from "Why Guerrilla Theater? A Behind the Scenes Look at 'Who Speaks?'" by Dawn for Turning Wheel
Our recent event “What’s Up With Engaged Buddhism?” started because I was in a total panic.
It was January. I had suddenly stepped in as Acting Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship while Sarah Weintraub went on temporary disability, trying to get healthy after picking up a number of mysterious illnesses on a fall trip to Colombia to reconnect with her peace work there.
I reached out to elders in the BPF network for any help they could give. David Loy quickly responded, “I’ll be in the Bay Area on May 20. We could do an event while I’m there.”
Donald Rothberg offered, “I can help with that. We could do a talk, perhaps on The Future of Engaged Buddhism.”
“Great,” I said with relief and immense gratitude. “It would be interesting as a dialogue between elders and youth. Let’s figure out details as it gets closer.”
I sat with this question for six weeks: Who should speak on a panel about The Future of Socially Engaged Buddhism?
My initial thought was to pull together a panel of some of the biggest names in US socially engaged Buddhism. In addition to David and Donald, we could invite folks like Alan Senauke, Joanna Macy, Joan Halifax, Bernie Glassman, Fleet Maull.
I looked at my list and visualized this panel in my mind. It was an older generation of teachers, strikingly white, more men than women. Is this the future of engaged Buddhism? Where are the young people, those of us who will be living this future? With 40% of Generation Y being people of color, how can BPF possibly be relevant if we don’t center the voices of younger people of color in this dialogue?
In an attempt to diversify, I constructed a panel that included a hybrid of voices: leading teachers on socially engaged Buddhism and people who teach and practice outside of formal lineages. I invited Alka Arora and Katie Loncke, two younger women of color Buddhists to join the panel and balance the backgrounds of Donald Rothberg and David Loy.
As Katie joined the BPF team in April, she took the lead on planning this event as one of her first projects. While I had asked “Who will speak on the panel?” Katie asked bigger questions.
With invited panelists, there are a set of people with “proper” credentials and experience who are allowed to speak with authority from the front of the room. Because of racism, sexism, and other forms of domination in the world we live in, the majority of folks who have earned the proper credentials to speak tend to be older white males. In attempting to diversify the event, were we falling into a trap of tokenizing folks by only inviting them to participate if they are willing to play by the already established rules of earning authority through formal education and approval of already established teachers? Can we actually have a diversity of views and experiences, if those who dissent or question the establishment are filtered out or drummed into submission in this system? How can we bring in the voices of everyone in the audience, regardless of credentials? Will some audience members revolt if they come to the event expecting experts to speak?