Monday, December 29, 2008

Rooms of Our Own

Was roaming around the blogosphere and visited fellow writer Claire Light's blog, whose recent post featured an image of her writing 'room'--a sort of vertical desk/storage unit in her bedroom, and a link to a photo-essay by Eamonn McCabe of famous writers' rooms.

I'm not one who's easily starstruck, except for when I'm around writers I admire. So seeing the inner sanctums of writers like Hanif Kureishi is, like, weird geeky porn for me. It's interesting that I stumbled upon this piece at a time that I've been contemplating what to do with the space that's supposed to be my office/writing space--a large closet with window under which I've placed a small desk for my laptop and a few books. For the past year or so it's turned into a junk closet for the most part, with piles of unfiled papers and old posters and magazines strewn about inside. But as I look to 2009 as a major writing year for me (hopefully), I know I need to figure out how to clear this space and make it suitable for habitation once again.

Now, inspired by the images spartan office of V.S. Naipaul and the crimson walls of A.L. Kennedy's space, I vow to at least dig a tunnel through the books, files, and office supplies so that I can make sense of my office and what it can become. Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

List: 2008 Retrospective, Part I (?)

I've written enough 'part I' blog posts with no subsequent 'part II's or 'III's that I'll leave the question mark in the headline above. it's that time of year, though, to reflect on the past twelve months, to sift through all the accomplishments, unmet goals, surprises, disappointments, joys, sorrows and stories of my 2008 experience. All I can say is, 'What a year!' On so many levels, this year surpassed all of my wildest imaginings, and challenged me in ways that I wasn't expecting (and I like to think I anticipate any possible curve ball life can throw at me--I'm a Capricorn and an uber-planner, after all). A few things to start my review list, in no particular chronology or order of importance:

Getting married to my partner of six-plus years, Henry. This was one of the three most defining acts of my year. I mean, I started a whole 'nother blog about it, which actually got more hits at times than this one, thanks to selective linking to sites like Indie Bride and other alt.bride sites.

That guy who's President-Elect, and the movement that put him in power. Sometimes I still can't believe we have a Black President (or that we'll have one come 1/20/09. Never in a million years could I imagine a national (nay, international) grassroots movement electing a former community organizer as President of the United States. Un-frickin-believable, and so beautiful at the same time.

Deciding to leave my job, which I had been planning on and contemplating for a few months already, after my ex-boss left the organization to work for the new Speaker of the California Assembly, the Honorable Karen Bass. The first African-American woman (and really, the first woman) in this high-powered post, Speaker Bass is a political star on the rise, and although it was challenging to take over the helm of my organization after our ED left to work for her, it was definitely an important move and in the end I think worked out well for everyone. I am transitioning out of my interim co-director job at CFJ in March to work part-time, do fundraising consulting and spend more time on my writing and (hopefully) having a baby!

That's the Big Three events of 2008 for me. More to come, I promise. (?) ((;)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Longing for a Long Time Ago

H. and I unwittingly took a quick, sentimental stroll down nostalgia lane yesterday--first visiting the old-school Yellow Submarine Sandwich shop in the Sunset on Irving, then driving through the Excelsior and Portola Valley neighborhoods--a time warp if there ever was one, where the 'old San Francisco of the 1970s and '80s is still apparent in the old-school storefronts, decidedly UN-gentro potholed streets, and working class residents--then finally, watching 'Milk', the Gus Van Sant-directed film about the late, great San Francisco gay supervisor of the same name.

H. and I both grew up in the Bay Area--a somewhat rare status in our particular circle of friends, and seemingly an increasingly rare status for people living in the Bay Area overall. Call it gentrification, call it 'progress', call it the result of larger social and economic forces pushing people in and out of certain cities, the Bay Area and San Francisco especially is definitely not what it was when we were growing up here in the 1970s. Some elements of it have not changed, that's for sure--it's still a progressive bubble, sheltered in many ways from the cruel cold conservative world outside the way our many microclimates seem to exist in isolation from each other. But many things have changed, and seeing so many reminders of the San Francisco of our childhood yesterday made me long for a simpler, less hectic and, yes, more beautiful City by the Bay. When....

...the I-Hotel and Manilatown were still around, Manongs played pool on Kearny Street and Mabuhay Gardens hosted punk shows a few blocks away on Broadway.

...public schools were still decent, and kids of all colors and income backgrounds learned together in schools that looked like the neighborhoods they were in.

...sandwiches cost $1.50 and you could get a good meal for less than $3 (as evidenced by the old, hand-painted price sign at Yellow Submarine).

...the Fillmore hadn't been 'redeveloped' yet, and Black people could still call it their neighborhood, instead of being subjected to newbie rich white folks moving in and calling it the 'new Fillmore' or 'lower Pacific Heights'.

...places like Art's Soul Food, a Southern food joint run by Filipinos near the Castro, were still around and thriving. could walk around town or take the bus as a little kid and not be afraid, or be tailed by a security guard who thinks you're going to steal something. collar, working class folks of color could actually afford to rent OR own in the City, and didn't have to leave the neighborhoods they or their kids had grown up in to make room for arrogant, know-nothing white kids from the suburbs who just want to party.

...Candlestick didn't have an odious corporate name (which I refuse to even acknowledge here, it'll always be Candlestick for true Bay Area folks).

Yes, I know I'm romanticizing the era, and I never experienced some of the things I listed above (I was way too young to go to the Mabuhay Gardens, for example), and maybe this nostalgia stems from the bittersweet feeling the winter holidays always gives me, but I can't help but long for a time when the City looked more like the people who actually made it great, instead of a playground for people who have a selective memory about its history, and a money-machine for those whose main goal is life is the accumulation of wealth. San Francisco, as the Harvey Milk film reminded me, was made great by the grittiness, soul, hard work and loving sacrifice of an at times painfully diverse resident population, the awesome mix of which contributed to the City's once-thriving and amazing arts and political scenes. Of course, the City is still a cool place in many ways, but a much more homogenized and segregated place and fearful place.

I wonder if we couldn't all do well to look back into the past of our respective cities and learn a few lessons from it. Or at the very least, fondly remember a time when some things were just a little sweeter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inspiration from the Past, Present

I'm adding a new link to my blog roll today: Rafael Jesus Gonzalez's blog. Mr. Gonzalez was my first creative writing teacher, way back in 1991 at Laney College in Oakland. He was the first 'real' writer I'd ever met--someone who was completely committed to his craft, had high expectations for his students, and didn't spare us criticism or pity us in order to help us 'feel better' about our writing. He was also very generous and kind, so I don't want to give the impression that he was a cruel workshop taskmaster.

He was also a very accomplished writer who could've taken a much more prestigious teaching job than the one he had at a community college, having been anthologized in a Norton anthology and having published several books of poetry. I felt that he had a strong commitment to the kinds of students that attend Laney--lower-income, public-school educated students of color who otherwise might not ever get a chance to meet someone like Mr. Gonzalez, let alone have their writing workshopped by him.

I'm glad to see that he's still writing and keeping up with new technology by blogging. I'd run into Mr. Gonzalez every once in a while after I took his class--at protests, during big events in Oakland or San Francisco--and he was always smiling and ready with a hug for one of his many old students. I hope to run into him again sometime soon, online or otherwise. Would be a nice inspiration for me to continue my writing, so many long years after he first touched my life.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Too Many Updates...Lazy

I don't know if it's the season, the fact that I've been traveling a lot, the fact that I'm just getting over a brief flu, or that work is really wearing me down (even though I've only been back a week!), but I'm really feeling lazy these days.

Yes, lots has been happening since I blogged last. A short list: Obama after-glow, which promises not to wear off until well after the inauguration; the economy going down the tubeour spectacular, relaxing, romantic and super-fun honeymoon to Belize, which I plan to write about a little more on my wedding blog; going to New York City for work for a quick two days and seeing my sister and cousin; heading back to the office after being gone for nearly three weeks and feeling the weight of it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Of course, in the wider world even more things have been happening--the terrorist attack in Mumbai, which happened while we were in Belize, for one. And of course, the US war against Iraq rages on. And it's the holidays, to top it all off. I was actually glad that we were out of the country for the first time during Thanksgiving--our Thanksgiving 'dinner' consisted of some grilled shrimp, tropical drinks and a beachfront view of hundreds of white stars over the Caribbean. Much better than overstuffing oneself on tryptophan-dense turkey and stuffing while pretending to have fun.

The one thing I'm being the most lazy about, however, and which frightens me the most, is my writing. I did quite a bit of writing in Belize--on average, wrote 4 pages a day in my journal/notebook, which is pretty good for me, especially compared to how much non-work writing I do when I'm back home (almost none unless I have a deadline!). Of course, it's easy to write when you have nothing to occupy your time but meals, laying on the beach, walking through a sleepy beach village, and snuggling with your husband. That's when writing is easier.

It's when I'm back home, with all the distractions and annoyances and tasks and obligations of my everyday life that writing seems like some unattainable paradise. Which is why I'm leaving my full-time job in March so that I can plunge headlong into the world of consulting and hope I can still earn a decent living with the economy going down the tubes. But at least I'll have time to write. And honestly, I know that if I don't do this, if I don't take this time to write and de-prioritize nonprofit work which no longer feeds my soul the way it used to--I will literally be starving my soul.

But for now, until March rolls around (or at least until my winter break starts on Dec. 22), I have blogging. A quick, easily accessible, painless form of writing. It will have to do for now.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Some Peace and Quiet

While I still can't believe that it hasn't even been one week since the election--seems like Tuesday was a long time ago, and that so much has changed since then--things seem to have calmed down a bit overall in my neck of the woods. People are still glowing post-Obama victory, but the frenzy of the late campaign / GOTV effort has disappeared and the more normal rhythm of life seems to be returning. And of course, folks are protesting Proposition 8, and that seems like another long road.

I, for one, didn't do a whole lot for this election--a little phonebanking here and there--but I felt the buzz of excitement nevertheless. It was hard to miss. So it's nice to have a nice, quiet Sunday here at home. Dealing with money issues, planning for the future, cleaning the house, enjoying the silence while H. visits his Dad (our Dad now! ;))

And I gather that all of us need this lull period to regain our strength, gather our energies and ground ourselves in our true values so that we can soon trudge forward with renewed conviction and clear vision. Because as President-Elect Obama himself has said, he won't be perfect. And even if he was, the rest of us would still need to do a lot to overhaul the economy, stop the war, rebuild our communities and love each other.

But for now, I'm content just basking in the glow of last week's movement victory, and getting myself ready for more struggles and victories up ahead.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Celebrate! Breathe...Then Get To Work

I was at the Oakland Convention Center (aka the Marriott Hotel on 12th and Broadway) tonite at the Obama Phonebank to Victory-cum-Victory party event. Sandre Swanson, Barbara Lee and Ron Dellums--the pillars of Democratic elected leadership in Alameda County--spoke. There were hundreds of people there, of all races and ages, beaming and hopeful and alive.

It happened. The mantra for the night was 'Yes We Can!' with some modified 'Yes We Did"s thrown in once the announcement was made. Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. The room erupted in applause when the electoral colleg tally made it past 270. As H. and I drove home, we heard whoops and hollers and screams of joy in the streets. We heard cars honking spontaneously and impromptu parties breaking out on street corners. We drove by the Parkway Theater and saw throngs of people jumping up and down and dancing.

I'm happy--elated even. I can't believe it's true. I never thought in my lifetime that a country that can be as racist and xenophobic and anti-Arab as this one could elect a Black man with a 'foreign' sounding name and a middle name like 'Hussein' to be the President of the United States. I underestimated the willingness of the people in this country to make change. A lot of us did.

But the most beautiful part of all of this is that this victory was won not by flooding the airwaves in battleground states with slick commercials bought with corporate dollars. It wasn't won just by virtue of being headed up by a charismatic leader. It was won thanks to a confluence of factors, yes, but at the heart of the matter, grassroots organizing was what won this Presidential race.

I've been saying it since the 2000 election--that if the Democrats would just bother to expand the electorate, to go back to their core constituents of people of color, poor people, LGTBQ people, union folks, young people, etc., they could win. And in 2000 and again in 2004, they didn't do that. They tried to win over the moderate likely voters. And they lost (the right-wing also stole thousands of votes, but in my mind the Democrats should've fought that, so in that way they gave up too).

Barack Obama and his campaign team knew that the formula to win was right before them, and that it would take a lot of regular everyday folks like you and me to make their campaign victorious. That if they helped people feel empowered to take action, if they organized enough people and taught them how to organize and mobilize other people and could do it in a disciplined and strategic way, they would win. And they were right. And they did it. And they won.

Barack's email to his supporters tonite summed it up best I think, even better than his acceptance speech: That grassroots organizing by everyday folks was the key to his victory, and will be the key to getting our country onto a path of peace and justice. Here's the email:

Rona --

I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don't want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing...

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,


Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Out for Obama

If you didn't get to see the Obama-Biden campaign's fancy, well-produced $4 million commercial last night--which was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant--you can watch it here, courtesy of the campaign itself.

I've been too busy lately working and trying to do a little bit of elections work that I don't have time for a lengthy blog post, but let me just make a few key points about the Obama campaign:

-It's probably the smartest Presidential campaign I've witnessed in my lifetime. The campaign's use of technology to reach not just young voters but all voters (and non-voters! which is even more crucial this year) with their messages is fascinating and brilliant (there's that word again). If you don't believe me then log on to and find out for yourself.

-He's running a tight, well-oiled grassroots campaign. Just read an on-the-ground report from Colorado If the packed Obama East Bay headquarters I saw last weekend are any indication, there's no doubt Obama will win the popular vote (of course, the Republicans and far-right fanatics will do everything they can to make sure that vote isn't counted properly, as they did in 2000 and 2004). But even more than that, his campaign's slogan in these past few days has been 'Run through the tape', meaning don't get overconfident and cocky. I think this is more than inspiring rhetoric--it's a way to make sure that Obama wins by an undisputable landslide in as many states as possible--who ever heard of Montana, North Dakota and North Carolina becoming Democratic swing states?--so that his opponents won't be able to get away with stealing the election.

-His campaign's ability to utilize technology and grassroots organizing to fundraise from the bottom-up is simply astounding. ASTOUNDING. But also not rocket science. They ask, ask, ask (I think I get at least three emails a day asking for money), and they get, get, get. Who would've thought even a year ago that the first Black Presidential nominee-to-be would be able to afford to buy 30 minutes of airtime on four major networks during prime time? It's ridiculous and amazing and beautiful. And he did it mostly on donations of less than $250. Simple frickin' beautiful. I don't anyone to tell me anymore that poor people don't give money or that small donations don't matter. Obama has blown that argument clean out of the water for good.

-I'm so in awe of how poised, Presidential, sincere and compassionate Mr. Obama (I'd say 'President' but I don't want to jinx it) is in the ad, and in all of his media appearances. This is a man who's been called a Muslim (by the same people who decry his connection to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who is the pastor of a Christian Church), a terrorist who cavorts with domestic terrorists, a baby-killer, a commie faggot, etc., and whose grandmother is extremely ill in the last few days leading up to the biggest day of his life, and he still manages to walk out into the limelight with the regal bearing that is his trademark. I did notice a slight indentation between his brows yesterday that I didn't notice before--perhaps a sign of human weakness, stress? But other than that, he has proven over and over again how ready he is to take office during probably one of the most difficult periods in United States history.

-Taking the moral high ground works. Obama never mentioned McCain or Palin or even the Republican party last night. It was clear he felt he didn't have to. He felt that telling his truth would be enough. Worked for me (and i wasn't even the intended audience for the ad). I have faith it will work for the rest of the people that still need to be convinced.

All out for Obama folks! H. and I will be phonebanking this weekend, and hopefully attending the marathon phonebanks slated to take place at Oakland's Marriott Convention Center. It'll be the happening place!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What My Ballot Will Look Like on Nov. 4 (So Far)

We lucky Californians have a long ballot on our plates for November 4th, thanks to a slew of propositions that are mostly just wrong wrong wrong. I still have to research a few of these to figure out how I'll vote, but here's where I stand now:

Local Measures:
Yes on Measure OO to ensure much-needed funding for children and youth programs in Oakland. In a year when violent crime is on the rise, these programs are needed more than ever.

No on Measure N, which was placed on our ballot by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, probably to win some political points in his buildup to running for Governor in 2010.

Yes on Measure VV. Not only because I ride the bus, but because poor people, elderly folks and young people all rely on public transit to get around and live.

Yes on Measure WW, because I love our East Bay Parks and I believe that having green, open, undeveloped land is important to the health and well-being of any community.

Other measures I'm still pondering: Measure NN (more cops)

President of the United States - Barack Obama

California Statewide Ballot Measures:
Proposition 2
Proposition 5

NO NO NO to these heinous ballot initiatives that are just an abuse of the initiative process:
Proposition 4, which would force doctors and abortion providers to notify parents when their daughters are seeking abortions. I'm against it because I grew up in an abusive household, and nothing would have scared me more than to have to tell my parents I was pregnant. This law is all about limiting a woman's right to choose what to do with her body, not about creating more harmonious families.

Proposition 6, which would try juveniles as adults and further criminalize our young people, many of whom have so little opportunity to do positive things with their lives--the school system being as crappy as it is--that they turn to street life to just survive.

Proposition 7, which promises to deliver clean energy but is really just a scam on the part of utilities companies.

No on Proposition 8, which scares the shit out of me. Really, aren't there more important things to fight than whether people should have the right to love and marry the people they choose? As someone who's recently married myself, this initiative scares and saddens me, especially when I think about all my friends who are queer and just want to live and love without being intimidated or seen as 'illegal'. Gay rights are obviously not just about marriage, but I can't help but think that if gay marriage were legal in this nation then it would set a precedent for a lot of other pro-gay and anti-hate policies to come into place. As one of my colleagues who is in an interracial marriage recently said, "Fifty years ago my marriage would have been illegal too."

Proposition 9, which would eliminate early parole for nonviolent offenders, among other wrong-headed things. And especially at a time when our state and national economy is in tatters, throwing more money at inhumane, ineffective and expensive imprisonment strategies is not the answer to crime.

Other ballot initiaitives I'm still pondering: Propositions 10, 11 and 12.

Whew! That's a whole lot to vote on. But i'll be there with my black pen in hand and looking forward to getting my 'I Voted' oval sticker to wear proudly all day. I hope you'll be at the polls too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Cop Who's Doing the Right Thing

I was searching online today for examples of resistance to housing foreclosures, and am inspired and hopeful after finding this story about an Illinois sheriff who is halting tenant evictions in his county which are the result of the foreclosure crisis. I was talking to a co-worker yesterday about how people will start doing what they need to do to survive, and if that means resisting injustice and potentially breaking unfair laws--the way Martin Luther King, Jr and Gandhi and every other peace activist who fought for justice has done--in order to do so, that's what people will do. The fact that this story is about a sheriff is even more awesome, because we lefties don't think of cops as being our allies most of the time (with reason). But this goes to show that cops are just people, like the rest of us, who have hearts and consciences and who can do what's right when they are so moved.

I applaud Sheriff Dart and hope there are other Sheriffs out there like him who refuse to comply with the unjust evictions of innocent tenants who are victims of Wall Street's greed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scary Video, Sweet Video

Just a glimpse into the two different worlds that seem to be coming to a head in the United States right now.

Scary world: Bitter, angry ultra-conservative, seemingly proudly racist folks in Ohio at a recent McCain-Palin rally.

Sweet world: A first-grade teacher who is also a lesbian is greeted with a shower of flowers by her students in San Francisco.

I know which world I want to belong to (and already do, thank God--H. and I are not a same-sex couple but were lucky enough to have our civil ceremony at SF City Hall).

Which world do you want to live in?

Stealing an Election--Legally

There are probably other examples of how conservatives are trying to challenge the rights of new voters, who are being registered literally by the millions all over the country by both major parties, as well as several nonpartisan, grassroots organizations, but this was the first one I've come across. The scary thing is that the Republicans are now using 'legal' means to try and dismiss possibly hundreds of thousands of newly registered voters from the Ohio rolls.

I have a couple friends who actually worked on the ground in Ohio, registering and educating and mobilizing voters to the polls during the 2000 and 2004 elections. And from what they observed, what they saw on the doors and in neighborhoods--large numbers of people turning out to vote for the Democratic Presidential candidate (Gore or Kerry)--just didn't jive with what 'officially' happened in Ohio: the state swinging to Bush, giving him the electoral college votes he needed to win the election. Rolling Stone magazine and other sources have written about this and documented incidents of clear voter fraud in the 2004 election.

But now, conservatives are taking a slightly different tack. Whether you love or hate right-wingers, you gotta give them something, they are some clever, ruthless MFers. I shudder to think that this is just the beginning of the battles that will follow to discredit Democratic or otherwise anti-Republican/right wing elections officials, and to disenfranchise voters (especially those that are young and / or African-American, both of which will vote overwhelmingly for Obama in November). But the history of federal elections in the last eight years tells us that the Republicans will do whatever they need to to win. To quote one of my favorite and insightful comedians, Cedric the Entertainer, George W. Bush and his party didn't win the 2000 election, they "just thugged [their] way up into the White House. Like Suge Bush!"

And don't think they won't try it again. Join the effort to ensure a fair election and protect voters' rights to cast their ballot and have it counted.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Wedding reportback

Yes, the wedding happened, just about two weeks ago at the Mills College Chapel in Oakland, and the reception happened at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Oakland. Both beautiful venues, although Mills staff are an absolute horror to deal with, but I won't get into that now. The Unitarian Church staff are a dream--friendly, helpful, professional and knowledgeable. They do tons of weddings and other events so they know what's up.

In any case, my real wedding reportback is on my wedding blog. No photos yet though, unfortunately, just a fairly thorough update of the event. Enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2008

101 Too Many

I'm not so wrapped up in wedding planning madness that I don't check the local newspaper, where I read this distressing article about the four killlings this past weekend that bumped Oakland's number of homicides this year to 101. Last year at this time, as the article claims, the number of murders in Oakland was 97.

Neither number is one that I want to have associate with the deaths of people in Oakland, my adopted hometown.

The complex problems that lead to these murders are too numerous for me to detail in this brief blog post, but J. Douglas-Allen Taylor does a pretty good job getting to some of these. I am not surprised but am dismayed at the way the Tribune (and the Chronicle, no doubt) portrayed the sideshows as death-shows, with loaded language about one of this weekend's homicides taking place 'a few miles' from a sideshow but still somehow linking it to these fairly spontaneous street events where local youth do donuts in the street, drink, hang out and generally make a lot of noise, sometimes disturbing the residents who may live nearby. Taylor's column does a good job at examining the broader social and political and racial landscape that puts the sideshows into a context--it's never as simple as the media, or even the man on the street, would have us believe.

I was in a site visit with a funder for my organization the other day, a funder that happens to fund work in Oakland specifically. She asked me at one point how the increased violence has affected our organizing work and our youth. I wasn't surprised by her question but I was a little surprised at my own response--a shrug that came close to indifference, although indifference wasn't what I was trying to convey. What I told her was that for most of our youth, the violence has been going on for so long, and has been so much a part of their everyday lives--they aren't the ones that only worry when restaurants get robbed on Piedmont Avenue or Lakeshore or in the Glenview neighborhood--that it's not like this recent spike was really anything new to them. So many of our youth have heard, seen or know of people getting killed on their block, or have had friends been shot and killed, that to call this recent spike a crisis and pay more attention to it than we would in years when the homicide rate was much lower, is a bit insulting to the reality of those that live in deep East Oakland or West Oakland and who deal with violence daily. I agree with my friend M., who grew up in East Oakland, that only when middle or upper-middle class white folks and professional people start getting robbed do people pay attention. I wrote something similar when I wrote about Chauncey Bailey's murder.

But when are we going to break out of our 'safe', illusory cocoons, wake up and realize that every death in this city, whether we knew the person or not, is connected to our lives? That violence that happens two feet or two miles away from us is our business too? That our willful ignorance and neglect of the violent and often impoverished and bleak realities of the people that are turning to crime and murder is part of the problem? Too often, people like me--middle-class, college-educated, living fairly comfortable lives--don't do anything until something happens to us, or someone that we know, or someone like us. We are motivated only by our fear of harm to our own persons, our own safety, when others walk around in our city feeling unsafe all the time, not just during years like this one.

Well, I, for one, want to be motivated by love, and I challenge all of my fellow Oaklanders who gripe and complain and sit on their hands when it comes to the violence in this city to do the same. Can we, as the Buddha and Gandhi and every other nonviolent leader in history has urged us, reach out in love and compassion to each other, to the strangers that walk past us? Can we say good morning to someone that we think might not speak the same language as us--whether that language is English or street slang? Can we challenge ourselves to rise above our own fear and feel compassion and empathy for not only the people that have been killed but for the people who wielded the weapon that brought about those deaths? Until we see that all of our lives are connected and intertwined--as this violent crisis, global warming/climate change, and numerous other major events in the world today show us--we will never be able to solve these persistent and disturbing problems.

Try it, if you don't believe me. Say 'hello' to someone that you pass everyday when you walk around Oakland--a young Black man or an older Asian immigrant. Smile. Be human, and see them as such. Make a connection. Eventually, you might end up having a conversation with someone that otherwise you would've just made lots of assumptions about, and you might learn that they are not that different than you. Or if that's too vague and unstructured an activity, volunteer to be a mentor to a young person who doesn't have lots of positive role models to look up to, help out at a local youth group or school, or if you don't have time to give, make a donation to an anti-violence group like the Silence the Violence project. Volunteer as an advocate for children in foster care.Talk to your neighbors. Get to know Oakland as a community, a group of people, a neighborhood, a place you call home, rather than a place you go to sleep at night.

For now, I'm sitting with this and thinking of the families and friends of those that were killed this weekend. I pray for them, and for the recently departed, and I pray for this city, that we can pull together in the ways that we need to to bring this cycle of neglect, oppression and violence to an end.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Getting Closer to Democracy

While the two-party certainly sucks for many reasons, and historically voter turnout in this country is abysmally low--my guess is probably even lower than in a place like my family's native country of the Philippines, where corruption in politics is rampant and well-documented--I am encouraged by this article on how newly registered, first-time voters are the wild card in this year's big Presidential race. I wholeheartedly agree that pollsters--yes, the same pollsters who are cranking out all these polls of likely voters saying how close Obama and McCain are running--have no idea what to do with this group of people, which this year number in the millions, though I can't find a solid number.

Yes, the Democrats are registering these new voters, so the first thought one would have is that these new voters will turn out in droves in November. Possibly. Registered a new voter and getting to vote are two different things. And it's another thing as well to get them to vote your way. But with Obama's massive popularity with young people never waning these days--and with Generation Y or the "Millenials" vying for the baby-boomers' demographic dominance in the American landscape--you can be sure that if these new and young voters get to the polls, they will mostly be voting for the Democratic ticket.

A ray of hope for us progressives on an otherwise shadowy horizon (a shadow cast by Palin, of course)? I think so. But it doesn't mean that we don't have some work ahead of us to make sure we take even more steps towards a real democracy in this country. Getting more people to vote is just the beginning. Even electing Obama into office isn't the end-all, be-all of our struggle. But I believe, for the first time in a while, that we can do it, together. Like Obama's campaign and the United Farmworkers and Cesar Chavez and community organizers around the world have said for decades, "Yes We Can."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Missing Kali

It's been several years now since I had a regular Kali (one of many Filipino Martial Arts (or FMA as some people call them). This article from the Oakland Tribune made me realize why I loved practicing Kali and made me miss it. It was a way to ground myself in the body, and in a certain level of consciousness that extended far beyond my body, a kind of consciousness that also went beyond the classes I took with Gura Michelle Bautista, my main teacher, who was trained by our Master/Tuhan Joe Arriola of the Kamatuuran School. A quick excerpt from the Tribune article about what sets FMA apart from other martial arts like karate:

"The weapon, really, is just an extension of the hands," [Alexander Bautista Bayot] France, [an FMA master and instructor at Hayward Martial Arts] said. "Take the weapon out and we still have a complete and highly efficient martial arts system."

And weapons, France said, can be anything.

Have a 6-inch pen at your disposal? That can easily become your dagger, he said. How about that broomstick laying in the garage?

"Now you have a staff," France said.

I loved the economy of movement of Kali, and the way you could make a weapon out of anything, such as a frying pan (which many Black women and others have used historically to defend themselves against abusive husbands), a cell phone (point to throat and shove hard), even a coat (you can throw it in someone's face or over their knife). Many people have seen Kali and not even known it, as Matt Damon trained in it and used it for his Jason Bourne movie series. When I first saw 'Bourne Identity' I immediately recognized the quick moves that Jason Bourne uses as Kali--and I was super-excited to see this beautiful art finally given its due on the big screen. I remember tugging on H.'s arm and whispering urgently, "That's Kali!"

As the wedding planning ramps up to breakneck speed I find myself craving the release of physical action like Kali to get my aggressions out. Maybe after the wedding I'll start going to Gura's classes again. Or maybe I'll try to find some time beforehand to haul my butt over there. Nothing like a little stick- and knife-fighting to make a warrior-woman like me feel better!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hope is a Good, Good Thing

I've been working for progressive, social justice nonprofits and been active on various electoral and community organizing campaigns for the past thirteen years. That doesn't make me a hardened, wizened veteran by any means, but it also means that I've seen a few things. And yes, I've become more and more cynical every year I witness the increasing degradation of our amazing planet's natural resources, the war-profiteering of privileged (mostly) white men in conservative suits, the unjust criminalization of poor people of color and young people, the governmental neglect of places like post-Katrina New Orleans and the Gulf South, and more and more impoverished people roaming the streets of the wealthiest country in the world.

And even though I've drawn lots of inspiration from the young people that develop into amazing leaders at Californians for Justice where I have had the privilege to work for the past four years, I do believe that, for the most part, I'd become a bit bitter about American politics. I think a part of my heart had really given up on this country, on the potential of the people who live here to come together, help each other, and work for a better world.

Tonite, I started to feel an emotion that I think I hadn't felt for more than a fleeting few moments for a long, long time. I was watching Barack Obama make his acceptance speech as the Democratic Presidential nominee, and I felt a stirring in my heart that felt both new and familiar. I can remember feeling this emotion when I first started doing activist work, and saw what ordinary people were willing to do to create a better future for themselves and their children. I've felt this feeling when I see a young person--who came to CFJ barely being able to speak in a group of ten other students--stand up in front of two-hundred people and make a passionate, articulate and intelligent speech. I felt this emotion when I've protested with Filipino WWII veterans in front of the White House, or at a UC Regents meeting, or at a hotel workers picket in San Francisco.

This feeling is Hope. Yes, Hope with a capital 'H'. I know it sounds hokey and sentimental and silly on some levels, but this the truth and this is real. I feel hope for the future of this country and this planet for the first time in a long while. I don't think even I realized how long it'd been since I truly felt hopeful about regular American people of all races and creeds and backgrounds being able to come together to do something good for the world. Hope, it's a powerful feeling.

And I have to admit, it feels really, really good.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rest in Peace: Two Legends

I, like many others, was shocked and saddened to learn of the deaths of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes this past weekend. To lose two highly talented, legendary and still relatively young Black stars in the same few days is terrible. And I also just read that, ironically enough, the two had recently finished shooting a film together called Soul Men, which also features Sam Jackson, and tells the story of two musicians (Jackson and Mac) who come together to mourn and commemorate their late band-mate.

A sad day indeed. Thanks Isaac and Bernie for all the positive and funny and beautiful and truthful and cool things you brought into this world, and for sharing your gifts with all of us. You will be missed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's Been A While

I know, I've been a neglectful blogger. Life has just been too full of real-life dramas, work, mini-crises, joys and important events that I haven't had time to blog. This weekend, for example, I will be presenting a workshop as well as participating in a debate at Raising Change: A Social Justice Fundraising Conference. I'm a little stressed out about both, but also really excited to be in a space with 600 other movement fundraisers, organizers and activists talking about money and power and politics and how to integrate all three in a way that's progressive, strategic and ethical.

Wedding stuff has definitely taken over a good chunk of my day-to-day life as well. Less than 60 days left 'til the big day! I can hardly believe it. And it seems like just yesterday that I didn't even know what dress I was going to wear.

I have found some time to go blog-trolling, and added Ivy Hill neighbor Nicole Clausing's blog to my roll.

I can't promise I'll be back anytime soon, so take care while I'm gone!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

I just saw Wall-E last night, the new movie about the last lonely robot on a future, uninhabitable Earth whose job (or 'directive' as they say in the film) is to compact bits of trash into small cubes and build huge skyscrapers of compacted garbage. Although it's a G-rated film, the talented folks at Pixar definitely had an adult audience in mind when they made this strangely and wonderfully sweet and romantic dystopian movie, and I think everyone should go see it. As a film, it's brilliant cinematically, plot-wise and in terms of character development and 'acting' by the animated robots. As a commentary on the effects of our rampant consumerism and accompanying laziness (especially in the First World) on the Earth and our own evolution, it's also totally on target and profound. My stomach even started to turn a little when they showed the potential future of human beings in outer space: each human being, fat from lack of exercise and having machines do everything for us, sitting in individual moving chairs that have people plugged in to an instant-gratification communication, shopping and entertainment monitor (sound familiar to anyone?) and oblivious to anything else going on around them. It was bizarrely cute, creepy, comical and uncanny at the same time.

The film made me think a lot about how much we waste things in this country, in this society. I remember when I went back to the Philippines, to the province where my family lived (basically the countryside) and there were so few garbage cans anywhere. Not that there wasn't garbage to be sure--they burned a lot of it which has its own environmental downsides--but there was much, much less there than here, because they recycled so much. In Cuba even moreso, there was so little garbage. I remember being in Santiago and even Havana, the two largest cities in Cuba, and being amazed at the lack of trash on the streets, even in the garbage cans that sat unused at the edge of plazas and sidewalks. When you don't have much, you don't waste things, you figure out other ways to use them. Cuba is the best example to me of a country that has survived, despite massive economic and political pressure from the US, by recycling and repurposing 'old' stuff. And they've not only survived--albeit on a level of tough struggle that I don't envy--they've been able to create beautiful works of automotive art out of salvaged cars and parts, maintain and evolve a rich musical heritage through the decades that includes music like son, 'salsa', reggaeton and Cuban hip hop, and become a popular tourist destination for people from the Global North who want to experience this amazing display of ingenuity, culture and resistance.

I'm rethinking how I can have less, waste less and therefore want less. It's no longer a way of life that I think we can decide to choose or not choose. By our past choices to waste and exploit and be greedy with the Earth's resources, we are quickly realizing that this new way of anti-waste is choosing us.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Part of the Matrix Again

I just got back from my writing retreat, and damn, I have to say that I am an Internet junkie, moreso than I thought I was. There was a wireless connection at the retreat center I was at, but it was a good 100 yard walk from my little cabin, and I was trying to wean myself from the addiction, so I only used it three times while I was there. But then again, I was only there for three days so I pretty much used it everyday. It's funny, because I pride myself on being a Gen-Xer who still knows how to ask for directions and use a (paper!) map versus relying on Mapquest or a GPS device, but I have to say that I'm disturbed by how dependent I feel on DSL. Ick.

Maybe I need to put myself on an Internet diet. My friend Julie Davidson-Gomez did this once and blogged about it. Sounds intriguing. I'm super-dependent on email at work, and because of how we're set up, with several offices all over the state, it would be pretty hard not to use email for a couple days, but on the weekends there really isn't a real reason for me to use the Internet. I mean, I could check my bank account balance via phone, I can actually CALL people---texting is sort of cheating, but technically isn't not email, right?--instead of emailing them, i could actually just use the phone to find out the hours of a certain store I want to go to. Remember that thing called a landline? Yes, I could actually even use one of those.

Hmph. It's an interesting concept. I'd like to play with it more. I am proud to say that without 24-hour access to an Internet connection I was able to get a lot done, including tons of writing, and still not feel very bored the rest of the time. I read a lot, I listened to music (okay, I didn't stop using my computer for things other than writing--that would be too much to ask!) and I actually paid attention to the little sounds of nature around me, and of course, to the quiet. That was so soothing to this stressed-out, over-stimulated city chick.

No promises now, but maybe in a week or so I'll try to 'unplug' just from the Internet for a couple days. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Missing Pride...But Still Connected

I'm actually out of town (for like the forth time in a month) for a self-designed writing retreat. I'm really excited to be here--'here' being the Santa Cruz Mountains, which are still beautiful despite all the news about the big fires, and the redwood forest is as awe-inspiring as ever--and to give myself this gift of peace, quiet and time.

I am kinda bummed that doing this retreat this weekend--it made the most sense to do it this weekend because I had a board meeting in San Jose yesterday and Santa Cruz is just an hour south of there--meant I'd have to miss Gay Pride weekend back in Frisco. I haven't gone in a few years but I do try to go every once in a while. The big crowds can be a little draining, but there's no big festival in San Francisco (or the Bay Area, for that matter) that's as colorful and fun and crazy as Pride. Where else can you see leather daddies, dykes on bikes, gay families, straight-ish 'friends' (like me) and tons of trannies doing their thing in the middle of the street for all to see? It's also cute to see all the queer tourists that fly into the Bay Area for the big bash. They look almost like regular tourists--replete with cameras hanging from their necks and wearing those awful fleece sweatshirts in royal blue and gray that read 'San Francisco' above an embroidered image of the Golden Gate Bridge--but they're walking in pairs of women and pairs of men instead.

Oh well, another Pride, another year. I can always go next year. And since they have an internet connection here (although I have to walk a few hundred yards to access it, which is better as I'd get NO real writing done if I had access all the time), I can look at the photos from the parade and stuff on the San Francisco Chronicle's site. It seems like this year's pride would've been a lot bigger and more interesting because of the gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court, which is cool. Lots of wedding drag--as a blushing bride myself, I can dig it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Before You Start Celebrating the Heat

The big heat wave we had last week was scary to me--not to mention uncomfortable and downright oppressive. I can't remember ever having a heat advisory in the coastal Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley), but we had one last week. Unimaginable really. And then to go from 90+ degree weather to the 60s yesterday and the day before. Eerie.

I'm sure I'm not the only person going around saying that global warming and climate change is responsible for these extreme weather patterns. But some people, even progressives who are heat-lovers I guess, have seemed happy when I see them during these hot times. I always think that's bizarre, because these are the same folks who also do their best to turn off all the lights when they leave the house, who are energy-efficiency- ("We just bought our second Prius!") and recycling-obsessed ("Um, WHY would you need to use a dryer for your laundry? I have a clothesline right here in my pocket!"), and who generally love the Earth.

For a reality check on what these heat waves indicate for our geological future and the future of our species, here's an article from the Oakland Tribune today about the possible effects of climate change on native plants in California. I was especially struck by the fact that many of California's native plants have weathered literally thousands of years of weather fluctuations, but are now quickly losing ground (literally) because of the rapid pace of change in temperature and rainfall here.

So the next time the thermometer hits 80 degrees and you start smiling because it's beach weather now, just keep it all in perspective and keep doing all that recycling and hybrid-car-driving and carbon-footprint-reducing behavior. It might just help balance things out a little bit.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"Your Whiteness is Showing"

That's a line from this article by Tim Wise, about the white feminists who are (publicly or not) deciding not to pull their support over to the Obama camp now that Clinton has officially (and frickin' finally!) stepped out of the race.

I really like Tim's writing and work, because he tells it like it is in a way that people of color can really say, 'Thanks for being a good white ally! We need more of you." I wonder though if his sometimes in-your-face rhetoric actually gets through to the well-meaning White liberals he's often trying to address.

Anyway, judge for yourself. And have a beautiful Sunday!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama (do)Nation

Yes, I'm a member of the Obama Nation, officially, starting today. And more importantly, the $25 donation I just made to Obama's campaign, to help him win against Republican John McCain in the November election, is the first donation I have ever made to a Presidential campaign in my life. I think Obama actually can help turn this country around, and the fact that he has raised more than 90% of of his campaign funds from people making gifts of $200 or less, which totally flies in the face of conventional fundraising wisdom and strategy, signals to me that he has captured the imagination of this country, and that ordinary people are ready to work with him and each other to make this country a truly great one.

Coming from a fundraiser who routinely makes donations large and small to all kinds of organizations, and sometimes (although rarely) to politicians, the fact that I've made my first Presidential campaign to Obama says something. Make of it what you will.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Time to Think...And Dream

I'm writing this blogpost from a beautiful, serene place in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, called the Blue Mountain Center. It's a special place that was made possible by the generosity and far-reaching vision of Adam Hochschild, one of the founders of Mother Jones Magazine, and an accomplishsed author in his own right. Progressive writers and activists (and writer/activists) are welcome to Blue Mountain to rest, rejuvenate and write. More importantly, the open space here--which includes a lovely garden with stone labyrinths, a lake to canoe and row on, and miles of hiking trails, offers a weary city-bound radical like me the opportunity to escape the noise and hubbub of the concrete jungle and have some time to do something truly radical: THINK.

I'm here as part of a small gathering of people assembled by Kim Klein, a renowned fundraiser and fundraising trainer, author and a good friend and mentor of mine. She's been working on something called The Commons, which I like to think of as the resources and space that we as human beings hold in common in order to live and thrive. More on this in a later post, as the internet connection here at Blue Mountain leaves much to be desired, and I have no idea how long it'll keep working.

But suffice it to say that I'm glad I've taken two days off work and traveled for about 12 hours to get here and be in what my friend and colleague Julie Davidson-Gomez calls 'Dreamspace'. That is, a space of imagining the possibilities to come, the ideals that we wish to manifest in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren, the visions that we work so hard in our activist and social change work to make real (someday, if not sooner). I think I hadn't realized until I got here--and began having dreaming, visioning discussions of what it would take to truly have everything that our communities needed to survive and thrive--that I rarely occupy this Dreamspace these days, at least at work. My fiction writing (the novel's on the backburner but I've been working on a story about a future dystopia) helps me get into that space, but I rarely spend more than a couple hours a week doing that. I remembered, being here, in the splendor and lushness of nature in the Adirondacks, that not only is dreaming and imagining crucial to our work as organizers and activists who are trying to build a better world, it is crucial to our very humanity, to our experience of what it means to be fully human.

I'm leaving Blue Mountain and this gathering of people tomorrow, and while I'm homesick (I know, pathetic huh, even after just two days) and tired of travel, I'm sad to be going. It's rare that any of us, during these work-work-work-hectic modern times, gets to have this opportunity to just think, to imagine, and to dream. Thanks Kim and to all my colleagues gathered here for helping to create that space.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The End of an Era

Two big changes are occurring this week that, to me, herald the end of an era in my life, and in the lives of many thousands of people in the Bay Area. For this reason, I'm feeling really nostalgic this week, and sad that the Bay Area has and will continue to change so much. As someone who was born and grew up here, it's always been hard for me to express to the new transplants what some of these changes mean to me, but here goes.

First, in my sleepy hometown of Alameda, which hasn't changed a whole lot since I was growing up there in the 1970s, the town's first movie cineplex is opening this month. To give you a sense of how little Alameda has changed since I was a kid, the Chinese restaurant that I used to go to with my mom when I was all of five years old is still there, near the corner of Webster and Lincoln (albeit with a different name). The corner store where I used to get push-ups when I was in pre-school is still there, as is the schools I attended from preschool through second grade. And although they've changed the name of it to 'Alameda Towne Center', Southshore Mall still stands, one of the few outdoor malls in East Bay, and I can still remember running along the planters and curbs when I was a little girl.

H. and I have, over the past few years since we moved back to Oakland, been spending more time in my hometown than I have in a long time. It's a nice place to sort of escape to when the more crowded and grittier streets of Oakland start to get dreary. In Alameda, there's usually plenty of parking (although that's been changing over the last couple years), cool restaurants and stores to visit, and a quiet vibe that makes me feel comfortable, as well as nostalgic for my childhood.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the opening of this big new cineplex may change all that forever. Alamedans, for better or worse, have always resisted building big-box stores and large entertainment complexes on the Island, and as much as I knew that that resistance had as much to do with classism and racism (not wanting the poor Black and Brown masses to come flocking over from Oakland) as it did with NIMBY-anti-corporate sentiment, I appreciated residents' hardcore loyalty to their small-town environment, and relished the suburban serenity I could enjoy just a few minutes from my apartment in Oakland. With the new theater opening, 'downtown' Alameda and the Park Street corridor will in a few short years, completely transform into a traffic-choked, no-parking-available, suburban shopping maze, and although I'm sure I'll spend time there too, eating at my favorite restaurants in the area and watching foreign films, I know I'll also feel nostalgic for a more relaxed, more anonymous time in Alameda's history, when only residents knew where the good places were to get Thai or Chinese food or sushi, where to get your hair cut, and when you could get parking any time of the day or night without having to drive around for twenty minutes.

The second big change is that long-time KTVU anchor Dennis Richmond has retired. I know it's going to sound silly, but Dennis Richmond retiring makes me feel that, finally, in my 36th year on earth, I'm no longer a kid. Because for all this time, I could experience a sense of familiarity and trust just by turning on a newscast. I've been watching Dennis on the 10 o'clock news for as long as I can remember--when I was a little girl growing up in Alameda, when I was an adolescent living in San Jose, when I was a college student at Berkeley and beyond. He's been a comforting, dignified and consistent presence in the news media for forty years, and while I'm happy for him that he is able to retire and enjoy some relaxation after working for so long, his departure from the news room truly is the end of an era. My friend M. and I were chatting online today about how we trusted him and how, as people of color, we were proud that a Black man was up there delivering the news every night on television. We also talked about how we respected his clear commitment to integrity and excellence in journalism. He is truly one of the last if not the last truly great news anchors. I'll miss knowing that if I want to get more objective, straight-ahead news and not the 'infotainment' that passes for news these days, I can turn to Channel 2 and Dennis Richmond.

Happy retirement, Dennis, and thanks for all that you've done in service to Truth. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Little Goes a Long Way... terms of US dollars, given as donations to relief efforts in Burma/Myanmar and China, where a cyclone and an earthquake, respectively, have left tens of thousands of people dead, injured, homeless and suffering. Please make a donation to one of the following groups:

The Red Cross' China Relief Fund.

Doctors Without Borders, which has launched relief efforts in Myanmar.

And if you live in California, don't forget to stock up on your emergency supplies in case our own 'big one' hits (knock on wood).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

An Update

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging much lately is that I have a new job at my organization, Californians for Justice. It's been an intense, exciting, whirlwind kind of time the last few weeks, but I feel like I'm settling into my new role well, and surprisingly, feel very comfortable with this new leadership position. Wish me luck!

Speaking of work, we're organizing with many of our allies to do a big mobilization in Sacramento on May 15, both to protest the Governor's proposed cuts to education, as well as to put forward our vision for what public education should be providing for students in California.

Hope you can come! And if you can't make it all the way up to Sacramento, please consider making a donation to CFJ at this crucial time. Thanks!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Planes, Trains, Automobiles

When I was a young, shy thing, way back in high school, I studied French passionately (is there any other way to study that language? especially when you're a teenager?), dreamed of traveling far past the confines of my parents' uber-strict household to points overseas, and planned to major in International Business so that I could do so. I rarely traveled anywhere as a child (long drives to suburban havens like Tanforan or New Park Mall notwithstanding), so traveling for work seemed to me at the time glamorous, sophisticated and exciting.

Now that I actually do travel for work, I realize that business travel is not all it's cracked up to be. Granted, I'm not flying to Paris or Tokyo for my business trips--most of my travel is in-state--but even after being in the Big Apple (probably the most exciting place I get to travel to for work) this past week, I'm weary of even the idea of travel for my job. (Not to mention, my legs feel like spaghetti because I feel like I've been sitting in moving vehicles of some kind or another for most of the past week). It's tiring, takes a lot of time to prepare for, stressful and not always fun. I also have done a fair share of traveling for personal reasons recently, so I've just been on too many planes, trains and automobiles for my taste. I just don't think the human body was meant to travel at 500 mph in giant steel machines. (Of course, if I was just jetsetting all over the world with an unlimited budget and got to go to relaxing places like tropical countries and beach resorts, I might not mind). Actually, right now I'm blogging I think for the first time from an airport (Phoenix International, which thankfully has free wifi that's pretty fast, since my flight back home is delayed).

On the other hand, I get to go to new places, get to learn more about people from different parts of the country/world, visit my many relatives and friends who live outside the Bay Area, and hone my travel-writing skills with my reviews of hotels and such on TripAdvisor and Yelp.

This last trip was to New York City for funder visits (we really only had two, but that was cool because it meant I got to NOT be too stressed out in already overly-stressed Manhattan), and then to New Jersey by train to visit my sisters. And while New York is definitely a pedestrian / public transit kind of place, for some reason, people don't seem to walk much in Jersey, because I feel like all I did the past couple days was sit on my ass and eat.

I'm still perfecting my travel-prep skills, and I actually like reading that silly SkyMall magazine--did you know that you could buy something called the 'Kitty Litter Wizard' that actually cleans the soiled, non-disposable kitty litter 'granules' for you so that you never have to touch kitty litter again?--so maybe I'll someday get used to traveling. And I don't have to travel for work nearly as much as other folks in my organization. But suffice it to say that I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I want to sleep in my own bed, dammit!

Ahh, flight should be boarding soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Frightening Possibility of the Future

There is SO much work we need to do in this world--to change it, to change people's attitudes, to bring people together. No, I'm not going to go on an adulatory tangent about Obama, but I do think a huge reason why people are so behind him in this country is because he represents a more hopeful and bright future. The alternative future, which is to me the more possible future ahead of us, is fraught with danger, violence, uncertainty and changes to the so-called 'American lifestyle' that may take us back to a more 'primitive' time of feudalism and tribalism.

I don't have time to get into a lot of the details of my analysis on the future, but suffice it to say that a conversation that I had at dinner last night with a friend of a friend, who asked me why, as an education advocate, I thought that Black male enrollment in college was going down, dismissed my answer about rising incarceration rates and institutionalized racism as 'a conspiracy' theory. It was a response I've come to expect from white men in particular. They ask you your opinion about something that you clearly know something about, and then when you bring race in you are dismissed as naive, ignorant, a 'victim' or conspiracy theorist.

The other thing that has triggered my fatalism today is this sympathetic article on vigilantism in crime-ridden neighborhoods in Oakland scares the shit out of me. It reminds me a lot of the late, great Octavia Butler's Parable series, for which she won the Macarthur Genius award. The future world that she created in those books scared the shit out of me and depressed me for days, because I could see that world--one of mayhem, uncontrollable violence, vigilantism, total privatization and therefore decimation of all social services, human slavery and intense suffering--becoming our reality in this country one day.

I'm working on a fiction story right now that ties in some of these themes--not in as brutal a world as Butler's, but in a world that is definitely more harsh than the one many Americans live in today.

And that's why I am voting for Obama, because I need hope for a better future than the one we're currently creating, and because many of the white people (and people of color who think racism is dead) who otherwise couldn't listen for five minutes to someone like me, will listen to an Obama and his more diluted, palatable and articulate analysis of race and what this country needs to do to 'transcend' it. We need that voice and vision of hope now more than ever.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Found it! The Way I Often Feel: Positive Obsession

I'll blog soon about all the things that are going on in my life, which have been keeping me from blogging, but in the meantime you'll have to make do with a quote. I've been looking for a few months for one of those quotes that you can put at the bottom of your emails, on the wall in your office, one of those inspirational do-hickeys that epitomizes how you see the world, inspires you to do better. So I've been reading Octavia Butler's Bloodchild and Other Stories this morning, and, while reading Butler's autobiographical essay near the end of the book, stumbled across this gem:

"Positive obsession is about not being able to stop just because you're afraid and full of doubts. Positive obsession is a dangerous thing. It's about not being able to stop at all."

That about sums up--and folks who know me well know this--my personality, my approach to life. Folks are always amazed at the number of different interests (obsessions?) that I have. I guess I don't put them out there very often, so people at work, for example, know mostly about my positive obsession with fundraising, and a little bit about my interest in writing, and in science fiction. While my writer friends know more about my writing, and less about my work. Most people know that I love salsa dancing (and all dancing, really) with a passion, and that I'm an obsessive planner and coordinator, and that my wedding will be all the more fabulous because of it. But a lot of folks are surprised when they find out about my history as a martial artist (although that obsession has died down, replaced by a spiritual warrior sensibility towards life in general--life being the ultimate challenge).

So this quote's going into my email for now, as a reminder that positive obsession can manifest in the life of a woman of color in so many amazing and creative ways, as evidenced by Ms. Butler's own accomplishments. Something for me to remember when I can't sleep at 4 in the morning because I really want to research wedding reception dresses or want to knock out that meeting agenda that I can't get out of my brain. Positive obsession, it's dangerous, but not always a bad thing.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"What If?" The May-Have-Been Legacy of Dr. King

I think folks (including myself) tend to knock the Oakland Tribune for what they might call second-rate journalism, but I happen to like the paper because it covers local issues and politics from a perspective that combines on-the-ground community insider knowledge with a higher level of objectivity than smaller papers tend to (like the Guardian, ethnic press, etc.).

For example, on this 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death (may he rest in peace), the Tribune published this interesting article outlining different King experts and associates, including Black ministers', points of view on what might have happened in this country if Dr. King had lived.

Although I tend to not try to dwell in the 'What If's' of the past, this article was useful in helping to paint a picture of what our communities and our country could look like if we really listened to each other, worked through (not around) our race issues, and were inspired by our leaders to do so. Dr. King was by no means perfect, but his role as a strong moral compass for Americans of all races in the 1960s played a critical part in pushing forward the Civil Rights Movement. And I won't go so far as to compare Dr. King with our new Black leader, Barack Obama, but I will say that I believe many Americans want someone like a Dr. King to look up to, to emulate, and to inspire them.

Let's just hope that in looking for this leader and aspiring to this grand vision of equality and justice, we also recognize our own strengths, courage and power to manifest this vision for ourselves.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rant: He Tried, He Really, Really Tried (Part 1)

I admire Barack Obama's earnest, articulate and well-thought-out discourse on race in the U.S.. He really tried, and I thought did a fairly decent job (as good as anyone could do in his position, and in this moment in U.S. history) to explain and enlighten White and other non-Black Americans about the 'roots' of Black anger, and the cultural and historical context of his pastor, Reverend Wright's, 'incendiary' comments about White people, the American government and imperialism. Although I don't agree with Obama's analysis of race as he presented it in his speech, I appreciate the impossible position he was trying to maneuver out of on this issue. And ultimately, he showed that he was up to the task of talking about race in America while running for President as a Black man, which is no small thing. He executed brilliantly.

Of course, there was going to be backlash. Just some examples, from both white and non-white commentators, here, here, and here.

There was also praise, from many important 'opinion' papers across the country, and from activists supportive of Obama's campaign, and even from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former Democratic Presidential hopeful who's now said he'll endorse Obama. As to be expected, the Republicans are trying to say that only the 'elite' are praising Obama's now-famous 'race speech'. (Funny how rich white Republicans can claim that only Democrats and other left-leaning folks are 'elite', isn't it?). And according to several sources, some Democrats are planning to vote for--holy crap--McCain if Clinton's not the nominee.

An African-American man, talking about race and Black people's anger in a way that wasn't condemning or distancing himself from the man who was the source of these 'angry, hateful' comments? No way was Obama going to get away with that. The majority of people in this country (and I include non-Black people of color in this statement, yet) cannot deal with Black anger. Plain and simple. Even when it's framed in such palatable, striving-for-understanding-and-unity, tolerant terms. It's not to be tolerated. Period.

But it makes me wonder, and not in a vindictive way, but in the spirit of true objectivity, how many White pastors in the country routinely make 'hate-filled', xenophobic, and outright racist comments in their sermons every week? Don't the MinuteMen patrol the U.S. border with Mexico as pseudo-Christian (because surely Jesus Christ would never have patrolled a border with a rifle on his shoulder) militia warriors in an effort to keep out the barbarian, Catholic Latino hordes? I wonder what some White pastors out there say about Arab 'heathen' terrorists. How much media time on Fox was spent on Mike Huckabee's white supremacist connections?. Do we not see any of this stuff as racist because these folks have gotten so good at 'coding' their language--e.g. 'inner city' = Black, 'greedy' = Jew, 'illegals' = Latino undocumented immigrants? Aren't all these attitudes and words racist too?

Of course not! Because if a White person generalizes in a negative (or positive, for that matter) way about a group of people of color, it must mean it's true, and not just a reflection of their own fear or ignorance of people that don't look or sound or think like them.

But if you're Black, and you criticize White people--even though as a pastor you may often use exaggerated, Biblical, fire-and-brimstone language to talk about other things, like adultery and sin and damnation that non-White people may commit and be punished for--you better watch out, because then you're a racist.

To me, the so-called 'dialogue' on race in this country, if you can call it that, largely consists of people of color trying to justify our emotions, our frustrations with the still-prevalent institutional racism that exists on all levels of society, and trying to assuage White people's fears that we're not going to take over, or that we really want to live peacefully with them, or that we want 'fairness' too. But the reason why we do this, why we bend over backwards to make White people feel better about not being racist or about having their own anger about things like affirmative action, Barack Obama, etc., is because we have bought into their beliefs too.

You see, all of this race stuff is based on the idea that this country is, at its core, a meritocracy. That if you work hard enough, sacrifice enough, that if you do what you're supposed to do to get ahead, then you will. And that is true for some people in this country. The American Dream has become reality for many people, especially recent immigrants. But it's not true for for most people. And for them, the people that stay stuck in poverty, or that end up in prison, or that don't manage to 'rise above', we tell them that it's just their own fault. They didn't try hard enough, they didn't do their best. Basically, they suck.

In reality, this country is no pure meritocracy. Success in this country depends on who you know as much as it does on your education/intelligence, skill or courage. It's a proven fact that most people get jobs based on their personal networks, and those in power are more likely to hire people that they know. So much for meritocracy. For example, if you happen to be born into an oil-baron family in Texas but can barely manage to spell or pass military tests, it doesn't matter--because you can STILL become the President of the United States for two full terms! (Sound familiar?)

Part two to follow soon....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New-ish Article of Mine

It's actually pretty 'old' now, but thought I'd call attention to it anyway--been so busy lately that I kind of forgot about it, but had some meetings with folks recently in which they told me they really liked it.

This article gives you a window into my world as an advocate for grassroots fundraising as a political necessity.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

I'm a Calendar!

Been contemplating the moon a lot lately, learning a little more about her cycles, and how they coincide with mine. H. has been impressed when I told him recently about how women's periods--at least when they live more attuned to nature than we tend to in urbanized areas--coincide with the moon's cycles, and how the word 'menstruation' comes from the Latin words that translate to 'measure of time'. For example, ideally a woman would get her period during the 'dark' moon, and be most fertile during the full moon (ovulation). So we could literally, and people have for generations in the past, track the movement of days and the moon through our bodies, our menstrual cycles. 'We're calendars!' I said with some pride.

The dark moon in particular has been calling to me--the shadow essence of the moon, when her face is hidden from us because no light shines on her surface from the sun, at least from our perspective here on Earth--partially because that's the phase that we're in right now, and mostly because I've been doing body energy therapy lately and been more in touch with the more nuanced, intuitive sensations in my body, which I think are more aligned with the dark moon's energy. Hence, the new black template for my blog, and the moon-widget on the right.

This may seem a bit new-agey to folks out there, and may surprise you that I have an interest in things like this, but nature has always fascinated me, especially as I get older and try to figure out the reasons behind my actions, and how I can become more balanced when I start to feel stressed out or off-kilter. Often, just taking a walk outside, going for a hike in the hills, or sitting and meditating and sensing the earth (or the floor that's in the building that's on the earth) supporting me and holding me brings me back to my center. The more we are out of touch with nature, I feel the less human we are, and the more prone to things like depression, senseless violence, drug addiction, fits of anger, etc.

So back to the moon. I wrote a couple pieces lately, at night, when I was particularly feeling the moon's waning presence strongly. The waning moon, the phases during which the moon is moving from full to dark, and therefore getting 'smaller' to us here on Earth is, according to many, a time of inner reflection, mystery, completion, breaking old ties or patterns. It's a time when things wind down versus start up--that would be the waxing moon time, when the moon is moving from new / dark to full.

I've definitely experienced these energy shifts--getting tired and inward, even moody during the waning moon. Not inconsequentially, if you're a woman and your menstrual cycle coincides with the moon's patterns (and you should count yourself lucky if they do), your so-called PMS symptoms like crankiness and feeling really tired are probably just a sign that you are not listening to what your body needs during this waning, slowing down time: more rest, less stimulating foods like caffeine, having less interaction with others.

So I've been trying to listen to my body and do what it's telling me to do. Of course, since the rest of this country doesn't run on a lunar calendar--although almost every other great civilization in the world has!--it's been challenging to do so and still honor the timelines and needs of my job and other commitments. I am trying to be more conscientious about structuring my life around the moon's patterns--for example, since I have a lot of extra vacation time this year I'm planning on taking one day off per month right around the time of the new moon. I think it will help a lot with my overall sense of well-being and hopefully help me be a more responsive leader, a better friend and partner, and just overall more grounded person.

Try it out yourself, especially if you're a woman, since your cycle if it's regular and corresponds to the moon's cycles gives you an automatic calendar by which you can measure the moon's waxing and waning. Try using your lights at home less often--especially during the full moon, you don't need lights as much as you think, and having your home dark except for the moonlight coming outside, even for a half-hour, can be really soothing and romantic. It can help you become more synchronized with the moon's energies. See what happens to your body, your feelings, your interactions with people after doing this for a while. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

And the new moon officially starts tomorrow, although we've been in a waning period for a while now. Don't forget to slow down!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

New Post on Wedding Thoughts

I have a feeling that, as the wedding planning's taking up a lot of my outside-work mindspace and enegy, my wedding blog and its accompanying blog will be seeing more action in the coming days than this one. So check it out and let me know what you think.

Just over six months left 'til the big day!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Love Day

Despite the naysayers who choose to hate this holiday because of how Hallmark and chocolate companies and every other corporate entity in this country has co-opted it for their own commercial gain, I love Valentine's Day. I've written about it on this blog before, here and here, but don't think I've ever revealed that this day is also special to me because, not only do I celebrate the love of my friends on this day, but H. and I have chosen to celebrate our anniversary on this date as well. Six years and counting.

So happy love day to all of you out there, and thanks for continuing to check-in on me and my funny little life. Have a beautiful, heart-filled day!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Meme on Privilege: The Old, Tired "Class v. Race" Debate

One of the blogs that I saw this on posted this with the title 'Has Class Trumped Race?" Or something to that effect. This question and quiz, and the tired comment I got from a fundraising colleague a little while back, has prompted me to respond. (I got this from Claire Light's blog, by the way). I'll do the quiz / privilege exercise in a minute, but just need to get this whole class/race thing off my chest first with a few organized points. Call them my informal race v. class rebuttal points:

1. Yes, Class is just as important as Race
2. Big BUT, however, is that Class is often (obviously not always) based somewhat on Race
3. If you look at the proportion of people of color in this country who are poor, you will find that more people of color are poor as a percentage of their total population in the US than white people.
4. So then, which is 'more' important--class or race? I ask you, especially you middle- to upper-class white people and people of color who either feel guilty about your privelege or can't deal with the fact that you have it to examine the information annd to answer that question for yourselves.
5. My answer? Neither is more important, but class in this country is NOT separate from race a lot of the time. I'm not saying it's totally dependent on race, but I don't think you can have a progressive, let alone radical, discussion about shifting power or the economic/class system in this country if you don't talk about how racism impacts the economic opportunities of communities of color as well as encourages poor white people to work AGAINST their own self-interests.
6. And to my white 'allies' out there who insist that Class is 'the real issue' and not 'Race', I ask you to really look at yourselves, and to check your shit and start actually listening to people of color and what we have to offer in this conversation instead of talking to us and trying to tell us what to do.
7. There, I got it off my chest. Now for the privilege quiz! (The 'bolded' items are the things that apply to me; I guess the more bolded items you have, the more privilege you have. The questions in terms of range and topic are interesting--e.g. the 'heating bill' question I thought was really good. Try it yourself!)

When you were in college:
If your father went to college.
If your father finished college
If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home
If you had more than 50 books at home (counting Encyclopedia Brittanica, right?)
If you had more than 500 books at home
If were read children’s books by a parent
If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it
If you have less than $5000 in student loans
If you have no student loans
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall
If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house
If you had a phone in your room
If you lived in a single family house
If your parent own their own house or apartment
If you had your own room
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

I have to say, doing this kind of depresses me, because it brings me back to my high school and college days when I had friends (partially because I went to private school with kids that were richer than me, although because of scholarships--which I didn't have in high school--I also went to high school and college with kids that were much poorer than my family was) who actually got to go to Europe on their parents' dime or take really cool unpaid internships while I worked at Macy's all summer or who got to go on family vacation and shit and I didn't get to do much of that stuff at all. I know that I still have a lot more privilege than many people in this country and most people in this world--especially since I'm college-educated--but I also know there are a lot more people out there who have WAY more privilege than I do and who just take it for granted, and are also WAY less aware of their privilege than I am. Kinda depressing, but then again it's all about how you look at it. I have to say that the time in my life when I was 'poorest' economically also happened to be when I was happiest as a child, and the people in my life that are the most 'working class' are probably the most easy people to get along with for me. It's all relative I guess.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Disappointed in Berkeley

I can't believe Tom Bates is backing down from Berkeley's very cool, very radical anti-military recruitment stance that their City Council recently decided on. Even in Berkeley, let's be real, most of the military recruitment is targeted towards poor people, people of color, who have few other options to pursue to 'get ahead'. I admired Berkeley's stance on military recruitment (I believe they recently kicked out military recruiters from public high school campuses) and I'm disappointed that the Republican-sponsored blackmail of the city--'we'll cut your federal funding if you go through with this'--actually worked to intimidate the city and the mayor. Sounds like even radical Berkeley is no longer even symbolically leading the charge against our imperialist, war-mongering times. Fitting, given that Obama, the so-called 'progressive' Presidential candidate has recently turned pro-Zionist and pro-war by advocating for the invasion of Afghanistan.

Sigh. What's the world coming to? And really, can't groups like Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation (one of the nonprofits in Berkeley that would lose its federal funding under the Republicans' attack) raise its own $250,000 without taxpayer money? As a fundraiser, I know this is possible, and I'm a little appalled at how quickly Berkeley balked at this one. Sad and disappointing indeed.