Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Folks to Remember During the Holidays

I'm always struck by the number of homeless people I see having to live on the streets in the winter because our cities don't have enough beds for them to sleep in in shelters and such. It's bad enough that in a society as affluent as ours that people don't have shelter at other times of the year, but during winter homelessness is especially tragic. Every year, San Francisco does a grisly count of the number of deaths of homeless people in the city, which often is more than 150. To put names and faces to this story, check out this article about 'sacred sleep' at St. Boniface Church in the Tenderloin in SF.

This has been an especially cold winter, so please don't forget to give gifts--dollar bills or spare change, your leftover food (leave it on a garbage can and people will eat it), clothing, food and monetary donations, or even a gift of your time volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter--to the people who need them the most this holiday season. Here are a few places where you can give:

-The Coalition on Homelessness, a tireless voice for the homeless and publisher of the groundbreaking 'Street Sheet' newspaper which is sold by homeless vendors.

-The East Oakland Community Project helps homeless people and families "transition to wellbeing."

-Central City Hospitality House, an advocacy and social service agency working with homeless people in San Francisco's Tenderloin district.

-City of Oakland Hunger Program which distributes food to low-income Oakland residents.

So as you scurry about town trying to finish up your holiday shopping, don't forget to just acknowledge the homeless people you pass in the street, even if you can't give them any money. They are human beings just like the rest of us, and deserve our respect. That's the least we can do during this season of giving.


Monday, December 19, 2005

The Season of Lights (and Holiday Parties)

Or not. I love this time of year--holiday parties almost every night, which means free food and booze, sometimes music, and good schmoozing to be had by all. But a nasty cold early last week put me out of the running for many of the cool holiday parties that were buzzing around town. Sniff. But I'm still determined to have my fair share of holiday party fun, especially since December and January are officially the Months of the Year When Most of My Friends and Family Members Celebrate Their Birthdays (including me!). No less than a dozen (and I'm probably forgetting a few) folks in my world will be ringing in their next year on earth in the recent and upcoming weeks.

Last night, holiday celebration took the form of gastronomic nirvana as part of our joint birthday celebration(s). H. and I had the pleasure of being accompanied by N. and Vkdir to Paul K, a fantastic Hayes Valley restaurant on Gough that is now one of my new favorites. Fusion Mediterranean, I guess you could call it: subtle but memorable flavors of sumac (a Persian spice, I believe), pomegranate, chili harissa and medjool dates infused our dishes. They served thin circles of pita bread with baba ghannoush and hummus for the table. I was feeling like I needed some comfort food, so I got the grilled prime ribeye with chili harissa, which was scrumptious. We all sipped pinot noir, which was a little spicy and quite bright, a nice complement to each of our entrees. And to top it off, the prices aren't bad.

Then we went over to Sweet Inspiration in the Castro for dessert. I had my favorite, the coconut cake, which is super-decadent (especially since I'd already eaten a big slab of beef for dinner), but hey, you only celebrate birthdays once a year. (Well, for one month per year, at least--I figure having birthdays so close to Christmas and New Year's gives me and H. the right to party for as long as possible).

We had also gone to the McKay Foundation & FACT holiday party a couple weeks ago, which is always fun, partially because it's the only place I get to hear and dance to Surco Nuevo, one of my favorite salsa bands. They don't play much in the big salsa nightclubs in the Bay Area, because those gigs don't actually pay much, so once a year I get to groove to their music after sipping the best wine and food to be had at a holiday party. Not sure who caters that event, but they rock, lemme tell ya.

Tonite there's another little holiday party to attend, this time for the Agape Foundation, whose web site H. designed. They're a cool, progressive foundation, and Karen, their Executive Director, is a great person who I'm sure will throw a good shindig.

So even though I'm getting a little bit of a late start on the holiday-party circuit, I'm making up for lost time. I gots to--it's my obligation as a winter-baby Capricorn. I hope your winter's turning out as bright and full of festivity too.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Rest in Peace and Power: Richard Pryor and Stanley 'Tookie' Williams

I know these are late but still wanted to post them. I've felt the aura of death around me often lately. And although their deaths make me sad, I'm not discouraged, and I know that these men's spirits will give us strength from the afterlife.

Richard's obituary.

About Tookie. His memorial service will be held in Los Angeles, Cali on Dec. 20th. Details are on the web site.


Monday, December 12, 2005

The Final Hour

It's not too late to save a man's life--namely, Stanley 'Tookie' Williams, co-founder of the Crips, ex-gang-member turned children's book author and gang-truce advocate. I dread the dismay and disappointment and anger that folks in the 'hood who look up to Tookie as an inspiration to stay out tha game will feel if the State executes him tonite. You can go out to San Quentin and show your soildarity, but even better would be to fax, email or call the Governor's office to urge him to grant clemency to this reformed man, so that he can continue his work to bring peace to the war-torn streets right here in Ghettoland, U.S.A.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Rest in Peace: Licerio 'Jun' Sendaydiego, Jr.

Yesterday my family buried my Tito Jun, who passed away earlier this week after a long struggle against cancer. His humor, kindness, smooth singing voice and smile will be missed by me and many others.

I hadn't seen my Tito Jun healthy in a long time, but I'll always have memories of him as a happy-go-lucky, kindhearted gentleman, the kind of man I like to think of as quintessentially Filipino. He loved to sing love songs and be sweet to his wife, but he loved to smoke and drink whiskey, too. He was loved by his children and extended family; I can't ever remember not liking him or not being glad to see him and my Tita Glo, his wife.

I find real comfort in funerals, viewings, wakes, rosaries--all the components that make up the Filipino grieving process. The viewing was especially emotional for me, because I got to see Titos and Titas and cousins that I hadn't seen in years (or ever), some since I was a little girl. I was happily surprised that they all remembered me, although it took a couple of them a few minutes to place who I was. "Tita Puring's daughter," they would tell each other, and then their faces would light up with recognition. It makes so much sense that, after my anti-family Thanksgiving and my recent ill feelings towards my family, my Tito Jun's funeral was the place where I found some healing. He was the kind of man who could bring people together. Even my mom wasn't mad at me anymore, either for missing Thanksgiving--how can you be mad at people at the funeral of someone you both love?

As I sat in the church during the funeral mass, I noticed that the crucifix was not the standard cross shape that most Catholic crucifixes come in, but a figure of Christ hung from a single arc of branch, his wrists tied to it grotesquely. As I sat there listening to the priest and contemplating the figure, I thought about my recent studies of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation, how many (mis)interpret the Buddha's teaching about suffering to mean, "All life is suffering," when I and many others do not believe that was the intention behind his words. I think his meaning was that, "Suffering is unavoidable" but that we canliberate ourselves from it by following the Middle Way. I found it ironic and a little sad to remember how Christians (or at least Catholics in particular) focus so much on the crucifixion and suffering of Christ, instead of on his own 'enlightment' or awakening (Christians call it resurrection) on the third day after his death.

One of the most touching moments at the viewing for me was when a short, Chinese-looking man, after staring intently at me for several minutes as I hugged some of my cousins, came up to me in the pew as I sat with H. He approached me with a quizzical look on his face, as if he vaguely recognized me but couldn't remember my name. I rose and said who I was, and his face lit up as he opened his arms wide to embrace me.

"I'm Roy," he said; he was Tito Jun's eldest son, whom I'd heard about but never met before, since he had been in the Philippines when I was a child, when Tito Jun immigrated here with his four youngest children. I embraced him back, feeling the old warmth of family washing over me, the beautiful feeling of knowing that somewhere, by someone, I am recognized and loved.

My friend M. just returned from a month-long trip to the Philippines--her first--and told me of how family she'd never met before embraced her so warmly there. She's encouraging me to take my own first-ever trip; it's something I've always wanted to do but am only feeling more reassured about now, after yesterday's experience.

It's good to know that, on some level, there is family out there, in the world, waiting to embrace you.


Meditation Practice Pays Off: I Am Yoda

Just received the meditation cushions I bought as my birthday gift to myself yesterday, and had my first sit on them last night. I'll also be heading to the people of color sit at the San Francisco Buddhist Center tomorrow.

Yoda and Buddha have a lot in common I think, besides, their names rhyme. And further, I've always maintained that Yoda is Filipino..."Judge me by my size, do you?" So this is especially gratifying.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Thanks again to Gura, or should I say Galadriel the Queen, for the link.


Monday, November 28, 2005

A Bit Cheesy, But I'll Take It

You are Form 1, Goddess: The Creator.

"And The Goddess planted the acorn of life.
She cried a single tear and shed a single drop
of blood upon the earth where she buried it.
From her blood and tear, the acorn grew into
the world."

Some examples of the Goddess Form are Gaia (Greek),
Jehova (Christian), and Brahma (Indian).
The Goddess is associated with the concept of
creation, the number 1, and the element of
Her sign is the dawn sun.

As a member of Form 1, you are a charismatic
individual and people are drawn to you.
Although sometimes you may seem emotionally
distant, you are deeply in tune with other
people's feelings and have tremendous empathy.
Sometimes you have a tendency to neglect your
own self. Goddesses are the best friends to
have because they're always willing to help.

Which Mythological Form Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to Gura for the link.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

My Anti-Family Thanksgiving

Well, not so much anti-Family with a capital 'F', but anti-MY family with a small 'f'. I don't normally air my dirty family laundry on my blog, but on this holiday I want to put my stuff out there because I know there are others out there who feel the same, whether they choose to boycott their family gatherings (as I have) or not. And I think it's important to validate what for many of us is a healthy, sane perspective: that being around our natural-born families around the holidays (especially around the holidays) can be downright depressing, dysfunctional and ill-advised.

H. and I have decided--for the first time ever, for me--to spend this Thanksgiving holiday alone, without either of our families. It's been a tough year for both of us in different ways, and lately my family is just triggering me in all kinds of ways that are just bad for my health. And it's not just triggering--I've done a lot of work on myself to keep my family from being able to trigger me, which has brought up a whole other set of questions and issues for me, such as: why do I choose to spend time with people who do not value me, who don't know me, and don't care to get to know me? If these folks weren't my family I wouldn't give them the time of day. And although in other times I can see the reasons for sticking around family anyway, this year I just can't see it, or stomach it. And who wants to spend this eating/glutton holiday around people that sometimes make your stomach turn?

I know that sounds harsh, and if you, dear reader, are someone I am fortunate enough to know personally, you may one day hear the whole sordid story behind why I have such disdain and low tolerance for my family. Suffice it to say here that I and my partner have made a healthy and exciting choice to steer clear of family dysfunction this year, to take care of ourselves, and to spend a nice, quiet holiday with each other.

Oh, and we are going to eat, although it won't be a turkey dinner. We're spending our Thanksgiving dinner at the famous and kitschy-opulent Empress of China restaurant in the City. Gourmet Chinese food overlook Chinatown and North Beach evening lights. Ah, I feel more relaxed just thinking about it. Sure beats watching football games I don't care about with people who don't know anything about who I am or what I do. And although at first the idea of eating OUT for Thanksgiving seemed anathema to me, I'm actually excited about it now. We're going to dress up and have a grand time.

Whatever you are doing on this hoilday of family and gratitude, I hope that you are happy and safe and healthy.

Be well,

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Writing Dreams

Been having lots of intense, vivid dreams lately--both pleasing and not so pleasing, which has led me to decide that the protagonist of my sci-fi novel is going to be a lucid, prophetic dreamer--she dreams of things that are going to happen, is able to interact with the future, etc. This will take place in a world very far from our own where dreams are not as common as they are here, where the human ability to dream will be rare and therefore cherished. Still working out all the details of this, but I think it'll come together nicely.

I realized that--aside from writing down my own dreams now and then (I actually did used to keep a dream journal next to my bed a few years ago and recorded almost all of my dreams there every morning), I've never written a fictionalized dream sequence. Sure, I've watched plenty of them in movies (most of them bad), but I haven't read many of them in books. So I decided to buy Chitra Divakaruni's newest book, Queen of Dreams as a starting place for this search for well-written dream sequences.

In other reading news, I'm still working on finishing another of Chitra's books (they're quite addictive), 'Vine of Desire', a sequel to Sister of My Heart, which was a real page-turner. I've put Delaney's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand on hold for now, because I made the mistake of picking up Octavia Butler's Wild Seed' when I saw her read a couple weeks ago and I haven't been able to put it down since. I know now why everyone in the room applauded when she mentioned the book at the reading.

And I've enjoying reading, intermittently, when I need some soul-stirring poetry, I pick up In the Country of My Dreams' by Elmaz Abinader.

If anyone has any suggestions for books with good dream sequences in them, please do share. And maybe the fact that there's a full moon out tonite will give me some lunar inspiration.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Making / Finding Sangha

Been feeling kinda lonely for a while--kinda existentially lonely, kinda lonely because I just don't like hanging out with as many people as I used to, because life gets complex and people often don't live up to your expectations of them (while still expecting you to live up to their expectations, and there's often little room for compromise or communication, which is sad.

So I'm happy to report that this weekend I got a good dose of healthy, soul-sustaining sangha, a Pali word that Buddhists use to describe 'community'. As far as I've seen, the word is used very loosely, which is cool: sangha can be used to refer to a small group of people coming together to meditate regularly, or it can go the opposite extreme and be used to talk about everyone who follows a certain Buddhist tradition, as in the whole spiritual community of Thich Nhat Hanh's United Buddhist Church. I like that the term can be used to describe community in all its different forms, from the intimate to the universal. This word usage of the term sangha reflects why I am drawn to Buddhism, which is all about relativity and the interconnectedness of things, of how small patterns in our lives mirror the larger forces that flow around and through us.

Yesterday, I went to a daylong people of color retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Angel Kyodo Williams and Charlie Johnson led the retreat, which was diverse in a way that can only happen in the Bay Area. Call me crazy but I do my own informal censuses (censii?) at events like this, and it seemed to be about 1/3 African-American, 1/3 Asian-American, and the rest Latino, Middle Eastern and Native American. It was rejuvenating and healing to have a whole day during which to meditate; we did sitting, walking and eating meditation, as well as a little yoga and qigong for some movement meditation.

But the best thing about the retreat yesterday was the sense of community I felt both during and afterwards. There were so many little connections, so many 'small world' a-ha's that I felt like I had finally stumbled, after months if not years of searching, a loose but very real spiritual community upon which I could rely for sustenance and support. It helped that my friend J. decided at the last minute to come with me, so we got to sit together and chat here and there when we weren't supposed to be observing 'noble silence' about how we were liking the retreat. He really enjoyed it and so I hope I get to sit with him again sometime soon. I also met V., who was friends with J., and knew another friend of mine and my boyfriend's (H. went to high school with her).

After the retreat, one of the other participants, Z., whom I had met at a different people of color sangha at the San Francisco Buddhist Center, was headed to the same art exhibit/ web site launch party that I was--it was for Sylvia La, an amazingly fresh and talented painter, and I'm not just saying that because my partner designed her web site (really)! I enjoy her work immensely and wish I had the dough to buy her 'Cousins' Picnic' painting, with its surprising use of color (blue kids' faces! But it works!). I got to hang out with Z. and a few other friends in the Mission beforehand, which was a lot of fun.

At the launch party, I also found out that Sylvia's another meditator, and I ran into another J., whom I've met at more than a couple SF Buddhist Center POC sanghas. She told me she was also involved in an Asian-American political group that I've supported in the past. This was starting to get ridiculous! But I was enjoying seeing the connections between my creative, political and spiritual worlds, which made me understand that they're not that different after all. And usually this might make me feel a little claustrophobic, as if my world was so insular that the same people from all my different networks all go to the same events, retreats, etc. But it didn't. Quite the opposite. These interweavings of relationships and acquaintances and friends made me feel quite expansive and blessed. I'm sure it had something to do with being at a meditation retreat all day, but isn't that the point of meditation? To help us appreciate what we have and realize that things aren't as bad as we make them to be?

And today, I had another big dose of sangha in the form of a Voices of Our Nations (VONA) "writing camp", hosted by the generous and charming Elmaz Abinader, where about 30 writers of color got together to just write, together, for a full day. The sound of laptop keys clicking and notebook pages flipping was music to my ears today, and helped me write twenty-four (24), yup, twenty-four pages for my sci-fi novel. And I ran into so many folks from so many parts of my life---political, literary, academic, spiritual---that I'm not even going to list them here. It was so healing to be in a room of productive, supportive writers of color, quietly helping each other be the writers we were meant to be.

Suffice it to say that this weekend was all about making and finding sangha, and realizing that it's been all around me this entire time, waiting for me to rediscover it.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Whuppin' Ass is Tiring Work

I am SO HAPPY that we--and by 'we' I mean the nurses, teacher, firefighters, abortion providers, doctors, health clinic workers, progressive activists and of course the YOUTH that worked the phones and precincts to defeat Prop 73 and Arnold's initiatives--WON!! It isn't often that progressives can celebrate real victories like this (yes, even in California, where we have been blasted by racist and xenophobic ballot initiatives for the past 10-plus years). And although our margin of victory was slim (just a few points in many cases), we did an AMAZING job pulling together and turning out the winning vote despite the tens of milions of dollars that Arnold and his cronies spent trying to fool Californians into buying into some wrongheaded 'reform agenda'.

I have to say I was too exhausted last night after an almost fourteen-hour day election day to watch the results trickle in, but I was ecstatic when I saw the Oakland Tribune headline on the way to the bus stop: "Arnold's Reforms Terminated". Take that, Arnie!

Californians for Justice, where I have the privilege to work, and some of our ally orgs turned out literally hundreds of youth to talk to voters, make phone calls, and get out the vote this past weekend. Here are some pics of one of our recent precinct walks in Oakland. One young CFJ leader even convinced a jaded voter not to turn away from the polls this November. "I'm sick of these elections," the woman complained. "They voted in Bush; I'm not going to vote." To which our youth leader replied, "Well, you can make a difference in an initiative vote, and if you're not going to vote for you, then do it for me, because I can't vote and these issues are still going to affect me." What can even the toughest cynic say to that?

This election gives me real hope that people of color, immigrants, young people and other marginalized folks in California can win real progressive change. We've still got a lot of work to do, though, as evidenced by this map, which shows how different counties voted on Proposition 73, which would have required parental notification for young girls seeking an abortion as well as change the legal definition of abortion to 'the killing of an unborn child'. This isn't going to be the last time the right tries to challenge a woman's right to choose, however, so we need to stay vigilant.

But in the meantime, we need to revel in this victory. Pat yourselves on the back, folks!


Monday, November 07, 2005

Live in Cali? Don't Forget to Vote

1. Find your polling place here.
2. Vote NO on Props 73 (the EVIL abortion notification initiative that also changes the California constitution to allow invasion of teens' privacy AND changes the legal definition of abortion to be 'killing of an unborn child'), 74, 75, 76, 77, 78
3. Vote YES on Props 79 and 80.
4. Pat yourself on the back for helping to whup Arnold's ass at the polls.

I'll be out from very early in the morning 'til late tomorrow night getting out the vote and celebrating a big victory over Arnold!

In Peace and Justice,

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Master At Work

I went to see Octavia Butler, the bestsetlling Black science fiction author, 'read' at Marcus Bookstore in Oakland on Friday night. What a treat. She's promoting her new book--her first novel since Parable of the Talents was released several years ago--which is entitled "Fledgling", and is about a Black vampire.

I write 'read' in quotes because she didn't actually read from her work, but instead talked for about fifteen minutes about her writing process for the novel, which initiated from a severe case of writer's block. It's always refreshing to hear accomplished, even famous professional writers talk about their struggles with their craft. It makes me realize they are human, too, and that they struggle with the same issues of discipline, practice, craft, etc. that I and my other aspiring writer-comrades struggle with.

It was a very inspiring place to be, because I ran into tons of folks from my activist/organizing world. I hung out with E. there, a fellow VONA alum, who told me about the event in the first place. And I saw Patty and Jinky, whom I've met before once or twice, as well as Daisy Hernandez, who edits Colorlines magazine. There are so many activists who read Octavia Butler, who draw strength and validation from her work. She 'predicted' a catastrophic flood in New Orleans in one of her books--although she herself decried it as a 'prediction' at the reading: "Anyone who was paying attention could have 'predicted' that" she observed--and in the 'Parable' series she gave us an apocalyptic vision of California in the mid-21st century, complete with global warming-induced migration north to escape the sweltering heat of Southern California, roaming gangs of slaving thugs forcing orphaned girls into prostitution, and a hopeful dreamer-protagonist who leads a band of ordinary people to form a new community and religion called Earthseed.

I bought Wild Seed, Kindred and Fledgling at the reading, and got them signed by the Woman herself. It's only at author readings that I get googly-eyed and celebrity/star-struck--what a nerd! Kanye West is the only other celebrity who might've been able to grab my attention on Friday night once Ms. Butler got on the mic.

Go out and get yo'self from Octavia Butler. It's good, toothsome stuff.

My New Pet

I can't have a pet in my apartment because of the landlord's rules (pah!) but I can have a pet on my blog. Actually, I probably do have a pet spider or two in my apartment. They seem to follow me around. At my last apartment building in SF there was a spider that lived in a beautiful web on our front door frame for at least a month. She was still there when we left, come to think of it.

my pet!

Thanks to Efren for the link.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Day of the Dead

I love Halloween and Day of the Dead. It wasn't a holiday I recall celebrating when I was growing up, although I've heard that a lot of Filipinos do celebrate it--probably by calling it 'All Souls Day' more likely than not. But I'm glad that--mostly through my friendships with Latinos and other conscious people of color--I've begun to incorporate the celebration of this holiday into my life. Among those I want to remember and honor this day...

My Mama Hely--if she had been born a man and white, the woman would've been a gourmet, 5-star restaurant chef, hands-down. The best flan-maker in the universe. A couple years after her death in 2000, I attended a Filipino party where they served a flan that brought tears to my eyes; it was the first I had tasted since Mama passed away that was even close to being as good as hers. She was my spiritual mother in many ways who raised me as her own from the time I was 2 months old when my Mom was off at work, workin' hard as so many single moms must do. I still miss you, Mama. Every day.

Khalil Abdus-Samad--funny, warm, generous, righteous. Khalil was an organizer with POWER in San Francisco, a radical organization of low-wage workers. My most vivid memory of Khalil was on a CFJ retreat, which he attended as a rep from POWER. We got to chop it up a bit, just hang out, which activists don't get to do enough because we're often too damned busy. I remember telling him that his walking stick--a yellow-beige bamboo pole--was nice, which prompted him to look at it thoughtfully, and then hand it to me. "Take it, it's yours," he said.

Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights Movement icon who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I've helped tell the 'real' story of Rosa Parks countless times in organizing trainings, reminding people that Ms. Parks was not a random, lone protester that was just too tired to get up after a long day of work, but that she was involved in her local NAACP and acted as part of a larger organized effort to desegregate the Montgomery bus system. Rest in Power, Rosa.

Yesterday, H. and I went to the Fruitvale Dia de los Muertos festival, saw the beautiful and varied altars there, including one from Grupo Maya, a Guatemalan solidarity group, and another that showed off on a circular, tiered concrete display, dozens of painted skulls that represented famous ancestors, such as Che Guevara and others. Daniel Sanchez and his Nopal Apparel T-shirts were there, representin' with beautiful new designs on posters and T-shirts of classic Sade and Marvin Gaye images. I'm glad I ran into D. and Nopal at the festival because now I know where I can stock up on Christmas/Winter Solstice gifts!

This is one of my favorite poems in honor of the dead. Thanks to Luisa Teish for the inspiration and connection:

Those who are dead are never gone;
they are there in the thickening shadow.
The dead are not under the earth:
they are in the tree that rustles,
they are in the wood that groans,
they are in the water that sleeps,
they are in the hut, they are in the crowd,
the dead are not dead.

Those who are dead are never gone,
they are in the breast of the woman,
they are in the child who is wailing
and in the firebrand that flames.
The dead are not under the earth:
they are in the fire that is dying,
they are in the grasses that weep,
they are in the whimpering rocks,
they are int he forest, they are in the house,
the dead are not dead.

--Birago Diop

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Two Thousand

So, the mark's been reached: 2,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq.

On the one hand, this is a terrible sign of the utter failure of this 'War on Terror' to do anything but produce more death and destruction for not only 'Americans' but for all the other peoples that have lost sons and daughters in this war. It makes me extremely sad to know that my government is wreaking so much havoc, wasting so many lives and precious resources, for the sake of profit and imperialism (also known as 'democracy' by some).

On the other hand, I find hope in the literally dozens of small to large events/protests/candlelight vigils that are being organized in response to these 2,000 deaths. These events aren't just happening in the usual places like San Francisco or Berkeley, but also in small towns and cities like Laguna Hills and Palm Springs and San Diego--not the kind of places where you find large progressive organizations, but where people are obviously feeling the effects of this war and wanting to build a world that's more peaceful.

And no matter how jaded and cynical I get as a now-semi-veteran activist, these small flickers of light in the darkness make me realize that all is not lost.

Keepin' Hope Alive,

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Generic Jedi, Boba or Janga Fett, or a Sith?

I'm searching for the perfect Halloween costume and bemoaning my lack of sewing skills (and machine, although my kumare/comadre has one that she's always said I can borrow). Found some cheap Jedi robes, but they're all made of polyester. Polyester! Can you imagine Qui-Gon Ginn or Obi-Wan Kenobi wearing polyester? I think not.

The one character I know I'm not interested in being is Queen Amidala/Padme. Too elaborate, too girly. And I ain't pale enough neither.

But I did find some surprisingly cool-looking Darth Maul costume, which made me wonder whether I could be seduced to the Dark Side? Hmmmm....

Too bad Gura didn't nab a bunch of extra Jedi robes and light sabers during her time as a Jedi. Sniff.

Wish me luck,

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not So Serious, After All

People are often surprised--and sometimes I am too--that my favorite TV show (not counting the Sopranos which I can only watch on DVD after the season's over) is Tyra Banks' runaway hit America's Next Top Model on UPN.

I've never been much of a fashionista, but in recent years--thanks in large part to H.'s 'high street'-fab fashionista ways--I've spent much more time figuring out what my personal style is, what colors I look good in, shopping for makeup, etc. Now, don't get me wrong, I still leave the house most days with nothing on my face but my Rachel Perry lip gloss and some moisturizer (I thank my Moms for my good skin), but there ain't nothing wrong with a girl rockin' some peace lip gloss, mauve blush, black mascara, or even violet-hued eyeliner (which I wore at Rhett and Michelle's wedding. (I was shocked at how so little color could make my eyes pop so much).

I think it's telling that most of the referrals I get from Google are for people looking for pictures of Eva the Diva, the winner of Cycle 3. I also get the random searches for 'Toccara Jones naked"--Toccara was the gorgeous plus-size model that got eliminated half-way through the same season that Eva won the grand prize.

So if ya ever see me on the street with a less-than-smile on my face, lookin' dour, or if you ever think my political/social/cultural rants on this blog are a bit too serious, just remember that on 8pm every Wednesday, I join the masses and fixate for an hour on wanna-be supermodels taking photo challenges and walking down runways.

Because you can't be serious all the time.


Saturday, October 15, 2005


Today I remember Helen Toribio (perdon for the formatting, but it surmises well what Helen brought to all of us), who passed through the veil last year today. I echo Gura's wise words about remembering, respecting and letting go.

I also remember that death is only one part of the cycle of life, and what better time to remember this than Fall? And as I picked out my pumpkins at the Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay today, I was reminded of how much I love fall--love to watch leaves turn color, to feel the air turn crisp and cool, to take out my winter coats, to clothe myself in autumn's hues, crimson, orange, brown. Funny, since I'm also someone who has experienced loss in a profound way in my life, not just through the physical death of people I care about, but through the loss of old friends whom I have outgrown, or who have outgrown me.

And although I don't regret letting those people go--because surely, no friendship is worth one's own dignity, creativity or mental health--even the death of the most unhealthy of relationships is a loss. And loss must be mourned. I am reminded today, for some reason, that perhaps I haven't mourned those losses enough, and that I still have to be gentle with myself as I try to move through and beyond that loss.

But I'll be looking forward to spring next year (and my much-anticipated, first-ever trip to Europe!), because the season for death and mourning does pass, as always.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Double (Wedding) Happiness

This year was a big wedding year for me and H. Earlier this fall, our two good friends A. and N. held their commitment ceremony on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at the Marin Headlands Institute. And yesterday, Gura M. and Tatang Retong, and my co-worker D. and his woman V., tied the knot. No, it wasn't a double wedding, but both events happened on the same day, which made my Saturday a busy one.

First, went to Gura and Tatang's ceremony at St. Joseph's Basilica in Alameda. I grew up going to this church; I was baptized there and received my first communion and confession there. My sister also went to the adjoining high school (also the bride's alma mater), so there were lots of flashbacks and deja vus for me. It was a lovely, fairly traditional Catholic wedding, but Father Rich made it more interesting by doing a kind of interactive, almost talk-show like homily (sermon), while the traditional malongs worn by the sponsors andMaster Kalanduyan and his Panabuniyan Ensemble's kulintang performance gave the ceremony a more tribal-regal air.

After that ceremony we dashed over to the Oakland Museum for D. and V.'s wedding. We missed the actual wedding ceremony (I'd told them about this ahead of time), but arrived in time to see the happy couple posing for post-ceremony photos. V.'s dress was gorgeous, a slim, cream-colored silken slip of a dress, and D. looked dashing in his updated tux. The Museum's a surprisingly beautiful place to have an outdoor wedding; on the far side of the building there is an enclosed terrace and grassy courtyard. The only drawbacks were the infrequent siren or helicopter sounds floating over the otherwise bucolic setting; this is still Oakland, after all!

After eating and chilling for a little bit at the Museum wedding, H. and I dashed off again to pick up my Mom, who wanted to go with us to Gura and Tatang's reception, which was at a nice hotel out in San Ramon. We got to hang out with my kumare and kumpare, my ina-anak and his brother, and a bunch of other folks at the party--including fellow blogistas Jean Vengua and Eileen Tabios. And of course, this being a Filipino wedding and all, we got to cha-cha to our heart's content (H. was a trooper and kept up pretty well; Filipinos are notorious cha-cha lovers). There was a sweet slide show of M. and R.'s childhoods and courtship, and of course, the money dance.

But the highlight of the reception was definitely seeing the bride--in full, floor-length white wedding dress and veil, no less!--doing an impromptu kali demonstration during the halad (offering) section of the program. The bride said it wasn't planned, and knowing Tuhan Joe, that doesn't surprise me, but she stepped up to the challenge with her usual panache and grace, and wowed the wedding crowd with some beautiful stick- and knife- (yes, I said knife, but it was a butter knife) play, taking on two other guros (teachers) as well as Tuhan (Master) Joe himself.

I had wanted to try and go to D. and V.'s wedding 'after-party' back in Oaktown after the reception, but it was past 11 p.m. when we left, bamboo plant wedding favors in hand. But we had a great day celebrating the joinings of two beautiful couples, and I send them much love and many blessings as they embark on their lives together.


Monday, September 26, 2005

My Nominee for People's Grammy: Song of the Year

If any work of art captures what 2005 has been about, it's this one, by the Legendary K.O., with respect to Kanye West, of course. Here's the link if you want to just peep the song, which I recommend if you want to hear all the words.

Still Strugglin'--

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Reading/Doing List


Sister of My Heart, by Chitra Divakaruni

Harper's Magazine, current issue

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer. ("Ant of the Self" is an amazing, nuanced and heartbreaking story).

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel Delany


Went to the big ANSWER anti-war march in Frisco today, after going back and forth for the longest time about whether I would go. I've been to my fair share of marches, and although I feel that they are necessary and important for movement-building, I go back and forth about how effective I feel like they are in terms of changing policies, stopping wars, and doing the things that they claim to be doing. For the most part, the marches I've been to--the orderly, slightly staid marches where the routes are all pre-set and legal and there's no real surprises or targets for our demands--have felt more like self-indulgent leftist walking parties, where I get to see a lot of folks that I've known and worked with over the last ten years. But are they really helping to sway public opinion about the war? I'm not so sure.

It was nice to see a lot of the youth that my organization works with at the rally, from both our San Jose and Oakland offices, as well as youth (I'm talking high-school age here in case you didn't know) from other Oakland youth organizations. Didn't recognize any of the Filipino lefties that were marching with the usual red flags--but that's cool; I'm glad it's not all the same folks marching in the same demonstrations. Some of the young folks from Californians for Justice had never been to a march like this before.

Worked on my novel today. Getting a good number of pages done this week, after starting a new novel log to help make my writing more structured.

Got a haircut with my old hairdresser from a few years ago. Have a mini-set of bangs now, a mere 1/2 inch section of shorter strands that barely graze my right eyelid. My hairdresser assured me, "It's what everyone wants right now." I didn't have any alternative in mind.

Had dinner at the fairly new HCW: Home of Chicken and Waffles in Jack London Square tonite. Cool place, nice vibe. H. and I were the only non-Black folks in the place, besides the Latino bus boy and a random blonde white dude in a suit that wandered in to pick up his to-go order. It's the kind of place that makes me happy to be back in the 'Town again.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

Did Ya Feel the Earth Move?

Woke up at 4:25 this morning to the building shaking like a leaf in the wind. Well, actually, it was more of a jolt than a shake--sharp and quick like lightning.

Post-Katrina, earthquakes take on a new meaning for me. They feel more urgent, like the earth's telling us: 'Wake up, get ready. 'Cuz I'm pissed off and I'm makin' y'all pay attention."

In my classic Type A fashion, I spent the next hour listening to the radio and looking online for earthquake preparedness info. I'm no stranger to earthquakes, having been born and raised in Cali, but Katrina and the federal government's slow response to poor communities and communities of color in that disaster is makin' me anxious and wanting to be really prepared. Makin' the trip to Costco this week to stock up. Was planning this before last night's jolt--which was only a 3.0 but felt stronger, since it was centered less than 2 miles north of my house on the Hayward fault--but mother nature's reminder has motivated me to move faster.

And if you need any more motivation to prepare yourself and your family and your community for the next Big One, check out this article about how a major earthquake in California could be worse than Katrina, as well as these hazard maps for the east bay--where there is a 67% chance of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake or larger to hit within the next 30 years--here and here. There's also this kinda cheesy but telling animated shaking mapof the entire bay area, many parts of which are made of landfill (aka earthquake jelly).

People get ready! Don't say you ain't been warned,

Sunday, September 18, 2005

In Search Of...

...Samuel Delany, whom I discovered via my friend, D., a big-time sci-fi-head. I, myself, have not read much sci-fi; what I guess you'd call fantasy and speculative fiction have been more my cup of tea, and even those books don't make up the bulk of my reading list (i tend to read mostly historical and contemporary fiction--my favorite writers include Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz). But as I'm writing a fantasy/SF novel, I've been trying to bone up on the more literary SF out there, and after D. loaned me Delany's Babel-17/Empire Star, a two-for-one novel/novella combo, I've been intrigued by this supremely talented and aesthetically experimental writer. The fact that he wrote Empire Star in the 1960s still boggles my mind because it's so futuristic yet conversational. Almost the entire novella is written in dialogue, almost like a screenplay.

I've read a few online bios of Delany's, and he seems to be the kind of person I'd want to get to know, hang out with, down a few beers with. African-American, queeresque but married, now teaches at Temple in Philly. I'm also fond of Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, who have greatly stretched my definition of sci-fi and fantasy. No coincidence that Delany, Butler and Hopkinson--who are all Black--treat issues / themes of race, gender, class and sexuality with a natural realness that makes me feel right at home within the worlds they create. But I haven't sought out Delany much until this past weekend, starting on Friday night, when I was at Cody's Bookstore in Berkeley.

Before I started my Delany search, however, H. and I happened upon an interesting reading upstairs on hip-hop activism moderated by fellow Cal alum Oliver Wang; the ever-vivacious Aya de Leon was in the house being sharp and funny as always, along with other hip-hop heads Keith Knight, S. Craig Watkins (whose book, Hip Hop Matters I just purchased) and lone white boy Adam Mansbach. After listening to the discussion and Q&A and doing a meet-and-greet with the panelists as well as panel organizer Jeff Chang, H. and I headed down to browse the shelves.

I picked up Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and scanned the back cover, then read the first page. This is my litmus test for whether a book will make it into my personal library. It usually works. And this is what I read on the first page of 'Stars':

"'Of course,' they told him in all honesty, 'You will be a slave.'"
His big-pored forehead wrinkled, his heavy lips opened (the flesh around his green, green eyes stayed exactly the same), the ideogram of incomprehension among whose radicals you could read ignorance's determinant past, information's present improbability, speculation's denied future.
'But you will be happy,' the man in the wire-filament mask went on from the well in the circle desk. 'Certainly you will be happier than you are.' The features moved behind pink and green plastic lozenges a-shake on shaking wires. 'I mean, look at you, boy. You're ugly as mad and tall enough to scare children on the street. The prenatal brain damage, small as it is, we can still correct...."

And although I didn't buy the book that night--didn't bring my check-card w/ me, dammit!--I spent a good chunk of time today scouring every independent bookstore in central Oakland and Berkeley trying to find a used copy of Stars/Grains. No luck. At Walden Pond on Grand the bespectacled guy behind the register told me that Delany 'moves faster than other stuff'. No f**kin' kidding. I went to no less than six, count 'em, six bookstores trying to catch a deal on this book. In the end, I ended up making the trek up to Cody's again for the new copy.

But it's all good. I've found Delany and now I've got time to savor his work, and to hope that he can teach me a thing or two about writing science fiction that watching 'Star Wars' just can't.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Start Making Sense, Please!

Been in a funky, up and down mood lately. I'm sure Katrina has something to do with it, plus I'm feeling like I'm in a bit of a rut with my writing. I've been writing less and less, although still getting at least a few hours done a week, which is better than before VONA. I've got a lot of stuff going on in my life, and for some reason writing has not seemed or felt all that important lately.

Need to get a haircut. Need to get a manicure and a pedicure. Of course I don't really 'need' these things, but they are the kinds of things that help me feel better sometimes, and make me see that things aren't all so bad. Meditation does that for me too, and I've been meaning to go to a sangha night at one of the local Buddhist centers I frequent--is it coincidence that I got a 'thank you' call tonite from a Spirit Rock board member for my recent donation? I think not--but 'things' keep coming up. Tonite, I had originally planned to go to sangha, but there was M'a birthday dinner to attend (btw, I never realized how many Virgos I have in my life--I've helped celebrate 9 Virgo birthdays this year so far--sheesh!)

But I do need to get back on the cushion (meditation cushion, that is) and back in the saddle around my writing. They are both important forms of (life) practice for me, and I need them, perhaps more now than I have before. But it's a struggle to 'stay awake', I think, to be present to the nuances of life's ups and downs, the joyful times and the mournful times. The Katrina crisis has spurred me to stay home more now, to nest, cozy up with my honey, and just be. And for me, your classic Type-A run-by-my-calendar kinda gal, that kind of slowing down is sometimes difficult.

Trying to make sense of it all. Trying. Sometimes that's all you can do.

In Peace,

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wise Words from a Buddhist White Woman About Racism, New Orleans, Katrina

This is from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship web site.

Be well,

September 2, 2005
Maia Duerr, BPF Executive Director

Let me begin with a statement about my position in this society, because it is absolutely relevant here – I am a white woman, with sufficient economic resources. I have been to New Orleans several times in my life. When I heard news last Sunday that Hurricane Katrina had the Big Easy in its path, the first things I thought of were the good times I had in the city, the beautiful architecture that I admired, and the mix of grit, grace, and soul that delighted me there. More than any other U.S. city I have visited, it was the one that most resiliently withstood the mind and soul-numbing effect of corporate culture. Life in New Orleans, it seemed to me, was raw, vital, and on the edge, for better or for worse. I was sad for myself at the thought of losing all this.

Sure, I had noticed the poverty in New Orleans. I had noticed the thousands of Black people living in squalid conditions in the city. It’s hard to miss. But they weren't my first thought when the storm hit.  I had the privilege of visiting there as a tourist, one with means, and then coming back out again to my comfortable life in the Bay Area. I have the luxury of having a self-centered relationship to New Orleans and her citizens.

Then Hurricane Katrina hits. Within a few days, it becomes clear that so much more is at stake than this, my nostalgic vacation associations. People are dying by the thousands, and they are overwhelmingly Black, poor, and/or disenfranchised. How could I have initially overlooked that?

Apparently, that same ignorance was shared and magnified thousands of times by our federal government, by the Bush administration. Or perhaps some of it wasn’t so unconscious. This combination of ignorance plus privilege and power is called racism. It’s a word that we white people don’t like to think about applying to ourselves, especially when we think of ourselves as good, liberal people. But racism is not like a hat that we choose to put on or take off at will. It’s much more like the air that we breathe every day—invisible, and we have no choice but to take it in, often unaware of the effect it has on us.

To witness the travesty that has been New Orleans over these past five days is heartbreaking beyond belief. And outrageous.

Phrases comes to my mind, and at first I thought them too inflammatory to write here. But I will anyway, because I want to wake us up. I want to wake myself up. Genocide. Ethnic Cleansing. Economic Cleansing. What else to call it when thousands of poor, Black people are allowed to die in front of our eyes? And not just any death – excruciating deaths, brought about by lack of food, water… drowning deaths because people have waited for rooftop rescues which never came, and while they watched other corpses float by… children dying, old people dying, disabled people dying.

This is the United States. The richest country in the world. The country that is, supposedly, equipped to handle all kinds of terrorists attacks. As horrible a day as September 11, 2001 was, the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods that we are now witnessing in New Orleans will be far more extensive and long-lasting. And yet, unlike in New York City after 9/11, the people of New Orleans have been left to fend for themselves. In some cases, they are even being blamed for their fate. Michael Brown, director of FEMA, said, "Unfortunately, [the death toll is] going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings. I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.”

Really? One clear description of the situation comes from a Sept. 2 New York Times article by reporter David Gonzalez:

The victims…were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive.

The decimation of New Orleans is the great tragedy and shame of the American people, and particularly, the Bush administration. We don’t need terrorists to take us down. The empire is crumbling from within.

How did this come to happen? Right in line with the dharma truth of interconnection, there are dozens of threads that lead to this horrible conclusion. You’ve probably already read about some of them. But in the interest of waking up, again, I will list them here:

The distribution of resources in our country which has prioritized military spending on the war in Iraq over critical domestic tasks. Budgets for flood control, strengthening the levees, evacuation, and relief have been inadequate and have actually been reduced. Last year, President Bush’s budget cut $71 million for flood control in New Orleans alone. Meanwhile more than $200 billion has been spent in Iraq.

The diversion and deployment of the U.S. National Guard troops to Iraq rather than within their own states. 35-40% of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards are in Iraq, on missions of death, instead of back home where they are so desperately needed.

The intersection of institutionalized poverty and racism that has resulted in so many people living in such desperate conditions to begin with.

Global warming and other environmental issues, which may well have contributed to the severity of the hurricane through having warmed up the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

And, I am not the first to note that the media has been playing into all the racial stereotypes. "Looting" is a code way/short hand for saying that poor/black is bad and privileged/white is good.  Those who are Black and pictured with goods from a store are labeled “looters.” Those who are white in the same situation are portrayed as “finding food.” It goes on and on.

My practice as a socially engaged Buddhist asks me to not exclude myself from this circle of accountability. I too am part of this karma. All of us in U.S. dharma communities are, and those of us who are white and/or middle/upper class or who hold other positions of privilege in this society are particularly called on to examine our role in this system. How can I pay tax money into a government that feeds a vast and deadly war machine but refuses to provide support to the infrastructure of our cities? At this moment, I don’t have an answer. I only know that I, too, am part of this circle of accountability.

I search for ways that I personally can respond, and that BPF as an organization can respond. Here are some:

We can offer emergency assistance to the survivors, in whatever form we have available – financial donations, offers of housing and jobs, transportation, emotional support.

Prior to the hurricane, New Orleans was a city that, even though scarce on economic resources, was full of people with progressive and community-minded ideals. After the emergency needs subside, we can offer support to some of the innovative organizations based in the area to help them reinvigorate the city and ensure that rebuilding efforts don’t turn New Orleans into a corporate-sponsored shell of its former self. See the list at the end of this essay.

We can call for accountability from all government officials, including FEMA and up to President Bush. We can do this by calling our Congresspeople and Senators, writing letters, sitting in vigils, and making our voices heard in countless other ways. We see what is happening, and we do not accept it.  Just as Cindy Sheehan’s courageous actions ignited a massive grassroots movement, we can find ways to rally many people around the significance and symbolism of this tragedy.

We can address issues of classism and racism as they are expressed within our own organizations and sanghas, by doing councils, trainings, workshops, reading, etc. around how these issues separate us and cause harm.

We’ll let you know as more opportunities are developed in the coming months.

The deep wounds of class, race, and environmental degradation to name just a few, will not be healed by quick actions. We are bearing witness to yet another sad, unjust, and deplorable chapter in American history. All of us who are alive in this place and time are being called to respond. Whether we choose to do so or go back to sleep will be the legacy we leave for our world.

Organizations in New Orleans and Louisiana
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
The Douglas Community Coalition
Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and Hope Community Credit Union
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
The Peoples’s Institute for Surival and Beyond
Critical Resistance New Orleans

For an excellent list of grassroots, low-income, people-of-color led organizations doing relief work, see the list at the Sparkplug Foundation's website.

Postscript: Sunday, September 4, 2005

I began writing this essay on Friday, September 2. My emotions were very raw—anger and heartbreak. I still feel those things, but over the past few days, they are tempered as I see thousands of people opening their hearts and homes to the refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Certainly, there is much still good about the American people, and my heart is warmed as I see the generosity pouring forth and connections being made between people across color and class lines. The thing about racism, though, is that it works throughout a whole system, not through any individual “good” or “bad” person. As I wrote earlier, racism (and classism) is the cultural air we all breathe. Seeing this way allows us to go beyond blame and guilt and move into acknowledging suffering and taking responsibility.

We need to ask for and demand a full report and accountability for how conditions in New Orleans got so desperate–both before the hurricane and in the aftermath of the recovery efforts (or lack of them). My hope is that all of us, no matter what race, ethnicity, or social class we belong to, can be brave enough to look at this question, without turning away.

With thanks to Diana Lion and Mushim Ikeda-Nash.

The list of New Orleans/Louisiana organizations comes from Yes! magazine and from Jordan Flaherty of Left Turn magazine. Statistics regarding the National Guard come from United for Peace and Justice.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

And Now for Some Comic Relief

I know I've been pretty heavy and serious on my blog lately, because I felt the times demanded it. But just so you know I haven't been Miss Gloom and Doom 24/7, here's something to laugh at...I like QT but never thought my life story would be worthy of his directorial skills. I guess I was wrong!

In Laughter,

Quentin Tarantino
Your film will be 47% romantic, 36% comedy, 45% complex plot, and a $ 50 million budget.
Wow! What a life you have led thus far! Action-packed, anti-social with probably dark humor. Quentin hasn't really made many films, but each successive one is a bigger and grander project ... and more violent. Karate CHOP! Your life story will probably star Michael Madsen, Uma Thurman, or some TV or movie star from the 1980s for which your film will be the comeback -- let's say Emilio Estevez. Maybe. Now that the QT is dating Sofia Coppola, maybe he'll get some tips about putting some lump-in-the-throat romantic moments in his films. Quentin's short directing resume includes Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 20% on action-romance
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 61% on humor
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 74% on complexity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 91% on budget
Link: The Director Who Films Your Life Test written by bingomosquito on Ok Cupid

A Sign of Hope, But The Worst Yet To Come

I'm glad that the federal government backed down from barring the media from covering the search for "deceased Hurricane Katrina victim recovery efforts". This is a major victory for government accountability, and it was fought by the people who should be fighting for it a hell of a lot more often: the news media.

On the other hand, I am sad to report that some of our most visible and so-called 'progressive' news media and organizations, such as The Nation and have not made much (if any) mention of the racism underlying the late-game rescue effort, choosing instead to draw links between this tragedy and their 'pro-democracy' agendas that somehow leave people of color's concerns and needs out of the debate over and over again. This happened with Moveon during the presidential election, and it's happening again now, where even if the Democrats say or do something racist (like ignore the face that Gore won in 2004 and that African-American votes were eliminated from the count in Florida), instead of challenge them Moveon just goes along with the party line.

On the other hand, Democracy Now has been doing a great job covering race and amplifying the voices of people of color in the Katrina-hit areas, so kudos to Amy Goodman and company. Alternet has done so-so with their coverage on race. At least they have the ever-reliable Earl Ofari Hutchinson to provide his thought-provoking commentary.

I know there are probably people reading this right now saying "It's not the time for that" or "This is an old story" and blah blah blah. But until white progressives (and the rest of the country) realize and start to take seriously that race is THE central contradiction in American politics (yes, even moreso than class and sexism, although compounded by those two factors), uppity people of color like me will keep shoving it in front of your faces until you wake up and smell the coffee.

On a brighter note, here's another article from the ground by two people who were stuck in New Orleans when the hurricane hit. It's a powerful, detailed account of the desperation of people trying to survive and the abysmal inability of our public systems to take care of them.

'Get Off The F**king Freeway': The Sinking State Loots its Own Survivors
by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2005 at 3:13 AM
Two paramedics stranded in New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina give their account of self-organisation and abandonment in the disaster zone

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City.

Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had.

We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard.

The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had been descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there
was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

>From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct.

Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered
once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners.

In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.

Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

After this post, I'm going to take some silence around this issue, for a little while. Time to regroup and refocus. But in the meantime, here are some words to chew on, meditate on, think about, from three brothers who have good things to say.

First, from Jamaica, John Maxwell sums up the human consequences and the politics of Katrina well.

Then, from another neighboring Caribbean country, Cuba's Fidel Castro, sends a magnanimous offer of relief to the victims of Katrina (doctors, medical aid and of course the solidarity that Cuban people are famous for) without political strings attached. Will the US be open-hearted enough to accept? Supposedly the U.S. has publicly stated that all offers of aid from foreign countries will be accepted.

Finally, from my comrade Van Jones, below, a thoughtful and passionate response to the tragedy we have witnessed from afar.

In Hope,

"Why Bush Should Apologize For His Role In Drowning New Orleans,"
by Van Jones

Don't say that a hurricane destroyed New Orleans. Hurricanes do not drown cities.

It was a "perfect storm" of a different kind that put that great city underwater: Bush-era neglect of our national infrastructure,
combined with runaway global warming and a deep contempt for poor African-Americans.

The result: catastrophe. The flooding was not due to heavy rains. It resulted from a weak levee -- one that was in mid-repair when the storm hit. For years, worried local officials had been begging for increased levee aid.

But Bush had other priorities. To fund his war effort, Bush in 2003 actually slashed funding for the Southeast Lousiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA - leaving millions of dollars of vital repair work undone. And this spring, he imposed drastic reduction in hurricane- and flood-control funding - the steepest in New Orleans history.

In other words, the dollars that could have saved New Orleans were used to wage war in Iraq, instead. What's worse: funds for levees and modern pumping stations that might have spared the poor, were instead passed out to the rich, willy-nilly -- as tax breaks.

With those two simple steps, Bush squandered the hard-won Clinton-era surplus. And thus he left the national piggy bank empty for fixing and maintaining basic U.S. infrastructure.

Bush owes the people of New Orleans and the entire country an apology for under-funding our critical infrastructure.

Had the levee repairs been completed on time (two years ago), Katrina would have hit hard, destroyed buildings and probably taken some lives. But it is doubtful that it would have cracked open the floodwalls and submerged the entire CITY. It took Bush's criminal neglect of his domestic duties to produce that outcome.

But that is only one area of Bush's culpability. Ross Gelbspan says: "Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced
off south Florida, [but] it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico."

In other words, global warming likely super-charged this hurricane. Yet Bush's energy policies amount to an ongoing conspiracy to add even MORE carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the climate.

So get ready for even worse storms next year, and the next. And the next.

And the human suffering was not -- and will not be -- equally distributed.

Poor people and Black people didn't "choose to stay behind." They were left behind. All evacuation plans required the city's residents to have working, private cars -- plus gas money, nearby relatives or funds for a hotel stay. Without those things, tough luck.

Government agencies should have helped the destitute flee -- even those without cars or cash. But when the "face of suffering" is Black, somehow our high standards for effective action and compassion begin to sag.

Seeing this, Bush could have taken a strong stand on the side of the poor and the suffering. But his half-hearted, emotionally-flat statement on Wednesday did little to rally the nation. It seems that, unless "the terrorists did it," Bush just can't get himself too worked up about Americans dying by the thousands.

So tonight, our sisters and brothers are perishing. And many in uniform who could help them are half-a-world away, in Iraq. Thus, here we are. On top of five years of foolish policies that set New Orleans up for this disaster, we are now witnessing a monumental leadership failure in the Bush White House.

And we must tell the truth about it. Some will say that this is no time for the "blame game" or "divisive politics."

To the contrary: this is exactly the time to draw a line between those who fought to invest wisely in this country -- and those who happily squandered the national treasure on give-aways and imperial adventures. Progressives must not be hemmed in by some false "unity" with a President whose policies are largely to blame for this disaster.

Right now, we must press the federal government to intensify efforts to rescue everyone. Then, we must demand an immediate repeal of the tax cuts -- to enable rebuilding in New Orleans and repair of the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Lastly, let’s insist that any Louisiana and Mississippi guardsmen who want to return home from Iraq to aid their communities be allowed to do so.

The truth is that the poor people of Louisiana and Mississippi were deliberately left behind -- and not just over the weekend. Our political leaders -- most especially George W. Bush -- left them behind a long time ago.

In the aftermath of this wholly avoidable catastrophe, let us do all we can to rescue those who have been abandoned. And then let us rescue the U.S. government from those who engineered their abandonment.

At this point, we have a sacred duty to do both.

- Attorney Van Jones is founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, in Oakland, California.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Something to Do For East Bay Folks

I love the generosity I'm seein' from folks around the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It gives me hope in the world again. Keep it flowin', keep it flowin'...One note though: They're going to need a lot more than one truck for all the donations that are gonna come through!



The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County has partnered with St. Isidore's Catholic Church in Danville and Dublin Worldwide Moving and Storage in San Leandro to collect donations for distribution to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Tullock of Dublin Worldwide Moving and Storage has generously donated at least one moving truck to transport goods to St. Vincent de Paul of Houston-Galveston, Texas where much-needed supplies will be distributed to refugees fleeing the disaster affected areas as soon as the truck is filled.

The Houston-Galveston St. Vincent de Paul is seeking the following donations:
Canned or boxed food including pasta, cereal and dry milk
Clothing items and pajamas for children, men and women
New underwear and socks for children, men and women
Towels, bedding, pillows
Personal hygiene items including tooth brushes, toilet paper, diapers,
toothpaste, shampoo
Transistor radios, batteries, can openers and alarm clocks
Toys, coloring books and school supplies


Donations will be accepted in Alameda County at the St. Vincent de Paul District Council located at 9235 San Leandro St. in Oakland (1 mile south of the Oakland Coliseum) on Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 9:30a.m.-12:00 p.m. In the Tri-Valley area, donations may be made to St. Isidore's Catholic Church located at 440 La Gonda Way in Danville from 9:00 a.m.-4:00p.m. on Saturday and 9:00 a.m.-5:00p.m. on Sunday.

The Society is an international organization with resources which we can bring to bear on the situation without over burdening existing relief efforts, says Philip Arca, Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County's Executive Director. "This is an excellent partnership opportunity for the Bay Area to send help to those in need in the Gulf Region."

Staying Awake

The Katrina aftermath in the South has moved me so much (see previous post), I'm blogging furiously for the first time in months. I'm a classic Type A personality--I've gotta do something. I've made my donation to the Red Cross and will probably give to the Mississippi Workers Center, which is the only social justice grassroots group in the area that I have information about in terms of a hurricane relief fund. The local St. Vincent de Paul Society is accepting donations to go on a truck to Louisiana this weekend, so will try to stop by over there with canned goods, clothes and toys. But that's not enough. I have to do more. And as a writer, I know I can throw my words out there to ripple out and touch everyone within earshot/Internet range. So that's what I'm tryin' to do.

I'm glad that Bush is finally starting to feel some pressure to respond more appropriate to the post-Katrina madness. And I'm glad that, as they usually are, the Congressional Black Caucus was quick to hold the President's feet to the fire around this issue.

But mostly I'm glad that so many other people in this country have gotten so vocal about their outrage that it has taken so long to get help to the people of New Orleans. In particular, I give big ups to my fellow bloggers/comrades/colleagues who've defied the self-centered/dumb American stereotype and expressed their righteous indignation at the snail's pace relief efforts by our federal government. See what Jeff Chang, Hoovie, Jean and Margaret Cho had to say about the Katrina aftermath, which is undoubtedly one of the worst (if not the worst) disasters in U.S. history, although it's causes were not entirely 'natural'. More on this later.

When will people start to wake up to that fact? And the fact that this is probably just the first in a series of natural disasters that are being caused/ exacerbated by our heavy dependence on fossil fuels and the global warming effect that follows? I keep thinking of the Matrix and Buddhism; how we are all really 'asleep' and need to be awakened.

I think the alarm clock is ringing, people. Are we gonna hit the snooze button or finally get up and face the day?

Staying Awake,