I was honored to have attended The Untokening Conference Saturday November 4th, 2017 in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Fewer than 130 mobility advocates and grassroots organizers were selected from throughout the nation and from those who have focused on grassroots work, organizing, and mobility justice. The vision and resolve of the conference was to invite mobility advocates and grassroots organizers who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color). The majority of people who travel on foot, by bike, and on public transit in U.S. cities come from low-income, immigrant, and/or people of color communities. What I’ve learned is that the prevailing agenda in mobility advocacy is not co-created with leaders from those communities.
I knew the day was going to be surreal, even with all of the critical issues facing our communities today. My feeling was there was a positive energy in the air, everyone appeared genuinely happy to have arrived, to meet each other, network in a shared space of common vision and with an intuitive understanding and appreciation for each other’s personal stories and ongoing struggles from the communities we represent.
The conference opened with a warm welcome and invitation for everyone to participate in a meditative deep breathing exercise. The quiet breathing was a way to ground and center ourselves into a honored space where we could all feel safe, feel welcome, to remind ourselves to relax daily, hold space for ourselves and each other. The healing space and self-care rituals through-out the day were part of a re-occurring theme that was woven throughout the conference so as to remind us the importance of our own mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health – elements that must be in balance to sustain our community work.
The opening plenary began with Angela Mooney D’Arcy from Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, who addressed California’s First Nations’ long history of indigenous wisdom, continued resistance, and contributions to environmental justice and, indigenous rights. She also spoke about the value of inviting local native nations and how local native nations can contribute in inter-sectional work and assist with advocacy work around the Untokening principles of mobility justice. Breakout sessions were held on tokenism, storytelling as a tool for resilience, policy/advocacy & power. There was also a tour of the Leimert Park Village with artist Ben Caldwell.
The end of the conference featured an open mic session at the Vision Theater in Leimert Park, sparking reflections about the broader national social consciousness around mobility and racial justice, as well as ever-present issues with equity. Olatunji Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago spoke about his work to make Vision Zero accountable to lower-income residents of color. I had un-learned, learned, and re-learned the principles of mobility justice and the Untokening Conference counsel’s commitment to establish values and facilitated conversation around culture, street safety, community engagement and gentrification, displacement and affordability. I was happy to leave the conference with a sense of accomplishment, making new connections, sharing a healing space, and to know a venue had been founded for co-creating an agenda for mobility justice at a local and national level. The Untokening counsel closed the conference by expressing that it would continue to build and hold space for a yearly reunion of a network of leaders, partner coalitions with a unified vision for a more organized platform, and to build a more sustainable community strategies for the future generations to come.