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!