A New Hometown

Wednesday, my day off, I visited Sacramento and did two things I hadn’t done in 10 years.

1) Hung out in historically preserved/decorated/re-imagined Old Sacramento.

2) Went to the California State Fair.

I swear, the more time I spend in this city, the more I feel like a foreigner who just magically happens to know the streets and freeways well.

To slightly fictionalize an experience: a friend (and Buddhist) once told me about a conversation she had with a buddy of hers.  Her buddy said, “I could never spend the majority of my life with one partner.  I’d just get bored.”

To which my friend replied, “When you look very closely, you see that a person is always changing.  So staying with one person is like being with a thousand people — a new one every morning.”

Despite having spent my entire childhood living in the same place, I don’t have one hometown.  I have dozens.

“To the lumpen mass…” From Deluche

Just a comment I wrote on a cross-post thread over on Advance The Struggle.  Original post at …or does it explode?

It’s worth reading the entire A/S thread, but I thought I’d copy my piece here since it speaks to my 9-month experience at the Faithful Fools.  (Damn, that long already?)  A truly wonderful, radically humanist group, rare among non-profits in terms of the depth of its sustained connection to individuals in a community.

Ever since I started living and working here, I’ve wondered what kind of political organizing might take shape in the TL.  In San Francisco lately there’s been some solid direct action around occupying empty buildings on behalf of eviction victims and homeless folks.  At the same time, most people I see here are basically just struggling to survive and heal.  Which, as I say in the comment below, deserves respect and recognition.

Thanks for posting this here — and thanks to Deluche for writing it.

I’m appreciating all the analysis from Icarus and a comrade. Much to think about.

Apart from the political-economic analysis, another current I was seeing in the original post is some attention to the lived experience of tremendous suffering that is happening in “surplus populations” within US urban ghettos, and their overlap with the working class.

Like Deluche says, without blaming or taking out anger on individuals within surplus populations, we can see the ways that being forced to live outside of a formal, legal economy — chronically unemployed, corralled, imprisoned — would (a) foster desperation and (b) support self-medicating addictions, both of which extend a chain of violence.

I don’t know enough about proper definitions of “lumpenproletariat” or surplus populations to comment on Icarus’ objection to an overly narrow focus on drug dealers and sex workers. But to speak just on my own experience living and working in the Tenderloin neighborhood of SF with a homeless community: criminalized addiction, exploitative sex work (amplified by transphobia), and stigmatized mental illness are definitely major factors dominating the scene around here.

At the same time, along with this enormous suffering and harm is the potential for astonishing healing. I haven’t even been working here that long (9 months), and already I’ve seen some incredible, long-time-coming shifts. Folks choosing to move forward in addiction recovery, dealing with depression and PTSD, making beautiful art, showing great generosity to others, and getting their feet on the ground — largely because a group of people stood by them and for years showed committed care, love, and faith in the face of an entire society that tells them they’re worthless and, yes, “parasitic.”

This kind of healing, even on an individual or small community level, is quite inspiring. Can we allow it to inform revolutionary organizing? Can we allow it to illuminate the healing work already taking place (often un-compensated and un-heralded) within the working-class itself, buttressing its power for economic and social transformation?

Seems to me that it’s easier for folks to dis those with no labor-power leverage when we take revolution of capitalism as the sole redemptive struggle in life. In truth, revolutionaries interested in building a better society for humans, animals, and the earth might benefit from learning about the inter-related struggles and healing among the ‘lumpen.’

B-Sprout Bachata

One weekend highlight: Saturday night, when clubbing plans fell through, Ryan and I did a little online digging and came up with a one-hour, five-dollar, group bachata lesson near Lake Merritt. In a senior activity center, as we discovered on arrival. Talk about a score.

Let me just say: a lot of these elders can dance. I find it so inspiring. And many of the most optimistic, vivacious old folks I know are deeply musical people who actively dance, sing, or play instruments. So when Ryan and I learn bachata, I really feel like we’re investing in a long and happy life.

Bonus: practicing our moves while we roast a big pan of carrots, cauliflower, and b-sprouts.

Bad Good Romance

text from Ryan
From my partner, after a week-and-a-half without seeing each other

For a variety of reasons, I often feel shy about celebrating this relationship. Given all the bullshit, grief, and even trauma that most of us young people endure in our love lives (and I’ve had my share, with more to come in the future, no doubt), it feels weirdly rude or dissonant when somebody speaks in detail about a marvelous partnership.  Cute couple-y photos, fine; wedding or baby announcements, ok.  But in general, no news is good news.  Conversations are for commiserating over heartache, analyzing a transgression, or dishing about a new lover.

Besides, it’s a little difficult to even define what I mean by a “marvelous partnership.” I don’t mean pleasurable, necessarily, though it certainly is that. But for me, the relationship’s best attributes aren’t your typical high highs — the dizzy, heady, mind-blowing, earth-shaking, dare I say passionate feelings.

Instead, there’s deep comfort. Profound mutual respect and care. Trust. Confidence. Generosity. Wonder. Humor. Steadiness. Openness — which means both closeness and spaciousness. And the kind of love that radiates outward, illuminating not only the partnership itself but our engagement with others, too.

Culturally, many of us young people are quite savvy and adept at analyzing relationship dysfunction. (Avoiding the dysfunction is another story.) But when it comes to flourishing romance, the best we can do, it seems, is chalk it up to luck, destiny, or maybe hard work. (“Relationships take work,” I’ve often heard — with little elaboration on what that work entails, save for some intimations about compromise, gift-giving, ‘communication,’ and remembering anniversaries.)

Another reason I’m loathe to laud my situation is that I don’t want to reinforce pernicious myths about the supremacy of monogamy.  We’re taught that qualities like trust and love come from monogamous relationships (and monogamous relationships only), rather than being brought to them.

I’m no relationship expert, but I do have eyes.  And from what I’ve seen, very few people in our culture can develop healthy monogamous partnerships.  Especially not without the benefit of some ethical, non-grasping, non-monogamous loving experience, or at least openness to that framework for intimacy.  Not to mention some genuine comfort with being alone.  Personally, I probably strengthened my relationship skills the most during the year when I was single and celibate, traveling solo and studying dhamma (including Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings On Love, on loan from my friend Erin).

See?  There I go again, gettin’ all squirrelly writing this post about ‘my relationship WIN.’  Well it’s not a win, it’s just what’s happening, and there’s patience and enthusiasm and true love involved, and those are pretty great things.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!  See you Monday.

Dhamma As Gender Violence Healer, Informant Repellent

A sunset basketball game outside St. Mary's, volunteer headquarters for Common Ground Collective, Summer 2006

New Orleans, nine months post-Katrina. Within days of my wide-eyed arrival at the volunteer headquarters of Common Ground Collective, housed in an abandoned three-story school in the Upper 9th Ward, I learned that alongside all the vibrant, sun-browned enthusiasm for “solidarity, not charity,” and in addition to the haunted feeling of the classrooms — stopped clocks and wrecked bulletin boards; cots and duffel bags where desks and backpacks used to be — something was wrong.

For months, there had been a spate of sexual assaults against volunteers.

I joined a small ad hoc group of women to develop a policy for response and accountability. Didn’t really go anywhere.

For one thing, we were told (by male leaders) that “this is a war zone” and “we have more serious problems to deal with,” like Black men being rounded up or killed by state police. For another, we were advised (by male leaders) that the best way to deal with sexual assault was to tighten up security around the school. Not allow strangers on the premises. Issue makeshift ID cards to all registered volunteers. In other words, beware of random locals roaming in off the streets for a free meal, company, or a drink of water. This even though the vast majority of reported sexual assaults were white-on-white, volunteer-on-volunteer.

In a terrific article originally published in make/shift magazine, Courtney Desiree Morris cites this very same Common Ground conflict as an example not only of inadequate response to intimate violence in activist communities, but of dangerously fertile ground for informants and informant-style behavior.

Self portrait in St. Mary's

Informants are sent by the state (FBI, CIA, etc.) to infiltrate radical political groups, gather information, and stir up trouble from the inside. (Case in point, Morris writes: white activist Brandon Darby, whose exposure as an FBI informant I remember particularly well, since he had worked closely with some of my friends at Common Ground before moving on to Austin.)

And in some respects, gender oppression acts like a miner’s canary for infiltration, signaling danger to the entire group.

Because of the pre-existing social terrain, Morris observes, if infiltrators are going to disrupt, poison, and commandeer, chances are they’ll do it in ways that intentionally or unintentionally reinforce heterosexist culture. Ways that are anti-woman, anti-queer, domineering and transphobic. Even if that’s not their primary goal, it comes with the territory — thanks to the patriarchal leadership styles, both stark and subtle, pervading much of Leftist culture. Sexist, racist harm is an almost inevitable byproduct of any serious state attempt to corrode radical communities from the inside out.

Besides, even if they’re not employed by the state, when people enact gender violence in revolutionary communities they are achieving the state’s objectives all the same. As Morris puts it,

Most of those guys probably weren’t informants. Which is a pity because it means they are not getting paid a dime for all the destructive work they do. We might think of these misogynists as inadvertent agents of the state. Regardless of whether they are actually informants or not, the work that they do supports the state’s ongoing campaign of terror against social movements and the people who create them. When queer organizers are humiliated and their political struggles sidelined, that is part of an ongoing state project of violence against radicals. When women are knowingly given STIs, physically abused, dismissed in meetings, pushed aside, and forced out of radical organizing spaces while our allies defend known misogynists, organizers collude in the state’s efforts to destroy us.

So what’s the solution?

Continue reading

Yosemite Weekend

I grew up in Northern California, but I’ve never before visited Yosemite. What can I say? – my parents are not the camping type. Like, at all. The one time we went camping as a family (I must have been 11 or 12) it was because my dad was officiating this couple’s wedding, which was a camping wedding in the Santa Monica mountains. A medieval-themed camping wedding. I remember they made my dad wear this purple velvet robe costume and one of those huge white starched frilly collars, even though it was like 90 degrees out. People and their weddings, I tell you.

Anyway, everybody slept in tents overnight, and by morning two things had happened pertaining to the Loncke-Spitz crew. One, my dad’s deafening snoring earned him the nickname “Judge Dredd” among all the wedding guests. Two, at about 5 a.m. my mom freaked out because she heard ‘coyotes,’ which turned out to be roosters.

Like I said, I do not come from outdoorsy stock.

However, through some genetic mutation of preferences, which continues to baffle my folks, I actually enjoy sleeping out in Nature. I’m not, like, super-skilled at it, but when the opportunity arises, like an invitation to a Yosemite weekend with an experienced and fun-loving SF crowd, I’m into it.

So wish me luck, and pray that no coyote devours me.

See you Monday, friends!

Fresh Pennies For Sale, or: A Perfectly Foolish Morning

A little before 10 this morning I’m headed down the block to the donut shop to pick up our weekly Thursday dozen-and-a-half for interfaith Bible Study.  And on my way back, just a few doors down from home, I see a man sitting on the sidewalk, spreading pennies on the ground and dusting them with baby powder.

“Fresh, clean pennies!  One for a nickel!”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  Now who could pass up a deal like that?  So I ran inside, grabbed a nickel and my camera, and was treated to a long conversation with the salesman, a sweet guy and born storyteller who calls himself Hobo Joe.

Turns out we'd met on the block before and warmly recognized each other. Love when that happens.

And Bible Study was beautiful, too: all the familiar faces, laughing and singing and sharing from our various Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, and Unitarian Universalist perspectives.

For those who’ve recently tuned into Kloncke, I should explain that I both live and work at this community center/homeless outreach nonprofit/street ministry called Faithful Fools. So Thursday morning Interfaith Bible Study (which follows the morning meditation in our downstairs Street Zendo) is both work and home for me.

From left: Abby, Ra Mu, Gina, and Bobby

Don’t know what brought it on, but I felt especially lucky and honored to be here this morning.

JR and Charles causin trouble as usual
Two great artists, philosophers, theologians, and very cool cats.

Well This Is Challenging

From A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings By and About The Dalai Lama:

From a deep point of view, while we don’t have our independence and are living in someone else’s country, we have a certain type of suffering, but when we return to Tibet and gain our independence, then there will be other types of suffering.  So, this is just the way it is.  You might think that I’m pessimistic, but I am not.  This is the Buddhist realism.  This is how, through Buddhist teaching and advice, we handle situations.  When fifty thousand people in the Shakya clan were killed one day, Shakyamuni Buddha, their clansman, didn’t suffer at all.  He was leaning against a tree, and he was saying, “I am a little sad today because fifty thousand of my clansmen were killed.”  But he, himself, remained unaffected.  Like that, you see (laughter).  This was the cause and effect of their own karma.  There was nothing he could do about it.  These sorts of thoughts make me stronger; more active.  It is not at all a case of losing one’s strength of mind or will in the face of the pervasive nature of suffering.

Family Resemblence At Police Confrontations

Now this is pretty amazing.

Me last week at the Mehserle verdict demonstration, among a crowd facing an enormous swarm of riot police; my dad in 1969 at Cornell University, when a group of Black students armed themselves and took over a campus building.

Not that the two situations are comparable in terms of danger, of course — it’s a miracle the Willard Straight Takeover didn’t explode into a bloodbath, whereas in Oakland, despite all the state weaponry, I never really believed that the cops would kill us right there on the spot.

But what an uncanny visual of a family lineage — the twin furrowed brows, the calm mouths, the keen watchfulness. Taking it in. Trying to solve the problem at hand, to find a peaceful but effective way forward.

There’s a story here about non-dualistic inheritance: a story about how none of us is really our own discrete self.  How each individual, living in the present moment, also spans generations into the past.  Reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings On Love last year brought this idea home for me for the first time.  The subtle ways we manifest traumas, neuroses, wounds, strengths, and gifts from our ancestors.

And when Rumi says, “This being human is a guest house/ Every morning a new arrival,” I suppose that leaves room for your own father to drop in for a spell.