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Move When the Spirit Says Move

A Documentary to Carry Forward the Legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton

(This updated video excerpt is from an interview with Ithaca College President Shirley Collado that we conducted just before the pandemic stay-at-home order in New York.  She is one of many who are inspired by Dorothy’s ability to reach across differences to achieve positive change.) See our original trailer here.


Update from the Producers of MOVE WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS MOVE:


Today the global coronavirus pandemic has suddenly and sweepingly changed the way we live and work. We struggle with staying healthy, protecting our families, and making a living -- all the while witnessing the turmoil and suffering that swirls around us. In order to emerge from this crisis as a more just and sustainable society, we need to undertake radical social change -- and throughout history, pandemics have brought just that opportunity. 


As the producers of MOVE WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS MOVE, we found ourselves asking, “What would Dorothy do during this time of crisis?” And the inescapable answer was that she would get moving. Get moving to build on the power of collective action to create the changes we seek. We are at a moment in our country where the inequities of our society are laid bare and many of the traditional social supports have disappeared. The future of our communities will be shaped by the movements that rise up to fight for them. 


Therefore, for the next six months we have shifted our fundraising and production plans for MOVE WHEN THE SPIRIT SAYS MOVE from completing the feature-length documentary to producing a 10-minute interim short that will bring Dorothy’s spirit and legacy specifically to bear on the opportunities immediately ahead for grassroots action and citizenship activation. We have the footage needed to make this short this summer, without travel or new interviews.  The resulting video will be woven into the final film after we are able to get back to active production.


Direct relationship building was one of Dorothy’s many strengths.  She connected with people and she connected the opportunities and responsibilities of citizenship to daily life.  We believe that the story of Dorothy’s work to educate people to be full citizens can inspire new citizen empowerment today.  Empowerment not just to vote, but also to be fully engaged in a community and a nation that embodies equity and justice.


This new short will be distributed online and offered to groups such as the Poor People’s Campaign, Black Voters Matter, and others working for citizenship education, voter registration and increased participation in our democracy.  Even though the pandemic prevents large in-person events, the ability to network online has increased the potential number of people who see impactful and important media.


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We at the Dorothy Cotton Institute are excited to partner with PhotoSynthesis Productions (PSP), an Ithaca-based film company, to produce a documentary that will be a tribute to the life and ongoing legacy of Dr. Dorothy Foreman Cotton, a civil rights icon of the Southern Freedom Movement.


Dorothy Cotton served for eight years as Education Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was the only woman on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Executive Staff. The centerpiece of her leadership was the Citizenship Education Program (CEP), a popular-education intensive that moved thousands of people from a mindset of “victim” to that of a fully-engaged “citizen.”


The CEP equipped grassroots activists throughout the southern United States with a grounding in their constitutional rights and how to use the principles of nonviolent direct action. In a brutal context where racial segregation hatred, and the threat of terrorism were daily realities, CEP participants went on to risk their lives to register voters, organize communities, demonstrations, strikes & boycotts, run for office, and ultimately overturn Jim Crow laws. The CEP is a model for popular education & movement building that has empowered freedom struggles across the globe.


The film will focus not only on Dorothy Cotton’s role with the CEP, but will also highlight several other unsung s/heroes of the movement whose names & contributions the public should know. Dorothy Cotton’s work on nonviolence, the power of freedom songs, and taking action did not end in the 60’s. The film will include interviews with her colleagues & friends, archival footage of her talks & workshops, and the impact of her remarkable life.


We hope to have this project finished by Spring of 2020, and that it will inspire people to vote in the 2020 federal election.


Please give generously to this wonderful effort!

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About the Organization

Dorothy Cotton Institute - a project of CTA

The Dorothy Cotton Institute (DCI) is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Transformative Action, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Your contribution is tax deductible to the extent allowed by governing laws.

The Dorothy Cotton Institute honors the legacy of an important Civil Rights leader, Ms. Dorothy Cotton.
As an education and resource center, DCI is:
1) developing, nurturing, and training leaders for a global human rights movement;
2) building a network and community of human rights leadership; and
3) exploring, sharing, and promoting practices that transform individuals and communities, opening new pathways to peace, justice and healing.
The Problem
The Dorothy Cotton Institute will address three major problems regarding human rights.
1) Efforts to achieve human rights are largely disconnected from each other and have not generated a popular movement on a global scale.
2) Most people in the United States do not comprehend the full scope of human rights, defining them as voting rights, non-discrimination, free speech and freedom from torture, but...

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