pleasure activism is contagious

yesterday i got to be a part of Arts in a Changing America – ReMap: Detroit. the effort of this work is to address the changing demographics of the US and understand the role art has in shifting narrative and opening justice-based futures.

the day started off with six workshops to immerse people in innovative artistic practices for social justice. i offered a workshop called Writing the Future where i had folks do future memoir entries about art they had been a part of that shifted the course of human history.

in another room folks were writing poetry with tawana, another group was foraging in the wilds of Detroit with shane and mama myrtle, and another group was processing grief with sounds and song with rebecca and ron.

after the workshops we all gathered together for a call and response. the speakers were dream hampton and favianna rodriguez, talking about this moment for Detroit, for Oakland, for artists and activists.

favi showed some of her more recent work, which is focused on challenging the phobias that make us feel shame around our desires and bodies, pussy power, claiming the human right of pleasure. dream spoke about the patterns of mass incarceration and drug sales, advocating for the right of black people to use and sell weed without being criminalized.

i, of course, was the loudest member of the amen chorus in the audience.

to close out the session, both women spoke about the role that masturbation has in their self-care, creative and work processes. i was whooping and hollering with joy!

abby dobson came up and sang while a video of women assaulted and killed by the state played, uplifting the #sayhername campaign to make clear that black women, cis and trans, are being targeted and killed by the state. i must say it was a shocking transition – the work, her voice, were so powerful. i have chosen not to watch most of the footage that comes out, i know we are under attack. to see it with others, with a sacred sound around all of us, was deeply moving.

afterwards a group of us sat, immobilized with grief. slowly, laughter, sweetness, hugs and pleasure helped us to acknowledge that a constant truth of our lives right now is grief, but we are complex, we have so much resilience.

we have the right to each other.

we went out and got “sun all over” our skins, as richard pryor taught us.

later in the evening many conference attendees gathered around dream’s table overlooking the city, and the pleasure principle was the center of our conversation.

i mostly want to talk about pleasure these days. for a long time i have been unknowingly quoting mae west: “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away,” because pleasure was my health care plan for years before i knew how to talk about it.

at the table we shared survival strategies of pleasure and asked each other questions, to repeat things. we wrote notes, book titles, names. we were learning together, this was sensual scholarship.

we talked about sexual, reproductive, mental and emotional health, favorite toys, increasing the practice of pleasure, decolonizing desire, getting into real practices of consent, asking for what we need, putting action behind our radical sexual theory, how oppressed people cultivating their own pleasure can be an act of resistance, and how ridiculous it is that sex and the pleasures possible in the body are still such taboo topics.

the next book i will be working on is all about pleasure activism and it feels right on time. this day made me feel…titillated to get to work.

nuanced voices on the detroit water situation (shifting from false solutions to real ones)

this past week a victory was declared for the detroit water fight. i got tears in my eyes, i got excited. honey we need some victories.

but i also got concerned and started digging a bit because the groups i have known to be working on this (the people’s water board, michigan welfare rights and others) were not mentioned, or posting the good news. as i have focused more on my writing, i have defaulted to the late sister-warrior charity hicks regarding most things about the water issues in detroit. in her absence, i have started tuning into some of my other favorite detroit minds.

will copeland, shane bernardo, shea howell, bill wylie-kellerman and tawana petty have all been saying brilliant things about what is happening and why the ‘victory’ of emergency manager kevin orr handing control of detroit’s water over to mayor mike duggan is actually not quite the success that is being claimed.

shane reminded me, for context, that this is all connected “to emergency management and the bankruptcy. in short, this is not a singular instance or issue but one in a protracted and carefully thought out scheme based on predatory economics.” yes sir.

so, i wanted to share some of their clarifying, inspiring and informative words.

first, from bill wylie-kellerman, quoted in al-jazeera’s article on west virginians driving water up to detroit: “The emergency manager and the mayor have been working hand in glove all along. The mayor doesn’t have any power that the emergency manager doesn’t grant him. It’s a fake appearance of a fresh start.”

from shane: “If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Duggan taking over control of DWSD was a good thing. Citing this as a victory is misleading and self-delusional. Lest we forget, Duggan was part of the emergency manager selection process. Making Duggan in charge of the water dept is like taking it from one hand and placing it in the other.”

i commented that we need victory, and will responded that “the victory is in the fact that they/the power structure is responding and adapting. They are making overtures towards us. The fact that they made two overtures (15-day moratorium and now this) shows that they are struggling with public opinion and trying to silence the movement. As Shane Bernardo points out, Orr and Duggan are for all intents and purposes in the same camp. It is not an objective ‘victory’ but definitely a subjective victory, meaning they are feeling the heat. But we still have to be vigilant to make sure the shutoffs have actually stopped in this moratorium. Duggan is not committed to ending shutoffs – his stance is on ‘warning consumers’. Duggan has significant privatization experience also. Our level of vigilance remains constant.”

shea howell was quoted in a release from the people’s water board, a really clarifying piece on what’s being asked for: “The crowds that brought media from all over the world were not chanting for ‘more advanced warnings of shut-offs’ as the Mayor said he would have given. If you can’t pay the hundreds or sometimes even the thousands of dollars demanded by DWSD, more warning is useless. We’ve received news that 40 people in a Palmer Park apartment have been shut-off. Has Mike Ilitch paid his overdue water bill? Has DWSD moved in to shut off the golf course? No. Corporations can get by while families are deprived. Is this what Mayor Duggan meant when, this morning, he referred to some Detroiters have to pay for the bills of others?”

shea added to me that, “One thing that I think is critical for us to tackle is Duggan’s calculated effort to turn one Detroiter against the other….with his ‘those who don’t pay are forcing those who do pay to have ever higher rates’. This divide and conquer strategy draws on deep rooted stereotypes that dehumanize people who are poor (let’s remember this is nearly half the city – and most of the rest of us are close to it). But in trying to say there are good Detroiters and bad Detroiters, he is trying to deflect attention away form the real structural issues facing the water department including:
1. more than half the water department budget goes to banks to pay debt..
2. a small number of corporations owe as much as nearly half the city and they are not aggressively assaulted.
3. Last month Detroit lost Flint as a customer because of Governor Snyder and legislative action creating a new Flint water system (that was completely unnecessary) taking the scarce dollars needed to maintain existing infrastructure to build a new infrastructure along side it. This will mean Detroit water customers will have to cover a new 12 million…the Flint cost…”

and finally, poet warrior tawana shared these words on real solutions, which have been dispatched to the president via food and water watch: “We know the Mayor’s been handed a hot mess. However, we are clear that this is not a solution to the water crisis in Detroit. An immediate halt to water shutoffs, a rejection of any effort to privatize the water, restoration of all residents’ water currently shutoff and enforcement of the Peoples’ Water Affordability Plan is the solution to this crisis.”

stay tuned in!