cab drivers are my favorite

today i got in a cab from the oakland airport, feeling guilty for taking the cab, and jetlagged and like i was carrying too much. i looked at the airbart shuttle for a while, and then decided to treat myself.

almost every time i take a cab, i get into a conversation with the cab driver. recent conversations have included railing about airport security, talking about love, talking about family. mostly though, its about politics. these conversations are among the rare times when politics doesn’t feel like people playacting on a stage (this may sound hypocritical from someone who can’t stop watching Beyonce’s Single Ladies video, but I like when my performers call themselves Sasha Fierce and do Fosse, not write policy).

i learn a lot. cab drivers who started life outside these borders have taught me more about pakistan, somalia, senegal, brazil, saudi arabia and iraq than i’ve ever learned from news or history class. i keep meaning to write it up somewhere.

today my cab driver was super friendly, asked me about the holidays, then quickly got to talking about obama’s security team. he said it was a shame that people in america didn’t stay informed, when so much was happening as a result of us. policy in other places.

overall he felt the security team selections were good, hillary seemed like a good choice. this led him to rail about the ridiculousness of sarah palin, and we debriefed the campaigns a bit. but overall, he said, any changes would be well received around the world. he was so excited by how many countries celebrated obama’s win, and i told him my theory – that election night was the largest simutaneous moment of celebration we’ve ever had in the world, since people were able to access the information internationally instantaneously.

i said i hoped people saw it as a beginning, not an end – that politics can’t solve all our problems.

he said it wasn’t the politics that mattered…”politics are a dirty game.” what mattered was the hope, that people needed hope to get through this dark moment. his analysis was so astute, so much better than any morning talk show. moments like that remind me that people are awake and paying attention.

thanksgiving with the family

between meals briefing:

i got to totally relax this weekend, as my family and my love were all under one roof and i could just be here.

i still can be made to feel 5.

love is a choosing, i love the moment when we all choose to be here with each other.

even though i think i am completely over holidays focused around buying and indulging, whenever i go through them i feel even further away and more over them, and even stranger for participating, even if that’s how to see my family.

that said, i do love time with my family, and know we’re all in different places with our feelings towards holidays. some of my family loves trees, lights, wreaths, hymns, carols, and gifts. i love giving, but most everything about the holidays makes me feel ill inside, the things we celebrate expose our true values.

we watched wall-e last night and i kept thinking, how boneless are we willing to become as a species, celebrating light, wealth, materials and colonization?

that said, i love my family. i love any excuse the world gives us to spend time with each other.

my nephew is more interesting to me than anything else in the world right now, and i want to be like that, see everything with new eyes, basic needs, easily moved to smile, praised for my size and appetite, appreciated for the softness of all of me, and beyond emotional attachment to suffering.

when i was younger i wrote scathing pieces about thanksgiving, about holidays, all of it.

right now i feel like withholding my energy from that debate, it feels circular. i’d rather go for a walk, garden, learn to build something, raise money for the Indigenous People’s Power Project, or do something equally useful. i can really feel the shift in my analysis on a foundational level away from the negative, the anger.

even the disgust. on black friday, a shopping-hungry throng stampeded a wal-mart temp employee to death in long island, ny, injuring several others including a pregnant woman. they tore the doors off the hinges after waiting all night to…shop. of course, my initial reaction was surprise and disgust, but then…it feel like a natural next step to me. in a culture of addiction to “stuff“, we must all always remember that people will do anything to feed an addiction. not to generalize away from the horror of the specific. the horror is just so overwhelming that it can become paralyzing, to remember we live in a world so out of control, just so polite about it that people can be shocked about violence, but not the whole context of the day.

i have spent a lot of time feeling that horror – recently i was in a meeting with adele nieves, who said that she’s been in a state of shock since she became politicized. that resonated for me. that may always be the case.

but i also feel drawn to solutions, to visions, to people sustainably and powerfully living right now, carving out a space for a different way of life, light in the darkness types.

with my family, i also see that the full range of addiction and health exists in each person – i’m not in some advanced space relative to my loved ones, we are each part of the problem and parts of the solution, in small and large ways.

non-judgment returns to me, and surrender. surrender to being present, and moving without judgment and nonreaction though this blessed world.

Art on the Black Male

Today I stopped by Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition DOWN on Wooster Street in Manhattan. Between lunch and getting back to work, and kind of dragged because for some reason I resist taking time to see art, I was stopped in the jawdropped way art can do: boom, offguard. The pieces are stunning, candy-colored, morbid, erotic, and clearly the work of someone who truly adores the black male figure, sees the divinity and art of it.

The pictures place young black men (men who give that specific sharp together-sexy-and-grown look of gay hip-hop divas in Brooklyn, Harlem, Oakland) into simple poses against intricate floral backdrops – the poses harken death, sex and divinity. I was reminded of every black man I have ever loved.  The hands of one figure made me think of my father and his brothers, who each have the most distinct hands and knuckles, crooked when they point.

The art was stunning because it brought together vulnerability and strength and the gorgeous warm brownness of black bodies, ancient and childlike eyes, the fluidity of gender really. Needless to say I was moved, impressed. Here’s my attempt to capture one of the giant pieces:


I then was clearing out my email and found a message that was forwarded to me a while ago, with links to The Masculinity Project, which I have been wanting to check out. So I took 10 minutes and watched these videos – highly recommend them. Also lovely, in a melancholy and honest way – about two black men, homeless, 40ish. Their stories are simple, could be anyone’s stories; if you start at point A and get twisted about a bit, you could end up anywhere. Here’s the message from the artist, Angela Tucker:

I just wanted to call your attention to two short pieces that I directed entitled INVISIBLE MEN.  They are now live on The National Black Programming Consortium’s (NBPC) new site, Black Public Media.  I worked with a homeless outreach program, Common Ground, to find two, formerly homeless men to interview for these pieces.  They are both really amazing men.  These pieces are a part of NBPC’s Masculinity Project which features commissioned shorts about the black male experience in the US.  I am really proud of them so when you have a sec, check them out.



There are a lot of other great pieces on this site so have a look around.  Byron Hurt’s piece, BARACK AND OBAMA, for example, is quite good.


quickly, as one is in new york

i have been moving at a remarkable pace through an east coast trip, amazed that i once lived here in nyc, and once was one of the fastest doers in this fast city.

i got to surprise my father for his birthdayy this past weekend, and watch him be a granddad to my little nephew, and get seen by my family, which is always a trial and a triumph. most places i go in the world, people get a quick glimpse, and i think i give great glimpses. but my family knows me too well, they know my patterns for doing transformational work at breakneck candlewick speed, and tend to be less easily impressed with the results if they don’t also see me getting 8 hours of sleep, eating well, exercising. sigh. push-ups or power?

but it was good, like looking in a mirror and seeing something to smile at, and something to strive for. they love me so much they remind me to love myself more.

i took this executive director job in order to reimagine what healthy leadership could look like, if it was possible to have leadership as service AND be sustainable. its easy not to survive this job, i am still committed to the harder path of enjoying it.

now i’m in new york for a couple of days moving between very exciting meetings and interviews, and wrapping some time with my oldest friends around that. new york is where i learned the lesson that there is never enough time, which i am trying to unlearn each day of my life. but being here it’s easy to forget that life is a co-created dream, that each individual can draw a door through to the world they want and walk through it, at a pace that feels both thrilling and possible. being here i dash place to place, remember words like brisk, fraught, taunt, quick.

im between two things now, and each “thing” is completely invigorating and requires me to be fully present, so i feel remarkably alive, in love, and alert. i just wanted to throw a snapshot up here, since it’s a release and a discipline to write.

and i’m off.

Changing the Nature of Conferences and Gatherings in 3 Easy Steps

Over the past 6 months I have been to several conferences. Actually, over the course of my life I have been to a silly number of conferences, some of which I have helped organize. I have had moments of deciding they were a total waste of time, and I was never going to another one.

Until the next one which I have to attend for reasons either political, financial, or for outreach, or just cause I need something to off-set the sometimes isolating reality of being hopeful.

So, I want to write up some stuff I have observed about how to make conferences and gatherings more effective and transformative, since we need to come together.

I particularly want to speak to this having very recently come from the first  visioning session for the 11th Annual Allied Media Conference, which will be in Detroit July 16-19, 2009. The conference planners as a group were selected by Utne Magazine as one of 50 Visionaries. It is a hands-on, do-it-yourself conference with a fully functional media lab that has become an annual migration for cutting edge (or frontline) social justice communities to meet and explore media tactics. Young people, and folks on the margins of power, are the community of the conference. The goal is to increase their capacity to communicate horizontally, to tell their stories, outreach, and ultimately transform their communities. They walk out of the conference with tangible skills – how to create a low power FM radio station, how to facilitate, how to create a website, how to accurately survey within your community, how to tell digital stories.

It’s not a perfect conference, it’s a learning conference. It’s amazing for beginning and intermediate organizers who recognize the need for media to enhance their impact. We’re still figuring out how to support and evolve the work of advanced media organizers; and also on getting folks to understand that popular education is a political process, not just an interactive workshop.

The process we use to develop the Allied Media Conference is really exciting, because we engage deeply with communities and organizations who have come before, and groups, individuals and networks who we want to engage in the future. These groups have something to offer to the folks already there, and/or something to learn from the folks already there. The types of folks who come tend to be folks who are doing long-term work as a community and need ways to communicate with each other, and are hampered from communicating by economics, environment, or socialization.

We are all socialized towards communication that flows one way. At conferences, we are often victims of that socialization. The usual flow is that the planners get VERY excited about their conference’s potential, about the ideas that are going to be discussed, and they invite experts on the ideas, and set up panels and keynotes. The other flow is that gatherings are designed to increase a particular skillset, the planners identify experts at the skills, and those experts come to teach folks how to do their skill.

The result of this is that people, brilliant people who need to collaborate, build and learn with and from each other, instead come together to sit and consume, either someone else’s thoughts, or someone else’s methods. And sadly, experts are not necessarily compelling speakers, or inspiring, empowering trainers or facilitators. Occasionally there are small groups, but when these aren’t well-guided and facilitated and set-up, it just ends up like a tease with a report-back.

The way this feels when a group of amazing people come together in a format of panels, lectures, meetings is like being thirsty, and facing 50 or 100 or 4000 clear, seemingly unopenable containers full of water. We don’t have to do this anymore!

Here are 3 Easy Steps I think could improve EVERY conference or gathering in existence:

1. See facilitation as a GIFT

Facilitation is a really precise gift that some people have, and others can learn. Facilitation is not getting up and speaking at people, it’s not moderating, its not just asking questions…it’s actually holding and directing the energy of the room, and the energy of the conversation. It is a facilitator’s role to know what people want to walk away with, and not let them leave without it!

2. If people are together, give them something to do that they couldn’t do by phone, email, or snail mail.

This is becoming increasingly hard – folks can talk on the phone, folks can see a video of a speech, skype each other, tweet each other, folks can read a strategic plan or treatise that is complete. What they can’t necessarily do is really FEEL someone, be in direct conversation with an expert (peer, elder or younger), and have that beautiful and organic co-creation process. In the planning process, ask: could folks do this without us? This is a question that can really help open up the world of possibilities, and assess the need for a session, conference, or gathering. Make your offering unique and remarkable or don’t waste the resources (time, people, money, hope, interest).

3. Popular Education

Popular education is deeply related to and sometimes used interchangeably with the terms direct education and experiential education, depending on who you learn from. Pop ed is not just a cool tactic to spice up a workshop, its really the education model of the ancients and the future, as it proposes that humans are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, they are complex containers of experiences, tragedies, joy, learnings and skills and needs. When bringing people together in a space, if you do not treat them as empty vessels, then you will find they have much to pour into the space, much to exchange. While recognizing that we need space to share our experiences (the things that make us experts) appropriately, it is time for us to evolve to using popular education models when bringing people together.

And not faking it! Random networking sessions, or forced dialogue or pairings, that’s not it. Really setting an intention and building an agenda that is shaped around the potential and needs of the group is liberating for all. Especially when it makes the most of the time available 🙂

Open space technology, to me, is one way to try on popular education that can help a group start to identify the wealth of knowledge in their midst and prioritize which precious knowledge they want to prioritize.

There are sooooo many ways to improve gatherings, and it’s past time we did so. Holla with input, questions, I am serious about wanting to raise the general effectiveness of all gatherings.

“Together we are a genius,” but not if we don’t unleash it!

Actions to Overcome Homophobia; and a Poem For My Nephew

I keep trying to write this long, hyper-analytical piece on actions that will overcome the homophobia evidenced in this most recent election, and finding myself off on tangents and polite-ticities (new word alert), so I am just gonna break down my thoughts quick here and post it for feedback.

I have seen amazing actions popping off since the election about Prop 8, aka Prop Hate. I don’t want to critique those actions, since I know the marches, rallies and actions are grounded in love.

I do want to highlight the reactionary nature of the whole response to Prop 8, and to the bills in Florida and Arkansas. Now that the campaigns, each of which appear to have been run poorly in terms of gathering and galvanizing voters, have failed, we’re up in arms and out in the streets.

I have to say that with much respect to those actions, I can only see two actions that will actually have a difference on the outcomes.

The first is for straight couples to start to demand civil unions, to stand in solidarity with the analysis that marriage is unconstitutional, and denying the rights of anyone in the U.S. to an unconstitutional practice has us all kinds of turned around. This is not to say that straight couples have to forego marriage in church, but asking folks to practice marriage as an act of a church, and civil unions/domestic partnerships as the power of the state.

This is all towards a functional system true to its founding principles, regardless of how unpopular it may feel. I speak to the democratic intention of the constitution, to protect people from religious persecution (exclusion is a form of persecution).

The second action is for ‘gay’ people, and those in solidarity with gay (where the quotations just mean to include: queer, transgender, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, mormon polygamist, two spirited, questioning, men sleeping with men, women sleeping with women, and all other existing relationships) who are based in communities that supported prop 8 to take action in their communities.

As we learned during the civil rights movement, it was the bravery of the most targeted and impacted communities, exposing their dreams and making themselves utterly vulnerable at lunch counters, on buses, on bridges; that’s what created the images and narrative that allowed us to evolve policy and practice for black people and elections.

Now we want to evolve policy for queer people (and Arab folks and immigrants and prisoners and still black folks and poor folks and others), and the way to do it isn’t a kiss-in in front of the Mormon Tabernacle.

Love should be our guide. This isn’t a time for symbolic actions that express a lack of faith that we can turn the tides in our communities, or a lack of respect for beliefs that are different from ours. This is the time for actions that redefine and expand the understanding of religious freedom, community and democratic practices in America and worldwide.

So those are my thoughts on that.

In other worlds, my nephew is AMAZING and spending much of the day with him today was sooooo fulfilling. so i wrote him a love poem. Here it is:


my sweet new one

holy discovery of the day

wide eyed, wide, opened wide

sweet smell, just-here smell

of clean

of new-to-the-world

of softest skin

skin with the tiniest

and fragile hair

all the softest kind of cover

changing-daily skin

my sweet loved one

your mouth shaped like kiss and suckle

a place to sense + taste + learn


dependent and strong

standing, shaking with effort

head held high

bones committing to solidarity

you will walk

you will run

you are as new as the daily sun

Fumbling on Post-Racialism at Facing Race

I’ve been sitting here at Facing Race for over an hour in a plenary session that is ill-conceived. It’s supposed to be about this post-racial, colorblind argument, and how to respond.I was really excited, because I feel like Rinku and the ARC family were the first ones to predict that post-racialism was coming and we’d have to be able to respond with a racial justice analysis that didn’t isolate folks new to seeing the world with that lense.

There’s a lot of brilliant people on the panel, but the format is really slowing folks down. It’s supposed to be a mock debate with commentators. The “post-race” side is repping much better than the racial justice side in the debates, though I wish there were real people of color with a post-race analysis and it was a real debate. But either way, the moderator keeps talking, and then telling us in the audience Very Basic racism talking points. (note: I get really triggered when white men tell me Very Basic info about racism, can’t help it.)

A lot of time was wasted, and I didn’t get to hear Kalpana, Malkia or Andrew nearly enough.

Malkia Cyril smashed near the end tho, saying that in many ways a post-racial analysis is how the first black president was elected without talking about race, except to celebrate the post-race moment once he’s done.

Sigh. I am all for creative formats and interactivity, but we need some TOOLS right now and this was the anti-toolbox.

Love Facing Race, but ugh!

Caught up, and Love

ok it looks like i blogged all day, but actually have been blogging every day and it was all backed up, so this is me catching up. i AM liveblogging the Facing Race conference on as well.

this is not a speech or anything, just excerpts from a conversation on love:

(why isn’t there an emoticon for sad laugh)
is it a righteous thing to be the masochist in a fucked up dynamic?
insecurities are disgusting
i so wish u could reach a plateau where love was in effect and to get there you had to toss the insecurites back over the edge
i hate mine, im sure u hate yours
but when they start to become – the force behind actions? then they become dangerous
belief is life
privilege is deep, in all its beauty and ugliness
u have to both be braver
if u are gonna make it
strength…i think it comes more with surrender
we know so much! about our loves, don’t we?
you’re playing thumb war instead of holding hands
most of the stuff is lifelong
and lifelong is compounded by commitment because someone else will have to be a witness to your forever problems
love is present in passion and anger
and compassion

Full Circle: Closing Speech for the Gen Vote Policy Summit

Last night I gave a little talk for the members of the Gen Vote group. It was a sweet little moment cause it really reminded me of where we were 4 years ago, and thinking how far the youth voter movement, particularly the section focused on young people of color and low income youth, has come.

Here are my notes from the speech I gave. As background, GenVote is an election focused  body within the Generational Alliance. The group was a lot of young organizers from national and local youth organizations around the country who worked on the election. The first day was an election debrief, the second and third days were a policy summit where folks were thinking about specific policy initiatives that are gonna be moving from now through the inauguration and beyond.

Anyone who has ever seen me speak knows that I tend to have some notes, then say what is in my heart at that moment. Here are the notes, with my off the top thoughts documented to the best of my ability.

– First I told the story of my election night, which is blogged below (I Finally Cried). I told how I was cynical till the last moment, then experienced the Election Lift-Off, leaping off my feet with real joy. That night I danced in the streets, and watching the video of other people’s election nights, it occurred to me that it may have been the largest moment of international leaping up, simultaneous joy and victory. It was a spiritual expansion of possibility, and what expanded was the space in which we can do our work.

– Not everyone had a victory. As a bisexual woman it was a sad night for gay folks, a scary night to see this country vote against our rights, whether we want them or not. And it was my own folks, black folks, who are being charged with tipping those scales. They were organized by folks who appealed to a traditional idea of family, and it hurt to think that the desire for justice didn’t include gay folks. But No on Prop 8 didn’t bring it. Period. The other group for whom this was a complicated victory was the Muslim and Arab communities. They were thrown way off the bus, as Obama distanced himself from that heritage because that couldn’t win. However, Obama’s victory gives us a tangible Arc of Change – 60 years ago we were fighting for the right to vote, and now one of our own sits in the highest office in this country. That change is possible – and perhaps we can speed up that arc, increase the pace of transformation.

– We have a lot to learn from the campaign, most of all the YES nature of it. Victory matters. We have been trying to engage these populations in our work, and the Obama campaign succeeded in that – we need to learn to be more welcoming. It may sound odd, but this was a feminine campaign, nurturing, inclusive, least that’s how it looked.

– We also need to see the power of grassroots fundraising, and giving folks an option to invest and feel ownership. We all gonna need that, cause it’s a recession. And that recession is not gonna last a couple months, modest estimates believe it’s gonna last a minimum of two years. We need to learn to get our community to invest in us when times get tight.

– What this moment is NOT is post-race and racism. I know folks will still act against me because of my color, internalize that for your own safety. It’s not the great redemption, its a STEP. It’s also not the revolution, or our salvation.

– What it IS is a window to engage a bunch of new people. I don’t often get excited by news or politics, even now. But I do get excited about people who don’t believe in change and justice becoming believers. We need to plug all those folks into the work – and we need to make it an appealing place to land.

– Let’s talk more about How. First, we need to keep learning to collaborate. That collaboration needs to be sincere, and include real collaborative fundraising (not just naming each other on grants and smiling about it, but actually making sincere plans).

– The other main How is that we need to occupy two roles with each other. One role is as comrades, and the other is as translators. As comrades, we have to have each other’s backs – not talking about each other to media or funders or other folks in the movement, being familiar with each other’s work, representing well for all folks who are trying to make change, and holding each other accountable. As translators – policy folks can be so boring (love y’all!), and organizers can really lack analysis and long-term tangible thinking (know thyself). WE need to come to spaces like this to exchange learnings, lessons, play our parts, advance each other’s understanding of great strategies that include great organizing for great and achievable policy.

– Where we succeeded – we are SO much more sophisticated and accountable than we were in 2000, when young people realized how much we were needed; and in 2004 when we learned a lot, and in the 2006 when we honed a lot. Still not perfect, but we can see our real capacity, our growth, and our trust. We weren’t in rooms talking policy and knowing we turned out a 5th of the electorate. We’re learning, and quickly!

– In a moment of victory it is crucial to remember what can be learned from experience and failure. What were the points we wanted to hear from Obama and other candidates at the more local level where we were not successful, and what do we need to learn from that? Was it branding or strategy that limited us?

– FDR was rumored to have told a group of organizers, “Ok you’ve convinced me, now go out and put pressure on me!” I keep thinking of that quote now, and the kind of pressure we want to be. Where we feel Obama (and other progressive candidates) is moving in the right direction, we want to be the kind of pressure that is a wind at his back. And where we feel he is drifting, for instance when he speaks of clean coal, which doesn’t exist, then we want to be the kind of pressure that can correct that direction.

– Oak Tree is the metaphor for us in this moment. I went to New Orleans after Katrina and saw these oak trees standing where nothing else was left. The oak grows low and wide, and the roots underneath reflect the branches above – wide – and where there’s more than one oak they intertwine underneath, at the subterranean level. (Go see Hurricane Season, where this is a central metaphor) We in this room may not seem to have a lot in common other than style and relative youthfulness. There are very radical people in this room, and very conservative and mainstream folks along the progressive spectrum. But at a subterranean level we want better for our communities. We have to remember that when the instinct to divide and argue comes up. We have to be as strong as oak trees, no matter what comes to us.

– In the business world, and in the natural world, only what is necessary survives. We need to make sure we are giving our communities what they need. We quote Assata Shakur here often, and it is important to bring the legacy of the Black Panthers into a space like this because they fundamentally provided folks what they needed. How are we prepared to do that for our folks, really meet their needs during this time?

– I want to hear from y’all, some of the things we can accomplish right now. Yes we can, and you finish the sentence, and each thing you saw we’ll back you up like church, yes we can.

– Yes, yes we can. And we can dream even bigger – Julian just told us about green collar jobs…yes! And we can dream no collar jobs, limitless possibility for our people. Healthcare for all people. Education as a human right. Dream big, and make it happen.

– Yesterday I was at a luncheon, and a speaker there said, “Together, we are a genius.” Look around this room. None of us, and none of our groups, can do this alone. And we are the ones we have been waiting for, for all the support our communities need.

The Jessica Pierce and Mattie Weiss led us in the chant:

It is our duty to fight
It is our duty to win
We must love each other, and protect each other
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
– Assata Shakur