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Podcast: The Revolution of Love: Valarie Kaur


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Democracy in Color Podcast: Season 2 | Episode 10

https://medium.com/media/a11304945c2f93b2d18a6c51c478e83f/href

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Editor’s Note: The Democracy in Color podcast, hosted by Aimee Allison, features today’s best and brightest political leaders, strategists and thinkers of the New American Majority. View more of our work at democracyincolor.com.

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Valarie Kaur is a woman of many traits. She’s an award-winning filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, activist, author, Sikh thought leader, movement builder, wife, and mother. I met Kaur before she headed to Costa Rica with her family to take a break from building her Revolutionary Love project and to work on her book. She met with me in New York City in the basement of Middle Collegiate Church to discuss her journey and vision. Her work is important because of the visibility she’s given Sikh Americans, who have been disproportionately impacted since 9/11.

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Many people know Kaur from the incredibly powerful and moving New Year’s Eve speech she gave last year when she joined other faith leaders at the Watch Night Service at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in DC. Reflecting on Trump’s election win, she said: “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born?”

The video of her speech went viral and received more than 26 million views globally via Facebook and other online platforms.

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“I’m interested in calling the choir out of the church, out of the darkness into the streets. I’m interested in how to point people to what that love looks like in the flesh. What does it look in organization? What does it look like in civil obedience?” ~ Valarie Kaur, filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, activist, author, Sikh thought leader

Kaur is not new to demanding justice. She has fueled the notion of the power of love in our society through various efforts including the founding of the Revolutionary Love Project, a volunteer-run project that offers calls to action, tools, inspiration, and support to fight for social justice through the ethic of love. The project is based at the University of Southern California.

Kaur is originally from Clovis, California and attended Stanford University, where she received her bachelor’s in religion and international relations. She holds a master’s in theology from Harvard University. She also holds a JD from Yale Law School. Prior to her current position at Revolutionary of Love, Kaur served as a Media and Justice Fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, and co-founded Faithful Internet, a campaign to inform faith leaders on Internet neutrality issues.

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Love has been captured by Hallmark cards, sidelined as purely personal and romantic — far too fickle and sentimental to be a political force. But throughout history, prophetic leaders from Gandhi to King built social movements rooted in love. They understood that love is an inexhaustible wellspring that can inspire and embolden us to rise up with courage we did not know we had.~ Valarie Kaur, filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, activist, author, Sikh thought leader

**Audio Transcript of Interview between Aimee Allison and Valarie Kaur**

Aimee Allison: This is Democracy in Color, the voice of the New American Majority. I’m your host, Aimee Allison.

I was recently in New York City attending the Revolutionary Love Conference: Disruptive Ethics to Dismantle Racism. The weekend featured some of the most powerful moral leaders in this country: Dr. William Barber, who spoke at the DNC and is founder of the Moral Mondays movement; filmmaker/journalist Bill Moyers; the founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, Valerie Kaur, was also there. And you might recognize her from the viral video, that 26 million people saw of a speech she gave on New Year’s Eve after the 2016 election, where she said that this may not be the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb. Those words reverberated and set into motion the powerful movement that she’s founded. She and I met in the basement of Middle Collegiate Church, to further discuss her work. Stay tuned.

Aimee Allison: Valerie, thank you so much for joining us on Democracy in Color.

Valerie Kaur: I’m so delighted.

Aimee Allison: I’m here in New York for this amazing event, Revolutionary Love. You’re a founder of this event, right?

Valerie Kaur: I’m the founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, and we have partnered with Middle Collegiate Church here in New York City to hold the Revolutionary Love conference.

Aimee Allison: Where did the idea of Revolutionary Love come from?

Valerie Kaur: Well, I’ve been an activist for about … more than 15 years, ever since hate crimes broke out after September 11.

Aimee Allison: And you were personally affected by that.

Valerie Kaur: I’m a Sikh-American, and the first person killed in a hate crime after September 11th was a man I called uncle. Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered on September 15. He was the first of dozens who were killed in the aftermath of 9/11, but whose stories barely made the evening news. His murder really made me an activist, and so for the last 15-some years, I’ve been using my law degree, my film camera, my organizer’s hat, to work with communities in the face of violence and justice. Not just my own community, but working on issues of solitary confinement, immigration detention, racial profiling, marriage equality. My most recent issue was net neutrality.

Aimee Allison: This is different. This is different than the progressive movements, at least what I’m hearing people are talking about or thinking about. This feels different.

Valerie Kaur: That’s right. That’s right.

Aimee Allison: How would you characterize the difference?

Valerie Kaur: Well, I’ll tell you how I came to it. It came in a moment of crisis. About a year or so ago, when hate crimes broke out on our national landscape during this last election season, I looked at my son and realized that a generation of activism had not yet made the country safer for him, for a little brown boy who may wear a turban one day as part of his faith, and I left my job at Stanford Law School and I began to really think deeply about what has actually created lasting change for the communities I’ve served. It never depended on my lawsuit. It never depended on my film or op-ed. Those were necessary ingredients for any movement, but any time I actually witnessed lasting change, it came down to a surprising question: Is love present here?

Anytime a community, in the face of massacre or crisis, received love from the community around them, they were emboldened to respond in creative and loving ways. In the absence of that, nothing changed. In fact, Hunter [Arun] says, “Isolation breeds despair,” and so people left in isolation with their own hurt. That only bred more violence and destruction. What’s the antidote to isolation? It’s the ethic of love. But I’m a lawyer, right, so I never took love seriously, to where-

Aimee Allison: Right, most people would say it seems weak, or-

Valerie Kaur: Yeah.

Aimee Allison: … like what are you talking about? Let’s be serious. This is politics. It’s about power.

Valerie Kaur: That’s right. ’Cause love is a feeling in our nation right now. Love is a sentiment inscribed in a Hallmark card. Love is too anemic, too fickle, too sentimental to be a political force. But I went back and studied again, Gandhi, King, Mandela, Chavez, and understood that any social justice movement that has changed the course of this nation, had love as the ethic beating at its heart.

Aimee Allison: You’re talking about civil rights movement with Martin Luther King?

Valerie Kaur: Yes.

Aimee Allison: What other movements would you point to that had love as the central heartbeat of what kept people going?

Valerie Kaur: The only way that Gandhi freed India was by calling people to their higher selves, calling people to a path of love that gave them the courage that they did not know they had, to put their bodies, their breaths, their blood on the line, through non-violent means. You don’t find that kind of courage out of duty or out of obligation. There has to be something deeper.

Aimee Allison: You said in your talk during this conference, you were less interested in getting Trump out of office than you were addressing the conditions that led to a Trump. Can you talk more about that?

Valerie Kaur: It’s clear to me that in these last 100 days of this administration that we have been fighting policy battles. We fought the first Muslim ban, the second Muslim ban, fought to protect healthcare. We’re still fighting these fights in Congress, in courts, and in the streets. But no number of policy wins will actually solve the conditions that gave rise to this presidency. What are those conditions? The sense of widespread anxiety, rage, this history of white nationalism, white supremacy, that has now ripped the minds of large segments of this population, and has now captured institutions of power. So, I’m interested in changing the conditions that gave rise, not just this presidency, but what the Southern Poverty Law Center has called the era of enormous rage. Because we know that anytime a government targets a particular people, criminalizes a people, not for anything they’ve done, but for who they are, that it emboldens ordinary people to enact on their darker impulses and we see hate crimes go up.

Aimee Allison: Yeah. It’s happening everywhere now, isn’t it?

Valerie Kaur: State violence is always tethered to private violence. We’ve known this throughout the history of our nation.

Aimee Allison: Wait. What do you mean by that?

Valerie Kaur: Whenever we see violence perpetuated by the state, it emboldens private citizens to enact … act on their biases and we see violence break out. So, acts of violence are always nurtured in the shared moral imagination before they ever find public expression. State violence is always tethered to private violence, and that’s why this presidency is just the symptom of something much deeper that needs to shift in American consciousness. The way to stop state violence and the private violence that we’re seeing in our city streets and across America today against black and brown and trans bodies, a way to stop that, is by shifting consciousness. Otherwise, we’ll continue to fight policy battles for decades to come and see another generation raised like my son.

Aimee Allison: Who do you think should be part of this movement? Who are you inviting in? Are you really focusing on those who would consider themselves social justice activists, first and foremost?

Valerie Kaur: Some people say, “Why are you preaching the choir?” And I say-

Aimee Allison: Yeah, we’re fine. You don’t need to talk about love, right?

Valerie Kaur: Right. Right.

Aimee Allison: We already know what we’re doing, we’re fighting for the cause and-

Valerie Kaur: But remember, we’ve taken in love as a sentiment in a Hallmark card, right? We have taken in love as a feeling and so we can say that we are doing something good because we feel love, we pray for all those in harm’s way, but we’re not actually necessarily strategic about what we’re doing with that love, what that looks like out in the street. So, I’m interested in calling the choir out of the church, out of the darkness, and into the streets. I’m interested in how to point people to what that love looks like in the flesh. What does it look like in our organizing? What does it look like in our political campaigns? What does it look like in the form of civil disobedience today? Revolutionary love, I think, is a form of civil disobedience in that it is resisting the violence that we are hearing and feeling all around us, not just in our news, but in our own bodies.

Aimee Allison: There is a sense of hopelessness that many social justice people feel, or anger. You were talking about rage-

Valerie Kaur: Yes.

Aimee Allison: … or fury that people may feel or be expressed. I personally have … other than have these amazing people that I spend time in the Democracy in Color studio, often don’t turn on the news. I feel depressed. Is this a way for people to feel better about the work that they feel needs to happen in the world, or is there something more?

Valerie Kaur: There’s something more. Hope as a concept is not serving me right now, either. People are feeling hopeless, that they’re feeling a sense of despair. I say that’s okay because this time warrants that. Our rage, our despair … this is exactly what this time of moral and political in crisis requires us. We are required to name this moment as a dark moment. The future is dark. What I’m asking us, what I’ve been asking myself, but I’ve been asking others since New Year’s Eve, is what if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead, but a country still waiting to be born?

You see, Langston Hughes said, “Let America be America again.” America never was America to me. And yet, I make this vow that America still must be. And so to own the dark means to own that we as a nation have never confronted our history of genocide, of slavery, of Jim Crow, the way that racism and sexism and xenophobia and white supremacy still structure our lives. To own that is to say we were never the city on the hill in the first place. We have not fallen, because it was a lie to begin with. This is a dark moment, but it is a pregnant moment, because more people have been awakened, millions of people have been awakened since this election, in ways that activists like me who have been in the trenches for so many years have never seen before. If there’s any source of hope, it’s that. It’s that we are awakened to the darkness.

Aimee Allison: Is this movement a movement about … I mean, just to put it in the most direct terms, loving Trump supporters? Is it about that?

Valerie Kaur: That’s a small part of it, but the way I’m defining love … In our country, we think of love as a feeling followed by a commitment. We think about that even in our own lives, but we know that actually to stay in a long-term marriage or to raise children, that the feeling waxes and wanes. Love is a commitment first, followed by a feeling. Those of us who know how to love well know that to be true about love, but what does it mean to extend that love out beyond our intimate relations? What does it mean to love others, love our opponents, and that’s where Trump supporters may fall for some of us, and love ourselves?

So, I’m drawing from the definition of love that Eric Fromme and Bell Hooks have been using. I’m defining love as a commitment to extend our will to others, opponents, and ourselves. So the question is, what does it mean to love others? What does it mean to love others? To look upon the faces of those who do not look like us and say, “Sister and brother, I see you. I choose to love you, and therefore I will fight for you when you are in harm’s way.” What does that kind of love take? It requires us to ask the question, who are you? What is at stake for you? What is my role in your flourishing, what is your role in mine?

You see, we think, as progressives, that we’re good about loving others and standing up in solidarity, but we haven’t yet done the work of hearing the stories of those from other communities, really understanding the stories at Standing Rock, understanding the stories at Ferguson, understanding the stories of refugees coming in from Syria. That’s what it takes to love others, is to listen to each other’s stories, and then-

Aimee Allison: And it really resonates with me because I’ve had experiences in progressive movements, anti-war movement, among others, where people who were active in it still held racist beliefs.

Valerie Kaur: Oh, yes.

Aimee Allison: Still that were classist. Still had … You know? The progressive movement’s still fraught with these problems-

Valerie Kaur: Absolutely.

Aimee Allison: … and we’re trying to change a world that we are actually part of the problem in, I guess.

Valerie Kaur: Yes. Yes. So love as a commitment is an orientation to hear one another’s stories, even those who we think we’re good allies to already.

The second part of love is love for opponents. This is what you had asked me about. Love for opponents. This is what Gandhi and King talked about. This is what Jesus preached about when he said, “Love thy enemy.” It is the hardest thing for the human psyche.

Aimee Allison: I was gonna say, very difficult. Yeah.

Valerie Kaur: I think forgiveness, Dr. King said, is the first step toward loving thy enemy. I say that it is a last step, because loving opponents is really about liberating ourselves first. Loving opponents requires us to hold our moral outrage and our trauma in community, because if we hold it in isolation, then we will ourselves start to become the very thing that we oppose. We start to become hateful. We refuse to hate our opponent because we refuse to be like them. So the first step towards loving one’s enemy is to hold our pain in community and commit to the path of love in the first place.

And once we do that, we can release some of that trauma, so that maybe one day we can hear their stories. We can see them not as evil oppressors, but as frail people who themselves are living under sentence of threat. We may not agree with the sources of that threat. We may think it’s an illusion that they feel threatened. So many supporters who voted for this President feel as though that they are losing economic dominion, cultural dominion over this nation, and it’s true. So, what they need to do is process their unresolved grief, and we have not had any mechanisms to do that.

We have not, on the progressive side, held up a picture of a nation that includes them, too. At least, we have not communicated that to them, and so here comes a demagogue and gives them a home, and channels that unresolved grief into racism, xenophobia, and rage, white rage, and we have the election results that we have. So, I believe that loving our opponents is not actually not really just about them, it’s about our own liberation, because once we hear their stories, we understand the cultural forces that allow them to hurt us. We understand the institutions of power that allow them to support policies that hurt us, and then we are smarter about our movement building. We design movement building that’s not just about the legal framework, which is winning the next policy battle, winning the next lawsuit, passing the next piece of legislation, we design a vision of a nation that is … that includes their liberation and flourishing, too.

Because here’s the truth. I will sit with anyone who voted for this President and tell them, and I have, that I believe that their vote was a moral failing, either because they supported the racism, sexism, xenophobia that this President inhabits, or because they did not think it was a deal-breaker.

Aimee Allison: Both. Both are moral failings.

Valerie Kaur: Both are moral failings.

Aimee Allison: But to use the word … To bring morality into politics, it seems like at some … somewhere along the way, we lost touch, that politics could be an expression of morality or we would have this sense of things that are right and things that are wrong, and even 100 days into the Trump presidency, the sands are shifting under our feet. What’s right? What’s wrong? Is that important? Is that the way you’re supposed to talk about people or to people? So, to bring morality is actually a very-

Valerie Kaur: That’s because-

Aimee Allison: Yeah.

Valerie Kaur: Yeah. I’m so glad you mentioned that, because that’s because the last several decades, the religious right has monopolized morality in this country, and so morality is one directional. It is a way to judge others. So, if I sit with a Trump supporter and I say, “I believe these are moral failings,” I need to own my moral failing, too, and so I tell them, “It was my moral failing that I never drew close to hear your story,” because as for me, as an activist, to own my own experience, I’ve fought with so many communities over the last 15 years. I have never sat down with poor, white working class people in Appalachia and thought about their healthcare, thought about how white privilege seems to deny the way that they are still struggling for generations and generations. I have never fought for them.

Aimee Allison: Well, you have a different experience than me. I have Trump supporters in my own immediate family, and I think for some of us who do have contact with people, it’s even more painful. Is our focus to change them? It sounds like you’re saying our focus is to first change ourselves and to heal ourselves. What can that look like? What can you create to hold … You say, heal trauma in community. What is that? How do you create that space?

Valerie Kaur: Hannah Arendt, a beautiful philosopher who I still hold onto, describes two spheres, the private sphere and thee public sphere. When we feel under threat, and when we experience violence, it pushes us down into the private sphere where there is no language. There is no sense. We are alone in our trauma. We are isolated, and we know that out of isolation, that breeds despair and rage and hate, which could be enacted out in violence toward others or toward ourselves. How do we return to the public sphere? She says the act of telling the story returns us to the public sphere. The act of giving language to all that, that has been done to us, making order of the chaos and the pain and the trauma, the act of telling the story returns us to the public sphere.

That story, if others are holding our story in community, then it becomes not only redemptive, but restorative. It returns us to a community that can then mobilize together. I think that the reason I believe so deeply in the power of stories is that it is the way that we hold trauma for those communities of color, who have been in harm’s way, who are facing the police killings and the hate crimes and the detentions and the deportations. Our stories need to be held in community, and that is how we can commit to creative and loving action, but it also means … What does it mean to love one’s opponents? Is to hear the stories of those who hurt us because in their stories we’re understanding that they, too, are acting out of a sense of threat. We’re listening to the story, not for its veracity, but to understand their pain, to acknowledge their pain. To acknowledge their pain is to acknowledge their humanity, and to acknowledge their humanity is to know that everyone has a story that needs to be told, for us to repair what has been torn asunder in our nation.

Aimee Allison: It’s bigger than an election cycle.

Valerie Kaur: Oh, much bigger.

Aimee Allison: You’ve said that before. It’s a transformational idea.

Valerie Kaur: Yes. And, you know, we’ve talked about revolutionary love for others, and revolutionary love for opponents, there’s a third part here that I’ve been talking about, too, and I just need to name it. Revolutionary love for ourselves. Because Gandhi and King and our social justice leaders in the past, they got the first two right, but they didn’t talk very much about what it means to love ourselves. This is a womanist intervention. This is Bell Hooks, this is Audre Lorde, who says, “Caring for myself is not an act of self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,” and that is an act of political warfare.

What I am seeing 100 days into this administration, is that we are beginning to feel tired-

Aimee Allison: Yes.

Valerie Kaur: … and fatigued, and I’m seeing especially the weight on…I’m seeing especially the weight on people of color and on women of color, because too often women of color not only bear the brunt of oppression but struggles against oppression. Our movements for liberation are fought on our backs or over our dead bodies. We are tasked to hold families and communities together. We mistake our suffering for service, but it’s time for a new way. I think it’s time for us … It’s so easy to start to mirror the fear, the rage, the despair that we’re fighting, but I’m calling us to start to embody the dignity, the wellness, the care, even the joy that we want for the rest of the world in our own lives, in our own homes, in our own bodies, and that’s why I believe joy is a form of moral resistance.

Aimee Allison: Huh. And I am also thinking about how much … how the generation they call millennials, you consider yourself a millennial.

Valerie Kaur: Yes. I’m the oldest millennial.

Aimee Allison: You’re the oldest millennial. But I hear in these college classrooms, people talking about self-care. Generation X, we … activists burned … we burned out.

Valerie Kaur: Right.

Aimee Allison: We got haggard and tired and never really focused on self-care, so it’s a new thing and I think it’s maybe … potential the generational thing, because the fights that we have in front of us seem like they’re so long. It feels like there’s a long road ahead of us.

Valerie Kaur: If we don’t embody the possibilities, how will we know that they are possible? If we don’t practice them in our own homes, how will we know that they are possible for the human family? I learned this … and my son is now two-and-a-half, and we started a practice called evening edition, where every evening we have story time, we have dance time, we have bath time, we do our prayers, it takes 90 minutes. It’s a 90-minute program. It’s not a bedtime, it’s a 90-minute program. And we do it … First, I thought, well, our lives as activists are so tumultuous that at least this is the structure, but I began to realize on election night, actually, as the election results were coming in and the horror started to lodge in my throat, my little boy tugged at my shirt and said, “Mommy, story time,” and I looked at my husband and I said, “Now? On a night like this?” and he said, “Every night. Even a night like this.”

And so we read stories and dance time. Now? On a night like this? Even on a night like this. We were dancing to (singing). My son is running circles around me and I’m just like … I start to dance with him and pretty soon I start to laugh. I feel joy and the next moment I realize we’re gonna be okay, because I’m gonna fight for him. I love him. I’m gonna fight for him. I’m gonna fight for us, and if this is our foundation, if joy in our bodies is our foundation, then we’ll be able to last.

Aimee Allison: Well, that gives me some sense of … Like I personally, emotionally and spiritually, am drawn to the message of love and especially when we’re reaching around for what we can do right now. You built this movement just really in three … is it three months? Have I got the math right?

Valerie Kaur: We launched the Revolutionary Love Project in September.

Aimee Allison: Okay, so it’s been six, seven months.

Valerie Kaur: And it was a need for our communities who had already felt the time in our nation to be dark, but after the election? After the election, millions of people who had the choice to be inoculated by their privilege decided not to retreat into that privilege. They could feel the darkness too, and that’s why this message of the darkness of the womb and not the tomb, that’s why this call to revolutionary love, think, is seizing so many people’s hearts. And that’s why I think-

Aimee Allison: What do you want to see?

Valerie Kaur: … it’s the call of our times.

Aimee Allison: It’s the call of our times, yeah. That’s beautiful. What do you want to see happen now? I like a person who takes a moment to think. It’s a podcast, but we’re gonna take a moment, here, at the basement of Middle Church, where this is our impromptu studio, to think. We don’t do enough of that. I know I don’t. It’s a big question.

Valerie Kaur: It’s a big question. The easy answer is to say I want you all go to revolutionarylove.net and sign the declaration of revolutionary love, and you’ll be getting emails from us about community dialogues and film screenings and get out the vote campaigns and-

Aimee Allison: Oh, so you’re doing a bunch of activities there?

Valerie Kaur: Oh, yeah. We had a national day of action on Valentine’s Day. We reclaimed that now Valentine’s Day is now a day of revolutionary love with Eve Ensler and One Billion Rising and Van Jones and Love Army and Reverend William Barber and a coalition of faith Leaders, and we’re sending out calls to action every couple of weeks. We just let them help lead a massive act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles, at ISIS Detention Center. Every week or so, you will be getting emails from me, from our team, and we are a band of volunteers, by the way.

Aimee Allison: Yeah. You’re all volunteer, which is the other thing that was remarkable. All right, so we can go to the website.

Valerie Kaur: So you could do that. There are places for you to go to take action with us. But I think I want you to do … I think I want you to do this, and I’m wondering if it’s possible to pause for a second, ’cause there’s something I want to read …

Aimee Allison: Okay. You did a YouTube video. Was that on New Year’s Eve?

Valerie Kaur: That was on New Year’s Eve.

Aimee Allison: Okay. What happened after you did the vi- … You gave a speech, basically, essentially.

Valerie Kaur: I’ve given many speeches in the last year and I’ve said the same things in them, but that one video on New Year’s Eve ended up going viral because it was the message that people wanted to hear, needed to hear after the election and before the inauguration. And it was this-

Aimee Allison: 26 million views, first of all, right? That’s incredible, all right? Which, were you surprised at that [crosstalk]?

Valerie Kaur: I was shocked. I mean, I had things go viral before at 50,000 and I would be like overwhelmed. Really, I mean, imagine 15-some years as an activist in the trenches and you’re trying to get the message out. You’re making films and you’re writing op-eds and you’re doing TV and you’re … and this completely unexpected moment when the message actually reaches millions of people, not just in the U.S. It went viral in Israel. It was translated into Hebrew. It went viral throughout India. It was this call to revolutionary love that was more universal than I even knew.

Aimee Allison: Wow.

Valerie Kaur: It was millions of people watching the rise of right-wing nationalism destroy the vision of what they believe their country to be, not just in the United States, but around the world, and it wasn’t a manufactured hope. When I say the midwife tells us to breathe and push, when I ask what if this is our moment of transition, it is a question. What if this is the moment where this darkness is the darkness of the womb and not the darkness of the tomb? It is a question, because if we don’t push, we will die. If we don’t push, our nation will die. If we don’t push, our civilization as we know it, the humanity we believe we can be will perish. I believe the stakes are extraordinarily high right now.

Aimee Allison: The stakes are … this is everything.

Valerie Kaur: This is everything. This is everything.

Aimee Allison: It’s our safety, it’s our … So, then, this goes viral. Then, we’re only talking about a couple of months from the beginning of the year till now. Then what happened? You quit your job, you said. You quit your job.

Valerie Kaur: So, I had quit my job a year ago this month, in order … You know, life as lawyer, activist, organizer person taking it really seriously, and then I go off and I love, the word love confronts me, and I, as a lawyer, had been taught to be suspicious of this term, right? I have been taught to cringe at the word love, and I had to go back and do my research and understand suddenly about the problem in our country has never been with love, it’s about how we talk about love.

That is when we formed the Revolutionary Love Project and began to sing the song, the song of revolutionary love. After the election, around the time of the inauguration, it actually went viral on Inauguration Day, so that on the next day, the day of the Women’s March, the day that millions of people marched across this country, people … my friends were texting me pictures of signs at marches in Minneapolis and Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, New York, Los Angeles. Signs where people wrote, “What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”

Aimee Allison: Wow. Wow.

Valerie Kaur: My email … I usually pride myself on keeping my inbox at zero, right? I have a team of volunteers. I don’t even have an assistant. My email was at 1,000 and I couldn’t get out from under 1,000 letters, not just media requests and speaking requests, but letters from people, heartfelt letters from people. I am a single mother, I am writing you from prison, I am a sick girl, I am a young activist. People writing me and telling me their stories and asking how do we walk the path of love and that gave me a mandate.

Aimee Allison: And now? Now you have this amazing movement.

Valerie Kaur: Yeah. So our job now, our job … I’m about to leave in a week for a writing sabbatical. My job, I could keep speaking and calling people to love, but if I don’t tell them how to walk it, then what good is it? If I say Revolutionary Love is the call of our times and I don’t tell them … give them some insight, some wisdom about how to walk that path, then where are we supposed to go?

Aimee Allison: That’s right.

Valerie Kaur: And so it’s not that I have all the answers, but I have a treasure chest of scriptures and songs and poems and tools and tactics from, not just our wisdom and faith traditions, but from social justice movements of the past, to lift up and to offer up in a new way, because I believe love has to be a secular ethic. It’s a moral imperative. It’s a path that anyone can come to, no matter what our background, to walk and it’s never been talked about that way in our country before.

Aimee Allison: Oh, that’s so beautiful.

Valerie Kaur: That’s my task. No small task.

Aimee Allison: All right, you want to leave us with something?

Valerie Kaur: Yeah.

Aimee Allison: A little bit of inspiration. Something that keeps you going.

Valerie Kaur: I want to leave you with the words of my sister, [Zadie] Smith. “Individual citizens are internally plural. They have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities. They are like complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting. At this moment, all over the world and most recently in America, the conductor standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. They are not very distant memory. There is no place on Earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember to a finer music must try now to play it and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.”

I believe a song that we can be singing is a song of revolutionary love, and you asked me what can we do, what can we do? I say sing that song. Sing that song however you know how to sing it. Sing it in your homes, in your schools, in your workplaces. Sing it in the streets. Sing it in your heart. Sing it in the halls of power. And if we sing it together, then our country, our world, will remember a finer music.

Aimee Allison: Beautiful. Valerie Kaur, thank you so much for joining us in Democracy in Color.

Valerie Kaur: It has been such an honor.

Aimee Allison: I’m lifted. I’m lifted.

Aimee Allison: This podcast is sponsored by Democracy in Color, recorded at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City and produced by myself and edited by Brian Matheson. Special thanks to the Democracy in Color podcast team, Lulu Matute, Sharline Chiang, and Olivia Parker. You can listen to future episodes on democracyincolor.com, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, and iTunes, and now Google Play. You can also connect with us on Facebook and on Twitter.

If you appreciate this podcast as much as we appreciate you, please subscribe and rate us on Apple podcast. Tell a friend, a colleague, or a neighbor to tune in for their dose of political intelligence. Until next time, thanks for joining us.

***

Episode Themes

1:30 Revolutionary of Love Project

2:45 How is this different from the progressive movement

3:45 Is love present?

5:30 What conditions led to our presidency?

7:40 Who is apart of this movement?

9:20 Social activist and the news

11:20 How do you define love?

16:50 Bringing morality into politics

18:30 How do you heal trauma in our community?

21:00 What does it mean to love ourselves?

23:00 The generation of self-care

25:00 Launching the Revolutionary of Love Project

26:07 What do you want to see?

32:30 How to walk the path of love?

33:20 What keeps you going?

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Podcast: The Revolution of Love: Valarie Kaur was originally published in Democracy in Color on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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