Re-Emerging and Centering Radical Love
On April 12, 2022, after a two year in-person hiatus, BISC’s annual conference, Road Ahead, re-convened in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was not just our re-emergence — it was the re-emergence for many people who had not attended conferences or traveled for work in two years . The lead up to hosting a 400 person event in the middle of a pandemic was riddled with anxiety. Can we do this safely? What will it be like to re-emerge? How do we hold our people after two years of unrelenting grief and loss? I was overwhelmed.
I missed this space. I missed gathering with my people. Dreaming together. Strategizing together. Celebrating, crying, and laughing virtually isn’t the same. Everyone has tried their best to stay connected in the virtual world. But to be in person with your beloved community — to behold their presence, feel their energy, shake hands, or hug someone — is something that cannot be replaced.
As I shared with attendees on the final day, this space is very special to me. I am the first queer woman of color to lead this organization. When I became executive director nearly four years ago, a lot of people questioned my leadership. People told me I was not strategic, that I was pulling BISC away from its mission, and much more. It was demoralizing.
About eight months into my role, I went to my first Road Ahead as an official ‘BISCuit’ rather than an attendee. I was nervous for many reasons. It was my first public emergence in this role. I knew it would set the tone for my leadership. Although I heard many of the same things again, it didn’t matter because my people — folx of color, queer folx, folx who are pushed to the margins, and folx who often do not feel welcome in political and progressive spaces — told me they felt seen and heard. They saw there was a place for us. They told me to keep going. It was the affirmation I needed.
It was the care and compassion that was shown to me during an incredibly hard time that has fueled my leadership. It is the sense of belonging expressed by those of us who have fought for space in places that were not built for us that inspired my welcome remarks for Road Ahead 2022. This conference was a love letter to our community. We are all re-emerging in a world that has changed and keeps changing. We are demanding a new design for the world — one where radical love must be centered.
It is imperative that our movements, our collective work, and yes, ballot measures center radical love. I believe that someday, somewhere, we will build that place for us: where our people thrive, where equity and justice prevail, where ALL people are free. I know that place will be filled with radical love and abundant joy.
Below is an excerpt from my opening remarks at BISC’s Road Ahead ’22 conference.
And remember: Go out into the world and make ballot measures love letters to our people.
“Finally, over the next few days, we hope you have an opportunity to CREATE. After years apart, we are now re-emerging together. We have the opportunity in this re-emergence to define our North Star vision to guide us to the world beyond the horizon where our people are no longer just surviving, they are thriving. In order to do this, I believe radical love must be the centerpiece of our movement and our political work.
The need for radical love is nothing new. Dr. King talked about it and said, “I have decided to love,” and spoke of the transformational power of love. The Beatles said “All we need is love.” Books, poems, songs speak to love. The shows we binge on Netflix are about love – hello, Bridgerton! And maybe you were like me and binged The Ultimatum on the flight here. Oh, those people need a new type of love. I believe that many people throughout the world are in search of two things – love and belonging which are deeply tied together.
bell hooks taught me so much about love being integral to everything. After she recently became an ancestor, I started re-reading her work to remind myself why love is critical as we re-emerge. Why love must be part of the world we are imagining and designing for our people. bell hooks said, “Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed. Without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination—imperialism, sexism, racism, classism.”
Why wouldn’t we center love in our movement and political work?
I would argue that much of what we are fighting against right now is because we have not led with love. In fact, I believe our opposition understands the transformational power of love and tries to distract us from it.
Look at what is happening in our state legislatures – these anti-trans, anti-queer bills target and criminalize the parents, educators, students, the very people who are offering love to young people who want to belong and be affirmed. These abortion bans target and criminalize the clinics, the doctors, the nurses, the people seeking abortions who need love, safety, and healthcare. The efforts to attack the freedom to vote, the right to protest, and the attempts to undermine the will of the people who are using the power of ballot measures to show love and care for their communities by engaging in our democracy and demanding change. So I tell you, it is IMPERATIVE that we not only center our people but love in our work especially ballot measures.
I know this is possible because we are already doing it.
Tomás, was Prop 206 in Arizona not an offering of love and hope to your community after the disgrace and destruction of SB 1070? Corenia, after the murder of George Floyd when Minneapolis was in deep pain, was Yes on 2 not a demand for love and safety? Desmond, was Florida’s Amendment 4 not built on your love for returning citizens who deserved second chances, freedom, and dignity by restoring their right to vote?
If ballot measures are to be a tool for liberation then WE MUST CENTER LOVE in every part of the 360 ballot measure lifecycle. Listen, this work is hard especially when the love-deniers are constantly throwing things at us.
So, we have a choice.
We can either continue to react and respond, accepting the conditions as they are, allowing the status quo to develop a world of dominance and control OR we can make a different choice.
We come together to design a new world. We direct and demand what collective power looks like, feels like, sounds like and this must be an act of radical love not dominance.
The world changed these last two years. It is still changing. And as my dear friend Jessie Ulibarri reminded me recently:
Cambia, Todo Cambia (Everything changes)
Pero no cambia mi amor (But what doesn’t change is my love)
Por mas lejos que me encuentre (No matter how far you find me)
Ni el recuerdo ni el dolor (Neither the memory or the pain)
De mi pueblo y de mi gente (Of my village and of my people)
Everything changes. So we can demand the change we need for our people and we can center it in love. We can do that through ballot measures – they are the People’s tool. And as we do, we must tear down EVERYTHING that is in opposition to LOVE.
We have the agency to make ballot measures, love letters to our people.
We have BRILLIANCE in this room, online, and our movement to make it so. I BELIEVE we will prevail. I BELIEVE that we will win. So let’s do it together – with radical love and abundant joy. Thank you.”