Tag Archive for 'post-nationalist'

oprah is already an emperor

i watched oprah winfrey’s beautiful speech the other night…actually the next morning. that night i watched different people from my community documenting their experience as #timesup activist guests at the golden globes. a friend sent me the speech and i sat on the edge of my bathtub and watched it and cried hard because i get moved by bravery and collective moments.


i thought oprah was stepping into a new territory, wielding her power in a new way. i didn’t think she was beginning a run for the office of president. i’ve been reflecting a bit on why, as i’ve seen tons of very heated debates on her qualifications, her wealth (which seems suddenly surprising to some people), her liberalism.

the first thing is that i think we all need to change our understanding of what presidency in the context of this country means.

i was recently at the obama summit. i met the 44th president there, and sat up close for michelle obama’s speech. in both of them i saw elegant beautiful brilliant black people who had survived something horrific. when the first lady spoke of the white house, it sounded like the biggest, fanciest prison experience available. listening to obama tell stories at the dinner table, i wondered how he carries the weight of the decisions he made as president. and i understood, again, that brilliance, and even individual integrity, are not enough to change a corrupt system.

Octavia’s words “all that you touch you change, all that you change changes you” are also a warning. so far, to hold the role of presidency means to become the keeper of war, the one who manages oppression, the prison guard and executioner. it is a role of drones, prison bars, barbed wire borders. it is a curse, even when held in competent hands.

and i am tired of seeing power handed off at the moment of implosion – as a coach i often support women and people of color who were celebrated and given roles of executive power only to learn that it was power over a hot mess. we’re lucky we survive these brushes with toxic hierarchy – power imbalances that put all the worst kinds of work on the shoulders of those willing to risk being leaders. the job description to come in after 45 is like firefighter-janitor-ER nurse-in chief.

so one reason i am not over here thinking #winfrey/[insert powerful feminist here]2020 is because the role of president as it currently stands is a set up to do the worst harm, and i don’t really want to see another black or brown person take on that burden until we have revolutionized the whole system, at which point the role will likely be obsolete.

and we’re far from revolutionizing even that role; at this point we need to reassert that president is a role of service, not empire. we don’t want to accept the precedent that wealth can qualify you for a role that is meant to be held by experienced politicians who have been practicing service to the people for most of their adult lives. my great uncle just passed – he was a state senator in South Carolina and he was beloved, available to his constituents, responsive. they guided his hand.

it isn’t actually meant to be about who is the most articulate, or charming, or rich. democracy is supposed to be about finding those who can listen to the people, uplift the best of our skills and longings, and weave a society that works for all of us.

as a post nationalist, i am divesting my energy from the federal experiment as the place where this kind of leadership can get elevated. 45 is a clear indication of failure. a system at this scale without a humane economic view (such as socialism, a pluralist commonwealth or other forms of economic democracy) leads to boorish, egotistical monsters in power. it’s what we will put our attention on – look how many people are reading the news every day now that it’s all dumpster fires and disaster.

we have to invest in a different way of being american than this experiment allows for, and our cities and communities are the spaces for that investment.

let’s give oprah a slate of incredible local leaders to back, help her redistribute her wealth into powerful feminist leadership in that way. politics is a field that requires diplomatic and collective skill, and there are brilliant women walking in the fire of elected office right now, learning to survive and lead – she can support them in 2018 and 2020.

because the other reason oprah doesn’t need to be the president is that she is already the emperor of her own life, network, wealth and narrative. oprah is living her best life as oprah. and i’m not mad at it, she’s been shaped by her time and taken great risks.

i am rarely angry at an oppressed person for besting the system, but it’s a corrupt system, and those who rest comfortably in its spoils should not be expected to lead us to the next system.

oprah is a black billionaire who loves love and transformation. she’s a survivor who has lifted herself out of poverty and lifted a lot of others with her. she has learned a lot in public, and she is generous and vulnerable with that learning. she claims her joy, her book nerdery, her health, her right to be a black woman on the cover of a magazine every month, her actress self, her producer self, her i-don’t-have-to-get-married-to-have-solid-partnership self, her podcasts full of spiritual leaders self…who knows what she’s like behind the scenes, but she’s a fucking fantastic public persona. let’s not destroy that with an american presidency.

now we can

I remember one time I was talking about how capitalism was failing and classmate-friend-teacher-organizer Mia Herndon said “capitalism is working exactly as it is meant to. in competition and constant growth, those who don’t compete, or who compete less viciously, suffer, serve and struggle.”

now it feels to some people like America is failing, like the people who said “make America great again” are confused. but this is the trajectory of nation states, of borders and white supremacy. deepening our anti-capitalist and post-nationalist analyses will help make this moment an opportunity.

also, saying “I told you so” in any way is tacky and diminishes the speaker, because saying is not enough if we don’t effectively organize to make our visions palpable and our strategies collective. so we knew “make America great again”, when uttered by white supremacists, was not harkening the racism of the 1980s, or even 1950s, but the era of chattel slavery that preceded and seeded our current prison system. we may have done our very best, but we did not organize effectively enough to have the power to stop this moment.

but now we can. this moment is our ledge, or choice point. we are as free as we choose to be. (baldwin)

now we can put a moratorium on shading and attacking other factions of movement on the internet (or in meetings, or with funders) and either choose to collaborate or ignore other efforts while still counting them as part of our own resistance momentum.

now we can look at each person, regardless of background or experience, as a potential comrade (butler) and figure out how we must transform ourselves to transform the dynamic (boggs) in the name of liberation. i have been practicing this in cabs – i’ve had three transformative conversations with drivers in the last three days – people just need one suggestion, one encouragement to question everything.

now we must look within ourselves and ask what actions we are willing to take, what interventions we are capable of, if we can will ourselves into honest conversations, if we believe in our visions enough to step towards them, if we are brave enough to assert the future we require and to shape it.

the other option is to survive for a while, pointing at the very sharp thing aimed at our hearts and getting closer by the minute.

adapt! dodge, weave, learn from the L, slip out of your ego, hold each other, scream the truth and keep moving towards life. everything is going fine in this realization of someone else’s imagination. but we dream another world, and we make it come true.

a poem for brutal holidays

the sky explodes and it sounds like
the world was created by
lost men
who nearly died on the salt sea
but, living,
planted bullets in the flesh and soil
and grew up a world of metal
and rage

boom blast it surrounds me
and inside I quiver
is it gunshots
automatic, bursting through
the bass in the club
is it suicide at the door
car metal slicing through
humans who believed in god

stray death
or just the celebration of it

i looked up in awe
when i was a child
all the colors
inside the body it is dark
until, pulled open
red sprays and eggplant
acidic nauseous droplets
swallowed diamonds
what was i learning

bombs bursting in air
make you gasp
and feel wonder
and you survive
but no one else does
you win the right to pay
into a system that tries every day
to kill you dead

tell me a way that
bombs, or borders, can mean love
can grow our souls
can pull us into a vast future
worth all of this miracle
am i a child still
to want all this life
and to only celebrate
explosions of joy

* for that time i sat in a bathroom last year, singing songs to comfort finn, who was trembling at the sound of fireworks.

* for my friends who remember being attacked every time the explosions come.

* for every human for whom the sound of bombs bursting in air is the last thing they heard.

this will be america

my friend jodie reminded me of this piece i wrote a few years ago about being an american revolutionary, particularly section 6. she has reposted that section in the past, calling it ‘america, i must love her':

you cannot shirk responsibility for this country
you cannot shake off these atrocities
its a bloody birthright
all children are born into blood
you have to grow up by growing down into the soil
past the burnt bodies and broken buildings
built on broken bodies and broken promises
built up, bloody borders
borders you live in whether you want to or not

you are the ones we’ve been waiting for

it was hard to revisit the poem in the shock and grief of orlando. and it feels important to remember my own responsibility in this place. i sit in the spirit of grace lee boggs and octavia butler, knowing i, a post-nationalist american-born revolutionary, need to do the hard work of taking on america, and shaping the future that can grow from this place. so.

    this will be america

we are strewn across the street
or the sticky sweet floor
where we called ourselves home
where we got ourselves free
now slick with our blood
is america

we are heads bent knees bruised
guilty in hushed prayer
god’s words telephoned across time
to tell us: everything you need
is made of fire
is america

we are children, somebody’s children
we are innocent children
we are wayward children
we are violent children
and we fight and we grieve like children
is america

we are warriors brought home in whale bellies
to fight, to die on this soil
in an unnamed civil war spilling all our borders
on one side is humanity
and we cannot see the other side
is america

we are bruised broke-open fruit
a piled mess under ancient trees
which will only grow with us
we permeate the roots, seething, seeding
we will never go anywhere else
is america

we are born with our dignity
we look beautiful weeping, waging love
when scared we sashay the tar streets
press together in the steaming darkness
sweating out freedom songs, love songs
is america

we are growing and falling apart
and we are absolutely terrifying
we are stunning funghi, transforming this toxic soil
we are swallowing our dead
becoming worthy of our miracles
is america

we cannot separate now
there is nowhere else, no escaping ourselves
millions whisper rituals into dirt and flesh
millions, millions hold each other, raging, changing
fecund with our sacrifices
and this
this will be america

and our future will inhale together
to sing out a bright axe ooh
and remember the names of our martyrs
as we offer each other abundance
as we finally, finally learn we are love
and this
this will be america

thank you to dani, jodie and autumn for holding this with me