Interview with Reverend Mariama White-Hammond
Clergy Standing With Standing Rock
November 3, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
About 300 clergy and lay people from all over the country this morning, answering a call that was put out for the religious community to come to Standing Rock for an action to stand in solidarity with the Native people. Following is an interview, at Standing Rock, with one of those who answered that call.
Revolution: Tell us your name and who you are with.
Reverend White-Hammond: I’m Reverend Mariama White-Hammond and I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, I’m a minister of Bethel AME Church in Boston.
Revolution: And why are you here?
Reverend White-Hammond: There are so many reasons. I think the biggest reason is that we were asked to come. I have been following what has been going on at Standing Rock. I am also part of a group in Massachusetts that’s resisting a fracked-gas pipeline. And what we realize is, in addition to these pipelines being dangerous—so that is the first issue is that there’s just no regard for the human life that’s here right now, no regard for the beauty of this creation, of God’s creation, that we don’t have a right to destroy in the here and now. But we also know that this system, this way of being, this addiction to fossil fuels, is the death sentence for our future generations. And so I’m a clergy person and I felt called to be there to help people find who they’re supposed to be, really connect with their deeper spiritual traditions. I work, for instance, with people who have addiction. And it’s a real hard thing for people to turn around, and I think our country has an addiction. And I so I’m here because I feel like Standing Rock is calling out that addiction. Not just for themselves but also to lead us in the way that we need to be going and we’re not going.
So, as a person of African descent I felt it was of particular importance because we have also felt the oppression that comes when people don’t honor our lives, don’t think that we matter, don’t think that we have the same rights to live in our land and be safe that everybody else has. And so I felt it was important to come for that reason. But I see so many things connecting in this. It’s not just one thing—there were so many things that called to me to be here.
November 3: 300 clergy and lay people from all over the country this morning, answering a call that was put out for the religious community to come to Standing Rock for an action to stand in solidarity with the Native people. Photos: Special to revcom.us
Revolution: What would you tell people who are listening to this or reading what you have to say about why they should come here?
Reverend White-Hammond: I think some people should come here. But I also think we need to stand in solidarity all across the country. Going back to Massachusetts we’re asking, what are the financial interests, what are the governmental interests that are also helping this to happen here. So I think we need people to come here to stand, to push back. But we also need to make it untenable in other places. It’s not OK for big banks to pretend like they have nothing to do with this. They do have something to do with this. And we need to make them feel this all across the country, not just here. So I think it’s important to come here. But I also think, not everybody is going to be able to come, it costs a lot of money sometimes to come. And I think that there’s also a strong importance to being in solidarity where you are—to seeing the interconnectedness between these institutions that make this happen. We see the police out here, right? There’s a few of them in the car but they are backed by lots of other people who are not here, but need to be held accountable for what is happening here.
Revolution: I guess what I would pose is, here we have a system of capitalism-imperialism; there has been a genocide that has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years. There’s right now an epidemic of police killing Black and Latino people in this country, there’s the mass incarceration; the wars for empire. There’s what you talked about, the addiction to fossil fuels and the destruction of the environment. I guess the question I would pose to you, from your point of view, what is it actually going to take to change all this?
Reverend White-Hammond: It’s interesting, I just was having a real deep conversation—so, for me I believe this is a spiritual crisis. For instance, for years scientists have been telling us about climate change but people don’t seem to be able to move. And part of what it is, is I think that we are sold a way of being, a way of living. A lot of that has to do with manifest destiny and why people came here and you’re gonna have this better life. And now I think more people are awakening to the reality that that “better life” was always built on the oppression of other people. It was built on the oppression of people in Central America. It was built on the degradation of the land. And so now that we are getting more clear on the costs—and some of us have felt the costs for a long time. But I think more and more people are getting clear about the costs—we have to ask ourselves the fundamental question like, are we ready to walk away from this way of being and into a new way?
Do I have all the solutions? No. Do I know how we’re going to get there? Not exactly. But I do know we need a new economy. We need a new way of being with each other. We need a new way of being in community with each other. We need to be a lot more local instead of shipping things all over the world, which we now know that way of being doesn’t work. But you can recognize something is wrong. This is a human challenge; we often see something in our lives and know it’s wrong. But it’s hard, it’s hard work to say I’m gonna walk away from this into something else. And so that’s why I think as people of faith, as clergy folks, we have a specific responsibility to say we want to help you find the moral and personal courage to walk away from a system we know is not working, as well as the vision and creativity to imagine what a new world would be like.
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