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Scrap of Scripture: The rhetorical skill of Allendra Letsome

Today I performed at the 2013 Florida NOW Conference, and while my performance went well, that is not the focus of this dose of the Good (and Not So Good) Words. I want to point to the words of Allendra Letsome. Now if I could, I would link you to some bit of her writing related to the speech she gave today, but all I have is her twitter page, which provides, as she promised in her speech, tweets on activism and painfully bad but somehow funny jokes.

Ms. Letsome gave a great speech about where the feminist movement is now. Her speech was well paced and engaging. If I could quote from it I would, but I was too much in a tizzy as my brain geared up to go on stage to take any notes. The reason I’m pointing to her speech as a scrap of scripture (remember at the Bishop Family Compound, we believe scripture is where you find it) is that even though I cannot quote from it, I can tell you how it made me feel. Ms. Letsome told us some hard truths about where feminism is right now, and she criticized NOW for not being more adept in collaborative work with organizations representing people of color- collaboration too often becoming co-optation. But despite that fact that she told us that many things still were quite bad, despite the fact that she criticized NOW, an organization that she has done so much work with, her speech was positive; it gave us hope.

It is so easy for a speech giving a lot of bad news to weigh the listeners down, to freeze them up, but Ms. Letsome lifted us up, her speech warmed us up. I am not sure exactly what made her speech wonderfully activating despite all the bad news, but I’ll take a few guesses. Ms. Letsome has a deep commitment to feminism, and while she told us that she will be turning her focus to work in the religious community, we all knew that her work in feminism will be carried on where ever she goes. When she criticized NOW for not using social media well or for sometimes being guilty of co-optation of other organizations’ work, she didn’t tear into people. Her criticisms were delivered kindly. They were not watered down, but she also didn’t slam those truths home. Ms. Letsome in her speech showed us that the power of a truth is not lessened by thoughtful truth telling. When she spoke of things could easily enrage her and us, she came across as impassioned and committed more than angry. She didn’t denying the anger, but she tempered anger with a wider array of emotions centered on the work.

I will take my conjectures about what made her speech uplifting despite all sorts of bad news a little further. As I listened to her I felt the love and joy. Love for the cause, joy in the work, love for imperfect people doing imperfect work. Ms. Letsome’s love and joy created a container that made it possible for us to hold the hurt, to give witness to the ways that sexism and racism (and other isms) break our culture. Her speech held the hurt in a container of love and joy, which allowed those of us listening to her to imagine picking up and fixing particular pieces of the brokenness, healing particular hurts. And perhaps that was her greatest gift to all of us; she explicitly said we cannot do all the work, but we can do some of the work well. She helped us believe that we could do particular work to fix particular hurts very, very well.

And for that I thank her. May she keep on keeping on for a long, long time. Amen. Awoman. Hallelujah!

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