Thanks to our wonderful members, MondoBizarro, for putting it together.
One of the greatest things about the 2009 Annual Meeting was all of the great new participants we had from all over. Below is an article submitted by Paloma McGregor, a first-time attendee from New York City. Read on!
A Letter To Camp
I haven’t been to a sleep-away camp in years. But I was always fond of them – the singing, the crafts, the swimming. My favorite part was building a diverse new community of friends, even though those connections rarely lasted beyond the summer’s long days.
I’ve never been to a camp like Alternate ROOTS, though. There, each moment with each of you offered me deep lessons in personal growth and movement building. I’d like to
share a few, as a thanks.
Many Voices, One Movement
I walked into Elise Witt’s song circle workshop just as they were building a new piece together. Within minutes, she led the group of more than 30 voices into a mountain range of sound. Hearing the group ascend was like watching a vision grow: Perhaps it starts with one or a few voices; they establish a rhythm for the work ahead. Then more join in to build on what has already been set up. They notice shifts, find harmonies, listen to one another and try to strike a balance. “The thing to do when looking for a part is to look for what’s missing,” Elise said. As someone who is often eager to be the first
voice or the loudest, it was a good reminder that I can play just as vital a part in a movement by figuring out what’s missing and how I can fill that place.
Not everyone was convinced, though. As the choir built, I became fascinated by a crossed-arm skeptic sitting on the outskirts of the circle. After a minute, she inched closer to the now-standing group, arms still fixed across her chest. Then, she began moving slightly to the rhythm and made her way into the outer edges of the circle. Finally, surrounded by mellifluous voices, her arms dropped to her sides and she joined in. That is a powerful transformation. Art and community made that happen.
While there were many more things in that workshop that moved me, I have to share my favorite quote: If you hear a wrong note, correct it early because it’s hard to go back and fix it.
How often have I let a problem slide by – a collaborator who doesn’t return phone calls, a disruptive student – then had to work double duty to correct it later? The lesson rang true for life, as well as song.
Walking Tall I’m from St. Croix and grew up with what we called Moko Jumbies. So I was gleeful that – at age 35 – Alternate ROOTS would offer me my first stilt-walking lesson. I didn’t realize it would be layered with life lessons.
First of all, we didn’t begin with walking at all. We began with falling. “Learning to fall correctly is the most important thing,” said our teacher, Annie Howe. She taught us two different falls, then told us we had to practice each of them eight times. This wasn’t what I’d come to the workshop for, but I obliged.
When I finally got up on the stilts, I was glad I had. My toes immediately pressed forward, then my heels quickly leaned back in a desperate see-saw action. I was trying to find my balance, but fear wouldn’t let me release my partner’s hand.
“I put mine on wrong,” I told our teachers. But they took a look and said I was fine. At first I thought maybe they didn’t look closely enough, then I realized the issue: My only foundation was a 2-inch block of wood smack dab in the arch of my foot – not the toe or the heel, which are used to carrying and shifting my weight. I had to readjust my body’s entire understanding of its foundation.
Within minutes, I was walking on my own, kicking up my legs and turning with ease. It was a quick turnaround, but one worth reflecting on. It was as simple (and complicated) as recognizing and admitting what my discomfort was, then making the adjustment.
It was hours after I’d comfortably traipsed across that damp grass before the value of those first lessons on falling finally sunk in. I’ve tumbled my fair share of times in my work as a dancer. And I’ve fumbled as a cultural organizer, too. It’s an inevitable part of pushing myself. But this notion of practicing for a fall was a great reminder that there are lessons to be learned in the
tumbling that can be carried with us into the next project. Though I didn’t fall that day, I knew how; that made me feel freer to risk the next step.
The Roots of Racism
Speaking of next steps, the Undoing Racism workshop certainly left me longing for more. I’m familiar with the techniques The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond use to unearth the foundations of race in America. I’ve done my fair share of uprooting racism workshops with them. But as a newcomer to Roots, it was fascinating and challenging to experience such a large group grapple with our history – both collective and personal.
Some people in the room, like me, had spent a lifetime looking at life through the prism of race; others admitted they rarely think about it. I entered the room with my own perspectives and assumptions, ready to uproot something just like everyone else. But we soon discovered we had very little common language by which to identify the thing in question, and we lacked a collective understanding of its scope and depth.
Roots are complicated; it’s hard to know how far down you have to go to get them all up. Often, you’ve got to dig in to find out. And not all gardeners have the same approach. That was clear in the workshop, as people challenged one another and the workshop leaders to look at racism from different vantage points – to garden their way. It was hard to be a part of sometimes.
What helped me through was one of the agreements we made early in the day: Struggle with WHY you’re struggling. I meditated on that, and breathed my way through my frustration. I was struggling because I wanted people to arrive at some conclusions that I had years to work through; I wanted people to garden my way. And some personal challenges that I’d internalized were rising to the surface, too.
So there was a lot of struggling going on within me and around me. Admitting that let me see what else was happening in the room: Through our tensions and discomforts, our revelations and release, we were all getting our hands dirty. We were digging in.
That struck me as an important place to begin. And while beginnings rarely feel satisfying, every great journey must start somewhere.
Clearly, there were many more lessons than I can write in one letter. So let’s be in touch, all of us. We still have so much to learn from one another. Can’t wait ‘till next year.
Paloma McGregor Co-Fouder, ANGELA’s PULSE Performance Projects Dancer, Urban Bush Women
The 33rd Annual Meeting: Rebirth of a Nation:
Using art to navigate the intersection of oppressions.
The 2009 Alternate ROOTS Annual Meeting was a fabulous success. We are leaving up some of the
information from that meeting so that folks can get a sense of what it is and what it involves.
The 2009 annual meeting theme was Re-birth of a Nation: Using art to navigate the intersection of oppressions. As a phoenix rising from the ashes, America is entering a time of new opportunities for growth, change, and awareness, a re-birthing. These same opportunities parallel Alternate ROOTS' strategic planning year, as we evaluate and build a stronger foundation for Alternate ROOTS' future. With change looming ahead we cannot forget our purpose, and understand that we have miles to travel in the work to end all forms of oppression. How can ROOTS re-define its use of art to navigate that intersection? What will it take to activate the collective consciousness of the future?
Last year's theme supported the idea that sustainable communities are needed in order to truly work towards ending oppression, and the idea that sustainability comes in many forms whether environmentally, psychologically, or spiritually "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" in every sense of the expression. We have the opportunity to reduce our consumption environmentally as well as reduce the ignorance feeding oppression. We have the opportunity to reuse materials and goods as well as reuse the knowledge of our ancestors to strengthen the connection between art and the movement. We can recycle these ideas into constructive images and actions.
How can ROOTS use art for creative sustainable solutions in that fight?
Acknowledging that challenging situations are opportunities for growth, the Annual Meeting theme challenges its participants to acknowledge the hard conversations and evaluate how they use art to end oppression. ROOTS history runs deep, our nation's history dealing with oppression runs deep, our personal goals in the fight to end that oppression run deep, and now is the time to embrace a sustainable community that is not afraid of using art to build bridges and cultivate a culture of change.