March 02, 2017

Sister Simone and Courtney Martin encourage community action

Courtney Martin and Sister Simone provide lively and detailed answers to questions from audience members. Photo by Mara Landon '20

The 8th annual Breaking the Impasse was held February 22, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Justice Commission and the Myser Initiative in Catholic Identity at St. Catherine University. This year's theme, "Moving Forward Together," tackled ways to strengthen our communities and move beyond a politics of divisiveness, featuring Simone Campbell, SSS, of NETWORK and Courtney Martin, an author and social activist.

With strong, clear messages and passionate conviction, Sister Simone and Martin conveyed to their audience in St. Kate's Rauenhorst Ballroom a vision of a better world, while providing the knowledge and skills necessary to make this vision a reality moving forward.

Martin began her lecture by dissecting the idea of the American Dream and its narrative power.

"We haven't been brave enough to acknowledge that the traditional American Dream we described is dead, or that if it ever existed at all it was built on the backs of people of color, immigrants and women," said Martin.

Martin encouraged the audience to picture the narratives surrounding the idea of the American Dream. She revealed how that picture is a flawed one used to manipulate voters into believing that their inability to achieve the "white picket fence" life is a failure on the part of the government, instead of an error in the concept and narrative of the American Dream itself.

She went on to discuss the idea of creating social safety nets and explaining their importance. She named the Affordable Care Act as the best example of a portable social safety net. This safety net is able to insure those who have felt the effects of an increase in freelance positions and a decrease in insurance coverage and benefits as result. By having this safety net, benefits would be able to travel with the individual worker instead of being seeded in a single employer. She also emphasized the reinventing of labor organizing. Coworker.org was cited as a website where workers were given a voice and a platform to voice their concerns.

Martin concluded her speech with a call to action for white people to "wake up." She reminded us that the sooner we admit to the short fallings of the American Dream, the sooner we are able to move forward and live real and fulfilling lives.

Sister Simone began her speech with anecdotes about how the measure of winning is money and how this toxic belief negatively impacts the condition of this country.

"This focus on wealth as the measure of the American Dream of success in our nation has created, I believe, the hyper individualism that is sucking the life out of our nation and dividing us at this point," she said.

She then called to action those with white skin to make change and combat the racism in this country. She emphasized that it was not the responsibility of those with darker skin to fight the racism and injustice they face, rather it is up to our brothers and sisters with white skin to make the changes that are necessary.

"It's white folks that need to wake up and stay woke," Sister Simone stated.

She went on to admit to the audience her fears about the state of our nation and the world we lived in, but challenged others to let that fear go. She encouraged investing energy and resources into community. Fear shuts down possibilities, while community opens up possibilities.

Sister Simone outlined four virtues for the audience to act on:

1.) Exercise a modicum of joy

2.) Holy curiosity

3.) Engage in sacred gossip

4.) Do your part

Community members and students discuss the event topics before the Q & A. Photo by Mara Landon '20

The lecture concluded with a highly informative Q & A where Courtney Martin and Sister Simone further addressed the importance of community and explained what that looks like. They also encouraged changing the idea of what success looks like to each of us.

"What if we defined as success where everyone in our city had enough to eat?" How do we shift was success is in our head, and then use those other standards," said Sister Simone.

When asked about articulating the fight against injustice in the spirit of nonviolence and love, Sister Simone provided a thoughtful response reflective of the spirit of that evening's lectures: "What I think this time is about is a love that is intense enough to struggle and intense enough to resist. This is the challenge of our time: loving the ones I'd like to vote off the island, and knowing when to resist." She emphasized that our hearts must respond with clarity but not violence or hate.

By Teighlor McGee '19