Friday, October 29, 2004

Quote for the Day (Lest We Forget)

As the election rapidly approaches, this quote (sent to me from a labor union colleague) from Nov. 3, 1988 is a chilling reminder of what we're up against. And it's kinda funny too...(what a liberal hate-speech monger I am!)

"And now the liberals want to stop President Reagan from selling chemical warfare agents and military equipment to Saddam Hussein, and why? Because Saddam 'allegedly' gassed a few Kurds in his own country. Mark my words. All of this talk of Saddam Hussein being a 'war criminal' or 'committing crimes against humanity' is the same old thing. LIBERAL HATE SPEECH! And speaking of poison gas . . .  I SAY WE ROUND UP ALL THE DRUG ADDICTS AND GAS THEM TOO!" --Rush Limbaugh

If Everyone Could Vote...

...and their votes were actually counted (what a concept, eh?) and fairly calculated, etc., John Kerry would almost surely be the next President of the United States. Check out this interesting web poll conducted by the Center for Third World Organizing, which trains organizers of color from all over the country. Which means that this vote is slightly skewed to the left but it's a historical fact that poor people, immigrants, people of color, incarcerated people, youth, etc. in this country have always voted more progressively than others.

Check it...and if you know folks who are denied the right to vote b/c they're not citizens, are youth, are in prison, blah blah but are still devastatingly affected by our country's policies on schools, prisons, the death penalty, immigration, welfare, etc. forward this to them so they can participate.

Peace in the East-

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Worldwide Web Ballot, Statistics as of October 28, 2004, 2:00pm

Poll Question: Presidential Choice
Bush 4%
Kerry 96%

Voting Status
Under 18 years of age
Bush 7%
Kerry 92%
Not US Citizen
Bush 1%
Kerry 98%
Denied the right vote
Bush 0%
Kerry 100%
A person who lives in another country
Bush 6%
Kerry 93%
Under 18
Bush 5%
Kerry 94%
Bush 5%
Kerry 94%
Bush 2%
Kerry 97%
Over 50
Bush 0%
Kerry 100%

Poll Question: What do you think is the most important issue that the next U.S. President should address?
War on Iraq / U.S. Aggression 43%
Attack on Immigrants 19%
Health Care 6%
Repealing corporate tax cut 3%
Jobs 8%
Education 14%
Voting rights 1%
Other 4%

Thursday, October 28, 2004

List: A Good Wednesday in Frisco

I complain about living in Frisco a lot at times--about how far away I am from everything living out in the Richmond district, how frickin' cold it is, how unfriendly the people are here, how segregated and contradictory it is, blah blah. But there are days--and I have to admit they're getting more frequent--when living in this City is pretty damn fresh. Yesterday was one of them. Here are a few things that made my Wednesday in Frisco so cool:

8:30am: Gave some change to a man sitting on the sidewalk on Powell near Market. He smiled broadly at me, asked my name, and said, "You must be 'bout 22." I giggled and replied, "Add 10 years to that." His eyes widened and he grinned even more. We exchanged "God bless you"s and I walked on.

5:15pm: Pan dulce. Met up with V. at 24th and Mission, where I saw him emerging from a panaderia with a bag full of the sweet rolls. Mmmm.

Cafe La Boheme. Chilled for a minute at my favorite cafe, where you find veteranos from the Mission's heyday, boho emigres from the suburbs and radical activists all mixed together. Then V., H. and I headed out to...

6pm: A free Saul Williams in-store performance at Amoeba Records (yay fresh indie record stores! And they sell videos too!) on Haight. Saul wasn't just spittin' lyrics solo, he had a whole band behind him, promoting his new eponymous CD. It's crackin', folks, you gotta hear it to believe this is the same hip-hop head who starred in Slam and who wrote ...Said the Shotgun to the Head, et al. The man's got a punk/rock/drum'n'bass soul in him that's refreshing to witness in this age of stale, lifeless pop music and yawn-inducing poetry.

Bought my mom a copy of 'Fahrenheit 9/11' 'cuz my sis says mom's voting for--gasp--Bush! I gotta fly over to her house later today with the DVD in hand to try to persuade her to turn away from the dark side. The thought of someone that closely related to me voting for Bush gives me the willies .

7pm: Witnessed the gorgeous, slightly spooky lunar eclipse while standing on Haight near Stanyan, hearing the street punks howling and hooting at it a few blocks away. Somehow seeing Saul and the eclipse so close together made sense.

7:30pm: Had dinner at Los Jarritos with V., H., and D. Chile verde, house-made, warm corn tortilas, and a Negra Modela to wash it all down. Of course I made sure we sat in the back room, which I like to call the Frida Kahlo room, because of all the black-and-white pictures of her and Diego gracing the walls. And a surprise piece of yummy chocolate cake from the table of gay men celebrating a birthday next to us. When the birthday boy tried to blow out his trick candles (I hate those things) and failed (of course), he looked down at the cake and said, "Damn, Bush is gonna win!" Which of course prompted me to knock on wood furiously. I can't help it, 10+ years of Catholic school'll make ya superstitious about these things.

11:30pm: After much deliberating about a late-night dance/music destination on a particularly dead Wednesday club-night, we ended up at The Cafe, of all places, someplace I haven't been to in about 8 years. Walking up to the entrance, which was flanked by two Black women butches on security detail, I had flashbacks to being 19 and trying to get in without a fake ID with my friend Leatha.

The music was okay, some KMEL-ish hip-hop oddly mixed with old school grooves like Prince, Mary J. Blige and Arrested Development. The real treat was being in a mostly-colored queer club, watchin' the girls and boys get freaky and loose on the dance floor. Everyone looked so young, but that only made me happy instead of jealous. Ah, I thought, the youngstas are representin' and keepin' this shit alive. I was impressed that they still grooved to Arrested Development, because even to me that shit sounds like Mozart.

All in all, a great day in a, um, uh, great City? I still can't bring myself to say "I heart San Francisco" but I will say that I have my good days, and my not-so-good days. Yesterday was one of the best so far.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Remembrances of Helen

The memorial service for Helen Toribio last night was beautiful and moving, a fitting tribute to this amazing woman who touched so many people's lives so deeply. I myself did not know Helen very well, not nearly so well as many of the people that attended the service last night, but she did affect me deeply, and left a lasting impression on me that has made me think a lot about how I carry myself in the world, who I choose to build with, and what community really means.

I experienced a powerful sense, last night, of the community that Helen built in her lifetime. I saw people from the movement, from my days at Cal, from Filipino community work, that I hadn't seen in many days. And while I was sad at the reason we were coming together, I knew that Helen would want us to see this as a time to build with each other, to (gasp!) network even, to hold each other in community in order to, as the Reverend said last night, "give us a glimpse of heaven" on earth.

I saw old KDPers, folks from FilCRA and FAA, saw a couple I knew back at Cal who are now married, met A.'s baby for the first time, finally met Leny in person, connected with D. and J. and M. and too many other people whose first-name initials I won't bother you with.

Having my mom there was nice too---I'm actually related to Helen by marriage through my father. Indeed, Helen's greatest contribution to my life did not manifest in any time I spent with her, but in the time she spent with my mother. I met Helen several years ago when I was interning at FilCRA, but it wasn't until years later that I found out we were related. At that point she had just moved to Alameda, less than a block away from my mom's house! Helen and my mom became fast neighbor-friends (my mom is known in her neighborhood as the unofficial Mayor because she knows so many people), and my mom used to cut Helen's hair. After my mom and Helen started to hang out more, I noticed subtle changes in my mom's attitudes about my political and organizing work. She had always been a bit skeptical of it, sometimes downright hostile. My mom thought I was too smart and too educated to be making peanuts at some rinky-dink non-profit, and often told me to run for Senator or some other public office (yeah, right).

But somehow, through a combination of her brilliant wit, intelligence and down-home graciousness, Helen worked on my mom little by little, softening her up to my radical ideas and work, and coaxing my mom (perhaps without even realizing she was doing it) into being more accepting of my life's work, of the vocation that I chose to follow.

Now, when I take my mom to movement celebration dinners, she goes up to people and says, "Do you know my daughter, Rona?" She is so proud of me now, instead of just being uncomfortable and maybe a little embarassed by a scene she doesn't know or understand. And although I know that my mom's change of heart has come about partially because of my own increasing openness to her, I also know that without Helen's subtle but powerful charms, my mom would've been a much tougher nut to crack.

Thank you, Helen, and bless you.

Youngstas Rockin' the Vote (& the Boat)

Found some encouraging and exciting news in yesterday's Chronicle: as of this past Monday's voter registration deadline, the numbers of new voters being registered this year is breaking records in some counties, including San Mateo, Napa and Santa Clara. The really good news to my ears, however, is that more than 20% of these new voters are in the Generations X & Y bracket, 18 to 35 years old. Which means that folks like Rock the Vote and the League of Pissed Off Voters are doing a smash-up job getting young people to not only register to vote, more importantly, they are getting young people (you know, the supposedly apathetic, has-everything, disillusioned generation of youngstas) out there into the streets, on the doors, and in the clubs, talking to people about exercising their democratic right.

I have a special sense of pride in this effort because several of my comrades are working with the League and its allies, including Upski aka Billy Wimsatt, Mattie Weiss, and Cathy Rion, CFJ staffer-emeritus and one of my fellow Venceremos Brigadistas.

The really beautiful thing about these and other white folks getting out on the streets not just in Calfornia but in the battleground states to help get Bush out of office is that they are stepping way, way outside their comfort zones in many cases, not just working with young brown kids who are 'underprivileged' and 'at-risk' in the inner city, but working with working- and middle-class white folks in America's heartland who are the ones that can really make difference in this election, and on many issues in America. I'm not saying that people of color or people living in cities don't matter, but there has been so much progressive movement-building done only in those areas that these supposedly 'backwards' places like Ohio, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, etc. are ignored by the left and then become breeding grounds for far-right Republicans. And that's a testament to our arrogance as much as to the right-wing's discipline and strategic vision.

And as a long-time youth advocate, I am just so happy that the youngstas in the generation behind me are comin' up and representin' strong. It does my heart good. And it gives me hope again in these last days of madness...12 more days to go, folks!


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Blogging and Organizing Furiously

I can't help it...I can't wait for the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) weekend, I gotta do something to make sure these crazy right-wingers don't get into office again. For now, at 9:22am on Tuesday morning, all I can do is blog, but I'm 'bout to hit the streets soon, folks, it's my warrior-organizer blood calling.

In other Election 2004 grassroots organizing news, here's an email exchange between my friend and comrade Cathy, who's in Ohio right now working with the League of Pissed Off Voters, aka the League of Young Voters, another good group that is working hard to specifically turn out the 18-35 age bracket voters in key swing states (those are states that could swing either Democrat or Republican, aka the 'battleground' states, which indeed they are in these last days before Nov. 2). I thought it would be good to get another take on the voting rights violation stuff from someone who is very connected to it on the ground right now.


Hey folks--

For those of you that don’t know, I’m here in Columbus, OH working on turning out young progressive voters.

I second Rona’s email—this shit is real. Here in Ohio (said to be key to either candidate’s victory), there’s been lots of stuff already by the Republican African American secretary of state Blackwell that’s pretty skeezy—provisional ballots, swarms of registrations that may not make the rolls, etc.

 Today NPR  had a piece about pollchallengers from the parties—that the Reps are planning on challenging as many votes as possible (guess which polling places they’ll be at?)--thus making long lines, forcing people to present ID they really don’t need, making it a hassle to vote.  

Many are saying Ohio will be the Florida of 2004.  I hope not. I hope there’s NO Florida of 2004, but with all that I’ve seen and heard about here & nationally, plus just that the polls willb e swamped with larger than normal numbers, I’m convince that there’s going to be problems.

so: if you can do it, do it.  GO somewhere. Come to Columbus! I’d love to see you (though I’ll be crazed).  I’d also love to put you to work “trick or voting” to remind folks to get their butts out there—come on, GOTV in Halloween fun style!  And southwest flies to Columbus—so you can do it cheap.  (a bit closer in Arizona, there’s a Prop 187-like initiative on the ballot—let me know if you want to get hooked up with that campaign)

14 days left!
:) Cathy

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hey cathy!
good to hear from you! i'm glad you had a minute to respond to my email. how are things out there? sound pretty hairy. i really want to get plugged into some election protection shit, but i'm not sure if i'll be able to afford it, i'm pretty broke right now. do you know what the league of young voters is doing in Cali, if anything?

anyway, take care and keep kickin' right-wing ass!


Monday, October 18, 2004

We Don't Live in a Democracy, Folks

I find it slightly amusing but mostly disturbing how so many Democrats and John Kerry supporters--including Michael Moore and MoveOn, both of whom I usually like--are acting as if the Presidential election in 2000 was the first election that was riddled with fraud and abnormalities. Every election in the US is flawed and unrepresentative of most of the people that live in this so-called 'democratic' country, for several key reasons:

1) Most eligible voters don't vote, not because they don't know how to register or they are intimidated by the process, but because they don't think it will make a difference in their everyday lives. In the 2000 Presidential election, only 51% of the voting-age population actually voted, just slightly over half of all citizens 18 years old and older in this country. And Presidential elections usually have much higher turnout that other elections.

2 Many eligible voters don't even register because they have never been informed of what the voting process is, or don't receive materials in their native language, or are confused by the process, or some other logical, logistical reason. I met a single mother once when I was doorknocking against Proposition 209 that said she never voted because she didn't have time to go down to the polls on election day. She'd never been told she could register as an absentee voter and vote from the comfort of her own home.

3) Millions of people living in the US don't have the right to vote because they are:
-in prison
-legal residents but not citizens
-undocumented immigrants

How can we call ourselves a true 'democracy' when our representatives in Congress, in our state legislatures, and in the Oval Office are voted in by a relatively small percentage of the population? And let's not even get into the vast sums of money one needs in order to be a viable candidate for public office--which has a lot to do with our increasingly privatized airwaves and a lack of a real public media. I'd rather call the U.S. a 'democracy-in-progress', 'cuz we definitely don't have this voting thing down.

It's clear that the racist and classist voting rights violations in Florida in 2000--and the subsequent inaction on the part of most Democrats to right these wrongs--gave us our current "President", and therefore the Wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, a would-be constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and a huge threat to a woman's right to choose abortion. But if we do everything we can to make sure that every vote counts in this election, I think we have a good chance to move this country just a little closer to being a real democracy, and to give regular folks some hope in our political process.

If you can, do more than vote or give money to John Kerry (I'm not even talking to you if you're giving money to Bush!). There are so many stories of voter intimidation, disenfranchisement of ex-felons and prisoners, and outright sloppy bureaucracy that it's a wonder any elections are valid in this country. If you can volunteer some time with or give money to groups like Election Protection or Count Every Vote 2004, please do so.

Making a democracy real and functioning is hard work and we all have to be part of making it happen.


Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Clarity of Ideals

While I and many, many others continue to mourn for our comrade Helen as well as celebrate her brilliant life, I admit I am floundering a bit for some clarity. I have just read a post that I found via Leny Stroebel's blog denouncing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a dictator, corrupt and brutal and violent. I have a hard time with this post because I can tell that this blogger is not a right-wing fascist, and because posts like his often leave me struggling with how to identify and find my place as an radical, earth-loving, feminist/womanist/leftist in this crazy world.

I, too, have doubts and criticism of Chavez' role in Venezuela. I will not, however, go so far as to call his administration a 'regime', as others have done. I admit freely that I have not traveled to Venezuela--although if time and money were not factors I would go--although I have spoken at length with people who have been there, other radical leftists who are not the screaming, self-righteous folks that the mainstream media usually depicts us as. Most of the people I work with in my social justice work are the most loving, self-critical, conscious and genuinely tolerant people I know. I trust these people with my life. And, trust me, there have been times when I needed someone to have my back and they were there.

Which is why I find some of the truly vehement attacks on Chavez to be so disturbing. Call me naive--and although I'm still a wet-behind-the-ears 32-year-old activist in some ways, I'm definitely no innocent and have seen my fair share of ugly leftist in-fighting--but I can't reconcile these seemingly credible accusations of Chavez with what I hear from people I trust and love who have seen, first-hand, the beautiful developments that have grown out of the Bolivarian revolution: the huge organic community garden in the middle of Caracas, the women hotel workers' cooperative that was able to take control of their own workplace, the everyday poor people who want to make a connection with their President because they honestly feel he will help them and not just the rich.

These chasms of division on the left truly sadden me at times. I am not saying that we can't be crtical of each other--of course, we need to have honest and critical debate and arguments if our movements are going to last and make real change; my friend M.'s post about his criticisms of Chavez is a perfect example of a well-reasoned yet impassioned critique that was truly helpful to me. Perhaps it is that I am feeling raw and vulnerable in the aftermath of Helen's passing, but there are times when these great divides make me want to weep.

Because if we on the left cannot get our shit together to engage with each other in a respectful, reasonable and strategic way, then it is hard for me to imagine how we can truly move forward with our important work to build a better world. I know it sounds idealistic, and it may be naive, but this forward movement, this unity is something I still long for. And I don't want to have to back a watered-down imperialist for President in order to feel it.

And as I sit here with my sadness, I long for the clarity and comfort of Helen's words and logic, based on many years of radical struggle and life experience. Perhaps it is a futile longing, but I cannot deny its pull on my psyche. And I cannot help but hope and work for a better tomorrow despite the desperation that I sometimes feel because of it.

And in the end I know, deep down inside, that that is all that matters--that I continue with the work, and that I continue questioning and hoping, struggling and building.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Rest in Peace, Rest in Power

Helen Toribio--revolutionary activist, tireless educator, warrior-spirit, beloved partner and friend--passed away last night after a two-year battle with cancer. She was always available to younger activists like myself, and had an amazingly strong spirit that inspired me deeply, especially during these last days when her body was fading. Helen's brilliant light has only grown brighter with her passing, and I send prayers and love with her as her soul journeys to a place of rest and beauty.

Rest in peace and power, ancestor Helen. While you will be dearly missed, we know your spirit will be with us always.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

SF Hotel Strike More Than Meets the Eye

I haven't made it out to the picket lines in support of the San Francisco hotel workers and in protest of their lockout by the big hotel bosses--I'm planning to get out there tomorrow. This week was a big one for the union and the workers: this past Tuesday they staged a rally in Union Square to drum up more public support and visibility for the workers' cause, and progressive movement heavyweights Jesse Jackson and Danny Glover have represented on the mic and on the picket line. UNITE/HERE Local 2 are a powerful, ambitious union that has staged dramatic campaigns with lots of loud street action in the past--which is a good thing, since their capitalist counterparts, the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group, made up of the major hotels in the City, is super-organized and ruthless and more than willing to exploit workers. I thought this contract negotiation-cum-strike-cum-lockout was just more ambitious campaigns of this dynamic union.

But, no! There's much more going on behind the scenes, as laid out in the excellent analysis piece by my favorite movement journalist (and photo-journalist) David Bacon, which is in this week's Bay Guardian. Turns out the union has, on a national level, been carrying out an even more ambitious strategy to 'level the playing field' between themselves and the corporate hotel chains, who don't take much of a hit from these one-city strikes/lockouts because they have hotels all over the US and the rest of the world that continue to operate. In a nutshell, the SF campaign is just one piece of a larger plan to be able to build bargaining power in the big hotel markets of SF, Los Angeles, Washington, DC and other major US cities. Read David's article for more, it's brilliant stuff.

And who said the labor movement was boring? I'm having flashbacks to the UPS strike days myself...;-)

Makibaka Huwag Matakot-

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Kids, Freaks, Karaoke

Yesterday was quite the day. The best of the bay and my life rolled into a less than 12 hour stretch of time. There seemsto be so much going on this weekend, I can barely keep up, but I'm tryin', folks, I am tryin'.

First was a one-year birthday party for baby J. at Lake Temescal in Oakland. One year of life on earth is a big deal, and the birthday boy was taking it all in stride, and didn't seem tired at all the whole time we were there. He was playing and jumping on his lil' one-year-old legs with all the other babies and kids, including my godson K., whom I only got to see for a short while since we had arrived late. His mom had just fed him so he was nice and full and happy (and heavy! I swear the kid's gained weight since I saw him two weeks ago), and smelled fresh and clean and innocent as only babies can. H. and I consumed small portions of BBQ chicken, hot dogs and potato chips, and were a little taken aback at the lack of rice at this Filipino-Vietnamese family shindig, but there was some shanghai lumpia and remnants of a grilled salmon that had been devoured by the party-goers that actually came on time (a novel concept, eh?).

I'd forgotten how nice Lake Temescal is, and it was especially lovely yesterday afternoon, partially because the weather was so warm, that perfect Oakland weather, and partially because the park was nearly empty, a shock on a nice day like yesterday. So H. and I enjoyed the sunshine and heat while we caught up a bit with folks we hadn't seen in a while--H. ran into his old DJ-buddy M., whose girlfriend C. I know, small world--and took a quick walk around the park. The place brought back some old, buried memories for me: it was the park that my ex and I had planned o have our wedding in. Going back there now, I marveled at how I could pick such a spot for my wedding. The park is nice but it's right next to Highway 24, and you can hear the steady buzz of cars zooming by as you stand among the redwoods. But I was a different person back then.

After the baby-party, H. and I did some quick thrift-store shopping--I got a cool kelly green shirt that shows off my shoulders very nicely--and then headed back to Frisco for the Writers with Drinks literary salon, held at the boho-sexy Makeout Room, which is one of my favorite bars in SF because of the friendly bartenders and eclectic crowd, and the stiff pint-sized margaritas ain't too shabby neitha'.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, since I'd heard about WWD from a couple other writer friends, and then caught Marianne Villanueva's posting that she was going to be reading there this Saturday. Another event I've been to at the Makeout Room is the infamously fun burlesque show, which for a while was happening every Monday night but is now a not-so-regular occurrence there. The show was hot and diverse, featuring plus-size women, skinny-pole women, and in-between women of all colors, and the crowd was more than half women, many of them queer.

Well, the Makeout Room and WWD didn't disappoint last night. The MC, Charlie (like the perfume?) was a lithe tranny girl in a sweet lacy strapless dress that I was eyeing (I'm feeling the vintage stuff right now, can you tell?), and she was funny as fuck. She would go off on these wild imaginings while introducing each writer, proclaiming that one writer was Sonny Bono's secret gay lover, that another had started her own religion for lapsed Pentecostals, Mormons and Baptists, and that Marianne Villanueva was famed for her contributions to 'reverse geneology'--the science of trying to prove that you are not related to so-and-so.

Charlie's saucy introductions led to intriguing performances from the diverse and heavily queer lineup of writers, most notably from Will Franken, a brilliant stand-up comic who can both imitate the sound of a record playing backwards with uncanny skill and mock the 'John Kerry is God' political circus being played out before us with freakish skill. The man is a walking radio drama. Ryka Aoki de la Cruz, from LA-LA land, read some poignant and funny poems about childhood and killing insects and frogs. And porn-lit powerhouse Jack Fritscher rocked the crowd (and probably disturbed some of the non-hardcore folks, like myself) with his pre-AIDS, queer-punk, BDSM-style Robert Mapplethorpe-related fisting (yes, I said fisting) story.

H. and I were rolling and stimulated, shocked and awed by the freaks on the stage--and I say 'freaks' with the best possible intention. I'd been getting a little bored with the standard literary readings: nice, lyrical poems about washing dishes or death or vanilla heterosexual sex. And after living for the past year in Frisco I was beginning to wonder if this City still had the queer, radical, post-modern edge that it's so famous for. Well, folks, if you're looking for just one brief glimpse of that edge, check out WWD, and you'll see that it's there and gleaming and sharp and singular. And thank God.

I felt for Marianne, who had emailed me previously that she had never been to the Makeout Room and didn't know what to expect from the reading. I know her work would never fall under the 'erotica' category per se, but I was still looking forward to hearing her read amidst the glitz and red drapery of the Makeout Room. And she delivered gracefully, giving a shout out to the Pinays in the house (there were like four of us) and bravely delving into her nuanced story of a Filipino Everyman (is that an oxymoron? I don't think so), Vic, and his office love affair with a beautiful Vietnamese woman, Selena. I'm looking forward to the upcoming release of her new book--Mayor of the Roses--which she says should be out in early 2005.

And finally, copyright / intellectual property law attorney (I told you the lineup was diverse) Lawrence Lessig educated us all on the dangers, absurdities and general fucked-upedness of intellectual property laws. Read his blog to find out more, especially if you're a writer or artist of any kind. Deep stuff.

Oh, yes, and finally finally, H. and I stumbled through the Valencia street gentro drunkenness over to T.'s new digs--a POC Mission district mansion if I've ever seen one--to belt out some karaoke tunes for her 29th birthday. Good folks, loud singing out of tune, and alcohol. Who could ask for anything more?


Thursday, October 07, 2004

Picket Lines and Picket Signs

Riding the 38L from the Richmond district to downtown has been more fun lately, since the San Francisco hotel workers (UNITE/HERE Local 2) strike and hotel owners' retaliation lockout started last week. Once the bus rolls past the Tenderloin, you start hearing workers with Filipino and Latino accents shouting Union chants--"Local 2, On Strike!"--over megaphones, and noisemakers raising a ruckus to disturb the breakfast-taking of the hotel guests. When the bus finally rolls by the Hilton on O'Farrell and Mason, I usually see about two dozen workers and supporters pacing in a long ellipse in front of the hotel's main entrance, and the sight always makes me smile. Organizing, I muse, (social justice nerd that I am) is a beautiful thing.

If you've got a few minutes or a few hours, drop by a picket and join in on the fun. Anyone who supports the (mostly immigrant and people of color) workers' cause-- they're asking for a reasonable contract that maintains their current health benefits and offers fair wage increases--can help out. The hotels that need more help because they have less workers and therefore have smaller pickets are:

Holiday Inn Civic Center on 8th Street south of Market
The Omni Hotel on California and Montgomery
Holiday Inns at Fishermans' Wharf

Also, on Tuesday, October 12th the union is holding a big rally to support the workers at 4:30pm at Union Square. For more info click here.

See you on the picket line or in the square!


Ahh, Networking...And an Art Exhibit Not to Miss

So I finally got a much-needed boost of art and artist networking last night, after my bitching and ranting earlier about how the writers I know don't network (at least not for my benefit). Went with H. to the opening of the Paper Bullets: War with Words exhibit at Intersection for the Arts. It was H.'s invite, since our colleague/friend Christine Wong--a dope-ass painter, muralist, and activist-educator--was showing some of her work there.

What an intense show. Aesthetically, it was amazingly cohesive, considering the diversity of artists and pieces in the exhibit. Lots of bright, saturated color, lots of angles and three-dimensional pieces, images scooped from pop culture and mainstream media, harrowing and humorous wartime images, lots of wood and wood-like texture. The pieces included Christine's dream-like triptych of acrylics on paper and wood, subtly layering ad-like images over images of stockpiled bottles and Korean warning fliers distributed to American GIs during the Korean War.

The fliers--part of PSYOPS (Psychology Operations, or Psychological Warfare) efforts that are part and parcel to all wars--are the anchor and central theme of the exhibit (the 'Paper Bullets') and provide a fascinating and disturbing glimpse into the war for soldiers' souls that happened in WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and more recently, in the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. From the German PSYOPS fliers showing American women 'back home' cavorting with able-bodied, handsome civilians to Vietnamese liberation army leaflets exhorting African-American soldiers to withdraw from a war that was as racist as the treatment they faced back home, the old, yellowed slips of paper are a jarring and powerful reminder that wars are not just fought with rifles and tanks, but with emotion-provoking ideas and images as well.

There was also an interesting installation made up of balloons and handbills produced by the artist, similar to the PSYOPS fliers in the exhibit, but with an attached survey to be sent back to the artist, asking questions like "Is world peace inevitable?" and "What do you want more than anything else?". The installation included a video recording of the handbill 'drops' from the top of twin peaks, as well as the completed surveys that were returned from folks who picked up the fliers in the street.

This exhibit is crucial viewing in wartimes like these. I told Christine I was working part-time and writing the rest of the time, and mentioned that I was working on a fantasy/sci-fi novel. She replied, 'That makes sense right now, since the world is so surreal." And all around us was proof at how surreal and bizarre the world can be, how absurd and contradictory and yet, somehow, still beautiful.

Oh, yes, and of course the networking! C. and her husband M. were friendly and engaging, and introduced us to Scott Louie of Kearny Street Workshop and APAture and his girlfriend whose name escapes me right now (sorry!). And after knowing I was a writer for about 10 minutes, C. tells me, "Scott's a writer too. Rona, do you have a web site to look at?" Boom. That's it. That's what networking is about. Make a connection, exchange info (I directed them to this blog) and our community gets tighter, stronger and bigger all at the same time. It's really not difficult at all. And of course it did my ego good to be introduced by such a brilliant and respected artist as Christine.

Go see Paper Bullets, folks. Good stuff that makes you think. And go see Samina Ali at Intersection on Monday night, 8pm. I think I'll be there, somewhere in the back. Maybe someone will introduce us, eh?


Monday, October 04, 2004

Latecomer to the Scene

For the past eight years I've worked almost non-stop for social justice organizations--even co-founded one myself, which is now a fairly successful, widely-known activist school--and during that time, I didn't read much poetry. Sure, I'd buy a friend's chapbook and read a few poems, or purchase a poetry anthology of Fil-Am or Asian-Am writers, get some autographs, and read a few poems. But poetry was always a bit intimidating to me during that time, and now I know why: it demands of you that which is hardest to give--your own truth.

I've been a blocked poet for years now. Not since I was in college and reading poems at open mics and spoken word events have I really written much poetry worth holding on to. I've never even really called myself a poet, and won't now, despite the fact that half the pages I write these days are full of verse and stanza. I even got one of my poems published in Krip Yuson and Gemino Abad's Father Poems anthology. No, the title 'poet' seems to out there for me, too loaded. Maybe I've been taking myself and this poetry thing too seriously.

Now that I've given myself more time and space to write and to read, I've found myself drawn to poetry more strongly than ever before. Now that I'm allowing myself to claim that I am a writer and an artist, that I refuse to let my writing ability be used only for begging private foundations for grants or for organizational profiles on web sites, poetry is calling to me, and I am actually enjoying it, wanting to read whole books full of it instead of putting them away after a few short pieces trigger my panic-freeze of writer's (and reader's) block.

I recently read two poetry books that have been out for a while, Luis Cabalquinto's "Bridgeable Shores" and Devorah Major's "Where River Meets Ocean." I started to read Cabalquinto's book when it first came out a few years ago. I'd gotten it as a gift for a friend, who already had it, so I kept it for myself--but the poems didn't speak to me then, I couldn't get into it. I just salvaged the book from my 'to sell' pile about a month ago on some weird hunch, opened it up and fell in love with the first poem, "Depths of Fields." I devoured the book like I hadn't read a poem in years (and really, I hadn't). I like the way Cabalquinto talks about sex--playfully, without ceremony, as an everyday fact, as in 'Angelus':

Unashamed / I felt the world and nature's downy hand / run its fingers on my nakedness. / Aroused, / and wanting the moment's celebration, / I reached down for the gesture / of a pleased participant.

For some reason, I always thought Devorah Major was white. This has nothing to do with her or her work, because I never read any of it until a couple weeks ago. I think it had more to do with the fact that she was written up in the SF Bay Guardian a lot and I don't often see cool POC artists profiled in the Guardian (as much as I love the paper, they've got some issues). And I generally don't read many white writers, mostly because there's so many cool people of color writers that I'd rather read and support out there that I don't have the time.

In any case, I picked up "Where River Meets Ocean" a few weeks ago at City Lights, and turned to her "fillmo'e street woman" poem, which she read as part of her inaugural speech when she was named San Francisco's poet laureate in 2002. Having lived in the City for about a year now, I'm drawn to poets and writers who tackle the vibrancy and weirdness of this contradictory place. Major's voice sounds real to me, and she has a history of life in Frisco that few of the many artists that live here can ever claim. I like that her language is spare and plain, without unnecessary ornamentation or obscure vocabulary. From 'fillmo'e street woman':

she wore her nails / sculpted in red / in those days / when that street / when this street / was ours

she sat on a barstool / snapped her fingers / and hunched her shoulders / as smoke rose between / the bandstand and counter / and the scene / got hot and sultry / and the music / pressed out the doors / and down the street.

further down / she slid in at jack's / had another cigarette lit, / flashed her teeth, laughed / as the club spun tight / shoulder to shoulder / thick smoke and blaring saxophone.

I can read these two poets without reaching for a dictionary every five minutes or feeling like an idiot because I just don't 'get it'. Maybe that means I'm not a real poet. I don't really care anymore. I'm just happy to be reading and enjoying and writing poems again. And that's kinda cool.


Drunken Writers

Well, maybe not quite. But this Saturday is the next installment of the 'Writers with Drinks' salon at the Makeout Room in SF's Mission District (the Makeout Room does make some mean margaritas though--in pint glasses, no less). I haven't been to WWD yet myself, but am planning to go this weekend to support local-girl-made-good Pinay writer Marianne Villanueva, who is reading at the event. Here's the 411:

Writers With Drinks
Saturday, October 9, 2004
7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, doors open at 7
@ The Make-Out Room 3225 22nd. St. @ Mission, SF

Marianne Villanueva (Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila)
Seeley Quest (Crooked)
Ryka Aoki de la Cruz (Grand Street, Beyond the Valley of Contemporary Poets)
Jack Fritscher (Drummer Magazine, Leather Blues)
Lawrence Lessig (The Future of Ideas, Free Culture)


Saturday, October 02, 2004

Another Wedding Post

This time, Chavajero has married his long-time long-distance sweetie (long distance as in half-way round the world!), S., in a small civil ceremony in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

C. is one of the most deserving of a sweet and precious relationship. I should know, I dated the man for two years! ;-)

Congratulations, my friend, and I wish you the best in everything you and your bride encounter in life.