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A Day without A Woman

Last Saturday, I gathered with a handful of L.A. folks to discuss plans for March 8, 2017: Women’s Day. People from dozens of different countries will be striking and taking other action in “A Day without A Woman.” 

What can you do? Lots. I wrote about that over at Progressive Army today. Please check it out.

#WomenStrikeLA


— 

You don’t have to be a woman to show up, in whatever ways you can. You don’t have to think of yourself as a feminist or an activist. You don’t have to feel the exact same pains as those around you.

Solidarity isn’t about sharing the same pains. It’s about showing up to acknowledge both the pain that exists outside yourself and your commitment to change. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor spoke to this beautifully in her Anti-Inauguration speech:

Anti-Inauguration ebook available free at haymarketbooks.org

The New Jim Crow & the Nightmare River

When I started reading The New Jim Crow a couple of years ago, I felt my world rippling. I don’t mean this allegorically. I felt the smoothness disturbed by something else clawing to be let in.

Before I picked up the book, I’d been floating along on the smooth, clear water of U.S. life. I assumed all was (mostly) good and well straight down to the river’s bottom.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow‘s author, invited me to stop floating and actually dip a finger into the water. Beneath the thin veneer of calm, her recounting of recent American history informed me, I’d find turbulence and boiling water that was scalding people alive.

I dipped in one finger and discovered she was right. Horrified, I returned my hands to the surface. I set Alexander’s book aside and enjoyed my onward drift.

Over the summer, little burning bubbles began emerging from the water around me. They were uncommon and only a little painful, so I ignored them at first. Why would I go seek out more pain?

But then I saw bigger bubbles roiling below the surface and understood: the U.S. is a world in which only a few are allowed to float at the surface. Others are forced down, trapped in the murky, hot water beneath and struggling to reach the surface for even a moment’s gasping breath.

I understood: they suffer so that I might stay comfortably afloat. “Oh, shit!” I started shouting to those floating near enough to hear me. “People are drowning below us! We have to see the whole river beneath us, not just the sparkles up top, or they’re going to keep on drowning!”

Alone, I saw, I could pull very, very few people up to the surface. If I could enlist other surface-floaters to reach down, though, I knew we could together evacuate this nightmare river and seek out one with cleaner, genuinely smooth waters where all were equally able to experience the river in its fullness.

“Shhh, you’re disturbing our ride,” fellow floaters admonished in return.  Read more…

Thunder Thighs Forever

February 10, 2017 Comments off

For more than three decades, I shared a birthday with my mom.

In October 2010, I faced my first birthday without her. Cancer had claimed her body in March 2010.

mom me n d

(but not before she met my Li’l D, the first of her many beautiful grandchildren)

Writing about her sometimes challenged me, especially early in this blog’s days. How could I show all her love, humor, compassion, and ferocity, while still being true to the hardships I endured both growing up and saying goodbye to her?

I got as close as I’ve ever gotten in my 2014 birthday letter to her, my blog’s most popular post by far, “Dear Mom.” In a single paragraph, I was able to sum up my experience of being her daughter better than I had before or have since:

You always begged me not to write about you. You thought I’d write about how you beat my siblings and me, how you yelled at us, how you could barely feed us and only kept us in a home by selling other people’s trash. I do write about these things, because they’re part of you. But they’re a small part, so enormously insignificant compared to your laughter, your love, your lessons in forgiveness, our birthday trips to Farrell’s and Pietro’s. I wish I’d written more about you in your life, so you could have seen how greatly your loving acts overshadowed your lost and tired ones. I wish I could’ve started writing sooner, or that you could’ve lived longer to see your love through my eyes.

I was a little nervous when I wrote about my mom in “Bernie, Because I Was Poor: Poverty, Predation, and Understanding Love.” I posted it on Progressive Army, a site with readers knowing nothing about my mom but what I wrote there. Since they didn’t know my mom, I worried they’d take away from the piece a unidimensional understanding of a woman enormously complex and vivid.

My mom was and remains my foremost superhero. While the word “superhero” is thrown around a lot these days, I mean this fairly literally. One of my favorite things about my mom was her superhero alter-ego, the uniquely malodorous Thunder Thighs. Read more…

… and fortitude

Last night, I went to bed crying. I felt like every bit of hope I’ve had these last few months was delusional.

I still feel that, but I did find a little spark in something that happened yesterday.

Midway through the afternoon yesterday, an old work friend texted me. “Are you at LAX right now?”

He was there with his wife. When we met up, he said they’d invited all their friends. None had shown up. They’d been there for hours when he went, “Wait! There’s no way Deb’s not here!”

Thinking of that today made me smile. I might not have hope right now, but you know what? 

Agree, disagree, hope, don’t hope, like me, don’t like me, I’ll show up for you.

I might not have hope right now, but I have love … and fortitude.

LAX 7 p.m. Saturday v. LAX 3 p.m. Sunday

MLK, Jr: passionate and revolutionary

A couple months ago, I wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s pursuit of positive peace. King succinctly but powerfully differentiated this peace from what he described as “negative peace”:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I began today writing a rejection of WashPost’s vision of the “conservative” MLK, Jr. You can read that if you’d like.

Whether or not you read that, please do read MLK, Jr’s letter from a Birmingham jail at the very least, and understand King’s love wasn’t mild and conservative but passionate and revolutionary.

On facing a soul-stealer

A soul-stealer has come to town,” a neighbor tells me.

“Soul-stealer? What’s that?”

“It’s a demon that eats souls. There’s no coming back from this.”

I am standing on a stairwell. A man-shaped demon emanating flames stands a few steps beneath me. 

“Run!” I shout to my seven-year-old, who’s racing up the stairs behind me. “Get as far away as you can!”

The soul-stealer before me has killed both my husband and my two-year-old, and for a split-second I am crushed by the loss. But wordless understanding fills me, all at once; given words, they would be:

Who came back from the netherworld to say this loss is eternal? Either someone came back, or this is propaganda. Right now, I must do everything I can to save my son. And then, then I will worry about how to fix what’s already been lost. Dead or alive, I will find a way. This is not the end.

“You will not get him!” I roar at the demon.

I am suddenly lying in darkness. I wonder where I am and how I got there.

It hits me: That was a dream, and this is reality.

“Thank God,” I whisper, touching my husband before rising.

As I drive to work, I chuckle. I’m glad to have grown up with horror in a family of horror lovers. I learned young that you don’t beat the monster by sitting still.

My political journey is now shaping my dreams. My dreams, in turn, are shaping my political journey, reminding me to fight for what hasn’t yet been lost instead of drowning in sorrow over what already has. After what’s left is secured, I can then look toward reclamation of what appears to have been lost.

I don’t know what’s ahead. What I do know is that I like who I’m becoming. I like that I’ve got this fight in and outside of me. 

Now, to take it from dreams and translate it to reality: doing everything I can to protect what I can of a planet being made uninhabitable long term in pursuit of profits short term.

Shaping the future, together

My husband, Anthony, and I began 2016 with the movie Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.

It was so uplifting that I turned it on again after a few hours of sleep. When my then six-year-old joined me on the couch, we had a short exchange about it.

“Are you crying?” Li’l D asked when he joined me. “Yes,” I told him. I quickly explained the movie’s premise.

“So you’re crying because the world is ending?” he inquired, flopping onto the sofa.

“No.” I smiled, nodding toward the characters on the screen. “It’s because of what they’re making of what they have.”

Last night, as my husband wondered aloud how to ring in the new year. I suggested we watch Seeking A Friend again.

“That’s too depressing,” he replied. “Not that.”

“What? Are you kidding?!” I asked. “Now more than ever, it’s the most inspiring thing there is: a reminder of where and how to find hope in scary times.”

“Sure,” he said without a scrap of conviction.

All the same, we rang in the new year watching Seeking A Friend. We both cried, of course, as we agreed that something potentially heartbreaking was actually pretty darn uplifting.

Thus it was that a fairly random movie selection to begin one year shaped how I began the next.

As 2017 loomed, I’ve felt growing trepidation. Donald Trump will be U.S. president in a few short weeks, bringing in a cabinet that’s rejected any pretense of representing the American people. While elected officials have whittled away Americans’ rights in grievous ways over the last several decades, primarily representing corporations and very wealthy people instead, they’ve at least tried to maintain an illusion of representation.

The good thing about that illusion is many Americans less affluent still retained some important rights; the bad thing, that we retained enough of them that we weren’t really fighting to keep them or gain back those we’d lost.

When I said that the good in a Trump victory was that it would at least inspire people to mobilize and fight for our collective rights, I spoke based on the assumption we’d mobilize, and quickly.

Almost two months post-election, I’m seeing more grumbling and finger-pointing than mobilizing. This has concerned me, because the more time we spend squabbling over the particulars of a single election already passed, the less time we have to figure out how we’re going to work to protect each other now.

Watching Seeking a Friend in the early minutes of 2017, my heart eased. I remembered that there are lots of different ways we can help save each other by our individual acts. It’s not about the outcome. It’s about the processes involved in being for and with each other, and how we build our collective knowledge and capacity as we go.

What can I do as one little person against a machine so vast and devastating? I can act in accord with what I believe, not simply believe it passively. I can learn a little every day, and apply what I’m learning. I can share what I’m learning, and listen to what other people are learning to improve my own effectiveness.

I’ll re-register as a Democrat to vote for progressive Democrat delegates next weekend. I’ll continue to become more engaged with the Democratic Socialists of America and its efforts to bring unqualified equality to all Americans. I will, like at my first DSA-LA meeting, savor the opportunity to be surrounded by people inspired to act by a passion for equality, including experienced activists who can pass on their wisdom to those–like me–new to activism.

I’ll become involved in local politics. I’ve made my initial plans, though I haven’t shown up bodily for anything yet!

Most of all, I’ll continuously seek ways to connect people motivated by different but related causes. Fragmented into individual causes, we’ll have a hard time expanding the floor of the cage. Together, we’ve got a real shot.

 

For one two-hour work of fiction, I’m even more grateful this January 1st than I was the last. In that movie, the future was determined. The present moments leading to it were not.

In this reality, the future is not set. We can change what’s ahead.

Despite a few inevitable stumbles along the way, I believe we will.

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