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AMP: Grassroots²

Michigan

Natasha Thomas-Jackson with NextGen America


What do you do? I’m a Regional Organizing Director for NextGen America, a national youth vote program that aims to engage millennial voters and elect progressive candidates. Prior to that, I served as the co-founder and executive director of RAISE IT UP! (RIU), an organization that promoted youth engagement, expression, and empowerment through performance, literary arts, and social activism. I’m also a writer and performance artist.

In all of my work, I’m interested in creating and sustaining radical, creative, intersectional, and inclusive spaces. I’m also interested in having brave conversations. Social justice involves our own personal and spiritual transformation as well as our work in the community. Social justice is internal and external. It’s psycho-spiritual as well as socio-political. What I know is that trauma is deeply embedded in our world, even in some spaces that are considered progressive and radical. All of my work, at its root, involves healing… healing ourselves, homes, communities, political system, and our world.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? I think all choices boil down to two “whys”…love or fear. My goal is to learn how to more and more frequently operate from a place of love. There is also an anonymous quote that says, “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Simply set it free and it will defend itself.” I love this quote because I’ve come to realize it lies at the foundation of all my work and the work of so many of the people I’m fortunate to work with. Whether it’s the personal, mental, spiritual, and heart-centered truths we need to uncover to heal ourselves as individuals or the courageous truth-unveiling and truth-telling we need to do collectively in order to create a just and equitable world. My why is that I’m in love with people. I want all people to be free and my tools are love and truth.

What moment motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice?
As a child, my mother had to stop me from watching the news because I used to cry when I watched it. Even at 5 years old, I felt a deep responsibility to this world. Some of it is innate. Some of it was instilled in me by my mother. Some it has come from learning from other people. An incident that always sticks out for me happened when I was 19. I was involved in a conversation on what it means to be a cis-gender and trans-gender. During that conversation, another cis-gender person stated that it was always the responsibility of transpeople to communicate their gender to their partners. I remember supporting this argument, blithely adding that being trans didn’t absolve anyone of the responsibility of being “honest” with their partner. Another trans woman that was part of the conversation went in on me, pointing out how privileged, insensitive, and ignorant my statement was. Transwomen are frequently victimized, beaten, and or killed by partners simply for being trans and sharing this with their partners.

My statement made her angry and rightfully so. She called me a bitch and stupid and put her hand in my face. She told me  it wasn’t my job as cis-gender person to tell her how to navigate her gender/sexuality but that my role was to work with cis-gender people to dismantle the transphobia we create and benefit from, to make it safe for transpeople to live fully in their truth. At first, being called out made me feel defensive and triggered but it dawned on me that my defensiveness only confirmed my privilege. She was under no obligation to speak in ways that made me feel comfortable. Her words weren’t pretty but they were necessary and true. So I made it a point to apologize and really listen to her. In that moment, I learned a pivotal lesson about power, privilege, and the need for us to really hear and appreciate the people who have the courage to hold us accountable. People with privilege need to understand the importance of working in privileged communities to dismantle privilege.

How has your work been different over the past year? I’ve expanded the work I do to include Women’s Healing Rites & Human Rights Meditation Retreats. We bring together an inter-generational and  diverse body of women to engage in critical discussions and develop transformative spiritual and political practices that support us in healing our inner lives and the lives of our community. We use critical dialogue, holistic health, ritual practice, body movement, and meditation techniques…as well as skill-building in the areas of community organizing, activism and unpacking power, privilege, and oppression. The goal is for us to collectively step deeper into our roles as creators of our lives, healers of our homes, leaders of our communities, comrades to one another and caretakers of our own souls. In 2019, I’m hosting a series called “Bearing Witness: Public Conversations About White Supremacy, Accountability, and Healing Between Black & White Feminists.” My response to the current socio-political climate is to increase my commitment to my work but also to my self-care and to caring for those around me. This is difficult work and these are heavy times. If we’re going to push through, we have to do taking care of ourselves and each other.