Women’s History Month 2012: Audre Lorde

Every March we celebrate the history of over half the Earth’s population – their history, tenacity, and amazingness. Every March we celebrate Women’s History Month. This month I will write about 30 women who have shaped me into the person I am today, inspired me to never stop fighting for what’s right, and encouraged me to be my best self every single day. Many of the women I will write about this month are women I’ve never met and still, some of them will be folks with whom I’m lucky enough to play, live, and work.

Cover of "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name...

In the summer of ’04 I was just a kid trying to find my way. I had no idea who I was and even less of an idea what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to make a change in the world because my mom always told me that I would. I found myself in a 2-day workshop in NYC titled “Naming Our Destiny”. I was in a room with 20 other young people who just got it. They were organizers, advocates, politicians, social workers, you name it – they were there. Towards the end of that workshop I met one of the most amazing people in that room. He was everything I wanted to be; a fierce community organizer who defined his environment, I knew we would be friends.

1980, Austin, TX. I took it in very poor light...

Over the course of the next year he would teach me more about myself, community organizing, and non-profit politics than I could ever ask for. While hanging out in his apartment I remember a particular book on his bookshelf that caught my eye “Zami: A New Spelling of my Name.”

Quickly thumbing through the book and reading select passages I realized that this was a book I desperately wanted to read – it chronicled the life of a person of whom I had never heard.

Audre Lorde.

Since reading that book I have done extensive research about Lorde’s life, passion, and her thoughts on the politics of gender, race, and sexuality. I became obsessed with her writing and clung to every word. Everything she wrote was what I was feeling inside. It is her raw unbridled passion that inspires me to speak and to speak loudly for those who are unable to speak.

There is a quote of hers that I found on the internet during college that I’ve kept with me;

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”

I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

Whenever I feel powerless, foolish, or otherwise afraid to speak my mind I pull this quote out. It reignites the fire that fuels my passion for social justice. It reminds me that Audre died before her fight was over. I owe the communities I fight for my voice.

Thank you Audre Lorde for inspiring me to continue my work for social justice, although the road is long and I cannot see the end, your words keep me hopeful that together, we’ll find a way.

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