harriet is a north star

13 trips
70 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

19 trips
300 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

i can’t stop thinking about Harriet Tubman!

i think about all the resources she did not have at her disposal – grants, organizations, markers and post-its, masses, privilege, a copy machine, social media, social norms, a job that could be done with recognition and safety.

she did not have a perfect language with which to critique her oppressors, a quick way to travel, time to suffer fools.

she had a vision (my people are free), a theory of change (i will physically lead to freedom those who know they are slaves), a gift for adaptation (the underground railroad was about finding the next open space in a series of precarious moves across a deadly chess board) and her body.

1 raid
700 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

i have so many questions!

i wonder if she dealt with people who were made so heavy by their own sense of being victim that they could not take the first steps north.

i wonder what happened when she faced dissent, someone who questioned her leadership. if there were people who would follow her for a week and then say they’d found a better route, a better map in the sky.

when did she tell people about her episodes, her disability?

how did she trust each group of frightened strangers with her vulnerability and freedom?

did she ever feel imposter syndrome – ‘oh what do i know about the way to freedom, i’ve only been that way twice?’ if she ever wanted the recognition of the name Moses, if she just longed to do her work unseen.

how did she survive the heart betrayal of her husband, who found another wife while she was working on his freedom, who rejected her when she returned for him? who else did she love, who tasted her pleasure, who saw her private tears?

how did she know to sing as a strategy? how did she choose the song, the pace? how did she sound?

when the Civil War started, how did she decide to align her skills with spy work? and had she built relationships beyond her family and those she had freed, the relationships with armed white soldiers who said they were on her side? did she trust them?

13 trips
70 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

or 19 trips
300 people
no lost passengers
my people are free

freedom is the scale.

getting yourself to freedom, experiencing personal liberation, these are crucial acts, but not enough. we have to continue the risk, find the many ways to get each other free.

even when there is a price tag on our heads.

and it is not enough to know, in detail, how things are unfair. we have to know we are slaves, to see the evolving mechanisms of entrapment, to always keep one eye on the cage and one eye beyond it. we have to be able to show other people when the systems that fill the hours of their lives are stripping them of dignity and agency. we have to be impolite and disruptive. we have to move in the dark, quietly, listening for each other’s heartbeats, learning as we go.

we have to be willing to pull a revolver on those who, in their fear, would risk the lives and well being of everyone else. we have to be willing to say we will complete this journey to freedom, one way or another.

we have to give our lives to the future that comes through in our dreams. to talk directly to god, to listen directly. to be so much more than we’re told we should be, to be shocking, to be myth, leaving legacy.

8 years
so many trips, in the long winter nights
so many people, directly and indirectly
train ever on the tracks
no lost passengers
my people are free

Harriet guide me today
teach me generosity
adaptation and bravery
teach me the beauty of each small cluster
moving north, moving together,
moving towards liberation
teach me rigor
teach me humility
teach me to listen to the divine
directly, to let myself be well used
remind me that you did the work in hiding, in danger, hoping no one would know your name
teach me to sing when the way is clear
teach me to make freedom more compelling than the slow death of slavery
teach me to work alone and in interdependence that requires astonishing trust
break my heart in order to keep me moving
keep my mind set on freedom
remind me that all the time
and even now
my people are free

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1 Response to “harriet is a north star”


  1. 1 Mark Loring

    Harriet is a north star is stunning. Thank you for sharing!

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