Monthly Archive for July, 2015

what are you a fight for?

i wrote a story this weekend that brought me joy. actually it brought me creative ecstasy. it came at a time when i have been hurting, for lots of reasons, many of them connected to collective black and brown grief. in that pain, i have had the opportunity to create, and to lean on people, and be leaned on.

all this vulnerability and vision has brought to light a practice i have been in – being a fight FOR, instead of (or in addition to) a fight against.

i most recently heard this way of speaking about things in one of the somatics courses i was student-teaching, like ‘how can we be a fight for each other?’

i kind of got it – to be moving forward and advancing, instead of always on the defensive.

but the longer i sit with it, in deep relationship with family, friends and lovers, the more i see that it is a series of small choices and actions that pile up into that forward motion. and, as always, it all unfolds in nonlinear concurrent layers and levels of transformation.

it requires first and foremost being a fight for myself – what do i long for? what do i know i deserve? what do i need? how am i going to fight for myself?

being in a fight for myself has led me to be honest about what makes me feel happy, strong, like i am realizing my miraculous potential. it has led me deep onto my writing and healing paths, led me to develop emergent strategy in response to non-profit organizational trauma, to reexamine my food practices, to ask for what i am worth, to surround myself with woes.

i’ve also looked at my friendships and relationships, asking myself how can i be a fight for my loved ones? this means not just listening to them, but listening for the truth within them, listening for what they are longing for, for what they know they deserve, for what they need. and showing up with them in that fight for their dignity, life, health, joy, self-realization.

this month was the one year anniversary of my friend charity hicks passing. while revisiting the fierce and glorious energy she walked with, while touching again my grief for her, i learned that juan evans, an incredible black trans organizer i’ve gotten to know and hold over the past couple of years through black organizing and somatics work, had transitioned from this life. both of them are incredible examples of the next level of fighting for – being a fight for our people, for our species.

in early june i witnessed juan in that brave and beautiful fight for himself, his dignity and that of black trans people. juan told us that ‘when we fight, we win’. before she died, charity issued us the guidance to ‘wage love’.

i want to embody the fight for my people with a passion that honors both of these beloveds.

this past weekend as i was writing my story, which is about a black goddess addicted to eating racism, i got to watch from afar as the movement for black lives gathered the most brilliant and fearless black minds in this country together. what i saw and read about was the creation of a black utopian space for collective grieving, remembrance, honoring, celebrating, narrative shifting, dancing, singing, centering…and then protecting each other when cleveland cops encroached on that sacred space. i am, again, so glad to be alive and awake at this moment as black people fight for our dignity to be recognized, our lives to matter.

there is so much to fight against, so many people who want us to cower and shrink, or, when we fight, to fight defensively, in isolation, against each other, to confirm some degrading concept of self, of blackness, that has nothing to do with black people, with evolving in our human purpose.

but it feels like we are realizing that the way to do that is to fortify ourselves so that we can source from our longings, health, love, dreams and visions, from our strength and our connections with each other. at an individual level, i feel like a rolling rock, gathering speed in the direction of freedom. at a collective level, i feel we are becoming a formidable people at a time when nothing less will do.

so when i see you? all i want to know is: what are you a fight for?

lies for sandra bland

we all know how to make a noose
yeah they teach us when we are young
when we are laughing
then we are in stitches

our cheekbones crack open concrete
you know we got this other pulse
in our nomad hearts
a cyanide vibration

when silenced we string ourselves up flagpoles
let the wind whip us into our own histories
before you script us a horror
and sign our names

we beam joy, breathe calls for justice
tie our names around your heart, and jump
just hoping our weight
will come and bury you

– for Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman and the million other lied on women.

when we die in police custody, know our lives are being taken from us in so many ways, and our lives are precious. we are being killed, fast and slow, abruptly, methodically.

and this drives us mad and makes us depressed and hopeless.

no one wants to do this, to be grieving and angry and exhausted and disappeared and lied on and terrified all the time.

filling our lives with fear is a taking.

traumatic interactions with ‘authority’ is a taking.

having to grieve over sister-strangers is a taking.

having to explain that even though this country gives us every reason to give up, we do not, that fighters don’t hang themselves for traffic violations, we do not…this too is a taking.

life is a miracle, getting through the day shouldn’t be.

I want to rest, celebrate, dance, love, generate, heal, create. but every time I start to find a rhythm a new grief knocks me down.

everything I’m writing these days is about black rapture, resistance, resilience, black escape and safety, black love, blackness.

but today when I sit still to feel, all that rolls over me is black rage. what can I do to make this useful? what I do to move myself and others to anything better than this pain?

the only thing that pivots me away from the abyss is the question: how did my ancestors survive?

and I don’t know the answers, but I know that they did, and while I breathe I will, and while black people breathe we will.

but at what cost?

at night i pour out all my grief

(Dedicated to Juan Evans)

At night I pour out all my grief
flood the pillow
to the moon

And when I sleep I dream of death
I wonder why
its random, soon

At night I pour out all my grief
With dawn
my cup is full again

I wake to find I’ve lost a friend
With dawn
my cup is full again

What is/isn’t transformative justice?

I’ve been thinking a lot about transformative justice lately.

In the past few months I’ve been to a couple of gatherings I was really excited about, and then found myself disappointed, not because drama kicked up, which is inevitable, but because of how we as participants and organizers and people handled those dramas.

Simultaneously I’ve watched several public take downs, call outs and other grievances take place on social and mainstream media.

And I’m wondering if those of us with an intention of transforming the world have a common understanding of the kind of justice we want to practice, now and in the future.

What we do now is find out someone or some group has done (or may have done) something out of alignment with our values. Some of the transgressions are small – saying something fucked up. Some are massive – false identity, sexual assault.

We then tear that person or group to shreds in a way that affirms our values. When we are satisfied that that person or group is destroyed, we move on.

Or sometimes we just move on because the next scandal has arrived.

I’m not above this behavior – I laugh at the memes, like the apoplectic statuses. I feel better about myself because I’m on the right side of history…or at least the news cycle.

But I also wonder: is this what we’re here for? To cultivate a fear-based adherence to reductive common values?

What can this lead to in an imperfect world full of sloppy complex humans? Is it possible we will call each other out until there’s no one left beside us?

I’ve had tons of conversations with people who, in these moments of public flaying, avoid stepping up on the side of complexity or curiosity because in the back of our minds is the shared unspoken question: when will y’all come for me?

The places I’m drawn to in movement espouse a desire for transformative justice – justice practices that go all the way to the root of the problem and generate solutions and healing there, such that the conditions that create injustice are transformed.

And yet…we don’t really know how to do it.

We call it transformative justice when we’re throwing knives and insults, exposing each other’s worst mistakes, reducing each other to moments of failure. We call it holding each other accountable.

I’m tired of it. I recently reposted words from Ryan Li Dahlstrom, speaking about this trend in the queer community. But I see it everywhere I turn.

When the response to mistakes, failures and misunderstandings is emotional, psychological, economic and physical punishment, we breed a culture of fear, secrecy and isolation.

So I’m wondering, in a real way: how can we pivot towards practicing transformative justice? How do we shift from individual, interpersonal and inter-organizational anger towards viable generative sustainable systemic change?

In my facilitation and meditation work, I’ve seen three questions that can help us grow. I offer them here with real longing to hear more responses, to get in deep practice that helps us create conditions conducive to life in our movements and communities.

1. Listen with ‘Why?’ as a framework.

People mess up. We lie, exaggerate, betray, hurt, and abandon each other. When we hear that this has happened, it makes sense to feel anger, pain, confusion and sadness. But to move immediately to punishment means that we stay on the surface of what has happened.

To transform the conditions of the ‘wrongdoing’, we have to ask ourselves and each other ‘Why?’

Even – especially – when we are scared of the answer.

It’s easy to decide a person or group is shady, evil, psychopathic. The hard truth (hard because there’s no quick fix) is that long term injustice creates most evil behavior. The percentage of psychopaths in the world is just not high enough to justify the ease with which we assign that condition to others.

In my mediations, ‘Why?’ is often the game changing, possibility opening question. That’s because the answers rehumanize those we feel are perpetuating against us. ‘Why?’ often leads us to grief, abuse, trauma, mental illness, difference, socialization, childhood, scarcity, loneliness.

Also, ‘Why?’ makes it impossible to ignore that we might be capable of a similar transgression in similar circumstances.

We don’t want to see that.

Demonizing is more efficient than relinquishing our world views, which is why we have slavery, holocausts, lynchings and witch trials in our short human history.

‘Why?’ can be an evolutionary question.

2. Ask yourself/selves: what can I /we learn from this?

I love the pop star Rihanna, not just because she smokes blunts in ballgowns, but because one of her earliest tattoos is ‘never a failure, always a lesson’.

If the only thing I can learn from a situation is that some humans do bad things, it’s a waste of my precious time – I already know that.

What I want to know is, what can this teach me/us about how to improve our humanity?

For instance, Bill Cosby’s mass rape history is not a lesson in him being a horrible isolated mass rapist. It’s a lesson in listening to women who identify perpetrators, making sure those perpetrators are not able to continue their violence but experience interventions that transform them, make that injustice impossible. If the first woman raped by Cosby had been listened to, over 40 other women could have been spared.

What can we learn? In every situation there are lessons that lead to transformation.

3. How can my real time actions contribute to transforming this situation (vs making it worse)?

This question feels particularly important in the age of social media, where we can make our pain viral before we’ve even had a chance to feel it.

Often we are well down a path of public shaming and punishment before we have any facts about what’s happening. That’s true of mainstream take downs, and it’s true of interpersonal grievances.

We air our dirt not to each other, but with each other, with hashtags or in specific but nameless rants, to the public, and to those who feed on our weakness and divisions.

We make it less likely to find room for mediation and transformation.

We make less of ourselves.

Again, there are times when that kind of calling out is the only option – particularly with those of great privilege who are not within our reach.

But if you have each other’s phone numbers, or are within two degrees of social media connection, and particularly if you are in the small small percentage of humans trying to change the world – you actually have access to transformative justice in real time. Get mediation support, think of the community, move towards justice.

Real time is slower than social media time, where everything feels urgent. Real time often includes periods of silence, reflection, growth, space, self-forgiveness, processing with loved ones, rest, and responsibility.

Real time transformation requires stating your needs and setting functional boundaries.

Transformative justice requires us at minimum to ask ourselves questions like these before we jump, teeth bared, for the jugular.

I think this is some of the hardest work. It’s not about pack hunting an external enemy, it’s about deep shifts in our own ways of being.

But if we want to create a world in which conflict and trauma aren’t the center of our collective existence, we have to practice something new, ask different questions, access again our curiosity about each other as a species.

And so much more.

I want us to do better. I want to feel like we are responsible for each other’s transformation. Not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.

I believe transformative justice could yield deeper trust, resilience and interdependence. All these mass and intimate punishments keep us small and fragile. And right now our movements and the people within them need to be massive and complex and strong.

I want to hear what y’all think, and what you’re practicing in the spirit of transformative justice.

Towards wholeness and evolution, loves.

post nationalist on holiday

I don’t believe in
Or celebrate
Your borders

But I love fireworks
(as an act of magic
I suspend my memory of violence)

I love your black ribs
I love the laughter
Inside them

But I don’t wave flags
Even rainbows have
Ownership intentions

I love all the people
But I smell my blood
In the dirt

I am free
Not because of this place
But in spite of it

– July 4, 2015
#blacklivesmatter

when are we / #whoisburningblackchurches

If 7 white churches had burned down in 14 days, after 9 white people were killed by a person of any other race in a house of worship, can you imagine what would be happening right now?

Imagination muscles flex…right now we’re calling for media coverage of the horror of it, yes. But that’s not all, not hardly.

Imagine further – National Guard, militia, local police and folks flocking to the region to support armed guard shifts of those churches still standing.

Millions raised to rebuild and never forget.

Terms like terrorism and war thrown about.

And, accurate or not, we’d have been had a clear answer to #whoisburningblackchurches as well.

So that’s why #blacklivesmatter can’t be all lives matter. The racism and hatred black people are up against is so devastating that most days all we ask for is folks to look at the fire.

But it’s not enough – fire spreads…that’s the law of nature. We have to pinpoint who is playing these death games with fire.

We have to be an ocean.

Again.

==================

When are we
I feel I, we, all mine
Are lost in time

They raised the battle flag
In Avon Minnesota today
To show the borderlessness
But we already knew
Everywhere is war

But when

And why
Do we hear bugles
Do we smell smoke
When we hug black bodies?

Oh, the church is on fire
No another one
No another one
No another one
No another one
No another one
No…another one

It’s those ghosts again
Their children’s children are
Non-linear haunts

But
Isn’t this the future

How are a million eyes open
But no one will look…
When can we run go hide

When are we

These days of ashes
We wake up wary

Which illusion is killing us
Which construct
Is it our flesh hunted
Or our time

Each moment fills up with smoke
We are catching fire
Again

We feel the rocking of ships
The grief of the sea
We stumble
We moon walk in chains
We dance free

But when could we
Just be