Dorothy Day, and some early thoughts for post election intentional living

Prior to this year, the last time I dressed up for Halloween I was Dorothy Day. My Facebook memory post for that day reminds me that I had at least 15 conversations with people about DD that day, I passed out at least 50 copies of my newspaper, and only had one person ask me if I was a hobo. See the picture below, and you can tell how their question was a valid one.

Me, a very tired Dorothy Day…with my own version of The Catholic Worker, letting people know about poverty and affordable housing issues in Nashville,

I began to know of Dorothy Day several years ago, when my family and I started spending time with the Catholic Worker/Radical Christian community in Bloomington, Indiana.  I have gradually learned more about her over the years, and everything I have learned fascinates me, inspires me, and helps me think about what it means to live out my faith in the context of a broader political and social system that I don’t always love or agree with.   

As I have been thinking about what might happen in the wake of the US presidential election on this coming Tuesday, I have been thinking more about Dorothy Day, and how I am called to live in the world, no matter who wins and loses on Tuesday.

In case you don’t know much about her, I think it important to give a little background.  This information comes from my brain over the years, and a variety of sources, including Wikipedia.  Don’t tell my students 🙂

Dorothy Day was born in 1897.  As a young girl of 8, she survived the San Francisco earthquake, and talked in later years about the memories of seeing people help each other in the rubble.  Her father was a journalist, and during a period of his job loss, she and her family lived in a tenement in Chicago. It was this experience that opened her eyes to what it was like to live in poverty.

As her father’s job situation changed for the better, they moved elsewhere in Chicago, but Dorothy would go out for walks throughout the city.  She said that this time gave her direction toward her vocation, and that she felt the calling of being linked to the lives of people who were struggling.  This direction toward her calling was also shaped by the books she read, including The Jungle, which is set in Chicago in the meat packing industry, which was another backdrop for her long walks throughout the city.

She won a scholarship to college at the University of Illinois, but left after a couple of years to move to New York and work as a journalist.  She marched and demonstrated in front of the White House for women’s right to vote in 1917, and she was arrested for this, serving 15 days before being released.  While this was her first experience with incarceration, it would certainly not be her last as she was arrested many times over the years for her social justice work, and she served her last sentence in 1973 at the age of 75 for her protests with farm workers in California. 

Sometimes I have asked students just to look at her in that moment of solidarity with farmworkers (below) and tell me what they see. I always love their responses, and my question to them is usually this: How do we get to that place of peace and resolution amidst chaos and injustice and violence in our world today?

Photo from New Yorker, via Bob Fitch Photography Archive / Department of Special Collections / Stanford University Libraries

I think the answer to this question of how we get there is rooted in some of Dorothy Day’s work in her “Catholic Worker” years. Particularly, the ideas of personalism, non-violence, the works of mercy, and “the little way” are key.

Personalism is  “taking personal responsibility for changing conditions, rather than looking to the state or other institutions to provide impersonal ‘charity’ (

Nonviolence includes “refusal to pay taxes for war, to register for conscription, to comply with any unjust legislation” and includes “participation in nonviolent strikes and boycotts, protests or vigils” (

Works of mercy are grounded in the Gospel.  Day’s vision for Catholic Worker houses of hospitality was that these would be places to practice acts of love and radical hospitality.  She believed that these acts were necessary “so that the poor can receive what is, in justice, theirs: the second coat in our closet, the spare room in our home, a place at our table. Anything beyond what we immediately need belongs to those who go without” (

Finally, “the little way” is an idea that Dorothy Day learned from the writings of Saint Therese of Lisieux.  The concept of “the little way” is similar to personalism, but with the reminder that change starts with me, and that no action is too small if it is an action that is rooted in justice. As she wrote later, “a pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions”.

These are ways I can live more intentionally in the world. Even though the directions aren’t always easy or convenient or clear, it is work that I can do while simultaneously working for change at larger system levels.

So…whatever has happened in the election world, when I wake up on Wednesday I am planning on living like Dorothy and encouraging my family, my faith community, and my students to do the same.

Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy: A playlist of belonging

Like many teachers this semester, I am teaching in what is called a “hyflex” model, which means that there are students in the “zoom room” at the same time that I have students in the physical space. My classroom for this particular course only holds 8 students (to maintain appropriate physical distance) so there are always more students on the computer than in the room. We are over the midpoint of the semester and even in the best of times, this is the point at which people are tired and yet still have a lot of work to do. And this is not the best of times: an ongoing pandemic, a contentious election cycle, and all the other things that people have going on makes for a lots of possibilities for stress.

Photo by William White on Unsplash

I started class today by inviting students to share a song that is a “go to” for them when they need some peace, or a smile on their face, or a bit of joy. I had several zoom students submit songs in the chat room, and the students in the room shared some as well. I compiled the playlist and posted it on our course Blackboard site so that students could access it. I have heard from several students throughout the day how much they appreciated this. A small change of pace, a chance to connect with peers in a different way, and a gentle reminder from their professor that it is good to stop and reflect on things that bring us joy.

In 1964, Dr. King was invited to write an opening program for the first jazz festival in Berlin. You can read more of the backstory and details at the link below, but in reading this I was struck by Dr. King’s discussion about the power of music. While he was particularly discussing jazz and the blues, I think its relevant for all forms of music:

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

(Read More: Martin Luther King Jr. on the Power of Music |

I see this truth every day: Everybody does long for meaning. Everybody does need to love and be loved. Most everybody I meet would like to clap hands and be happy. I do think everybody longs for faith…even if their faith doesn’t look like mine.

Here is the list of songs that bring my students joy, or at least a smile. Shared willingly in our strange-pandemic-hyflex-classroom. Building community one zoom session at a time.

Still Feel – Half Alive

Dance with Me – Shockley

Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest

Sunny Days – Allen Stone

Shambala – three dog night

Hozier—any of his music, I love it

Generational Synthetic (demo version) – Beach Fossils

Disney Girls – Beach Boys

Stayin’ Alive by The Bee Gees

Deep Sea Diver by briston Maroney

Clearly – Grace Vanderwaal

Free to Be Me—Francesca Battistelli

Lovely Day – Bill Withers

Cheesin’ – Cautious Clay, Remi Wolf, others

Its not living (if its not with you) – The 1975

Let it all out – Coin

Reborn – kid cudi

I love you so much-DJ Khaled

Closer to Fine- Indigo Girls

Oh bla di bla da – The Beatles

“…Crosses and diseases, whiskey and guns…” my journey toward Indigenous Peoples Day

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel with a colleague and some students and my family on a Maymester trip out west. We spent a week on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, where we were able to learn from elders and other leaders about the land and some of the ways of life and culture of the Lakota people. Throughout the rest of our travels we also were able to visit the Crazy Horse memorial, the Wind Cave, the Little Bighorn Battlefield site, and Devil’s Tower. Spending time on native land was humbling for me, and eye opening, and every day I realized how much I didn’t know about Indigenous peoples.

One of the books we asked students to read before leaving for the trip was Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder by Kent Nerbern. The title of this blog post comes from the book. It is a powerful book for hearing stories from a Lakota elder as told to a white author. It is also powerful and humbling to see the author struggle with how to really hear the stories, and not to whitewash them. The book is a good teaching tool to better understand Native culture, It is also a good reflecting tool for members of the majority culture to ask ourselves what stereotypes we have been believing, and to ask how we have been complicit in cultural appropriation. (There are other questions we can ask ourselves as well, these are just the first two that come to mind!)

I have been thinking of this book lately (and apparently there is a film version of it) because of the approaching day that many people recognize as Columbus Day. Certainly, for most of my life that’s how I have referred to this Monday in October. However, I have been challenged in recent years to think about it as Indigenous Peoples Day. There are many reasons this shift is important but to me the most important reason is to stop glorifying someone who enslaved people and to recognize and honor instead the people who were here on the land when Europeans invaded it.

As usual, the Zinn Education Project has some great resources for teaching and learning about Indigenous Peoples Day: Teaching Tolerance has some great information as well:

In terms of social work education and other important topics for students to know about, I find that discussing the “boarding school movement” is really important, and can wake students up to clear examples of historical practices on the part of the government and well meaning church people that have contributed to challenges faced by some Indigenous people today. This is a helpful resource: and so is this one

Devil’s Tower

This of course is connected to the Indian Child Welfare Act. Originally passed in 1978, this legislation has been re-authorized regularly since then and yet there are still failures of the system in applying this law to Indigenous children and families, which further removes children from their culture in an already traumatic time. The National Indian Child Welfare Association is a great resource for all things ICWA:

Finally, to circle back to the beginning of this post, here’s some history on the move to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as opposed to Columbus Day:

"The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are" ~Maya Angelou

We shall overcome

A few years ago I was looking for just the perfect short video to illustrate something in one of my classes. (The amount of time in my life I have spent looking for “just the perfect short video” on any given topic is, to quote a former student, redonkulous. Anyway, I digress…)

I don’t remember the topic of the video I was looking for, but the video I happened to come across was a powerful 17 minute documentary about the Selma to Montgomery march. This documentary was filmed by Stefan Sharff during the march itself, then lost or forgotten and eventually rediscovered a few years after his death.

The only words heard in the 17 minutes are toward the end, excerpts from Dr. King’s speech at the capitol. You can find the entire speech here: but the part included in the documentary is this below:

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

(Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March)

Before you get to those words, however, you hear only the sound of some protest music of the era (“This Little Light of Mine”, “I’m So Glad”, “We are Soldiers in the Army” and “We Shall Overcome”) juxtaposed against the sound of helicopters above the marchers. It is both hopeful and ominous, a feeling that seems to fit well for this time.

I showed this video today, the day after the first Presidential debate. The class is one on nonviolent resistance to achieve social change, and today we finished up a two week look at the civil rights work done in the 60s. So, the video certainly fits in our context. However, I think it could be used as a general discussion starter for a number of classes or groups as we move deeper into the election cycle.

Here are some of the questions we discussed: What do you notice about the people marching? What do you hear in these sounds? And (this is the big one): what do you see represented here in the video that you hope for in the here and now?

This question sparked such good discussion. We talked about solidarity, and what it looks like. We talked about the flag and the whole range of things it symbolizes for people. We talked about the premise, and the promise, of the ballot box. We talked about the importance of all the elections, from the small local ones all the way up to the highest office in the land. We talked about the current Wallaces of our nation. We talked about the music of the resistance today, and my students said it sounds different, less hopeful, than the music of that era.

We talked about why we are still having aspects of this conversation, 55 years after the march from Selma to Montgomery.

We talked again about voting, and getting out the vote.

We shall overcome.


Today, by the time my class started, students were already aware of the decision handed down from the grand jury in Lousiville as related to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. One of my students, who is a young woman of color, said she was in a despair pit. She said she wasn’t sure that she could feel hope, specifically about about our country and the injustice that she can see everywhere she turns. She said she feels like nothing she could do, that any of us could do, could make a difference.

I didn’t know what to say to her. I still don’t. But I hear her. Once again, justice has not been served.

This did make me remember a series in the New York Times obituary section: Overlooked No More. This section of the newspaper features posthumous obituaries of people whose contributions are now considered remarkable, but whose deaths were overlooked by the editors of the paper. A couple of years go I read the obituary for Georgia Gilmore, who was active in the work of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in some creative ways:

She and a group of friends sold food they had made (first sandwiches, then whole meals) out of their homes, out of beauty parlors, laundromats, and other establishments. The friends turned all their money over to Georgia, who in turn gave all the money they earned (hundreds of dollars each week) to the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). This money allowed the MIA to sustain the boycott as long as possible (381 days in total). Ms. Gilmore referred to her friends as the “Club from Nowhere” which allowed the women and their supporters, some of whom were white, to remain anonymous. In later years, she said she hoped the work had encouraged ordinary people to do similar kinds of work. The story of her work is also featured in this NPR segment: and there is also a children’s picture book called Pies From Nowhere. I loved learning about all of this a couple of years ago, and I value teaching students about the role that “regular” people can play in justice work.

And I say all of this to say: The reason there is a feature called Overlooked is because some people at the New York Times finally realized the systemic bias that had been shaping this section of the paper, and they took steps to correct it. Overlooked no more.

Justice was overlooked today, and has been for the 100 plus days since Breonna Taylor’s death. We have to take steps to correct the systemic racism in our country, in whatever our lane is. Voting. Advocacy. Caring for people who are on the frontlines of this work. Continuing to teach nonviolence…so that justice will not continue to be overlooked.

RBG and the Voting Rights Act, and renewing our resolve in the next 45 days

Like many people I know, when I heard of Justice Ginsberg’s passing on Friday, I was grieved. She has been such a leader on the Supreme Court, such a voice for justice, and I was hoping she would just hang on for awhile longer.

Reverend Dr. William Barber, in his post on the Repairers of the Breach Facebook page, said “How do you mourn the loss of a great champion for justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg? You mourn deeply & you vow to continue her work with even greater resolve. Her death must bring us to life. No one who loved her work on voting rights, women’s rights, or corporate responsibility can stay home & not vote. We must renew our resolve to fight as she fought.”

In 2015 RBG told a group of young women “Fight for the things you care about”, and in her honor and memory, I will keep working in whatever ways are open to me to seek justice and to love mercy and to keep reaching and teaching toward the dream of the beloved community. Today, that means thinking about voting and teaching others about voting.

It is 45 days until the next US election, which means that the window for people to register to vote is closing. (This post has a lot of resources for how to check your registration status, where to vote, how to vote absentee, etc.

This week I am preparing my policy course for a review of the Voting Rights Act, and a look at voter suppression issues. Below are some of the resources I am sharing with them.

If you are reading this and are a social worker, or are involved with social work education, you may be interested in these pieces on elections and social work values (¡ and voter empowerment

I also have students read about and listen to an excerpt from testimony by Fanny Lou Hamer, about some of the events of Freedom Summer in 1964 before the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Note: She talks about the violence she experienced and there is intense language. Know this before you listen:

In addition to discussing the basics of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with my students, I also talk about the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the 2013 Supreme Court decision in the case of Shelby Co vs Holder, which ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Here’s a good review of the Voting Rights Act if you need it and here’s some good basic info on the impact of the NVRA of 1993 and the impact of the 2013 Supreme Court decision

It is also a good exercise, for students and citizens, to look for information in their own area about voting access, registration, closure of polling places, and other issues related to voting rights. I love to see students get fired up about voting, and see them committed to “getting out the vote” in whatever manner they can participate.

One final note: listening to Dr. King’s speech “Give us the Ballot” (from 1957) is powerful, and still relevant today.

Birmingham Sunday

This is the closest Sunday to the date of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. Members of a local KKK group bombed the building on Sunday, September 15th, 1963, which had been designated by the congregation as Youth Sunday. The explosion at the church killed 4 young girls and injured others.

The names of the four young women who were killed are Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, who were all 14, and Denise McNair, who was 11.

The ‘Four Spirits statue’, designed by Elizabeth MacQueen, at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, depicting the four victims of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Fair use. This picture was retrieved from

In my experience of teaching mostly traditional aged college students, very few of them are aware of the events of that day and how they are contextualized in the broader civil rights issues. This excerpt from a Democracy Now episode on the 50th anniversary of the bombing is an in depth interview with civil rights activist, professor and scholar Dr. Angela Davis.

Angela Davis grew up in Birmingham during this time and knew two of the girls who were killed in the church bombing. In this interview, she talks about the fact that violence, in particular violence rooted in racism, was very much the norm in Birmingham at the time. She also talks about the role of people in power in condoning the violence, which I think provides useful discussion for students, faith community members, and others to think about today. This interview was in 2013. A broad area of discussion could be comparing and contrasting the social environment between 1963, 2013, and now today. What is different in terms of the manifestations of violence rooted in racism? What is the same? What were the initial responses to the bombing of the church building from the federal government? Local government? White Christians? Other faith groups? What should have been the response? What do we see in the responses from each of these groups today? What should we see and expect from our leaders and ourselves?

The day after that bombing, a white Birmingham lawyer stood up at a lunch meeting of a local businessman’s club and asked “who is guilty of setting the bomb?” and then he responded “all of us” (meaning every white person in Birmingham). This speech led to death threats against him and his family, and they ended up having to leave Birmingham…but it was just the beginning of civil rights work for Charles Morgan, Jr. You can see excerpts from the speech, as well as more about the community’s response to it, in this piece from The Atlantic: It would be a good lead in to a discussion of the costs of speaking, compared to the greater costs of staying silent.

Finally, Birmingham Sunday, sung by Joan Baez, is a good representation of the power of music in storytelling. This youtube video includes historical pictures to provide some additional context I always ask students what is on their “social justice” playlist currently, and I share with them some of the songs I love that are related to social movements and social justice. Sometimes I play these songs on breaks throughout the semester (especially when I teach the class in a 3 hour block). I have found that using the music as part of our discussions supports our learning, gives us a bit of a mental break from having to be “on”, and it gives us a shared experience, even if a small one, to build on as we learn more about history and see it played out before us.

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” ~James Baldwin

Towards Collective Liberation

I have been teaching in a higher education setting full time for a little over 15 years and have on occasion (on frequent occasion) struggled with getting students to do their assigned reading and speak up/dialogue about what they read. There are two exceptions to this struggle that I have found. This book, Towards Collective Liberation, is one of them.

My copy of this book (assigned for 3 semesters now) is well worn. I still tune into different things when I read it along with my students. Not every student loves every idea presented in this book, to be sure, but it gets them thinking and questioning about community organizing and questioning their own assumptions about the words “anti-racist” and “feminist” and even “anarchist”. This book covers everything from the Catholic Worker movement to the sea turtle advocates in Seattle at the World Trade Organization, to local chapters of Food Not Bombs and other freedom and justice movements.

This book has led to good discussions on what empowerment can really look like, what does it mean to be accountable in community work, how do we grow leadership from the ground up, and so much more.

Obviously this book is a great choice for macro practice courses in social work education, but also a good read for anyone (teacher or learner) who is interested in learning more about activism.

This land is your land

Though I have always loved and appreciated American folk songs, I have listened to them even more on repeat during the pandemic. One of my favorites is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land”. As a young girl I knew the first couple of verses but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the rest of them, and it was the last three that struck me as especially powerful.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island,
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters;
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway;
I saw below me that golden valley;
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding;
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Last week, I read an email that was posted to a professional list serv, So, I don’t know the person who wrote the email (beyond the name), but for some reason I happen to look at their email signature and it included a simple land acknowledgement, recognizing the Indigenous people who had lived on the land that eventually became the university. I was intrigued by this because I had never noticed anything like this on email. It made me desire to know more about the Indigenous people on the land I call my home and to think about how I can acknowledge their original presence and their forced removal, as well as how to show gratitude. I am still working through that for myself.

While I was doing this reflection, I also thought it would be a good exercise for students or other community members to engage in, to stop and remember the people who inhabited the land originally and also reflect on the events that happened that forced their nations elsewhere. This website is the home of Native Land Digital, an Indigenous led non profit organization. This site will help you get an understanding of the Indigenous people who were the native inhabitants of the land you dwell in today, and their blog site ( is useful as well for learning more about the maps, the process of reconciliation, and other related topics.

Here’s an example of a land acknowledgement for my current hometown of Nashville, TN that was developed by a professional organization as part of planning for their large conference to be held here:

Finally, here are some resources for learning more about land acknowledgements ( and for going beyond acknowledgement into more active solidarity and allyship (

Placemaking toward the beloved community

I first heard the term “placemaking” at a professional conference a few years ago. I started with learning about the relationship between community attachment and positive economic impact and also about one of the core principles of placemaking, which is putting the voices of people in the community front and center in any discussion about development or re-design. From this little bit of knowledge alone I decided to integrate discussion of the concept into my macro practice class. It gave me some new and different tangible examples of community work for my students, which is helpful since sometimes community work can seem as airy as this cotton candy, bought in what happens to be one of my favorite places, Chicago.

This Ted-Talk on “Placemaking and Community” is a great introduction to the concept and the model: and here is an overview from the Project for Public Spaces There is a diagram in that link called “What makes a great place?” that is useful for a discussion starter with students or community groups in starting to think about some of the variables in community assessment.

And, here is a more recent piece from the Brookings Institute on transformative placemaking

Finally, here is a really Upstream podcast interview ( with Mark Lakeman, who is the founder of the City Repair Project, which has a focus on ecological justice placemaking (

Placemaking at its basic is about collective vision, and people working together to make the collective vision of their shared values a reality. That makes us all place-makers. I think about some of the shared values espoused in Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community: that poverty, hunger and homelessness would not be tolerated, that racism would be replaced by an all inclusive spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, that peace with justice will prevail over military conflict and war.

What am I doing to create the place of the beloved community?

The concept of placemaking also makes me think of one of my favorite Old Testament prophecies, from Isaiah 58:12: Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.