When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven. ~Harriet Tubman
She stood at just five feet, two inches tall.
She couldn’t read. She couldn’t write.
She suffered from narcolepsy and visions and life-long headaches because when she was 13 years old a man threw a weight at her head.
And she was a slave.
There are so many reasons she shouldn’t have been able to be who she was.
But all of those reasons made her into the heroic woman we know her to have been.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1820.
By the time she was five years old, she was “loaned out” to other households for chores and odd jobs – preparing for a life of hard work and strife and tragedy and heartache. At five years old, she would have just graduated from needing a nap (if she was ever allowed to take one, that is); she would have had tiny clothes, and tiny five-year-old’s hands, and a child’s eyes that sparkle when they see a butterfly.
She would have learned, I’m sure, that being a female slave meant you were the least powerful human at the time.
But she learned other lessons about power, too. Her own mother (whose name was also Harriet) was a courageous woman who was willing to exact every last drop of power that she had when it mattered.
Harriet saw her use that power, firsthand.
As the story goes, one night, men were sent to take Harriet’s brother to a different property.
“You may get this boy,” her mother shouted from inside the door, “But whichever of you comes through that door first will have a split skull for it.”
The men … left.
I don’t know, but perhaps that was the moment when Harriet recognized: even the powerless have great power. If they’re willing to take the risk to exercise it.
And perhaps that’s where she found the courage to, at thirteen-years old, throw herself between a slave and an angry overseer; the weight the overseer had thrown at that slave hit Harriet in the head and nearly killed her.
And perhaps that’s where she found the courage to escape (and fail) and escape again – to find her way to Philadelphia and freedom.
And perhaps that’s where she found the courage to return after her escape to free her mother and others that had been left behind.
That’s how you’ve probably heard about Harriet, right? The stories about her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, traveling with her charges by night through swamps and woods to avoid detection, are awe-inspiring. She made over ten trips back over the Mason-Dixon line to help people escape; she used to say that she never derailed a train, and never lost a passenger.
She personally led dozens – some say hundreds – of slaves to freedom, first over the Mason-Dixon line, and then further into Canada.
Those are amazing tales of heroism and courage, made more fantastic by the fact she was a woman.
But this woman – who was once a pre-school aged house slave who lived off of table scraps and was returned to her plantation because she had eaten a sugar cube – did much more than run routes on the Underground Railroad.
When the Civil War began, she took her work above ground and enlisted as a “contraband” nurse – a nurse that would tend to the often sick and dying slaves that were left behind.
She became a Union spy, and a scout – and she led Union troops on raids. In fact, in July 1863, the Boston newspaper The Commonwealth wrote a whole column describing Tubman’s “campaign on the Combahee River,” a campaign that she conceived, developed – and implemented. (The Commonwealth clearly saw her as a curiosity. In describing the victory speech she gave after the raid it said: For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created a great sensation… ).
After the war she organized “Freemen’s Fairs” to benefit former slaves and took in what she called the “odds and ends” of society – even as she personally struggled to make ends meet and bartered crops, burned fencing to heat her home, and took on as many borders as she and her family could.
It goes on – later in life she became an outspoken supporter of women’s suffrage alongside Susan B. Anthony, and purchased the property next to her own to begin a home for the aged and indigent.
She did not stop trying to improve peoples’ lives until her own life ended at 93.
How could this woman – slight in stature, illiterate, often penniless – lacking in every kind of power we are taught to believe we need to make a difference – make such a profound impact?
To be honest, it seems that she just went about doing what she saw that needed to be done, no matter who or what was in her way.
That, friend, appears to be her secret sauce.
It’s easy to dismiss yourself – to excuse yourself from action by saying you don’t matter. It’s easy to say that whatever your hands can do just … isn’t enough – that you don’t have the power, or the money, or the education, or the experience.
So why bother.
Well, I’m here to quiet that voice in your head.
If you have the will, you will find a way.
When the obstacles seem insurmountable and you’re exhausted and overwhelmed…
When you feel insignificant, and unimportant, and like you can’t make a difference – because you’re just one person, after all…
Try to remind yourself. You’re one person. You’re one person who has more education, more experience, more resources, more … power – than someone who inspired an entire nation.
One person – you – can make one hell of a difference.
And when you have so many others of us beside you?
Well, then, friend.
We can change history.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of June 23, 2020
Tuesday: Check out the #StopHateForProfit campaign
We all know social media can be toxic. (Understatement of the day?) Time and time again Facebook has failed us – especially Black users – by ignoring the incitement of violence and collaborating with fake news platforms.
We also know that some of our biggest successes come from hitting these big tech companies right where it hurts: their pocketbooks. A whopping 99% of Facebook’s $70 billion annual revenue comes from advertisers. The #StopHateForProfit campaign, a coalition of activist groups – including the ADL, Common Sense Media, Sleeping Giants, Color of Change, the NAACP, and Free Press, seeks to organize corporate advertisers to participate in a 30 day Facebook ad boycott.
The demands of the campaign include:
- Provide more support to people who are targets of racism, antisemitism, and hate
- Stop generating ad revenue from misinformation and harmful content
- Increase safety in private groups on Facebook
How you can help:
- Support the growing number of businesses, like Patagonia, North Face, and REI, who are pledging their commitment to stop buying Facebook ads for the month of July. Sleeping Giants is shouting out these companies on Twitter. Give them a like!
- Ask YOUR company to pause Facebook ads for July. Or, complete this form with your company.
Wednesday: Support the Stop Militarizing Our Law Enforcement Act
Last week, Senator Brian Schatz reintroduced the bipartisan Stop Militarizing Our Law Enforcement Act with Republican Senator Rand Paul.
It’s a pretty simple concept: demilitarizing police units decreases police violence. Right now, the “DOD 1033 Program” supports the transfer of surplus military-grade weaponry and equipment (think armored vehicles, weaponized aircrafts, etc) from the federal military to local police departments. (!!, right?)
Militarized police departments are significantly more likely to kill civilians (source). The proposed bill would end the 1033 Program, cutting federal supply chains to local police departments. The bill would also require police units to return prohibited equipment acquired previously from the 1033 Program.
This just makes sense. Call your Senators today and urge them to support this bipartisan bill that will save lives and make an immediate difference in police violence.
Thursday: You Should Run for Something
Run for Something has several exciting projects in the works right now. As a refresher, Run for Something is an organization dedicated to helping progressive candidates run campaigns for local offices across the country. They help young people set up grass-roots, efficient, and effective campaigns with a support network and an ever-growing collection of resources. I want to highlight a few things:
- If you haven’t been to their site recently, check out the resources they’ve assembled for candidates and campaigns. It’s a really impressive compilation of best-practices during the pandemic. Check it out here: https://runforsomething.net/covid19-support/
- Run for Something has organized an Act Blue page to support 47 Black candidates running for local office. Click here to learn about the candidates, their campaigns, and their visions for the future. Then, make a donation on the page to be divided evenly among the campaigns! They’ve already raised over $38k for young Black folks running for office!
- You can sign to volunteer or be a mentor for a candidate. It’s a great way to pitch in – even in this remote environment. Learn more and apply here: https://runforsomething.net/why/
Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to Run for Something’s feel-good newsletter. Every Monday your inbox will have an update on the exciting things happening at the local level with RFS candidates. It’s an inspiring way to start your week.
Friday: Seek Justice for Breonna Taylor
It has been over 100 days since Breonna Taylor was murdered by police. The officers involved in her murder still have not been charged or arrested. (The first step to fire one of the officers has been taken. Read more HERE.) Breonna, an award-winning EMT, selflessly supported her community before and during this pandemic. We can support her memory and her family by demanding justice.
This Rolling Stone article has a number of petitions and organizations you can support, as well as simple contact forms to make contacting the Louisville officials involved easy: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/breonna-taylor-demand-justice-1015060/
WHEW! GO TEAM!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.