Updated: May 19, 2019
In March, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) hosted their Come to the Table Conference in Charlotte at which Monica White was the keynote speaker. My pen hurriedly scribbled note after note. I didn’t want to miss any part of what she had to say. Here are some of the highlights from her keynote:
“The Farmer is the only free man in our race.” ~ Benjamin Carr
“An asset based approach changes our interaction. It changes what we are looking for and how we feel.” ~Monica White
“Keep your historical documents, your organizational biographies.” ~ Monica White
There are different kinds of resistance: Disruptive, Nondisruptive, Everyday Resistance.
After I heard Dr. White speak, I went straight to the book table to purchase her book, Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance And The Black Freedom Movement. You are going to want to read Monica White’s Freedom Farmers book. Here’s why…
Dr. White details three grounding strategies for collective agency and community resilience in Freedom Farmers: Commons as Praxis, Prefigurative Politics, and Economic Autonomy. “Commons as Praxis,” she writes, “engages and contests dominant practices of ownership, consumerism, and individualism and replaces them with shared social status and shared identities of race and class.” Commons as praxis embodies cooperation and collective. It is a shared ideology and practice that serves the well being of all.
Prefigurative Politics is a philosophy and enactment that was used during the Occupy Movement. Prefigurative Politics is basically “do the thing you’re talking about, embody the world you’re dreaming of.” For an organization, practicing Prefigurative Politics means creating an organizational culture that reflects its values. For a church, Prefigurative Politics looks a lot like Realized Eschatology, Kin-dom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. To be an incarnational practitioner is Prefigurative Politics. Dr. White puts it this way, “place-based alternative practices, and alternative experiments in everyday living…[it] begins with with the awareness that members of a group have been excluded from the political process. The group responds by developing free spaces to meet without fear of repression to share their grievances and to foster and discuss innovative ideas that will help them move toward freedom and liberation.” (pg 9)
Dr. White’s historical research points to folks who were experiencing oppression and repression and who resisted and persevered. Her work describes constructive resistance strategies such as collective agency and community resilience and tells about social actors’ “ability to create and enact behavioral options necessary to affect change for their future.” Freedom Farmers gives insight on ways to adjust, withstand, and absorb disturbance and to reorganize while undergoing change. Black Farmers used food production as a Prefigurative strategy of developing social relationships and autonomy. Freedom Farmers illuminates the contributions of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, W.E.B Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer with pictures, historical records, and stories of their active participation in collective agency and community resilience.
In my own work, Freedom Farmers’ strategies resonate with personal mantras such as “where all may flourish,” “cultivating community for the common good,” and “another world is possible. In the past, personal explorations of Commons as Praxis have taken shape in communal living, Hallowed Placemaking (pt 2, pt 3), and Abundance Lab. I sense growth and deepening in Commons as Praxis as I hope to explore Rental Equity Partnerships and Youth Organizing.
If you are searching for the “alternative community structures that activists have created to meet community needs- whether social, political, or economic,” if you are “investigating those who share collective identity and who join together in efforts to create new social forms.” or if you are wanting to be inspired by resilient black farmers who faced a system head on and forged new pathways in the midst of oppression, Freedom Farmers is for you. Freedom Farmers is certainly an important read such a time as this.