10 Ways to Disconnect from the Next Generation of Progressives

A few weeks ago, I posted this video made by and for some friends of mine:

I have been thinking about this video a great deal when it comes to staying connected to that “next” generation of progressive minds and hearts. Now I realize that there are many ways to define both “progressive” as well as the “next generation,” but rather than fill this post with disclaimers and definitions, I’ll take my chances and  leave it up to you all to define these terms as you will. With this in mind, I hope these 10 ideas can be applied across many ideological and cultural landscapes, but again, I’ll leave this up to you.

In many ways, I do believe that whatever and whoever next generation is shaping up to be, they will cultivate and form a posture and culture of justice-seeking with or without those of us who have come before. I simply think that if we are part of future movements in helpful ways, the entire endeavor will that much stronger. So I write this list, not as much about that next generation, but to my own and those before me. For if we want our good work and our dreams for a better tomorrow to keep moving towards justice for all, we must do everything we can to stay in relationship with those who have been and will be taking our place at the table.

Mock newcomers – Choruses of “It’s about time…” or “Are we still talking about this…” or “That’s what I’ve been saying for years…” in response to folks first discovering a passion and conviction about issues of justice is not only unhelpful, but it is incredibly arrogant and short sighted. Not only does this assume some higher evolutionary ideological stature, but that the process of justice is somehow passed from generation to generation by osmosis as if is the fault of the next generation for not just knowing. Sure, when hearing about people first diving into issues of race, gender, etc. it is hard NOT to feel smug and self-righteous, but these attitudes will only lead to further alienation and exclusion of current and future justice-seekers.

Dismiss youth – Too often we old folks adopt a thinly veiled, “Isn’t that cute…” attitude when young people raise their voices. We mock idealism, use young folks as window dressing, and  we lean into the idea that longevity is the greatest indicator of value and worth. We use young people and their perceived progressive ideology to support what we believe, but we really do not take them seriously or allow their voices to help shape and form progressive thought as a whole. When we do this, we subconsciously set up a “kid’s table” only making room for young people when they grow up — assuming they want to sit with us in the first place.

Foster failure – Well intentioned older folks sometimes throw young people into situations where they are setup to fail. Again, in order for us to pump up our own, “See, we empower young people!” credibility, we place them in situations where gifts and skills are not utilized well, organizational culture is toxic or it’s just not where this person should be serving. And when they fail or falter, unfair as it is, we feed the stereotype of the slacking, unprepared, and flighty young person. When we do this we set up future young folks because, not only do they have to prove their own capacity for leadership, but they must also overcome past negative assumptions based on previous experiences of young leadership.

Create chaos – As we feel our own power and authority waning, we yearn for situations where we can re-establish our place in the power structure. When these situations naturally present themselves, fine, but when we create chaos solely so we can swoop in and save the day, not only do we do a disservice to ourselves, but we weaken the organization or movement as a whole. When it comes to setting up young people, what better way for the grizzled veteran to save the day than to come in after a young person has failed (see above) and prove that we are still needed.

Assume authority – “Because I said so!” may work in some parenting situations, but when fostering leadership in today’s climate of crowd-sourcing, social networking and Wikipedia, it falls flat. Sure, some aspects of longevity deserve respect, but by the same token, simply being around for a long time, does not mean one has automatic credibility and authority. Believe me, I wish it did.

Hold on to power – I have been told by some older folks when talking about the future, “You just want to get rid of us.” This is patently untrue, but what I want is for those of us who have historically held positions of power, formal and informal, to be able to shift out of those positions with grace and joy. It seems as if we too often believe that the only option to not holding an position of power is obsolescence when, in fact, our legacies will be that much stronger if we are able to shift in our roles from leading and driving to supporting and mentoring. When we are able to make these transitions without anxiety or resentment, that which holds  importance can be transferred from generation to generation, while that which needs to change can be driven by those who truly understand and embrace that change.

Assume mentorship – Okay, so while I do say we older folks must shift into mentoring roles, we must not assume that everyone can, should or wants to be mentored by us. Sometimes, our best move is to simply step away and trust that the movement or organization truly is bigger than any single person . . . yes, even us. Assumed or forced mentoring, is rarely helpful as mentoring is not only about passing on knowledge, but finding a synergy of personality, passions and perspective. We can and must offer to be this for folks who may be open to what we have to offer, but we must also not take it personally or become jaded when our mentoring is not embraced.

Be unteachable – My greatest mentors and teachers have always been the ones who are well-experienced, but are clearly still thirsting for knowledge and know-how. The whole idea that we should never stop learning, when modeled well, is not only good for our brain-function, but an inspiring and helpful posture of leadership to pass along. For when we are not open to different ways of seeing, experiencing and navigating the world, we model leadership that is calcified and stagnant, and not leadership that is robust and forward-thinking.

Abdicate authority – Getting older and shifting out of positions of power does not mean disappearing from sight. I get frustrated when people who have such a wealth of knowledge and experience, just disappear. Often well-intentioned gestures of “getting out of the way,” we lose something when an entire generation of knowledge simply goes away. The ways in which we will stay connected, both in tactic and time, will vary depending on many variables, but there will be moments when the stories, strategies and leanings of the past will be integral to the journey towards a better future.

Embrace hypocrisy – Few us of us can live up to the perfection of that we so often demand of others so at some level we are all hypocritical when it comes to our lives. That said, I also know that we are often confronted with situations where we act knowing that there are inherit inconsistencies when it comes to building community, fighting for justice and seeking reconciliation. Some examples of this that I believe disconnect us from future generations — being kind, compassionate and understanding only towards those which whom we agree, demanding ideological and/or platform loyalty over the building of relationships, and using tactics of violence and exclusion in the fight against violence and exclusion. So while integrity and consistency are difficult postures to embody 24/7, as difficult as it may be, when a situation presents itself where we can be more consistent, our collective future demands that we choose to do so.

Honorable mentions – Not being able to receive and respond to critique . . . Not being able to admit when mistakes have been made . . . Seeing compromise and graciousness as signs of weakness . . . Crossing the line from righteous indignation to to mean-spiritedness . . . Unacknowledged and unregulated insider-speak . . .

Now of course, there is much in this post that is severely subjective and admittedly incomplete, so I would welcome any pushback, additions and/or tweaks that you might offer, but I hope these might spur some good conversation as we strive for a better future.


FREE DOWNLOAD and My Interview with Leslie Rodriguez of Humming House

In 2009 I had the privilege of meeting Leslie Rodriguez at a collegiate event at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. Leslie was a member of the music team and I was one of the speakers. I remember having some great conversations about the state of the church, issues of justice and life in general. Through the wonders of the interwebs we have stayed in contact over the years even the point that she and Javier came to photograph our family portraits.

Leslie is an amazing singer, talented photographer and oh, yeah . . . and she’s also a PhD student. Whaaaaaat?!?!?

But now, I wanted to give some blog space to her latest project as a member of the band, Humming House. Leslie is bringing her gift of song, social media and spirit to this band and they are taking some next big steps in their careers. I caught up with Leslie for a little interview about her life, passions and her glamorous rock star life.

But first things first — linkapalooza!

So Leslie, I’ve known you for almost 5 years now and one of the most interesting things about you has been the breadth of interests and passions that you have. You also don’t dabble in any of them, but seem to go all in be it academics, music, social media, the dogs, gardening, etc. For those who might not know about all of your interests and passions, can introduce yourself?

There’s a lot going on, but it boils down to music, photography, social justice, languages, and other cultures. I have been singing on stage since I was a kid – starting with open mic nights in Louisville with my dad to playing actual gigs are bars and restaurants around Louisville. We moved to Nashville in 2004 and started playing shows around town, including at the Bluebird Cafe, 3rd and Lindsley, Puckett’s – a few iconic Nashville venues. I moved to Nashville to go to college at Belmont University, and it was there that I developed an interest in languages, particularly after studying abroad in Spain and learning Spanish. I met more Brazilians than Spaniards in Spain, which sparked an interest in Latin America and Portuguese. I got my first Master’s degree at Vanderbilt University through their Center for Latin American Studies and was a FLAS (Foreign Language Area Studies) fellow with a specialty in Portuguese. I married Javier in 2009 and together we started my photography business (capturedbyleslie.com). I’ve been working on photography ever since, shooting weddings and family portraits as a side business. It”s been a really great artistic outlet for me. Through the CLAS program I began to get involved in immigration issues around Nashville, which directed my interests toward Sociology and ultimately funneled me into the Sociology PhD program at Vanderbilt University, where I have been studying racism and immigration since 2010. I completed my second Master’s degree this past summer and passed my first qualifying exam on race and racism in May before I decided to take a one-year hiatus to tour and make music with Humming House.

Wow. You are such a slacker 😉

Okay, so now that you are on hiatus from academic life and going all rock star on us . . . how DID you connect with Humming House?

I’ve been friends with two of the four guys in Humming House since college and was actually in another band with the Humming House mandolin player (Josh) in college, so this was an easy transition for me. Josh actually overheard me making a new years resolution in January to play more music in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the guys in Humming House called me up in February asking if I wanted to join them. Kristen Rogers, the previous female vocalist, decided to leave the band in January to pursue other musical endeavors in the city, so there was an open slot and I was thrilled to have the chance to play music with them. I was a fan of Humming House from the beginning, so not only was it an easy transition for me in terms of knowing the guys in the band but I also liked the music. It’s very similar to music I grew up listening to and playing with my dad around Louisville and Nashville, so it was a great fit for me.

I bet most of us deep, deep down would love to be rock stars. That said, I realize that it’s probably not all red carpet walks and caviar dreams. So tell us, what is it like being in a band trying to make it in music world?

I’ll admit, the guys are much better at answering this kind of stuff than I am since they’ve been in this world longer than I have. That said, it can be awfully tiring and stressful, particularly since two of the guys work full time jobs and the other three of us are always looking for ways outside of touring to pay the bills. Both of those situations add their own special kind of stress to this job. On the bright side, it’s a highly creative and rewarding experience. We all really like each other, and we like our contemporaries. Sure, the Nashville music scene is a competitive place, but from personal experience Nashville is full musician friends that actually want to support each other. We want to see our friends’ bands succeed, and collaboration happens all of the time. I think being on the road does take away from the creative processes that tend to happen when you’re at home and have time to think, rehearse, arrange, marinate on ideas and see them come to fruition. So that’s probably one of the more stressful parts of this job: making sure that in the process of bringing the music to as many people as possible all over the country that we maintain a creative edge.

So with all of this going on in your life, how do you stay balanced?

Fancy rock star life!

To show you how fancy it is That’s me, in the back of the tour van, with a blanket over my face to block out other noises so I can talk to my husband, Javier, in “private.” Javier has been an amazing source of support and enthusiasm. I can’t emphasize how encouraging and helpful it is to have someone back in Nashville to root for me while I’m gone and welcome me when I come back home from a stretch of time on the road. Of course having Javier (and the dogs!) far away from me is something incredibly difficult, but Javier knows as much as I do how important it is to follow a path toward a meaningful and fulfilling career. Javier recently quit his job to go back to school for nursing, so he’s busy studying at Vanderbilt while I’m on the road. We both made a career switch at the same time, so we’re supporting each other. When I’m home, we do everything together – gardening, cooking, hiking, training the dogs, being outside as much as possible. We also spend a lot of weekend time with my parents and gma. When I’m away we talk every single day. I make a point to make sure there’s a window in the day when we can talk – my schedule is more flexible than his. That said, our schedules are totally opposite – his day ends around 4 or 5PM and that’s around the time when we arrive at a venue for soundcheck. I also keep in touch (though not quite as well, they’ll tell you) with my folks, sending them photos of the venues where I’m playing, views from the road, etc. Communications technology is a game changer in this business. We can do FaceTime, we still blog while I’m on the road, we text all day every day when I’m gone – all of which helps. I can’t imagine being married and in a touring band before we had all of these wonderful gadgets…

My church family is another part of maintaining a balanced life. I love Second Pres in Nashville and all of the folks there. I’m on the communications committee, so I try to keep in the loop on the things I’m missing when I’m gone. I’m glad we’re not on the road during the advent season…that’s my favorite time at Second Pres!

Okay now the important stuff . . . Humming House seems to be going for it in a big way by launching a Kickstarter Project for a second album while offering a free download of the first album on Noisetrade. This seems like a great idea, what can people expect from both albums?

This was actually a happy accident. We knew we wanted to go into the studio in January, and we knew we wanted the money before we started recording. Meanwhile, several months ago we already arranged with Noisetrade to have the first album available for free for two weeks starting Nov. 19. We didn’t want the Kickstarter to overlap with Christmas, and the most convenient time to start happened to be toward the end of November. Turns out, the timing is great – we’re hoping the free album will help us reach a wider audience that will in turn be enthusiastic about contributing to the second album. We’re also releasing the album (along with a B-side, unreleased track called “Anywhere”) as a huge Thank You to all of our supportive fans. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to own the album yet but likes our music can take this opportunity to download and listen to their heart’s content.

The first album is rooted in folk, roots and Americana influences, with some traditional Irish flare infused in a few of the tunes. Our lead singer Justin Wade Tam wrote all of the songs on the first album, and his lyrical stylings hinge on storytelling, which remains true for the second album as well. The next album, however, is more of a collaboration between members in the band – Josh is another fantastic songwriter in the group and Ben and Bobby both brought their talents for composition and arrangement to bear on the new tunes. It’s still folksy, but this time there are stronger elements of rock and pop in the mix.

Okay, so now that people have backed the Kickstarter Project and downloaded the free album, pay it forward a bit — what people or organizations are doing some cool stuff these days?

Particularly after the devastating typhoon in the Philippines but also because of everything they do, I know Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is making a huge difference in the world. On the local level, I really believe in the organization known as Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP). Tennessee has the 10th largest death row in the country, and this organization is doing everything in its power to fix this broken system and fight for better alternatives. I have always been strongly against the death penalty and I want to do everything I can to support this group. There are so many other local groups in Nashville – I really love Nashville advocacy – but another group that I’m closely tied to particularly because of the work my church does with them is Room in the Inn. Room in the Inn started through four Nashville congregations that made a commitment to provide shelter to homeless individuals during the cold winter months. Today there is an entire campus in downtown Nashville that provides a number of services and programs for the Nashville homeless population to help the homeless regain control over their lives. My congregation continues to shelter the homeless through Room in the Inn during the winter months, and I think this is a really important and compassionate program that helps make Nashville great.

Thanks so much Leslie and I am looking forward to following your adventures as they unfold in music and life!

Good luck Humming House and for those who want a little taste . . . from the parlor sessions, a little Billie Jean cover magic with Leslie on lead vocals.