By Rebekkah Scharf
On November 10, 2016, roughly 3000 racial justice leaders and advocates gathereed at the Hilton in downtown Atlanta, people of color and allies alike, for Facing Race: A National Conference, organized by Race Forward. This was despite that less than 72 hours earlier, in the early hours of Wednesday, November 10th, at around 3am, fear, anxiety, anger, rage, disappointment, and tears were some of the many feelings that seized millions of Americans, upon the announcement of the 2016 election results.
Upon entering the ballroom for the opening ceremony, I could feel the tension in the air, an unsettled-ness, everything seeming to move slower. The communal lack of sleep, constant stress, dried tears, and ever-present fear combined, wallowed in every single soul in the room. The weight of the 2016 presidential election rested on our shoulders. It was terrifying. It was amazing.
It was so g-ddamn heavy.
Nonetheless, there were smiles, dance and song. There was somberness, joy, and maybe, just a little hope. The opening speaker for the conference left me, scarred me, empowered me with these words that I have carried to this day, and will carry for the rest of my life. “There is no time for hope. Hope is for those of us who have time to wait...we cannot wait.”
And with these words in mind, we carried on, the dread of the next four years heavy on our shoulders. But we carried it together. We listened, we learned, we shared. We networked and took notes to process later. We sympathized and empathized. We grew angry, and anger grew into outrage, and outrage to organizing, organizing to action.
The theme for the conference was "Multiracial Movements for Black Lives", and the programs lived up to the name. Workshops included "Facing Race in Asian America" and "Indian Country: Building Alliances with Others". Other, skills-based workshops included educational equity, intergenerational QTPOC arts resistance, implicit bias, raising funds for racial justice, incorporating cross-language participation in racial justice, and racial equity in California.
Kirtrina Baxter and Amy Cahn from PILCOP led a workshop on building solidarity for food and land soverignty, where 50 participants attended. We stepped in and out of an ice-breaker circle, where Kirtrina called out examples of land rights/food soverignty marginalization. We formed pretend social action groups, in which we were all given a land rights/food soverignty problem to solve, as a team. Ours was the farm bill,given that its $1.6 out of $1.8 billion dollars being allotted to farm subsidies, and people's food security depended on how much it allotts to SNAP benefits. We grew stuck, given that we did not know enough about the farm bill and its jurisdiction to and shared our experiences and feelings.
Amidst the weight of hopelessness, however, there was community, solidarity and hope. Participants led and proposed caucus and discussion spaces, where like-minded individuals could share, strategize and propose next steps towards progress. Included was a "what now, after the election" space on Friday night, in which 200+ individuals came together to discuss the election results and mull over anxieties and propose immediate and long term solutions to the next presidential administration.
What comes next is uncertain but anticipated, and I was told yesterday that we can only "hope for the best" The quote that was shared at opening ceremony stuck with me: "Hope is for those who have the time to wait. We cannot wait. There is no time." Now is a time, yes, to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Facing Race was a time where we came together, grieved, and found that hope. It is this strength in solidarity, I think, that will help us prepare for the worst, in the next four years to come.