Conflict(ed) Within

During my college application process, I toyed with the idea of applying to West Point.  Then, when I was in college, I took a Military Science class, and thought about making the commitment to sign a contract for Army Reserved Officer Training Corp (R.O.T.C.).  Years later, I eventually recognized that I was in search of control, discipline, family, organization, and clear purpose (read: aspects of normalcy mixed with feelings of rebelliousness).  I’ve since recognized how some of my attraction to my idealized military experience was about desires I could not yet name, but that’s a different blog post.  What actually kept me from signing a contract was that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was in practice.  I knew I could never stay closeted (I was an out lesbian in college) and I kind of bristled under certain commands – both clues it was unlikely I would successfully finish a term of service.  I share these memories to share my thinking about how, as a trans person, I am conflicted about the “policy dictate” via the very (un)presidential platform of Twitter to ban transgender people from serving in the military.  Let me explain a bit about my conflicted feelings…

To be sure, the tweet was a publicly malicious statement that denies the value and existence of transgender people who serve(d) in the military.  Once again, the message is clear that we do not belong, our lives are a distraction and disruption to “normal” people, and our transness makes us less than.  I cannot understand how personal choices about bio-medical transition options are a budget consideration and open for national debate; costs that are, based on actual empirical data, nominal.  I cannot understand how the goal of patriotic duty is not enough to overcome exclusion.

And here is where I get conflicted because I cannot even imagine the challenges that exist for openly (or stealth) transgender service people.  I cannot figure out how transness fits within a military paradigm of gender.  For some I think military service is about patriotism, but for others, I think military service is a form of economic necessity.

I am unconvinced about the positive role of the military in U.S. culture.  I admit that I am not as well-versed on the topics of militarism, nationalism, and imperialism.  Inclusion is an imperfect concept, and I struggle to determine whether inclusion of queer and trans people in the military is the kind of inclusion that demonstrates the liberatory future that could exist (see Barbara Love).  There is a homonormativity (see Kacere) about the argument for trans inclusion in the military; just another way to say we as trans people are “American” just like everyone else.  Violence is a reality for too many trans people, especially trans women of color (see Editors of Everyday Feminism), and let’s be clear: violence is a part of military tactics.  This is a complicated contradiction to manage, and certainly muddles my thinking.  There are people who write with far more nuance and sharp analysis of why the ban on transgender military personnel is problematic (see Dean Spade and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore), and I will not rehash their thinking here.

Instead what I offer is this: inclusion and exclusion are not a binary concept.  There are consequences to people for exclusion that interpersonally are difficult to reconcile.  Maybe because when I imagine liberation, I cannot figure out how we create a world where the military is unnecessary (this is my shortcoming).  So, if I can’t imagine a future without a military, then isn’t trans inclusion in the military necessary?  At the same time, I struggle to feel safe, comfortable, or empowered in the presence of those in uniform.  Might I feel less discomfort if I knew those in uniform were trans?  Honestly, I’m not sure that poses much influence on my feelings because the military is more complex than the individual in uniform; the armed forces are an institution built with rules, boundaries, and regulations that is only mildly influenced by individuals.

Was I surprised by the tweet?  No.  Maybe the most instructive thing relevant for me is to share is what I did feel.  The most acute feeling for me after the news of the tweet was resignation.  I felt resignation because the “travel ban” foreshadowed the isolationist, nationalist, and xenophobic policy decisions of the current administration.  I felt resignation because I expect these kind of institutional and cultural policies, as well as political decisions about the uneasy and contentious existence of transness.  I felt resignation because I knew this tweet energized the more normative queer and trans political organizations.  Military exclusion is the new thing to fire up the base in this “post-marriage” era (not all of us were interested in marriage to begin with, just like not all of us are interested in access to military service).  Is another non-discrimination policy going to really address this issue of institutional and systemic expectations that support trans exclusion?  (See Dean Spade for the limits of the law and Critical Trans Politics).  I felt resignation because where is the data about whether trans people would serve in the military if they had other options for employment, and access to healthcare and education?  I don’t know, but I think it would be a worthwhile research endeavor.  Why are queer and trans organizations supporting access to an institution that has stalled many (all?) attempts to address sexual violence, torture, hazing, and racism?

I felt resignation knowing the counter-story to this new “policy” highlights the “success” stories of trans people in the military – trans people who did not experience violence, harassment, or marginalization for being trans in the military (or who tell the story of persistence in the face of such experiences).  I also felt resignation because I am not willing tell a trans person that military service is inconsistent with the ideology of trans politics.  So, you see, I’m a bit conflicted, and maybe a bit of my resignation is turning into anger, and I have a lot of questions that are underneath the question of this false binary of trans exclusion/inclusion in military service.

Chase Catalano is a White trans* academic who focuses on higher education.  His scholarship focuses on trans* collegians (specifically, trans* men and trans* masculine students in higher education), social justice, and masculinities.  Prior to his role as an assistant professor he worked in student affairs as the director of an LGBT Resource Center.

Key Considerations for Folks in the Climate Justice Movement

In this vlog, Dr. Heather Hackman unpacks three key considerations for folks working in the climate justice movement. 1.) The importance of developing critical race, gender and class lenses 2.) As a country and individuals, the need to make amends and take responsibility 3.) The importance of educating, marshaling resources and maintaining hope.

© Hackman Consulting Group 2016
Produced by Sonia Keiner

Resiliency In The Face of ‘Ruin’: As we rebuild Ellicott City, MD, what questions do we ask ourselves and what future do we envision?

We watch environmental disasters at home and abroad regularly. Our hearts went out to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and to the hundreds of thousands of people lost in extreme weather events in Asia. We ache for people dying in extreme heat in the Middle East and we watch in anguish as people are swept away in massive floods in the Midwest. We fret over California’s drought situation because we know the future of food is on shaky ground. We know these aren’t just regular weather events anymore. We learn new meteorological terms; derecho, micro burst, convective storm cells. Those of us who read the scientific literature know that humans are fueling the fire for environmental destruction; burning fossil fuels, deforesting, building more and more impermeable surfaces, destroying protective wet lands, supporting an extractive economy which unravels our natural defenses and resiliency in the face of weather disasters. We see record-breaking heat yearly now. We’ve known for decades that warming would produce more extreme weather.

Some of us joined the clean-up efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and studied the intersection of climate change, poor ecological and community design, destruction of wetlands, storm water management, over-development, racism and classism and believed surely a disaster of this magnitude would force our culture to take a fresh look at who we are and who we need to become. Did it?

After watching my favorite little town, Ellicott City (EC), ‘ruined’ by a flash flood Saturday, July 30, 2016, it hit too close to home.  The term 1000-year-storm used by the media can be misleading. What they should report is that in any given year, there is a 1/1000 or 0.1% probability that a weather event of such a magnitude will occur. I grew up about 15 minutes from downtown EC and always thought I would settle down there. As an aspiring photographer in high school, I (and everyone else) honed photography skills around picturesque downtown, along the train tracks and through the forests. You could have found me and my friends dancing upstairs at The Phoenix on any given Saturday night.

The devastation is heart breaking. Two lives lost, homes and businesses destroyed; climate change and over-development refugees picking up the pieces and moving forward however they can. Of course blessings can be found in the worst pain. Every-day heroes emerge, communities come together in incredible ways to support each other. Unbelievable acts of kindness and selflessness make the tough times a bit easier to swallow.

Downtown Ellicott City is no stranger to flooding. An old mill town, it is situated over the Patapsco River at the bottom of a number of hills. It receives the entire areas storm water runoff. This was not a river flood, it was a flash flood, and as the lowest point in the area it received an unprecedented amount of water; 6 inches fell in just a few hours. Ellicott City is the fastest growing area in Maryland. There has been a 34% increase in population in the last 10 years. More houses, roads, parking, etc…all exacerbating storm water run-off problems in the face of extreme weather events that are becoming the new normal.

Ellicott City won’t be the same… and it can’t and shouldn’t be the same. Things must change and I hope Howard County government officials, community groups and citizens take the time to really think, collaborate and use thoughtful design processes as they rebuild. Tragedies like this force us to dig deep and grow, so, how do we improve ourselves and our communities to withstand future inevitable disasters. How do we rebuild? Do we rebuild in the same locations? How do we build resilience in the face of climate change and adaptation? How do we envision a different way and MAKE that vision come to fruition? We will need some serious cultural, technical and socio-political shifts to create resilient communities capable of shifting the paradigm. Here is one concerned idealist’s non-exhaustive list about what it might take to build sustainable, resilient communities.

Cultural Shifts:

  • We are happy with less stuff. We simplify our lives. We find true joy in few possessions. We value quality over quantity or size.
  • We are ultra conscious about energy, how we use it and where it comes from. Same goes for our food, food waste and WATER. We don’t buy products with petroleum in them. We’ve gone natural, we buy local. We eat more organic food and less meat. We start a kitchen garden and support local farmers using sustainable methods. We compost. We realize we don’t really need that SUV. Our lawns are more bio-diverse, attracting native pollinators, and we no longer worship chemically-treated grass.
  • We become much more thoughtful about community and ecological design. We apply permaculture concepts to everything we design. And we do it in a community-centered, collaborate process; design charrettes-galore with community input. We don’t leave the big decisions up to the developers and government officials making back room deals for money and power.
  • We seriously think about (AND DO) smart growth and storm water management. Developers stop chopping down forests and developing every damn green space there is. Governments stop letting them do this and at the very least make them integrate smart solutions into their design plans.
  • We weigh the externalized costs of destroyed ecosystems, low-wage labor, oppression and exploitation in our economic analysis and tune into our moral compass.
  • Neighbors lean on each other, they don’t hide in their homes in front of the boob tube. They barter stuff, time, energy, childcare, etc…
  • Our education system is updated to reflect the challenges and opportunities of this century. Students are taught to be critical thinking problem solvers in the real world rather than rote regurgitators of information for tests.

Technical Shifts:

  • We don’t just go with the cheapest option. We explore and implement more sustainable options, renewable energies and resources that will be more affordable in the end.
  • We make all kinds of great products out of recycled materials.
  • Permaculture design and bioswales are commonplace.
  • Rain gardens and rooftop gardens are ubiquitous.
  • We collect rain water and store it. We reuse greywater.
  • Wetland restoration and conservation efforts are fully funded.
  • Communities have terrific public transit systems and are bike-able.
  • There are less cars on the road and more people drive smaller hybrid and electric cars running on renewable energy.
  • Antiquated storm water management systems that release raw sewage into our waterways every time it rains hard are updated. Raw sewage flowing in our waterways becomes a silly thing of the past.
  • Communities become Transition Towns, towns dedicated to working together to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
  • Governments support the transition!

Socio-Political Shifts:

  • We understand we cannot rebuild and become resilient with the same oppressive frameworks that got us to this exploitive place. Racism, sexism, classism, etc… break down as we enter a new paradigm where we live more in concert with nature and each other.
  • As we rebuild communities and become more resilient, we are more conscious of the realities of gentrification and disaster capitalism and make sure low-income folks and people of color are always part of the process. We become aware of the voices that are and aren’t in the room and we work to make sure a diversity of voices are heard.
  • Governments no longer spend our hard-earned money on BS wars and stuff the American pubic does not support. Corporations pay their fair share. We are a true DEMOCRACY, not an oligarchy anymore; a government by the people for the people. The people are involved, writing letters, calling legislators, protesting, showing up at court, etc….
  • Governments invest in renewables, a green workforce, and the physical and mental health of constituents. They realize big ag. is destroying the land and our health and instead subsidize smaller sustainable farms feeding their communities.
  • Governments use our taxes thoughtfully to deal with our waste products. There is money to be made! They start municipal compost programs. They commit to rebuilding the eroding topsoil and do remediation.
  • With all this real work to do, there is no place to worry about legislating peoples private parts and where they choose to pee, who they have sex with or marry, what higher power they worship or don’t worship, etc… There is no room for oppression of any variety. Everyone is needed, valued and supported for who they are.

For Starters, Don’t Call It “Your Movement”

In this vlog, Dr. Heather Hackman unpacks the difference between the “pull question” and the “push question.” Instead of asking “How do we get more people of color / native people and low-income people into our movement?”, she argues that white and middle class people need to instead do the hard internal work of identifying what it is about business-as-usual that is pushing people of color / native people and low-income people out.

Filmed and Edited by Sonia Keiner © 2016

4:20

Bananas, A Slippery Slope

Food Justice Travel Log

March, 2016

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“How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.”

So goes the Wendell Berry quote that often slaps me in the face when I travel internationally (rarely these days). I recently returned from a week on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The road from San José to the port of Limón is practically ground zero for the banana monopoly created by the United Fruit Company in the late 19th century, finally morphing into Chiquita Brands International Incorporated in 1989. The history of the cultivated banana and how it became the world’s fourth major staple after rice, wheat and milk reads like a veritable soap opera; murder, suicide, labor strikes, bribery, corruption, violent coup d’état’s and an all-out banana war between the US and the European Union in the late 1990’s, making for a seemingly unbelievable story. Sadly, the same telenovela seems to constantly replay itself in the interest of vast profits for government-bought corporations and death and destruction for the earth and its’ indigenous and exploited masses.

Travels in other banana republics including Guatemala and Panama had already opened my eyes to the grand scale environmental destruction and human rights abuses multinational companies like United Fruit have wrought (and continue to wreak) on the planet, local indigenous populations, and food economies. While living with a Guatemalan family and studying Spanish in the small town of Flores, I was shocked to be drinking Nescafé instant coffee (along with the babies) in a country with some of the best coffee in the world; alas it is unaffordable for the local population. In Puerto Rico a few years back I was eager for fresh fruit and vegetables after too much easily accessible fried foods. An innkeeper handed me an avocado imported from the Dominican Republic. More than 85% of what Puerto Ricans eat is imported, although they are currently working on their minimal agricultural sector to increase healthy food production. Puerto Ricans have staggering rates of diabetes at 1 in 10 of the population.

The road from San José to Limón (a four hour drive) is literally lined with banana plantations and shipping containers. Each bunch of bananas on each tree is covered in a blue plastic bag. My local hostess/friend, Molly, said these bags are full of chemicals to protect them from disease and pests. Once you get to the port of Limón, ships loaded with refrigerated bananas are constantly departing to their various destinations around the world. I contemplated this one morning as I sipped local coffee and ate a local banana (a rare occurrence as I live in temperate Maryland) purchased from an organic farmer at the farmer’s market in Puerto Viejo. This banana was small, bruised and insanely sweet and delicious (I have to admit bananas are not at the top of my list when it comes to fruit choice.) Similarly I despised carrots for much of my life until a farming friend presented one to me fresh from the earth; again, sweet deliciousness, like no carrot I’d ever eaten before.

The morning before this contemplation over a sweet and beat up banana, I had snorkeled out to the coral reef with this warning from Molly, “our reef is in recovery from the destruction from the banana plantations, so don’t think it sucks.” Indeed, it was some of the saddest looking reef I’ve ever seen; I didn’t see even one fish. Deforestation and chemical runoff from the plantations have caused great damage, but the country is putting restrictions in place to help restoration efforts. Fortunately Costa Rica does not seem to be experiencing murders of its’ environmental activists, like other countries in Central America, Brazil, Africa and beyond; most recently the murder in Honduras of award-winning indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who had been organizing against a hydroelectric dam construction supported by multinational corporations as well as the Honduran and US governments. “By no means is the problem getting better,” said Billy Kyte, senior campaigner at Global Witness, an organization that has been tracking deaths of activists, whom the nonprofit calls environmental defenders. He noted the issue seems to be a growing problem, particularly in America as indigenous lands are encroached upon. “The increase in demand of natural resources is fueling ever more violence.”

By contrast, since demilitarizing in 1948, Costa Rica has become one of the more “safe” and “stable” countries in Central America, attracting loads of US investment and ex-pats. I put the words “safe” and “stable” in quotes because I feel many privileged US-ers have skewed notions of comfort and safety and thus choose to visit the Global South from the perceived safety of a cruise or a resort rather than interact with local populations. I had always heard that Costa Rica was on the cutting edge of sustainability and from my travels in other less Americanized, less expensive Central American countries, I know there is a fine line between sustainability and poverty. Many folks are forced to be sustainable because they lack resources and fossil fuel based energy sources to be anything but. Close to a quarter of the population lives in poverty, almost double the poverty rate of the US. Costa Rica fairs well internationally in sustainability measures and plans to become the 1st carbon neutral nation by 2021.  It is the Global North that extracts Earth’s resources and exploits the Global South’s land and labor so that no market or desire is left unrealized. The low-income people of color of the Global South are the innocent bystanders of globalization and neo-liberal policies like NAFTA and US-backed “aid” who will continue to be disproportionately affected by climate change, food shortages, fluctuations in cost of food and energy commodities, and destruction of both the environment and indigenous sovereignty. Indeed there are many agricultural demonstration projects, education centers and non-profits doing their thing, but there is much more governments can do, not to mention entities like the World Trade Organization, to protect local land and people.

I witnessed a small slice of some great work being done in Costa Rica at Centro Ashé in Manzanillo on the south Caribbean. Director, Molly Meehan Brown, works with the local population to promote their work around ethnobotony, medicinal herbal education and application, healthy cooking, and eco-tourism that puts tourist dollars directly into the pockets of local and indigenous people. With centers in both Southern Maryland and Costa Rica, Centro Ashé is rooted in community and dedicated to keeping classes affordable & accessible in order to keep the knowledge of food, herbal medicine, seeds, and healing traditions alive and vital. Centro Ashé programs act as catalysts to build community, land-based and traditional knowledge. They celebrate the richness and diversity of folk herbalism across cultures while providing supportive and practical knowledge. Their teachers are all local herbalists, farmers, and plant people. I had the opportunity to sit in on a plant talk with a local Afro-Caribbean medicine woman and visiting Plant and Healers International, who connect people, plants and healers around the world (I’m excited to start their online botany class, a donation-based course within my price range in a time when so many courses I’d like to take are simply out of my price range.) It was cool to watch the group bouncing ideas off each other, learning different names for the same plants, critically analyzing western ideas about the safety of plant use, identifying an unfamiliar edible fruit tree in the middle of town (Screw Pine!) and building international and local place-based resilience. We have the skills, resources and creativity to make our shared lives truly amazing, diverse (both bio and beautifully human), just, healthy and delicious.

Upon our return we went to retrieve my car at the house it was parked at. On the kitchen counter was a bunch of bananas with a Chiquita sticker that read, “Costa Rica.” My partner and I looked dubiously at each other. As consumers we can choose to support equal exchange organic farmers, when it is available. We make sacrifices in our fixed income life so that we can feel good about what we put into our bodies. We don’t always get it right (near impossible to do so), but it feels right to try, for our health, the planet’s health, workers’ health, and because we know our choices aren’t just personal choices; they affect others. And what incredible collective power we DO have to shape the way the world is used by making the choices and changes we need to create a more just and environmentally friendly food system with a heavy local flavor! A delicious revolution indeed.

For more check out this article by Phyllis Robinson about the true cost of bananas.

 

The Public Face of the White Corporatocracy

While much has been made of Donald Trump’s bombastic style, his highly offensive commentary toward just about every identifiable group (strangely, sometimes even his own), and his irreverence for any type of “protocol” other than the one he happens to be proffering that day, I have been considering a slightly different aspect of his rise (and recent wins in state primaries). Since our nation’s inception, the corporate elites have been the shadow figures with respect to U.S. government, funding candidates and influencing policy via their economic power (e.g the Koch brothers today). Now however, via Trump’s candidacy, the White corporatocracy has brazenly stepped into the limelight. I was struck most by a sound bite of his I heard from South Carolina the day after he won New Hampshire where he was openly talking about his personal love of money and his unabashed greed, and that that is what has made him a success (hello Gordon Gecko). Apparently he has had his Scrooge awakening and now wants to turn all this into a means of serving this country – “I’m greedy. I love money. Now I want to be greedy for America.” Rather than be appalled, the folks at his rally stood and cheered.

Astonishing. Not because it’s the first time this has ever been said, (the White, imperial corporatocracy has been doing this all along) but rather for its public face. I wonder if this means that the corporatocracy has so much control as a result of Citizens United that they no longer think they need to pretend they are not running this country? Or, has the fact that they were bailed out with no repercussions after the 2008 crash while so many millions of Americans suffered made them feel invincible? Not sure, but something has changed such that the leaders and denizens of the White corporatocracy feel that they can unreservedly come out into the light. At one point several weeks ago Bloomberg said he would rush in and “save” us from the threat of Trump if it seemed he was winning. Again, astonishing – one corporate conglomerate is seemingly going to save us from another. Yes, a clash of the corporate titans has left the shadows and emerged as the WWF of politics right out in the open.

But my focus in this piece is not about Trump or Bloomberg. They have taken up too much ink, air and space already. I am more interested in and concerned about what Trump’s rise says about us. It’s less about the titans and far more about what this political moment reveals about the racial and economic underbelly of this country. More specifically, I’ve noticed four things.

“I’m rich…really rich”

When I was in my teens the television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” was a hit because it let the rest of us peek into the lives of the very rich and fantasize about being them some day. The presentation of the show was not merely a “reporting out” but was always tinted with the theme of aspiration. In Robin Leach’s droll British accent I heard high praise after high praise for the various class markers that indicated not only affluence, but also one’s importance to our society. Horatio Alger was indeed alive and well in the mythic notion that we all can rise to this elite status if we are smart, work hard, and dream big. And I think Trump holds this strange promise to many poor and working class Whites around this country. They have been screwed, no doubt about it, but not by “the government” and its taxes and legislative spending. They have been dismissed and their value as workers in this country has been deeply diminished, but not by those on Pennsylvania Avenue. No, the unions that have for so long protected poor and working class people, the social benefits that have served as nets to catch the most economically vulnerable, and the very jobs that so many poor and working class folks have worked over the years have been decimated and destroyed by the 1%, either directly or by their political proxies. Either way, it was the prompting of the 1% that led to the tax changes in the Reagan era and the decimation of welfare in the Clinton era. And yet, the myth of meritocracy and the belief in one’s “bootstraps”, ideas deeply steeped in the lies of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism and then wrapped up in the conflation of democracy and capitalism, seem to obfuscate the reality that the 1% has never, ever in the history of this society been a friend of the working class. Poor and working class Whites seem to be voting for Trump because they think he has pulled himself up by his bootstraps, forgetting of course that he started in a place they will likely never, ever reach in their lifetime, and then stepped on countless others as he climbed. I’m not singling him out as some sort of pariah, that’s simply how this current economic system works for folks like him.

And so the promise of wealth, of one’s rise, of some measure of comfort and safety brought about by hard work in an economic system that is completely and utterly rigged still holds sway for these poor and working class Whites, and in the process the fiction of the “American Dream” as being open to everyone persists, despite the fact that it is still really just open to White, middle-class men. Thus, the public face of the corporatocracy and of Trump’s success as a Republican candidate tells us that 8 years after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the economic and racial myths of this country are greater than its reality. The desperation wrapped up in this is powerful and painful to watch, as is the inevitable devastation that will come to those White, working class folks when Trump destroys their access to health care, sells off their pubic lands for private development, lets the corporate sector take over even more of their “public” schools, continues the decimation of their unions, and further solidifies the barriers between the elites and the lives of these everyday folks.

“Make America Great Again”

Can you hear the strains of nostalgia as we start to harken back to the “good old days”? I can. In no uncertain terms this campaign slogan is about some very disconcerting racial dynamics and spells deep trouble for People of Color, Native peoples and White people working for racial justice. First, that language when coming from White folks with conservative leanings has always meant a reestablishment of the racial hierarchy in this country. Since Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, we have seen the public vitriol toward People of Color and Native peoples increase exponentially. Far from being some sort of post-racial utopia, President Obama’s two terms have signaled a deep and palpable panic on the part of the White establishment regarding their “rightful” place in the world. This is demonstrated most sharply by the KKK controversy with respect to Trump. His desire to return to times of “America’s greatness” is contingent upon the second class citizenry of People of Color and Native peoples such that White folks can have easier access to resources, opportunities, and economic, social and political safety. A perfect puppet of Reagan’s promises of a shining city on the hill (just before he waged “war on drugs” aka war on Black and Brown men), but with the gloves off.

Second, this language has also always signaled an increase in the use of violence to enforce that racialized social order. As such, I think we can expect under Mr. Trump greater support for policing tactics that have inflamed racial tensions across the country, a greater acceptance of torture tactics for those deemed enemies of the state, and a rolling back of any institutional policies that seek to rectify this nation’s four centuries of racial oppression. The dismantling of Section IV of the Voting Rights Act will be nothing in comparison to what Mr. Trump, and more likely his appointees, will proffer in hopes of creating an America that looks decidedly Whiter in all the halls of power. Thus, we can see that the very notion of making this nation great again is contingent on the maintenance of the deeply racist and profoundly exploitative racialized policies of this nation’s history. As Trump calls upon his followers to remember what this nation used to be like, we who believe in racial justice must call out the deeply rooted racial oppression that those historic and current realities are based on. Far from making this nation great, our long-standing racist history has been a blight and ultimately will serve as one of the sources of the end of this great society, not its salvation.

“I want to be greedy for America”

In conjunction with the heightened centering of a White dominant hierarchy, Trump’s desire to be greedy for America also signals a period of U.S. imperialism and unilateral militarism abroad. Trump’s initial inflammatory comments about Mexicans coming into the U.S. were a harbinger of his overall ideology of U.S. entitlement. He is one step beyond the Bush doctrine (if there’s a 1% threat) and feels that there doesn’t even need to be a physical threat to take action against another nation, there simply needs to be an economic or political opportunity for the U.S., and that is sufficient grounds for a hostile takeover. Thus those who favor militaristic approaches over diplomacy of any kind will favor his bomb first and ask questions later approach. In the 2008 election John McCain made a problematic “joke” where he conflated the song “Barbara Ann” with the bombing of Iran. It was largely panned in the media but also created a bit of a distance with Republican voters. Now, 8 years later, throngs of White folks do not seem to mind Trump’s assertion of empire via military and economic imperialism. Again, as above, when fear drives a young nation such as ours, a nation with a lot of firepower, it can be a very dangerous equation for the rest of the world. Those who thought George W. Bush’s notions of U.S. unilateralism were extreme have not seen anything until Trump gets elected and ushers in an era of uber-neo-colonial foreign policy rooted in racist reactivity to what he deems (as do his followers) as a “weak” Obama and a tepid U.S. foreign policy. In particular, economically, politically and militarily vulnerable nations (often nations that have high numbers of poor folks or People of Color who have been run roughshod over due to Western colonialism) will be no obstacle to Trump if his administration deems them desirable to the United States’ interests. Again, this is not new in terms of U.S. foreign policy, what is new is the brazen way in which it is publicly stated and in which the White corporatocracy feels immune to its contestation. In a moment where the planet needs to come closer together to address global climate change, massive refugee issues, deep and heavily interconnected economic issues, and the threat of violence in a range of manifestations, it is striking that the Teddy-Roosevelt-on-steroids notion of “carry a big stick” appeals to the followers of Trump. In exactly the moment when we need to act like one among many, Trump’s message says “isolate and dominate.”

I’m a fighter

While I do not know if Trump has uttered these exact words, he certainly packages himself as a fighter for those who have been mistreated by our government, by other nations, by “terrorists”, and by “special interests” who are bringing America down. I was talking to my colleague, Marie, about this the other night and she noted how powerful that “fight” response is in terms of Trump’s words and actions and how it seems to resonate so deeply with folks who see themselves as having reason to fight. Through the combined lenses of racial justice and somatic experiencing, the response of the collective nervous system of Whiteness in this society could actually be an indicator that things are truly changing for us, albeit on some slow, tectonic level. After all, a fight response is not usually brought forth unless there is some powerful threat. In Marie’s words, brown folks are increasingly “here” and demanding change, change which threatens four centuries of White hegemony and power. It is possible, therefore, to see Trump’s rise as an indicator that the White power structure is not only being threatened as stated above, but that it perceives its entire life as coming to an end, perhaps because it is? Maybe the rise of Trump is the beginning of the end of the legacy of Whiteness? It seems less likely that it also signals the end of the corporatocracy, but it might mean that now that it is out in the light a bit more, it is more vulnerable. Before we celebrate, however, remember that when White people (and especially White rich people) get deeply scared good things rarely happen, which is perhaps one way to understand the blatant racism and violence that Trump’s followers often attach to his campaign, his message, and what they imagine his presidency to be. Nevertheless, if I understand the possible indicators of Trump’s rise and appeal, it can serve as a motivation to dig even deeper into the fight for racial and economic justice because we are, in fact, winning this long struggle.

Conclusion

Sadly, while I hear and see plenty of coverage of Donald Trump, I do not hear much in the way of conversation about the mirror Trump is holding up for us as a nation. Liberals (and progressives?) mock him on SNL, Colbert and Conan and yet at the same time we keep grabbing the popcorn and pulling up a chair to watch him and those who follow him. In true White liberal fashion we disparage those at his rallies and suggest that they are not as intelligent, or we simply dismiss them because they are “angry White people” (as if somehow dismissal has ever disarmed and disabused White people of their destructive capacity and power). But, what we are not doing is noticing that the Trump phenomenon is saying something critically important about us as a nation. One could say it is our last gasp as a young, immature, and power-hungry nation who is used to getting its way; or, that it is the final stand of the historic and current regime of conflated class, race and gender dynamics. This is an optimistic view, and one I would sign up for, if I saw that there were numbers, voices and wisdom back of them. Instead, what I see more of is the kind of twin reaction of disbelief that he made it this far and elitist cynicism that Trump will never make it to the presidency and so why worry. This, to me, seems like a substantial misunderstanding of what the private face of the White corporatocracy coming into the public eye actually means. For our sake, and for this nation’s sake, I hope that those of us who care about social justice take a much deeper look, enact a stronger stand, and launch a more vocal and relentless response to Trump and more importantly to his followers lest we find ourselves turning back the clock and wondering how we got here.

“That’s the Flight Attendant!”

So, I was flying home this past week and noticed that the flight attendant working my section of the plane looked familiar. I had been moved to a seat at the front of the plane and so she had just a dozen of us to tend to which meant I saw a lot of her. I also heard a lot from her once she got to talking with a White man in his late 50’s (a doctor) seated in the row in front of me. As they chatted I heard her first make a critical comment about the Affordable Care Act (“I would never be a doctor today given what Obamacare has done to our health system”), and then I heard her say that she is very involved in politics and would like Ted Cruz to win but if Trump gets the nomination she’ll vote for him because of his immigration stance.

Mind you, I was sitting there working on an upcoming race, racism and whiteness training and so this did not jive well with the mind-space I was in. Immediately I started judging her and her politics and could feel the gravitational pull of my own politics want to say something. I did not speak up, but if I’m honest I did shoot a half-hearted glare in her direction as she continued her very loud political commentary. I also heard her say that she has been working at the airline for 36 years and has so much seniority that she flies internationally for only a handful of months out of the year and then takes long periods of time “off”. This exacerbated my frustration (and judgement) because the reason she can do that is completely based on the fact that she is in a union. If there were no union supporting her, the airline would have fired her long ago in favor of newer workers with less seniority whom they could pay less. And yet, given her politics, I imagine she hates her union for its “lefty, liberal-ness”.

Her politics are not the reason for this reflection. Those ideas are a dime a dozen these days. What I want to focus on is my reaction. The more she talked, the more disturbed I became inside. After about 10 minutes I finally noticed the tumult of my internal landscape and paused to take some slow, deep breaths while I said something to the effect of “the love in me sees the love in you”, a phrase I heard a colleague say a few days prior, so it was in my head. I wanted to feel compassion for her. I wanted to be okay with her, despite how starkly divergent her views are from mine, and how dangerous I find them to be. I wanted to be able to meet her energetically with calmness, generosity, and a love for her as a person while still strongly disagreeing with her. I wanted all of that because it is wildly hypocritical of me to advocate for social justice but then only extend the core characteristics of it to those who agree with me. There can be no peace when kindness and care are selectively allocated, and in this case, when my self-righteous view of the world is used to determine how I afford various folks their humanity (or not). I was in a workshop two years ago (as a participant) and the topic was the importance of compassion in our social justice work, and one woman said, “I just can’t and won’t do it, and I don’t think I have to”. On one level I got where she was coming from – various forms of oppression have been dogging her throughout her entire life and so to extend compassion in moments connected to them was a heavy lift. But on another level, I felt myself wonder how we can afford to not be compassionate? The delusion, it seems, is that we actually have a choice in the matter.

Thus I wanted to ground into kindness and compassion toward her, and at one point was able to actually manifest some of it…that is, until I remembered that she was the flight attendant I got into a verbal altercation with on a flight in late September of 2014. I was flying home from the New York City climate march with my friend Karen and this flight attendant started bashing the march, loudly proclaiming to two other passengers that there is no such thing as climate change because she has read the research and it doesn’t exist (she explains the warming by the “natural solar cycle theory”…a theory that has been thoroughly debunked), and that those people in NYC are just losers, trouble makers and “idiots”. Yep, I lost it. I thought for sure that I was going to get put on the no fly list, but I didn’t care because that was an absurd thing to say. Thankfully it was a short interaction because we were arguing as the plane was starting to land. I was fuming as we disembarked but didn’t say anything else to her.

And here she was again, right in front of me, talking to the doctor for over 25 minutes or so about the Republican party, health care, how much they hate President Obama, foreign policy (those Syrians are wrecking their country), and the like. Though I was now even more triggered, the grounding in paved the way for no verbal altercations, no raising my voice, and not even the passive-aggressive shaking of my head and judgmental chuckling that I unfortunately do sometimes to show disagreement. I just returned to my mantra with a little more zeal – “the love in me sees the love in you”. I had to because I genuinely wanted to be different with this woman this time around. There is always a choice in moments like these and to be honest I choose to “react” more than I care to admit. Driven largely by my fear that we will not change in time and a heavy sadness I sometimes feel about how we treat each other, I often jump too quickly into the mix. Stepping out and strongly speaking up is not wrong of course, but when it is driven by fear, sadness and self-righteousness the result is usually the spreading of more the same. And so I wanted to meet her from a wiser and more grounded space knowing that it would not change her politics nor make her even stop talking so loudly, but it would change me, and that was what I was going for. If I cannot express love and care and a desire to hold those I so strongly disagree with in positive regard, I am not really that much different than the afraid and angry folks at those Trump rallies. Sure there are stark differences on the surface, but under it all, I’m coming from the same place.

Espousing peace and social justice needs to be a more deeply lived experience for me and this was a chance to try and meet this flight attendant with compassion, extend grace to her just as surely as doing so extends it to myself, and see what the power of love can really do in moments that feel intractable. The result was that I genuinely and with an honest curiosity began to wonder where her beliefs stemmed from and what kind of safety they gave her. I was reading some Marshall Rosenberg just before this flight and I started to wonder what needs her beliefs were meeting and if there was a way that I could join her in that space while not having to sow hate and fear. Said differently, is there a way I can help her feel deeply “okay” while simultaneously questioning her specious claims rooted in ideologies that are historically and currently connected to systems of oppression?

I’ll end this blog with that question – one that seems to resonate in all moments of addressing these issues. I’m not talking about pacifism; I’m talking about not reproducing the violence that has led us to so many painful places individually and collectively, and instead trying to find some grace and wisdom born out of our collective desire for safety and peace. Too often I hear social justice advocates reduce this conversation to either a) having a strong social justice critique and seeing compassion as “too soft”, or b) being rooted in compassion but letting go of some of the strength and clarity of a critique. I believe that the challenges of our time as they relate to social justice require a deep understanding of both – a fierce social justice lens and the capacity to never lose sight of the humanity of those we’re confronting. I don’t claim to have a handle on this, but I did want to share this moment with “that” flight attendant where I was able to catch a glimpse of it and its efficacy in this work. And as this election year ramps up I have a feeling the ever-louder levels of vitriol and attack will give me lots of chances to practice this process. Despite the tendency to try and justify it, human history has repeatedly shown that we cannot effectively fight violence with violence. That does not mean we sit back and let oppression happen. There is a third option of addressing violence and moving through moments of great conflict, and it is through the lens of kindness, compassion, fierce commitment to justice, and love. Not easy, but necessary. The delusion, again, is that we think we have a choice.

 

 

An Inside Job

This morning, as I sat down for a few minutes of contemplation and quiet, I began reading the forward of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step, written by H.H. the Dalai Lama. I didn’t get very far because the first line of the forward read, “Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way.” Only? Only. Intellectually, this was not new information. Physically and spiritually, however, I was a bit overwhelmed. Given all of the suffering and layers of personal pain each of the 7.5 billion of us might have to work through to get there, how can we possibly achieve peace if this is the “only” way. Almost immediately, I felt myself start to shut down.

Structural change is critical, of course, but from the above point of view it is a necessary triage but not the solution. Not for its lack of efficacy in creating some form of change, but for its inability to get to the heart of the problem – the internal disposition that we each take regarding issues of oppression. By disposition I mean the ideas, stereotypes, narratives, ways of being, norms, rules, expectations, mental frameworks, or whatever you want to call the constructs that oppression is built on. And, it has to change. Case in point, while I laud Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to no longer use grand juries in determining whether police should be prosecuted in cases of use of force, if I am reading the research correctly (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, The Guardian’s reporting on numbers of shooting deaths by police in 2015, etc.) there is something happening in the U.S. criminal justice system that no amount of structural change can fully address. There was something internal going on for the White people who shot Tamir Rice, who decided it was a just use of force and any “reasonable” person would have made the same decision, who decided not to prosecute based on the preceding “expert” testimonial, and who therefore decided that while it was “sad” there was truly nothing that could have been done differently. Yes, of course, there is something that could have and can be done, but it is the very thing that everyday White folks simply cannot even conceive of let alone do as a group – profoundly and completely change internally.

And by this I do not mean simply gain new information, I mean exploring a deep and fundamental change to the way White folks (and dominant group members in general) live in this world. It is one thing to have an “open” mind where I am willing to take in new information about race or gender or class, but that does not guarantee that the previously established mis-information will be uprooted and discarded. In trainings I often refer to this as akin to building a house on a Superfund site – you can have the best architects and builders for that new house, but if the soil in the foundation is contaminated with nuclear radiation and chemical toxins, they will inevitably seep into the foundation and eventually kill you. That is why superficial diversity trainings on “race” will never, ever change the nature of a police department’s long-standing approach to racial realities in this society. The centuries-old and toxic ideologies of race, racism and Whiteness will consistently seep in and literally kill unarmed Black men. The solution, therefore, is for White folks to completely displace these ideologies and the concomitant views that White people act on in every areas of our lives. This is incredibly deep work and it means that the ways of being for White U.S.-ers must transform. Importantly, this work cannot be a side project, or an “I’ll get to it later”. Rather the amount of energy, time and commitment that White folks have toward this must match the level of the problem.

As His Holiness indicated, this is no easy lift. So much of White peoples’ world view is attached to Whiteness – so much we cannot even perceive as being connected – family structures, owning property, what is considered social etiquette, the communication styles that are valued, the dress code, the ways of interacting with others regarding personal space, etc. So much of U.S. White lives are connected to Whiteness that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. And yet, if Whites in this country do not undergo this kind of deep internal change, we simply cannot escape this racial nightmare. Every structural change will be undermined by the constancy of our socialization in and loyalty to the system of Whiteness. It will seem almost atavistic in how we keep reverting back to the ways of Whiteness. Again, I’m not knocking structural changes – we must change policing with body cameras, changes in prosecutorial power, changes in the ways police are trained, the demilitarization of our police departments, and so on. All that, however, does not undo the deeper currents of racial ideology that have so thoroughly saturated the minds of even the best White police officers.

The prosecutor’s decision regarding the Tamir Rice case was duly representative of how the systems of laws in the U.S. have responded to the racism directed to People of Color and Native peoples for over four centuries. This is not new. All of the absurd “decisions” by structures of power regarding race over the last two years are not new. What might be new is the recognition on the part of some White people in this country (the more the better) that the typical White liberal approach of supporting a few new laws and having taxpayer dollars go toward a new “training series” for police officers is not and never will be enough. Instead, White people (all White people) in this country need to undergo deep and profound internal changes, we need to reorient our moral, ethical, spiritual and social compasses, we need to upend the world as we know it and ultimately change if we have any hope of Tamir Rice being the very last unarmed Black male to be publicly murdered in this modern form of lynching.

It is time for White people to surrender our allegiance to Whiteness and be willing to admit that the corrosive thread of White privilege and White supremacy lives in each and every one of us. The source of this problem is the colonized elements of US White minds, bodies and spirits. This is not the problem of POC/N although it lands on their bodies and in their communities constantly. This is me, it is my issue, and it is squarely my responsibility to address it.

If you are White, please do not slip into White guilt and shame and trundle off feeling bad about your Whiteness. Also, please do not read this with an “amen” but then not act – I do not want to be your source of intellectual absolution but effectual inaction. Nor is this the time to deepen the centrality of Whiteness through a narcissistic reframe and endless navel gazing. This is a time to simply surrender and change.

And so what does this look like? Well, if I had that answer (or if anyone did) in some trite and “easy to read and do” format, we’d be out of this mess by now. I do, however, have a few thoughts to share on it and thus over the course of this year will be writing occasional installments of a series entitled “Surrendering Whiteness”. I frame it that way because it is really just that – I must let go of this thing that I perceive to give me safety and comfort (because on the surface it does, but in the long run it will destroy all of us). The change we seek has not come about because too many White folks simultaneously want racial oppression to end AND want the comfort of their lives to stay the same. I have felt that too at points in my life, and yet that is simply not possible given that the very comforts I crave and seek to protect have arisen off the backs of POC/N and at the lived expense of POC/N communities. As such, I must surrender my hold. Surrender – to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed; to give the control or use of (something) to someone else.

In closing, I want to be very clear that I do not pretend to have answers – the hubris of that is thankfully apparent even to me and my White self. But, I am in this struggle and so will share what happens with respect to my desire to surrender this Whiteness and what gets in the way. I am an average White person and have an average education about these issues, a lifetime of socialization into my role as a White person, a long history of dutifully playing that role, and find that the ways in which I enact my Whiteness are still largely invisible to me. Parallel to that, however, I am someone whose heart wants that internal peace, whose colonized body wants justice, and who can feel in my soul that this system is killing all of us and will surely be this society’s undoing. My values and beliefs are set against this system and yet my actions do not always manifest as such. And so I am a deeply flawed, wildly imperfect White person who will simply be sharing the struggle for the kind of internal change the Dalai Lama speaks of.

 

“Unintended Lessons from Kim Davis”

I was in an airport waiting to board a flight when my eye caught a visual of Kim Davis on CNN as she was released from jail. Arms aloft, posing “victorious,” flanked by her husband, she approached the microphones to recount her heroism. Mike Huckabbee’s presence only served to underscore the absurdity of this moment – here is a woman who blatantly denied her fellow residents of Kentucky their basic civil rights because, as she stated, God has imbued her with an entitlement to do so. Instead of emerging remorseful, contrite or even just slightly less righteous, she stepped out of jail and into the limelight as a “hero” of religious liberty and a protector of the sanctity of the institution of marriage.

To be sure, Kim Davis is not merely taking a position against queer folks gaining access to state-sanctioned marriage, she is manifesting a more deeply held version of homophobia and queer oppression rooted currently and historically in a deeply entrenched pattern of gender oppression, the religious supremacy of Christian hegemony, and political and social control endemic of White supremacy. These four systems of oppression are not new to each other. They have a long history of enforcing, guarding, and asserting each other’s dominance, and thus the actions of Kim Davis are merely the latest iteration of the nexus of these enduring systems in our society. And in the current racial climate, a discussion about the intersectionality of these four systems of oppression is not only critical to racial justice, queer justice, gender justice, or religious justice work, but more importantly, it speaks to the ever-present need for solidarity and coalition building in our nation’s larger movement for social justice. Thus the good news is that an analysis of Kim Davis’ actions can not only show us what the intersection of these oppressions looks like on the ground, it can also can give us insight on what an inter-liberatory movement can look like from the ground up.

So, as I watched the coverage of her initial refusal, incarceration, subsequent release, and meeting with the Pope, I felt an all-too-familiar ache regarding a lack of intersectional analysis resulting in a missed opportunity for deep and broad organizing. Obviously queer people have an investment in organizing around Davis’ actions, but those seeking religious freedom and in particular an end to Islamaphobia at the hands of Christian hegemony also had a stake in the fight here. In a country with local municipalities passing ordinances “outlawing sharia law”, it is noteworthy that she (and many Christian evangelicals like her) see her God and her religion as a viable reason to violate the law – the same law that they want other religions to have no influence over whatsoever. This hypocrisy is not new, it is rooted in 500 years of Christian hegemony driving elements of this nation’s de jure and de facto laws. And so, it is unfortunate that those who have been on the receiving end of state-sponsored religious oppression did not step up and speak out in greater numbers here.

Similarly, those seeking racial justice missed a chance to connect her actions to the privilege and supremacy that Whiteness affords with respect to the laws and “norms” of this society, and the ways that access to structural power is determined by racial categories ruthlessly policed by the White Imperial Gaze. In case you’re not clear on this, if Kim Davis was a woman of color, how do you think the “media” (read mainstream, corporate media) would have responded? How would Mike Huckabee have responded? Still unsure of the connection? If Kim Davis had been a woman of color, and her partner a man of color, they would not have fit the “American family” image so deeply dictated by Whiteness. Kim Davis is not just fighting for the preservation of “family values”, she is fighting for the preservation of White family values because what it means to be a real “American” family is currently inextricably linked to Whiteness. Surely, if she were a woman of color it would have gotten some media attention, but what I saw on that airport television would never have been reported as it was and she would not at all have been seen as the vanguard and great protector of the core values of this nation’s families because Whiteness does not cast People of Color as truly “American”. Ask any seventh-generation Chinese American how many times they have heard, “Wow, you speak great English! How long have you been in the U.S.?” and it will become clear that “American” equals White. Organizing around Kim Davis’ actions through a racial justice lens could have afforded those of us committed to RJ an opportunity for deeper and more effective coalition building and intersectional work. Instead, it was written off as a “gay issue” and our chance disappeared.

And finally, as Planned Parenthood faces intense scrutiny and is fighting for its life in order to help women and trans* folks fight for their physical and reproductive lives, it is surprising to me that gender justice advocates all over the country were not more vocally opposed to Kim Davis’ actions. The same mindset that she employs to justify her homophobia is the same mindset that seeks to control women’s bodies and deny access to basic civil rights for trans* folks. The maintenance of a gender binary cannot be understated in the roots of homophobia. Suzanne Pharr’s classic testament to homophobia as a weapon of sexism is as true today as it was when she wrote it 30 years ago. Sadly, mainstream feminists did not seize the chance to connect these issues and thereby engage more queer folks in the gender justice movement.

And so as I watched this coverage, I looked for my colleagues fighting for religious freedom, racial justice, and gender justice to call Kim Davis out, but the only activists I saw were those working for queer rights and I grieved, once again. Mainstream social justice movements of this country are still stuck in siloed (and in the end, fractured) politics whereby we are individually weakened by dominant power structures. We are so much stronger together, but we are not constructing an analysis and a mode of intersectional conversation in our daily lives that affords the kind of deep and broad movement necessary for real change in this society. Certainly there are groups who are, in fact, doing this work. Take for example the queer and trans* POC/N folks that took over the stage at this year’s Creating Change conference. While that was a beautiful moment, it was just that – a moment. Not for lack of trying on the part of the queer and trans* folks, to be sure, but for lack of change on the part of larger LBGT organizers (and perhaps the movement as a whole) driving that conference. Just as I have not seen enough connections forged in response to Kim Davis, I also see the queer community miss countless moments regarding racial justice. No one is immune from this critique.

In a political moment where Donald Trump is leading the Republican race (and his peers respond with increasingly aggressive and often outright hateful language trying to keep up with him) I am left to wonder if we who seek social justice will come together in time to deny power to his platform (or any like it). I’m not hating on Trump but I’m deeply concerned about the tenor of his message and even more troubled it has a place to land in this country. A united front can rebuff hateful politics. A range of isolated movements, however, cannot. Perhaps Kim Davis and the missed opportunity there can serve as a bit of a reminder that we must come together, in relationship and in solidarity, if we want this society to embrace a more just future.

 

Educating AND organizing

Lately I have had the chance to do a bit more reading and research than I usually do and in the process I have been reminded of the importance of the balance between education and organizing. I say “organizing” instead of “action” because dominant group members have a penchant to learn about oppression and then want to run out and “do something”. Often they are doing it by themselves, often it is wrong-headed, and often it is coming from a place of condescension and the idea that subordinate group members “need saving.” Of course, the intention of these folks is usually good, but the execution and the thought put into it are almost always lacking in awareness and skill. Organizing, however, is a different thing altogether – organizing implies that one is not going solo. Organizing is about drawing people together, building relationships, taking the time to understand interconnections, intersections, and points of departure. Organizing is often coming from a place of love, of vision, of commitment to the whole, and from a belief that together we are stronger. At its best, organizing is lead by those the oppression is targeting while dominant group members are there side-by-side, but not running the show.

My work, however, is very education heavy, and thus this piece is directed toward educators. The 24 years that I have been working around social justice issues has overwhelmingly been in an educational way. I have also done some level of organizing, but it has paled in comparison to the amount of work I have done in various educational areas. And yet, of late I have been reminded in various ways that education without action / organizing can lead to intense cynicism, intellectualization of issues that are literally killing people daily, and a means to remove oneself from the struggle, pain and “mess” of trying to end systems of oppression. It doesn’t help that much of my work has been in higher education where the additional layer of that structure serves to exacerbate systems of oppression even as it so often claims to be dismantling them.

To address this it seems wise as educators to not only ask how students or workshop participants can use the information in their daily work to make change, but to ask how can we use it collectively to make even greater change? I was speaking to a group of high school teachers just yesterday about this very dynamic and suggested that in my view education is not meant to “better a person” or to “help a student actualize their fullest potential and achieve the greatest success.” Rather, it is about helping each and every person learn what they need to learn to best serve society as a whole.

Yep, it’s a bit utopian, but what is wrong with that? I will not be told that because the idea is too big it cannot be dreamed, particularly if the alternative is a neo-liberal, racist educational system. That structure has had its day, and as a result of its misguided approach to education we are living in a society that for the last 35 years, has seen the gaps between the have’s and have-not’s grow and grow.

And so I want education, in all its sundry forms, to forever be in the service of the greater good, helping people connect, organize, and learn to live together in ways that are not exploitative, hyper-individualistic, and caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of neo-liberal, prison / military industrial complexes that serve to only propagate systems of oppression, colonization and ultimately inhumanity.

This is not to say that organizing is the end all be all, because without education and the critical, complex frame of analysis it can provide, organizing can at times reproduce the very systems of oppression we are trying to eradicate, just in a less obvious form. This often happens across social justice issues like the fatal mistake made by the white, largely middle-class gay men who were “leaders” of the LBGT movement when they stated that “Gay is the new Black”. Horrible. Harmful. And, simply ignorant. As those men were trying to rally folks to their cause, their utter lack of critical race analysis, of historical knowledge, and of intersectional understanding had their statements work to opposite purposes and serve to push People of Color/Native organizers away.

Neither education nor organizing is more important than the other, nor are they discreet entities where you do one and then go to the other, and they are certainly not developmental where you have to start in one place and only once completed can you then go to the other. In a more animated and realistic way they are subtly, beautifully and sometimes imperceptibly symbiotic, and they can manifest in incredibly simple moments like a young person I know, when hearing of the Ferguson decision saying, “That’s totally messed up (analytical lens). We should do something (organizing lens).” That is one of the best pair of sentences an educator can ever hear. There it is, both sides of what Paulo Freire charged education to be – the practice of freedom.

And so if you are an educator or trainer, lean more in the “what should WE do about these issues?” direction as you teach and train. In a training setting this means giving more space for concrete organizing not at the end of the session, but throughout the session – let folks use each element of the training as a template for attempted organizing. Remember that the litmus test of whether they are organizing or not does not have to be some concrete action. Let steps like effective dialogue, deeper understandings of other positions, careful consideration of the range of steps to be taken and implications of each and an interrogation of social and political power be measures of organizing. Ultimately, let the rising of the notion of “we” in the training or classroom space be a sign of organizing. Certainly, if more comes of it that would be great. But be careful about the “fix it” tendency and instead use that classroom or training space to cultivate an understanding of shared responsibility and collective action. This will annoy White folks, cis-gender men, professional middle-class folks, and the like to no end, but simply see that annoyance and impatience as a sign that you are doing a good job and that the process of collective work and shared responsibility is in that very moment working to dismantle structures of oppression one dominant consciousness at a time.

Some resources for teaching and training for both education and organizing can be found at web sites such as Teaching Tolerance (www.teachingtolerance.org), Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org), New York Collective of Radical Educators (www.nycore.org), and the Zinn Education project (www.zinnedproject.org).