Sunday, July 27, 2014


Sometime last month, or maybe even 2 months ago, I was walking out of a therapy session (more on that-- maybe. but maybe not) and for some reason happened to look at my tire on my front driver side. It was wicked bald and on the inside the wires were starting to pop out. Same thing on my other front tire. With a drive up to Detroit the next day, I wasn't sure they'd last another 24 hours. Literally. My therapy mind quickly jumped to problem solving-- and before too long I was driving up Cleveland Ave looking for a used tire place.

I found one, but it wasn't the one I was looking for. I doubt it would have popped up on google. It was small, dirty-- and open. They had the tires I needed and the price was the same as the bigger googleable shop further down the road. As one of the fellas switched my tires out, I sat watching a world cup match on the oddly nice television-- inside the terribly build addition to the garage- that was now the office. Next to me on the chairs that were once white, three women chatted in a language I didn't understand. They were wearing clothing I couldn't imagine wanting to wear. A young woman (a teenage perhaps) wandered in and out of the door in the office-- seeming both confident and a bit on edge. The shotty addition, the dirty chairs, and the unfamiliar women were honestly part of what made me glad to stop by. The place wasn't comfortable to me- but I appreciated it. 

My tires were replaced, I paid in cash (another thing I liked), and I drove on back home. 

Just the other day, when I finally decided to pay attention to my car, I headed back to that same tire shop to replace the back tire- that somehow had an oddly flat spot on it that thumped every time it rotated. I was glad to see the shop was once again open, but with a little less hustle and bustle. It seemed quiet. As I pulled in, the same mechanic who replaced my tires last time remembered that back tire (which he told me at the time needed replaced). Once again, I waited on the dirty chairs, this time watching the ever disturbing news by myself.

As he came in, I got up to walk out and pay him. But he stopped and sat on the desk in the corner.

Wait a minute...

(pause) mhm?

You Married? 


You married?

ha- no.

You have a boyfriend?

i've got a partner... do you have a boyfriend?


I'm looking for you.


You. I'm looking for you. 

Oh. uhm, no?

Through his thick accent, I actually couldn't understand him that well. He said something more-- maybe two or three things more... as i lowered my gaze to the ground and slightly shook my head no and backed out of the office. Once I was in the parking lot, I was able to catch myself. I asked how much I owed him, and handed him cash. I felt relieved my keys were in my hand.

I don't know what he was saying- but the answer was no. no. I've never really been afraid of strangers. I know-- deep inside my body as well as from statistics- that men I know are much much more likely to assault me then a stranger. But everything inside of me screamed no, yelled at me to get out. Oddly (or maybe not so oddly...) I could barely shake my head no and back out of the room. It's like I couldn't physically do it. 

It took me... a while... to shake the feeling. To let it go, let it leave and for me to.. rebalance. That's also unusual-- that sorta shit rolls off my back (again with the strangers...) within short moments. But it felt hot and full in it's suffocation. That place where feelings sometimes come from-- some folks call it intuition-- was confident i needed to escape. 

Today, several days later- I still have an intense feeling from that interaction. I still don't really understand it. I wonder what role racism played in my reaction, and in what ways i felt more afraid because he wasn't white and because enlglish wasn't his first language. because he was 'other'.

Unfortunately, I suspect racism did tint that-- and created something where those feeling felt... so... big. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Towards Collective Liberation

Several months ago, I started hearing lots of folks talking about a new collection of essays put together by Chris Crass--- Towards Collective Liberation. It's a book that focuses in on stories and experiences on fighting racism and sexism, while building power.

While the book is interesting upon it's self, the most interesting and exciting part about it was reading it with some friends. About once a month or every section-ish, we'd get together on a video chat and talk about it. To make that even better than it sounds, those friends were EK, Bex, and Cole.

I enjoyed reading it, and more so talking about it-- but I have to say: I didn't love it. More particularly, I wasn't that found of the parts the Crass wrote--- there's something about white guys writing about anti-oppression that feels like... not that great. I did find valuable insight, and we had some interesting discussions, but overall i was underwhelmed by it. I think that's mostly because I had high expectations and that so many folks seems to be saying it was a great book. It was fine, I'd even recommend reading it--- but--- not highly recommend it.

What I Liked About it...

There's one section where Crass talks opening about some of the things he does, in his daily life, that are sexist as all get out. It was actually hard to read ("... i know that my instant reaction is to take men's opinions more seriously... almost never having zoned out on what a gender-privileged man is saying because i was thinking about him sexually... etc. from Going to Places that I'm Scared of, p 124), but i gained a lot of respect from the honesty that was said and laid out. As someone who also (like all people, if i dare say) has thoughts or actions that don't match up with what I want in the world, it feels really compelling to see someone owning that-- not apologizing or explaining-- but owning it and working to make it different.

I loved having space to think about the ways privilege and skill sets intersect with expectations and power consolidation (Food Not Bombs essay, p 78) and the complexity of sharing the skills we do have (Going to Place that Scare Me, p 118). Of course, the ideas of structurlessness came up in many ways, all of which I ate up (and let it feed my righteousness? yes, probably).

Towards the end of the book there was a lot more essays and interview style writings from folks who were not Crass--- and I was more excited and pensive about those sections. It felt less theory based, and more... just how it is. Groups like the Rural Organizing Project blew my mind with how they've moved folks along, ways in which they prioritize collaboration with organizations that focus and acknowledge privilege and oppression, and individual and collective experiences (A struggle for Our Lives, p 204) and later digging in more about how "to hold the complexity, historical knowledge, and pain when people of color we're supporting act out intersecting forms of oppression (p 248). 

I have found myself thinking a lot about a section that talks about the ways we change and feel powerful when we put our bodies on the line. It made me reconsider the ways i look at 'direct action'  in the day of a digital world--- how getting a petition signed can actually create meaningful change in a person, if they do it person to person, face to face. (Leading with our Vision, p 244).

Good On Ya, at least mostly...

While I wasn't all that into what Crass had to say- or maybe the way he said it- I do really appreciate the book and his writings. I think folks who step up and take leadership to educate others about oppression are great. Sometimes we don't do it right, and we make mistakes, or we say things that make folks uncomfortable (not in a good way), but I can (metaphorically) applaud taking a stance and stepping into that role. If I were to ever meet Crass, I wouldn't say he opened my mind or showed me the way or even represented the struggles of women (since that's the one I have first hand experience with) well-- but I would say thanks. An honest, sincere thanks for writing a book to bring folks along, to share experiences and know-how, and for stepping it up. 

Take home Message...
reading and talking about challenging ideas with friends is way better for me than reading by myself and leaving it be. 

{sometimes EK and Bex would be in the same place-- which was always notably not ohio}

Friends Rule. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

recognize ---> intervene

Something like a month ago, I went to a workshop lead by Training for Change- called Whites Confronting Racism. It was a 2 and half day workshop held in Philadelphia. A nice bonus of the workshop was two dear friends of mine also attended- Bex and Eli. The three of us share some common experiences (and have a lot of divergent experiences, too)-- since we all worked and lived together doing anti-mtr work in Appalachia. 

I went in thinking I didn't have expectations- and I was totally ready and open for whatever they sent my way. That's somewhat true, I was open and ready for what they had for me, but I also had hopes and expectations. Per usual, those expectations were unrealistic and ungrounded (things like: 'I'll leave the workshop feeling clear about ways I can best utilize myself to fight racism.'). What I got wasn't so clean- but it has been useful and the longer I sit with it, the more I feel the impacts of that weekend seeping into me. 

We set the stage to understand that white supremacy is systematic and large--- it's not just about us. But we do exist within a world that runs its self on the combination of white supremacy and racism, and so we do have a role and a say in the process. And I can choose to act in a way that is in line with my values and works to build the world we want. 

We looked at ways that white folks express racism. There was a list that we spent time working through called "examples of white group-level behavior/privilege' that listed common behaviors people of color experience from whites. There were a lot that I really identified with-- which-- was both unsurprising and a little shocking at the same time. Two that really stood out for me in my life; a tendency to give 'perfectly logical explanations' for racism (rather than acknowledging the systematic patten that any given circumstance fits in) and not listening to feedback, and rather explaining my intentions. 

I also really appreciated an activity designed to help us see our true 'core' selves and find ways to allow who we are to guide our actions. (Which, felt well paired with a lot of the work I've been doing with my coach- Zo. who is great.) We looked at ways our actions,  ways we want folks to see us, and our fears hold us back from being able to... well... be who we are. 
{our actions and sometimes the way we want folks to see us, are just the tip of the iceberg. But there's a lotta stuff going on under the water--- and if we're not intentional, our actions and core self might not match up}

I also found myself really struggling with how the forms of supremacy and oppression we were talking about apply to other oppressed people, too. For me, being a woman felt really present. A lot of what we talked about hit home for me-- but not because of my skin color. In some ways, I'm glad to see the connections--- but I am also weary of 'using' the oppression i feel as a shield to avoid talking about ways i benefit from white supremacy. 

We spent a fair amount of time talking about ways to intervene-- to call out and disrupt the flow of racist bullshit that happens all around us. There was lots of useful things around that, but one that I'm excited to talk about was a role playing activity. That I liked. (I literally can't think of any other role plays that i enjoyed being a participant in- so it's sorta a big deal.) Basically, we talked about something we'd like to do (around racism) and had our partners push us and criticize us--- while the other partner reminded us about who we are at the core. 

I decided I'd ask my housemates if they were willing/interested in being part of a discussion group about whiteness and racism. My biggest self doubt is that I'm not a skilled facilitator in this area and won't be able to guide us to somewhere useful and that folks will feel like I'm wasting their time. Through the role playing activity, I got to realize I had that fear and therefore am able to prevent it from disabling me. 

Several of my housemates have said they'd be into a discussion group, and we're going to start with picking a reading and talking about it. We haven't started yet, and I still feel really concerned I'll do a shitty job, but... we will start. 

When considering my unstated expectations (feeling clear about how to best fight racism), this feels pretty small. and insignificant. and maybe even stupid. with some reality check on myself (and my self doubt) I can see that it is small- but it is worth doing. The next step can be bigger and better, but starting here is real. And without this workshop, I never would have suggested it, and my household probably wouldn't do some of this work together. 

ps: there is another training this may, and i certainly recommend it. I also have a few solid and great resources/reading lists that i'd be happy to share with folks, so let me know if you'd like that. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mesoamerica Resiste and the Transpacific Partnership

Over a span of 9 years, folks gathered stories, understood connections, created metaphors, drew images, and then... ta-da! We've got a poster. (simple, easy, just like that! right? uhh. sure...)

Recently, I've been working with a bunch of really smart bees to figure out how to story tell and share the newest graphic: Mesoamerica Resiste (including having the narrative done, if ya haven't had a chance to read it yet it's on the left sidebar of our site). Today, a group of folks have gotten together to build shared analysis and do some planning, which since I'm at home, I admittedly feel jealous of. But also totally stoked and excited that we're doing that. And I'm ready to spend some time doing story sharing over here in Ohio.

As a story teller, this is some of the most exciting and interesting stuff I getta do-- find ways to make sure the stories we share are impactful, meaningful, and ideally- inspire action or movement from folks we're connecting with. Though I don't think we can claim much credit with the timing of MR! being released, it does align in a moment when the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement similar to others like NAFTA, is at a pivotal moment in our country. A moment in which it's possible to stop it.

 The issues addressed with the MR! graphic and the TPP have similarities that are both powerful and devastating. We can look to previous trade agreements and other neoliberal policies to see how history repeats itself. This time, if the TPP passes, it will be bigger and badder than ever before-- as it encompasses 40% of the global economy, making it the largest trade agreement--- ever.

{for more on the TPP, here's a good article to check out--- though I havta say, it's not the 'americans' receive the short end of the stick- it's that people do. We all do.}

On my most recent tour, Kyle and I built upon what we'd (the royal we, not just kyle and i) already developed to incorporate more information and build our stories and analysis to share what we know about the TPP.  After being back here in Ohio, I got to do a workshop with some students from across the country who are doing organizing work against the TPP with United Students for Fair Trade. We delved into a lot of the images on the front of the graphic to explore connection to the TPP, as well as jumped into the center hear stories of resistance.

Through doing this, I not only got to hear some perspective of those I was with, but also had a chance to hear more direct feedback--- and gained a sense of what stuck out to folks and seemed to engage folks the most. These two stories really came to top and look at two different perspectives on why agreements like the TPP are not for or by the people.

On the left side of the poster, there's a double helix highlighting the story of farmer bee. There are many steps that farmer bee takes- from communal farming to displacement that leads to working in a sweatshop in a Free Trade Zone or being forced to emigrate to another country.

In the first few scene, we see farmer bee working and living in a hive- a communal land holding. When the Mexican constitution was enacted after the revolution, it protected communal land and prevented it from being parceled out.

However, as NAFTA pushed forward, the constitution was changed in order to align with free trade policies. Suddenly, those land holding could be broken.

and they were. Here, farmer bee goes to get a loan and a deed, in order to farm her own little plot of land. 

Luckily, she knows a lot about the land and growing food, so she has a really productive season.

However, when she takes her produce to market-- she realized she simply can't compete with global corn prices. The truck from the United States is dumping highly subsidized and industrialized corn into the market scales.

Farmer bee simply can't make a living given global trade. And at the end of the season, she's breaking open her little piggy bank. Despite scrapping it together the best she can, she doesn't have enough to pay back her private loans, and is forced to sell her land-- and emigrate out of the place she's from.

Under the TPP, more communities will loose their autonomy to decide what will best govern their people. NAFTA undermined the hard fought agreement for communal land, and if free trade expands, so will the consequences.

Settled into the front and center of the graphic- there sits a table. It's a celebration-- of 500 years of colonialism-- as industry representatives try to take the biggest piece of the cake as they can. (The cake is shaped like Mesoamerica). While these folks have been pulling the strings of free trade for a long time, under the TPP it's gotten even more extreme. The agreement has over 600 official corporate 'trade advisors,' meanwhile folks in political positions (congress, for example) and folks like you and i- are barred from seeing it. We can't see it, and they get to draft it.

Wait? Who's this agreement for again?

Fortunately, Wikileaks has struck again and has been releasing the very long and complicated documents. Even more fortunate, other folks are reading it and summarizing it for us. So far, we know that despite preventing SOPA from passing last year, it's included within the TPP. One of the most harsh previsions I've seen so far- also falls under the umbrella of 'intellectual property.'

One of the industries sitting around the table above is the pharmaceutical industry (frog mask, dna vessel). Under the TPP, generic medicines will be under threat, as corporations will have more freedom to attach governmental patent regulations that allow for generic medicine to exist. Tons of people rely on the life saving access to cheap (ish) generic medicine. Even AARP (which, ya know, is always standing in line with the radical left on issues- right?) has come out to say the TPP is bad news.

{a photo of kyle- sharing the stories from MR!- in Baltimore at 2640}

Ok- that's some rough news. It's terrifying. It's heartbreaking. It's awful--- but it's real and it's happening AND it can be stopped. I'm really glad to be able to use this fancy drawing to talk about things like this- and real glad to be able to take action.

The first step in this fight, is to prevent the Fast Track legislation from moving forward-- and preventing Obama (who loves free trade and the TPP) from being able to unilaterally pass trade agreements.

Expose the TPP has a whole slew of ideas on how to put in wrench in this whole charade. Everything from hosting a teach in, calling your rep, bird dogging, and pulling together a rally.