Since my last post
about measures of success for a political poet, I've had several fruitful conversations about the potential of poetry to create positive changes in the world. Thank you for reading, and for sharing your perspectives to affirm my work and the transformative work of the artists I admire.
Recently, I've also had a couple of publications include my words in their projects to lift voices for social change.
The Everyday Abolition/Abolition Every Day Project
is producing a zine all about our creativity and collective power to resist the prison industrial complex. Everyday Abolition
is "an international political art collaboration between Chanelle Gallant and Lisa Marie Alatorre, collecting stories, art, and interviews highlighting the ways PIC abolitionists practice, and live PIC abolition in our work, organizing, and personal lives."
So for the rest of 2013, Everyday Abolition is posting stories and words about what it means to live abolition, everyday. A print version of the zine will follow, and until then, you can read the posts online. So far, pieces include The Creative Spark of Injustice
, my response to the acquittal of Travyon Martin's murderer, and Isolation Cannot Heal Isolation: One Survivor's Response to Sexual Assault
, a beautiful, brave post about healing, safety, and accountability, written by Blyth Barnow, a woman I'm proud to call my friend.
Read these posts and more on Everyday Abolition/Abolition Every Day.
My words also appeared last month in an article by Andrea Abi-Karam, published on openDemocracy's Transformation: Where love meets social justice
. The article, "Political Poetry Does Not Ask Permission,"
includes interviews with me and two other political poets, Jacqueline Frost and Wendy Trevino, on the transformative power of political poetry.
This piece begins: We long for the time when we took to the streets. But now, we take those words from the streets and transform our post-occupy political daze into poetry.
Poetry’s evasion of mainstream capitalism gives it a unique, charged voice for political expression in the public sphere. Compared to other art forms, books collect dust on shelves while gallery pieces sell for thousands. Poetry’s existence outside of “economic desire” gives it the power of a voice that doesn’t seek to please anyone.
“I feel like one thing that makes political poetry so impactful is that it doesn’t ask permission,” says Bay Area poet and activist Maisha Johnson. She continues: “A lot of political poetry says: ‘This is my truth, I’m not going to wait for anybody to allow me to speak my truth. This is what I need to say – I’m going to say it.’”
Read the rest of the article and watch videos of the poets on the Transfomation website.
Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
Me & my shiny new degree
School's out! One week ago, I graduated with my MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. It's hard to believe that my first residency there was already two years ago
, and now, my turn to walk across the stage as a graduate has already come and gone. Tonight, I'm showing off what I learned at Oakland's Beast Crawl, not by reading poems from my MFA thesis, but
by reading brand new work, all about vengeful sex. What can I say? I guess I needed some kind of release. If you can, come hear me read during leg 3 of Beast Crawl at Anger Management & Revenge: Dirty Trixxx
.I do have plenty of reflections about what my new degree means for my life and writing moving forward, though. I'll have lots more time now for sharing about this life here on the blog, but for now I'll leave you with
this – a version of the graduate presentation I gave at my last MFA residency. It's edited to remove the poems I included (gotta keep those to myself for now, in case of publication), and it doesn't quite carry the full effect of me delivering all this truth-telling in a little chapel hall full of people, of all places, but you'll get the idea of my journey through all of the learnings of the last couple of years. Click below to read more.
Here I am, blogging and apologizing. Saying, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging more often. Here I am falling back on the excuse that I've been busy. Busy, busy, busy. Here I am claiming that being busy keeps me connected, keeps me aware, makes me feel like I'm contributing to life around me and weaving a thread between my own heartbeat and the drumming that makes the world go 'round.
And here I am admitting that it's not (always) true. That sometimes, it's quite the opposite – staying
busy helps me disconnect, helps me keep moving without pausing to consider how I'm moving, or why. It helps me feel productive, which can seem fulfilling when I convince myself that I value productivity more than being in touch with the fullness of my reality, including any uncomfortable feelings I'd rather avoid.
For me, working and creating with dignity means being mindful about the work I'm doing, and being aware of all of my needs, even those I might be neglecting in any given moment by staying so busy. I'm thinking about what bell hooks wrote in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery:
"[t]he practice of 'right livelihood' invites us to become more fully aware of our reality, of the labor we do and the way we do it."
So here I am, pausing. Practicing "right livelihood" by taking a moment to think about how I can align my busy life with my dignity.
We all deserve to work with dignity, which is one of the reasons I'll be marching tomorrow for May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. It's a day for uniting in solidarity with immigrant workers, to stand up for human rights and say no to criminalization. CUAV's contingent will be part of San Francisco's march, walking together as LGBTQ survivors and our allies. Join us
, or find May Day events in your area
What does working with dignity mean to you?
Want to change the world? Join a non-profit agency! At an organization full of compassionate visionaries dedicated to making the world a better place, nothing could possibly go wrong – right?
Okay, so nobody’s perfect, and no non-profit is the perfect agent for change. As you may know, some aspects of non-profits can be stressful, challenging, and even counter-productive to the ultimate goals of social change work. And that can be hard for me to hold, knowing that even people with the best intentions can contribute to creating obstacles in the way of true liberation.
Luckily, we now have some courageous folks to help us name what goes on in the wacky world of non-profits, through a new activist-artist group called Peacock Rebellion. And they’re doing it all with fun and sass, as well as a deep sense of hope in the power of true activism.
Peacock Rebellion is centered around queer and trans people of color, and the artists craft their work through lenses of intersectionality, interconnection, interdependence and transnationalism. These artists aren’t afraid to speak the truth about the dangers of a non-profit industrial complex that upholds problematic patterns and stifles activists' dreams.
The truth is, we don’t have to accept the problems of the non-profit world, even with the best intentions. As Peacock Rebellion founder Manish Vaidya says, “we can dream bigger.”
Our big dreams take center stage at Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster
, Peacock Rebellion’s first cabaret. Twelve queer and trans people of color use comedy, film, burlesque and more to critique the current state of social change, and to share their freedom dreams. The tremendously talented performers include Lambda Literary Award winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Deep Dickollective founder Juba Kalamka, and Mia McKenzie, of the revolutionary blog Black Girl Dangerous. In addition to the all-star performers and curators (Maya Chapina and Manish Vaidya), there’s an all-star line up of sponsors: INCITE, Mangos with Chili, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, Queer Rebels, and QWOCMAP. In other words, a whole lot of fierceness has gone into this show.
Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster premiered last night to a packed house at La Peña Cultural Center, and tonight’s show is nearly sold out, so it may be too late to see it on this run. But don’t worry! We’ll be seeing much more of Peacock Rebellion’s amazing work. To find out more, you can visit their website
or their Facebook page
, and to offer your support, visit the Indiegogo page
It's Labor Day. So to honor workers in labor movements and other tireless folks whose work never ends, here's a poem by Audre Lorde.
A Song for Many Movements
by Aurde Lorde
Nobody wants to die on the way
and caught between ghosts of whiteness
and the real water
none of us wanted to leave
on the way to salvation
three planets to the left
a century of light years ago
our spices are separate and particular
but our skins sine in complimentary keys
at a quarter to eight mean time
we were telling the same stories
over and over and over.
Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence
Our labor has become
than our silence.
You may know that I call myself an activist, and I believe in speaking up to create change. You may have also noticed that there are a number of activists speaking up throughout the country in a growing demonstration
. So, have I been a part of #Occupy Wall Street? The simple answer is no, not yet.
I have to be honest - my initial impression of this movement to occupy Wall Street and other financial centers throughout the country was not good. Sure, I agree with their goals
– setting aside, temporarily, the fact that there is no official list
of stated goals. Word is that the protesters are against corporate greed, social and economic inequality, inadequate healthcare and education, and more, and they’re calling for the kind of social change that I would stand behind. So why haven’t I joined the demonstrations?
Well, first of all, I’ve been skeptical about this broad approach to creating change. I understand that all of these causes are interrelated, and to address one requires acknowledgement of the others, but I tend to believe that an action requires a stated goal and some kind of focus in order to effectively create change. “The end of corporate greed” seems too vague
to me to state as an achievable goal.
Then again, the protesters may have a myriad of demands, but they seem to be having no trouble making them known. And rather than fizzle out due to a lack of focus, the demonstrations seem to be growing
in size and influence. Was I wrong about them?
As an activist, I think it’s time to at least pay attention to what’s happening, to take note of what’s working and what’s still falling short. Clearly, one good thing is that at least the protesters are being heard. The demonstration is spreading, to more people and more cities, to everyone from celebrities to unions, and hopefully that means that somebody’s listening.
Will this create change, though? Perhaps only time will tell. One of my concerns is that the protesters’ declaration that “We Are the 99%”
of those who are struggling dismisses the fact that there are some who don’t feel included
in this movement. Protesters are speaking up about economic inequalities, so are they also addressing the racial and gender inequalities
that contribute to these conditions
? Some people of color say no
. Many of the protesters have suggested that their feelings are “universal,” but as Kai Wright points out in this brilliant essa
y, “The problem with a universal framework is that what is dominant also gets called universal.” And without awareness
of this, even those working toward the same purpose as I am can fail to see
my perspective on the issue.
For me personally, one positive thing about observing all of this is that it’s given me a chance to step back and reexamine my feelings about approaches to activism. When considering art as activism, are stated goals and achievable demands required for a piece to be effective? Or is it enough to inspire hope and call for change, opening the door for whatever form that change may take?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. For now, I’m going to keep reflecting, keep embodying activism as it works for me, standing in solidarity with those who are demonstrating, and hoping for this action to develop into tangible justice for all.