Now Is the Time For True Courage

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Britanny 'Bree' Newsome - the filmmaker, organizer, activist and aspiring Super-Woman who memorably, determinedly  climbed the flagpole at South Carolina's capitol to remove the Confederate flag - has spoken out for the first time about her feat, which she views "both as an act of civil disobedience and as a demonstration of the power people have when we work together." Writing in the Blue Nation Review, Newsome describes what led to her action, from recent meetings with a diverse group of "regular human beings, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, Carolinians, educators, and activist - both black and white - who believe in the fundamental idea of humanity," to her longtime bonds to South Carolina, though she now lives in North Carolina. Many of her ancestors  "entered this continent through the slave market in Charleston," including her fourth great grandfather "who stood on an auction block (refusing) to be sold without his wife and newborn baby; that newborn baby, my third great grandmother, enslaved for 27 years on a plantation in Rembert, S.C; her enslaved plowboy on the same plantation...and their son, my great-great grandfather, the one they called "Free Baby" because he was their first child born free, all in South Carolina." 

Newsome, 30, is a filmmaker, musician, educator and graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts; she has worked as an Artist in Residence, created several award-winning short films, and spent the last few years as a human rights advocate and community and youth organizer for North Carolina's Ignite NC. Her father Clarence is a former Howard University dean who now heads the National Underground Railway Freedom Center. She is eloquent on her motives, history and right to "refuse to be ruled by fear...To all those who might label me an “outside agitator,” I say to you that humanitarianism has no borders. I am a global citizen. My prayers are with the poor, the afflicted and the oppressed everywhere in the world, as Christ instructs...I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors (but also) in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally... I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free."

The group who organized last week's action recognized legislative efforts to remove the flag, but decided it had to come down now. They further decided a black woman should scale the pole and a white man should lend support "as a sign that our alliance transcended both racial and gender divides...Because this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms." Dramatic video of the act shows Newsome, her dreadlocks flying, steadfastly climbing as she ignores guards below shouting, "Ma''am, come down off the pole!" She grabs the flag, searingly proclaims, "You come against me with hatred, oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God - this flag comes down today." Then she descends, quoting scripture - "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Who shall I fear?" - and is quickly arrested and handcuffed, along with her colleague James Tyson. Both were charged with defacing a monument and released on bond; they face a $5,000 fine and three years in prison. An hour after they were hauled away,  officials had put back the Confederate flag.


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Newsome's heroic act sparked a firestorm online. The hashtags #FreeBree and #TakeDowntheFlag were flooded with praise, scores of people created art portraying Newsome as Rosa Parks and Super-Woman rolled into one, and an Indiegogo  campaign to raise $20,000 for her legal expenses quickly garnered over $122,000, or 613% of its goal. Writing in Yes! Magazine, sought to explain why Newsome's action resonated for so many: "The anger and hurt disappeared, for a moment, because she let us know we are still powerful...She reminded us, in the midst of deep sorrow, that we, who want to see a better America, must keep living, fighting, breathing, doing." She also contrasted Newsome's "bolder narrative" with Obama's much-publicized singing of "Amazing Grace," which "felt like a familiar trope in the narrative of Black America: We suffer, we sing, we forgive." It is possible, she and Newsome suggest, "to hold two conflicting emotions in balance...We must maintain a sense of love, joy, hope and movement as we grieve." In a new interview on Good Morning America, Newsome concurs:  “We needed that moment to say ‘enough is enough.’ We want an end to the hate.”

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