black band

i am going to begin wearing a black armband on my left arm, closest to my heart, to indicate that i am a warrior in mourning.
that #blacklivesmatter to me.
that i recognize i am of a targeted nation inside a violence-addicted nation.

i am so moved by and so grateful for the work of #blacklivesmatter, the blackout collective, BYP100, black organizing for leadership and dignity (BOLD) and so many others working to generate actions for our liberation. (give money to each of those groups if you are at a loss of what to do. redistribute a portion of your salary to their work. for serious.)

and…we can’t hope that these currently under resourced formations will just do all the work for everyone. we all need to act. we need a tipping point of brave people willing to move out of complicit silence into action. (yes, i am saying that the resistance in your head or even in righteous conversation between you and a few friends is not enough – honey i wish it were. no one wants to feel all of this and do all of this. but we are in a moment of genocide and anthropocene and we must take ourselves seriously.)

we need all kinds of action – direct action, organizing, healing, strategizing, redistribution. grieving is an action. feeling is an action.

and solidarity. not “ally” solidarity, but solidarity and action by non-black people who recognize we are in one struggle for humanity.

one action is actually being public and open about our resistance, to say we see what is happening and we say no more, not today, never again, stop. we see beyond what is happening and we know love must win.

so. i want to wear what i need – a black circle, a wholeness.

as i cut up a pair of black leggings to make my armband i felt all the things i am longing for. this isn’t what everyone who wears the armband may mean, but i wanted to share.

mervyn marcano posted #blaxit the other night and i thought – ‘yes!!’ and then, ‘but seriously how do we divest from this system of genocide?’

i want to stop paying the percentage of taxes that goes to police, ICE and military forces – to defund this perversion of justice and invest in community models, mediation and healing spaces.
i want to pull all the babies out of schools that teach them they are more than or less than anyone else – either with sloppy histories or preferential treatment and funding of education.
i want a landless workers movement to secure farmland. i want my hands in some dirt – i want octavia butler’s acorn and earthseed.
i want all my money to go to people who love me, love us.
i want the precious earth to be a shared precedent that unifies our decision making.

i want all white people to catch up to the white people i hold close to me, who show me what is possible – those who never make me wonder about our equality, who never say all lives matter, who never ask me to carry the weight of their learning and unlearning.
i want to banish any white people who don’t get it, and who aren’t working on unlearning racism, from my life and the lives of everyone i love (you don’t have the range).

i want significant work stoppage across the country every time our lives are stolen because someone imagined we were dangerous to them. our money matters, our labor matters.

i want people to know when they see me that i am to be treated like a griever and like a warrior and like a healer and nothing less. i want us to come out in our grief and radical commitment to liberation.

this is bigger than police killing of black people – this band is my public declaration of war on white supremacy in all it’s manifestations, including racialized capitalism, colonialism, difference-phobia, gun fetishes, violence as a way of resolving conflict – all of it.

it is also my public vulnerability – i grieve every time i see humanity turned against itself, i feel it. and i believe it is part of my life’s work to feel it and turn others towards feeling it, to un-numb us so that we realize we are on fire. i am not going to keep adjusting and maintaining the social status quo. i am angry and numb and overwhelmed and terrified. i am mourning and trying to step into the shoes of all my newborn ancestors. i need it to be known. i need the world to interact with me with more awareness.

in studying public signs of mourning this one seems most appropriate and accessible. it has also been a sign of protest and political affiliation at times. i think we need it to be both for grief and for resistance. i also know i would feel safer in a world where those who stood against the genocide of my people were visible to me.

i recognize i may be wearing this armband for the rest of my life. i keep thinking of the length of slavery, how not being the property of a white person seemed equal parts necessary and impossible for generations and generations. not being the target of police, ending white supremacy and racialized capitalism feels impossible to me now…but it feels absolutely necessary.

all the love i walk with only lets me move in one direction, towards our liberation.

join me.

#blacklivesmatter #blackband #blaxit

blackband

(and yes, join in all my non-black and international beloveds, especially those being targeted too – this week i have cried for so many people and places all over and i feel our togetherness in our resistance even if we start from different locations. i wear this band with love for palestine, syria, bangladesh, turkey, brazil, iraq – and that’s just this week. together we are the future.)

Compassion/We are all being

Yesterday there were coordinated terrorist attacks all over Paris. I was shaken by it – Paris is one of the places that has shaped me, I’ve been many times and have friends and family in the area.

And then I was doubly shaken by the response of my radical circle of friends – ‘to respond to terrorism in Paris but not in other places is narrow/ignorant/racist’. Or that even as we see the crisis unfold we should remember this is France’s political due.

My initial reaction was frustration and disappointment – I hate the insertion of critique in a moment of genuine emotion and grief. The assumptions and reductions that get made there. This might be my weakness as a revolutionary…but I really wonder if we ever want to be beyond compassion. Is compassion too much to offer?

And yet.

The day before, there were attacks on Beirut. On a regular basis there are attacks on Syria, on Palestine, on Baghdad, in so many specific and ancient homes. There are places where people live in constant, systemic violence. Yes there is racism in who we can see in pain. (The US is one of these places but the bulk of our violence comes from our citizens against each other, our unnamed high stakes civil war….but that’s another post.)

In certain parts of the world, there is such continual violence that we barely take note of it as a global community. Such violence that we hold it as something fantastical, because we cannot imagine living in those conditions. And lacking such imagination means that when people react to the constant violence by unleashing it, letting it whip out and touch someone or some place beyond the invisible boundary of safety and nonsafety, we earnestly ask ‘who would do such a thing?’

Privilege includes being able to live in a violent world without hearing the gunshots. There are places where we can pretend that violence doesn’t exist. For many of us Paris has been/is such a place.

Tourism is a way of getting to know the surface of a place, and Paris gives such a gorgeous and delicious top layer. I think of Paris as crepes, hammams, art, love, Baldwin and Simone, balconies and kissing. But I also know better – top layers can only cover a rotten core for so long. To be radical is to be willing to acknowledge the rotten core of present day conditions and seek to heal, transform and grow something absolutely new at the very root of society.

I think compassion has to be part of what we’re growing, what we’re training into ourselves at the root. For me, compassion usually means being able to see myself in others, my weakness or fear, my humanity.

Often those creating the conditions of violence are able to stay far away from the daily experience of it. By this I don’t mean actual terrorists or mercenaries. I have always thought of them as victims of those with resources and decision making power in this world, those still concentrated in the ‘West’, Europe and the US, those who continue to live in such a level of indulgence that the entire planet is being thrust into climate crisis to meet our need for fuel, materials, new new new things.

Many victims of our current economy are refugees right now, seeking home and safety amongst hostile nations who don’t want the burden.

I think of Warsan Shire’s poem Home:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

But refugees and terrorists are fruit and flower of the same tree. People of a place that has become unlivable. Different theories of change…perhaps the distinction is hope vs hopelessness. I believe that no one blows themselves up in a crowd of strangers if they believe there is a way to live with dignity. Now we have this impossible foe – intergenerational hopelessness.

We have to be able to imagine the unimaginable to understand the long suffering at the root of terrorism. And then we have to be unflinching in tracing the lines of causation, especially when they run back to our own government, our own tax dollars.

I’m not saying the US is responsible for all terrorism in the world – that is us centering ourselves yet again. There are fundamental belief systems that are legitimately regressive. But those systems flourish in the condition of armed inequality. And I am saying that the US arms inequality, manifesting chaos and disaster in order to control the material world. Our fingerprints are always on the the grenades, our hearts always broken by the carnage.

When terrorism happens, if you are a US taxpayer, the response isn’t ‘Who would do such a thing?’, but rather ‘What have we done?’, what conditions have we helped generate, what scarcity have we grown in this abundant world? How long can we hold this contradiction?

Yesterday I spiraled through these thoughts – sad for Paris, because I believe there is such a thing as complex innocence. Sad to see how many of my comrades reacted with little to no compassion, and then devastated to know that that lack of compassion is a response to watching the world ignore systemic violence. That what we are generating in the world right now, everywhere, over and over, is borders. Us vs them, those who deserve our compassion and those who do not, barbed wire topped walls between humans we can care about and those we can’t.

We are forgetting each other, forgetting our interconnectedness. We are in one pattern. We have to fight for our right to feel for each other, to remember that ‘enemy’ is a construct, and we can reject it, outgrow it.

I will end with this poem from my brother Sam Conway, which helped me sleep last night.

May I see clearly
That I am the dead in Paris
And I am also their killers
I am the family of the dead in Beirut
And I am the family of their killers
That I am the child of each refugee
And the mother of every despot
I am each ISIL recruit, each American soldier, every exploded hospital and every roadside bomb

May I see clearly
That I with all the living and the dead
with the Great Earth
Awaken together in this moment

May we see clearly together
That there is a Great Way Through violence and fear
Past bloodshed that brings more bloodshed
A way past hate

And seeing all these things clearly
May we with all beings
Simply do them.

Doing my best

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my best.

When I was young it was clearly laid out for me what the best was, there were prizes and gold stars and north stars and ways to measure: grades, parental smiles, degrees, solos. I can count my not-best moments (when I saw the failure coming and did not change course) from birth through college on one hand. Generally, I was ambitious because I thought that was good.

Then began a dance, a crumbling of drive, a dusting off of something essential which appeared like an inner resistance. I would achieve some honor, title, position, or acknowledgement and feel erased by it, instead of seen. That I was conforming to other people’s idea of the best, in a society which measured things in ways that didn’t resonate with me.

This has been slow, and its ongoing. It has meant rejecting or sidestepping degrees, money, and certain spotlights. I am beginning to tease out what feels right after years of just being able to sense what didn’t resonate. There are two aspects which are emerging, which work in tandem as a compass towards doing my best: love and dignity.

These two aspects work in a couple of ways – as I follow them, when I feel them in myself or sense them in others, they are leading me to the best life I’ve known. And tasting these feelings, I want more of them – I want to let love grow through me, and guide me. I want to stand in my dignity against all the odds.

If I ask, ‘Is love here?’ and/or ‘Am I in my dignity here?’, I can feel answers that help me move towards my truth and back away from future regrets. I still do things that might be morally questionable, all the time. But with intention, with the consideration of love and dignity being present, I am learning to trust myself to do my best.

Last week my friend dream posted a mini rant about the ways people judge each other’s work and passions. She was responding to general local critiques of folks who aren’t in the streets over the emergency manager in Detroit, among other things.

I was really moved by her words, probably in part because I haven’t been in the streets. To a large extent I see the EM as a distraction, pulling people away from their work to create a future for this city rooted in abundance and community, to fight for a symbol of power instead of continuing to learn how we generate and hold power in community.

But I care about a lot of the people impacted by, displaced by, and focused on resistance to the EM. I’ve been reflecting and writing and meditating and praying on the well-being of all the people I love here who are internalizing this period of Detroit’s history, taking it into their breaking hearts.

I also care about gender justice, which dream named as one of her core passions. And Assata. And the men in Guantanamo Bay. And the sexual health of black women and girls. And people impacted by terrorism and violence the world over. And Palestine. And the tar sands pipeline, environment, trans liberation, combating obesity and fat phobia, education and so many more things.

I want to do my best by these things.

I actually think most people want to do their best, to be good people and create a good society. But there are so many paths to do that good. Is it by being a body in the streets, or infiltrating the school system with radical content, or making new media, or creating more art, or opening cooperative businesses, or raising awareness on social media, or disrupting every city council meeting, or writing science fiction about new worlds, or, or, or?

How to choose? What is the best way?

What I have been exploring over the past few years is that the work I do best is that which I am most passionate about, work which encourages my health and well-being, affirms my power and the power of everyone else, and keeps me in a space of creativity and solutions.

I don’t think this is unique to me. In my heart I feel there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation. Yes to all of those things, all of that work, all of those strategies. All of these issues need to evolve – which means they each need people who are most passionate about them, people who feel powerful in moving the work forward, who are healthy enough to do the work well, who are creating solutions.

This happens, for me, at the smallest scale. It has felt hard to explain, unimportant after some of the national and/or urgent work I have done in my life – where I felt special and smart and strategic and at the table. But I am beginning to really understand how political it is to do personal emergency management.

Detroit is one epicenter amongst many – we are in the midst of systems which are imploding. Systems which we – well I, and I suspect/hope many of you dear readers – know better than to want to save, because these are systems which rely on our oppression and inequality, on seeing each other as competition rather than family.

So we are working to remember and create new ways to manage our shared home together. And yet many of us are still in the elementary stage of learning how to manage our personal homes – our bodies and health, our relationships, our movement work, our hearts. Not to mention our actual homes and our finances.

I might be in pre-K.

In this chaotic state we try to create change in the world and find ourselves stretched, tired, demoralized, and unable to create the transformations we yearn for, though we feel the possibility within ourselves. But in the lack of knowing how to do things differently, too many of us still do our work from places of fear, obligation or anger. From no, instead of from yes.

I am sitting now with the question of what it means to do my best, as an adult in a world full of crisis and tragedy. I’ve written about cultivating joy as a weapon, as a frontline. And here I don’t mean a general upbeatness. I mean joy powerful enough to generate authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness. Joy that makes people want to create new worlds and new life together.

I think a first step in cultivating that joy is measuring my best based on how well I can manage my personal state. I was in an emergency state for a decade – my mental, emotional and physical health were deteriorating and I wasn’t even really aware of it except occasionally as a badge of honor to mark how dedicated I was to the work. I was, like many activists I love and respect, doing my best impression of eeyore-on-speed.

eeyore

+

I am on the journey now of getting my health, spirit, heart and finances together, with the belief that the more grounded, joyful and dignified I am, the better I can live and lead. The more clearly I can apply my gifts and energy towards work I am passionate about, making the most of my miraculous and limited human capacity. Then, the more inviting my futures become. And the stronger my emergent strategies can be.

Because when it is time for us to manage it all – whatever we call it, our neighborhoods, our cities, our sovereign collaborative tribes – I want to be capable of the task, I want to be experienced, I want to be trustworthy. I want it to feel like love and dignity are there.

I suspect we won’t even get a real chance to manage it all until we have generated so much love and dignity and joy that our future is the irresistible one.

I see everything I am doing now as learning, as preparation. Now, and then, I want to do my best.