Hello, my name is Kate Tucker and I’m co-founder and creative director of BriteHeart. This summer I was invited by Citizen University to attend Civic Seminary in Seattle. There I was given the charge to lead two Civic Saturday’s in my home state. So here I am, giving a civic sermon for the first time. Thank you for joining me in this adventure.
Just a couple years ago, I would have never believed that I’d be standing right here with you. I’m actually an artist, a songwriter and producer. I have no background in politics and until recently, very little experience in activism. But as an artist, I know how to make something from nothing, which I’ve learned is the creative key to building power.
As an artist, you get used to people attempting to determine the value of your creative work. If you were to listen only to the market’s measures of success, you might never release another song. You might never finish that painting or make that film. But luckily, artists tend to have a deeper sense of vision that drives us to create in spite of circumstance. Let’s call this intentionality. I’m talking about intention informing action in spite of circumstance — not a blind faith, but a steady belief in the ability to generate something from nothing with authenticity and hope. That is what I believe true art to be and that is how power works.
For the sake of today, let’s assume that there are three laws of power. Power concentrates, power justifies itself, power is infinite. That last one is my favorite. You see, people who hold power want the powerless to believe it’s a zero sum game, that there’s only so much power to go around and they have the monopoly on it. They try to hoard power and justify why they have it and we don’t. But the truth is, just like artists, we can generate our own power at any given moment because power, like creative energy, is infinite. We can rewrite the story by first asking who decides and why?
Reading power, understanding how it flows is key to effecting change. Eric Liu, the co-founder of Citizen University, wrote an amazing book called You’re More Powerful Than You Think – A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. Much of what I say today about power I learned from Eric.
In the book, Eric talks about how we give our power away daily in decisions big and small. We gave our power to Donald Trump, otherwise he wouldn’t be our President. And that’s actually why I’m here today. Because I want to reclaim that power. I voted in 2016, but that was pretty much the extent of my civic engagement. My friend Willow came over after the election, sat on my couch, cried, and then declared we were going to DC to march, something I agreed to not because I thought it would make a difference, but because I love my friend. When it came time to go, I was dreading the whole endeavor, to march around despairing in the dead of winter. I shared these misgivings with another friend who said, Katie, sometimes you just gotta put your body into it. She was right. I had to step into my power and by the time I got to DC, I felt a clarity of intention energize me just like the beginning of a new song.
What happens when intention informs action in spite of circumstance? What happens is 5 million people take to the streets in what is now called the largest protest in US history. I was one of them. Some of you were one of them, here in Nashville, all over the country. That was the moment my activist heart began to awaken to the sound of my artist voice. My artist mantra for so long has been “trust the process.” For me, the process of finding my activist voice was much like discovering my artist voice. It demanded integration of body, mind and spirit — all cylinders firing. Inner transformation leading to activation leading to something out of nothing. Intention informing action in spite of circumstance.
As soon as I found a willingness to show up and pay attention, my own unique voice — full of fear and confusion, resonated into impossible probable hope. I’m not talking about optimism because optimism applies to what you have no say in, like the Preds winning the Championship, or the weather today, but hope, hope invites participation. We can step into it. And we step into our power.
I was reading an article about the group of migrants, refugees, making their way to the US border, and it talked about one motivation being “a generalized sense of desperation and a generalized sense of hope for a better life.” Can we not all relate to that? It was desperation and hope that led to the creation of BriteHeart and brought me exactly where I am today, standing here with you in civic communion. But when I first looked for signs of hope in Tennessee, instead I saw great reason to fear.
I saw a state that was ranked nearly last in voter turnout, a state where 1.5 million people threw away their right to vote in the 2016 Presidential election and where 750,000 people of color, single women and under 30 are eligible to vote but have not registered. Voter turnout is directly correlated to the health of a democracy. It’s when we stop caring that things fall apart. And it seems they’ve been falling apart right and left.
This year the majority of the Tennessee General Assembly reinforced its disregard for women’s health and patients’ rights by stripping Medicaid patients of the right to choose Planned Parenthood for care, outright ignoring statewide support for the Women’s Health Equity Bill.
This year we had the passage of HB 2315, against the common will of the people, authorizing law enforcement to indiscriminately inquire about immigration status during routine interactions with residents, eroding our communities’ trust in local police.
Speaking of local police, where do we begin. Perhaps with the Driving While Black Report, conducted by Vanderbilt University and Gideon’s Army which concluded that “driving while black” constitutes a unique series of risks, vulnerabilities, and dangers at the hands of the Metro Nashville Police Department that white drivers do not experience in the same way. Upon reviewing MNPD’s traﬀic stop database, the report indicated that between 2011-2015, MNPD conducted 7.7 times more traﬀic stops annually than the U.S. national average and made more stops of black people than there were black people 16 years old and over living in Davidson County. This is mind blowing to me. And it’s in direct line with the fact that the highest incarceration rates in the country is right here in our very own 37208, North Nashville.
There’s an amendment on the ballot right now — Amendment 1, proposing a community oversight board, an advisory and investigative body that would offer suggestions and recommendations to Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) in cases of police misconduct and in the development of policy. This amendment exists because a group of individuals decided that there is injustice to be corrected and so their intention informed their action, in spite of circumstance. It is not easy to disturb the status quo. It is not easy to bring people together around any one issue, let alone one of systemic racism.
At the last Civic Saturday, Eric Liu reminded us that Tennessee was divided from east to west on whether to join the Confederacy. More battles of the Civil War were fought in Tennessee than in any other state. The battle of Nashville ended the war in Tennessee and we went on to become the first Southern state to ratify the 14th Amendment and the first to rejoin the Union. Andrew Johnson, our state senator, became military governor and eventually Lincoln’s vice president. After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson became president, undermined Reconstruction, betrayed the freedmen and vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. He was overridden and then impeached by a Republican Congress frustrated that Lincoln’s former deputy would turn out to be a friend of the unreconstructed Confederacy and a foe of black aspirations to citizenship. In 1869, Tennessee rejected the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave ex-slaves the vote – and didn’t ratify it until 1997. It was also our state that got women the vote in 1920, due to a young state legislator, Harry Burn from McMinn County, who got a call from his mother telling him to change his vote. Talk about calling your legislators.
People try to say that Tennessee doesn’t influence national politics, that we’re a one party state, that we don’t vote, that we don’t factor into the national scene. Just look at our history. The Civil Rights Movement played out on our very streets in the lunch counter sit-ins led by John Lewis, think of all that was birthed at the Highlander School and, ultimately all that was lost in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So much blood on our hands, deep in the roots of our land. The south is heavy with its own history and we continue to lurch toward freedom awkwardly, sluggishly– but we are moving.
I am reminded what Dr. King said in his letter from a Birmingham Jail: “There can be no deep disappointment, where there is not deep love.” All of us in this room are grappling with our love for America, with our own patriotism. For some the word patriot rankles. It conjures images of far right intolerance — people more concerned with their own liberty to do what they please than with liberty and justice for all. It is a complicated civic pride we possess, but the flag is ours to reclaim.
As Americans, can we still trust the process? Will the constitution hold true? Can we ride the wave. What color is the wave? Will we scale that glorious crest or will we end in the ultimate wipeout? And if we wipeout, will we stay afloat or be taken under? Will we ever make it to the shore again?
When I feel discouraged, I look around me and I find hope in community, in shared experience, in Civic Saturday. Just being here at Casa Azafran fortifies my heart, gives me courage, reminds me of my responsibility as a citizen, to participate in the democratic process that exists to protect the true dreamers of the American dream.
When I consider my own civic responsibility, I am challenged to lean into the constitution, to know it and test it and grapple with it as we see Dr King doing from the Birmingham Jail, when he writes: “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” He’s pleading the constitution which at the time was being used against him, to arrest and imprison him, but would also serve to liberate him and all people of color along with him. Our laws are resilient, flexible, able to be manipulated and therefore must constantly be measured against the civic moral intention that informed the very foundation of our country, complicated as it may be, by a human history of self-interest.
We are in a time where much is being asked of us. We can not just trust the process, we must participate in it. We must act intentionally, in spite of circumstance, as the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement did time and time again. Their faith in the constitution and in the American dream was undergirded by a moral fabric evidenced in the principles of nonviolence –love over hate, courage over fear; hope over despair.
It is the spirit of Music City to aspire for something greater, people come from all over the world to live their dreams here, to create something out of nothing, whether a song or a life for their family. 16 years ago, Conexión Américas was formed out of a great need to provide support for a rapidly growing population of Latino immigrants. The founders stepped right into the process, building something out of nothing and now Conexión Américas supports more than 6,000 Latino families annually, in achieving their American dreams. Today, Conexión Américas is recognized as a leading Hispanic force in the nation. In 2014, President Obama held a historic town hall here, where we now gather.
I have to believe that if President Obama were here today, he’d find hope as I do, in looking around at the faces in this room. I see Willow, Katelyn, Ingrid, Janelle, Bill, Chase, Britt, Jessica, Brad, Heather — so many BriteHearts with such bright presence and positive energy even as we approach the end of this marathon sprint to Election Day. I see our sponsors, John and Natasha Deane, not with us today because they are on a listening tour to better understand Tennessee’s needs for social justice so their foundation can more effectively help. I see David Plazas whose vision for Civility Tennessee has compelled our community to come together around shared democratic principles and deeper civic understanding. I see Monserrat Escobar speaking truth to power with the most courageous heart. I see Stephanie Urbina Jones boldy shifting the narrative of country music in Music City. I see Francie Hunt fighting for the rights of all individuals to make healthcare decisions on their own, to receive high-quality nonjudgmental care. I see the offices of Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, just down the hall and am reminded how they are relentlessly fighting to salvage our civic integrity and responsibility as Americans — to grant asylum for those seeking refuge and to treat them with dignity and respect. I see 25 million people across the country registering to vote since 2016. And I see each and every one of you, showing up on a Saturday morning searching for something real, some way to tie together our stories and find a shared sense of civic purpose in the midst of great social and political upheaval.
So, as we come to a close, I would ask you, what is your intention? Not only for yourself, but your community, your state, your country? Will you stand with Frederick Douglass for all people or just the privileged few? What civic intention will inform your action in spite of circumstance? Will you trust the process? Will you show up for it?
It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to the health of our democracy and therefore to your own health as an individual living in America. The more we participate, the more reason we have to hope, and if the record early voter turnout is any indication, I think we’re changing the game here and it’s not just due to Taylor Swift.
Regardless of what happens in the election, regardless of whether you think your vote actually counts, regardless of whether this gets passed or that person wins, we must continue to make it our business to read power, understand it, and reclaim it by participating in the process.
Today, if you have not yet voted, there is a polling location on the other side of that wall and we have non-partisan voter guides at the BriteHeart table in case you don’t know yet who deserves your vote. Let’s start there. Who will you show up for? Who will you take along with you? We’re all in this together as Americans, documented and undocumented. Let’s do it for each other and for the future of our freedom.
Civic Scripture Readings
Six Principles of Non-Violence
As described by Martin Luther King Jr in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom:
PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.
The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.
Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.
Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.
PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.
Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.
John Lewis, in the documentary Get In The Way:
I cannot explain it, it is impossible for me to say why and how I got involved in a cause or movement. I happen to believe maybe there is something in the universe or the environment or the spirit of history and you have to let yourself be used.
An excerpt from The Quest for Inclusion by Judith Shklar:
There is nothing equal about social standing in general. Nothing is more unequally distributed than social respect and prestige. It is only citizenship perceived as a natural right that bears a promise of equal political standing in a democracy.
A reading from Frederick Douglass speech, The Composite Nation, delivered in Boston, in 1869:
I have said that the Chinese will come, and have given some reasons why we may expect them in very large numbers in no very distant future. Do you ask, if I favor such immigration, I answer I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to vote? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would.
But are there not reasons against all this? Is there not such a law or principle as that of self-preservation? Does not every race owe something to itself? Should it not attend to the dictates of common sense? Should not a superior race protect itself from contact with inferior ones? Are not the white people the owners of this continent? Have they not the right to say, what kind of people shall be allowed to come here and settle? Is there not such a thing as being more generous than wise? In the effort to promote civilization may we not corrupt and destroy what we have? Is it best to take on board more passengers than the ship will carry?
I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours. Right wrongs no man. If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions. It would be a sad reflection upon the laws of nature and upon the idea of justice, to say nothing of a common Creator, if four fifths of mankind were deprived of the rights of migration to make room for the one fifth.