Nisha Anand, Dream Corps CEO
Valarie Kaur is no stranger to me, and not just because I’ve devoured every page of her stunning new book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. Valarie is also a trusted partner of the organization I lead, Dream Corps. Our work is inspired by, and imbued with, the kind of revolutionary love she espouses.
See No Stranger is a perfectly timed book. We are watching as America reckons with our ugly founding reality: a society built on violence against Black people and communities of color. We are now experiencing a double shock, first from the COVID-19 pandemic, and secondly from the tipping point murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others.
My great fear in this moment is that America could slowly slip fully into the division and racist anger that has been bubbling up for the past decade. But I also have great hope. I believe we can walk through this darkness together, and emerge better than before. That is where Valarie comes in, and why her vision is needed now more than ever.
That See No Stranger is garnering rave reviews is no surprise to the Dream Corps community. We have admired Valarie and the work of her Revolutionary Love Project for years, since we first labored alongside each other to launch the #LoveArmy in 2016. In 2019 and 2020, we collected thousands of Valentine’s Day letters and hand-delivered them to people who needed them the most: women fleeing persecution at a shelter on the U.S. border, and people behind bars in our mass incarceration system. This year, we hosted a series of webinars where Valarie unpacked a few of the ten brilliant practices of revolutionary love she outlines in her book.
Part of what makes her book so powerful is that it is both memoir and manifesto. When she advises us to see no enemies, to tend to our wounds and theirs, it is because she has lived it. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a close family friend– her “uncle” as we say in our culture, was murdered in the first post-9/11 hate crime, changing the course of her life. Over the years to come, she found the courage and grace to reach out and begin a dialogue with the man who committed the crime.
What Valarie did is remarkable, but not unique. I can say that because I have heard the stories of members of Dream Corps #cut50’s Empathy Network. The Empathy Network is a community of people who were directly impacted by our broken criminal justice system and now advocate for changes.
They are models of what Valarie calls “tending the wound” in ourselves and others, which allows us to see people not as wholly evil but simply wounded. It is a practice that allows Empathy Network members, and all of us, to free ourselves from the need for enemies.
Valarie is reclaiming love from mere sentimentality and recasting it as a potent force for social change. When loving our enemy seems hard, she offers practical advice.
Her practices for seeing no stranger are the foundation of our strategy at Dream Corps. We look at big problems, and see them as an opportunity to bring people together — to expand our circles, and see potential common ground instead of an army of enemies. It is how we united conservatives who value liberty and progressives who value justice to pass historic, bipartisan criminal justice reform. This is more than good strategy. It is how democracy should work.
When others see America descending into darkness, Valarie asks us to imagine it not as the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb. She urges us to follow the midwife’s advice, to breathe and push, to give birth to an America that is better than it was before.
That is at the heart of what Dream Corps is all about. We believe that America has always been two things. First, the ugly founding reality of slavery, genocide, and oppression. Second, the beautiful founding dream — not of white picket fences and the nuclear family, but a dream of a truly multiracial republic overflowing with dignity and freedom for every one of us. The summons of each generation is to refound America and bring it closer to that founding dream. Our task, in Valarie’s words and in the words of the midwife, is to breathe and push.
What See No Stranger offers is a framework for being a generation of new founders. So go grab a copy. Let it challenge and inspire you. Then, when you’re ready to get to work, come check us out at Dream Corps. Revolutionary love is the force that will allow us to overcome America’s horrid history and present pandemic with the beauty of our original founding Dream.