women, sitting in circles

i have had three recent occasions to sit with women, discussing the matters of women, in simple circles. it is such a powerful experience to sit together, and i want to invite so much more of this level of conversation into my life.

the experiences were very different.

the first one was a meeting for a radical women of color group – INCITE. such brilliance and principle at the table. wow. i’ve definitely been one of those people who was intimidated by INCITE in the past – all that analysis and edge and power…it was beautiful to sit with the current national body as a facilitator and just see the humility, the practical approach to their revolutionary work, and the dedication to making sure radical women of color have ways to connect, organize, analyze and transform this world.

the second circle was the most unexpected. it was called panocha platicas, organized by young women united in albuquerque. it’s basically a space where young women have liberating conversation and ceremony about their panocha (vaginas), connecting to the lineage of panocha “knowledge, wisdom, distortions, silences, misinformation”, and power. i had a moment’s pause [“am i about to have to look at my vagina in a mirror in public or something??”], but was then just overwhelmed by the openness and beauty of these women, at such ease with each other, and with the support and care that they were each being offered by being in the room. we prayed, checked in with each other, ate together, did a hilarious/wonderful exercise on what was our sexiest part, and learned a full moon bath recipe:

pour clean water into a wooden or earthen bowl
add healing herbs like rosemary, sage, lavender (ours also had fresh roses to add the petals)
set the bowl out under the moonlight for the night, so that it is imbued with the pull, the feminine power of the moon
in the morning, pour the water over yourself, use the rosemary to scrub your skin

we all left with panocha platicas zines, a bag of herbs for the bath, and smiles on our faces. i met an incredible black midwife who i know is going to teach me things in the future.

the third circle was a potluck, tonight at my home, for women interested in supporting other women going through birth (home, hospital, prison, birthing center, etc), breastfeeding, abortion, unintended pregnancy loss – all in detroit. this is the newest, and possibly oldest, path in my life.

i started what-can-be-called-my-political-career wanting to radically change the relationship women have to our bodies. i felt that if young women were taught about our bodies, encouraged to discover them, it would be much harder for society and men to disconnect us from our pleasure and power in the sexual realm, and in the world.

many cycles of work later, i started getting asked to help women have their babies. at first i said no, because “i don’t know nuthin bout birthin no babies”, but when you get asked to do something enough times, it becomes a calling.

as soon as i started to answer, a community became visible to me, and now all these powerful women who were already in my life, and all these new fantastic women, are gathered together, sharing a new vision for what it could mean, in detroit, to be a woman –> to be pregnant, to give birth, to breastfeed, to abort or lose your child in a field of support and love, to be empowered about all your options, to be in touch with your body, to be informed and intuitive about the food choices you make, to be in community with other women, to support each other, hear each other, build each other back up after hard experiences, to teach each other and learn from each other –> to be a woman.

what i see in each of these circles is the ever shifting power of the divine feminine. i can’t even believe i am quite saying those words, but it’s just true – sit women in a circle, and let them listen to each other? it’s a sacred space.

we know we need each other, and we can follow each other down the many pathways that lead through to a healing. we can share dreams and trauma across class and race and ability, and we can hold each other until visions for our lives become manifest.

i want all the women in my life to be more intentional about inviting each other in, holding space for each other, recognizing that a new force is moving in the world that is rooted in collective, collaborative, healing, wholistic, feminine power – in the circle. in us.

in a related bit of news, we had the allied media projects board meeting this weekend. the allied media network is always an explosion of love, because that is the central organizing emotion that guides our revolutionary commitments. and as of this weekend, for the first time, the board is all women. the transitioning process will get much more writing, because it’s been deep and beautiful, but i wanted to highlight the result and how excited i am to see that happen.



What I Would Have Said At the White House Tomorrow

Well, that was close.

I was almost going to the White House tomorrow, to talk about black and brown youth.

I was excited to be invited, I must admit. I have my criticisms of the administration, but more than that, I have so many communities in my network that are doing amazing work that deserves to be recognized and resourced, and I want the White House to know that. While there are people out there who are pointing their fingers at Obama and his cabinet, there are enclaves all over the country who have focused inward, innovating new ways to be an American – humane, internationally astute and responsible, locally oriented and invested.

Tahrir Square will look different here, but change is afoot.

I wanted to tell the White House about Detroit, of course – the incredible new economies bursting up through the soil here – a digital/media economy that is connecting people to their neighbors and allies in new ways – with 100s of people throughout the city eager to get in on the ground floor of bringing technology to their neighborhoods. And of course the local agricultural economy which is burgeoning with new models of what it means to live and eat in a city.

I wanted to tell the White House that it is going to take thinking about whole communities, our whole society, to truly uplift black and brown babies in this country. We have to start from the womb – healthy mothers supported by communities to bring their children into the world in ways that root a deep bond of love from the beginning of life.

Then we have to teach our babies about the true history of this country, all the histories of this country, the ones which include them and honor them and show what people have done to survive, to build a future out of oppression. Education that is experiential, ensures that people are being prepared to survive in a real world.

We have to support any and all kinds of families, recognizing the true scale of raising our babies.

We have to make sure children get to know the land early, trust nature and love it, and learn to live in harmony with it. We have to feed our babies food. Real, actual food, and make sure they know what it is, and long for it.

And then we have to let love overwhelm whatever rampant fear it is that leads us to criminalize, underserve and imprison such large black and brown populations in this country, so that the prison system stops being the end of the line for the majority of our young men.

I would have probably gotten all fired up, because I am falling so deeply in love with my people every day, and seeing so much more of their bravery and brilliance, and I want that love to be at the center of how we govern – in America, on earth.

I want to tell the White House that we are not waiting, we are building.

Because I am one of many, I put the word out through my social networks that I had this opportunity, asking what folks most wanted to see me uplift. Below are some of the responses that resonated.

My friend Will asked, “What is the role of government and what is the government’s responsibility to young people. I like the comments (below) about education, public safety, history/curricula and would throw in something on systematically supporting both employment and entrepreneurship. (Also,) in Arizona they are outlawing ethnic studies – what is the role of the government in developing curricula that acknowledges cultural truth, multiple perspectives, recognition of an American narrative as experienced by the peoples?”

Here are the rest of the words folks shared:

On Learning to Listen to Youth:
– :They are sick of being talked down to, and even sicker of being lied to. They can see through a phony better than any polygraph. They have the most extraordinary capacity for forgiveness. And that they are more keenly aware of the problems they are up against than they let on.”
– “The youth know best what to say!”

On Education:
– “Why does the education system continue to express or teach non-truths to our youths in public-school systems?”
– “In what context can non-violent communication skills be taught?”
– “Give our youth access to the best facilitators available, people who will help our young to develop skills needed for good lives and funding that doesn’t get cut off by politician’s whims. I have found that in almost every school or community, a few older people are relied on by the youth to answer their questions truthfully, who know how to be a help *and* to get out of the way *and* to be there when things get tough. Let the youth decide who their helpers are.”
– “Prep white youth to become adults in a country here they are no longer a majority.”
– “How do we get the art and sports back in to the curriculum?”
– “Critical thinking and vision and leadership and economic opportunities, love from the inside out, real history.”
– “Higher wages for teachers!”
– “Education that makes this generation of people under the age of 25 avoid political apathy and understand what is at stake.”

On Economic Realities:
– “It’s hard to separate the prospects of youth from the economic prospects of their parents and communities; programs that operate as if young people live in a vacuum are bound to fail.”
– “The rent is too damn high!” ( 🙂 ) And gas, and healthcare, and basic living expenses. What can we do as a national to undercut the corporate approach to life which has priced millions out of their basic needs.”

On Criminalization:
– “The effect of the ‘war on drugs’ on youth communities and their incarceration rates is a barrier to effective organizing.”
– “Public safety is so much more than increasing police!”

On Who Gets Included:
– “Why are native youth or natives in general are not reported in studies in all areas? I find it disturbing natives are being ‘cut’ or not considered or included when research or studies are conducted.”

I’m sure the chance will come again. There is a shift happening all over the world as people remember themselves, remember to love and uplift themselves and their neighbors, demand an end to tyranny and a beginning of true democratic processes.

I think, if the Obama administration wants to be a part of that, that we will all get more opportunities to be heard.

healthcare vs. healing

last week i hurt my knee while i was in ny. i’ve had issues with my knees in the past – thickness impacts if you know what i mean. i’m working on it.

anyway, while helping our hostess, the elegant super fabulous dj rimarkable, with some groceries for a gig she was catering (she’s the pam the funkstress of the east), i slipped on a patch of ice. i thought i was fine, but within a few hours my leg was swollen, hurting, my back felt lopsided and like it might have a knife in it, and i could hardly walk.

a breakdancer friend hooked me up with her doctor, but he was busy that day, so sent me to an orthopedic immediate care unit. and the immediate care unit did everything but touch my knee and actually figure out what was wrong with it. i told them all i knew, that it felt twisted or sprained – not broken. i told them i just needed some pain relief, some guidelines on how to not make it worse. they gave me an ultrasound, an x-ray, and some percoset (with a brief reference to constipation and drowsiness, bad combo…).

it amazed me to sit with health professionals who clearly cared and wanted to help, but didn’t even examine my injury over the 5 hours i was with them.

the next night i went to see dj rimarkable spin and chairdanced all night. at the end of the night a woman who had actually held it down on the dance floor asked what was up, and i explained about my knee. she said – i am an acupuncturist, and i can do something about that.

the next day i met her at the brooklyn acupuncture project and she physically examined my knee, tracing all the rivers of pain flowing up and down my leg and back. and then she pinned me from head to toe.

after about 15 minutes, i felt a release in my back that led me to giggle. after another half hour, as i was drifting in that magical sleep that comes with acupuncture, i felt a massive boom through my whole body which rachel the acupuncturist told me was a chi boom, and a good thing. after she pulled out the needles, she rubbed an analgesic oil on my knee and said it was better than ice, which can put a chill into the joint that keeps it from healing. an hour after i walked in feeling broken, i walked out feeling aligned and healed, barely limping.

when i got home i went to the detroit community acupuncture clinic and got another treatment with nora, who also hooked me up with some kind of magical tiger balm patches to keep on my joints.

i just facilitated the whole weekend and could actively feel my body attending to itself, healing faster than i ever have from a knee (or ankle, or back) injury.

it felt like the exclamation mark on a train of thought i’ve been having – i want to always choose the traditional healing methods, the methods that rely on touch and turning the body’s healing properties on itself.

and i have to remember that, even in emergencies, when it feels like the ER is the best move. i don’t need health systems that start off asking about my insurance and give me the most expensive tests they have without leaving me in better condition.

i need healing.

egypt, love and liberation

my heart is bursting from my chest today, tears on my cheeks, my skin covered in waves and waves of goosebumps as my body integrates the beautiful revolution in egypt.

i am watching al jazeera, reading the voices of egyptians on twitter, watching and listening as the egyptian protestors dance and sing and scream and celebrate the success of their revolutionary effort.

in case you don’t know yet – hosni mubarak, after 30 years of holding the presidency in egypt, has been forced out of power by the egyptian people after 18 days of revolution. and it’s not just him, it’s his entire regime. and it’s not just egypt, it’s tunisia, it’s the entire region! and instead of handing power over to the unacceptable vice president he appointed 14 days ago, mubarak conceded power to the army, who have unequivocally stated that they will stand with the people and the democratic process in this effort.

there is so much work to come as the people continue to learn how to hold power together. there is so much grief to process for the lives lost in this struggle, the martyrs who sacrificed themselves for something they knew was greater – justice.

and right now, there is this moment of feeling absolutely alive, feeling the absolute best potential of humanity when it rises up against corruption, against oppression, against violence.

if i could do backflips, or be a firework, or transport myself to tahrir square – i would.

all i can think is – how beautiful is it when people love themselves so much that they cannot continue being compromised, when they must stand up for justice?

it is so beautiful – i can’t take my eyes off of it.

“i feel so proud to be egyptian”, “i love my people” – this is love, that inner transformation which allows you to be brave and persistent and nonviolent and put others before yourself. this is love, happening at a quantum scale.

and i feel so humbled. i live in the united states, where i constantly hear organizers talking about strategy, how can “we beat them?”…and i have felt, deeply, that it isn’t about the enemy, it’s about what is within you. are you willing to step up, to put your voice and body behind your beliefs, to live in a new way? are you willing to be fearless? are you willing to see everyone as a potential ally in the larger mission for justice?

but i haven’t had enough modern models of love and inner transformation creating tangible large-scale change to draw on. now, egypt has given us this gorgeous model. nonviolent, personal, loving, healing, taking care of each other and their country, and not giving up – cleaning the streets, inviting the army to stand with the people, setting up their recycling centers and medical stations and childcare and creating the society they longed for – that is what revolution can look like.

and it is so important to me that this model of love and nonviolence comes to us all from the arab world, from the very people who have been SO internationally maligned and targeted, by my country and others, as “dangerous”, “terrorists”. it is important for us all to grasp that in fact, egyptians, arabs, are the current face of people’s power, of a new democracy, of a love-based transformational movement.

i am in, i am celebrating, i am crying and laughing and overjoyed. i am so grateful.

thank you egypt. thank you so, so much.

your love has changed the world.

A Few Things the American and Western Publics should KNOW About the Egyptian Revolution by Atef Said

(wanted to pass along this important piece from an Egyptian writer-activist. Please pass it along.)

1) This is a mass revolt that includes all Egyptian provinces and cities, even little villages. Historian Joel Beinin describes this as a “tipping point” in the Egyptian history. Such a wide-ranging, major revolt has never happened in Egypt and it is perhaps greater than the Egyptian revolt of 1919 against the British Occupation. Hence, please do not believe the mainstream media in the West and especially in the U.S. that continues to describe the events in Egypt as a passing crisis. This is the typical, depoliticizing language of western governments and mainstream media. Yesterday, about half a million demonstrators were in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. In Alexandria, no less than two hundred thousand people were demonstrating. In Mahala, about 150 thousand people were on the streets. In Suez and Mansoura, Fayoum, and many other major cities numbers were about 40 to 50 thousands at least.

2) ALSO, please know that the language of “reform” being encouraged in Washington, D.C., and European capitals at worst means endorsing Mubarak, giving him time to maneuver, steal the revolution, and/or suppress the demonstrations. At best, it is designed to allow superficial changes that do not fundamentally respond to the demands of the Egyptian people. People in Egypt in the hundreds of thousands have one slogan: WE NEED THE END OF THIS REGIME. Mubarak is a tyrant who has run the country for 30 years, since the first year of PRESIDENT REAGAN’S administration (!!!) by using emergency law. His rule has been marked by forged elections and widespread corruption. At the same time, he is regularly portrayed in the West as a moderate leader and friend. Reports by Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, among others, have documented the bloody history of Mubarak’s rule. Note that the internet was shut down by the government of Egypt since January 28 until the moment. Even China worries about doing such a thing in 2011. And Western governments still talk to the regime in the language of reform. Also insulting and indicating Western complicity is the language that “all sides” need to stop the violence, since demonstrators are unarmed, at least 200 of them have been killed, and well over 1,500 have been injured.

3) The idea of a “chaotic” Egypt with widespread looting is part of regime propaganda. Yes, looting has occurred. But as with the situation in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, corporate media exaggerate chaos and looting to the detriment of focusing on the larger substantive patterns and dynamics, and the causal factors. People I’ve spoken with in Egypt and hundreds of leaked Twitter reports reinforce that these are exaggerations designed to distract from the main patterns and issues. Moreover, most of the folks who have been caught looting and spreading violence are members of Mubarak’s secret police and thugs. These individuals work with his regime to forge elections and attack demonstrators. About two million people, largely men, work in this secret police force. Egypt under Mubarak spends around $1.5 billion a year to finance this security apparatus in a country with a debt of around $500 billion as of 2009. For example, in Tahrir Square, people created a human shield and worked with the military to protect the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, the Arab League Headquarters, both in Tahrir Square, at the same time Tahrir Square businesses have not been looted. The only place that was burned in the Square was the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party. People have organized neighborhood watch groups nationwide in order to protect private and public property.

4) There is a dominant narrative that if there is regime change in Egypt, this will bring a radical extremist government. This narrative is spread by Mubarak’s regime, Israel, U.S. governmentn officials, and the mainstream media in the U.S. This is absolutely not true. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood refused to participate in the January 25 protests, watched for three days, and then decided to join them. In 2005, the MB struck a deal to win 88 seats in parliament — according to interview with their former leader. Youth in the streets denounce the religious chants encouraged by the Muslim Brotherhood. A common slogan in the demonstrations nationwide is: We need a democratic civilian government, not a sectarian government, not a government of thieves. On January 30, Mubarak pressured Christian leaders and the al-Azhar Shaikh to say in public that they still support Mubarak. Today in response, many Egyptian Christian demonstrators carried crosses. Some demonstrators have changed: Shaikhs and Popes, shut the Fuck Up. Christians and Muslims were injured and killed together in these demonstrations. No single Muslim Brotherhood leader who was interviewed in the media dares to claim the revolt for their organization. They cannot steal this revolution.To be fair to the Muslim Brotherhood, they have paid a heavy price under Mubarak’s repression. Moreover, they are known to be quite pragmatic in their politics.

This is history in the making. An opportunity to side with people’s right to democracy and freedom. If you care about freedom and democracy, 1) spread the news to overcome the information blockades and mainstream messages; 2) express solidarity with the Egyptian people as often as you can; 3) write to your government representatives, newspapers, blogs, and other media venues, telling them you refuse to have your money used to back a dictator and repress people’s legitimate grievances; 4) protest in front of Egyptian embassies worldwide and or before other houses of power, especially of Western governments whose leaders support Mubarak and have supported him since 1981! It is all of our democratic right to question our government’s support for bloody dictators!

birth and revolution

when asked who is the leader, people in tahrir sqaure say, ‘we are’. we need a new concept of revolution to understand #egypt. it’s emerging from the people. leaders could only be midwives.
— grace lee boggs

Meet Asmaa Mahfouz and the vlog that Helped Spark the Revolution

i have been watching internet videos and sharif kouddous on democracy now, and al-jazeera non-stop for days, watching revolution catch and grow like a fire in the middle east. it’s beautiful, and i have been trying to think of ways to write about it without romanticizing what i see. i know that there are beautiful parts and mostly there are very very hard conditions that people there are in, and have been in, and will be in.

to me the beauty is in the self-organization, decentralization, and simultaneous strategic use of and independence from technology. its in the voices and leadership of women and young people who are all incredibly on message and uncompromising on their demands.

watching the people demand and create change in egypt and throughout the middle east is giving me that thing i have been longing for which is greater than hope – belief that change is possible in our lifetimes, in the present.

i had been feeling sort of hopeless not about the work of u.s. movements, but the internal dysfunctions and how that lays a shoddy foundation for any revolutionary work. i have felt myself wanting to shake loose of movements where i can’t feel the commitment to transformation, only feeling the loyalty to anger, critique and competition.

i have felt myself pulled towards healing and food and babies, cooking all the time, focusing on being a great auntie, and beginning to learn the path of the doula.

now its clear to see there is something universal in this longing, that it is not a moving away from movement that makes me want to attend to the health and the birth and body of people. it is another path to liberation.

we need to see, and feel, that there is a resilience which comes from saying no to traditional top-down leadership, from stepping up to take care of our own communities (whether that’s as security or picking up litter or marching), from saying yes to women’s voices and actions, from holding out for the true demand of participatory democracy (not “capitulating as Mubarak has done,” — Noha Radwan).

i see that one role of midwives and doulas at this moment is to present a new way to think of generating great transformation. you support the mother, you nourish her, you believe in the innate capacity of the child and the mother to negotiate that fine line of life and death, you give everything you can, you do your best, you stay with it no matter what, you don’t take the mother’s process personally, you know there is no single right path except the one taken, and no matter what, you believe with your whole heart that the change WILL happen.

this happens all the time. 30 years ago such a miracle happened and the love of my life was born. what she has taught me about love could fill many books, but the most important lesson is the simplest: love is expansive.

and love – of people, of family, of the right to participate and to live – is what is driving the rage and uprising and change in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Jordan.

it is possible. it will happen. it is, now.

good resources in addition to al jazeera: