A few extended thoughts on the quote, in the context of the last few weeks.

Lots of people have been sharing this quote again lately, partly because Brené Brown, The Conscious Kid, and some other big social media accounts have shared it, but also because of how some 70 million people here in the US decided to vote in our last election. Wanted to share two thoughts.

Continue reading ““white supremacy is not a shark; it is the water.””

Something new. I wrote this for Voices for Racial Justice’s online Get-Out-The-Vote event, where I performed alongside Erin Sharkey, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Sun Yung Shin, Essence Blakemore, Anaïs, and Kevin Reese. Check out the video of the entire event (including the following poem) here.

Also, if you’re reading this before election day, here’s my post sharing some links and resources on the process and why I think it matters.

The poem itself is really just me trying to write something for my 18 year-old self, illuminating the various arguments I’ve heard, from organizers over the years, about why and how voting matters. It’s very rarely “vote because you have to!” or “vote because it’s the only way you can have a voice!” The best arguments, or at least the ones that have been most persuasive to me, are more nuanced than that. Not that nuance is always my thing as a poet… but here’s the poem (and a link to an IG version):

I NEVER NOTICED BEFORE HOW CLOSE HALLOWEEN IS TO ELECTION DAY: Five (Season-Appropriate) Metaphors for Voting

VOTING AS PRESSURE ON THE WOUND:
After the battle against the killer robots, I become aware that my leg is bleeding. And I know that applying pressure does not, on its own, heal the wound, but it will buy time for the medic to arrive, for the healing to begin.

VOTING AS FIRE EXTINGUISHER
When the haunted house catches fire: a moment of indecision. The house was, after all, built on bones, and blood, and bad intentions. Everyone who enters the house feels that overwhelming dread, the evil that perhaps only fire can purge. It’s tempting to just let it burn. And then I remember that there are children inside. 

VOTING AS THIS ONE SMALL THING
I’ve tracked the werewolf to its lair, deep in the basement of the old doll factory just outside town. Upon entering, I have the option of flipping the light switch from off to on. Either way, the battle will be difficult. Either way, victory is not guaranteed. But the werewolf can see in the dark, and I can’t. So I will do this one small thing. I will summon what light I can. And I will keep going.

VOTING AS HIGH GROUND, CLEAR SIGHT LINES, AND MULTIPLE ESCAPE ROUTES
It’s been said that during the zombie apocalypse, the undead are not the biggest threat, that the real monsters are the human survivors who will hoard resources, betray one another, and fight endlessly amongst ourselves. And it’s true: survival is about so much more than just not getting eaten by zombies. But not getting eaten by zombies is still an important part of the plan.

VOTING AS WRENCH IN THE MACHINE
Our village has existed in the shadow of Dracula’s castle for years, and has been the site of many battles against him. Now, he’s running for mayor. His platform: rather than turning into a giant bat to hunt his victims one-by-one, he will take control of the village’s resources, its watchmen and bureaucratic machinery, creating a system that will more efficiently identify victims and supply him with fresh blood.

Will defeating Dracula at the polls end his reign of terror? No. But what it will do is deprive him of one specific set of tools that he will otherwise use to hurt people. It will allow us to think offensively rather than defensively, because when the forces of darkness are not knocking on our doors, it frees us up to go knock on theirs.

And yes: there is always more work to be done. There is always more horror beyond that which is right in front of us.

And those who study monsters are right: if we only think short-term, we lose.

But those who fight monsters have taught me: short-term and long-term thinking are not mutually exclusive. We use every tool we have access to, every opportunity to shape the terrain of battle, every advantage we can seize. We don’t split up. We don’t leave anyone behind. We don’t wait for some hero to save us, whether a knight in shining armor or an opposition politician. We fight the monsters. And when the sun rises, we do the work of creating a world in which there are no monsters.

We win. For the fallen, for our families, for the fact that dawn is not promised, it is carried—in this blood, still hot, still coursing, defiant, inside us.

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 #1 (10/14/20): A new poem that speaks to some of the stuff in this post.***

***UPDATE #2 (10/26/20): I put together a Twitter thread of what a bunch of activist organizations are saying about voting. Read it via the link, though I’ve also put a transcript at the bottom of this post.***

***UPDATE #3 (10/30/20): If you’re still thinking about voting, know that it’s too late to mail your ballot, but you can still drop it off or vote in person (early or otherwise). This link has some great info (MN-specific).***

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.

Continue reading “Election 2020: Why I’m Voting + Resources for Getting Out the Vote”

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: