Don’t Slow Down

You might believe, and still you feel
The chase has just begun
That you must reach that horizon before
The setting of the sun.
You chase the light in front of you
Nightfall close behind
If you stop to catch your breath
You know what you will find.

Don’t slow down, don’t touch the ground
You know what you will find
That old grey man in tattered clothes
Following behind.

–“Don’t Slow Down,” UB40 (1981)

In any given year in the life of an organization like ours — in scope, size, membership, and vision — we expect long seasons of steady activity, punctuated with brief periods of frenetic activity. We are trending differently as of late, and anymore the activity is constant, vacillating between steady and frenetic sometimes within a week. This autumn/fall season has brought us many such weeks.

More often, the activity is positive and centered around productive occasions, and I am pleased to share the early details of one such occasion: the Coalition-sponsored session on Wednesday evening, March 25 (2020) in Milwaukee. This year’s session is focused on “Connecting Coalitions, Arts, and Pedagogies of Human Rights,” and will feature a keynote presentation by Alexandra Hidalgo, cofounder of the online publication agnès films and author of Cámara Retórica. Hidalgo will use film scenes and crew interviews in order to discuss not only her in-production feature documentary The Weeping Season, but also the cross-continental collaborative process she used in order to make the film. The Weeping Season is a first-person documentary in which she investigates the mystery of her father’s 1983 disappearance in the Venezuelan Amazon. In order to complete the film, Hidalgo is collaborating with Venezuelan producer Natalia Machado and a group of local filmmakers, as well as Cristina Carrasco, a Venezuelan editor who lives in Argentina and Spain. There are the personal and national losses that occur through the filmmaker’s storyline, and there is the collaboration that occurs among three Venezuelan women who must find ways to work across borders given the country’s current crisis. As such, the making of the film itself mirrors the documentary’s themes of loss and crisis.

Often enough, however, the activity is centered around loss and loss alone. Several Advisory Board and Coalition members have lost colleagues, lost children, lost loved ones, or are seeing the above through their own losses, or through treatment for aggressive or terminal illnesses, weighing the gravity of unfair against fair, and doing the best that we can do to keep up the pace. Inasmuch as our organization is a collective of many engaged “we’s”, few of us are any steps removed from a difficult experience, and when these difficulties compound the other complications in our lives, a figurative nightfall seems close behind indeed. In weeks and seasons like these, may we look for daylight and find it. For Coalition leadership, it is difficult to imagine a Feminisms and Rhetorics conference without Nan Johnson, but the hopeful reality is that Nan’s steadfastness already prevails in the actions of her graduate students, colleagues, and friends at Ohio State, and that we’ll experience some of those moments together next month.

Admittedly, it isn’t always clear whether we catalyze the activity or it drives us. It’s possible that our organization makes as much business as (or more than) it demands. What becomes increasingly clear is how much heart organizational work requires in these seasons when our first reasonable response may be to disengage or just lie down, knowing that nothing around us will slow down. I reiterate my thanks to the many individuals and groups who are, with heart as well as mind, doing organizational work — preparing these conferences, preparing for these conferences, and preparing the way for these conferences, in many avenues and spaces.

With best wishes for a sane November,
Tarez Samra Graban
CFSHRC President