I wanted to set up a post sharing some resources on voting, and on engaging in electoral politics more broadly. I may continue to update this as November approaches; hopefully it can be useful; please feel free to share, or make your own version.

***UPDATE (10/14/20): Wrote a new poem that speaks to some of the stuff in this post.***

Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote.

I’ve written before about my own position on voting (as someone who can vote; it’s worth remembering that it’s a right that too many people are denied). To summarize: I believe that change is driven by mass movements, not by individual politicians. That being said, elected leaders are power bottlenecks, and whether their policies are imperfect, bad, or catastrophic has a direct impact on the kind of movement-building that can happen in opposition to those policies.

In other words: Voting is pressure on the wound. Applying pressure to a wound doesn’t heal it, but it can buy time for the healer to arrive, for the real work to be done. That pressure, alone, isn’t the solution to the injury, but it can still be the difference between life and death.

That’s my reason, and I get that it’s not the best soundbite for a mass audience. I’ll share some better quotes from people smarter than me below. But first, let’s pause on the why and focus on the how.

Understanding the Process is Half the Battle: Resources on HOW to Vote

Getting out the vote is important. But I think it can be easy to focus on the persuasion side of GOTV work, and miss the fact that the most efficient, effective way to increase turnout isn’t convincing Trump-loving strangers on the internet to change their views—it’s about providing tools and pathways for people, especially convincible people in our lives, to make voting easier. A few resources:

  • How To Vote In The 2020 Election: A state-by-state guide to voting in the age of COVID-19. Just click on your state to get the specific info.
  • Vote411.org: a “one stop shop” set up by the League of Women Voters.
  • Vote Save America: I dislike their website, for a variety of design/accessibility reasons. But if you’re web-savvy enough to navigate it, it does have some good resources beyond voting info, including their “adopt a state” program.
  • For Minnesotans: TakeAction MN’s “Busy Voters’ Guide.”

Some of these sites are more overwhelming than others. I’m not planning on just sending these links to family and saying “check these out and vote!” Instead, I’m going to use them myself, to pull together more specific, more personalized, step-by-step guides that I can then share with friends and family. It might take a couple of hours to do that extra work, but it’s also a relatively straightforward, concrete action I’d encourage others to consider.

A general takeaway: Because of the pandemic + the ongoing bleeding of the postal service, the move this year seems to be to request an absentee ballot as early as you can, and return it as early as you can. This might look different in different states, but here was my process:

  1. Register to vote, or check that you’re registered (here’s the MN site for that; if you’re not in Minnesota, just googling “[your state] + register to vote” should get you to the right link).
  2. Request an absentee ballot and mail it in (here’s the MN link for that; details will vary in other states). OR show up-person to vote (whether on election day, or at early voting sites, again, depending on your state). Wear a mask.

Relationships Matter: Different Talking Points and Strategies for Different Audiences

Like I said, I think crafting our GOTV rhetoric and persuasion strategies probably isn’t as important as focusing on the voting process itself… but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth thinking about. More than facts and statistics, and even more than stories, persuasion is about relationships. Know your audience, listen to them (rather than just talk), and think critically about how your relationship with them might impact how/if they hear you. I’m not a campaign messaging expert (if you are, feel free to comment!), but here are some things I’m thinking about:

FOR NON-VOTERS, OR PEOPLE WHO DON’T REALLY FOLLOW POLITICS: Some of us are online every day, and we see every new Trump administration outrage as it happens; we may keep a list of them in our heads, and that list might be really, really long now (like this one). Most people don’t, of course, and “non-voter” has never been a monolithic group. So part of the work here might be thinking about who your audience is, and picking out just one or two of these outrages that might be most salient to them.

It could be something big, like the family separation policy, or the ongoing environmental collapse, or Trump’s on-the-record, recorded statements that he knew the pandemic would kill people, but downplayed it for political reasons. It could be something that speaks more to values than any specific policy, like Trump’s history of brazen lies. It could even be something more subjective, like “the last four years have just been so chaotic; we can do better than this.”

Again, persuasion isn’t always rational; it isn’t always about the most “important” facts, even when those facts have enormous moral and ethical consequences (although these kinds of conversations can also be opportunities to plant seeds that transcend electoral politics). Different people will respond to different arguments, for better or worse.

That’s all worth thinking about, but whether we use those tactics or not, I think the most important piece here is just asking. For some people, “I know you like to stay out of politics, but it would really mean a lot to me if you voted this year,” along with an offer to help navigate that process, will sometimes be more effective than any rhetoric.

FOR CONSERVATIVE-LEANING FOLKS: 2020 potentially presents an opportunity to reach out to people who may identify as conservative but are disgusted by Trump. If that sounds like anyone in your life, a useful resource might be the Lincoln Project’s anti-Trump ads. And look: I’m not a fan of the Lincoln Project, don’t want to ally with them, and think there’s danger in giving them too much attention or reverence. But this isn’t advice for the campaign; it’s advice for individuals. As a “tool in your toolbox,” there may be specific instances in which their videos can be useful—especially when we’re talking about this kind of interpersonal, talking-to-friends-and-family work, in the context of an election where a handful of swing states (and a handful of voters in those states) have disproportionate power.

FOR LEFTISTS AND RADICALS: I mean, this is me, and I’ve already shared some of my own thoughts above. But here are three pieces of commentary that have helped me wrap my head around the specific choices we face in 2020. They’re all written by smart, principled activists whom I have grown to trust, and acknowledge the complexities (and dangers) of engaging with electoral politics, or putting too many eggs in the Biden/Harris basket. They’re nuanced, thoughtful takes, and all three are definitely worth a read.

  • Kelly Hayes: “In the 2020 Election, I’m Casting a Ballot Against Full-Blown Fascism”
    “I also hope my brokenhearted co-strugglers will remember that their politics are much bigger than a single ballot. Many people in the U.S. do not participate in the work of movements, or even pay particularly close attention to the policies enacted by officials. Elections are largely about branding and political theater, and people whose political presence involves little else often build their electoral choices into identities. But for those who live much fuller political lives, full of organizing, protest, and work that has material impacts, voting is just one tactic. It’s a maneuver some make periodically, sometimes to gain an advantage, but often, just to limit the damage. Sometimes the difference may be negligible. But I do not believe this is one of those times.”
  • Angela Davis: “Dems & GOP Tied to Corporate Capitalism, But We Must Vote So Trump Is ‘Forever Ousted'”
    “Both parties remain connected to corporate capitalism. But the election will not so much be about who gets to lead the country to a better future, but rather how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power. And I don’t think there’s a question about which candidate would allow that process to unfold.”
  • Bree Newsome Bass: “2020 election is about making strategic choices…”
    “…regarding landscape of oppositional forces we face in 2021 at local, state & federal levels when we’re still facing all the issues we are now & the power structure is clinging to status quo. It’s not either/or b/w voting & uprising. I highly advise a massive turnout that forces Trump out of office b/c it will further fracture & cause crisis within the bipartisan white power structure. It’s not about believing that a Biden admin will address our issues. It’s about choosing the form of your opposition.”

I like the links above because they also illustrate how, no matter who our audience is, trying to SHAME people into voting isn’t going to work. Voting for Biden might seem like the most obvious thing in the universe to you, but brute force rhetoric like “just suck it up and vote” or “if Trump wins it’s your fault!” simply isn’t effective; if we want to get out the vote, we have to do the work of building relationships, or at least knowing our audience, not just screaming on social media.

This point is especially important considering the baggage this ticket brings with it. I’m not going to tell a survivor that they “must” vote for Biden. I’m not going to tell an abolitionist that they “must” vote for a ticket with a combined record on criminal justice that is extremely concerning. The arguments in the three links I just shared have helped me come to terms with the choice in front of me; they won’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. Move those who can be moved. Respect (and don’t get hung up on) those who won’t.

Voting is Only the Beginning: How to Turn One Vote into a Hundred (the Legal Way)

I feel very fortunate that the people who engage with my work and read my writing come from a lot of different places, in terms of their experience with movement-building work—I’m also on my journey. And I think the phrase “voting is only the beginning” can mean different things for all of us, depending on where we’re at. For example:

  • Some of us might consider really committing to this work for the next two months: volunteering for a GOTV organization, joining a campaign as staff, etc. Vote Save America has some resources on that, and getting in touch with local organizations who do campaign work might be a good first step. Don’t forget that 2020 isn’t just about the president; there are a ton of local races that are going to be super important.
  • GOTV stuff can also be more informal than joining a campaign. The aforementioned creation of individual-specific voting guides could easily become a letter-writing project, or a Canva project for social media, a poetry prompt, etc. How can we best use our platforms and our networks?
  • This is the same thing I say every election year, but once again: what happens on (and before) election day matters. But what happens after matters even more. Some thoughts/resources on getting involved with activism outside of election seasons.

A final thought: It’s worth remembering that we’re not just voting for individual leaders—we’re voting for platforms. Biden was never my first choice, but even I have to admit that there are some legitimately good things, things that will make a material difference in people’s lives, in the Biden/Harris platform. There are a some not-so-good things too, and he’ll need to be pushed, because all politicians need to be pushed. But the evolution of the Dem platform, just over the past 12 years or so, is testament to the fact that activists and organizers are making a difference.

More broadly, I’ll never be a cheerleader for the Democratic party. But I have yet to hear a convincing argument countering the fact that Trump (and the movement he represents) is a unique threat, and that removing him and his supporters from office should be a priority. It’s not the only work we need to do, and it’s not going to change everything on its own, but it’s an urgent, necessary step on the road to where we really want to go.

I don’t always open my comments on this blog, but they’re open on this post. Feel free to share other strategies, tools, or perspectives.

This past week, dozens of survivors have come forward to speak out about abuse, harassment, and sexual assault in the local music scene (and beyond). Their voices have joined those that have already been raising the alarm, and prominent artists, labels, and venues are now releasing statements, doing damage control, and considering next steps.

(One of the artists named is Dem Atlas, whom I worked with on a project back in 2014. While we haven’t worked together since then, I have reached out, as have others. He has yet to release a statement. The individuals he hurt deserve- and have always deserved- more than that. And while he needs to work through his accountability process, I also hope that the people he IS in community with, at Rhymesayers and beyond, are doing more to support that process than just dropping him from the label.)

There’s more to say (and much more to do), but for right now, one small action I figured I could take was just putting up a post collecting resources that have been useful to me in my work, especially for men who are authentically trying to learn more and do better.

This post is also a place to collect some of the amazing resources we’ve used and reflected on over at #WhatsGoodMan, without cluttering up people’s feeds promoting our podcast, which would just feel kind of gross. Of course, I hope that show can be useful to people; I would just rather, in this moment, promote the stuff we talk about in it without promoting the show itself, if that makes sense.

As always, these are resources that I have found useful, and are not going to speak to every audience or individual the same way. But my hope is that they can be a starting point, as men (and people of all gender identities, but especially men) set up dialogue groups, engage in critical self-reflection, and reach out to each other.

1. A potential starting point

For men, whether we’re perpetrators, bystanders, enablers, survivors ourselves, and/or just trying to learn more about masculinity’s connection to violence (and what to do about it), please read adrienne maree brown’s “Relinquishing the Patriarchy.” Of all the recommended links here, that’s the one I’ve shared the most with men in my life offline, gained the most from processing through conversation, and continue returning to.

2. Readings/videos on masculinity

Men aren’t the only perpetrators of gender violence, men can be victims too, and it’s important to think about gender violence beyond the binary. But all of that being said, thinking critically about men and masculinity is a still a crucial part of the overall work of ending gender violence.

3. Readings/videos on consent and rape culture

It’s vital to make the connection between overt/explicit acts of sexual violence and the larger culture that creates space for those acts. Gender violence isn’t just something a tiny handful of “bad” people do; as men, and/or as people with power, and/or as leaders of institutions- we have to see how our habits, actions, and inaction create space for that violence, even when we aren’t the perpetrators.

4. Readings/videos on accountability, apology, and transformative justice

This is a complex, dynamic field of study, but these links can hopefully be useful intros and starting points.

5. Books

I know a big wall of text here will be intimidating, but this is partly a recommended reading list and partly a statement that there has already been so much work done, often incredibly rigorous and difficult work, often by women, often by Black women and women of color, that we can turn to for education.

  • Know My Name (Chanel Miller)
  • Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (ed. Roxane Gay)
  • Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood (Carlos Andrés Gómez)
  • Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (bell hooks)
  • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (bell hooks)
  • The Man They Wanted Me to Be (Jared Yates Sexton)
  • Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement (ed. Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha)
  • Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators (Mariame Kaba & Shira Hassan)
  • Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape (ed. Friedman and Valenti)
  • Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement (ed. Patterson)
  • The Hunting Ground: The Inside Story of Sexual Assault on American College Campuses (Documentary and Book)
  • The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America (Sarah Deer)
  • Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do about It (Kate Harding)
  • Ask: Building Consent Culture (ed. Stryker)
  • Not On My Watch: A Handbook for the Prevention of Sexual Violence (Isabella Rotman)

And more. And more.

One other note, especially for educators and facilitators: I’ve put together a couple other posts focusing on POEMS that can be introductions to these kinds of conversations: one on masculinity and violence, and one on consent and rape culture.

As I always say in these resource-sharing posts, reading and having conversations isn’t everything that needs to happen. But it still needs to happen. If you have other resources, please feel free to share.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, and the subsequent calls for defunding and abolishing police departments around the country, more and more people are imagining new possibilities, and committing to the work of making those possibilities real.

That work will include more protest, policy work, shifting resources, and leveraging power. It will also include education (popular, political, and otherwise). Of course, “reading books and having conversations” is not everything that needs to happen. But it does need to happen, especially in a moment where millions of people are fundamentally rethinking what policies are “common sense,” what policies are “radical,” and what policies they will commit to actively organizing around.

How might we bring these conversations into spaces in which they’re not already happening? How can we integrate them into our curricula, into our clubs and organizations, into our social media platforms, and beyond?

I think these are important questions. So for people who are interested or already engaged in that kind of education work, here are three books, three articles, and three poems I would recommend. I’m using the 3/3/3 format because there are hundreds of resources I want to share here, but I also know that can be overwhelming. Hopefully these can be starting points:

THREE BOOKS

  • Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis
  • The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale – Free E-book
  • Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States (A Truthout Collection) – Free E-book

There are many other books to recommend, but I’m choosing these three because they’re relatively short, punchy, and accessible. Angela Davis is a foundational figure in the modern abolitionist movement, and even though the focus in this moment is on police, it’s important that we all step back and make the connections to the broader prison-industrial complex, and Are Prisons Obsolete? is the perfect text for that. Vitale’s book is relentless and exhaustive in its critique of what police are and how they function, while also offering many concrete alternatives. And the Truthout anthology is just full of good writing and important perspectives, featuring writers like Alicia Garza, Victoria Law, Ejeris Dixon, and more. Find more book recommendations here.

THREE ARTICLES

Again, there has been a wealth of writing over the past few weeks about policing, abolition, Minneapolis, and beyond. I’m choosing these three for how they work together. Ellis’ piece provides vital context and history. Kaba’s piece makes the case for abolition as eloquently as anything I’ve ever read. And local organization MPD150 shares some thoughts and talking points about what the phrase “a police-free future” actually might entail, in practice. Find more article recommendations here.

THREE POEMS

Could We Please Give the Police Departments to the Grandmothers by Junauda Petrus (text)

Field Trip to the Museum of Human History by Franny Choi (text)

Alternate Heaven for Black Boys by Danez Smith (see also the text of summer, somewhere here)

Why these three poems? Because I think one function of poetry, and art in general, is to help us imagine. It can be easy to write off “imagination” as a lesser part of the work, but I’d argue that it’s central. The challenge before us isn’t just to change the laws and policies; it is to tell the story of the world those changes will create, to mobilize, and to sustain this movement.

These aren’t just three poems about racism, or even about policing- they’re more specifically structured around a kind of visionary, world-building impulse that is incredibly valuable right now. The first two explicitly reckon with what a world without police might look like; Danez’s poem is different, of course, but shares that call to imagine another world.

I’m reminded of two quotes here: adrienne maree brown wrote, “I often feel I am trapped inside someone’ else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.” James Baldwin wrote, “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

I’ve already shared it a couple times, but the “Resources” page at MPD150 has so many incredible links. I hope my post here can be a first step for some people, and that that link can be a second step. Either way, let’s keep walking.

A closing thought: I haven’t been actively promoting my own work over the past few weeks, for reasons that I hope are obvious. But this is an issue I’ve worked on, and policing’s connection to white supremacy and authoritarianism is something I’ve written a lot about. For anyone interested, a selection of poems and songs: Police Make the Best Poets, How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist, Quicksand, One Bad Cop, and The Hero.

Image via MPD150

“Abolishing prisons and police” was one of those concepts that sounded super radical to me… until I actually listened, and learned more about it.

I know that a few links aren’t going to persuade everyone, but I do think it’s really important to think critically about the stories we’re told about justice, policing, and order, along with the stories we’re not told. Especially right now, as the narrative about the police killing of George Floyd, and the narrative about what needs to happen next, take shape.

“What about the murderers?” “How will we stay safe?” “It’s too unrealistic!” Whatever concerns pop into your head, know that you are not the only person who has asked them. Here are FIVE of the readings and resources that have been most useful to me on my own journey toward understanding the necessity of dismantling the current system.

We must look beyond police for community safety (Star Tribune)
As public health experts have been saying for centuries, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A police-first approach to public safety fails to address the underlying causes of crime, while contributing to our status as the most incarcerated country in the world, and one with incredibly high levels of police violence. Why don’t we try something different?

Thinking about how to abolish prisons with Mariame Kaba (Chris Hayes’ podcast – audio and transcript)
I’m a prison-industrial complex abolitionist, which means that I have a political vision and ideological commitments and belief in organizing, that we have to organize towards a horizon where we no longer have prisons, policing, and surveillance. That we figure out other ways of addressing harm within our communities.

“Building a Police-Free Future: Frequently-Asked Questions” (MPD150)
Police abolition work is not about snapping our fingers and instantly defunding every department in the world. Rather, we’re talking about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.

“Reformist reforms vs. abolitionist steps in policing” (Critical Resistance)
These charts break down the difference between reformist reforms which continue or expand the reach of policing, and abolitionist steps that work to chip away and reduce its overall impact. (This graphic is really cool, but there is a similar, potentially easier-to-read piece here).

Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind (New York TImes)
Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”

BONUS UPDATE: Some writing from this past week’s Minneapolis Uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd:

Longer Reads:
Of course, these links are just a start, but I think they frame the argument really well. If you want to dig deeper into the data, the history, and the policy side of what needs to happen, here are some books and other resources that might make good next steps:

A parting thought: I wanted to share something here that was a little more focused than the “here are 35379 things people can do” pieces floating around out there. Of course, “learning more” isn’t the same as action, and isn’t enough to create the changes we need. But it is an important step, especially for those of us just getting involved for the first time.

One reason an abolitionist approach makes so much sense to me is that, as these readings show, it isn’t just an abstract philosophical concept- it’s a process with some pretty concrete, practical, winnable steps. Here in Minneapolis, I’d definitely recommend people check out Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective, the coalitions that are kind of at the center of this kind of organizing, as well as MPD150 (a group I’ve worked with for a while now; some cool stuff on the horizon too). An easy action step is to follow those groups on whatever social media platforms you use, and stay plugged in.

There’s short-term work that needs to be done (protesting, taking care of each other, contacting city council/mayor to demand divestment from police), and there’s long-term work that needs to be done (pressuring local policy-makers via elections, lobbying, direct action, and public pressure to shift resources away from police and toward community), but both can be done with an abolitionist framework. A last link: I’d encourage people who are interested in taking action to check out Deepa Iyer’s “My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem” to help with that process.

Image: Thanos’ empty armor being used as a scarecrow

I’m supposed to be working on poems for my new book; I wrote this instead.

In the Marvel cinematic universe, costumed superheroes battle an assortment of global threats: Loki invades Earth with an extraterrestrial army. Ultron threatens to replace humanity with artificial intelligence. The forces of Hydra infiltrate the governments of the world and seek to bring them down from the inside.

But the ultimate villain, the larger threat looming over the more than twenty films leading up to the MCU’s climax, is Thanos. A being of unfathomable power, Thanos is also an antagonist with a specific philosophy. He believes that the problem with the universe is too much life, too many mouths to feed, too great a strain on finite resources. So his solution, his goal, is to wipe out half of all life in the universe; he believes that by doing this, the remaining half will thrive.

In these films, it is taken for granted that Thanos is the villain, and that his plan is as nonsensical as it is horrific. In the real world, however, his general philosophy – that there are too many people, that we’re going to run out of food and resources unless we control the population – is something that a lot of people (including mass murderers in El Paso and Christchurch) actually believe. Whether we call it Neo-Malthusianism or eco-fascism or whatever fancy name, it very often goes hand in hand with anti-immigrant bigotry, yellow peril xenophobia, and a sociopathic focus on rugged individualism over community, empathy, and cooperation. Pandemics make it worse.

Over the coming years, we’re going to see more of this. So here are three frames, metaphors, and counter-arguments that have been useful to me. Hopefully they can be useful to you, as well.

1. If there are a hundred people, and a hundred apples, and one person has 90 apples, and the other 99 people have to share ten apples – the problem is not that there are too many people.

The eco-fascists will tell you that there aren’t enough apples, but the truth is that as a species, we have all the resources we need, right now, to make sure every person on earth has food, shelter and access to a healthy life. The problem is that we spend billions of dollars on F-35s and stealth bombers, while propping up a system that allows a tiny minority of people to hoard unfathomable amounts of wealth that they couldn’t spend in a hundred lifetimes. The issue isn’t scarcity of resources; the issue is the system we use to distribute those resources.

2. If a pandemic comes along and kills a few million humans, disproportionately affecting the elderly, the poor, the vulnerable – refugees, prisoners, people without access to health care – that is not “the ecosystem resetting itself.” That is not “mother earth fighting back.”

I know it can sound like a cool, edgy hot-take to be like “humanity… is the real virus,” but my nieces and nephews are not viruses. My friends who are nurses and advocates and educators and working-class people just trying to live are not the problem. “Humanity,” as a general concept, is not to blame for the climate crisis. A handful of obscenely wealthy capitalists and the multi-billion dollar extractive industries they control are to blame for the climate crisis.

And while it can be annoying when some hippie on Twitter says stuff like that, it’s important to understand how that rhetoric connects to xenophobia and racism. As Trump and his supporters start calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “kung-flu,” we have to remember how historically, anxiety about overpopulation and disease has led to crackdowns on those labeled “other,” whether immigrants, religious minorities, or whatever scapegoat those in power wish to use to distract from their own incompetence. Today, we’re already seeing hate crimes targeting Asians and Asian-Americans. We must have zero tolerance for this.

Sidebar: two important links for people who might find themselves in arguments about this: The World Health Organization’s explicit recommendation to NOT name diseases after places or people and a news story with proof that Trump and/or his speechwriters are going out of their way to change the name from what is recommended to what benefits them politically. It’s sick.

3. As a purely intellectual exercise, the idea of 100 people on a sinking ship and only ten being able to fit on the lifeboat might lead you to some “harsh but fair” conclusions. In reality, though, we have more choices beyond “most people die” and “everyone dies.”

To continue this metaphor, we could bring more lifeboats on the ship. Stepping back, we could design the ship to more elegantly fit additional lifeboats, and/or be more resistant to sinking in the first place. Stepping back further, we could institute regulations on the shipbuilding industry that mandate that ships must have enough lifeboats for all passengers. 

Outside of this hypothetical, it’s worth remembering that in real life, who do you think is most likely to have access to a “lifeboat?” The rich, the privileged, and the powerful have a vested interest in making the rest of us think that there aren’t enough resources to go around, because that minimizes pressure on them to share what they see as theirs alone.

***

To return to the MCU: using the infinity gauntlet, Thanos became effectively omnipotent. If he truly cared about making sure there were enough resources to go around, rather than wiping out half of all life in the universe, he could have snapped his fingers and created more resources, or ensured that humans and aliens across the universe distributed those resources in a better way.

The fact that his “solution,” seemingly the first and only course of action he considered, was to murder half of all life tells us a lot more about him than it does about the issues he claimed to be concerned about.

Of course, Thanos isn’t real. But his philosophy is. Watch out for those whose imaginations are big enough to envision millions dying in a pandemic, but aren’t big enough to envision a more just, equitable system that would allow all of humanity to thrive. It’s on us to dream bigger, to work together, and to save ourselves. Nothing is inevitable.

FURTHER RESOURCES:

A good document pulling together some links and “how-to” resources on mutual aid and pod-mapping; basically, how we can support one another, in our communities, through the COVID-19 situation.

Additionally, a few thoughts of my own I posted on social media a couple days ago:

A million links to share, but to avoid stressing people out, here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been reading regarding covid-19; shared this the other day, but a few edits:

First, let’s remember that there’s a lot of room between “everything is fine” and “it’s the apocalypse.” Don’t panic, but please take it seriously: lives are very much at stake, especially older people, people with compromised immune systems, and frontline health care workers, and those people matter.

I’m thankful for everyone pointing out how, like a lot of big problems, the covid-19 pandemic requires solutions at both individual and institutional levels.

As individuals: there’s been a ton of good writing, articles, resources, etc. on specific things we can do: take extra care to wash hands, avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings, cancel events, offer to get groceries/supplies to people who might be more at risk, go out less, etc. This can make a real difference.

Also important: read credible sources; don’t fall for conspiracy theories, or racism (watch GOP politicians pivot to calling it “the chinese virus” or whatever), or facebook-style “I don’t know anything but I’m going to authoritatively state that this isn’t a big deal and it’s exactly like the common flu.” It’s not.

On the institutional level, we always hear calls not to “politicize” crises like this. But this crisis is political.

When people don’t have paid sick leave, they work sick, and that makes things worse– and that’s politics. When the Trump administration eliminates the position of “senior director for global health security and biodefense,” that’s politics. When millions of people don’t have health insurance, so don’t seek out the care they need, that’s politics.

So yeah, we can physically avoid one another for a while, while simultaneously committing to uniting together to tackle these underlying issues. This crisis will pass, but these bigger problems will ensure that another crisis won’t be far behind… unless we act- voting, organizing, mutual aid, everything.

I live in Minnesota, and it’s a Super Tuesday state. So pretty soon, I’ll be voting for which Democratic nominee I’d like to go up against Trump in November.

For me, it’s only a conversation about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I have no interest in the other candidates. That isn’t to say I absolutely wouldn’t vote for (for example) Biden if he wins the primary; it’s just to say that in the primary, I will be voting for a progressive.

I’ll keep this brief and straightforward: Between Sanders and Warren, I’m going with Sanders. Below, I’m going to share some of my thought process. I’m not sharing this because I’m any kind of expert or authority; I just think it’s a good practice to talk out why we’re supporting who we’re supporting. If this can be useful to anyone else who’s trying to decide, great.

I think both Sanders and Warren have good platforms (at least relative to other candidates, past and present), and I even prefer a couple of Warren’s specific policies. But in general, just reading through their websites and doing the math, I align more with Sanders. But policy isn’t my main argument here. Platforms shift, especially as a candidate moves from the primary into the general. No matter who the candidate is, it’s going to be on us to hold them accountable. It’s going to be the movement-builders who apply pressure to those platforms and drive change.

So I’m MOST interested in what the movement-builders are saying.

Both Warren and Sanders have a bunch of great endorsements from individual politicians. Where Sanders pulls ahead, for me at least, is in endorsements from activist organizations (and unions!) on the ground, doing movement-building work every day. Don’t just listen to me, read these endorsements from some of the most inspiring organizations in the country:

  • Sunrise Movement
    We know that no matter who the next President is, we will need to turn millions of people into the streets and disrupt business as usual in order to win a Green New Deal. But our movement has spoken clearly. We believe a Bernie Sanders Presidency would provide the best political terrain in which to engage in and ultimately win that struggle for the world we deserve.
  • Mijente
    We need urgent change on a whole host of issues – climate change, deportations, education, health care. To get that change, first things first, we gotta get Donald Trump out and make him a one term president. We need a candidate who can assemble a vibrant, diverse coalition that presents a clear alternative. Today it’s official – we believe that candidate is Senator Bernie Sanders.
  • Dream Defenders
    Bernie is not our political savior. It is the movement behind him that will change this country: We are not electing a savior, we are electing a political opponent who we will hold accountable to meet our demands. Bernie Sanders knows he can’t change everything on his own. His campaign slogan, “Not Me, Us” is all about building a movement of millions to fight in the streets and at the ballot box to force the hands of legislators to listen. This is how change happens.
  • Democratic Socialists of America
    When Bernie says “not me, us,” he’s talking about an urgent political project: building a mass movement of working people that can change society. We’ll start with Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, powerful trade unions, tuition-free college, and an end to mass incarceration – but we won’t stop there.
  • TakeAction Minnesota
    “Bernie Sanders is the clear choice,” said Mai Chong Xiong, Board Chair of TakeAction Minnesota. “Bernie has built a bold, powerful movement because he listens to the people and knows our power. When working people organize and rise up together, we win elections and build a democracy, government and economy that works for all of us. The momentum keeps growing because families, communities, and climate can’t wait for action. We are ready to get to work.”
  • Make the Road Action
    Daniel Altschuler, managing director of Make the Road Action, said that the organization has been impressed by Sanders’s willingness to listen and learn from the grassroots advocacy community in putting together an immigration platform that reflects their priorities, including placing a moratorium on deportations and dismantling the immigration enforcement agencies. (source)
  • People’s Action
    “We know that Bernie will stand with the multiracial working class because he has always stood with us,” People’s Action National Board of Directors President Lizeth Chacon said. “He’s proven that he can listen and work with the grassroots when it’s time to be bolder. When we launched a call for safe, accessible, sustainable, permanently affordable homes for everyone, Sanders heard our blunt call for action. Now the vision of our Homes Guarantee is reflected in his housing policy. That’s just one example of him making movement politics mainstream.”

I was originally going to share a deeper dive into my own thoughts on policy, but I think these endorsements are both more important, and more persuasive.

And it’s not just about the endorsements themselves; look closely at what they’re saying. There’s so much language in those statements that explicitly recognizes that real change isn’t driven by individual politicians. It’s driven by movements, and the Sanders campaign is uniquely, at least in my experience, in conversation with the movement work happening outside the election. One last link: check out Boots Riley’s thoughts on that dynamic.

A Note on “Electability”
That word is in quotes for a reason. It’s not that electability isn’t real, or that it doesn’t matter; it’s that pundits and talking heads (and, let’s be honest, most of us) aren’t always very good at predicting who’s electable and who isn’t.

The last two presidents of the US are a bumbling fascist conman named Donald Trump and a progressive (at least in rhetoric) Black man named Barack Hussein Obama. Neither were ever considered “electable.” Go back and read the op-eds, or listen to the clips of “experts” on cable news, in 2008 and 2016. At the end of the day, “electability” can only be measured in winning elections.

And Sanders is winning right now. At the head of a movement that includes the most diverse base in the primary, the most youth, and the most straight up VOTES, he’s the frontrunner, and best-positioned, right now, to take on Donald Trump in November.

And yes, Bernie Sanders will face negative ads, like every candidate. They’ll say he’s a communist, that he’ll destroy the economy. But that’s the work: if people are nervous about democratic socialism, or overhauling the healthcare system, or the Green New Deal, it’s on us to take that opportunity to have a real conversation about those issues- a conversation that can lead to action no matter who sits in the White House.

They’ll say he’s too radical. It’s on us to talk about how often popular, commonsense policy positions get framed as “radical.” Health care is a human right. The climate crisis is real. No one should have a billion dollars while children go hungry and families struggle to get by. If these statements are “radical,” then it is PAST time for more radical politics.

It’s on us to make the case. It’s on us to make connections. It’s also on us to hold each other accountable — as Sanders himself has — when we witness harassment or the kind of toxic behavior that has become associated with his campaign (whether we believe that association is fair or not; in politics, the perception of a problem is a problem).

Electability isn’t some inherent quality that an individual just “has” or not; it’s something we create, through our advocacy, our volunteering, and our votes. We have agency. We can get involved and help push for real change- both inside AND outside of electoral politics.

If you already agree with me, be sure to check out opportunities wherever you live to get involved, to do some door-knocking, or even just to donate.

If you’re looking for more information in a general sense about the primary, a good resource is Vote Save America, with a guide on how to register, the whole voting process, and how to get involved.

Related: a few expanded thoughts on voting in general, and how it can fit into a movement-building strategy without *becoming* the strategy.

Confederate statue in Durham torn down; image from here.

EDIT (8/5/19): This was originally posted in 2017 and was focused on Charlottesville, but I’ve since added even more resources to this list, and broadened the scope to disrupting and dismantling white supremacy in general. That’s work that has to happen early, and teachers can play an important role.

At the top of this week, the Washington Post published this piece by Valerie Strauss: The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help. The following links contain more ideas for resources, readings, and lesson plans, and may be a good place to start for educators who know that current events matter, and that not talking about Charlottesville makes a statement to your students that’s just as loud as any conversation or critical exploration.

Because my background is in using spoken word as a tool for narrative-building and opening up spaces for authentic dialogue, I wanted to share a few poems that have been on my mind lately. As always, list-making is tricky. This is not a list of the “best” poems about this topic, or even a list of just “poems about racism.” 

This is a list of poems that might be useful for educators looking for artistic work that can prompt some critical thinking about hate, white supremacy, and the recent events in Charlottesville.

I’m also thinking about this list in terms of what work needs to be done in educational spaces. Understanding the motivations of– and contextual factors that cultivate– white supremacists is one angle, but so is making connections between the explicit hate espoused by neo-nazis and the more subtle, implicit ways that white supremacist ideology pops up in everyday life. I think these poems, in different ways, explore those connections. Maybe we shouldn’t need personal, human stories to create empathy, to illuminate that other human beings matter. But they can be tools for that, when it’s called for. These poems also use metaphor, symbolism, narrative, and other tools to push the listener beyond the notion that racism is just “people being mean to each other because they’re different.”

Of course, not every poem is appropriate for every audience. Be sure to review before presenting, both in terms of language/accessibility stuff and relevance. Also of course, “talking about racism” is a first step, not a last one, and we should challenge ourselves to find ways to embed anti-racist approaches and policies into our schools and institutions in more concrete ways as well.

Joseph Capehart – “Colorblind”

This poem uses humor to open up space for a powerful critique for the very common idea that “not seeing color” is the answer to racism. “You want to strip me clean; bleach away the parts of me that make you uncomfortable… when you say ‘colorblind,’ you are asking me to forget.”

Jared Paul – “5 Times My Skin Color Did Not Kill Me”

Storytelling can communicate information in ways that facts and statistics can’t. In this poem/TEDx Talk, Jared Paul simply tells five stories from his life that illustrate how whiteness works in context, even for people who would not consider themselves privileged.

Guante – “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist”

I wanted to write something about how “white supremacy” is bigger and more insidious than just literal white supremacists marching around with torches. But this is also about highlighting the *connection* between those people and the everyday acts/attitudes/policies that make them possible. Pushing back has to happen at multiple levels too– denouncing and disrupting specific acts of terror, but also uprooting their worldview in the classroom, the office, the church, the comment thread, the home, and everywhere.

Patricia Smith – Skinhead

A classic poem that seeks to explore the motivations of hateful bigots, without ever making excuses for them. There’s so much in here about empathy (in a critical sense), perspective, and what lenses people use to see the world.

Kevin Yang – “Come Home”

This poem is warm, funny, and approachable, using empathy-generating personal stories to make a larger point about xenophobia, the refugee experience, and finding home. “Call me Hmong before you call me American, because Hmong is the closest word I know to home.”

Bao Phi – “Broken/English”

This poem is heartbreaking. Sad poems can be useful when crafting activities or discussions focused on walking in someone else’s shoes. “Year after year she makes flowers bloom in the hood, petals in the face of this land that doesn’t want her here.”

Christy NaMee Eriksen – If Racism Was a Burning Kitchen (text only)

Talking about racism involves *talking* about racism, and this piece has always been a favorite of mine because of how it illuminates how those conversations so often go. It’s absurdist, and even funny, but it points to something deadly serious and can be a useful entry point for talking about how we talk about racism.

Anthony McPherson – All Lives Matter (1800s Edition)

I can’t think of a better deconstruction of the excuses and rationalizations that white people use to distance themselves from white supremacy. Obviously, this won’t work for every audience, in every situation, but it can be a very powerful exploration of how rhetoric can be used to mask racism.

T. Miller – “Ten Things You Sound Like When You Say AllLivesMatter in Response to BlackLivesMatter”

Another piece that uses juxtaposition and humor to highlight the absurdity of how white supremacy is, and isn’t, talked about in the US.

William Evans – “They Love Us Here”

Students sometimes struggle with the notion that tokenism, “positive” stereotypes, or other forms of “benevolent racism” are harmful. Even well-meaning people can contribute to a white supremacist society. This poem can be an entry point into that conversation.

Carlos Andrés Gómez – “12 Reasons to Abolish C.B.P & I.C.E”
So much white supremacist terrorism takes root in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hate. This poem can be a first step toward interrogating that.

Denice Frohman – “Borders”
Yet another poem showcasing the power of storytelling; this is a poem that might have different things to say to different audiences- but they’re all valuable.

Aamer Rahman – “Reverse Racism

I’m cheating here since this isn’t a poem; it’s just really good. One reason we talk so much about “racism” in the US rather than “white supremacy” is because racism can be (incorrectly) framed as attitude. And anyone of any identity can have a bad attitude. But white supremacy is about power. It’s about history. And this short video illustrates that perfectly.

I hope this list can be useful; feel free to share more in the comments. 

Of course, these are all for sparking dialogue, because dialogue matters. But action also matters. Whether it’s a classroom full of high-schoolers, a book club, a discussion group in a church basement, or some other setting, what matters is how we translate these discussions, these epiphanies, and these feelings into action. That’s another post, but hopefully, there’s something here that can be a useful start.

For teachers, student affairs folks, social justice activists, and beyond: this is a playlist of 30 poems that have been useful to me in classrooms, facilitated discussions, and other educational spaces.

It’s not a list of the “best” poems ever, or the only poems about these various topics; but there is some really powerful work here, work that meaningfully engages with these issues and can serve as great entry points or dialogue-starters. If you’re a teacher, another kind of educator, or just a person who understands the power of art, story, and conversation, I hope you find something to use here.

Of course, be sure to review the poems yourself first, since not every poem is going to be relevant or appropriate for every audience. Aside from these 30 poems, though, I hope people can fall down rabbit holes finding more work from these poets and these channels.

Additional lists and resources:

Also wanted to share this piece that’s been on my mind a lot this summer, as I get ready to hit the road again this fall: Towards an Antifascist Pedagogy by Guy Emerson Mount. A relevant quote for educators, poets, and everyone: “Following Davis and Robeson, the first rule of an anti-fascist pedagogy then is to refuse to continue with ‘business as usual’ and recognize that the anti-fascist battleground is everywhere.”