Mormon May Day: Reclaiming Our Voice

By Kate Kelly

As I read the book The Spiral of Violence by Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, I found myself nodding along. “Do you think you are alone?” Yes, I nodded. He wrote, “Whatever your religion, try to demand that, instead of separating men, it helps to unite them…In the teachings of your faith, what are the principles, the directives which call for justice and peace?…Beyond the barriers let us unite! If existing minorities–and there are minorities within all…religions–can come together in action for justice and peace, we shall have the right to hope.”

Câmara was a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Brazil famous for the saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist.” He spoke in his text of loneliness and of differences within our own religious traditions that separate us. His solution for this loneliness and for the indifference towards violence that is endemic around us was simply to talk to others.

“Look around you. Talk to your friends. Talk to people in your house, in your neighborhood, at your school, at your work, with your leisure companions…Leave no one indifferent around you. Provoke discussion. Your youth must force people to think and take up a position: let it be uncomfortable, like truth, demanding, like justice.”

For years I have felt an oppressive divide between me and the vast majority of mainstream Mormons. I have felt that my opinions, interpretations, and feelings were too radical for my fellow congregants, considering the far-right political bent of the average Mormon. I often wanted to speak out, but felt the words choke in my throat. Despite my generally extroverted personality, I found myself growing more and more silent at church meetings. And, as my silence grew, so did my discontent.

And, so, as Câmara suggested, I began to look around me. In search of others like us who through social and structural pressure were feeling silenced, some friends and I started Mormon May Day (MMD). The idea for MMD was simple: pick a day (May 1) to join in solidarity with other progressive Mormons to fast for social justice and bear testimony about things we had (perhaps) been shy about sharing. It was a day to reclaim our voices. It was a day to change our assumptions, and stop assuming that what we had to say was invalid or would not be well received. It was a day to start assuming, like all other members, that our thoughts would be welcome and that we have something to communicate that is of value for the community.

On MMD I spoke from the pulpit about and experience I had participating in a 12-day fast and vigil with Witness Against Torture to demand that Obama close Guantánamo. I spoke about how in the context of the current global power structure I often feel helpless, and how fasting to me is about control. It is a way to control appetite and to control my mind. It is about taking back control and harnessing a feeling of power and influence many of us have lost.
Combining the fast, and the opportunity to testify with other MMD participants, a powerful change came over me. I began to make different assumptions, and be glad to be who I am, not bitter about my political predicament. I began to be filled with more joy about what I have to offer. I began to realize that there would never be a place for radical Mormons, like myself, in our faith unless we create that space for ourselves.

Through MMD I also started to realize that I was wrong about my initial answer to Câmara: I am most certainly not alone. People in eight different cities organized MMD events. We had dozens of people email us with encouragement and thanks, including one participant who wrote, “I am very interested in this project. I just wish I knew if there were any liberals or radicals in my ward or area. I really feel like I’m the only one. I really struggle with feeling isolated and alone. Do you have any idea on how I can identify liberals or liberal sympathizers?”

I now know a great way to identify like-minded members. The slogan “Open Your Mouth” was popular on my mission, and is the best way to let people know who you are. May we all, slowly but surely, conquer our fears of telling others our feelings and Gospel interpretations. If we are brave, perhaps there will not only be a place for us, but we will begin to have more and more like-minded people as we leave no one indifferent around us.

Amen (& hallelujah)