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To Stand Now Is to Tell Our Stories – by Tommy Orange


We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

To Stand Now Is to Tell Our Stories – by Tommy Orange

Root Barrett

I’ve been so excited about the good work being done through the All Together Now workshops across the country. Thinking back, I can’t really say I’ve had an opportunity ­– or I haven’t seen it ­– to take a stand, and to engage in the necessary civil disobedience required to go against the American grain. Even if it’s “only” telling our stories. If telling our stories is subversive to an ultimately damaging master narrative, then let our voices be like a march, and let them be heard by as many people as possible.

To stand now, in 2013, soon to be 2014, is to tell our stories; it is to undermine a narrative told to us subliminally, during the show and commercial. In all the flashing, sparkling, pornographic images that tell us who we are and what we should be. Our standing together now is just important as it ever was. Our march might happen virtually, in the decisions we make regarding how we vote, who we vote for, what we choose to buy, what we choose to watch, and what stories we tell and listen to, but it is nonetheless the way we express our discontent, or complicity with the modern world. These small decisions do make up what we all are, as do our stories.

My parents lived through the civil rights movement in the mountains of New Mexico. In Oklahoma. Inside the tipi. In ceremony. The fight I was raised up to fight was a spiritual one. The most important thing was my relationship with God, and in a world doomed, with an imminent apocalypse, working to make the world better seemed beside the point.

When the Intertribal Friendship House agreed to co­host an All Together Now workshop, I felt it would be a great opportunity for people from our community to tell stories from a lesser known corner of the civil rights movement(s), i.e. the Occupation of Alcatraz, the AIM Movement, and the Wounded Knee “incident.”

We came together on a Saturday in early December. It was cold, for Oakland, and there was an absolutely vibrant procession of around 5000 people marching down International Blvd. to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, preceding the start of our meal together before the story circle.

The number of participants seemed to mysteriously grow, right up until the story circle actually started. There were ten of us sitting in a circle, heads bowed, as one of the participants started the circle with a prayer, and by burning sage and passing it around.

Those around the circle included: a woman from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe who told us about her time on Alcatraz at the time of the occupation in 1969 (story featured below); a Lumbi woman, and mental health awareness advocate, who talked about the importance of people of color unifying to help move the field of mental health forward in a culturally competent way; another woman talked about being a lost bird from the Cherokee nation, losing her son and then finding him again; there was a Lakota youth who told the story of being an Urban Native, and then going to an all Native school, and feeling isolated; then there was a man named Michael Horse, who was actually on the cast of the David Lynch series, Twin Peaks, who told a story about how the witnessing of a hardened youth being changed by his relationship with a horse, inspired him to live a life devoted to helping at risk youth; there was a story of a long time Black Panther, and how he came to work in his community and to advocate for the rights of people like himself; and finally, there was the story of an ally who marched for civil rights, using his cunning to best his adversaries.

By the time we finished, there was a strength and weight in the room, which I felt empowered and humbled by in equal measure. The sun had set, stories had been told and told well, and there was a feeling not unlike being amongst family in the space. A commonality that seemed to transcend our apparent differences. There was love there.

To apply to take part in workshops happening across the country, or to find out how to sponsor a workshop, please visit our website. Whether or not there's a workshop in your town, you will be able to access the growing collection of stories on our All Together Now page and eventually, to add your own story.