Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sunday morning poetry and music

As I sit to try and write something for this morning, I realize that rather than having anything meaningful to share, I'm needing some nourishment myself. I've spent alot of time this week watching the convention and thinking about electoral politics. And as Nightprowlkitty and Jay Elias so beautifully captured - some of us have experienced a journey between head and heart...and it has been draining for me.

In addition to that, we know that Gustav is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. That not only brings concerns about the welfare of people who are most vulnerable in that region, it rekindles memories of all the horrors of Katrina.

Finally, I am deeply disappointed already in the gestapo-like tactics my city seems to be employing to deal with potential protesters at the RNC. Due to the nature of my work over the last 20 years, many of the people involved in the city, law enforcement, and courts are friends of mine. I had hoped that they and my home town would rise above what we have seen from other cities in the past. I know its happened before, but this time its personal for me.

All these things combine to leave me feeling a bit empty this morning. So I thought that perhaps the best thing I could do is to try to fill myself up with music and poetry. While I'm at it - I'll share it with you.

Here's one from Marge Piercy.

A just anger

Anger shines through me.
Anger shines through me.
I am a burning bush.
My rage is a cloud of flame.
My rage is a cloud of flame
in which I walk
seeking justice
like a precipice.
How the streets
of the iron city
flicker, flicker,
and the dirty air
fumes.
Anger storms
between me and things,
transfiguring,
transfiguring.
A good anger acted upon
is beautiful as lightning
and swift with power.
A good anger swallowed,
a good anger swallowed
clots the blood
to slime.




And here's David Whyte.

Imagine My Surprise

Imagine my surprise;
sitting a full hour
in silent and irremediable
fear of the world,

to find the body
forgetting
its own fear the instant
it opened and placed
those unassuming hands
on life's enduring pain,

and the world for one
moment
closed its terrifying eyes
in gratitude.

Saying,
"This is my body, I am found."




And finally, one from Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Ovarian Lottery

Seems that some enterprising reporters have managed to find Barack Obama's half brother in Kenya.

The Italian edition of Vanity Fair said that it had found George Hussein Onyango Obama living in a hut in a ramshackle town of Huruma on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Mr Obama, 26, the youngest of the presidential candidate's half-brothers, spoke for the first time about his life, which could not be more different than that of the Democratic contender.

"No-one knows who I am," he told the magazine, before claiming: "I live here on less than a dollar a month."


Photobucket

I'm sure that if the MSM really picks up on this, we'll see all kinds of stories insinuating that it is Barack's responsibility/fault that his half-brother lives in these kinds of conditions. I doubt, however, that many reporters and pundits would take the perspective of kyledeb from Citizen Orange - even though I think he got it just about right.

I think a huge part of what motivates me to develop myself as a global citizen is the following: at least one of every two children that is born into the world today lives in conditions that those reading this can't even imagine. Half the world lives on under $2 a day, and it's a world that people with access to a computer can't hope to relate to.

It would be a lot easier for me to live in this world if I believed half the world deserved that fate. It would be a lot easier for me to live in this world everyone has a chance at success. I know the truth, though. The truth is success and privilege has more to do with chance than ability. I've known to many good, hard-working people that have landed on the wrong side of chance to believe otherwise. Their only sins are the circumstances they were born into.


My thought is that Barack Obama is no more and no less responsible for the plight of his half brother than I am. As kyledeb points out, the lives of these two men clearly demonstrate what Warren Buffet calls The Ovarian Lottery.

The world is unfair, and I have been very lucky. I was born white - and male - in the world's richest country, to parents that took care of me, and inspired me. I could, for example, have been born a woman - in Bangladesh - with few possibilities of development. It's a big lottery.


From this vantage point, I have something in common with Barack Obama that is very fundamental to the paths that our lives have taken. I was born white and female in an upper middle class family where my success in life was never doubted. That's not to say that I haven't struggled in life or that I have not faced barriers. But ultimately, most of the doors I contemplated passing through were fairly easily opened. I don't feel guilty about that - guilt is a waste of energy. What I do feel is the need to remember the fact that I was a "winner" in the lottery and to embrace that with humility and gratitude.



If you keep your food in a refrigerator, your clothes in a closet
if you have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head,
You are richer than 75% of the world's population.

Saying goodbye to comfort

For years, my co-worker Mary and I have gone to the same Chinese buffet every Thursday for our weekly lunch meeting. One day, another co-worker teased us about being in a rut. When we came back at him with the fact that he has lunch every Monday at Subway, he said, "Oh, that's not a rut, its a tradition."



I think traditions are important for all of us as human beings. And for me, there are certain things (like where I go for lunch) that are much more easily decided by being in a rut than they are by having to devote alot of time and attention to them on a regular basis.

On the other hand, those I work with also tend to refer to me as a "change junkie." I've often thought that my addiction to change is a result of the fact that from birth to my 30's I moved across this country 8 times and overseas twice. Its kind of hard to get in much of a rut when you're constantly facing the challenge of "starting over." So, being in a leadership position at work, I've had to learn to be more sensitive to people for whom the kind of change I've grown accustomed causes a tremendous amount of stress. And there are times I'm envious of those who, when they go home to visit their parents, sleep in the same room they grew up in. There is certainly a place for constancy as well as for change.

But I would guess that most of us blog and engage in activism because we feel strongly about the need for change in our politics and culture. The ruts we find ourselves in are unbearable and unsustainable. And for some of us, Gandhi's words "be the change you want to see" are the cornerstone of how to make that happen. But the challenge of when to hold on to someone/something and when to let go is difficult and is often impacted by our discomfort with change.

What is it that makes change so difficult?

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another.

Anatole France


Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable you will never be able to truly change at all, because you'll be forever in the control of things you can't give up.

Andy Law


For me, change means that you have to be willing to embrace the grief process of letting go of the people/beliefs/things of the present. We usually don't do that unless the present has become so unbearable that we're willing to live with the grief of saying goodbye. It also means being willing to risk the fact that the change we move towards might turn out to be better, worse, or more of the same. Most of the time we really have little information on what the outcome of change will be.

All of this makes staying in the same place a whole lot easier than changing - until that place becomes more uncomfortable than the process of change. The uncomfortability of our current situation is certainly motivating more folks to be ready to step out of their ruts and prepare for change. As that happens, I think we can expect alot of uncertainty in the air and alot of grief over the goodbyes that will need to be said.





CHANGE

If you knew that you would die today
If you saw the face of God and Love
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you knew that love can break your heart
When you're down so low you cannot fall
Would you change?
Would you change?

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change
Makes you change

If you knew that you would be alone
Knowing right being wrong
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings a pain that can't be soothed
Would you change?
Would you change?

Are you so upright you can't be bent
if it comes to blows
Are you so sure you won't be crawling
If not for the good why risk falling
Why risk falling

If everything you think you know
Makes your life unbearable
Would you change?
Would you change?
If you'd broken every rule and vow
And hard times come to bring you down
Would you change?
Would you change?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What does it mean to be "an American?"

I think its wonderful news from Beijing about Henry Cejudo winning the gold medal in freestyle wrestling. In case you haven't heard his story, his mother raised he and his six siblings in the US after coming here from Mexico as an undocumented migrant at the age of 14.



By Henry Cejudo's count, they moved at least 50 times. Sometimes they moved across state lines: California, New Mexico, Arizona. Sometimes they moved downstairs in the same apartment building.

Sometimes Henry's mom and his six siblings didn't even bother unpacking their bags.

Yet no matter where they were at the moment, no matter how many places they lived, Nelly Rico's message didn't change.

"My mom would always say, 'Whatever you want to do, you can do. You want to be an astronaut? You can be an astronaut. You want to be a doctor? You can be a doctor.'"

With tears streaming down his face following his victory Tuesday over Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga in the 121-pound freestyle wrestling final, Cejudo, Olympic gold medalist and U.S. citizen, said softly, "This is what I always wanted."

The 21-year-old son of illegal immigrants from Mexico pinched himself as he stood on the podium and the U.S. flag was raised during the national anthem. He had dreamed about this so many nights, he wanted to make sure the moment was real.

"I am living the American dream right now," Cejudo said.


But to the nativists in this country, Henry is what they call an anchor baby and their goal is to change the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1858) to the Constitution so that he would not be a US citizen. I don't know about you, but I'd say these folks are wrong and that Henry and his mother Nelly represent everything we want folks in this country to stand for. His words echo those of almost every generation of immigrants to this country - no matter their place of origin.

But its about more than that. I took a look over at freeperville to see what they are saying about all this. One comment stood out to me:

So, um, when the last WASP leaves L.A. - sometime in 2010, at the rate we're going - and Joe Arpaio is frog marched out of Phoenix in 2020 by Mestizo warriors - will you call the remaining people "Americans"? Simply because they managed to occupy the land?

If so, then is invasion just another civil right?


The ignorance in a statement like that is breathtaking, given that it was the United States that invaded and took land from Henry and Nelly's ancestors back in the 1840's during the Mexican-American War in our obsession with Manifest Destiny.

As the debate about immigration continues to brew in this country, I think its important for us to remember history and to think about how these lines on our maps were drawn. Lets at least be informed about who were the "invaders" and "occupiers."

Of course, its also important to remember people like Henry and Nelly.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Enough

In these days when the news is filled with young athletes competing to be the best and fulfill their dreams, my mind is grappling with what feels like a paradox. You see, I was raised with the ultimate kind of commitment to what we often call the "protestant work ethic." My grandfather, who was an inventor and entrepreneur, lived by the following motto:

If you take on the possible and accomplish it, no big deal.

But if you take on the impossible and accomplish it...then you've really done something.


So since birth, I was nurtured on this.



There IS something glorious about that kind of quest. And its probably why many of us blog and engage in political activism...we see a better world and no matter the challenge, we're committed to doing whatever is necessary to reach for that impossible dream.

But there can be a problem with always living for impossible dreams.



I don't know about you, but part of me sometimes feels like saying...enough. I think this is a concept that especially we here in the US find hard to grasp. What does it mean to...have enough...do enough...be enough?

Here are a few definitions of the word from Dictionary.com.

adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose

in a quantity or degree that answers a purpose or satisfies a need or desire

as much as necessary


Interesting words there...sufficient, adequate, satisfied, enough. These are concepts that don't seem to be high on our priority lists most of the time, at least not in the world I live in. But sometimes I feel like I need to spend more time there. Is it ever ok to just embrace...I have...I've done... I am...enough?

In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist contrasts the ideas of scarcity and sufficiency. Here's what she says about the later.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, and a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.


For me, its when that lack of awareness of my "wholeness" creates dissatisfaction and I get caught up in a desperate longing to be complete that I feel driven to want more...do more...be more, not recognizing that I already am...enough.

I think Mary Oliver learned what all this means from roses.

Roses, Late Summer

If I had another life
I would want to spend it all on some
unstinting happiness.

I would be a fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn't mind being a rose
in a field full of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.
Or any other foolish question.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Blog Voices

I thought I'd revive my tour around the diversosphere this week because I've run across some pretty interesting stuff lately. Lets jump right in and I'll tell you what I've found.

The first one is more about a process than a particular story. A few months ago, I wrote about the coming together of bloggers to form The Sanctuary. Other than being a one-stop-shop on the issue of immigration reform, these bloggers have organized in some pretty effective ways.

Recently they put together a questionnaire that was sent to all the candidates running for President. Obama responded and McCain did not. They have not yet released Obama's answers, but this kind of organizing has gotten a good bit of media attention. For example, Kety Esquivel, one of The Sanctuary founders, has been on CNN twice to discuss their efforts. Here's video of her second appearance.



This is a wonderful example of what bloggers can do when they are focused and organized!!! Check out kyledeb's recent essay for a summary of what they've been able to accomplish in a few short months and keep an eye on The Sanctuary to watch how it all unfolds.

Recently I've found an interesting site called The Root. There are lots of great writers there, but two articles stood out to me. The first is by Saaret E. Yoseph and is titled Gen Y and the Colorblind Lie.

Knowing every line of a Lil' Wayne song does not mean you know the black experience. The black experience cannot be defined one-dimensionally, especially not in the lyrics of a single track. Neither can the Latino experience, or the Asian experience or the white experience. Yet, somehow my peers and I feel more comfortable skimming the surface rather than sitting down for an honest discussion about race.

Our predecessors are no less at fault for the confusion. Depicting Gen Y as colorblind is essentially placing all the proverbial eggs in our basket. Not fair and definitely not plausible. Our youthful perspective may be wide-eyed and techno-colored, but it has also been affected by the perspectives of past generations.

...

Yes, white kids listen to hip-hop and black boys rock Polo shirts, but race has not yet reached the point of being a non-issue. The elephant is still very much in the room...So, please—Gen X, Baby Boomers, all you generations before, after and in-between—stop dubbing us as the colorblind generation. We see race. We may reference it more without truly understanding it. We may color outside the lines. But we do see. Our eyes are open, and our vision is clear. It's we who are blurry.


The second is by David Swerdlick and is titled The Audacity of Taupe. This one's a bit of a tongue-in-cheek statement about what it means to have a man whose father is black and mother is white on the cusp of becoming President of the United States.

The other day I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-through window, ordered an iced coffee, and naturally I asked the barista to add half-and-half. When she asked how much I wanted, I couldn't resist telling her to "make it 'Obama,'" and I'm happy to report that she got it just right. With any luck, a craze for venti, half-caff, low-fat Obama coffees will sweep the nation. This could be the breakthrough we've been waiting for. It's a nice, safe way for everybody, regardless of race, creed, color or roast to show their solidarity with Generation M.

You and I might not be around long enough to see it, but we're slowly getting closer to the day when we'll all be the same rich, creamy shade. And we don't know yet if Obama will win, but either way 2009 is destined be our year—the year of the M-word.


As most folks are focused on the 2008 Olympics in China, Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican takes us on a trip down memory lane to the slaughter of student protesters just prior to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico and draws some parallels for us.

Anywhere the people gather to express their voice, their government — be it communist, democratic or otherwise — will be infiltrating and disturbing the cohesion and strength of that voice, ultimately using violence with no hesitancy or remorse. The unsettling juxtaposition of profit, spotlight, and ignored oppressions will always cause this confluence of energy and tumult. This is our modern-day Olympic Games Carnival settling down uneasily into a world where war and class divides are hurting so many.


The Field Negro tells a tale about The Reality of Hopelessness. Seems he's a lawyer and occasionally has conversations like this one with a young man who knows what its like to grow up hungry.

"Well you not hungry anymore right?" "Naw, Mr. Lawyer man, I can eat now. And I got a young jawn (That's Philly speak for any pronoun you want it to be. In this case he was talking about his child) I gotta feed too. I ain't trying to go to child support court." I knew what the answer was going to be but I asked the question anyway: "Do you have a job?" "Naw Mr. Lawyer, not no nine to five jawn, but I do alright." At this point he was laughing with me , but I didn't feel like laughing back. "You know you are probably going to be calling me one day right." "Naw lawyer man, not unless you do federal work." I couldn't resist. "Oh that's the kind of weight you moving around here?" "Naw not yet, but soon. I mean you cool and all lawyer man, but when I go down it will be for some big chumpy (another one of those Philly words) type shit. I will need a lawyer that stays up in federal court."

...

Amazing, his ambition in life was to get a lawyer who specializes in federal cases, because he plans to move enough drugs to get the federal government on his case. But he was hungry once, and he doesn't ever want to feel that way again. To him, selling drugs and living a life on the street is the only way to keep money in his pocket. Most of us know that it won't last, and he probably does too. But to him, tomorrow doesn't matter. There is no future. And that little "jawn" he just brought into the world, will have to live the vicious cycle all over again.


I'll leave you with the words of Kai at Zuky from an essay titled The White Liberal Conundrum. He wrote this almost a year ago, but I just finally got around to reading it. Kai doesn't pull any punches, so if you're ready for some "straight talk" about racism, I'd suggest you read the whole piece.

Some might be surprised to learn that when people of color talk about racism amongst ourselves, white liberals often receive a far harsher skewering than white conservatives or overt racists. Many of my POC friends would actually prefer to hang out with an Archie Bunker-type who spits flagrantly offensive opinions, rather than a colorblind liberal whose insidious paternalism, dehumanizing tokenism, and cognitive indoctrination ooze out between superficially progressive words. At least the former gives you something to work with, something above-board to engage and argue against; the latter tacitly insists on imposing and maintaining an illusion of non-racist moral purity which provides little to no room for genuine self-examination or racial dialogue.

Countless blogospheric discussions on racism amply demonstrate the manner in which many white liberals start acting victimized and angry if anyone attempts to burst their racism-free bubble, oftentimes inexplicably bringing up non-white friends, lovers, adopted children, relatives, ancestors; dismissing, belittling, or obtusely misreading substantive historically-informed analysis of white supremacism as either "divisive rhetoric" or "flaming"; downplaying racism as an interpersonal social stigma and bad PR, rather than an overarching system of power under which we all live and which has socialized us all; and threatening to walk away from discussion if persons of color do not comform to a narrow white-centered comfort zone. Such people aren't necessarily racists in the hate-crime sense of the word, but they are usually acting out social dynamics created by racism and replicating the racist social relationships they were conditioned since birth to replicate.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Blade

Like everyone else, I was stunned by the events of 9/11/2001. But pretty quickly I felt very alone in my reactions (that was pre-blog days) as I continued to feel stunned and sad. It seemed like it was only days before the rest of the country moved on to anger and the need for revenge. I couldn't go there. Perhaps alot of that was because I didn't understand what had just happened. And I felt the need to understand.

So I did what I usually do to try and understand things that are outside of my previous experience...I read. Specifically, I read what I knew would give me the "behind the scenes story" about times and places that are different from my own...women's stories.



Here's a few of the books I read:

Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom by John Follain and Rita Cristofari
Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
The Sewing Circles of Herat by Christina Lamb
Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan by Norma Khouri
In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story by Ghada Karmi
Behind the Burqa: Our Life in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom by Sulima and Hala

Yes, it was horrifying. But I felt that the least I could do was "bear witness" and hear the stories of these courageous women, some of whom had put their lives on the line simply by telling them. I began to think that the men who had been taught that half the population could be treated as sub-human would be more than capable of extending that kind of thinking to other human beings on the planet. So yes, it did help me understand people like Osama Bin Laden.

I wanted to share that insight with friends of mine, so I began talking to the women in my book group about what I was reading and asking them to join me. They humored me by reading one of the books. But in our discussion, as I was trying to impress on them the horror of what it means to be a woman in many of these countries, they dismissed me. They said "Things are bad here in the US too." At the time, I was outraged...I saw NOTHING like what I was reading about in our country.

And then this happened...



At the time, I was hanging out at Booman Tribune, where alot of women had gone from dkos after the pie fights. That statement by South Dakota State Senator Bill Napoli unleashed a firestorm of diaries (just one example) like nothing I'd ever seen before. Woman after woman I'd grown to know on the blog wrote her story of rape or sexual assault. I think it overwhelmed everyone who was participating there - both in the impact of these events on women's lives and the sheer volume of it all.

All of the sudden, I began to take a closer look at the world I lived in...the one where:

1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (1 in 4 if you're a college student),
5.3 million women are abused each year,
three women are killed every day by an intimate partner,
domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and
50,000 reports of child abuse are made each week.

Here's Riane Eisler, author of the book Chalice and the Blade from an article titled Spare the Rod.

When children experience violence, or observe violence against their mothers, they learn it's acceptable- even moral-to use force to impose one's will on others. Indeed, the only way they can make sense of violence coming from those who are supposed to love them is that it must be moral.

Terrorism and chronic warfare are responses to life in societies in which the only perceived choices are dominating or being dominated. These violent responses are characteristic of cultures where this view of relations is learned early on through traditions of coercion, abuse, and violence in parentchild and gender relations.


So for now, I will not engage in any kind of crazy comparison about which culture is worse for women. But I am certain that as long as this kind of thing continues, the power of the blade will rule.