LA Voice’s online calls to action ground activism in multiple spiritual traditions

By Meera Sastry

The resurgence and expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement has created a moment of national reckoning with racial injustice. In its wake, many are having to figure out how to heal from the trauma of seeing George Floyd’s tragic killing play out on video and how to integrate anti-racism into their daily lives and routines.

LA Voice, an organization that unites 57 member congregations of various religious traditions spread throughout the Los Angeles area, has been tackling this issue in its community through the angle of faith.

One notable example of this work was “Whirlwind and Fire,” an online “call to action” that took place on Friday, June 12. This event featured faith leaders Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Rev. Dr. William Barber, along with representatives from various other member congregations and faith traditions; a musical performance by artist Jason Taylor; and a reading from poet and teacher Stephen Jamal Leeper. Though the call to action was broadcast over Zoom, there was clear energy and purpose present as the leaders left moments of silence and called on the viewers to respond with affirmations of solidarity.

“Whirlwind and Fire,” like the other actions LA Voice hosts, served not only to amplify the calls for justice that have resounded throughout a summer of protests but also to show its audience how they might deal with these feelings of outrage and anger and channel them into action through the mechanisms of conscious faith.

The first of the featured speakers, Zen priest Rev. angel Kyodo williams, spoke of the necessity for all of us to widen our collective imagination and free it from the constraints of systemic racism that have traditionally placed the burden of the idea of race on Black and non-white people. “This is our time to take back our sense of community, of safety, of hope, and of possibility, and to dream something bigger,” she said. “We can draw from the ancestors who were never meant to be free, or to imagine freedom for themselves, and yet did so anyway. We are a testament to their dreams.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber spoke of the history that serves as precedent to this unique moment, and called on all listening to stand in solidarity in the pursuit of collective freedom. He also described how racism has served as a framework not only for the kind of police brutality that killed George Floyd, but for the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

“Racism and classism have always had a ‘death measurement,’” Barber said. “If we’re serious about dealing with the issue of Black lives, we have to apply this ‘death measurement’ not only to police violence, but to every public policy.”

In this uncertain time, when there seems to be so much to be done to correct American society’s ills, and so many, often conflicting, sources instructing us how to do so, the perspective of LA Voice is affirming and comforting. The leaders involved are clear about the pain that Black Americans have faced throughout history and in the present moment, and make no concessions concerning the changes that must be made. Their calls to action are grounded in a wealth of spiritual tradition that — because of the diversity of the member congregations — are accessible to those of almost any background. They appeal to the universality and common humanity that arises out of the shared past of all Americans, and through this, LA Voice creates online events certainly worth watching.

Updates on LA Voice’s future events can be found on Twitter @LA_Voice or Facebook at facebook.com/lavoicepico. Their next online event is “Gathering 4 Black Lives” from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 19. Visit bit.ly/LAVoiceGathering4BlackLives.

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