We Are the Ones We Are Waiting For: The Promise of Intersectional Solidarity


We are the ones we’ve been waiting for – or so we’ve often been told. But where that line was first spoken was in a poem written by the always prophetic June Jordan. As Jordan ended a poem about South African women in the struggle against Apartheid:

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

Jordan passed away in 2002, but was ahead of her time in so many ways.

One of her favorite topics to write about was “standing up.” And who stands up with or without that sweet company.

Over the last month, one of the most precious visions Jordan had started to dominate national headlines.

In an essay about Jordan, a bisexual Black female poet, joining with the Jewish community in Berkeley after a series of recent attacks and threats, she wrote:

And maybe the unity of resistance to hatred that will stop that hatred seems improbable. Maybe an orthodox Jewish congregation will never stand in protective vigil outside a gay and lesbian community center, or the clinic of an abortion provider. Maybe a Black student organization will never rally for Asian American Rights. And maybe gay and lesbian activists will not boldly interpose themselves between a synagogue and a “Phineas Priest.”

Maybe none of us will ever recognize that all of us are wrongfully, equally, condemned: The Spawn of the Devil.

Maybe. But, meanwhile, I am moving on an irrepressible wish that all of us will: All of us will build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve.

The above quote came back to me when I read the recent New York Times article about new collaborations between African American rights groups and LGBT rights groups.

Swiftly following President Obama’s declaration of support for marriage equality, the NAACP issued a statement in support as well. And then a collection of national LGBT rights groups announced that they would march in protest of “stop-and-frisk,” a police tactic in New York City that unfairly harasses the Black and Latino communities.

Something new is starting to happen.

And then we see the theme continue. In large part due to the diversity and bravery of Dream Act students in the United States, there has been on-going collaboration between the Latino and LGBT communities on passing protections for undocumented youth. As soon as Obama announced his policy change on this topic, the National Center for Lesbian Rights released a statement of strong support.

And then, just days later, the other NCLR, the National Council for La Raza, released the huge and important news that their board voted to unanimously support marriage equality.

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

June would be thrilled had she lived to see this time in history.

This trend goes beyond large-scale organizations and policy announcements. While thinking about this beautiful happening, I came across this recent Ill Doctrine video, made by the always-insightful Jay Smooth.

Here is Jay giving a tutorial to men – or anyone in any particular position of privilege – on how to respond in defense when a woman – or anyone in any particular position of not holding privilege – is attacked online.

In Michigan, where a female legislator was banned from the State House floor after mentioning the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion, women around the country and world took note. Eve Ensler flew out to host a performance of the Vagina Monologues on the State House steps. In the crowd of the protest, you could see some men standing in support, including one holding a sign that read “Team Vagina.”

What are the possibilities of this new road we’re walking down? What does it mean for all of us to “build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve?” What meaningful and beautiful power could that possibly hold?

I think Jay Smooth’s video has a lot to teach around this more expansive responsibility and opportunity. Any intersectional alignment requires a sense of awareness beyond your own interests. And an awareness that extends out to realize where whatever power you or your community holds could impact or protect a community who will benefit from it. Embodied in this awareness is also an openness and appreciation of diversity. Of reaching beyond the spheres of those who identify most like you, and embracing a sense of humanity that may not be as directly familiar to you.

And then there’s the action component. The literally putting of bodies on the line, in the form of white allies during the civil rights movement, in the form of LGBT community members marching to protest abuse against African Americans and Latinos. It comes in the form of a straight person speaking up among friends when a homophobic remark is made. It comes in the form of Veteran “Patriot Guard” bikers riding in solidarity to block Fred Phelps’ hateful protest from being seen at funerals.

“And who will join this standing up/and the ones who stood without sweet company” – are the lines which introduce the answer of “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The future is upon us in this fresh collaboration of voices. Any movement – whether old or new – has only succeeded when actively embraced by allies beyond the most targeted group. Jordan’s “irrepressible wish that all of us will: All of us will build that circle of our common safety that all of us deserve” – is coming true and changing the potential of, and for, all of us. 

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To schedule an interview with Tanene Allison please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.