a lot of sorrow lately. not particularly mine, but here in me, with me, shadowing.

all around, death and pre-death. loss, grieving.

friends losing parents.

friends breaking up.

friends leaving their job.

friends who come from méxico, watching from here as the country burns. (for a long time the fire has been in the walls; now it’s billowing out in the open.)

i’m seeing video of entire towns in guerrero arming themselves. every single person, cradling a crappy-looking but well-intentioned weapon. this isn’t just david v. goliath, the working class against the state, but david v. goliath and a rattlesnake at david’s ankles.

and pneumonia in david’s lungs.

and even if he beats this giant, david’s got ptsd for the rest of his life.

what i’m saying is david’s got it rough.

and see? like i said, this isn’t even my sorrow. i’m not directly connected. i just see around me and the sorrow comes.

it’s bittersweet, with the unity here, yeah? they want peace, he says. they want peace. i wish it for them. the peace that will come from a way out of capitalism, on a world scale. the peace that will come from transforming our way out of oppression, healing the karma of thousands of years of keeping each other down.

thankful to the people of guerrero and all of méxico who keep trying to fight and heal.

more on the situation following the mass murder of 43 students in Guerrero.

“Como Tú” por Roque Dalton

Roque Dalton
Revolutionary Salvadoran poet and journalist.

Like You

By Roque Dalton (Translated by Jack Hirschman)


Like you I love love, life, the sweet smell of things, the sky- blue landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears. I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life, love, little things, landscape and bread, the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Por Roque Dalton


Yo como tú amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto de las cosas el paisaje celeste de los días de enero.

También mi sangre bulle y río por los ojos que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas. Creo que el mundo es bello, que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.

Y que mis venas no terminan en mí, sino en la sangre unánime de los que luchan por la vida, el amor, las cosas, el paisaje y el pan, la poesía de todos.


via Kasama.


Undo (Revolution In The Garden With Eliana and Noa)


To tire,
to tire,
to sink down,
a huddle of wilting bones

to be borne up again
by friends.

to stay hip-cocked, ornery
and still, still
breathe deep into the belly.

undo this world, please.

undo every lethal gas attack
the hoarding of clean air
the systematic flogging of our dead
and our living
and our in-betweens in prison,
now on strike, who knows how long.
i know that to undo would mean me too
me this bit of spinach stuck in the teeth of god
and of course that is ok.

here, let me

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A Preacher. A Poet. A Manta Revolutionary.

Okay, I may be a little obsessed with Lianne. But to be fair, so is Prince (yes, Prince), who called her to say congratulations.

Women and the genius things they make and do. Here are just a few.

I am not a Christian, so to my ears this recorded sermon by my friend Nichola sounded more like an arahant (enlightened one) elucidating the teachings of the Buddha. On this very night your life will be taken — by endless, cavernous craving. Tanha. I knew Nichola was brilliant, a student of Jesus, James Baldwin, and other pretty okay characters, but damn, I don’t think I had ever heard her preach before. At the time I was at a friend’s place in San Francisco, and once I started listening I was so captivated that I stayed huddled on the living room couch, rudely ignored my friend-hosts  while they tested the day’s crock-pot soup in the kitchen. (That craving, that need, even for wisdom — like she says at the pulpit, it’ll make you ignore your loved ones if you’re not careful.)

I am not a poet, nor a scholar, really, but I know what I like.  What makes me pause from internet “snacking” (a term I learned from web marketing experts studying cyber-habit-patterns) to recollect my breath.  My friend Kim, on the other hand, is a scholar and poet and artist, and thank goodness.  That piece will stay with me — and don’t miss the video she links to, minutes 3:45 to 7:54.

I am trying to become a revolutionary, but it’s less simple than it sounds, though thankfully also less cult-y (so far).  In this arena, mother and self-identified manta-militant Berta will remain unlinked, as she is best experienced off the Internet, but she has been no less crucial to my week and my spirit.  Berta torpedoes through this fearsome world with a cheerful pragmatism, a humble, no-bullshit incandescence.  She makes being a revolutionary seem like the only sensible thing one could do with one’s life — and vows, smiling, to keep at it til the day she dies.  I believe her.

And then there’s Lianne, who I mentioned earlier, and cannot stop listening to.



Birthday Cake from the Comrades

birthday cake
Ginger-chocolate cake made by Becca, Eliana, and Roxy

I won’t talk about my birthday, but I will talk about James Baldwin.  Or, really, listen to him.

It is a pity that [Eldridge Cleaver and I] won’t, probably, ever have the time to attempt to define once more the relationship of the odd and disreputable artist to the odd and disreputable revolutionary; for the revolutionary, however odd, is rarely disreputable in the same way that the artist can be.  These two seem doomed to stand forever at an odd and rather uncomfortable angle to each other, and they both stand at a sharp and not always comfortable angle to the people they both, in their different fashions, hope to serve.  But I think it is just as well to remember that the people are one mystery and that the person is another.  Though I know what a very bitter and delicate and dangerous conundrum this is, it seems to me that a failure to respect the person so dangerously limits one’s perception of the people that one risks betraying them and oneself, either by sinking to the apathy of cynical disappointment, or rising to the rage of knowing, better than the people do, what the people want.

Because it’s my birthday week and I do what I want, I’d like to argue for a broad definition of “artist” that includes those of us interested in wisdom. (Baldwin, as an artist, certainly was.)  Which helps explain, maybe, some of the awkwardness and contradictions in the Buddhist-Marxist combo.  One operates at the level of the person (or the non-self, existence, but framed in an individualistic fashion that was revolutionary at the time of the Buddha’s teaching), while the other concerns itself with the people.

Perhaps a similar tension also underlies the queasy slipperiness of identity politics — or identity, period.  “Identity” (gender, race, ability, sexuality, etc.) is at once intensely personal, emotional, and subjective (our stories), and simultaneously collective, socially and historically determined (our position).  I’ve written about this paradox before; maybe an unsurprising fixation for a mixed girl. ;)

My bad, friends: this was supposed to be a birthday post!  I lead an extremely fortunate life amidst a blessed contagion of creativity and caring from those around me.  No idea how we’re going to reconcile the person and the people, but I’m lucky to find myself in community that wants to try.

Thanks to everyone for the bornday love.  And deliciousness!

To Be Truly Radical

Jacob Lawrence, “Play” (1999); silkscreen


To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.

—Raymond Williams

I like to think that many others have expressed this same sentiment in places I’ll never see, in times before mine, in languages I can’t read or understand.


To_Preserve_Their_Freedom1 jacob lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, “To Preserve Their Freedom” (1988); silkscreen

Morning Marching Song

After a night dreaming of Trayvon demos, I woke up with a new chant-song in my head.  Lyrics below, chock-full of links.

stand up to Zimmermans
stand up to Minutemen
stop-and-frisk you ain’t caught shit
the white and rich you always miss
“terrorist threat” on plane get stripped
American drones KeepKillingKids
billions more for border biz
but whose land do you think this is?
justice for the black & brown
holler if you’re down

Out-Organizing Patriarchy, or: Buddhist Strategies For Existing Politically In A Mini-dress


Some would say it’s my fault, for wearing a dress like that to a political action.

How do you expect to be taken seriously?

(And, from certain older feminists): We fought to be seen as more than sex objects.  How can you throw away that progress?

Understandable frustration.  Wanna hear something scary (though maybe not all that shocking)?  Recent psych studies ([1] [2] [3]) testify to what many of us have understood through experience: that bodies read as “women” tend to be cognized as objects (to perilous, rape-y effect) whereas bodies read as “men” are perceived as human beings.

You have to wonder whether any of the images used in these psychological studies showed androgynous people, gender-queer people, fat people, elderly people, or visibly disabled people.  (Anyone reading have access to the academic journals?  Hook us up!)  Normative standards of beauty and aesthetic ideals of ‘human-ness,’ from shape to skin color, must certainly affect the ways we are objectified or humanized.  Politically, our looks affect our interactions as we pass out flyers, march and chant, photograph the action, deliver a speech, or bus or bike to the strike.

As for me, it’s not like it happens 100% of the time, but I can usually tell when strangers are paying closer attention to my hemline than my politics.  Like the two guys waiting for their order at the taco truck on Monday, right next to the undocumented workers’ press conference against I-9 audits, or “silent raids.”  I recognized one of the men from doorknocking in the neighborhood the day before.

“Hey!”  I called.  “You came!”  (Do I care that he’s probably just there for lunch?  Nope.)  “Come meet the workers!”

At first they stay put at the taco truck; they want to chat me up, but they don’t want to walk over to the protest to do it.  I approach them instead, talking talking talking.  I make myself oily like a duck’s feathers, so the swamp water of sexism won’t soak me.  (Awareness + acceptance* is my anti-patriarchy emotional preen gland.)  I explain the background for the action: 125 workers fired with no notice — some after decades working for the industrial bakery, still making just $9.40 an hour.  The guys’ ears perk up more.  I allow myself to get more animated about it.  “Come!” I say.  “Come meet the workers!”


Eventually, some combination of the political content, the live brass band, and my encouragement does the trick.  They walk over with me.  I immediately introduce them to other people, older people.  An elderly worker strikes up a conversation in Spanish with the neighbor who speaks it.  Only then does it come out: the neighbor says, “Yeah, I know someone who works in here” (inside the factory that we’re protesting).

“Oh yeah?” says the fired worker slowly, scratching his ear.  “Who?”

I flit away, to go dance some more with the band.  Before the neighbor men leave, I make sure to say goodbye, ask them what they thought.  I hope they keep supporting the fight.

*          *          *

If the psychological objectification of women is a pervasive phenomenon, it undermines the unity of the working class in the U.S., and deserves to be treated as seriously as the white skin privilege that the Sojourner Truth Organization (an almost all-white group) helped theorize, back in the late 60’s and 70’s.  Class-struggle theorists continue to study the feminization and de-feminization of various factory and non-factory work, which is important.  At the same time, I would love to hear more about ways that radical organizers are handling the manifestations of body politics that arise in the course of the political work.  The way I’ve learned to handle things isn’t necessarily the best way, or a way that is relevant or useful for everyone.

Important note: by *acceptance of sexism I don’t mean that I want to permit sexism without trying to change it.  The first step to changing something is accepting that it exists.  Patriarchy is how it is, right now.  I’ve been lightweight slut-shamed in my organizing circles before; it’s no fun.  Misogyny may not be as acutely dangerous for me as transphobia or homophobia are for other people, or as sexism is for women trying to organize in other contexts (see, for example: sexual assaults during protests in Tahrir Square, which may actually be state-backed efforts to sow discord in uprising groups).  But sexism here, in my life, still exists, still disrupts the political work we are trying to do together, and I have little choice but to name it and figure out how to deal.  In the words of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur (who recently became the first woman on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists list):

People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.

In a way, it’s good to understand that the brains of many strangers see me as an object first.  Lets me know what I’m working with.  Then, compassionately — whether patiently or impatiently, playfully or gravely — I can try to thin and whittle those delusions in myself and others, to sound out new relationships written through the small-scale but meaningful struggles now at hand.

Rape Culture and Power Pyramids: Recent Thoughts

The past few weeks — and especially the past few days — I’ve been reminded of how rape culture thrives on social power pyramids: where the contributions of people at the top — be they star athletes, beloved artists, or skilled political leaders — are considered so important that people instinctively ignore, justify, or minimize the violent behaviors of the community’s golden child (or children).

This shows up frequently, in small ways.  I’ve heard more than one friend of a socially powerful feminist in the Bay confess to me that they feel afraid to tell her “no.”  Not that this fear necessarily defines their relationship with this person (and these conversations happened a year ago; perhaps their fears have since subsided or transformed), but to me, statements like that are a red flag for rape culture.  Someone is at the center, and getting on their bad side means you might get ostracized — or worse.  Besides, what they contribute is so vital and powerful…

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