on Charlottesville and the ACLU and stuff

Saturday: just seeing the news from VA, tears in my eyes.

we know history repeats itself. right now, multiple phases of our very worst history as a species are repeating and colliding with each other – civil war, nazis, slavery, nuclear attacks, witch trials, all of it.

we must face what is right now.

believe these hate filled people telling us who they are and acting on it – our surprise and shock won’t protect us. there are no rules right now.

we have to grieve and feel and strategize while in motion.

we are being hunted. we must protect each other and move together. keep our hands locked together, cover each other’s backs, and let go of any beef that isn’t at this scale of life and death.

love y’all, each and every one of y’all.

Later Saturday: this moment in aclu choices is a great way to highlight the difference between theory and praxis. in theory the first amendment exists to protect free speech, but praxis (how we embody and apply that amendment) matters. aclu is choosing {not for the first time, by far} to use money they earned from people who actually want to protect freedom of speech (for all people) to protect people whose every speech, assembly, and action is intended to return the majority of the country to slavery and incite the violent elimination of free speech.

nuance and long term thinking is crucial for our survival right now.

aclu won’t be getting another dime from me.

in response to that post on the ACLU, a few white men came into my comments to explain how the constitution works and why it just has to be this way.

I have two responses.

One is from Malkia Cyril, who I look to for leadership around all things communication and free speech related:

“I wish white progressives would stop talking about the ‘right’ of White Supremacists to speak. This has never been about free speech.

As if speech and the constitution were flat in a flat world, devoid of power relations.

As if those power relations don’t explicitly and systematically criminalize the dissenting speech of people of color and other oppressed groups on a daily basis.

As if those power relations would remotely allow a protest of Black, migrant or Muslim/Arab bodies to march with riot shields, torches, mace and assault rifles.

As if there has been high profile litigation supporting the rights of the thousands of Black protesters arrested.

As if property destruction hasn’t been responded to with the fullest extent of the law, while bodily harm by white supremacists and police officers was flat out encouraged.

Hate speech is one thing, violence is another. The context of power means when it comes to white supremacy – even I as a free speech advocate knows one is a powerful predictor and driver of the other.

Bottom line: if you litigate on behalf of White Supremacists, our contact will be limited at best. Dollars? Never.

my second response poured out of me late last night. I felt myself shaking, and realized my love for my people and those who we need as our allies includes sharing these thoughts.

so here they are:

when I lived in Oakland I was directly across a courtyard from a physically violent domestic abuse situation. what I and my neighbors heard, often, was an escalation from yelling to beating.

I never wanted to call the cops on the abuser – because he was a black man, because the cops shoot first and make alibis later, because I believed they would make the situation worse.

my neighbors and I tried other things – calling out to her, banging on the door, trying to talk to the woman. eventually, when the sounds were too terrifying, the cops were called. she sometimes let them in, sometimes sent them away.

eventually she broke up with him and got a restraining order.

a short while later, he kidnapped and killed her, left her by the side of the road.

he hated her, and no law was going to stop him. each incident of hateful speech and behavior had been leading up to this. it was in his voice, in the veins popping out his neck when he opened the door to tell us to mind our fucking business.

these memories haunt me often. what could I have done? the reality of the situation was more complex than the options I felt I had, we the neighbors were liberal-to-radical people who wanted to do the right thing when there wasn’t a right thing. it felt like the laws weren’t actually designed to protect this black woman living right at the poverty line. the mix of police racism, toxic masculinity, violence and this woman’s privacy and agency – it was so complex.

but what I keep returning to is that his intentions were always clear. there was always death on his breath. over the long term I have thought that only community could have intervened. community willing to be bodies that upheld the restraining order, might, maybe, have helped.

the increasing white supremacist violence in this country has me feeling echoes of this trauma. especially as the Charlottesville story unfolds and the perpetrators of violence and murder have histories of domestic violence in their backgrounds.

people who yell that they want to kill me and everyone who looks remotely like me, that we are slaves, niggers, children of Satan, whores, sluts, abominations, thieves of their land/power/jobs/power/women/power – and then follow that up by hurting and killing members of my community every chance they get, using whatever weapon is available…whatever laws protect those folks cannot actually also protect me.

this is why I identify as a visionary American revolutionary and a post-nationalist.

the country of my birth must experience a fundamental change to be worthy of the miracle of my life, our lives. we should never have to argue that we matter, whether we are black, trans, women, immigrants, or anything else.

borders are constructed to make clear what is within and what is without. what is within u.s. borders right now is toxic and viral, rooted in an ancient hatred, an ancient contorted destiny, and invited, encouraged from the highest office in this country at this moment.

and as long as I look around and don’t see a majority of people committed to fundamental self-examination and growth, I must remain committed to people, not borders.

I would rather “start all over, make a new beginning”*, where we are not catering to the potential of those so broken that the only action they know to take is to break others.

I am openly building a society of justice in the crumbling shell of an America rooted in hate.

I will not sit quietly on my bed, listening to the destruction across the way, hoping it doesn’t come knocking at my door.

I will not pretend the playing ground is equal, and that everyone should have a right to practice their violence in words, to incite race war on the internet, not checked until they have successfully built up their arsenal and come for me and my loved ones.

I will not pretend killers ever arm themselves with torches and assault rifles and sign poles and white hoods and then peacefully assemble just to talk.

my love is deep, my faith is deep, my willingness to work with a lot of people working in a lot of different ways is deep. I rarely draw lines in the sand, I rarely close a door.

so I say this with all the love and all the respect I can muster: if you think you’re on the right side of history, and you are not one of the people they are hunting, then you better go stand between those armed Confederates/nazis/racist police and me. stand before me and mine, stand there and receive that free speech from those armed bodies several times before you open your mouth or fix your fingers to tell me about the constitution.

*Tracy Chapman, New Beginning

don’t patronize us/them (from oakland to standing rock)

on saturday i learned of a warehouse fire in oakland that, as of this writing, has claimed 33 lives.

on sunday i learned that there was a victory in the fight against the dakota access pipeline – the army corps of engineers made a decision in our favor.

the emotional high and low of the weekend has been massive.

something i have noticed, many times before this weekend (especially around the movement for black lives work) but in sharp thudding pounding obviousness this weekend, is how patronizing we get with each other in the name of rigorous social justice. like mansplaining, but it’s not only men doing it…

for some reason, we patronize and condescend to each other in response to news in our community.

shortly after i saw the news out of oakland, when i was franticly bouncing from page to page of my oakland loves and missing everyone, i already saw comments from people about how unsafe these kinds of spaces are. and why aren’t artists demanding better work/live spaces?

and then as the news of the army corps of engineers decision was being announced by indigenous leaders on the ground at standing rock, amongst victory screams and tears, people were already saying ‘but, nope, no, not a victory,” and so on.

i wanted to take a moment to highlight this behavior as one of the ways that myths of superiority play out in real time, amongst people who don’t think of themselves as racist/sexist/classist/ableist or practicing supremacy.

as a virgo/first child this is a major piece of my own life work – thinking i know better than anyone else. i am unlearning.

so: we don’t know better than the artists who were in that warehouse on friday night. they made the ‘choice’ of freedom and community over (or while also) reaching for a safety most of us have been priced out of. because warehouse parties are a gathering place for those of us who are outside the systems in a million ways, for a million justifiable reasons. and warehouse parties are one of the places where we know each others’ faces and unique styles, we look for or become our favorite dancers, we wait for the dj who knows exactly how to liberate us from the week we had and remind us we are alive and in this moment we are in community and we are free. i found parts of myself on narrow warehouse stairs in oakland, i left parts of my pain on dance floors in warehouses in every city i have ever lived in. those choices, those risks, were a part of my survival as i found the communities that wouldn’t ask me to leave any of myself at the door.

we need to learn, together, how to grieve or respect the space for the grief of others in our community – without using it as a moment to educate those who are grieving. about anything.

i think we buy into the rapid river pace of social media and think we only have five minutes to say everything that needs to be said about a topic. this is not true. we have to protect the time and space needed to grieve.

and: we don’t know better than the multitude of tribal leaders on the frozen ground at standing rock. indigenous communities are well aware, after 500 years of dealing with this country’s genocidal campaigns, not to let down any guard. when we see them telling us the news of this victory step with tears in their eyes, we need to check any part of ourselves that wants to talk down to them and say, “you are wrong, because…”

kandi mossett said this in her facebook live video, which i am posting below and recommend watching: ““we have survived genocide. for 500 years we have not changed our story – you have to care for the earth so she can care for us.” and tokata iron eyes, a 13-year-old who lives at standing rock, said “i feel like i have my future back!”

they don’t say these things because they lack context or information or misunderstand the patterns of this country and need non-native people to educate them. they say these things with lifelong experiences of being in this battle for the planet, against nations.

the victories are few but they nourish all of us, help us to understand the potential of intersectional peoples’ power. we have to protect the time and space needed to celebrate.

this weekend i have found myself all over the emotional map, and that condescending tone has felt so loud and disrespectful. comment threads expose that social justice is guilty of the same anti-intellectualism rampant in the u.s. media right now. we know so little, but rather than admit that, we cobble together stances, little barricades to cover how scared we are to feel. we are still rushing to be right and know the most. intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. we need to turn up collective rigor around facts, yes, but we also need to hone our emotional intelligence.

if we were making massive decisions based on facts, we would already have a global commitment to a just transition and every single life would matter in practice and action. instead we live in a world of emerging patterns, human flaws and miracles, crises and ecstasies. and we share this planet with (and internalize the beliefs and practices of) criminal colonial power brokers who bend the law in ways the masses are not allowed to.

what holds us together is community and story.

stop telling communities they have their story wrong.

examine what it is in you that needs to counter things you hear from people directly impacted by oppression.

grieve with oakland. celebrate with standing rock. and keep doing your own work.

kandi mossett live:

tokata iron eyes with naomi klein:

from earth to obsidian (28/30)

prompt: write a poem about bridges. A bridge is a powerful metaphor, and when you start looking for bridges in poems, you find them everywhere. Your poem could be about a real bridge or an imaginary or ideal bridge. It could be one you cross every day, or one that simply seems to stand for something larger – for the idea of connection or distance, for the idea of movement and travel and new horizons.

queens aya and e— tell why

we walked this sky
because we were not wanted
because we were always targets
of extermination

we left in twos
like all sacred beasts
spinning a path
towards another time

where we cannot be hunted
skinned, broken
lynched, choked of fair breath
expected to look away
from our genocide

where our love is no one’s
path to hell
(that look in the eye
confuses even righteous desire,
or the spark of forever)

we bet on the
miracle of our beautiful
black and queer
and liberated

we called our ship
Harriet’s Escape
her of rocket science and
witchcraft, dream fuel
and tomorrow
as our only direction

we came here for a future
in which our flesh is precious
in which our children are divine
in which our lives matter

we spun the bridge from
death to life
from supremacy to love
from earth
to obsidian

octavia + oakland

last week i got to geek out on octavia butler and emergent strategy at solespace in oakland.

about the space – if you are in oakland, ever, this is a place to go and be in movement with others and buy sweet shoes to support the brilliant vision of community and cooperation that owner/innovator jeff perlstein is building there. jeff reached out to me about an event when he heard i’d be in town, and i thought a small talk about octavia butler with some of my homies would be fun. dani mcclain and malkia cyril, both immensely humble and brilliant leaders living in the bay, were game to come play.

about the event…it was pretty magical.

first i read the piece on octavia butler and emergent strategy from the transformative justice sci-fi reader which was unveiled at the allied media conference last year. here’s a few excerpts:

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. rather than laying out big strategic plans for our work, many of us have been coming together in community, in authentic relationships, and seeing what emerges from our conversations, visions and needs.

we knew that we were seeing deeper commitment and radical transformation in this community work, but how could we articulate it as being strategic?

we were reminded that strategy is a word of military origin, and refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. the fact that many of us were using a military definition in order to achieve an evolution in humanity was both ridiculous and illuminating. that alone was a driver for some redefining. it was also a little funny that we have been saying strategic like its a subjective thing, a sign of good. it simply means planned towards a goal. it can be an inflexible outdated hierarchical colonial imperial urgent haphazard plan towards a goal and still be strategic, technically…

we needed to be able to get more specific in what we meant, what we wanted, and how we could measure our progress.

(input lots of examples from octavia’s work which serve as case studies of emergent strategy)

…we can define emergent strategy as intentional, strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities. bringing emergent strategy to our organizing means we become creators of our future together.

we are not limited to how things have been done in the past in terms of how we share leadership, how we manage interpersonal justice, how we make decisions, how we grow our work. even our smallest acts of integrity grow our collective capacity to live our visions into reality.

after this reading, we moved into a conversation, first with dani and malkia and myself, and then opened our seats so that anyone in the room could come up and speak. so many powerful ideas were shared. i asked participants to share what impacted them most afterwards, on the facebook event page.

this is no transcript, but here’s some of what folks remembered:

– be careful of charisma (glamouring) in leadership
– it is important to win campaigns, but always know that only gets us from a to b. maybe to j. not to z.
– we need both emergent strategy and more traditional campaign based work. (this is evidenced by the smashing of the Acorn community in parables series after ignoring the radical right wing.)
– “Live from a place of passion.” YES!
– we are made to fear our divinity
– being reminded of the limitations of the noun-centered language we speak, that keeps us from seeing ourselves always as beings becoming.
– the importance of ritual and acknowledgement of ancestors and the native land that we stand on.
– the words of the close-out meditation: “if you are (living your passion) doing what you love, and do it day in, day out… celebrate inside from your head down to your toes. And if you are not doing what you love, lean more towards it.”
– where and how do creative/cultural workers find their place in movement work? so much creative practice happens in isolation. how does that figure into collectivity/collective liberation/emergent strategy?
– (free schools) kids deciding their curriculum year to year, making it work for their needs/desires.
– see everyone as a potential ally.
– creativity comes from making room, rather than pushing.
– honor the erotic as the tie-in to our creativity and play.
– “the arrogance of our opposable thumbs.”
– Even an awkward black girl can lead, even when she doesn’t mean to.
– Play and being curious.
– We are all artists.
– Find a place in movement for what you want to do.
– evoked Dagara ritual of elders council asking child in womb what they are coming here to do, what is their gift. For example, if they say an artist, then artists materials are gathered by community and gifted to the parents for the child. And from a young age they apprentice with and shadow artists so education is based on who they are coming here to be for the community, their calling. While we as a society are a long way from being open to something like this, it would be fascinating to get more curious with children about where their passions lie, and fostering that rather than standardized schooling and testing we now have.
– there are resources available to us in dreaming this new existence into being that we are not tapping as deeply into as we can. Ancestors, Sacred Plants, Madre Tierra, etc are cheering us on and just waiting for us to humbly ask for their assistance. Been waiting for us to do so, and excited to see us awakening on a more collective level.
– always do embodied organizing.
– nowadays my visioning conversations are limited to an organization’s aspirations three or five years hence.
– I need to commit to doing personal work that connects my brain, my heart and my body.
– I need reread all of Octavia Butler’s writings.
– I so needed to be encouraged to lean into my passion. Since I fear it could lead me to create a beautiful reality in relative isolation, I heard everyone saying, “go ahead and build it, there’s a place for your vision within the movement.” everyone has a role to play and we find it by being true to ourselves.
– if we don’t start imagining and creating whole new systems, we will never get past the oppressive hierarchical patriarchal systems we are in.
– through it all, the awareness that climate change will make science fiction a reality in all of our lifetimes. This is real, and we have a great opportunity for transformation amidst the upheaval to come.

hopefully this gives you a sense of the magic that was moving through the room. more events coming soon to a city near you 🙂

vulnerability and malcolm x

today is malcolm x’s 84th birthday. happy birthday el-hajj malik el-shabazz. here’s a wonderful post from grace lee boggs on knowing malcolm.

today i’ve been thinking about the violence of last night, and the lessons of malcolm’s life. at one point in his life, malcolm, aka detroit red, was engaged in a violent, survival-based life. he was doing cocaine, robbing rich people, menacing society, and shaming himself and his people.

the brother who committed this violent, awful crime last night is someone who has the potential of malcolm x within him. every single person who engages in desperate, violent acts, has that potential. for malcolm, it took going to prison, discovering god and humility, feeling the call to greatness and the power of words and service that was waiting in the wings of his life, finding himself and staying true to himself. his life was so short and so powerful, and it focused around this pivot to greatness. what would it take for the perpetrator of last night’s violence?

because i actually would go so far as to say that malcolm’s greatness came from the depths to which he had sunk. that is why his story stays with us, that is why we read his autobiography and then recommend it to people we love. that is why he was was our “manhood”, our “black shining prince”. because he was not just the story of a clean, neat life; doing the right things and succeeding personally. his was the story of vulnerability and impact – only by being vulnerable to his circumstances and his need for something greater could he transform into malcolm x. and only by being impacted could he know the full story of humanity – impacted by the place and time and people to which he was born; impacted by the circumstances of slavery and racism; impacted by desperation and ego; impacted by love, by god, by community.

the places he reached in the hearts and minds of those who heard him and followed were deep, and dark. the places where we hate ourselves, and believe we are inferior; the places where we believe we deserve no better. he used humor, ridicule and rhetoric to slip past the walls that surround the black community and say this tiny life of mental slavery and prison is not the way for us. we are a great people. we have to unshackle ourselves, and then love each other enough to free our greater selves – the community.

and that could have been enough. but at the end of his short life, when he could have chosen a road of limited but stable success, he humbled himself even more, he made himself even more vulnerable. he opened his heart to the people he had only ever thought of as his enemy, and saw that they too were human, were struggling, were creatures of deep spiritual potential.

i hold malcolm x in my mind’s eye when i think of what happened last night. i send my heart out to the little woman i held yesterday, and then send it out the further, harder journey to the man who beat her. i meditate on the humanity within him, the divine spark that he is holding, however deep down.

i hold malcolm x in my heart when i think of all of us, sitting with this unparalleled potential to love, restore, heal, grow and learn, pushing that part of ourselves down under layers of bitterness, sarcasm, hate, distrust, fear and even strategy.

can we reach out to those engaged in vastly different strategies than ourselves and ask to learn? can we travel outside of our comfort zones to grow our hearts? can we humble ourselves to the divine power so much greater than our individual needs that it can provide enough for everyone?

are we vulnerable enough to surrender? whether it is to forgiveness, or to greatness?

happy birthday, el-hajj malik el-shabazz. you humbled us all.

i hella love oakland

i just came from the kind of meeting i have been avoiding since i moved to the bay: a local organizing action meeting in oakland.

that sounds so awful…but i have this thing, as a military brat who has moved every couple of years of my life, and loves new places and never quite expects to be from anywhere – it’s a thing that gives me a low tolerance for people who come in from outside of a place and act like they know everything. big fish in other people’s ponds. i’m a virgo, an oldest child, a facilitator, and a boss – its nearly impossible for me to not come off like the eager kid with her hand up in class at every question. my life is a short story called “Stepping Back”. politically i believe most people have to get themselves rooted, and i haven’t found the place to put my roots – is it detroit? ny? an unnamed island in the south pacific? i don’t know yet, but that doesn’t keep me from having my analysis about things, and my good ideas. and the bay is full of people like me, who come from somewhere else, have a lot of analysis and good ideas, but may not stay for the long-haul.

this eager, well-intentioned throng can make it hard for the voices of people born and raised and rooted in oakland to be heard. oakland specifically, and the bay area in general, can feel more like an experiment in progressive-gone-wild than an actual place. folks already know everything, and they’ve got the non-profit or consulting firm to prove it. i have spent a lot of my 2+ years living in oakland traveling to other places where there is less of a sense of overt movement, less of a non-profit 501c3 culture, and more humility, or at least an acknowledged desire for systems and visioning and facilitated processes and action training.

since i got to oakland, i’ve gotten many invites to different organizing efforts, and i usually find a way to invite someone else from ruckus to go, to offer up what ruckus can offer in an official way – the gear we have, the network of experienced action folks to develop logistics or communications or action strategies. that makes its way back to me, and i keep doing my job, which these days is mostly making sure there is money in the bank to keep our gear up to date, get people to actions, pay folks who need it for when they do trainings, and so on.

i’m a writer, so i write when i can, when i think my speed or general framing might help. i’m a believer in the power of network as being much more effective than the power of celebrity leader, so i connect folks when i can connect, but i try not to place myself in the seat of local strategist or leader. and i actually love that way of living my life. i feel like a mechanic more than anything else – i can hear the problem and i have some tools. at the end of the day, i just want folks to feel like their car sounds real good and gets them where they wanna go.

but 2009 is gonna be a different year for me, i can tell. my love just came to be with me in oakland for a while, and one of my best friends moved out from milwaukee, and i smile sometimes just driving along with my window down, and folks know me at my favorite restaurants, and when something horrible happens in oakland, i go to the action meeting, and offer what my organization can offer, and then put on my mechanic hat.

this is all new. getting past the fear of commitment to place, people. its like throwing a lasso around the moon and drawing it closer, and it actually comes closer, and things feel brighter, lighter, more sharply outlined by light. what it feels like to go all in, completely bananas believing in what the world has to offer and the change that can come from human will – i don’t fully know that feeling. i’ve always held a few cards back, cards like: the police are gonna shoot us! my country is going to fund war crimes! people will take every chance to create factions to make themselves feel more powerful! common sense is a burden! the human species is showing suicidal behavior in how it treats the environment! i need to lose weight!

the cards are random. now i beginning the see the next phase of my life, where i hold these cards up to my face, to the light, and see what can be done about them, and then – play them.

can young black men survive oakland? survive america? survive all the forces in the world that seem to rush so comprehensively against black beauty and brilliance? i want to play in this game, i want to make the answer yes.


i wish this country was better

this may be an obvious thing to say, but i wish this country was better. that’s in the context of wishing the whole human experiment was going much better.

i just finished two books – The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Survivor, by Octavia Butler. Both left me sort of amazed at human potential and disappointed with human reality. at some point i will write out reviews of both of them here. or not. they were awesome, go read them, that’s my review.

as i was finishing those books, the crazy world upped the ante a notch in gaza and in oakland. two days ago i saw the video footage of a man, Oscar Grant, being shot in the back while laying face down by a BART police officer (who’d become a father a day or two before) here in oakland. i also watched tons of video footage of the aftermath of airstrikes and now ground strikes in Gaza, on Arab news stations in Dearborn and pieces forward to me by friends. lots of death, wounds, blood.

a friend says she thinks the BART popo mistakenly believed he was using a taser gun. he hasn’t given any statement saying what happened, or why. with gaza, the israeli government says it is acting in self-defense. no one takes blame for the fact that they are acting like we’re in a global game of Lord of the Flies.

the thing i like about this moment in time is the resurgence of pirates, real live pirates. its like thumbing a nose at the world…y’all want to regress to the basest behavior possible? then we will have some swashbuckling, and some redistribution of goods. so there!