Prelude: Revolutionary Love Is How To Citizen (With Valarie Kaur)

Show Description

Baratunde lays the spiritual foundation for the show. His first guest, Valarie Kaur, activist and author of See no Stranger, helps us go inward to ready our hearts and minds for How To Citizen. Welcome to the show!In December 2016, activist, lawyer, and Sikh faith leader Valarie Kaur, asked this question in her Prayer for America: “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?” Nearly four years later, Baratunde could think of no better spiritual invocation for this show than a conversation with Valarie, the author of See No Stranger. In the premiere episode of this podcast, Baratunde and Valarie discuss the role of love, joy and relationships in reimagining and reclaiming the act of being a citizen.

Show Notes & Actions

Show Transcript

​​Baratunde Thurston  0:02  

This is How to Citizen with Baratunde, a show where we reimagined the word citizen, reclaim it from those who weaponized it and remind us all of our collective power. 

We have a definition of this civic power, which is broad and goes far beyond the purely political. This show is not how a bill becomes a law. This show is about powers and who has the power to determine the quality of our lives. We believe the correct answer is all of us. 

Welcome to our very first episode. Prelude, revolutionary love is how to citizen. I'm Baratunde. 

I've been working on this show for years. I've been dreaming of seeing or hearing something like it for most of my adult life, and at this present time, it feels urgent. We are in an intense moment of history. A pandemic, a revolution of way too many streaming services. Am I right? Our democracy is at a tipping point. But which way it tips? That's up to us? We're making this show to help tip it in the direction of more justice and more power for more people. And yeah, I said, this is episode zero. See what had happened was our plan for episode one involved two guests. But then we heard that first guest in that conversation, or should I say our zeroeth guest, we heard her words and we knew we needed to give them an entire episode so they could breathe, so you could breathe with them because she so eloquently expressed the spiritual core of what we're all about. 

We have long felt that the concept of How to Citizen is really about our relationship with each other, but also our relationship with ourselves and in order to truly be In community with each other to show up for one another, we have to show up for ourselves and that may involve examining who we are examining our relationship with ourselves first. This episode's guest is the perfect person to help us in that project because she has a definition of citizenship that includes more than external actions in the world out there. She conceives of a role with internal changes we must make to our minds and to our hearts. I think of this episode as the spiritual invocation of the project we're about to embark on. So check out my conversation with Valarie cower stay until the end, because we're going to give you some things you can do. And welcome to the show citizen.

I'm holding the book of my very first guest, Valarie Kaur right here, "See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love". And when I look at the back cover, it's got a long list, Valarie, you got a long list of dope, comma separated value to represent some of your contributions to this world. Civil rights activist, lawyer, filmmaker, innovator, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, but I'm going to give a long winded intro, and I bear some patience with me, Valarie, because I think I need to do this. I think our listeners need to hear this and I want you to hear it. 

In November of 2016, I woke up after that election, having watched that election, with a group of about 10 people, only two of whom had all four parents born in the United States of America. We were a witnessing of immigrants, to our minds and ears, tragic moment in US history. Roughly a month after that, I'm hanging out on Facebook, where only bad things happen, as far as I was concerned at that time, like that's where bad news comes to hunt you down. That's where Russians interfere with the election. 

And I saw you. I saw you say these words that spoke so true. That said, what if this darkness that we're feeling that we're in is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb. And this isn't the death of our country, this is the birth. And that really moved me and it still moves me to even say it to be able to say it to you. And then a few months later, I met you and I screamed from across a crowded room like some film scene. That's the woman who moved me with such poetry, because it has felt like such a dark time that day felt dark, but we've been in years of what has seemed to be like darkness. So I say that as a setup one, thank you very much for that moment, and for being a light in darkness, to help draw so many of us out of that. Two, welcome to How to Citizen. It's good to have you.

Valarie Kaur  5:10  

That is a welcome, sir. Thank you, brother.

Baratunde Thurston  5:13  

You're very welcome. Thank you. Can I say? You can say, that's why you're here. Please say.

Valarie Kaur  5:19  

That question. Is this the darkness of the tomb? Or is this the darkness of the womb? It is the question I've been asking myself every day. And I think it's both. I think it's both when, you know, almost 150,000 people have been killed by this virus, the scale and scope of which was preventable, if we had real leadership, disproportionately people of color when we see George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, all those that we have lost that we will never be able to get back. It feels as though death has won. And there's also a bit of dying of the notion of the nation that we thought we were. And yet we're also seeing millions of people flood city streets, in their grief, in their rage, rising up, breathing together, reimagining together in a revolutionary moment for Black lives and racial justice that frankly, I never thought I would see in my lifetime. And when we see, you know, a wall of white people in front of Black people kneeling in the street in front of an army of police officers, these are images we didn't see in 1968 or in 1992. And so I keep thinking, "Am I seeing glimpses?", are we seeing glimpses of the America that is longing to be so yeah, breathe and push, just breathe and push.

Baratunde Thurston  6:43  

Breathe and push. You have acknowledged, built on, borrowed from a number of traditions in your work. Valarie, you are a lawyer, you have a degree in law. You have a degree in divinity. You have a degree of bachelor's arts from a lot of institutions. You Very credentialed. The thing that I'm actually most curious about it, came very early in your book, "See No Stranger". You wrote, I grew up on 40 acres in Clovis, California. And I want to know, did you have a mule as well? Like, did you have 40 acres and a mule? Because I'm just I'm still looking for that. And I was like, "Oh!"

Unknown Speaker  7:25  

We didn't even have

Valarie Kaur  7:26  

a cow. My dad got the cow. But by the time I was born, we just got the strawberries. Yeah, my family has lived and farmed in California for more than a century. And so I grew up with such a deep connection to this land to this soil. And I was raised with my grandparents. So I still grew up with the stories and the scriptures and the songs of my Sikh faith. And so that was my orientation to the world. And, you know, it wasn't severed of course until I experienced my first racial slur, like so many of us, young kids of color, and I feel like my whole life has been a journey of returning to feeling at home in my body. Yeah, at

Baratunde Thurston  8:10  

home in the world. The project that we are embarking on, not just as a podcast, but as a society. You know, it feels like we have this moment, we're at this tipping point, and which way we tip is not a foregone conclusion. It's not guaranteed to be great, but it's also not guaranteed to be devastating. So tomb or womb feels like it's up to us. Yes, you just said in my body. And I think there's a lot of this work, which feels very external. It's about giving money to organizations. It is about getting to know our neighbors, you know, as real people and supporting folks on the ground doing work and re engaging with our democracy with our bodies out there. But what do you think you might have some thoughts on the internal work what is the the body of each have us how do we get in touch with that? What is the role of that? I think in this act of citizenship of power to the people,

Valarie Kaur  9:08  

Yes. [Speaks Punjabi] I see no enemy. I see no stranger. These were the words of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. And really he was just lifting up a call to love that has been on the lips of indigenous leaders and spiritual teachers and social reformers for so many centuries. And this is not about a belief that we hold in our head. I mean, anti racism is in the air and so many good people are holding it as an idea in their minds like trying to be anti racist trying to be and actually it doesn't work. To be truly anti racist is to orient to the world in a new new way. 

And so I'm inviting people into thinking about what it means to see no stranger. George Floyd, brother, Breonna Taylor, sister, their children, our children, when we See no stranger who are brave enough to see no stranger than it must mean being brave enough to let their grief into our own hearts, and to fight for them when they are in harm's way. So, revolutionary love is when we are brave enough to see no strangers, not out there and not in here. And for so many people of color, we live in a culture that wants to make a strange to ourselves that wants to sever us from our own inner knowing. And so the book, "See No Stranger" is about what it means to practice love to labor in love for others, even for our opponents and for ourselves as a way of moving through the world that is both personal and political. 

And it's how we last. I really, brother, you talked about leaving the country, you know, not by choice, I actually left the country by choice. Don't get the election right. I was so breathless people were saying, Well, how do we breed? How do we push and I said I, I don't know I know in here, but I don't know out here and so I was given a gift that very few women who are mothers and activists are ever given. I was given time off in a room of my own, and I went to a rain forest in Central America with my family and I took my first deep breath that I had taken in so many years really since 911, since I'd become an activist, and I pored through the stories in my life and through the stories of social movements in the past, and through a wisdom traditions, and I began to see patterns, which I came to call practices of revolutionary love. And so I wrote this book for my own survival so that I could come back to the country and last, I believe, when we labor in love, it's how we last and I want to last I want to grow old. I want to grow old with you.

Baratunde Thurston  11:48  

You mentioned September 11, 2001, as the moment of the birth of your own activism. What does that event and the consequences of it what does that meant for you?

Valarie Kaur  11:58  

It was a new era for us, for all of us, but especially for those of us who are Muslim or Sikh in the wake of the horror of those attacks, you know that hate violence, you know, erupted across city streets and the first person killed in a hate crime after 911 was Balbir Singh Sodhi. A man I knew, a Sikh turban father, who I called uncle. So, this was before social media. This was before we had any channels, any ways to tell our own stories. We just had email. Right, we barely had email. There's listservs where people are saying, my father has been shot. My brother has been beaten. Help us. Someone save us and I was a 20 year old college kid, I had an old camera, I got in my car, I drove across the country and began capturing these stories of my community and that was the beginning of my life as an activist. And, you know, back then Baratunde, we we thought that we even called it the backlash, you know, we thought it was going to be this narrow, finite era in history that we would look back on, and the backlash never ended. We're almost 20 years later and Sikh and Muslim Americans are five times more likely to be targets of hate than we were before 911. And with every film, with every lawsuit, with every campaign, I thought we were making the nation safer for the next generation. And then this president takes power, hate crimes skyrocket, once again, rivaling what we saw after 911. And now I'm a new mother. I thought, "Oh my God, my son is being raised in a country more dangerous for him than it was for me." Or even for my grandfather who arrived 100 years ago, how am I going to last? So the labor for justice and Black people know this, you know, I came to this late right, you all notice that the labor for justice is long and hard and it may go on after we leave this earth and so how do we last? How do we labor and love so the labor itself becomes an end in itself, that the labor becomes joyful. I believe that laboring for justice with joy is the meaning of life.

Baratunde Thurston  13:57  

You use a phrase In the book that I have tried to use to describe this show that I've seen others doing similar work do which is living in community. We're inside of an experiment, right? We're in a petri dish. We call this a democratic experiment. But I don't think we often returned to the meaning of that. Like we're trying something. That's what an experiment is, and we're trying to live together to labor in love together, in your words. What are some places, some examples, where you've been a part of community efforts to labor in love together?

Valarie Kaur  14:35  

Oh, I'm taken back to the aftermath of the massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. White supremacists walks into a sacred gurdwara, opens fire. It's the largest attack on Sikhs in our history on the soil and it barely gets the kind of media attention that other mass shootings get and long after the news media left, we stayed, we stayed to watch the community grieve together and breathe together and hold each other in their rage and, and invite their neighbors to agree with them. That memorial I remember just looking into the open caskets of people who look like my own aunts and uncles and I just lost it. And I looked behind me and there were thousands of people pouring through those doors. 3000 people came to grieve with us. And what I've discovered is that grieving is frontline social justice work. We grieve together, then organize together. And so so many of those people who grieved with us, were the people who stood by our side as we spent a year demanding that the government start tracking hate crimes against our community. And we won. We changed federal hate crimes policy we won. So I think about all the grieving that's happening now in the streets. Since George Floyd's murder and how in our grief in our bravery in our grief, we are building relationships and birthing revolutions that will actually and are actually dismantling and reimagining institutions of power in this country.

Baratunde Thurston  16:18  

Thank you for that, because again, I I'm learning with you, as I listen, I'm also my listener. And I think the idea that action in a democracy, you know, civic engagement, these words which are so unemotional in most cases, they feel like they require kind of explicit policy or political intent, or execution. And what you just described is a very human act of empathy, to grieve with a community, even maybe, especially if you're not a member of that community, to show up for someone else, in numbers as a prelude to what starts to look like the word organizing. But it sounds like it's a helpful, if not necessary precondition.

Valarie Kaur  17:06  

And that's a work that we are doing about reclaiming love as a force for justice, that grieving together is revolutionary love, and holding each other in our rage is revolutionary love. And listening to each other is revolutionary love and reimagining the country together is revolutionary love, as well as the big acts of policy demand that you are naming that all of that is part of an ecosystem of a healthy movement, a vibrant movement that's grounded in the ethic of love.

Baratunde Thurston  17:33  

Yeah, I want to get your thoughts on power. You dropped that word a while back, it often feels like something we are subject to, the powers that be, concentrations of power acting upon the rest of us and we're just sort of passengers in the power mobile maybe being run over by that power mobile. How do you envision, conceive of, power, especially with respect to the work that you're up to, and the movements you've been a part of.

Valarie Kaur  18:06  

There's different forms of power, right? The kinds of power you are naming is political power, power of the state, power to divide, to oppress, to crush. But when I think about my Black sisters and brothers, siblings in my life who inspire me most, they are powerful in their resilience, they are powerful in their wisdom, they are powerful in their ability to love beyond limit. And so I think it's helpful then to think about how we, as a generation, are called to live into an untap. That kind of power to reimagine the country. And we're seeing it, you know, do you remember, Baratunde, after this president took power? It was all about resistance.

Baratunde Thurston  18:57  

Yeah, the hashtag resist. Yeah,

Valarie Kaur  18:59  

yeah. Like t shirts like we were the resistance. And I was proud of us, I thought it was bold and necessary for our survival. But I was so deeply worried because we were always going to be trapped in an us and them in an adversarial relationship that put them in power. Yeah, you know, and kept us power less if you were just resisting. And what I'm so inspired by now is that we are moving from resistance to reimagining, reimagining every institution on the face of this country, not just policing and public safety and criminal justice. But our economies are in the small institutions in our lives, our families, our workplaces, our industries, our houses of worship, I think about how all of the great social reformers in history, and I'm going to read just a piece of this book to you. They they did more than just resist a few bad actors. They held up a vision of the world as it ought to be. Nanak saying it. Mohammed led it. Jesus taught it. Buddha envisioned it. King dreamt it. Dorothy Day labored for it. Mandela lived it. Gandhi died for it. Grace Lee Boggs fought for it for seven decades. They call for us not just to unseat bad actors, but to reimagine the institutions of power, that order the world. Any social harm can be traced institutions that produce it, authorize it or otherwise profit from it. To undo the injustice, we have to imagine new institutions and step in to lead them.

Baratunde Thurston  20:38  

That act of reimagining institutions sounds big. When I hear names like Gandhi, and Grace Lee Boggs and King I'm like those are big people that have their big names. They lead folks they walked into the firing line, sometimes almost literally. What is the person who is unknown to most of us, to do in the act of reimagining, what is the role of the uncelebrity of the citizen, in this reimagining that is so important.

Valarie Kaur  21:13  

Isn't that what you're doing with this podcast? Isn't this a container for all of us to hear voices and stories about how to reimagine the country reimagine the world and our tiny piece of it. 

All of us have a sphere of influence, a community within reach, that we can labor inside and help transition. I'm going to read one more piece of this because I feel like it's something that I had to remind myself of when I feel so overwhelmed and I feel like I'm not enough. Remember the stars in my childhood in the country, I could look up and see the stars. I had forgotten the stars after so many years of activism, I'd forgotten to look up. The stars burning so strong and long that their light reaches us long after They have died. Isn't that what our lives and our activism should look like? Not the supernova, a single outburst under pressure, we must be the long burning star bright and steady contained and sustained for our energy to reach the next generation long after we die. Oh, and to be part of a constellation, let us see ourselves as part of a larger picture. Even if we are like the second star on Orion's belt, or the seventh of the Seven Sisters, for there is no greater gift than to be part of a movement larger than ourselves. That means that we only need to be responsible for our own small patch of sky, our specific area of influence. We need only to shine our particular points of light, long and steady to become part of stories sewn into the head.

Baratunde Thurston  22:51  

That's beautiful. Can you just read the whole book to us? We can do it in chapters. You can do it in installments or whatever works out for you. That the vision of each of us as a star, first of all, that's dope because we're all stars. And the constellation that the night sky is not about one star. Right? It's about the collection of stars, which paint this beautiful picture. And we're in this sort of cosmic concert together. So I like that. Being a source of light isn't just something we look to the sun for the sun is merely a star. So for anyone who feels like I'm not Gandhi, like that's you don't have to set that bar. You're a star too. The word citizen is something that I wasn't certain I wanted to put in the title of this show. Because of its negative meaning because there are people who have that legal status, and people who don't, and I didn't want to send that signal, draw that line in the sand. Well, this is only for people with a social security number or the right paperwork. And I had to step back from that and say, no, this is, we're going to reclaim we're going to reimagine, right? That was that was the point. Yes. What do you make of the word citizen, in the context of the work in your life in the context of your family's century long history in this country, or maybe that legal status wasn't always available, and we have the current battles over? Who deserves to be seen as a person with citizen kind of hanging in the balance?

Valarie Kaur  24:32  

Oh, that word citizen. I have struggled over the words, precisely because it was something that was denied to my family for so long. And now that we have it I always thought in the words of hunter rent, that the citizenship was that thin membrane to protect us from state violence, and now even that is not enough, especially if you're Sikh or Muslim in this country, thinking about all that we have suffered in the form of national security policies. Since 911 and that is alongside our Latin x brothers and sisters and siblings or other indigenous folks. I mean that the word citizen is not the kind of protective label that we thought it was that I thought it was. And so I like what you're doing, brother. I like what you're doing, you're reclaiming it and you're re imagining it, you're infusing it with new meanings so that it's no longer about illegal status, but about a set of responsibilities and a set of callings for how to show up in the world, with bravery with integrity and with dignity and for you to say no all of us, all of us can become all of us our citizens. And to citizen is a verb. It's an action that we take I in my offering is like I believe that we citizen through revolutionary love. I believe that showing up with revolutionary love is how to citizen

Baratunde Thurston  26:04  

There's a part of your work and a part of this whole project, this experiment of living in community with others. That is very challenging. When the others with whom we live are a challenge to us. When we do not see eye to eye, when they are fighting tooth and nail, to maybe deny and us some dignity, some resource, some livelihood, and we're living in a time of great division in our experiment. It's always been divided the United States of America never fully united, but now feels pressing and there's things that you call for in your work that have to do with listening to engaging with acknowledging those who we might think of as enemies. I think you call them opponents I'd love to hear about that. The community is not all like minded, and so the role of and the way to Engage with those who are differently minded while not giving up the integrity of our own right to be, feels like a very important and potentially difficult path to walk. What are your thoughts?

Valarie Kaur  27:15  

Oh, it's so difficult. It's the hardest part. If I'm seeing no stranger, how do I look into the faces of people who disgust me who I want to hate and see them? As a part of me? I do not yet know. I mean, what does it mean to love them the audacity to ask that and when I think about what you're doing with the word citizen, you have to be citizens and you have to citizen in community right. So to I believe that we as citizens all have different roles in the labor for justice at different times. So if you are someone right now who has a knee on your neck, like so many black people and brown people do right now, it is not necessarily your role to look up at your oppressor and wonder about him. Listen to him or even try to love him. No, your job is to stay alive. Your job is to take the next breath, your job is to survive. That is your revolutionary act. But if you are someone by virtue of your white skin or whatever privilege you wield, who is safe enough and brave enough to sit with those kinds of opponents, then perhaps it is your role to tend to their wounds. Because what we know to be true is that no matter who is elected on on Election Day, November, all those disaffected white folks out there, they're still going to be around the next day. So what do we do with them? And this book is filled with stories of times on I have sat with white supremacists, I have sat with prison guards and soldiers, I've sat with former abusers, and every time I want to leave, I stay, right. It's a discipline to stay and keep listening. And beneath their slogans, and soundbites, I start to hear their story. And then I start to see their pain. I start to see their wounds. See, I have learned that there are no such thing as monsters in this world. There are only human beings who are wounded, who do what they do out of their own sense of insecurity or anxiety or greed or blindness. And their participation and oppression comes at a cost it cuts them off from their own capacity to love. So the thing about this Baratunde revolutionary love is to labor for others, our opponents and ourselves. It is not just moral, it is strategic. It is pragmatic, because once I gain information Ah,

Baratunde Thurston  29:32  

there we go. She's a spy. I knew there was a hook. I'm like, wait for it, wait for it.


Tell me about the strategy of this

Valarie Kaur  29:44  

Strategy is like I need to know what you're listening to what radio programs while I was putting the guns in your hands, what institutions are radicalizing you or authorizing you to hurt us and then I can be so much more smart about our strategies for campaigning for change. I mean, our goal then is not just to unseat a few bad apples, a few bad police officers or even to unseat this president, and we need to do that. But I'm more interested in changing the conditions that put them into office in the first place. I'm more interested in dismantling and or reimagining the institutions of power, that harm all of us. I mean, our suffering is not equal. But those who hold the keys to ourselves, who are trained for training their eyes to see us as animals. That too takes a cost. Yeah. And so what does it mean to hold up a vision that liberates all of us that that is our revolutionary intervention?

Baratunde Thurston  30:37  

I thank you for that. The strategy got me and I think that there was purpose to it. It isn't just self flagellation. Well, look how much I can suffer. Look how noble I am to walk into the lions den. There's lions and you know, I mean, so it's like, understanding to I'm gonna run this line metaphor too far. On You're standing with the lions eat, understand why they look at you the way they do, what their needs are. And I think you know, the way you just described some of these individuals that you've interacted with, with their wounds, you're in a relationship with them. And I think that in a collective sense, we're in a relationship with our nation. And our nation has wounds. Right, and it has traumas in its past, and it has pain. And for us to not merely condemned, but seek to wonder about and understand this place, that we have a right to that if we're here we have a right to it. papers or not. We've contributed something that we can apply some of those same metaphors and same lessons to that collective relationship as well as our individual ones in our lives.

Valarie Kaur  31:46  

Yes, that's it. And I always say that we need all three kinds of practices of love for love to be revolutionaries for so loving just our opponents. That is self loving, loving just ourselves. That is escapism, yeah, and loving just others. That's ineffective. And too many of our movements have been there. And I'm really proud of the deep bonds of solidarity that we are seeing and how people are loving each other and our movements for justice. But how many young activists are dying early or taking their lives or getting sick or opting out, we're not building enough spaces to help each other love ourselves to love our own flesh and blood so that we will last and then how many of us are tempted to mirror the kind of vitriol that we are fighting we cannot become what we are fighting against. So this ethic of love No to hold each other in community and to start to practice and cultivate love for ourselves, even for our opponents and others. That I think is how we can sustain each other in a way that we can last with integrity with our souls intact.

Baratunde Thurston  32:51  

Well, I mean, I definitely want my soul to be intact. I didn't know that was on the line. Thank you. You just raised the bar are ourselves opponents and others three O's. I like that. You've got to design this whole thing. There's a piece. Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

Valarie Kaur  33:06  

No, I add I mean, this is this is why I draw heavily from black thinkers in this book heavily from bell hooks and Audrey Lorde. And Toni Morrison. I shall permit no man no matter what his color might be too narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him said Booker T. Washington. Toni Morrison hate does that burns off everything but itself. So whatever your grievance is, Your face looks just like your enemies. I choose to love my opponents. I choose to see their humanity in order to preserve my own. laboring to love my opponents is also how I love myself. This is not the stuff of saintliness. This is our birthright.

Baratunde Thurston  33:46  

If we if we do this work of love, radical revolutionary, and we do it in community. What do we risk if we don't focus on the self The work that we have to do inside what what do you think happens? If we have this imbalanced approach? I think by your own definition of the whole approach,

Valarie Kaur  34:08  

we lose everything, don't we? I don't know very today, when this president took power, and I was putting my son to sleep at night, there was a voice in my head that was like, I can't. I can't live in this world. I'm not strong enough. I had, I had pushed for so long and so hard and ground my own bones to the ground and thought that serving meant I had to suffer and keep myself suffering, that I'd forgotten that my own life that my own body was beloved and worth fighting for. And it took this year in the rain for us, for me to really begin to understand that we can't last if we're not loving ourselves, and I don't call it self love. You're barely hanging on by a thread. It's not your job then to love yours. No, you need to you need community to help you. Like we don't give birth alone we don't go to battle alone like in any long labor including the labor of keeping ourselves healthy and alive and well. We need each other we depend on each other. So cultivating communities of care where we are taking seriously are our own precious lives. I worry sometimes about this incredible energetic new rising generation I see myself in them I remember what it was like to get arrested for the first time and to speak truth to power holding a megaphone in the streets and and I also just want to tell them Oh, breathe My love is going to be one long labor. Are you sleeping enough? You drink enough water you're eating who is going to have your back and how will you remember to love yourself well enough so in 20 years, you can last you don't have that voice in your head like I had

Baratunde Thurston  35:56  

in mind. I could spend five hours with you. I will not but I think have two more thoughts slash questions. So much of what the focus of our civic energy right now in the US is, is about this President, as it was eight years ago, with the last presidential transition, we just get rid of this president, we will solve things, or we hate so much, because there is so much to hate about the actions and the cruelty done in our name through this administration. Do you have any concern that we have in focusing on this president actually, given this person too much power?

Valarie Kaur  36:37  

Oh, of course, I even thought that this President was an aberration, that if we just could remove him, it would all be okay again. But we know that normal was never okay for black and brown and indigenous people. And it took me going to the rain forests and really seeing my country from the outside of it for me to really recommend With genocide and slavery, I mean that farmland that I grew up on, that was my own that I belong to. There was blood in that land. Just a few decades ago, the largest, most documented genocide of native peoples took place in California. And a few decades later, my grandfather arrived as if those people were never there. And we were complicit, right. And so if we take Indigenous People's memories as a true starting point of the history of the Americas, then this presidency is not an aberration. It is a continuation of what helped found this country of a white supremacist violence that has built this country through slavery segregation, Jim Crow mass incarceration now and so. So once we understand that once we see this president as simply a symptom, I mean, the ugliest form of that symptoms so vivid, so in front of our faces every day, but if we just remove him All of the institutions that were founded on those beliefs, all of the cultural norms that, that move through him and his body and breath, right, like those don't go away, and all of his supporters don't either. So what we're talking about is a much longer transition. And this is the timeline. I know we're looking to November and it doesn't matter. I mean, I really do want to unseat this president because then we give ourselves a chance to labor for our nation instead of just being in Crisis Response mode. And that's what too many of us did, right under Obama, like it's done. We went home and it's like, No, no, actually, the window opens the labor begins, yeah, begins. Because this moment that we are in we are in a much larger transition moment, within 25 years, the number of people of color will exceed the number of white people for the first time since colonization. So yes, we are at a crossroads. Will we continue to descend into a kind of civil war, a power struggle with people who want to return America to a pass for a certain class of white people hold power Or will we begin to birth a nation that has never been on the face of this planet? A nation made up of other nations, a nation that is truly multiracial, multi faith multicultural, where we see no stranger. Those are the stakes. And when with climate change, you know, time is running out. Yeah,

yeah. Well, we do what our generation does, not just between now and November, but past November, oh, it matters. It matters not only for the future of our country, how we citizen matters for the future of the earth and for the future of humanity.

Baratunde Thurston  39:35  

I literally couldn't have said it better myself. Now, normally, when you got a show called How to Citizen with Baratunde and your guest says something that powerful, you cut the interview, it's over. That's a wrap, but couldn't let it go at that. Valarie said one more thing that I think you need to hear. So check out what she did and learned about herself on election night 2016.

Valarie Kaur  40:07  

On election night, I keep going back there because we're about to experience another election night, right? As the results came in, I remember, you know, horror seizing my, my body and my hand on my mouth and my son who was almost two at the time, tugged my sleeve and said, dance time, mommy? And I looked at my husband saying not tonight, I mean, how the last thing and my husband looked at me and he just shrugs, you know, and he says, your rules. You said every night. I like to lay the rules. Okay. So we turn down the music and in the beginning Oh my god, Baratunde. I was so miserable. I was just swaying back and forth. I just felt like I was a zombie I was so dead and my son, you know, Baby, you're a firework and he leaps into my arms, and suddenly he's like, throw me up. Mommy Boom, boom, boom even brighter than the - I pick him up, and he's squealing and he's laughing and suddenly I'm laughing and he's dancing and I'm dancing and Baratunde we were dancing on election night.

Baratunde Thurston  41:13  

I mean, I just anyone who may have like seen into your home from a distance, I can imagine what they're thinking which is like those are not the people I would have thought celebrating tonight. But hey, it's America.

Valarie Kaur  41:30  

Right. Afterwards, I felt this energy rising up in my body, which I can only describe as, as joy. And I thought, oh, in the Sikh faith, it's called chardi kala, ever rising spirits, even in the darkness, joyfulness even in the labor. And I thought, oh, joy is our greatest act of moral resistance. Joy returns us to everything that is good and beautiful and worth fighting for. Joy will give us energy in this long labor for justice. So how are you protecting your joy every day?

Baratunde Thurston  42:11  

Yo, so you feel that too, right? That mind expansion, that heart expansion, that darkness of Valarie Kaur, who I knew was powerful. That's why I booked her. But yo, she blew me out the water and I'm still hearing her words. I'm hearing her say, there are no such things as monsters in this world. Only human beings who've been wounded. I'm hearing her say love ourselves, others, and our opponents. I'm hearing her say how we citizen matters for the future of the earth and the future of humanity. I mean, no pressure, new show. Wow. We make this show for you not just to listen to not just to watch and we have video as well. We make this show to give us all the way to practice, how to citizen, to turn our outrage and our energy into actions that when taken together on the topics we explore in this series will have an impact on our community. Like I said at the beginning of this show How to Citizen at its core is about relationships with ourselves and with others. So when each episode we're going to share things you can do internally and externally, to strengthen your citizen practice, when I call it a citizen practice, it reminds me of my older sister Belinda, and her yoga studio and her yoga practice. So this is for you, sis. But this episode. Here's what you can do. We've adapted something straight out of Valarie's book, "See No Stranger". It's a writing exercise and we want you to spend 15 minutes on it to reflect internally on these five prompts. Now, this reflection is about the journey, not the destination. This is not about having the right answers. The shortest one word answers that are going to assure you a great grade. We're not grading, spend some time, breathe into this and push out the answers that feel most true for you. laying this kind of foundation is going to be important later, as we start taking actions focus a bit more on external relationships with others. So, the five prompts, number one, what is your superpower in our fight to make society better for us all? Is it your voice? Is it your pin? Is it a bank account? Number two, what protects you and who has your back when things get tough? Number three, who is your beloved community, your revolutionary pocket, the group of people you connect most with the group that will show up when things get tough. Number four, what object or activity will ground and center you and remind you of who you are. Number five, where do you find joy? And what are you going to do every day to protect that joy? We would love to hear, see or just read your reflections to any or all of these questions. Email us, old school, help us out by mentioning episode zero or Prelude in the subject line. We are so grateful to Valarie Kaur for helping us give birth to this show. Please check out her or dive into her book and curriculum at and follow her on Twitter @ValarieKaur. And if you like what you experienced here, please share the show. Leave us a review. Five stars is my humble suggestion. and sign up for my newsletter at where I will announce the upcoming live tapings and more from audience members, like you. You can even send me a text to 2028948844 let me know you found me. I just put in the word citizen. I know where you came from. And I'll send you updates that way as well. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeart Radio Podcast. executive produced by Nick Stump, Myles Gray, Elizabeth Stewart, and Baratunde Thurston Produced by Joelle Smith, edited by Justin Smith. Powered by you.


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