the fundraiser to learn from

Pachamama Alliance Luncheon

I want to blog here about the Pachamama Alliance luncheon, which I attended Nov 12. I have heard about this luncheon for years, and met Lynn Twist a few times and read parts of her book the Soul of Money.

The luncheon raises a sick amount of money, and the work is really about supporting autonomous indigenous ventures in Ecuador and rainforests throughout South America, so I was very curious and needed to see it myself.

It was brilliant, as a learning experience, and as a giving experience.

The idea of Pachamama was devised by the Achuar people, in response to the pending destruction of their home environment. Basically, they said they needed the support of the “modern world” in order to sustain their culture and community against the encroaching dangers of that same modern world. As one of the Achuar leaders said, “We will only assimilate what we need, and we recognize the need to maintain traditional knowledge.”

Some of the ideas expressed by the founders of Pachamama:

– our current economic crisis…is a direct result of our global economic systems. we need to be creating local monetary systems that inspire freedom and justice, a democratic money system.
– The Achuar organized to get Ecuador to add a Rights of the Planet section to its consitution. Now all the nations of the Andean region are looking pass more.
– the goal is an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet
– “i can feel mother earth, pachamama, speaking through me” – gertrude crue of belgium
– “together we are a genius” – lynn stone
– “the most unrealistic person is not the dreamer, but the cynic. after 8 years of torment, 5 million people organized as a civil society behind a dream. the dream of a cell is to become two cells. we are teh mothership, not the government. our work is deep, can’t be celebrated by cnn, can’t be created by privilege.” paul hawken
– “this is the unraveling of systems with no integrity, systems that need to fall apart. they are falling apart. fear is not the opposite of love, it is the absence, so put your money into what you love. its time to move forward, create a new pathway to the right future.” lynn twist

There are 1300 people in a warehouse lit like a rainforest. Each table of 10 people has a table captain, who hands out bracelets for people to onto each other, has a pledge card for each person there, and pens. I was a captain.

They run an amazing program with speakers from their sister organization in Ecuador, three of the Achuar people of Ecuador and Peru, facilitators of their Awaken the Dreamer symposium from Belgium and England, and then had Paul Hawken say it was the most important NGO in these times. Then on cue the table captains handed out our cards and pens and everyone filled them out right then and there. The we captains collected them, and handed them in on the way out, prolly 95% or more of the room gave, and was smiling while they did it.

At one point lynn said there were fundraising spies there. Now I was invited by a friend, but I totally took the opportunity to table captain so I could learn. What a learning, and I was of course totally moved and donated to the work myself.

I also have so many ideas about getting people to understand the uplifting and transformation nature of our work at Ruckus this well, and give this joyfully.

Speaking at the Green Business Conference, Nov 12, 2008

On Wednesday I spoke at the Green Business Conference, on the impact of the elections and this moment.

The opening speaker in our panel was Jay Harris of Mother Jones. He said this is a transformational election, where people were unstuck from the world view they have inhabited. The election was a rejection of hate. Maybe not for the right reasons – maybe because things were so BAD that people set hate aside to reach for better. Our inability to stop Prop 8 is evidence that hate is not done.

He noted that it was cool to be engaged again, which was great – he said that Obama pulled everyone in.

Jay then covered what was not transformed – K Street, Wall Street, the Bush appointees and establishment who are burrowing in and will be resistant to change. They already have been, eviscerating reporting measures . He said we must expose these impediments to change.

I was second. Here are my notes and speaking.

First, I reviewed what happened in the Election Protection world (link EP mini-report), and concluded that, as we saw in 2006, when we get a progressive outcome we kind of shrug off the broken system. Shame on us – that system needs to function. But we all want to celebrate right now, which I understand. I just hope 2010 we aren’t in the same exact boat again. What worked beautifully was 866 Our Vote, and growing collaborations like GenVote, where folks were combining efforts. Ruckus provided Action Kits, a Scenario Memo, Calls to Action, and the first report of the day.

I noted my personal sadness about the homophobia evidenced in the ballot initiatives that passed, and spoke of how we have to step back and see how the Arc of Change is exposed to us by Obama’s win. 60 years from getting civil rights to holding the presidency. We must all place our work on that larger Arc.

This is the Age of Yes, which people are hungry for. Folks want solutions, and that is what green business seek to accomplish.

In this yes, we have to recognize the shift we have made relative to race. This country just voted for a black man to be in charge of our economy, and our military. It is a challenge to us in terms of who we look to for leadership. Many of you have been willing to have people of color or different classes work for us, or even side by side. But how many of us are willing to work FOR black folks, for poor folks, for people of color? Looking at the leadership of green business and non-profits, the answer is not enough. But that’s what this moment demands of us.

The good thing is, people are willing to invest in leadership that reflects a true multi-racial analysis. The grassroots money that poured into this election shows people can invest in change.

For those of us who are solution minded, this is good news. We are the ones who can help finish the sentence “Yes we can…” Yes – we can localize our economies, yes we can invest in sound energy practices and policies. Yes, we can secure green collar jobs on the path to no collar jobs, jobs with no ceiling, meaningful work and lives for all people.

FDR was rumored to have told a body of organizers in negotiation with him, “Ok, you’ve convinced me, now go out and put pressure on me!” Where Obama has policies that are aligned with our green dreams, we must be the pressure of a wind at his back. Where he is off, we must be a corrective pressure. Correcting, for instance, the myths of clean coal, nuclear, or that ethanol will save us. Leila Salazar from RAN breaks it down like this – even if we destroyed all of our agricultural land to grow corn for ethanol, we’d only meet 10% of our current need. We need solutions that give, and don’t take more than we have, more than we can sustain.

The Obama campaign could teach us a lot about how to campaign for these solutions we want – moving beyond high-level strategic and disconnected parachute campaigns to a better model, ground up grassroots people based campaigns.

We have the solutions, let us be humble enough to learn how to be what is needed.

Yes, we can.

The third speaker was Paul Ray, a guru in the green business realm. He had an unattractive but highly informative powerpoint presenting research he’d done on the state of people’s beliefs at this moment. Here are some of his points – there was more than I could jot down:

– Americans have caught up with Europe and Japan in their desire to go green.

– Al Gore called for large scale action.

– we now have a super majority for ecological action in Congress.

– 55% of people he surveyed would support solor and wind power as energy alternatives, not coal and nuclear.

– 71% of people see themselves as citizens of Earth in addition to being American. A sign that hyper patriotism may be fleeting.

– Only 25% of those surveyed are ready to pay more in taxes for gas – he said this is savvy, that folks see that the money goes to big gas and oil.

– He noted  the interesting fact that while the clear majority of those surveyed have apparently “liberal” values, 72% refused to identify that way. He saw this as a branding issue.

– Paul joined other economic analysts I’ve heard in saying that recession was a two year recession, a time when people will cut out non-necessities, will cut out luxuries. Green businesses need to make their goods necessary.

We didn’t have much time for discussion afterwards, but there were a few questions. In response to a question about what young people could do influence businesses they go to work at, and what employers could do to encourage youth participation – I said to engage young people on branding and marketing. Not just have them around on data entry, but actually involve them at every level in shaping the business that will shape our future.

Another person asked about starting a business now, and I shared my belief that the smarter investment now is not in new gidget ideas, but investing in community developed green ideas, that investment will go further.

This week I definitely had a theme or 14 🙂

Women of Color Reflect on Election

On Tuesday I had the honor of being one of four speakers at the Women of Color Resource Center Brown Bag Lunch: Beyond Elections. (I’ve been trying to blog it ever since but this service has been down, so here goes!)

The speakers were myself, Linda Burnham (the founder of the Women of Color Resource Center), Leila Salazar (Agribusiness Campaign Director of Rainforest Action Network) and Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont (Director of Oakland Rising). I wanted to capture the main points of the conversation here, off of my notes, because the conversation was so rich.

We all started off speaking about what we did during the elections. Here are some of the major points each of us made:

Me –

– We allow a broken system to continue if it yields the results we want.

– People were responding to the positive message as much as, or because of, or in spit of race.

– The Obama campaign, from an outside perspective, ran the most feminine campaign this election. It appeared inclusive, collaborative, nurturing, vulnerable, ground-up, and process oriented. This is the emerging leadership many of us have been cultivating. I have immense respect for Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente as I say this. I am not talking about platform, I’m talking about the approach, the spirit of the campaign.

– Locally, new people, non-organizers, appear to feel opened up. All we have to do is meet them where they’re at without judgement.

– I am excited about this moment because people are open to vision. At Ruckus we’ve spent the past three years refocusing our efforts on actions that show our vision. We have been practicing actions that we hope are more effective than mass marches or symbolic protests.

– The accountability part is crucial. FDR is rumored to have told organizers, “Ok you convinced me. Now go out and put pressure on me.”

Linda then spoke about how after the disappointment of 2000, she’d gone to the South to work in 2004 and seen the amazing effect of the Southern Strategy, how Democrats gave the South up. She said in this election she watched Obama be brave enough to go there – the turn-out showed the impact of this, and it impacted downticket races. He broke the conservative right stranglehold on th country, we couldn’t do it, so we can thank him for that. And he made viable a Southwest strategy. She said something about how early in the primaries, mainline feminists broke off, and there is a vacuum now. Also, there is a readiness in people to proclaim post-race! The high numbers of white folks, especially white youth, who voted for Obama , are a good sign, but we need to do nuanced work on facing this moment in race. She said this was time for long-range thinking, 20 year visions of where we want to go.

Leila Salazar-Lopez, the Agribusiness Campaigner from RAN noted that there was a backlash around voting for alternatives cause folks felt so traumatized by 00 and 04. She saw a localized effort and community bonding during the election. And she works with people outside the U.S., in South America, where they know that it’s not necessarily the work local to their countries that makes the change, it’s what happens here…they were all like “When will you change your country?” Now those folks have been calling from around the world, so excited – Es moreno! They want to know how we are feeling. She compared the people who came out to the Democratic vs Republican national conventions – she was there protesting both. She laughed about Palin bashing community organizing, and then asked the question that’s been on a lot of people’s minds: “What will we do with those lists of people?” We must be hopeful and accountable. 7000 new people will be filling the administration – what if they are our people? She said immigration was a big issue for her. Then she spoke to how we must challenge false solutions like clean coal, nuclear and agrifuels – we can convert every space, destroy every rainforest and plant corn there, and we’d only meet 10% of our needs.

Esperanza then brought it home with an inside look at the Obama campaign – it was the old union model, teams of 7 on the ground long-term, phone bank, volunteer coordinators, etc. They split cities into 7 areas. Pyramid scheme, but amazing and very different from what has become the usual model of campaigns (parachute in organizers, plaster flyers all over, ignore social justice folks, leave and leave nothing behind). The Obama model was different, with online managing of fundraising and outreach, lots of messages to people (“we love you” messages). They reclaimed the house party, using abstract concepts to engage people in a conversation about what change meant for their “hood”. Organizing became cool again, and it was all about the personal story.

She broke down that in terms of who could work for the campaign, where the salaries were negligible, were young white and college educated folks; that most of the community organizers who we would most want to be lined up to influence the administration couldn’t make the financial sacrifice to drop it all and work on that campaign. That means the 7000 mythical jobs that will be filled for the Obama administration may show a disconnect in resource understanding and in racial justice. Race was NOT talked about.

Additional thoughts that emerged during the conversation:

– the fundraising of this campaign shows that even in a recession we have $ ready to flow in our communities towards change/hope message. the scope was appealing to folks, the idea that all the suffering could be done top down.

– could we get the Obama campaign to matchmake it’s list to something like Future 5000, a database of organizations that need volunteers?

– can we resist the urge to be hyper patriotic, and see this as a human advance, not just an American thing?

– we need to celebrate! a lot!

– we need to look at our biggest dreams during the bush administration and now dream even bigger.

– watch the instinct to resist. resistance is to acknolwedge the frame of your opponent and start there, instead of living and forging ground for alternatives.

– some folks may think its an old paradigm – combining community organizing and electoral organizing; but we must be more successful if we want to have transformational results.

– poor people were absent (although i heard this morning at facing race an analysis on how they were just pulled under the umbrella of middle class).

– we all agreed that 501c3s as a structure are limiting, make it nearly impossible to build real political power. solution: alliance for justice.

there was more, and it was really just a wonderful session that i was HONORED to be a part of.

Welcome to the Age of Yes!

I’m writing a long and in-depth piece analyzing the election and the outcomes, and the president-elect’s particular approach and potential legacies. I started to write it here but it got too big and unwieldy. There’s a portion of it, though, that I am excited about and want to share.

“It must be said that the majority of humans ever to have lived, have existed in conditions of immiseration and servitude to a small minority of wealthy and powerful people…until the number of whole lives is greater than the number of shattered lives, we remain stuck in some kind of prehistory, unworthy of humanity’s great spirit. History as a story worth telling will only begin when the whole lives outnumber the wasted ones.” – The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson

History is divided into ages: the Dark or Middle Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Age. These ages are marked by some grand commonality of human beings, a grand desire, or enlightenment, or misery. We have the false sense that we collectively move out of, or into, these ages. There are some people even now in the dark ages, some still in the industrial age. And throughout all these ages, there are moments we call renaissance.

renaissance: a renewal of life, vigor, interest, etc.; rebirth; revival: “a moral renaissance.”

Sometimes a renaissance can become a new identity for a generation or an age, as in the Harlem Renaissance, the European Renaissance.

I have been feeling, over the past few years, that we are in the midst of an ideological renaissance, that there is a Grand Awakening afoot, amidst the politics, misery and socially-induced apathy. Joanna Macy has called this moment the Great Turning, the “shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization”.

I have been wanting to call out this renaissance for us, expose a new age that we can lean into. Not an age of perfection, or of total peace. But an age where we decide, in disconnected and deep action, with or without words, to shift our collective consciousness.The shift is towards each other, towards our communities, towards responsibility for ourselves and our space and our joy. For a better way of living that frees us from mindlessness, and demands us to be both present and practical.

I particularly want to call it out because I think it is in some way evidenced in our presidential choice last week.

While many are focusing on the Blackness of Obama, I think that a point as important, or more important, is his emphasis on the strategic and direct response to a call that has been growing in the hearts and minds of people around the world: Yes, We Can.

When we say we are the ones we have been waiting for, my mind always wanders over to the question, “To do what?” What are we waiting for us to do? Do we know? Can we figure it out? Can the answer be different for everyone and still have a meta impact?

Here’s my current conclusion: The Ones who I have been spending my time with are, in my opinion, the seeds of the Age of Yes, people who say yes to the demands of a fulfilling life, that we can do it ourselves.

For instance, we can communicate and be present with each other; we can have compassion for each other; we can have a joyful, celebratory and respectful experience of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, history and culture; we can be stewards of our home planet, we can garden and recycle – we don’t need to create one more new material good if we don’t want to, we have more than enough; and we can release yesterday’s mode of hording and domination into the past, we can inhabit the moral dream of ourselves, be revived, be interested again, be creators.

Obama did not tell us this, or lead us into it – he arrived in response to it, he exposed that we wanted to hear it. Tired of political platforms, which seem to only exist to be jumped off of into treacherous familiar waters, the small minority of the global population (all of whom are impacted by this election, many of whom are actually more directly impacted by the American election than American citizens are) that could vote in this election voted for the candidate whose message, energy, campaign strategy and belief system spoke to a deeper need, deeper than policy or race redemption.

We need to believe we have purpose, even if that belief is tucked down in the catacombs of our dreams. We need to believe we can survive and evolve, that we are not cogs in a wheel, not wasted lives; we need to know that we contribute to a wholeness greater than ourselves; that we, as individuals and communities, are whole.

Throughout history, we see the outcomes of belief. We have believed the world was flat, the universe revolved around us, that women were divine, that women were witches, that whiteness was superior, that money was more valuable than life, that some lives matter more than others. And we have left those beliefs behind us, kicking and screaming, when a new truth became evident. Then we have believed in the power of workers, the equality of all people, the round world and the greater universe. We have a hard time shifting our rituals and habits to reflect those beliefs, but nonetheless we believe.

Now, there are many of us who believe we are capable of self-determination and evolution, and I say why not call this The Age of Yes. This would be an age in which people believed in their own capability to say yes to the gifts of reason, humanity, planet and love – yes, we will apply these gifts in countless ways to the barriers we have created between ourselves and our survival, our evolution. Yes, we have or can acquire all the skills we need in order to protect, feed, clothe, unite and uplift our communities.

The reality is that each step Obama takes into the White House will be a step of compromise between vision and status quo. We watched this happen along the campaign trail, as the slender biracial community organizer had to toss certain ideals, identities and friends off the train if he wanted to reach his destination. He is not a basket to put eggs in, however; he is a representative. He held fast to the point he was representing – that he will not make the changes himself, he will just hold the space.

The rest is up to us. We have the wind of human history at our backs, the sun of dreams, the welcome rain of struggle that connects us all. And all we have to do is say yes to the little patch of soil, the small corner of earth we inhabit. Yes, it’s time, yes we can, we know how, we have just been waiting to unleash our greater selves.

It must be said that the Age of Yes could pass us by. Right now I see all of these people, many of whom have very different beliefs than me, but with their hearts opened. How long is this window going to be open?

I have heard, from friends and mentors, that we will find ourselves incapable of sustaining the belief when reality sets in. Of course we are incapable – humans are cyclical creatures, ideological migrants, tidal in our belief because we are water just barely contained. However, to shift into the Age of Yes, we don’t need total, consistent belief. We just need enough people to believe, to stagger our moments of hope and belief and maintain a momentum, to give us a Tipping Point.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” – MLK, Jr.

But can we push it?


Yes, we can.

Saturn Returns

I am beginning to suspect that the saturn returns phenomenon is a transition, not a phase.

there’s a lot going on, and although it seems i share everything here, there’s some stuff i just can’t blog about. here is a definition of it:

“Saturn is symbolically/astrologically associated with time, challenge, fear, doubt, confusion, difficulty, seriousness, heaviness, unwanted burdens and hard lessons, among other more positive things such as structure, significance, accomplishment, reflection, power, prestige, maturity, responsibility and order – this is why astrologers believe that the thirtieth birthday is such a major rite of passage and is considered by many astrologers to mark the “true beginning” of adulthood, self-evaluation, independence, responsibility, ambition, and full maturation.”

i am a virgo, so i analyze myself often. i do a lot at once, and quickly, and i make mistakes. when it’s pointed out to me that i have made a mistake i own it. so far that hasn’t kept me from making mistakes, even the same ones, over and over again.

this year has been like standing in the surf on a beach when the waves keep coming. sometimes its a warm day and the water is cold and it’s good. sometimes its a cool day and the water is tropical and it’s good. but many days the waves just keep coming, and i am only out here because the beach bores me to tears.

but the tears have to come anyway some time, good and bad ones.

and my question is, does life keep getting more dynamic, or in 11 months will this all pass, and will i find myself back on the beach again ready for the sun?

in the hush

i’m off the redeye flight SFO-DTW, in my sweetie’s bed while she’s off on tour. i love detroit sooo much, it really is an epicenter city to me. over the past two years i’ve been here what feels like every other month. i’ve come in the winter and loved the culture of snow and bundling up and hibernating. i’ve come in the summer and been delighted by the joys of swimming the toxic detroit river, seeing the lovely and constantly reemerging natural landscape here.

on the plane i started writing a piece that i am so excited about, called “Welcome to the Age of Yes”, putting flesh on the bones of my general mantra, that change comes at the particularly moment when all the things we don’t want create a deluge that bursts open our barriers to what we do want. And we can name it and step towards it, and its so human.

tonight i get to visit with grace lee boggs, friend and mentor. she called this whole barack thing a long time ago, saying that this is a quantum leap of a moment, that people’s hope and need for change was being answered in this man, in how he was building his campaign. people still need a dynamic leader, but this was a balance of dynamic leader and people’s movement. we talked about the grassroots nature of it, for me the deciding factor was that regardless of the platform he was espousing, i could see he is a process guy. he seeks balance out of anger. i hope he is able to maintain his Way.

i am writing so much now there’s a pile-up – i have three different places where i am keeping lists of stuff i need to write about. two conversations really impacted this – one with someone who was asking me how to improve their writing skills to be faster. my advice was to write something for public consumption every day. whether you advertise it or not, whether it’s long or short, you develop a discipline, a practice, and get it into your mind and fingers as an expectation – a need. the other conversation was with someone asking me why i hadn’t written a book of my own yet. i was giving the huge long list of reasons – i am too young, what do i know, who has time, who reads books, etc etc. and she looked me dead in the eye and said get over yourself. lol. you clearly have a lot of thoughts that you deeply believe in and are moving forward. so i am giving myself permission to write, in a variety of ways. i am blogging, i am writing songs (and keep thinking i am going to do a songblog someday), and i am writing little notes to myself of things-i-am-pretty-sure-are-right. things like: when you are completely and consistently compassionate with yourself, you have a better life, give more to the world, and feel more wonder, delight and learning in the every day. or, airport security that involves a pat-down and half-strip search is just wrong and ineffective. random stuff. i think whatever book project i do will be notes like that, stories on race and militarism from my childhood, love stories, maybe some sci-fi compilations of my future-dreams to make it interesting, interviews with people who influence me…

when i told grace i was working towards a book she arched her brow and said usually she would say i was too young, but she approves in this case, as long as i talk about being biracial 🙂 which is good, cause i love exploring the unique and evolutionary quality of being visibly, undeniably, experientially of two or more races. i say experientially because i rarely meet people who aren’t the fusion of two cultures anymore, whether it’s tribes, races, ethnicities, religions, geographies, classes, or some other difference. but we are socialized to only see race as the big difference, to choose.

i especially love the idea of exploring that while the president of the united states is in our number, has held the space of being perceived as black, speaking to his feelings of being black, feeling his love for his family not at odds with his exploration of identity.

years ago in a conversation with biko baker, ed of the league and also biracial, i said i thought mixed folks would save the world. not in a superhero way, but i do believe the next evolution will be an emotional and connective one. we need to remember and create new ways to be present with each other, and be in community with each other, if we aim to survive. love between people historically at war over resources and power seems a clear healing salve. more than that, its a biological exploration of the space where ideology ends and we realize (again) we are all just water and stardust, flesh and longing, dreams and delays.

i am soaking in this week, which was an amazing week for our organization, i continue to be amazed at much i am learning, but how hard it is to be a boss of anything in the world. the year has been so intense, personal, in my face.  i keep flashing back to election night, reading/writing/responding to thoughts on prop 8 (there’s a march in SF tomorrow if folks are interested), and letting different complex waves of emotion rush over me.

just now i watched this video by jasiri x, an impressive brother in the movement who has been doing this informational news over hip-hop beats with visuals summing up each week. this one left me crying like a little baby.

i feel so pleased with the obama thing, much more than i expected. during his campaign i heard him speak, but stayed away from videos, from wilding out, being a superfan, changing my facebook status or my middle name to hussein or any of that stuff, that’s not me. i focus on process, not person-worship. i don’t feel worshipful now. i just feel like we got someone smart, who i can trust to think things thru, to be in charge. the last 8 years scarred me at the marrow level, my restless body is still holding out belief that it can rest. but i am SO happy that i am cynical enough to enjoy life, and openhearted enough still to enjoy and note real change.

ok i am tired now 🙂 it’s 4:20 for my body, time to dream.

My Big Gay Blog Post.

Today I came home to find a “Yes on Prop 8” sticker slapped onto the Barbara Lee campaign sign in front of my building. Prop 8 is the proposition to ban gay marriage that passed in California last night. The sticker wasn’t there yesterday. Driving around the neighborhood tonight, I didn’t see anymore stickers, just the one in front of our building.

Our building is full of beautiful queer and queer friendly folks, most in happy couples or pairings of some sort. Some are queer like me, having happily dabbled in bisexuality for a long time, feeling that gender wasn’t the determining factor in how I experienced attraction. (Of course, then I fell head over heels in love with a woman, and my life got better).

Others in the building realized at a very young age that they were gay, or gender queer, and have lived their whole lives in that hard and beautiful place.

There has been little in my life so liberating as coming out, and finding a community that has moved beyond the mainstream concept of normal.  I realized that there was a whole world out there, an organic world, an evolutionary world. And I saw that anyone can access this world for themselves the minute they stop seeking the acceptance of the “normal”.

I understood a lot of things differently as I came out to myself. I stepped closer to understanding feminism, and black power, and the pride of working class people in unions, stuff I had studied and thought I knew, thought I identified with. I shied away from identity politics, observed but didn’t partake. I love self-analysis, but of ideas, not identity…

This past summer, a loved one processing that I am actually gay, asked me honestly why gay people had to be so “in your face”. In answering, I understood – sometimes the only response to hate is self-realization and celebration. I had to learn that there is a particular unity that comes in declaring yourself as who you are, at a moment when who you are is legally defined as unequal. Especially for something that you realize you can’t choose – you can pass, repress, hide, deny – but you can’t choose.

When I came out to my friends, gay straight and everything in between, I’d been organizing for years, and they all laughingly said, “oh lord, now you gonna be a gay organizer.”

But I haven’t been.

I’ve lived in NY and Oakland. I’ve been in spaces where I could be completely comfortable with my boys and/or my girls, dating who I wanted how I wanted. I’ve been in spaces where I could hold my sweetheart’s hand and not think about it. I’ve dabbled in pride stuff here and there. I’ve had to give up relationships with family members I love to the point of tears.

But I haven’t organized.

I particularly haven’t organized around gay marriage.

I have felt for a long time that marriage is a union of two people who love each other, recognized by their house of faith. I have not believed it is a union that should be recognized by the state or by the nation. The union of two people regarding taxes, finances, property and legal access to each other in sickness and in health – that is the union that should be a matter of state. A civil union. And the decision on who gets to make that legal union in the eyes of the state should not be dictated by the beliefs of any church. That is unconstitutional, that is un-American.

Other countries that do not spell out a separation of church and state in their constitution, let them battle out bans and amendments, and evolve along their own path. But in this country? We have that separation for a reason. We were founded in this way particularly to stop religious persecution, to allow people to practice their beliefs, and be in peace and union with each other on the values that we share – democratic and representative leadership, opportunity, and the like.

So its been difficult for me to throw my whole heart into the demand for gay marriage, because it feels like a fight to integrate, to normalize ourselves into a faulty paradigm. That burning house metaphor.

That said, I try to always strike a balance between my ultimate vision of how things should be, and the right step in the moment. In this moment there are people who are satisfied with domestic partnerships, and then there are people who want what everyone else has, not a second class union.

I love so many gay people who are now married. Some have children of their own, some have children they adopted. Some are happy, some are struggling, like any married couple. But I see the joy they have at being able to live their lives as they have chosen. That is the opportunity that they wanted.

And when I hear those who would deny us the state benefits of marriage, and deny our right to be recognized by our church if we have one and the church is willing to marry us, I hear only hypocrisy and hate.

I hear people who fornicate, divorce, cheat, lie, steal, covet, eat pork, get tattoos, skip church, and all the other fun things in life, measuring homosexuality as an abominable and visible “sin”; making judgments, doling out punishment as bans on commitment. A loved one dissed her date the other night because he said gay sex was not real after asking her about a threesome.  I see people of faith who can’t believe in legitimate and comprehensive love between gay people just because they don’t personally experience it.

My kneejerk desired rant: everything about my love is freer, deeper, smarter, more satisfying, more responsible, and the very real sex a gazillion times better than most of these repressed, sad and angry people who want to deny me my right to do whatever I choose with my love, and I’m gonna start a big multiracial gay house of faith where the only acceptable acts of prayer are acts of love and forgiveness, and I don’t want to get in any club that defines itself by who it can lock out and repress anyway.

Breathe in, breathe out.

My compassionate, slightly higher self wishes liberation for those people’s minds and hearts. I can’t imagine living with such hate, or feeling that my purpose in life was to stop love, any kind of love, from existing.

California, Arizona and Florida banned gay marriage yesterday. Arkansas banned gay couples from adopting children. The reason for this is a desire to “protect the sanctity of marriage”, and the “family”. The state of the family, and the staying power of marriage, is at an all-time low. It’s not because of gay people. It’s because we as a nation value everything in the world, especially political and economic power, over love and community.

I am sad, and I feel scared of how this fight is going to go down.

And yet, here I am, in the fight. For the big long-term vision I have of equal commitments and freedom from religious persecution for ALL people.  And for the short-term reactive struggle to keep hate off my lawn.

Believe that bigger vision exists though, and believe it is linked to every struggle for justice, for every persecuted people. I heard a quote last night that reminded me of how long it can take for even symbolic responses to tangible demands: deny us “40 acres and a mule and we’ll take 50 states and a white house.”

I can’t fight from a place of fear, or from a negative place. It’s just not in me. So my shield and my sword are the same – I’m fighting for my right to love anyone. In any way I want to. My love is big enough even for those who hate me now. And my grand strategy is to let that love overcome everything else in this world.

Amen. Hallelujah. Axe.

I Finally Cried

Last night I was working. I was sending messages to make sure people voted, and writing a little report, and working the phones, and watching the proposition returns come back in. I was celebrating, and my eyes welled up, by I didn’t cry. This morning I woke up, and it was real, and I let myself feel it. MMMM.

Here’s my first email I sent today:
Did y’all feel it? We all flew up into the air last night at the same moment!! I felt the planet expand with all of that leaping joy at once lifting off of it, that victory coursing through us from our toes up to our heads! Old believers and new believers lifted up within ourselves in a rapture. I was with a bunch of cynical black folks, we go to each other to joke off the pain of most days trying to make change in the world. And we were watching, laughing, joking on people’s outfits and faces and make-up, smiling as each state was called and then waiting for it, waiting for it…

And then suddenly whoosh, lift-off of hope, and we were hugging each other and screaming and calling our families and screaming. My dad had a heart attack this year and lived to see this moment. My uncle had a heart attack Monday but sent his wife with the forms to register his vote. My baby momma sister was disenfranchised cause Medicaid lost her registration (along with a lot of other young mommas) but she voted absentee so her son can know she was in that number. Friends I haven’t heard from in too long, and all we could do was scream into the phone and hug someone and say wowowowowowowowow!!!

We needed more space, so we went to the corner of Grand and Broadway here in Oakland, where folks were waiting to get into Luka’s to celebrate. We had drums with us, and the drummers started playing them there in the street, and dancing, dancing to the honking of every car driving by with folks hanging out holding their Obama signs and t-shirts and screaming, all faces, all races, the joy of it. I kept being struck by newness of the faces I was seeing, non-organizing faces, joyful as mine, wanting what I wanted. We worked ourselves into a frenzy, gathering more and more people, taking more and more of the street. The police came with little barriers and then tried to contain us. But it wasn’t that kind of night. We leapt past every barrier, danced up on the cops till they too got to smile, did the electric slide, shimmied our black booties across the hoods of people’s cars, spun around arms thrown open, we jumped up and down and did the toi toi; I had never seen this in America, not for politics. For sports maybe, in one city, but not for politics, and reverberating around the whole world.

And it was work, I can trace the last 8 years of my intentional work to this moment, as can nearly everyone I know. It feels so unbelievably, incredibly, right.


I woke up this morning with a new to do list 🙂

The Pace and Process of Change

Two things keep occurring to me today as I work the phones, texts, Twitters, blogs, and War Rooms.

The first thing is why the black thing matters, aka the Pace of change.

The second is why the approach matters, aka the Process of change.

In terms of the first, the pace…this election today is a direct result of the amazing work of civil rights organizers years ago to equalize the access of black people to voting.

We understand the turtle and hare metaphor theoretically, but in real life when it takes 50 years for a social shift to become truly obvious, its hard to side with the turtle. This is because the issues are so incredibly urgent.

And yet there are times when the outcomes are trackable and tangible. Black people fought for the right to vote. We challenged racism to run for office, hold office, represent our communities. We fought to break through surface level electoral organizing where Democrats promised the moon and delivered government cheese. And here we are, the work is inching along. We have so much more work to do to achieve real justice in our communities, and yet I see Turtle Island on the move.

People need something to hope for; that hope, that sense of unity and possibility, is the intangible thing that makes us consider the totally impossible idea that we are better than all proof of our limitations.

That hope is the only way to deal with the homophobia that won in the ballots today. Time will prove us right.

Barack Obama (and Cynthia McKinney) is black, and this matters because the election of a black man in this nation is the result of a grassroots call for equality, half a century of organizing, much of which happened before many of us voting in this election were born. It matters because people who followed nothing else about this election followed the story of us having a black president. I was just in the streets with my Oakland family dancing and screaming and celebrating with folks who voted for the first time. This is slow, this is human, this is a moment to celebrate decades of work.

The second piece, the process of change, is equally exciting.

Four years ago I traveled the country, visiting communities and getting them excited and informed about a community organizing approach to vote organizing, with a big focus on voter guides. Yesterday I went to vote early and went online to and had a selection of guides in the Oakland area to choose from.

Four years ago, and again two years ago, there were a lot of people trying to help, but coalition work wasn’t the greatest, there were high levels of chaos and confusion and not nearly enough volunteers. This time around there were definitely areas where we could do better, but coalition work started much earlier, especially around Election Protection, and resources really consolidated. That made it possible for everyone to play their position. As someone focused on making strategic actions are possible when people want them, this made a huge difference for us at Ruckus. We didn’t make a universal call for action – we called for our folks to plug in and take pro-active actions to support fair elections.

And then there was the process of campaigning. Obama built a movement. His platform had a lot of points I disagree with, but the campaign was gorgeous and brilliant and ground up and gave people a chance for self-determination. To me, a process head, that is in many ways more important than the platform. Only time can tell what that platform will mean, but the reality that he is ground up, community organizing, and representative…that’s what matters. This is a new world, the election process just evolved.

And finally it is this moment in our nation. Things have always been hard for people of color and the unrich but we have been heading into a dark age. This is our process for turning around. We aren’t ready for the insightful policies of Cynthia McKinney, we’re homophobic, our voting process is flawed, and we have so much work to do before we can dance in the streets for hope, not just justice.

But this is our process for change. This is the first step. We can grow, we can grow. Yes. We can.

Dreaming Black: 4:57-6:07 pm, November 3, 2008

I’m writing this from the line, the long line of voters in the basement of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters in downtown Oakland. Its pouring rain outside, and this line is full of happy faces, mostly black, many queer couples, young people…

I have voted before, and I have felt like it was the right thing to do, but I have never before been happy and excited to do it. I feel giddy, personally, in spite of the stories I’m hearing about the hard times folks are having with voting across the country, which will be my work for the rest of tonight, and tomorrow, and however long it’s needed.

But personally? I am listening to folks speak to how excited they are to vote for Obama, and a few folks also excited to vote for McKinney and Rosa – which is totally doable here in California, and I feel that excitement.

I’m 30, and my choices this year were between a fierce black woman with insightful policies and a hip-hop organizing sister as VP, or for a black man who has shown amazing capacity for building movement and solidarity among divided communities, and comes from a  community organizing background, and will win the popular vote tomorrow.

These are the darkest of times and yet this is a major shift in the kinds of choices available to me. This set of options is such a beacon of hope, a sign that things can change, even if it’s slowly and imperfect and there are football fields of space for criticism.

Our lovely pollworker just passed by. Her spiel is ‘thank you for coming, we appreciate you, your patience is amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ It’s her first time working an election, she’s been working this basement hall since 9am, and she is smiling.

We’ve been standing line 40 minutes, and yet we are all smiling.

The woman behind me is talking about how everyone is out here. ‘I can’t believe how young this crowd is – usually its just old folks. Old folks voting about public transportation. Now all these people have something to vote for.’ She just saw a friend in line and ran over to hug her, laughing. ‘I’m glad to see you here girl!’

I can’t overemphasize the difference of having stuff to vote for, not just against. This is what it should feel like in every polling place in the country, in every election. Folks smiling in lines that are long because of high turn-out, people excited to be counted, able to come early, educating each other in line. Really talking to each other, alert.

Several people have Videothevote cameras like Jessamyn and I do, and are talking about the site, or Twitter, or Saturday Night Live.

The line is moving quickly. A super cute butch in a Seattle Fire Dept sweatshirt just started filling out her ballot while stage whispering, ‘I’m so excited!!’

I’m at the front of the line now. I’m the ultimate schizo – I hold an analysis that its all about local organizing and progressive society builds from the ground up. I know the system is mostly broken. I think times will get worse before they get better, and I experience deep disappointment with this country I was born to and it’s destructive influence on everything I love.

And yet I also hold space for possibility, for stepping into that space between the big picture and the crucial small very day work to that middle space, where you can see Turtle Island inch forward on that path of evolving. When my parents fell in love, a black president was unthinkable. When I was born a black president was unimaginable.


Now its my turn to vote for love without discrimination, for decriminalization and increased humanity in prisons, for better treatment of animals, for young women to have a safe space for life decisions, for diplomacy and intelligence in leadership, for an end to the war in iraq, for healthcare, for the environment, for my nephew, for my black father and his younger brother who both had heart attacks too early, for all my loved ones, for oakland. It’s my turn to be heard in this slow and faulty process, to bid on a better future in this nasty card game.

It’s my turn to vote for a black president.

It’s my turn.

adrienne votes early
adrienne votes early