My America

In my progress from slavery to the present, I only made it to about 1954 today. Sometimes, the weight of history is more than a day can bear.

I did a lot of reading for this week’s blog, but not in the usual sense: it was almost entirely composed of signage in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. This was my first time visiting the museum since its opening last fall. It’s testament to the deep cultural void this museum has finally filled that its entry passes are snapped up almost as soon as they are released – the next batch of tickets, for dates starting in June 2017, won’t be available until the beginning of March. If museums were Broadway shows, it’s like trying to get a ticket to Hamilton.


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For Colored Girls / When the World is So F*d Up That You Seriously Can’t Figure Out What to Do with Yourself

First off, THANK YOU to all of you who are following my blog during this experiment. It gives me a particular sense of joy to know that such wonderful people will be reading what I write. And the accountability is working – I didn’t want to get to tomorrow morning and have any of you ask me when my first RWR blog post was going to show up.

For those of you who haven’t been connected to me on Facebook: I finally reached that moment where the utility of the platform for sharing and discussing ideas was far outweighed by its soul-crushing, hope-devouring effects. One of my friends shared an article about the Trump campaign’s use of big data that made me feel like I needed to delete all my posts and take a shower. I want to still engage with people about how we live together in this world; I need to still engage with people if I’m going to survive this period we’ve entered into. But I was swimming in a miasma of toxicity, and I was putting back into that environment what I was absorbing from it. I want to bring joy and hope as well as righteous anger to my social media life. And while I’m so glad that the Lord was able to use the things I posted on Facebook to speak to people, I need to find a different way to go about this.

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What we see

My sister and brother in law have a Subaru Outback. I wasn’t particularly familiar with that make and model of car when they got it. In fact, it kind of surprised me, because the advent of minivans and SUVs had led me to believe that the station wagon – along with my childhood – had largely disappeared sometime in the mid-90s. But there it was, a very handy vehicle; and when my mother’s car was totaled in a horrifying multi-car accident, I found myself driving the Subaru quite a bit.

That’s when a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, I kept seeing other Outbacks on the road. They were everywhere, in every kind of color. I started recognizing different styles, and I started to be able to distinguish between older and newer models. Apparently, these cars had been all around me the whole time; I’d just never noticed them.

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Be ye transformed

​Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

Additional election reflection: I just had an insight into why this election result, while disgusting me in the extreme, is neither all that surprising nor traumatizing. Many people on my feed are writing about feeling like this isn’t their country, like they can’t believe they live in a nation this racist/xenophobic/misogynistic, like they don’t know how to live in a nation where this is true, etc. Those reactions sounded oddly familiar, and it occurred to me that I already had that moment for myself and my nation: two years ago, after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I said these exact things in a sobbing phone conversation with my mother, as I sat in my front yard in Somerville trying to figure out how I could continue getting up and going to work and living life like the world hadn’t just exploded.

My pro-tips:

  1. It’s OK to be devastated. I was barely functional at work for the latter half of August 2014, trying to deal with the trauma. Don’t try to act like nothing has happened. Breathe, grieve, and give yourself some grace.
  2. Let yourself be angry, but not forever, and not so that it toxifies you. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years in a seething rage. It’s not that I was wrong to be angry; but it was an impotent rage that I had a hard time channeling into productive outlets. I wish I had spent more time processing my emotions through relational and spiritual spaces that allowed me to express what I was feeling, but then begin to heal and refocus on my purpose. Try to find (or create) those spaces for yourself. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IN THIS REGARD!
  3. Let it change your life. Ferguson was the moment that changed everything for me. Within four months, I quit my job and moved from the place I thought I’d live forever to an area of the country I swore I wouldn’t return to unless a family member was dying. I spent 16 months away from full-time, 9-to-5 work, and instead spent most of that period caring for family members. (NOTE: none of those family members were dying, although both my parents gave us some good scares that I’ll thank them not to repeat!! 😛 ❤) That transition was EVERYTHING: it reoriented my priorities and opened up opportunities I could never have conceived, let alone planned for. The vision I had for my future and life’s work is becoming a reality that I’m walking in daily because of that move. Paradoxically, despite the election, today was an absolutely magnificent day for me because I am in the midst of this moment where so many amazing things are blooming for me that I can barely keep track of them all. That trauma was a real trauma – but it was also the doorway to blessings beyond measure.

There is no more business as usual. But the thing is, there never was. Live into that reality, because that’s where all the amazing shit becomes possible.

We can be #strongertogether – but we’re not yet

​My thoughts as I watched the election results roll in…

We need to own that, on the Democrat/left/progressive side, the closeness of this presidential election is the consequence of our collective failure to center #NeverTrump as our shared interest and organize effectively around that. None of us – including Clinton supporters – made that a priority, and so if Trump is defeated tonight, it will be in spite of us doing a shitty job of building a coalition powerful enough to defeat him.
I’ll be completely honest: defeating Trump was never my first priority as a voter. I live in a safely “blue” state where my vote for Jill Stein wasn’t going to have any meaningful impact on the Electoral College outcome. But I also was, and frankly still am, of the opinion that a Trump presidency wouldn’t significantly change the trajectory or nature of the work I do around dismantling structural oppression – and that the shock among both progressives and anti-Trump conservatives at such a result would actually make certain aspects of my work easier. You can disagree with my analysis of the landscape, but a) you’re not viewing it from where I’m standing, and b) whether or not you see what I see doesn’t actually matter. You just need to know how I am seeing this election, and know that the end result was that not only did I not change my vote, I also didn’t devote any real energy to developing a coalition of voters from multiple perspectives who could effectively work together to defeat Trump because I wasn’t sufficiently invested in that outcome.

And this is where we come to what I do have in common with #voteblue advocates: with a VERY limited number of exceptions (which I’m assuming exist simply because there are exceptions to every rule, not because I actually encountered any of these exceptions during my experience of this election cycle), Clinton supporters also didn’t devote any real energy to developing that coalition. Like me, they were primarily concerned with how the world looked from their viewpoint, and they primarily focused on trying to get others to agree that the world was as they saw it. But arguing isn’t organizing, and no matter who wins the presidential election it will represent a massive progressive organizing failure. We didn’t respect or work from a recognition of each other’s self-interest, so we didn’t build the power we needed to avoid this mess.

We are witnessing the entirely predictable result of focusing on positions instead of interests; of not being serious enough about defeating Trump to dedicate ourselves to building the power that would lead us to achieving that end. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it is highly tempting to reject that analysis in favor of believing that it’s somebody else’s fault this is happening. But an organizing training I attended last month has caused me to take a much more focused approach to building power – and a much closer and harder look at the ways that our attitudes and actions in progressive organizing fall into predictable patterns the dominant system trains us in from birth in order to keep us from being able to work together toward our liberation.

The paragraphs below are excerpted from a comment I made earlier today in response to a friend’s post. The context is a rebuttal to the idea that a #NeverTrump outcome could be achieved by anything other than a #voteblue strategy, so the excerpt includes my particular feelings about that as a third-party voter. But in addition to reflecting on how one segment of voters may have responded to Democratic persuasion tactics during this election, I invite folks to focus on the segments concerning self-interest and organizing for power.

I’ve been saying this all year: the only successful way to build a coalition guaranteed to defeat Trump was to engage the interests of those you needed to persuade – not what you think their interests SHOULD be, or what YOU think their interests are, but what THEY say they want and are concerned about. Dismissing someone’s concerns as short-sighted, self-serving, egotistical Hillary hating may be gratifying to your ego, but it is IN NO WAY persuasive for your target audience. It is not only completely disrespectful, but also INCREDIBLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. You might want to believe that people choosing to vote for Clinton despite serious misgivings are being beatifically altruistic; they are not. They found a way to connect a Clinton vote to the things that were most persuasive for them as a voter. But that rationale is not going to be the same for every voter, so you can’t just make the same case to everyone and call anyone for whom that doesn’t resonate an immoral whiny baby who doesn’t deserve to be listened to – at least, not if the priority is organizing for a desired outcome rather than resting in one’s own sense of righteousness.

People organize themselves and their resources in their self-interest: that is, in the ways they see that they can meet both their needs and those of the others they are working with. And contrary to popular belief, being self-interested is a good thing; it means that you can clearly identify the reasons for you to continue working toward your shared goal even when your coalition faces obstacles and conflicts. Our self-interest is our stake in seeing the outcome through. Without it, when things get too difficult or frustrating, people bail, and your coalition loses power. With it, people can focus on the shared goal and find ways to overcome obstacles together.

Basically, Clinton supporters have been telling a lot of progressive voters that the things those voters care about don’t matter, or don’t matter enough to be addressed in any way, and that they should band together with a group of people who look down on them and call them names. That’s insanity; only highly-traumatized people respond to that tactic, and EVEN THEN it’s still because the person has redefined abusive behavior to represent a twisted, demoralized definition of meeting their needs. Thankfully, most of us are not residing in that psychological place (except with respect to capitalism, but that’s another diatribe), so we dissociate from people who treat us that way and go find folks who will treat us with some dignity. But again, that dissociation means you lose potential members of your coalition.

Don’t want to organize with third-party progressives because you really do think they’re whiny babies not worth your time? That’s cool; you don’t organize with everyone. There are people and organizations I definitely write off when I think about food justice organizing, because I don’t respect them and I think the gulf between our interests is way too far. But if I’m going to do that, I damn sure better make sure I have organized enough other people and resources to make up for what I lose by writing those folks off; otherwise I will fail at achieving what is important to me because I failed to do what was needed to build sufficient power. We’ll find out later today whether the Clinton electoral coalition built enough power to emerge from this nightmare with the presidency.

It’s no longer ignorance; it’s a choice.

I’ve just about lost my damn mind.

I keep thinking that there will be some point when someone says, “No more.” Where one of these incidents will be so barbaric, and so clearly documented, that everyone who looks at the case will say, “This absolutely cannot be allowed to happen; never again.” In my foolishness, I thought the shooting-on-sight of a 12-year-old boy at a playground would be on of those stopping points, where we would have to hold ourselves and our public officials accountable.

For those inclined to think that highlighting persistent, deadly racial justice issues is divisive, perhaps this alternative argument will resonate; a brief except from the article is below:

“What we see with Tamir Rice—and what we’ve seen in shootings across the country—is what happens when the officer’s safety supercedes the obligation to accept risk. If ‘going home’ is what matters—and risk is unacceptable—then the instant use of lethal force makes sense. It’s the only thing that guarantees complete safety from harm.

It’s also antithetical to the call to ‘serve and protect.’ But it’s the new norm. And worse for any accountability, it sits flush with our broad sympathy with police in the courts of law and public opinion. So that, when police kill someone in this relentless drive to reduce risk, it’s almost impossible to hold officers accountable, barring incredible circumstances. The public just accepts that this is what police had to do … Given this status quo, Tamir Rice—his shooting and the officers’ acquittal—is inevitable. Indeed, it’s almost certain to happen again.”

The unjustified murder of ‪#‎TamirRice‬ is a clear example of an “incredible circumstance,” and yet it still was not sufficient to convince a grand jury that law enforcement officers need to be accountable for their use of force. We are now actively supporting “shoot first, ask questions later” as appropriate policing policy, at least for people of color. HOW ON EARTH does that conform to any definition of the liberty and justice that our laws and Constitution are meant to guarantee?

Are we seriously prepared to argue that civilian protective services have the discretion to shoot people on sight if they feel in any way uncomfortable or threatened, and that they should feel no compunction about doing so? If you are defending these kinds of actions by police, are you comfortable with police being empowered to kill you, your friends and family members, or your children anytime you are carrying anything that could be construed as a weapon or doing anything other than immediately and silently complying with police instructions? Do you or any of your friends and family members own a real or imitation weapon, and do you think that you should be shot for displaying or handling it in public?

Enough is enough – except it isn’t in this country. We accept murder with minimal or no provocation as a proper police function. We accept mass shootings as an appropriate side effect of our current gun laws. And yes, we accept clearly race-differentiated applications of law, policy, and state-sanctioned force as routine and completely permissible. We have reached the point (in fact, we’re far past it) where any of us who decide that we are not actively dedicating our time and energy to changing one or more of these things are actively sanctioning them with our silence and inaction.

If you don’t like that characterization, and you want to view yourself as part of the solution rather than the problem, then take time NOW, before the end of 2015, to find out what other people in your neighborhood/community/city/state/district/region are doing on one of these fronts. Call or email someone to get more information. Schedule a call or meeting with a nearby activist or organizer. Send out a message to some friends asking if you can get together and talk about what you can do together. Ask your elected officials and candidates for office at every level how they intend to lead in confronting these issues and how you can support them and hold them accountable in doing so. Do not let another year pass where we accept these deaths as the status quo.

This is not a progressive/liberal/Democrat concern. If you are a United States citizen or resident, and you believe that the things we call “American values” (like freedom, justice, democracy, equality; or protection of our lives, property, and rights from being taken by other parties or by our government) ought to be truth rather than fiction, these things cannot continue. We have no greatness or moral standing as a nation if we turn a blind eye to murder and injustice within our borders. Our values are meaningless if we will not stand up and hold to them because we prefer convenience and complacency to the fight for true liberty.

The Complexity of Movement

Seriously fam. Can we caucus and vote on any movement/BLM position on police before we continue to speak and write publicly/broadly about it? There are MANY of us that are abolitionists and that needs to be included too. Love yall and soooo appreciate the public work tho (I couldnt do it- or wouldnt want to, rather.) But goodness.

Dara Cooper

I’m so thankful for the black activist friends I’ve become connected to over the past few years through my work on food justice. There are many reasons why this is important to me, including how it has both required and helped me to better understand my own sense of black identity when I operate in predominantly black professional, social and intellectual spaces; but that’s a blog post for another time. Today, I’m appreciating how my activist friends keep me connected to the vanguard of the current fight for black lives and black liberation, and how they keep challenging and making me reflect on my own understanding of the moment we are in.

The post above from one of my friends raises a really interesting and important question about movements for me, whether we’re talking BLM or food justice. We tend to think of movements as monolithic, but they’re not; and even when you have people who are solidly aligned on core values (which ISN’T always the case in the network of actors within a “movement!”), they may have very different strategies and even different visions for what it means to fully realize those core values. Thinking back to the civil rights struggles of the 60s, you had groups as different as the SCLC, Nation of Islam, and Black Panthers all within that movement; all were seriously and sincerely committed to the goal of black freedom, but held very different understandings both of what that meant and how to go about it. Yet, each group carried important components of what it would/will take to achieve black liberation.

What can we learn from that movement that would help make our present one stronger? How can we ensure that our full range of perspectives and solutions is recognized, rather than using the same models of dominance that we are fighting against to declare one sub-group of the movement as the “primary” one while marginalizing other voices and strategies? There are many who argue that a movement has to have a dominant narrative in order to be successful; and yet, when I look at the civil rights struggles from the 50s and 60s, I think that we are reaping today seeds that were sown back then, when “success” was defined as getting better access to oppressive, white-dominated systems instead of building and strengthening systems designed to serve us as black people (e.g., Nation of Islam farming cooperatives or the Black Panthers’ feeding program). Those initiatives pointed to a deeper reality about systemic racism, perhaps one that we were loath to fully acknowledge as a people at that point in time: that the roots of racism are so deeply embedded in every aspect of the United States’ history that no system of law or policy would ever be safe for black people until that national sickness was truly identified and healed in all its manifestations.

This isn’t a dismissal of what so many people fought and gave their lives for during that time; my life and those of every single one of my family members is markedly different because of the enormous policy wins that civil rights activists achieved in the middle of the 20th century. I’d have to be stupid, and profoundly ungrateful, not to recognize that. At the same time, I read even in the writings of leaders from that time that there was a recognition that the struggle had to go deeper and push further, and a worry about whether it would do so successfully and what that was supposed to look like. Too many people’s lives were cut short before they could pursue those questions. And maybe the questions weren’t theirs to pursue; maybe we had to go through the last 50 years as a people in order to come to our own understanding that we had to go after that deeper struggle. Maybe we weren’t ready to face that yet.

But we’re here again now, and we need to take the fullness of all the lessons we can learn from the work of our forebears – including those things they left undone. It’s not enough to return to comfort with confrontational tactics, or even to lift up the value of militancy in addition to nonviolence. There’s a deeper question of how we model the change we want to see in the world within our own movement, how we reject the forms and tactics of the oppressor and truly acknowledge the full range of our voices and needs. And how we learn to learn from each other and our different perspectives: maybe you’ll never become a police abolitionist, but do you understand why other movement colleagues are and can you work with them to address the real concerns they have about police reform platforms as they currently stand? Can we acknowledge, even if we choose police reform as a focus for now, that police abolitionists may be the holders of the long-term goal we need to work toward, and that our work won’t be done until that goal is addressed?

I see parallels in the LGBT movement and incidents like Jennicet Gutierrez’s action at the White House: marriage equality became the core fight because it was most palatable to the dominant culture and allowed the “movement” to “unify” its messaging – but that was a false unity that disregarded concerns voiced by groups experiencing marginalization within the movement. We can’t keep repeating this pattern. Intermediate policy wins are helpful for maintaining momentum and morale; but they become incredibly dangerous when we mistake them for endpoints and try to shut down those among us who are pointing to the work we need to keep doing. We need to figure out how to do the shorter-term, “feasible” work while holding the long-term, radically transformative vision before us at all times.

This isn’t an intellectual debate about movement strategies and tactics; this is about the life and heart of our movement. It’s about learning what love and solidarity mean so that, even when we are doing different things, we are always standing together and lifting one another up. And if nothing else, it’s because I don’t want my nephew and niece and their children fighting another version of this same battle in 40 or 50 years. I want the children of my family to inherit not only new policies but a new way of being, a transformed nation with love instead of hate and violence at its core. It takes a lot of faith to even believe that is a possibility – but for me, it’s the only vision worth working toward.