GOTV - Not Brushing Differences Under the Rug
Jasmine Whaley is a minority rights advocate and digital communications specialist from Greensboro, North Carolina. Her career has included experience in social entrepreneurship, tech for social good, and ethical policy design. She believes that the core work of organizing exists at the intersections of our identities and lived experiences, because of this she's coordinated political actions with Muslim and Jewish communities and has organized several anti-racism efforts across Europe and the United States.
In a conversation with IFYC’s Director of Alumni Relationship, Hannah Willage, Whaley speaks about the intersection of her faith and interfaith work with her work around the upcoming 2020 elections.
Tells us about the organization that you are working with – How did it start, who is it serving, and how is it going?
I am the Regional Director for Gulliford For All, a local group made up of people from Gulliford county, working to build local power and a part of The Carolina Federation. At Gulliford for All, we believe that corporate power is the problem and that the solution is to build local electoral power through multiracial solidarity across class, religion, and other forms of difference. We don’t need to brush our differences under the rug because those are the things that make us stronger. We build local power by winning elections and putting Black and Brown people into leadership by endorsing candidates and turning people out to get them elected. It’s not enough to simply elect new leaders--we have to elect leaders that we can hold accountable.
Our chapter decided to focus our first election campaign with the Gulliford County Commission because they approve all of the funds for county-level budgets in Guilford. From Health and Human Services to the Sherrif’s Office to public education--all roads go through the County Commission. The Commissioners had the power to accept Covid relief housing subsidies from the federal government that would have prevented housing evictions this year and chose not to. They have the power to allocate funding that would keep our communities both physically and mentally healthy and choose not to.
What inspires your work?
I think you have to look back before you can look forward. I am inspired by my grandmother because she is, without a doubt, my inspiration and the North Star that has guided much of my enthusiasm and political values. I grew up in Greensboro, NC, and my family is from Memphis, TN. Both of those places have significant historical importance for the Civil Rights Movement. I would visit my grandmother as a child. She would take me with my Aunt to the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. She would tell me “You need to know this and you need to proud of where you come from.”
My inspiration comes from the strength and the work of others. My grandma was a single mother who raised 5 kids and held down a job. Her spirit, which I partially attribute to the muscle memory of Black women, is the reason that I do this. Our mothers and grandmothers were the ones who worked all day, took care of the kids, and then went to protests. They are the ones who hold us when spiritual and racial oppression threatens to break the spirit, mind, and body. I am inspired not only by the struggle but also the beauty.
Does your faith or your interfaith work play into your work in GOTV and democracy? Are you seeing any particular role that religion is playing in GOTV?
I think that this comes into play with the way we interact with people. Our organizing theory is based on transformative somatics and social justice. That simply means that we believe that there is a deep need for transformative relationships in our personal and collective lives. We understand transformative leadership to be enabling people to achieve a shared purpose under conditions of great uncertainty.
Interfaith plays a role here just as it has in all of my work. I believe that we exist at the intersections of our identities and that those identities can, sometimes, hold contradictions. We create our spaces and are rigorous in our membership intake and education processes so that we can protect our most affected members/communities. Many folks who identify as non-religious are keenly aware of the systemic oppression and violence that the Abrahamic faiths have committed against Black people and our Queer brothers and sisters. At the same time, religion, particularly Black Christianity is inexorably linked to civil, economic, and social rights.
We all hold a multitude of contradictions.
Many young, Black activists are leaning more into the spiritual and ancestral religious practices to sustain and inspire themselves and their communities. We are actively unlearning white supremacy by reconnecting with our ancestors, our lineage. In some ways, our organization is a secular space. And yet, there is immense respect for the power of religious communities and their role in movements. This is particularly true in the city of Greensboro, the birthplace of the historic student sit-ins of the 1960s.
There is no doubt that we have are at a moment of immense change and uncertainty in the face of the 2020 elections. When we talk to people we let folks know that we’re a political organization but our questions are not always political. We often ask, “If you could change one thing in Guilford County, what would it be?” The answers flow from there. My work is not framed strictly in terms of religion, class, or race because they simply cannot be separated. We come into our relationships with our full selves and all of the beauty messiness that entails. My role is to act in solidarity by seeking understanding. That is how we transform our relationships with each other.
How does your current work intersect with the work after the election to try to bring the country together after such a bitter vote?
The most terrifying things about electoral work in 2020 are the days in the immediate aftermath of the election: November 4, 5, and 6th. In an ideal world, we’d know the results of the election on Nov. 3rd and we’d all take a 2-day nap and wake up refreshed and refocused on what comes next.
But this year is different. We don’t just need to win but we need to win by a sizable margin. In lieu of that, we will need to find and support our community. If there is blowback, it won’t just be on Black and Brown folks, it will be an increased danger for Muslims, we may see an increase in hate crimes for our Jewish brothers and sisters--both of whom have suffered violence from white supremacists. My interfaith work will be to support and to make visible people that society ignores.
If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.