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I Saw Injustice. I See Passion.

Please enjoy the second submission from artist and activist Hải Võ. As engaged Buddhist Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers Order remind us, the path to freedom includes bearing witness to joy and suffering. Traveling 2,000 miles through 8 states, the Food and Freedom riders did just that: bearing witness to the challenges, resilience, and triumph of participants in the food justice movement. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of the journey, Hải! ~TWM

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This poem was shared at The New Parish in Oakland, California at Food and Freedom Ride Homecoming celebration in September 2011. In summer 2011, I joined two dozen other youth food justice leaders from across the country on Food & Freedom Rides. We rode over 3,000 miles through the South, Midwest, and California meeting youth and communities most affected by our industrial food system and creating the solutions most needed addressing food insecurity, justice, and sovereignty.

On Friday, August 5th, two days before the Food and Freedom Ride began, one of the riders, Courtney Oats, was arrested on a charge of “disorderly conduct” in her hometown of Eupora, Mississippi, before she could even join us. The arrest occurred at her sister’s 14th birthday party in front of 50 children. Tasers were drawn and K-9 units were called in. More of the story here. These are my reflections of this moment during our ride.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round
Turn me round, turn me round
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round
We gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’
Marchin’ up to Freedom Land

Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me round
Turn me round, turn me round
Ain’t gonna let injustice turn me round
We gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’
Marchin’ up to Freedom Land

Ain’t gonna let unreal food turn me round
Turn me round, turn me round,
Ain’t gonna let unreal food turn me round
We gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’
Riding’ up to Food and Freedom Land

I saw injustice. I see passion.

I saw Courtney Oats, a young African-American woman, in Eupora, Mississippi, just hours after two nights in jail. She had been unjustly charged for distributing the peace, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct after being followed by police putting up fliers for these rides that I helped design. I heard anger in her voice, tension in her shoulders, and tears rolling down her cheeks. I cringed, hearing her say that racial injustice is still a problem in her community and her mom exclaiming, “We need help!”

Why do we still live in a racially-divided world when I want to look beyond the color of your skin? It was then I realized food justice is racial injustice. Food justice is justice for all.

We need freedom to have food and freedom. We broke ground on a community garden that day. I saw dark, rich soil, pecan trees, and smiles all around. I heard laughter, jokes, and youth sharing with each other how to grow food.

That space is sacred, away from the steel bars, security guards, and inhospitality.

At the end of the day, I offered seeds that my family and I have saved, and told Courtney, “With sun, water, soil, seeds, and love, this garden will grow. With this garden, you will grow, and your community will grow. All of this will protect and nourish you.”

I see passion in the communities most hurt like Courtney’s healing all injustice with real food, their bodies and minds.

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Hải Võ là người Mỹ gốc Việt. With ancestry in present-day Việt Nam, Hải was raised in Southern California, by way of birth sponsorship in Iowa, by way of refugee camps in the Philippines. Hải, a queer-identified second-generation Vietnamese-American helps organize youth (food) justice initiatives. Hải is passionate about traditional food(ways), (e)advocacy, popular education around food sovereignty, and returning to Việt Nam in the very near future. @nuocmamca. nuocmamca.tumblr.com.

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