Latest East Bay Sol Action: Sorority Info Picket

Check the latest at the EastBaySol blog — we had a fun, spirited picket that brought together militant workers from domestics to teachers to students to hotel and warehouse workers. I don’t have a photo of the flyer we used but I’ll try to get one and add it soon.


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Monday afternoon Bay Sol East kept up the fight in solidarity with former sorority “houseboy” William over in Berkeley, staging an informational picket at Alpha Omicron Pi’s weekly meeting. With handmade signs, a bullhorn, and half-sheet flyers for the sorority sisters, our group of a dozen or so created quite a spectacle on the quiet hillside street. Chants called for “Justice For Domestic Workers!” and urged AO∏ to “Exceed the Expectation” (their motto) and “Cease the Exploitation!”

To cap off the action, we collectively delivered a petition signed by 82 neighbors who support our fight. We’re grateful to local student co-ops for their enthusiasm!

In an extra-special demonstration of solidarity, we were joined on the line by a leader from the ongoing boycott at the Hotel Frank in San Francisco, as well as two visiting members of ¡Ella Pelea!, an Austin-based organization of “students and community members, both queer and straight, multi-gendered and multi-racial” who are fighting for democratic control over the University of Texas Austin. All told, our group included warehouse workers, teachers, students, hotel workers, grocery workers, mothers, writers, and more — demonstrating the diversity of labor that’s possible with a solidarity network model.

If you didn’t get an email or phone call about this action and wanted to receive one, our bad! We’re working hard to get our phone tree to reliably bear fruit. Feel free to send us a strongly worded email demanding that we hit you up next time.

Good Friday

Happy Good Friday to those who observe it! To celebrate, here are two good Internet things.

One: Tibetan youth resistance hip-hop music video.

With gorgeous lines like:

  • “Get used to me! I am the decadent breath of your uncontrollability.”
  • “We are the sharp wisdom that your lectures and speeches haven’t reached!”
  • “We are the smooth darkness that your flame and power hasn’t absorbed.”
  • “I am very light, in your imagination. I am very small, in your vegetable patch.”
  • “Get used to dreaming. Get used to unlawful damage and uprisings. Get used to this way of living.”

And Two: this powerful, deep, soulful project by my friend Mahfam: Watch Me Cultivate.  Honest, raw, and mad intelligent, she offers daily reflections and chronicles her own growth and change, symbolized by the literal growth of her hair, which she buzzed off 78 days ago (and counting).

Enjoy! Have a great weekend, folks — see you Monday.

Trying Out Transformative Justice

Hey folks,

Sorry for the late post again — feeling pretty drained, with a lot of heavy stuff coming up this week.  But!  I am buoyed, so soulfully buoyed, by my mama, my partner, my peeps in organizing from the Bay to Seattle, friends near and far, the Oakland sunlight, the air, and troves of loving, radical praxis that I’m discovering, really trying on, for the first time.

The primary situation I’ve been directly engaging today is delicate and requires confidentiality.  So instead of talking about my own ish, I just want to point to a resource that’s been a true blessing for me: the transformative justice (TJ) work of Philly Stands Up! (PSU), a volunteer collective in West Philadelphia.

What is TJ? From their web site, here’s PSU’s explanation:

Transformative Justice has no one definition. It is a way of practicing alternative justice which acknowledges individual experiences and identities and works to actively resist the state’s criminal injustice system.

Transformative Justice recognizes that oppression is at the root of all forms of harm, abuse and assault.  As a practice it therefore aims to address and confront those oppressions on all levels and treats this concept as an integral part to accountability and healing. Generation FIVE does a great job of laying out the main goals, principles and questions of Transformative Justice. These are their words:

The goals of Transformative Justice are:

  • Safety, healing, and agency for survivors
  • Accountability and transformation for people who harm
  • Community action, healing, and accountability
  • Transformation of the social conditions that perpetuate violence – systems of oppression and exploitation, domination, and state violence

The principles of a Transformative Justice approach to addressing all forms of violence include:

  • Liberation
  • Shifting power
  • Accountability
  • Safety
  • Collective Action
  • Respect Cultural Difference/ Guard against Cultural Relativism
  • Sustainability

Transformative Justice invites us to ask:

  • How do we build our personal and collective capacity to respond to trauma and support accountability in a transformational way?
  • How do we shift power towards collective liberation?
  • How do we build effective and sustainable movements that are grounded in resilience and life-affirming power?

PSU, Generation FIVE, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and other like-minded TJ groups are helping to co-construct, through community, some of the most exciting, uplifting, and inspiring praxical contributions to “collective liberation” that I have seen in a long time.

“Liberation” is a big, important, but tough-to-pin-down word for this blog, and it may not mean the same thing in dhammic/Buddhist and radical political/power contexts.  Liberation from suffering in samsara requires different strategies and approaches (8-Fold Path as Buddha’s “program”? :) than liberation from capitalist imperialist heteropatriarchy.  And yet, to my mind, especially in the realm of sila (morality, or basically how to live a “good” and wholesome life), there is room for tremendous, tremendous overlap.

Thanks to a workshop and texts from PSU and AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance), this afternoon I sensed some possibilities for synthesis between these two paths.  A meticulous practice of compassion recommended by an erstwhile Indian prince over 2500 years ago, and a working model for confronting intimate violence — forged from the crucibles of so many struggles against racist heteropatriarchy, the State, and their interwoven, often co-morphous manifestations.

Buddhist suttas warn practitioners against heavy-handedness in concentration training (the focus should neither be too loose, nor too tight), and meditation teachers urge us over and over to be “firm yet gentle” with our chattering monkey minds, gradually teaching ourselves to rest our attention on the meditation object (in my tradition, that’s usually the breath).  Is this mere people-pleasing packaging? Some sort of dogmatic or (what is probably the same thing) careless Middle Way-ism?  No.  The firm-yet-gentle combo doesn’t just sound nice and “balanced” — it points to an actually hospitable environment for difficult intentional transformation.  Too gentle, and we get lazy, restless, defensive, or shut-down.  Too firm, and we become dogmatic, dulled, judgmental, tightly-wound, and generally prone to missing the whole “compassion” boat, or burning out altogether.

Similar principles, it seems to me, apply to TJ work.  If our goal is to foster transformation, we need to be firm yet gentle — not too loose, and not too tight.  This is a radical departure from the punitive model of justice on which the US legal system is based (and irregularly, prejudicially, oppressively applied).  It invites us, as the above definition says, to “respond” to trauma, not react.   Rather than “cracking down” on people who commit violent behaviors, we stop excusing, minimizing, and supporting those behaviors.  We work instead to “water the good seeds” (as Thich Nhat Hanh says of inclinations in the mind) of meaningful accountability (in other words, a process with real milestones, material structure, boundaries, consequences, goals, etc.) and support.

Is this all making sense?  So very new and tender shoots, these are.  I’m no urban gardener but I’m trying the best I can.

Check out the zine by Philly Stands Up!, “A Stand Up Start Up.”  Let me know what you think.

take care, friends,


Update: For a great list of oppression-denying and -compounding behaviors (“excusing, minimizing, and supporting”), I’ve added a link to a post by NellaLou on “Sex and the Sangha,” looking in part at the various types of responses to the recent exposure of some Zen teachers’ sexual misconduct with their students. It’s a really wonderful resource for naming the harmful and frustrating apologistic dynamics that often accompany the outing of intimate abuse, and NellaLou also points toward restorative justice as an alternative model. Thanks, NellaLou!

Filler Post

Sour cherry & rhubarb cookies

It’s been a rough few days, folks. A really rough few days. No running water in the apartment — and that’s the least of it.

Despite the plumbing obstacles, I managed to whip up a batch of cookies for a cookbook signing -slash- potluck by my culinary crush Heidi Swanson. Her new book, Super Natural Every Day, has already made the NYT Bestseller list after like a week on the market. I didn’t even have time to let the hot cookies cool down before popping two dozen of them into two empty egg cartons (an impromptu innovation in pastry transport) and hopping on my bike to dash across the border to Berkeley.

Those that didn’t make the carton cut found their way over to my friend Noa’s place, with its lovely succulents.

When things fall apart, I’m grateful for generous, loving, and and precious friends, and for cooking. At times when I’m feeling down, or, even more precisely, when I’m focusing very intently on uncomfortable and difficult emotions and experiences, my appetite plummets and gets very particular. I crave fruit and whole-milk yogurt, water, leafy greens, things like that. (Again, this is when I’m bringing mindfulness and patience to the difficulties. When I’m flat-out stressed, and especially rushed, it’s a whole ‘nother matter, and that’s when I turn to the sugar, the French fries, the “numbing” foods, as Noa calls them — not pejoratively, but descriptively.)  I feel lucky and privileged that I’m able to feed my healthier, deeper cravings as they arise.  So in this case, with little appetite for anything that wasn’t recently growing on a tree, I wasn’t as keen to devour these delightfully tart versions of my favorite jam thumbprint cookies.  But the act of creating food for others is grounding and healing, too.

An Article All Anti-War Buddhists Should Read

[Update 2:30pm: Just wanna say I love posting about this just as this year’s Safety Fest is getting underway! Safety Fest is an annual weekend of events organized by Communities United Against Violence (CUAV), supported this year by Critical Resistance, on the theme of queer and trans power, anti-violence at the intimate, community, and state levels, and abolition of the prison-industrial complex (PIC). Awesome!]

For the 10th anniversary issue of Left Turn Magazine, anti-imperialist organizer Clare Bayard offers a wonderful look at “demilitarization as rehumanization” work in the US. Her examples are varied and informative, from youth-of-color-led anti-recruitment efforts in Bay-PEACE Oakland, to community-based transformative justice approaches to intimate violence, to indigenous people’s and immigrants’ movements to stop US imperialism at home and abroad. Her primary example, relating to work she herself has been doing with US Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), highlights a thought-provoking and politically visionary approach to war resistor organizing. It’s called Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops (OpRec).

The underlying strategy is IVAW’s basic model: organizing GIs to withdraw their consent from wars. Its success in stopping deployment of troops with severe trauma would incapacitate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq by knocking out 20 to 50 percent of the fighting force. It’s a dilemma campaign. If we win, the wars are hamstrung. Or, if the military continues deploying wounded troops, this visible criminal negligence will hurt their legitimacy and ability to keep recruiting. Either way, we also improve our capacity to provide our own community-based care, which is needed far beyond just the veterans’ community. An element of the campaign is developing survival programs, inspired by the Black Panthers, to address the needs of people whose ability to resist their command often depends on access to support.

Operation Recovery exposes the silenced crises of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). IVAW, partnered with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, has a strategy to win on multiple fronts. Demanding the right to heal is a point of leverage to challenge the institution, as well as a survival need within this community. OpRec has begun targeting base commanders who have the power to make immediate decisions preventing deployments. Here, even “damage control” means fewer lives destroyed.

Amplifying the voices of traumatized troops deepens awareness of the scope of disaster in these wars. After last fall’s media exposure of Afghanistan “kill teams,” IVAW member Ethan McCord responded, “You’re taking soldiers who are on psychotropic drugs for PTSD or TBI, and you’re putting a weapon in their hand and sending them right back to where they were traumatized and telling them to go kill Afghans. What did you think was going to happen when you place these soldiers in that same situation?”

The dual strategy of withdrawing worker power from the war machine while simultaneously building alternative structures for healing and recovery that do not depend on the state represents, to me, a beautiful synthesis of peace work and anti-imperialism. Not a superficial synthesis as in a combination of two stereotypically gendered approaches (macho “war resistors” and feminine “healing”), but the real, dialectical synthesis represented in one of the mottos of UBUNTU, a women-of-color and survivor -led community network against sexual violence in Durham, North Carolina:

To resist, we must heal; to heal, we must resist.

In her chapter of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, Paula X. Rojas advocates the same kind of approach, modeled in many of the people’s struggles in Central and South America: using politicized horizontal organizations that meet community needs as a leverage point against militarized state power. The politically-infused practice of building people’s power to form their own schools, justice systems, food supplies, squatter organizations, and so on, articulates base building not in terms of recruiting people out of their homes into some new hierarchical organization or corps, but “thinking beyond the state, and even beyond an alternative vision of current institutions, by politicizing every aspect of everyday life and alternative forms of dealing with them.” (202) We can see how this resonates with Bayard’s articulation of using OpRec to “improve our capacity to provide our own community-based care” for traumatized veterans, as well as act as a “point of leverage to challenge the institution.”

Having heard so much hype about using Buddhist meditation practices for healing, it’s so refreshing to encounter this articulation of wellness that names the elephant in the room: ambient institutional violence in a militarized, imperialist culture. Not everyone is impacted in the same ways, or to the same degrees, and yet we are all responsible for transforming this reality. As Clare says, “Affirming everyone’s humanity and centering the importance of healing capsizes the logic of militarism.”

In these terms, healing is not an “escape” from worldly troubles, just as meditation is not an exercise in stopping pesky thoughts from arising. Rather than chase after some imaginary permanent spa day, a life in the realm of the gods that is also ultimately impermanent, we turn toward suffering and confront militarization as one of the the primary mechanisms for the maintenance of class society. Not only in manifestations of, as Lenin called them, “special bodies of armed men,” but also in the patriarchal, hierarchical, and punitive tendencies — subtle and overt — that we each bring to our organizing collectives.

One last dimension I love about Bayard’s piece, that I think is relevant to the “Socially Engaged Buddhism” discourse, is the focus on GI leadership. Often, it seems to me, in progressive Buddhist thinking, we see strains of liberal logic of “empowerment” or “responsibility” manifesting as a kind of self-centeredness. For example, my friend Maia over at the Jizo Chronicles recently resolved to face her own “hypocrisy” as someone who is against US wars but also pays taxes that support them. Now, I know that Maia wasn’t trying to propose some sort of program for ending the wars — it was more of an exercise in self examination and transformation — but I hear this angle echoed a lot in white liberal anti-war circles. As I understand it, this line of thinking looks at the ways in which we are each individually accountable, through our own actions, and seeks to use our individual power to change our behaviors. Kind of an aggregate approach — if enough people follow suit, there will be a big shift. I respect and admire some of the ideas there, but on strategic grounds I disagree with centering them. What does it mean that such war resistance efforts can happen totally divorced from relationships with GIs? Clare touches on this problem in her discussion of the challenges of veteran organizing, describing not only separation but “friction between GI resistance and majority white and class-privileged peace movements,” also exacerbated by “the carefully designed race and class makeup of the military.”

Now, I hear a lot of emphasis placed on war spending (read: electoral politics) and weapons manufacture as points of intervention for peace/anti-war work, but that doesn’t mean that other organizing tacts don’t exist in Buddhist circles that I don’t know about! Anyone have a lead on veteran-led anti-war work supported by organized Buddhists?

In the meantime, please give Clare’s whole article a thorough read, and feel welcome to share insights, reflections, and disgreements here.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Marxist Feminist Care Package

Last week, our Marxist Feminist study group assembled some offerings for a care package. A comrade of ours in LA (close friend to some, known through her work to others) has been going through a difficult time lately, and we wanted to send a small token of appreciation for her strength, amazing organizing work, and general fabulousness.

Handmade stencils, a card, a poem, ginger candy, green tea with a honey stick, a necklace pendant, and a hand-stamped group photo from our inter-state Marxist Feminist gathering a few months back. The finishing touch will be a batch of cookies I’ll bake up tomorrow.

Care packages! A personal favorite.

When Compassionate Action Meets Direct Action: EBSol Fight Heats Up

Say what you will about Saul Alinsky: the man organized some creative actions. I’ll never forget one example of his (I think he described it in Rules For Radicals) where the community cooked and ate a huge baked-bean dinner, then packed an orchestra hall owned by the “enemy,” and let loose with their own smelly music.

This weekend’s East Bay Solidarity Network action wasn’t quite so dramatic, but I did feel a resonance with Alinsky’s tactical virtuosity. We knew why we were there, who the target was, what we wanted to accomplish, and how it fits in to the larger strategy of the fight. And we even saw encouraging results during the action itself.

My own personal ruminations revolve (unsurprisingly) around whether and where there is room for compassion within direct actions that make a target uncomfortable — or “harm” them (major scare-quotes) economically. Actions that tend (especially in a masculinist context) to dramatize and promote an ‘us versus them’ framework. I’ll be contemplating this question much more over the next couple of months, but for now I’ll just say this. I believe it’s possible to speak and act very forcefully against a perpetrator (I’m experimenting with saying “perpetrator,” rather than “enemy,” to guard against the typically dehumanizing crystallization of enemyism, and to invoke the work of radical anti-sexual-violence communities that seek to transform both behaviors and systems) while still maintaining compassion for them. It’s something I’m experimenting with myself, in this EBSol work.

With that said, I’m just gonna go ‘head and cross-post the whole entry on today’s action from our brand-spankin’-new website. Hope you enjoy!

Making Good On Our Promises


Monday EBSol flyering squad (Sunday team not pictured)

In our demand letter that we delivered to Alpha Omicron Pi sorority two weeks ago, we promised to return in 14 days if our reasonable demands were not met. True to our word, yesterday and today we continued our campaign to win former “house boy” employee and tenant William fair compensation for his shady firing and the outrageous eviction that left him homeless.

For our second action, both yesterday and today, we flyered and door-knocked the surrounding blocks to inform the whole neighborhood of the egregious injustice. We don’t know what was more encouraging: the enthusiasm from neighborhood co-op members (some even offered their contact info and asked to be notified of future actions), or the surprise and horror of the sorority managers when they realized what our posters were airing.

Less than 24 hours after our Sunday flyering session, taped shreds of paper — remnants of our flyers — testified to the sorority managers’ embarrassment. Before we had even left the block, they were already tearing down our work from the street signs and telephone poles. But today we were back for another round! They won’t get rid of us easily.

The bosses are already on the defensive, and this fight is just getting started. If you want to join us as we ramp things up with escalating actions, email or call us to make sure you’re on our contact list!

Fantasy Fulfilled

Guess what?

One of my favorite magazines, make/shift, asked me to write a guest column for their next issue!

Honored, excited, terrified. Mmhmm. It’s a giddy mix.

A few months ago, a friend threw a wonderfully skillful and game-filled birthday party that involved personal Q&As to help us guests get to know each other (and ourselves) better. One of the questions was: “What is a fantasy of yours that you would like to make happen in 2011?” Dreams ranged from starlit sexual scenes to entrepreneurial victories (one person aspired to be “Businesswoman Of The Year”). After some thought, mine was: “Be paid to write a radical article that I believe in.”

At $0.02/word plus two copies, I think this may be my shot! :)

Thanks to everyone who’s encouraged my typety-type-typing. I appreciate it more than you know! And I feel blessed to contribute to a chorus of voices that, I hope, will help bring us closer to liberation.