Sunday Morning ~ The Collective Drumbeat
Ng’oma ilira ikaona inzace. ~ The drum makes noise when it sees another drum.
~ Chewa proverb
May 30, 2021
Our annual midwifery meeting ended this week with an hour-long fireside chat with Angela Davis. The speakers, always great, were phenomenal this year. The meeting was virtual again and, though I missed being in the midst of all the midwifery energy, it was nice to log on and be part of the event while doing spring chores between sessions. Plus, I didn’t have to miss seeing my lilacs bloom. I’m a little worried I might have to ease back in to socialization, which, concerns me, having been such a part of who I am. I love(d?) being around people but now I find myself a little skittish at the thought of large groups. I hope I get over it.
Preparing for Angela Davis’s talk, I made my tea (happy it did not cost $4.95), got my note pad and pencil, and prepared to be wowed. I sat in my sunny greenhouse and thought about how different it might be sitting in a huge room with 2,000 midwives, seeing her small figure distant on a stage. The energy in the room would have been powerful. Many times she would have been interrupted with applause. But in the pandemic year 2021, she sat comfortably in what looked like a study or office, a frosted glass door behind her, her face filling the screen. Her words seemed perfectly chosen and none were wasted. Occasionally I could see the silhouette of a cat walking by. Having gotten so accustomed to using zoom and having conversations on a screen, it felt familiar. She looked much younger than I expected. The vice president of our organization asked her questions on a split screen, then as she began to answer, the screen would become fully her again. It was so well thought out, so well orchestrated, so easy to hear, even though the topic wasn’t. She did not disappoint.
I knew she’d been an activist during the 60’s and 70’s but really hadn’t understand her history or the magnitude of her influence. I knew she’d been arrested but thought it was for protesting. I had not known it was for accomplice in murder (a charge that was dropped after she served 18 months in prison). She talked about the fear of a potential death sentence. Then she talked about overcoming that fear and looking at the prison experience as a gift––“for how can you truly advocate unless you truly understand?” I scribbled down words as she spoke hoping to capture her wisdom, “transform grief into expressions that make new meanings for that grief. Create new futures.” She’s an educator. I think about the power of the position and wonder about a new focus. Her grace was magnetic. Every sentence was a lesson, a branch to hold on to. I stopped trying to write them all down. When asked how she maintains hope when the struggle has been going on so long, she talked about how change is a process; we should not look at it as a specific goal, but to lay the groundwork for the process to continue. She said in her lifetime she never expected to see as much progress as we’re experiencing now. I think that’s what I found most inspirational. That outlook, that recognition of how slow progress should not wear us down, that change is a process not a commodity. I decided to cling to that line, reframe my outlook, and stop the impatient feeling of failure when my goals are still unrealized.
She talked about the force of the collective as opposed to individuals. She said no matter how charismatic or influential a single person is they can never create the desired outcome; only a community can do that. The State of the World’s Midwifery report was recently released from the United Nations Population Fund, WHO, and the International Confederation of Midwives. I had my students read it and was impressed with their insights. We only had one class to discuss it but I wanted them to get a taste of the global perspective. The report also emphasizes the need for collective effort. It’s not only the US with a shortage of midwives, it is a worldwide problem. The educational programs are too small, too few, with too few educators modeling respectful maternity care. I found the report both upsetting and reassuring. Upsetting because this was identified thirty years ago, reassuring because it is now being discussed on a world stage. There are two bills in the US congress now allocating money to midwifery education. That’s a huge step forward. We now have a nurse-midwife in the Maine state senate. That’s another huge step forward.
So I’ll think of these steps as drumbeats, believing the noise will grow.
Love to all,