A is for Activist

In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather invites back previous guests Jennifer from BLM and Janaya from Philly Socialists. Listen to their previous interviews here and here. After interviewing both of these amazing women separately, Heather learned they are actually mother and daughter. Since we often deal with issues of what makes an activist and how to activate more people, this seemed like a perfect discussion to have.

Does being a bad ass run in families?

Jennifer didn’t specifically raise Janaya as an activist because she was activated fairly late in life and had her children when she was young. Jennifer credits her grandmother as inspiring her activism. Her grandmother took her to planned parenthood to escort clients past the protesters and always made sure to cut the 6-pack plastic loops, so they didn’t suffocate sea animals. Janaya recounts a memory of seeing her grandmother in the recycling bin from neighbors cutting other people’s plastic up into bits.

Feminism was a touchy subject

Jennifer says her grandmother was a feminist in her own mind. She always supported the empowerment of other women but was never able to apply that freedom to herself.  Her grandmother taught Jennifer to empower herself but at the same time followed very strict gender roles and always had dinner on the table at 5 o clock.  She was never able to break out of that patriarchy inherent in society and followed exactly what her husband said. Jennifer and Janaya felt a resentment toward patriarchy toward a very young age even though they didn’t really understand it at the time. Their grandmother cared so deeply for everyone and that shaped both women as activists and empathetic people.

Trauma as a catalyst

It was Jennifer’s life experiences that really activated her. She underwent a lot of trauma in her life surrounding race, poverty, homelessness,addiction, and institutional racism. During a period of homelessness, she volunteered for a political campaign. What was supposed to be a one-hour project turned into a lifelong passion. Through her activism, Jennifer learned she was very skilled at organization. Once she discovered these skills, she used them to effect change. Her activism allowed her to understand her personal power. She also saw how little black women’s voices were represented especially in the democratic party.

Janaya saw what Jennifer didn’t

Janaya was not surprised when people started calling her mom for advice. She describes it as a light bulb moment, when her mother finally realized who she was.  Janaya was going through a bout of anxiety and depression during this time frame. They were both discovering who they were at the same time.

What is empowerment?

Jenifer doesn’t think she did anything special to empower her children. She was very young and realizing the fact she was a child who had children. Jennifer did stress to her children they could do anything because they were amazing. Their non-traditional family dynamics led to an environment of intellectual support. They had discussions and explored topics together as a family. Janaya disagrees and says her mom was supportive, but she especially instilled in her the self-value that its ok not to know something immediately, but you can absolutely figure it out together.  That thought process prepped them completely for organizing.

A little-known fact about organizers, is we really don’t know how to do everything. We are usually figuring it out as we go along. Nothing is ever under control, but eventually we will figure it out.  Jennifer never lied to her children about not knowing stuff.  Janaya valued her mother’s honesty and it shaped her as a person. 

Most important activist parenting takeaway

Honesty really is Jennifer’s most important takeaway, but also valuing themselves and being honest and true with themselves. Don’t hide things from your kids and let them see the world but help them process it. If they don’t know the bad things, then they cant fight them.  Self-honesty is a huge part of life. Being honest about their mental illness was their first real activism. Honesty and self-care are crucial.

Speaking about honesty Jennifer talks about a youtube video she saw. https://youtu.be/Gk1gGc1gIL8 This video shows a little girl crying who says she is laughing. The video is billed as being cute. This video hurt Jennifer’s heart. What the video really shows is a little girl being gaslighted about her emotions. She is being taught to pretend to feel other than she feels and allowing others to tell her how she feels. This could set a child up for a lifetime of abusive situations. Your emotions are valid, no one has a right to tell you not to feel your emotions.

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