Safety Labs and new ways of being

You know that feeling in the air when something’s on the verge of change? And it’s not just the possibility of change, or hoping for it but actually knowing without a doubt that our lives will be different, and that you took part in moving things forward. It’s kind of like the air is sizzling, like something’s cooking and the aroma of it is rising as you hear it sizzle and watch it transform, knowing it’s only a matter of time before what was raw becomes something you can taste, something that will fill your mouth with goodness and nourish your body so you’ll never be the same.

That’s what I’m feeling after helping facilitate a Safety Lab the other night with Community United Against Violence (CUAV). We were lucky enough to be able to invite members of the Brown Boi Project while they were the in middle of their leadership retreat, so we were working in a beautiful space with wonderful energy and powerful folks of all colors and genders and sexualities, from all around the country and some from all over the world. We were able to come as ourselves, to bring all of who we are and all of what we’re struggling with, and by the end of the night we had hope that our struggles would soon give way to liberation.

But before I get too much into it, to answer some questions you may have:

Who is CUAV? CUAV is an amazing organization that began in 1979 as the nation’s first anti-violence LGBTQ organization. They began in response to the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, to mobilize queer and trans communities to prevent, respond to and heal from violence. Today, CUAV helps address violence in its many forms through resources like a 24-hour safety line and events like Safety Labs.

As far as my personal relationship with the organization, I am hopelessly and madly in love with CUAV. I’ve been a member for about a year and a half, and in that time I’ve had them to thank for everything from sending me to this year’s U.S. Social Forum in Detroit to providing space for me to lead my first writing workshop during Safetyfest to helping me feel empowered in my own healing process and struggles with violence. The incredible thing about CUAV is how they highlight and build upon the power we already have within our communities, emphasizing that we don’t need to rely on police or other oppressive forces to create safety in our own world.

What is a Safety Lab? It’s pretty much what it sounds like — a place to explore, practice and imagine new ways of creating and envisioning safety in our communities. The specifics of each Safety Lab have varied, as in other labs it’s a space for experimentation, and it finds its form when those who participate determine what they want to bring.

What is the Brown Boi Project? From their mission statement: “The Brown Boi Project is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice.” I wasn’t familiar with the Brown Boi Project before this Safety Lab, and I’m so glad for the opportunity to connect with them. They were only a couple of days into their leadership retreat, and already it was clear how much they’ve been growing and learning and building a community that meant something special to each one of them.

So back to the Safety Lab: I’ve been finding myself in this constant effort to shift what are ordinarily abstract, intangible ideas (such as justice) into something we can all touch and see and feel. The Safety Lab is a place where that happened. We wrote in permanent, unerasable ink about the violence we’re living with, and the new vision of safety that we’re moving toward. We showed in our bodies what our pain looks like, felt it in ourselves and in each other. We moved, physically, toward our new world, all the while saying out loud what we feel, what we desire, what we demand and how we create this new world. We changed the shape of our bodies and felt change within ourselves, watched as others transformed and lent a helping hand when others needed support. We were all coming from different places, with different struggles and different stories, but we were able to unite and support each other in working toward common goals. I’m so thankful for everyone who participated.

This is the change I’d like to see in the world. Not just relying on laws or criminal justice, not just waiting to be acknowledged or supported by oppressive powers that simply don’t care. Not feeling disempowered or helpless because we’ve been pushed down and silenced. But simply reminding ourselves that we already have the capacity to create the world we want to live in. It’s our vision, it’s our choice, and it’s our right to live in a world where we don’t have to worry about feeling unsafe or like our needs aren’t being met.

We’re already moving forward, and nothing can stop us from getting to where we want to be.

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 9:51 AM  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

The silence won’t save us

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.
-Audre Lorde

Okay, so the truth is I totally wimped out in that last post. I felt so exposed approaching the topic of sex on such a public forum. Not that I’d never done it before, that type of writing or sharing that type of writing, but the feeling of vulnerability definitely taught me something about how I don’t feel quite in control here, not knowing who’s reading and all. I wanted to write more, but something held me back.

So there’s nothing wrong with feeling out how much I want to share here. Still, I feel like I missed an opportunity to speak to what was really on my mind, about sexual abuse and survivors and how speaking up about these things without shame or fear can be an important part of the healing process.

Silence, I’ll admit, is one of my favorite things. I’ve probably written a dozen poems about my love of silence, so trying to write one criticizing silence as something that won’t save us, or at least distinguishing appreciating silence from being forcibly speechless, has been a challenge.

So here’s one I found, a strong, chilling poem from someone who can say it better than I can

__________________________________________________________________________

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…
100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has
been.
Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.
You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all…Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.
EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Before I start this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me

In a moment of silence

In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the

Pentagon last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you

To offer up a moment of silence

For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,

disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,

For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…

A full day of silence

For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the

hands of U.S.-backed Israeli

forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,

mostly children, who have died of

malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.

embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,

Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,

Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.

Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,

Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of

concrete, steel, earth and skin

And the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,

not a war – for those who

know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their

relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.

A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of

a secret war … ssssshhhhh….

Say nothing … we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.

Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,

Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have

piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.

An hour of silence for El Salvador …

An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …

Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …

None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.

45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas

25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found

their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could

poke into the sky.

There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.

And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of

sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…

For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half

of right here,

Whose land and lives were stolen,

In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand

Creek,

Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.

Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the

refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?

And we are all left speechless

Our tongues snatched from our mouths

Our eyes stapled shut

A moment of silence

And the poets have all been laid to rest

The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,

You want a moment of silence

You mourn now as if the world will never be the same

And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be. Not like it always has

been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.

This is a 9/10 poem,

It is a 9/9 poem,

A 9/8 poem,

A 9/7 poem

This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.

And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:

This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.

This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,

1977.

This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,

New York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes

This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told

The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks

The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and

Newsweek ignored.

This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?

We could give you lifetimes of empty:

The unmarked graves

The lost languages

The uprooted trees and histories

The dead stares on the faces of nameless children

Before I start this poem we could be silent forever

Or just long enough to hunger,

For the dust to bury us

And you would still ask us

For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence

Then stop the oil pumps

Turn off the engines and the televisions

Sink the cruise ships

Crash the stock markets

Unplug the marquee lights,

Delete the instant messages,

Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window

of Taco Bell,

And pay the workers for wages lost.

Tear down the liquor stores,

The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the

Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,

Then take it

On Super Bowl Sunday,

The Fourth of July

During Dayton’s 13 hour sale

Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful

people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence

Then take it NOW,

Before this poem begins.

Here, in the echo of my voice,

In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,

In the space between bodies in embrace,

Here is your silence.

Take it.

But take it all…Don’t cut in line.

Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,

Tonight we will keep right on singing…For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 10:17 AM  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Some hopes for marriage equality

I’ve already shared some of my general thoughts on the marriage equality movement, but now with the overturning of Prop. 8 and the possibility of my home state of California allowing gay marriage, I find myself thinking about what I hope for the future of marriage.

My feelings about the news were conflicted. On one hand, I’m ecstatic that the court chose the side of equality, taking steps to ensure that same sex couples who hope to commit to each other in marriage can enjoy the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples who do the same. I’m not even going to bother trying to put in my own words what Judge Walker so eloquently explained about how gay couples who deserve to marry deserve equal rights — to me it’s just common sense.

On the other hand, I have to stop to wonder, what are we fighting for? The right to be miserable in marriage, and to join the ranks of the frequently divorced? Our little piece of a historically oppressive institution? The chance to show people from outside of our communities that we’re “just like them”? It’s not as if this changes anything for relationships between LGBT people. Queer folks have been loving each other and committing to one another for centuries, and it’s not as if we need the validation of traditional marriage to make us feel like we have the right to love each other.

Unless it does change something. Maybe if I try not to be so cynical I can hope that, rather than queer folks adjusting their lives and perspectives to support traditional marriage, the result of such acts as overturning Proposition 8 will be the queering of marriage.

Some hopes for the future of marriage:

  • Perhaps the obvious: more acceptance of queer folks and their families. Moving past outdated attitudes and religious interpretations that characterize people in same-sex partnerships as “living in sin” and being incapable of sustaining stable, loving relationships or raising healthy children. Hopefully we can reach a day when nobody would think twice when a bride-to-be announces her engagement to a fellow bride.
  • A shift in our understanding of gender and gender roles. In his ruling, Judge Walker pointed out that it’s not a change in marriage that allows for same-sex couples to marry but a change in an understanding of gender. Perhaps if society no longer expects for marriage to only occur between a man and a woman, then we will no longer adhere to traditional ideas about the role of the husband and the wife in a partnership. With many traditions left over from the days when marriage made a woman the property of her husband, we can only benefit from moving on from our ideas of binary gender and male and female roles.
  • A recognition of the role of marriage in race and immigration movements. Unjust immigration policies have torn apart queer partners and their families, and perhaps working to dismantle these policies on a federal level can lead to much-needed solidarity between racial equality movements, immigration movements, gender equality groups and queer rights groups, and others who realize how these issues affect us on all levels.
  • Related to the above point, increased dialogue and community building among communities of color and communities of faith. Hopefully, an elimination of language and attitudes that frame being a person of color or a person of faith as separate from being a queer person. Recognition that there are some people whose identities intersect these areas, and that there is room in these communities for acceptance of queer folks.
  • I also hope that this whole struggle for marriage rights will shed light on the imperfection of the institution of marriage. I hope we can see that marriage isn’t for everyone and it shouldn’t be imposed on everyone, to realize that many of the rights and benefits tied to marriage should be available to everyone, even if they don’t choose to express their love in the form of a traditional marriage.

Well, I could go on for days about how I’d like to see marriage change, but this is a start. Hopefully, the marriage equality movement won’t stop at winning the rights to marry, but will continue to address the social issues related to the struggle and create a picture that truly reflects equality for all people.

Photo from the Huffington Post slideshow

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Another world possible through… poetry?

On art and social change:

I’ve always had this crazy idea that I’m gonna somehow change the world through writing. If not through my writing itself, then at least by helping others find their voices and discover the power of words.

I’ve also always thought, of course, that I’d have to be a little bit crazy to think this way. Of all the various kick-ass ways of going about creating social change, could sitting down and writing really be counted among them?

Some folks at the U.S. Social Forum certainly seemed to think so. Many led workshops sharing their wisdom and inspirational stories surrounding creativity, the arts and social change. There was much to learn, not only about creative practices but also about where I stand on their place in social justice movements.

So I’m going to start small. Rather than try to answer the bigger question of whether I believe in art as social change, I’ll begin with what I know. This I believe:

  • We can speak through writing when our voices are lost. Whether we’re forcibly silenced or held back by our own lack of confidence, writing can help us find and project our voices when we don’t have any other way.
  • Anybody can write (shh…). Now don’t let this one get out, because writing is supposed to be my thing, but I believe that anybody can write. No amount of talent or training (or lack thereof) matters when it’s just you and the pen, and you’re writing from the heart, telling your story like only you could. Don’t believe me? Get in touch with me, and I’ll help you dare to try.
  • Writing has made change before. There are countles examples from history, and I really believe that the world would not be the same if not for writers like the Beat poets or those of the Harlem Renaissance, who insisted on telling their stories in ways the world had never heard. If nothing else, the literary arts can capture a movement from the point of view of those involved, so that their stories will not be forgotten.
  • Writing can help communities heal, reflect and grow. I believe that simply by telling our stories, we can shake off pain and shame, celebrate our lives and communities, and learn to love ourselves and each other. Facing injustice, being constantly put down and out, we can feel stuck, and become unwilling or believe we are unable to take on the hard work of making change, even if it is for our own good. Celebrating and sharing with our communities through writing can help remind us that we’re worth it, deserving of a world in which we can thrive as we are.

So, I guess the answer is yes, I am crazy. Crazy enough to believe in the power of writing to create social change, and to not find the idea so crazy after all. What do you think? How do you see art as social change?

——————————————————————————————————–

I must write,

for I find the call of the blank page,

like the call to revolution,

irresistible.

Poetry I’m not supposed to write

I’m back from the U.S. Social Forum. And I’m not a poet, but this is what came out when reflecting on the experience this morning:

—————————————————————————————————

This Isn’t a Poem About Justice

This isn’t a poem about justice

I’m not supposed to write about wild and out there things

            that you can’t get your hands on

                        that might not really exist.

But if you promise not to call me crazy

I’ll tell you in a whisper

            that I felt justice.

            it was soaking the earth

                        in warm rain falling

                        and lightning bolts striking the Detroit River

                                    lighting up the sky

                                    like the eyes of a hopeful child.

Promise not to laugh

when I say I looked into the soul of a stranger

            Our eyes met,

                        our energies passed between us

                        like the shared tremble of an earthquake.

            No need to ask did you feel that?

                        I can’t call him a stranger anymore.

Promise you won’t turn me in

when I speak of bonds formed

            on darkened dance floors

                        between banners calling for revolutions

            I’m pretty sure what I did

                        violated some part of the Patriot Act

                        and if they lock me up

                                    and torture me

                                    and ask what I know about terror

            I’ll say her lips tasted like cinnamon.

We spit justice into microphones

            spilled it from paint cans onto canvases

                        wore it on t-shirts

                                    and fried it into foods,

                                    so it burned our tongues

                                    and slipped from our lips when we spoke.

I say justice is alive as the red rose of so many poems

            but its scent thickens the air like the heat of the sun

                        and its thorns are inescapable.

Published in: on June 28, 2010 at 9:20 AM  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Part 1 of Finding my focus as an activist: It’s not in marriage

In the past, I’ve had trouble finding my focus as a social justice activist. It’s hard when the general feeling is that there is injustice everywhere, and there seem to be a million different ways to get involved.

In moments like these, preparing for this week’s U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, I realize I’m still having a hard time narrowing it down. I could attend any number of workshops on anything from women’s rights to media justice, climate change to disability rights.

But one thing I know, in light of the recent events surrounding marriage equality in California, is that the marriage fight is not where I belong.

I used to think that it was. Frustrated with feeling discrimination on a personal and institutional level, I took the November 2008 passage of California’s Proposition 8, banning same sex marriage, to heart. I wanted to join the fight for marriage rights as an activist, and in May 2009, when the California Supreme Court decided to uphold the ban, I engaged in civil disobedience with 210 others in protest until we were arrested.

I was certainly proud to participate that day among activists, clergy and folks who stopped by and wanted to join the fight for justice. But soon after that event, I began to realize that my involvement in the marriage equality movement was misguided and ill-placed. I had been swallowing a rhetoric that claimed that the achievement of marriage rights would mean equality for all LGBT people, but I have since had a hard time believing that.

I still believe in the right for all people to get married. There are over 1,000 rights and benefits given to people who are married and denied to those whose marriages aren’t legally recognized. Those who choose to get married, and maybe have children, should have the right to do so and enjoy the benefits for themselves and their families regardless of their partner’s gender.

Part of the problem, though, is the assumption that all people will want to get married. Some won’t choose to, and what happens to the queer people whose partners and families don’t reflect what’s socially or legally recognized as marriage? Who don’t fit the mold of a nuclear household with same-sex parents of two children and a golden retriever? Do we have to try to fit into this image in order to gain so-called equality?

Historically, marriage has been an institution that has limited the rights of women and people of color, and some critics of the gay marriage movement have pointed out that its leaders have failed to address this issue. And personally, I felt very uncomfortable in my position as a queer person of color during the scapegoating of the Black community after the passage of Prop 8. With the gay marriage movement all but ignoring communities of color in the No on 8 campaign, and then blaming them for the loss, it’s hard to believe that the leaders of the movement care about the rights or needs of queer people of color. And it doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten any closer to addressing this problem since that election.

Anyway, my point here was supposed to be not just a critique of the marriage rights movement, but also a reminder that there are other needs that we can focus on to achieve health and happiness in queer communities. There are folks suffering from a low sense of self-worth, from a lack of education about how to stay healthy and from dangers to their safety and their lives. Luckily, rather than feeling completely excluded from and lost within LGBT activist circles, I realized I’d simply misidentified my goals. I’m not setting out to change queer communities but to celebrate them as they are and help support them so they can thrive. When we gain the right to marry, I’ll certainly celebrate, but I’ll also know that it’s not the end of our struggle for justice.

I’m glad to attend the Forum with CUAV (Community United Against Violence). I first got involved with CUAV last year, when searching for queer groups that were less marriage-focused. They’ve been around for over thirty years, doing amazing community-based anti-violence work for LGBTQ communities.

My association with CUAV will certainly help me find focus this week, as I attend workshops that explore ways for communities to prevent and heal from violence without relying on the prison industrial complex. I will also bring my perspective as a writer, seeking out discussions of topics like art as social change. I’ll keep in mind my goals of empowering, celebrating and embracing those who shouldn’t have to try to resemble mainstream communities to enjoy the same rights and privileges that they do.

I’m going to try my best to blog from Detroit, but I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to. Be sure to check back for possible updates! Until next time, faithful readers!

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (4)  
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Uniting in our difference

It’s funny what isolation can do to us sometimes. We can feel alone in our struggles, convinced that we truly are alone, that nobody else could possibly understand the individual intersection of the identities that make up who we are.

As a Black queer person, for example, it’s easy to feel this way. And I could pile a bunch of other aspects of my identity on top of those to make this point. It’s a feeling of never being whole in the way one presents oneself. Always having to leave a part behind, based on surroundings. I find myself in communities of faith and communities of color where I can identify with those around me on one level, but in order to do so I must keep another part of me hidden, like my queer identity. Or, I might be in queer circles where issues of race and gender are trivialized, and I’m expected to set aside my perspective as a Black woman for the sake of queer unity.

The intersection between Black and queer is on my mind especially because of a meeting/gathering I went to last night. I’m really glad that I went because it was one of those instances when I would’ve assumed I was alone if somebody (namely Eric Martin) hadn’t reached out to see if anyone else was out there.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending “Another World Is Possible,” the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. It’s a huge event full of workshops put on by activists and organizers from around the country and the world. I’ll have more details on the event and on CUAV, the incredible organization I’m going with, later. Last night’s gathering was called “To Detroit with Love,” and it brought together Black queer people, most of whom are attending the USSF, to discuss our role, hopes and goals for the USSF.

We might think that at an event like the USSF, filled with folks who envision the world as a place of equality, it would be easy for anyone to come as you are. But it might be harder than it seems. Even the most informed social justice activists can play a role in the systems that exclude certain identities. There will certainly be workshops that discuss racial and gender equality while disregarding or forgetting about what the inclusion of queer voices brings to the table. Likewise, there will be activists who focus on queer issues without including the perspective of queer people of color.

The process of full inclusion is a complex one. I’m trying to find a different word than “inclusion” to use, because it doesn’t feel like quite enough. We must include without tokenizing. Speak to the voices that couldn’t be present without misappropriating their struggles, and claiming to understand without walking in their shoes. Move beyond the differences that divide us by finding our common ground, while recognizing those differences that make us unique, that make it so that there can be no one voice that speaks for an entire group.

At “To Detroit with Love,” we all brought our unique experiences and perspectives to the table, creating what felt like some multicolored quilt of thought that held both our similarities and our differences. It doesn’t mean that our experience at the USSF will be perfect or that our presence there will make the change we see necessary to let everybody be free to be all of who they are, but we’ve started a conversation that will continue on. To really make another world possible.

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From the morning’s freewrite:


How will I find you in the dark?

Our black bodies swallowed by the shadows

Remembering what we’ve been told

about what darkness means:

confusion and loss,

wickedness and despair.

How will we find each other?

By remembering we were born in the dark

and within us still

the proud, dark continent

is unearthed in our blood.

Some will call Black a bad word

so we’ll claim it as our own.

A word whose power grows as we do.

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (3)  
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