from a renaissance

coming to you live from the heart of a renaissance, renaissance meaning a rebirth, detroit being a city that has been born again over and over. when i first started coming around the D, i knew that a movement was afoot in hip-hop. i saw invincible, finale, guilty, black milk, buff 1, miz korona, mz jonz, slum village, and so many others coming together in a way that was unprecedented and unapologetic. what i heard over and over was: this is the home of j dilla and big proof and we won’t deny anymore the unique and raw creations that come out of this place.

i first heard monica blaire on a cd, which blew me away AND didn’t even come close to the joie de vivre she injects in an audience in a live performance. she is the best live performer of her generation anywhere in the world based on my experiences, and she is right here, close enough to touch, humble enough to hug and big up all those around her. [here’s a trio of short videos from my phone shot last night when she jammed impromptu with the marvelous and adorable and allaroundgreat chilean hip-hop star anita tijoux: one, two, three.]

so for a while i know it has been happening, absolutely, but then i moved here, and my immersion in what is happening every night and day all around this city…it is so exciting to be here at this moment in detroit, where the energy of new things emerging out of an old soul city is present and palpable.

just four days ago detroit brought us jessica care moore‘s black women rock, a concert in tribute of the delicious and edge-slicing betty davis, brief wife of miles davis, sex-flinging artiste who still elicits a frenzy today when her words and images and fashions reach us.

the artists who slipped through, including brooklyn rock divas imani uzuri and tamar-kali and internationally renowned artist marcia jones, were thrilled to be in motor city, and kept talking about the creative energy alive here. steffanie christian was my discovery of the weekend…she got up and rocked 5 songs that moved me outside myself in 5 different ways.

the next day jessica hosted a brunch for the women who performed, and there was an impromptu song session where folks shared what they had to offer, what was in their souls at that moment. what i felt in that room was the miracle-worthy experience that can happen when creative people realizing their potential share space. it was historic, and healing, and so easy to take in.

attendees included the incomparable piper carter, who has envisioned and uplifted The Foundation as a weekly Tuesday night fertile space for the growth of women artists in the D, featuring DJ’s Mel Wonder, Sticky Niki, & La Jedi with B-Girls Mama (Hardcore Detroit), Ri$ Money, & Teena Marie & Graffiti Artist Riku. the night often lends itself to the kind of inspired spontaneous moments only possible when great talent smashes into a liberated open welcoming zone and can expand to its full size. miz korona and mz jonz, who i call comedianne-rappers, regularly play here.

and of course i have to say that my partner invincible is a key player in every aspect of this moment, and in my own life. only a few weeks ago, invincible took two showcases to SXSW – a Detroit showcase, and a Women in Hip Hop showcase. she has seen the groundbreaking transformative potential of this city for as long as i have known her.

there is a hip-hop renaissance here, but there is simultaneously and intersectionally a thrilling movement of female artistry and creativity happening in Detroit which aligns with the shift to the feminine that is happening in every arena, internationally, philosophically, politically, in families, in structures. everyone is welcome to visit, and co-create, and bring it all to visit, and showcase it, and let it seed and scatter and grow within you.

things i know

toilet paper is best when rolling over.

the next roll should be within easy arm’s reach.

olive oil tastes better from a dribbler.

real butter is worth it.

i have to sing, and i have to write. have to.

there are certain songs that will come into my head and not leave till i have sung them 100 times alone. right now “i can’t make you love me” is the song. i think it relates to how i watch organizers struggle so hard to do what’s needed for their communities, when what is most needed is love and trust.

i am working too hard, and barely meeting the need.

i love being in the water. when i am in the water every day, i accomplish more on land.

it pleases me to read several things at once, and keep them stacked open all around the house.

i love carl sagan.

not all of us will get There, and those most likely to get There are the ones who can surrender to the realization that we cannot even imagine There, just have faith that it exists.

the world is too small for grudges – she literally cannot bear the load unless it is buried.

privilege is bliss. in the same way ignorance is. its the kind of bliss that hurts others.

sex can be more important than conversation.

octavia butler was a prophet.

frida was braver than diego.

i love creatives, black people, babies and children, people who don’t value themselves by the amount of money they do or don’t have, solution thinking, accountability, and liberation.

i miss the dedication of my late dog, sugarfoot.

sea salt, ground coarse pepper, sesame oil, fresh lemon, garlic cloves, braggs, olive oil, rice vinegar, honey mustard, and honey –> with this you can rock just about any dish.

chocolate trumps everything else.

the capacity to love never stops growing. i only thought i knew love till i met her. i only thought i knew love till i met my nephew.

loving is different from thinking.

actions speak louder than words.

if you see yourself as a victim, and your only politic is oppositional, then you are a conspirator in your own oppression.

but you can liberate yourself…

also, i know magic.

the upside

today i missed my flight home from nyc to detroit. i really wanted to make that flight. BUT…

i trekked back to my sister’s house, and when i arrived my nephew went bananas. he did a dance of such explicit ecstasy and wonder that i truly had to ask myself if i could maintain any anger or annoyance at the ignorant delta staffers who foiled my homebound journey. we played our abstract game of chase, where he runs around just slow enough that i can catch him. then i became The Monster Who Can’t See Finn…i can see everything else, and i can smell Finn, but for some reason i never see him. this titillates him beyond belief, and he’s able to feel what i feel – totally present and joyful. it is healthy and healing to laugh as hard as he makes me laugh, and to be as creative and silly and smart and present as he makes me.

so i didn’t make my flight, and i am not where i wanted to be tonight, with the person i wanted to be with.

but in every instance of life, there is an upside. when you aren’t sure, look for what is most alive.

from the big city, a summer tease

coming to you live from nyc…i have spent several days with my family, which is always a blessing, though never easy. it takes work to love people and be loved, staying present to people as they are, and not tucking parts of yourself away to stay loved by them.

my nephew could already get a nobel peace prize for the way he has impacted our family dynamic. what is important has shifted (again), and our desire to see him feels like more of a universal truth than any of our differences. i want to run away with him to a land where our only decision is what game to play, and what to learn. i regularly remember all the dreams i had of him before he came, and i wish i could videotape every moment with him and loop it constantly; i want my memory back for this person.

in other news, i had a good long talk with my sister and brother-in-law the other night, and as we drifted around content including irish history, carl sagan, organizing and life, i said “we can reconcile ourselves to a whole new truth if we have enough curiosity…we once thought the earth was flat.” we all thought it was a noteworthy thing to say, made possible by the collective brilliance of the conversation.

in local detroit news, i’ve been really thinking about colonization lately, and how we could begin a new practice. what would it mean to not be colonized, and to not be colonizing? what would it mean to look at detroit and see everything that is growing and building there – not see empty space to be bought, sold, stolen and traded. where i now live, i am humbled by how useless my privilege is in the long run. i was mostly taught to talk and think [and i vacillate between being skilled and clumsy in those regards], but not how to do – how to grow, build, survive. i am finally learning some things that only time and need can teach you. and in the coming battle against the mayor’s plan to colonize segments of detroit for financial gain, which will destroy longstanding communities, the most valuable quality any organizer will have is actually their time spent living in detroit – because what is happening now has happened before. so many times.

the past few days have been balmy-to-hot on the east coast, and i stripped down and pretended i lived in different places, with different, lighter burdens. i am so aware now of time spent not working. it is joyous and necessary to any life balance. warm weather increases my capacity to not work…this tease of summer has uplifted my spirit, and i may just make it to real summer without pause.

** unexpected political commentary**

the healthcare reform bill just passed. its late at night, but it’s a major moment for obama and his supporters. i, personally, am not in a phase where i can be very excited about uber-compromised reforms. trying to watch the process, track the votes and the silly small-minded petty bullshit behavior literally disgusts me – our transformative politic is supposed to include a body of folks who will make 200 amendments on a bill and still not a one of them vote for it? where are the representatives of poor people in their districts? that said, i really like that pre-existing conditions and lifetime limitation restrictions are gone. that will have real life impacts on myself and people i love. its mundane and ugly, but “this is what change looks like…” obama came out to tell us the bedtime story, and for tonight, i will let that rock me to sleep.

live blog of the detroit people’s movement assembly

today i am at the central methodist church, home of the michigan welfare rights organization and the us social forum office.

we are here for the people’s movement assembly, a gathering to uplift the commitments and resolutions for action in detroit. it’s 3/13 – 313, the area code here in detroit.

we’ve started strong with maureen taylor telling us what this moment is – some key quotes:

“we better organize pockets of safety and survival – nobody’s coming for us. we have to tell elected officials – we’re not going to elect you, even if you come out and give speeches, not while these babies are dying. this is madness we are living through and nobody’s coming to save us. so the us social forum is to raise conscious actions. and after the forum, when everyone leaves, we will still be here upholding that action and that work – we are gonna take back this city, take back this county, this state.”

then fred vitale got up and gave us some key moments of gatherings and convergence that have historically happened in Detroit, including Frederick Douglass and John Browne talking about the end of slavery, Malcolm X giving his historic Message to the Grassroots speech in 1963, and then in 1969 the League of Revolutionary Black Workers meeting here, leading to the foundation of the Black Workers Congress a year later.

i just got up and shared an overview of the 5 days of the forum. i blogged this earlier in a post called ‘the forum, in a nutshell‘. one of the major points is that detroit has plenty of actions that participants at the u.s. forum can get involved in, and we ask folks to stand in solidarity with us, and instead of actions IN detroit, folks plan to actions WITH detroit!

now we are getting the overview of actions folks are planning so far for the forum – after this we will break into small groups.

first, ROC Michigan – restaurant opportunities center! after having us shout and march them up to the microphone, they led us in the ROC chant (in 3 languages!):

we are power
we are strong
who are we?
ROC michigan!

Jamie taught us that MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech on June 23, 1963 here in Detroit as a precursor to giving it in DC…”thus, we will have an anniversary march for the dreams of restaurant workers.”

We were asked what are our dreams?
– a nightmare for the capitalists – that we eliminate poverty
– that we have a popular democracy take over before Bing and Bobb destroy the city
– that we have healthcare for all and healing practices in that. and that we amend the constitution that corporations are not people
– the everybody knows community, that parents don’t have to do it all by themselves, they have a chance to be a part of a community that will support them to make it through.
– that children can play free of asthma, in a non-toxic and beautiful environment and that we can shut all incinerators down.
– that workers make the decisions about what to produce, and are the controllers of the corporations
– for real peace

They explained the inequalities happening behind kitchen doors, and shared stories of racism and inequality while working restaurants themselves, including being ridiculed, sexually harrassed, fired. “They’re not appreciating the work we are doing, because they’re the rich, and we’re the poor.”

We are strong
We are power
Who are we?
US Social Forum!!

Next, we’re hearing from Zero Waste Detroit about shutting down the incinerator. Children in Detroit are 3 times more likely to have asthma than those nationwide. We don’t meet air quality standards here in Wayne County. One participant in our coalition told us that he went to school across from the incinerator, and one day all the children fell out from asthma attacks on the playground.

The target is Mayor Bing – our city council is open to shutting it down, but Bing is against it. Mayor Bing ran his campaign saying he would shut it down, so did Cockerel. But once folks become mayor…something happens. We don’t own the incinerator, and this summer we want it shut down. There are twice as many jobs available through recycling, which could happen all across the city. It’s not just a negative, we have solutions. The decision is coming down in mid-June, so at the forum we’ll either be in celebration or retaliation. We’ll be doing big actions leading up to the forum. Ruckus and GAIA are supporting this from the national level.

Next up, the Reverend Bill Wylie-Kellerman sharing on the Farm Labor Organizing Committee action on Chase Bank. FLOC is working with tobacco workers in the south – one black pastor who visited them said – “these are the same fields our ancestors worked – and the same conditions.” Detroit had the highest homeowner rate at one point – now we have the highest foreclosure rate. Banks have the money to remortgage these homes, but they make more on the foreclosures. We want to make the connection between FLOC’s work and the foreclosure crisis. I’m not gonna blog the ideas but they are fantastic.

We just got to welcome amazing organizers who are visiting us from Atlanta and Chicago in solidarity with this planning!

Next, we’re hearing about the action on DTE – Detroit Thomas Edison. 14 people have died this season after their heat has been turned off. 3 children just a few weeks ago whose funerals were this morning – “there was one blue casket and two pink caskets. i didn’t know they made caskets that small. it broke all of our hearts”. Michigan Welfare Rights Organization been having weekly demonstrations at the DTE building at 1 Edison Plaza [Bagley and 3rd]. “How can we strike on them? Why do we have to give them our money to kill us? 14 people since January, and half of them were children. We must get rid of Anthony Earley and all those folk on the board who don’t give a damn about us. We need to stop these politicians – I’m game, are y’all?” Uproarious applause.

Now we are hearing additional updates from Toshi from Call Em Out – talking about local politicians who “have been given with our vote the power to help us. And they won’t help us. They tried to announce bus cut services on Saturdays as their first move after that election. Bing and Bingham have to go! 23% of the voting electorate came out to vote. There’s something wrong with that count. Some say the ballot boxes were tampered with…we gonna take a two-pronged approach. First, propoganda for the economically challenged working class. And second, we’re gonna take direct action.” Brilliant ideas followed this update as well.

Ok we just had small groups to plan our actions – all of these will be posted on the organizing website for the Forum so folks from around the country can get involved!

Our resolutions are to shut down the incinerator and have recycling through Detroit, in terms of DTE we are marching 14 coffins down with the opening march. With ROC Michigan we want to change the culture of restaurants to respect their workers – we demand a sit-down with Joe Vicari for the workers, emphasizing the civil rights and racial injustice of this situation! We’re gonna do a series of actions that will escalate throughout the forum!! And finally, because Chase is a slave labor corporation with workers in the tobacco fields of North Carolina and is displacing and killing Detroiters, we call for actions against J.P. Morgan/Chase until they stop the foreclosures in Detroit and the plantations in NC!

We are strong!
We are power!
Who are WE?

The US Social Forum!!!

detroit bodhisattva

an interview just got posted which i did last night with mark rudd, who now lives in albuquerque and supports organizers. he says when he visited detroit, he met all these enlightened beings – bodhisattvas like tyree guyton and grace lee boggs. it was so exciting to talk about how i feel about detroit, and invite people to come through in the summer to the social forum.

check out the show here!


today i went through and grabbed my articles off of wiretap magazine. i’ve written for them for years and in january they closed their doors. this is a tragedy – they were a wonderful space for young writers to develop skills while documenting the world around them. i felt like the vision piece i wrote for wiretap years ago absolutely came to pass, and i am excited to see it’s next iterations.

going back through everything was nostalgic and exciting – i interviewed saul williams, wrote about voter organizing, learned about tibet and palestine solidarity movements, memorialized michael jackson, moved to a more radical space with ruckus and year after year had this amazing outlet for my reactions.

the work i was proudest of were the pieces that were actual tools on privilege work, facilitation, sustaining yourself as an activist (a couterpoint with gavin leonard who i haven’t talked to in too long), relational organizing, and changing the nature of gatherings.

I can see myself growing up in these pieces.

A poem came to me today – I am immersed in the meeting place of When the Levees Broke and the Detroit mayor wanting to downsize/rightsize/shrink/colonize/displace/develop my new hometown. What has been coming to me is what passive hate allows to happen to our communities. Active hate is its own evil, but it is the complicit and structural that really allows the deepest injustices not just to happen, but to get institutionalized, normalized, and internalized.

I was around Will Copeland, Detroit poet-organizer, this morning, and on the way home a poem came up pulling some thoughts together. Grain of salt and lots of emotions…

Untitled, for those of us who are dark:

I remember every single copper
Pulled me over
Stood crotch in my face
Making me acquiesce
Thinking I done wrong
Talking down at me and certain
He knew my life, he knew better

I remember every single suit
Trying to con me
Sell and seduce me same time
Wanting what was rightfully mine
Pale faced misplaced
Always adolescent Shiva
Pillaging my people to this day

I remember every single speaker
Certainly fired up
Twisting around in they own words
Trying to find my sweet spot
So they could take a piece of my power
And count it as they own
And never make a thing better
Than it was at its worst

And most of all
I remember every single body
Bloated up face down in the n’awleans sun
Blasted apart with dynamite
On birmingham and baghdad streets
Children comatose with hands grasping rocks

What is the lullaby for your babies?
That’s all I want to know
What do you tell them about themselves
How did you fill them up with such fear
They don’t come out the womb pointin mine towards our tombs
I say it with love, for all of my people
History, dignity and memories
What do you tell your children
About those of us who are dark?

the incredibles

just had a moment of sweetness today as i heard that a dear friend was admitted into harvard’s school of education. another worked on a film that went to sundance this year. altogether we were a trio when we were young, inseparable and lit up and talking so much about we wanted to do and would do and were going to do, having done none of it.

and now we are all very much doing it, though thousands of miles apart with long gaps between conversations, and long histories and healings between us.

i want to run back a decade sometimes and just whisper to all of us…”it’s coming.” and run back 5 years and say, “no don’t give up just yet – it’s going to be amazing.”

this emotion was heightened by dreams last night where i had vivid experiences of loved ones from my past, knew they were well, if far away. i feel so close to those people who knew me Then and are still in my life now.

i know everyone has their people like that in their lives, the ones they dreamed with. i have so many, and i am watching the bittersweetness of life come over us – miracles and unmanageable pain and new resolutions and tiny breakthroughs that pile up allthesudden into the life we couldn’t have realized we needed…eh, hope that makes sense…we were so fucking incredible when we were younger, so unstoppable and full of so much longing. and to hear now how that is channeling into reality is exciting and grounding. none of us are alone, or really even apart from each other, even now.

in related news [related by the element of time and miracles] i found out what my coming niece’s name is going to be. not gonna whisper it here yet, but its a perfect name for her – she’s a withdrawn and graceful little one in womb. i am excited to meet her.

reach out to an old friend and let them know which part of your life you are really deeply living into.