This September 11, 2023, I had the honor of holding space for an intimate conversation with civil rights leader, lawyer, award-winning filmmaker, educator, and best-selling author of the book SEE NO STRANGER, Valarie Kaur.
The fact that we were recording on September 11th was meaningful, because the tragic event that had taken place 22 years ago shaped Valarie in profound ways and set her on a path that she never expected. Valarie became an activist after a man of the same Sikh faith, a father and family friend she called uncle, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was the first person murdered in hate violence in the aftermath of 9/11.
For two decades in his memory, Valarie led visionary campaigns to tell untold stories and change policy on issues ranging from hate crimes to solitary confinement to digital freedom. Along the way, she earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School.
Today, Valarie is the mother of two children and as you’ll hear her share, the experience of becoming a mother inspired her to birth the Revolutionary Love Project, which supports communities with practical tools to transform the nation from inside out.
Revolutionary love, Valarie says, “is the choice to labor for others, for opponents, and for ourselves. Love is sweet labor — fierce, bloody, imperfect, life-giving, a choice we make. And it begins with wonder. You can look at anyone and say: You are a part of me I don’t yet know. From there, we begin to transform the world around us, and inside us.”
There is a lightness and hopefulness in the tone of our conversation that we wouldn’t have in the same way if we recorded the conversation today. I’m grateful for it. Valarie thanked me at the end for giving her the deepest breath she had in a long time. During a time in our country and world, where so many seem to be disconnected from a sense of our common humanity and divisions between us are widening, I hope this conversation is a deep breath for you.
Because as Valarie says as she evokes the metaphor of a midwife in her famous Watch Night speech, linked in the show notes, we must first breathe and then we push. The mother asks “what if this darkness we face is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” Today we breathe and tomorrow we will labor in revolutionary love.
About Valarie Kaur:
VALARIE KAUR is a renowned civil rights leader, lawyer, award-winning filmmaker, educator, innovator, author of the #1 LA Times Bestseller SEE NO STRANGER, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project. Valarie burst into global consciousness when her 2016 Watch Night Service address went viral with 40 million views worldwide. Her question “Is this the darkness of the tomb – or the darkness of the womb?” reframes the historical moment and is now a mantra for people fighting for change.
Valarie became an activist when a Sikh father and family friend Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first person murdered in hate violence in the aftermath of 9/11. For two decades, in his memory, Valarie led visionary campaigns to tell untold stories and change policy on issues ranging from hate crimes to digital freedom. Her work ignited a national movement to reclaim love as a force for justice. In 2021, she led the People’s Inauguration, inspiring millions of Americans to renew their role in building a healthy, multiracial democracy.
Today, the Revolutionary Love Project is seeding networked communities of practice across the country, equipping people with the practical tools to build beloved community and transform the nation from inside out. In the last two decades, Valarie has won policy change on multiple fronts – hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, Internet freedom, and more. She founded Groundswell Movement, Faithful Internet, and the Yale Visual Law Project to equip advocates at the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and justice.
Valarie has been a regular TV commentator on MSNBC and contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, the Hill, Huffington Post, and the Washington Post. She is a celebrated prophetic voice and has spoken widely, including at President Biden’s Inaugural Prayer Service. Valarie earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School, and holds several honorary doctorates. In Fall 2022, President Biden honored Valarie at the White House in the first-ever Uniters Ceremony, naming her as one of 16 leaders whose work is healing America.
A daughter of Punjabi farmers, Valarie grew up on the farmlands of California, where her family has lived for more than a century. Her grandfather gave her Sikh wisdom through stories and songs that showed the way of the sant-sipahi, sage-warrior. The sage loves; the warrior fights — it is a path of revolutionary love.
Connect with Valarie:
Resources from Valarie:
- Revolutionary Love Project Website
- See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love
- Valarie’s TED Talk: 3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage
- Valarie’s Famous Watch Night Speech: Breathe and Push
- The Revolutionary Love Training Course
- 9/11 20th Anniversary Learning Hub
- Wise Woman Guided Inquiry
- Valarie’s Recent IG Live on Leading with Revolutionary Love During These Times
Topics Discussed in this Episode:
- Valarie’s story about the birth of her son, with her mother by her side, and the lessons she learned about motherhood from that experience.
- Mothering as a verb and how mothering often feels like walking through a ring of fire.
- The experiences that set Valarie on a path of activism after 9/11 and the surprising spark moment she learned from her grieving aunt.
- How becoming a mother changed Valarie’s orientation from activism fighting against hate to activism fighting for revolutionary love.
- Valarie’s experience moving to the Rainforest to reflect on all she learned and write her book See No Stranger.
- Revolutionary love as the call of our times.
- Valarie’s epic snapshot moment nursing her daughter while she was at the White House being honored.
- The quote from Audrey Lorde that reminds Valarie to care for and invest in herself – “We can learn to mother ourselves.”
- The Wise Woman ritual Valarie experienced with two of her Sikh friends and the meditation she offers to help you tap into your inner Wise Woman.
- The lullaby Valarie wrote and sang for her daughter that will become a children’s book, “World of Wonder.”
This Episode’s Challenge:
Valarie says that the root of love is wonder and sings us a lullaby she wrote for her daughter about wonder. She encourages us to wonder about our partners, our children, our friendships, and beyond. Wondering about each other is a revolutionary process in a society that wants to shut down our ability to look at one another’s faces and say “You are a part of me I don’t yet now.” It’s so simple but it can change everything and help us birth a better world.
Other Episodes Mentioned in this Conversation:
About This Episode’s Dedication By Shelly Tygielski:
This is the 100th episode of the Mother’s Quest Podcast. It feels fitting to mark this occasion with a powerful conversation about Revolutionary Love with renowned civil rights leader Valarie Kaur. Valarie talks about Revolutionary Love as sweet labor and this podcast, since I launched it 7 years ago in 2016, has always been a labor of love.
So too has been my form of mission-aligned sponsorship, where rather than seeking corporate sponsors, I invite one mother to dedicate each episode and to make a contribution to support Mother’s Quest.
In honor of this milestone, I invited Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, and an Advisory Board Member of Global Empowerment Mission to dedicate. Instead of contributing to Mother’s Quest, I made a contribution to the Global Empowerment Mission. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating this 100th episode milestone by sharing this important conversation you’re about to hear and by making a donation to the Global Empowerment Mission.
I would like to dedicate this episode of the Mother’s Quest podcast to all the mothers of young, innocent children who are caught in the crossfire of war. May these children grow up in a world that is free from hate and injustice. May they be free from suffering. May they have access to opportunities and never be devoid of hopes and dreams. As the founder of Pandemic of Love and an advisory board member of Global Empowerment Mission, we are currently providing aid to Israelis and to Palestinians. When people ask us to choose a side, we say we have. We are on the side of love. Or as Valerie Kaur says it best, revolutionary love. So to learn more about how you can support our efforts, please visit globalempowermentmission.org.
Connect with Shelly Tygielski:
- Website | shellytygielski.com ; pandemicoflove.com ; partnersinkindproductions.com
- Instagram | @mindfulskatergirl
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