I often look to the wisdom of past and present revolutionary leaders to get motivated in my own work. As a child, I witnessed the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison for the first time in 27 years. I will never forget the smile on his face. How his left hand grasped his wife, Winnie’s, and the right held in a fist in the air. That fist, a symbol of revolution and the brave revolutionaries I have called heroes. A symbol epitomized by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics. A fist raised in the air has been dawned alongside the afros on the Panthers and the faux locs of the Black Lives Matter movement, with its roots in the Industrial Workers of the World in 1917. For me it is a link to the lineage of resistance and survival that has brought us from struggle to triumph.
I have spent years on the front lines of movements near to my heart. I first became activated during Mike Pence’s term as governor, fighting for the right for marriage and against the discrimination of HJR-3. Through my work with the American Friends Service Committee, I was at the forefront of speaking out for Palestine’s right to return home, ending child detainment, through the No Way To Treat A Child campaign and a facilitator for the Deadly Exchange program that focused on policing practices. It was my outspokenness for Black lives and the dangers of policing that brought the reality of being a revolutionary home. I have been defamed. I have had people attempt to get me removed from projects and fired. I have been intimidated by the police. I have seen the darkness that comes from bringing light to fighting for equality, equity and the right to live with dignity.
I have also had the honor of being present with elders and pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement and listened to their stories. It is through them that I am reminded that revolutions have been created because our communities decided to take matters into our own hands. Nelson Mandela would not have been able to walk out of that prison, if it wasn’t for the hundreds of thousands of people who stood up for him. He wouldn’t have become the first democratically elected president of South Africa if people hadn’t come out to vote. The Black Panthers didn’t just tote guns to protect their neighborhoods. They created food programs that we still utilize to this day to ensure children are fed. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts would not have been successful if communities hadn’t banded together and created ride-share programs to ensure folks could get to work. It was the Birmingham Children’s Crusade that turned the Civil Rights Movement on its head.
As we sit in these unprecedented times of COVID, I can’t help but think about the magnificence that is our own revolution happening. Indy-10 BLM is getting the support it needs to continue providing aid for families dealing with tragedy. No Questions Asked Food Pantry procured funding to seek out a permanent location to be able to feed more families. Vacant lots are becoming community gardens. Neighbors are becoming tutors. We are able to see light shining through the fractured systems and focusing on what we can do as a community together. It is not the leaders that create movements but what is done in the communities. It’s the people that are the true symbols and power of revolutionary change. Let us use this moment to move us from struggle to triumph.
Tatjana Rebelle is a mother, writer, organizer. They are a member of Kheprw Institute’s Cafe Creative, the Resilience Schools Coordinator for Earth Charter Indiana and the founder/curator of VOCAB Indy.