Heart Work: Within & Beyond Activist Communities

Book Reviews

People are fired up, ready to organize.

I felt the energy of folks in Oakland last Saturday at the Women’s March and it reminded me of the first time I ever attended an action (an anti-war protest at San Francisco’s Civic Center). That was back in 2006, about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been a part of various movements — from Palestinian liberation and BDS groups, anti-war movements and international non-profit organizations until I found my political home in GABRIELA USA, a grassroots, anti-imperialist organization of Filipino women.

While I’ve witnessed many victories and forward motion, I’ve also had my fair share of burn out, of adopting different ways of taking care of myself (some worked, some didn’t), of witnessing destructive and harmful behavior. What I’ve learned is that in spite of committing to radical intentions and revolutionary ideals: we’re all (and still) human.

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Which means we are prone to making mistakes, f***king up, hurting those we love unintentionally, and possibly replicating harmful ways of living, loving and relating. Just because we are community organizers and activists doesn’t mean we are immune to the frailties and vulnerabilities of the human condition. It is in this vein that I started reading The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (Amazon | Indie Bound) edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

The book is a compilation of essays, personal accounts, poems, guides and strategies for confronting abuse, rape and intimate partner violence within activist communities from all over Northern America. Many of the pieces were written by people who founded and/or worked with nonprofit organizations. They wrote about the ways they’ve dealt with violence from a macro-level perspective, to dealing with violence from folks in the same community.

There are three major things that I learned from the book: 1) the rise and implication(s) of the nonprofit model as a means for social change, 2) abuse faced by people who are differently-abled and 3) the mechanics of community accountability practices.

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“Donald John Trump has placed his hand on two Bibles and taken the oath of office. He is now the 45th president of the United States.”

— The New York Times Breaking News, 1/20/17 12:01 PM EST

I’m letting that sink in for a bit.

I’ve been trying to avoid the coverage of Trump’s inauguration but of course, it’s everywhere. My only saving grace has been the number of people protesting what he represents, what he’s been doing and in all sincerity, how he intends to lead the country.

There are protests all over the country as I write this and tomorrow, there will be a wave of Women’s Marches in different states and cities. Mao Zedong once said that “Women hold up half the sky” — the assault and misogyny Trump has continuously inflicted towards women is unacceptable and needs to be halted. The last thing we need in the government is another misogynist and racist white man who sees and treats women, people of color, Muslims and immigrants as lesser beings. But of course, this is what now have.

Tomorrow, I’m marching with GABRIELA USA to rise against fascism, resist militarization and unite for liberation along with other immigrant and people of color-led organizations in Oakland, California. Check out the nearest women’s march near you and organize and mobilize with the people!

As Assata Shakur of the Black Panthers once said:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

— Assata: An Autobiography (Amazon | Indie Bound)

980x7All artwork can be found here.

Gearing up for Women’s March

Sunday Spotlight

We Won’t Back Down, No

Sunday Spotlight

It’s been a little over a week since Trump won the presidential election and what gives me hope these days is the rising resistance against a fascist regime.

As a queer Filipino immigrant, I feel the fear in my chest. While waiting for his victory speech early Wednesday morning, the sight of white millennials in the crowd cheering and smiling with their red “Make America Great Again” caps made me cower.

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Around the country, people are taking to the streets to show their collective power against what a Trump presidency will look like. The rise of hate crimes against people of color and immigrants since he won is a manifestation of the Trump brand: a toxic concoction of white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and hyper-capitalism.

In San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, people filled the streets — thousands deep — to denounce his presidency. The next day, thousands of high school students in San Francisco walked out chanting “Not my President!” It is anger, it is rage, a fury unfurling itself and it demands to be seen, heard and felt.

Many organizations, both grassroots and nonprofit, have come out against Trump, have compiled resources for the most vulnerable of our population, have affirmed their commitment to uplift the voices of those that Trump aims to silence. GABRIELA, a Filipino women’s organization that I’m a part of, calls on people of the U.S. to intensify its mass movements and defend the democratic rights of the most disempowered people. The Black Lives Matter movement also released a statement, calling for a reckoning of the country’s inherent anti-blackness and to operate from “a place of love for our people and a deep yearning for real freedom.”

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Writers have also spoken out, indignant at the thought of fascism and the delusion that many have started to buy into. Teju Cole wrote a piece on The New York Times where he referenced Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” a play about mob mentality, conformity first created as a response to fascism during World War II. Sixteen writers from The New Yorker also wrote about Trump’s America post-election, which include essays from Junot Díaz and Toni Morrison.

At last night’s National Book Awards Ceremony, the mood was somber. I was particularly moved by Terrance Hayes’s speech, who quoted Elizabeth Bishop: “Poetry is a way of thinking with feelings — imagine 20 years of thinking with one’s feelings while someone is trying to kill you.” Colson Whitehead won the award for fiction with The Underground Railroad, of which I read and wrote about last month. PEN America published a few writers’ reflections on the results of the election with Walter Mosley penning: “the older we are, the more we live in the past.”

A few days ago, I started reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and my nose has been buried in these pages since then. His searing satire on race and popular culture couldn’t have been more timely — since the country appears to be rapidly regressing decades back and is looking to align itself with fascist regimes.

Where do we go from here? Perhaps a line from the International League of People’s Struggle statement can guide us:

“History shows us it is the parliament of the streets, not the parliament of the state, that determines change.”

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#GetLit: Standing Strong with Orlando

#GetLit

We didn’t take no shot from nobody. We had nothing to lose. You all had rights. We had nothing to lose. I’ll be the first one to step on any organization, on any politician’s toes if I have to, to get the rights for my community. -Sylvia Rivera

The last time I celebrated Pride was back in 2010. Since then, I’ve associated Pride with Backstreet Boys (who performed at Civic Center that day) and rainbow tutus (wearing one isn’t really gay solidarity, if you ask me).

I’ve also come to detest the co-opting of Pride celebration — where companies could instantly attach a rainbow flag to whatever they deem appropriate while failing to address institutional discrimination, class and gender oppression within its structures.

But waking up last Sunday with news of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club made me rethink of Pride celebrations in a different way, with a heavy heart. Clubs were safe havens when I was in my early 20s, where I knew I could be myself in the dark, against bodies pulsating to the rhythm of music, dancing to the beat of my own queer heart.

The politics of dancing is the politics of feeling good; the politics of dancing is also the politics of willing yourself to feel good. Pop is replete with miniature psychodramas in which memory and desire, subject and object, play out on the dance floor. (Only When I’m Dancing Can I Feel This Free)

The last thing anyone would think of happening after going to a gay club was to be killed. The deaths of 49 gay Latinx and Black folks and the wounding of many others pierces through the soul, a testament to the vulnerability of gay people wherever they are.

While the shooter’s intentions are sliced and diced by the media, while the public is bombarded with Islamophobic messages, it is worth noting that LGBTQ lives suffer under continuous oppressive conditions in immigration, job discrimination, state violence and police brutality, homophobia and transphobia. Rampant racism and xenophobia occur everyday.

Contrary to what the media and mainstream LGBT organizations and publications are depicting: the victims and survivors are Black, Latinx, AfroLatinx, Trans, Gender Non Conforming, undocumented, and working class.

These identities matter.

They matter because of the US occupation and militarization of Puerto Rico and Latin/South America due to US sanctioned economic violence. They matter because our communities have to make separate Latinx nights at clubs due to racism even within the LGBT community. They matter because Black and Latinx club sanctuaries and safe spaces (like Starlight in Brooklyn, Club Escuelita in Manhattan) are routinely shut down due to rampant gentrification and increased policing of our neighborhoods. (Do Not Militarize Our Mourning, Audre Lorde Project)

The lives lost last Sunday brings into focus who we’re fighting for — and the things we must do to prevent the kinds of violence we do not deserve. Audre Lorde once said that we were not meant to survive. We must do everything we can to find the will to fight for our communities, for our friends, for our (chosen) families, for ourselves.

We call on our communities and allies to join us in these conversations and build solidarity together to ensure not one more of us have to live in fear – for the victims and survivors of the Orlando Shooting and the countless others who remain nameless and unaccounted for. (GABRIELA USA Mourns the Massacre in Orlando and Pledges Solidarity for Victims of LGBTQGNC Hate Violence)

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All The Dead Boys Look Like Me
For Orlando
(Loma)

Last time, I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez
A 17 year old brown queer, who was sleeping in their car
Yesterday, I saw myself die again. Fifty times I died in Orlando. And
I remember reading, Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed
I was studying at NYU, where he was teaching, where he wrote shit
That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible. But he didn’t
Survive and now, on the dancefloor, in the restroom, on the news, in my chest
There are another fifty bodies, that look like mine, and are
Dead. And I have been marching for Black Lives and talking about the police brutality
Against Native communities too, for years now, but this morning
I feel it, I really feel it again. How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native
Today, Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves
When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? Once, I asked my nephew where he wanted
To go to College. What career he would like, as if
The whole world was his for the choosing. Once, he answered me without fearing
Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father. The hands of my lover
Yesterday, praised my whole body. Made the angels from my lips, Ave Maria
Full of Grace. He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral, in NYC
Before, we opened the news and read. And read about people who think two brown queers
Cannot build cathedrals, only cemeteries. And each time we kiss
A funeral plot opens. In the bedroom, I accept his kiss, and I lose my reflection.
I am tired of writing this poem, but I want to say one last word about
Yesterday, my father called. I heard him cry for only the second time in my life
He sounded like he loved me. It’s something I am rarely able to hear.
And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.

* * * 

To honor our dead, and fight like hell for the living, we need a new vision for safety that prioritizes human rights and does not facilitate deadly violence. We need a world that realizes that the word “terrorist” is not synonymous with Muslim, any more than “criminal” is synonymous with Black. The enemy is now and has always been the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism.  These forces and not Islam create terrorism. These forces, and not queerness, create homophobia. These forces unleash destruction primarily on those who are Trans, and queer, and brown and Black, and we are the first to experience its’ violence. These forces create the conditions for our dehumanization and our death, and we will hold them to account, no matter whose face they may wear.

Until these systems are defeated, until anti-Blackness no longer fuels anti-Muslim and anti-queer and trans bigotry, exploitation, and exclusion — we can never be truly free. (In Honor of Our Dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black — We Will Be Free, Black Lives Matter)

The Courage it Takes with Sunil Yapa

Book Reviews, Fiction

It’s a little weird to read the chants you’ve been yelling at protests, rallies, in meetings and conferences centered around social justice. I saw these on the text of Sunil Yapa’s book Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, a book set in Seattle amidst the 1999 anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests.

Weird because I’ve been stepping back on my participation in social justice endeavors lately, and reading about some of the characters in the book feels like déjà vu. Most of it too real, too familiar. I feel a certain tiredness in my body that I’ve been trying to keep at bay but sometimes, the spirit needs to rest.