakba or holocaust)
in our lifetime. Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them
somewhat fatuous.
A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it?
That’s one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth’s frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist
would have as its icons
such fierce warriors
for good as
Vandana Shiva
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Wangari Maathai
Harriet Tubman
Yoko Ono
Frida Kahlo
Angela Davis
& Barbara Lee:
With new ones always rising, wherever you look.

You are also on this list, but it is so long (Isis would appear midway) that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem! So just know I’ve stood you in a circle that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Mary McLeod Bethune. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon and Howard Zinn are there. Happy to be surrounded!

There is no system
There is no system
now in place
that can change
the disastrous course
the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this?
The male leaders
of Earth
appear to have abandoned
their very senses
though most appear
to live now
in their heads.
They murder humans and other
forests and rivers and mountains
every day
they are in office
and never seem
to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world,
Women of the world,
Is this devastation Us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil
(or anything else)
rather than limit
the number of consumer offspring we produce
and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic Womanism.
Democratic Socialist Womanism.
A system of governance
we can dream and imagine and build together. One that recognizes
at least six thousand years
of brutally enforced complicity
in the assassination
of Mother Earth, but foresees six thousand years
ahead of us when we will not submit.
What will we need? A hundred years
at least to plan: (five hundred will be handed us
when the planet is scared enough)
in which circles of women meet,
organize ourselves, and,
allied with men
brave enough to stand with women,
men brave enough to stand with women,
nurture our planet to a degree of health.
And without apology —-
(impossible to make
a bigger mess than has been made already) -—
devote ourselves, heedless of opposition,
to tirelessly serving and resuscitating Our Mother ship
and with gratitude
for Her care of us
worshipfully commit
to rehabilitating it.

MAKER OF MAGIC: The Amazing Complexity of My Role as a Woman

This article was originally published in GoOff: News and Views, December 15-21, 2002. I am revisiting it one decade later, at another time in my life. My boys are now grown, age 23 and 19.

The holidays have just ended and I am taking a moment to reflect in awe on what I accomplished. As usual, I did all the stuff that defines our holiday season. I carried the torch of what we “always do”; I made the magic happen for the people I love most in the world.

I bought all the gifts and wrapped all the gifts and shipped all the gifts that had to be shipped. I didn’t do this in any careless, hasty way; I spent time holding each recipient in my heart, choosing something that would be resonant and validating of how special each person is in our lives. I lay awake a bit at night or early in the morning strategizing about how to create the magic of Christmas for my family. I was Santa – and when my youngest lost a tooth on December 23, I also doubled as the Tooth Fairy for one night.

I struggled a bit over our holiday cards, worrying whether the picture reflected well how we each look at this point in our life process. I put the photos on the cards and updated our mailing list and printed labels and bought stamps and set up an assembly line with my kids to get them all ready for the mail. I wrote personal notes when it was important to honor a connection.
I attended our neighborhood cookie exchange, bringing my nine dozen cookies (all one kind, baked at 6 a.m. one morning, along with a copy of the recipe to be put in a little recipe book by the equally creative hostess) and laughed with friends and drank coffee and sampled a few of the cookies and returned home with nine dozen assorted cookies. We “always” have to have cookies for the holiday.

I selected and decorated the Christmas tree with my kids, hung the stockings, made sure the outside lights and decorations all worked. These are the things we “always do”, the kind of reliable and consistent foundation that is so important to my kids – or any kids for that matter. It is what makes them feel safe in a crazy world; they know there are certain things we will “always do”.

I attended all of my children’s musical concerts, recitals and sporting events, as I do every week of the year. I took the teenager to movies with his friends. I made sure they attended all their guitar and piano lessons and did their practicing; I made sure one son took his antibiotics every day so that his ear infection would clear up and the specialist would quit threatening to put tubes in his ears. The dog developed some bumps under her chin and needed to visit the vet to assure us this was not a reoccurrence of a previous melanoma. At some point we realized (as we do every year) that the boys’ dress slacks no longer fit either of them and we had to face the holiday shopping hoards again in order to find black slacks for that chorus concert. I used the time alone with each of them in the car to check in with them about how they were doing, to connect with some real conversation.

I worked at my office, seeing clients in my psychotherapy practice. The holidays are particularly stressful times for people, on many levels, and my practice always gets active between Thanksgiving and New Years as people revisit old family dynamics and other relational struggles. There is something about the contrast between the hype and the reality that brings up lots of truth for many of us during this month, and I often see a number of my old clients return for a few visits as they cycle through another important layer of their process. I consider it a sacred honor to participate with these people on their amazing journeys.

I hosted a family who visited from out of state; I took a group of eight to Disneyland for ten hours and a group of six up to the mountains for a few days of snowboarding. I cooked dinner for nine one night, thirteen the next night, and nine the night after that. I picked up endlessly behind kids who left a trail of dirty paper plates, candy wrappers, half–emptied drink containers and plastic wrappers as they opened all of the things they had gotten for Christmas. I had great conversations with my sister. I also listened as my kids laughed with their cousins, shared stories about life as it is unfolding for each of them, negotiated conflicts and differences.

There were moments in all of this when I complained, when I screamed at the car ahead of me in parking lot and when I snuck off to a quiet corner to have a little cry because I needed to. I was not necessarily sad or angry or afraid or overwhelmed; I just needed to let off a little emotional steam to make room for all the incoming experiences and feelings during this complex relational time with people I love.

I did what women do, what they have done for generations. I held the needs of others in my heart and did my best to honor them. I listened and mirrored what others were saying. I created the space for them to experience love and connection. I planned ahead and anticipated and multi-tasked and intuited and remained as flexible as I could so that I could bend with the flow of events and not break. I showed up for the people around me on a physical, an intellectual and an emotional level. I carried forward the traditions, the safety of what we “always do”, for the members of my family so that they can each relax somewhere deep inside and more fully express their own unique human potential.

Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership – Kathe Schaaf

Link: https://vimeo.com/43929225

"Kathe Schaaf is a gift for all of us looking for new authentic leadership models in these times of global change and challenge! Her honesty, energy and willingness to be vulnerable inspire deep commitment to making a better world. She has a wonderful way of igniting people to do the work they have come here to do and I personally have been kindled by her kindness, courage and visionary ways." — Clare Peterson, Gather the Women Canada
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