#MatteredToMe - June 26, 2020: Burning
- Early in the week, I read this 2019 study by Noura Erakat and Paul C. Gorski about how white racial justice activists elevate burnout in racial justice activists of color. This resonated with some of my own experiences in activist spaces, and the experiences of other people I've talked to.
- Safia Elhillo's poem "For My Friends, In Reply to a Question" has a palpable longing in it, for home, for family, for touch. But I think it's more than simply a desire, it's a grief. It's a beautiful poem.
- Alexander Chee wrote about the ways that this pandemic mirrors the AIDS crisis, how the AIDS activism of the 80s and 90s laid groundwork for movements today.
- Finally, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about his home city of Columbus, Ohio, about what it means to love a place, about the monuments of a personal landscape, and how they change and disappear, and how what endures is the work. This piece particularly resonated with me as my own home town considers changing some of its symbols and monuments.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. There are people in your life who are hurting right now, maybe including yourself. What can you do to care for or comfort them? Or yourself?
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - June 19, 2020: Build a House
- There is so much I love about Aracelis Girmay's 2017 poem "You Are Who I Love," but what I'm thinking about right now is the caesura in the 4th-to-last stanza. How there is space between the sentences but not separation. How there's no border and no end to this love.
- Jericho Brown's poem "Say Thank You Say I'm Sorry," which is, I think, about both who and what is essential. This part in particular is on my mind: "Save / My loves and not my sentences."
- NPR's Code Switch podcast did an episode recently about the "outside agitator," and how this trope is used to defend white supremacy both by undermining protest and by pleading white innocence.
- In his newsletter yesterday, Devin Kelly did a close reading of Jamaal May's poem "Macrophobia (Fear of Waiting)," and both the poem and the discussion of it were wonderful.
- Brandon Taylor wrote an essay that is, I think, about different manifestations of fear during this pandemic, and how that fear isolates and separates, and also how it creates a togetherness born of voyeurism and complicity.
- Finally, Rhiannon Giddens released her song "Build a House" today, featuring Yo-Yo Ma. It felt profound and beautiful to me to see this song performed by a Black woman and an Asian American man, making this music together.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm fortunate to have the ability to spend money today supporting Black artists and Black businesses, so that's what I'm doing. If you, like me, are non-Black, I hope you will, too.
Thank you, and take care.
New KTCO: Leah Huizar
This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with poet Leah Huizar. Leah’s collection Inland Empire juxtaposes personal history with California history, excavating different layers of colonialism and centering Mexican-American women. In our conversation, we talked about what it means to own or be of a place, the stories behind California history, and what parts of history we carry forward to the next generation. Then in the second segment, we discussed the value of creative endurance.
Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:
You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.
If you'd like to support Leah's work, you could buy a copy of her poetry collection Inland Empire.
#MatteredToMe - June 12, 2020: Black Grief, Photojournalism, and Anti-Carceral Organizing
- Taylor Harris's essay "Whiteness Can't Save Us" is about loving her kids, and fearing for them; about church and school and hospitals, and the heartbreak and fear and anger of the ways those places don't always care for Black people.
- John Edwin Mason wrote about the ways photographs and photojournalism can lie even while showing a portion of truth, how this shapes the way we see protests and Black people.
- Saeed Jones's essay "Whose Grief? Our Grief," about the protests, about how this moment is the product of generations of American brutality, about what Black people are allowed to say or own. "But maybe history ain’t even history; maybe it’s just another kind of grief."
- Organizer Mariame Kaba's zine which republished the 1977 "Open Letter to the Anti-Rape Movement" from the Santa Cruz Women Against Rape, showing the necessity of organizing that is feminist, anti-racist, and anti-carceral all at once. Showing how all of these fights are connected, how they are actually one fight. And showing how this fight is not new, and still not over.
- Melissa Gira Grant on the co-opting and mainstreaming of "defund the police," and how this can be seen as a defense of the status quo.
- Finally, Chenjerai Kumanyika's two-part conversation with abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, getting at both the history of the carceral state and the need to push for a society that actually values and supports dignified human life.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Lately I've been oscillating between anger, despair, and cautious hope. I'm heartened by how many people newly recognize the need for change, and I hope we can keep pushing for it.
Thank you, and take care.
We Need Better Democrats
For the past couple of weeks in my city, one our City Councilmembers has been getting a lot of praise—and rightly so. Councilmember Monica Montgomery was elected in 2018 to represent the 4th Council District here in San Diego. A criminal justice advocate and former City Hall staffer, Montgomery ran on an explicit platform of police reform, vowing to use her time in office to champion efforts like banning chokeholds and establishing an independent Commission on Police Practices. Since taking office, she has done exactly that. Since the protests began in our county just over a week ago, we have seen both the mayor and most of the city council come out in support of a ballot measure to establish that Commission, we have seen the police union back off of opposing it, and every police department in the county has now banned neck restraints. Of course, we cannot give all of the credit for these changes to Councilmember Montgomery, but she was and is an important part of it.
It’s on my mind, though, that Montgomery was not expected to win in her election, because her opponent was the incumbent Council President, Myrtle Cole. I mentioned that Montgomery had previously been a City Hall staffer; in fact, she had worked in Cole’s office, but resigned after Cole made remarks arguing that police were justified in racially profiling Black people. Despite those remarks, Cole received the backing of both the local Democratic Party and all of the major labor unions. With that kind of institutional support, the power of incumbency, and close ties to the Mayor’s office, Cole was expected to easily hold her seat. According to her own statements, she didn’t even really mount a campaign. Instead, she came in second to Montgomery during the primary, and then again in a Dem-vs-Dem general election that November.
What this highlights for me, and what’s on my mind as I think about the organizing around the next few elections, is that it’s not enough just to have a D next to a candidate’s name. That not all Democrats are the same. That it matters which Democrats we elect. Both Montgomery and Cole are Democrats. Both are Black women. They do not stand for the same things, and did not have the same priorities in office. This November in San Diego County, three of the five San Diego City Council races, one of the County Supervisor races, one of the State Assembly races, and one of the US House races will have two Democrats facing off. In these elections also, the candidates are not all the same.
It strikes me, too, that the organizations we trust to help us make these decisions don’t always have our best interests in mind. As I mentioned, Myrtle Cole was endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party and all of the major labor unions. On the most recent episode of Matt Strabone’s podcast Show in Progress, back in March, Party chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy said that the Party is required to defend incumbents, which explains their support for Cole. I don’t know why labor backed Cole over Montgomery, and I don’t want to speculate as to the reasons. But it is worth taking the time to understand that both political parties and labor unions are organizations that exist to accrue political power unto themselves, not to do “what’s right.” Often times, both parties and unions will come out against good reforms, and while I’m not privy to their decisionmaking processes, it has struck me that those reforms are often the ones that might decrease their own influence over elections, even while helping marginalized communities or candidates. You can make your arguments about whether or not that’s a good thing, and it makes complete sense to me that a political party or a labor union would want to protect and increase their political power. But if the cost of this is undermining necessary changes, is that worthwhile?
This year, many of the downballot elections that I get to vote for will be Democrats facing off against Republicans. And I will and must vote for the Democrats in these cases, and I will urge everyone I know to do the same. Part of the work I do with grassroots organizations here in San Diego is legislative research and tracking the votes of our state and federal representatives, so I am intimately aware of how much it matters to have Democratic majorities in our legislative bodies that can and do stop the worst offenses of the Republican Party. I also know that even the most centrist Democrats are almost always much more susceptible to pressure from their constituents to move left than moderate Republicans are. I’ve seen this personally with my State Assemblymember, whose voting record flipped dramatically after he left the Republican Party to become a Democrat. Part of that came from pressure from the state Democratic leadership, and part of that came from pressure from his Democratic constituents. Having met over a dozen times with my right-leaning Democratic Congressmember, I also know how many bills we’ve been able to bring to his attention that a Republican would have ignored—if we’d even been able to get a seat at the table in the first place. So I will obviously be voting to keep those Democrats in office, to defend their seats from their Republican challengers. And for the exact same reasons, I’ll be voting for Joe Biden, too.
And yet, in a time when more and more people are realizing that incremental changes and targeted reforms are wholly insufficient to meet the issues we face as a nation, whether that’s racist policing, healthcare, or climate change, as I look toward 2022 and beyond, it is on my mind that simply defending Democratic incumbents is not enough. The Assemblymember that I and my colleagues have been able to push on a few issues also routinely abstains from controversial votes, and is mostly known for introducing bills about pets. The Member of Congress who I mentioned frequently meeting with prioritizes working with Republicans and fundamentally believes in small, incremental bills as the appropriate and most effective kind of legislation. Both of these men are personable and, I think, mostly well-meaning, but their approaches to government cannot and will not give us the changes we need, and neither the Democratic Party nor the local labor unions are at all likely to support a more progressive primary challenger in the future. Just today, Joe Biden’s campaign made it clear that he does not support defunding police departments. We need Joe Biden right now, because as the Democratic nominee he is the only viable alternative to Trump, and four more years of Trump would be a disaster, and lethal to so many people in vulnerable communities. But when we look to 2024 or 2028, what could we accomplish with a President who truly understands and enthusiastically advances the systemic changes we need, instead of one who we merely hope we can push to the right side of history?
If we are serious about making change, then I think we need to do more than just exhorting people to vote. By the time we get to a general election ballot, the choices we have are constrained, sometimes to trying to figure out the lesser of two evils. Even in a primary election, our choices are still often constrained by a candidate’s money or lack thereof, by the way institutional pressure and obstacles are deployed to defend incumbents and insiders. It’s not that a candidate can’t win without the establishment—Councilmember Montgomery is proof of that. But it’s an uphill battle even in the best of circumstances. We need to do better at keeping the issues and real solutions front and center in the public’s minds, and finding and supporting candidates who will enact those solutions. Because, yes, it matters who we vote for, but it matters, too, who we have the opportunity to vote for. I don’t know exactly how to do all of this, but I know we need it. I hope we can get there.
#MatteredtoMe - June 5, 2020: A Week of Protest, Black Lives Matter
- Last week, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about the violence of American normalcy. “But also because when people fighting for freedom use tactics some would deem violent, it is holding up a mirror to a violent country. Whether or not that result is intentional or understood by those in power. So much of what is labeled as violence was learned through American machinery or American neglect.”
- Kimmy Yam wrote about Tou Thao and the history of Asian American complicity in anti-Blackness. Something we as Asian Americans need to understand and own.
- Like a lot of people, I returned to Jericho Brown's poem “Bullet Points” this week. Written four years ago, but, of course, part of the point of all of this is that police violence isn't new.
- Danez Smith's piece in the New Yorker today, “Crying, Laughing, Crying at the George Floyd Protests in Minneapolis.” “Why do we have police? Have you Googled where they come from? The precinct’s ancestor is the plantation cabin filled with overseers, between the slave quarters and the big house. When the North came down to free my people, you tell me what burned.”
- Finally, Luther Hughes's poem “Stay Safe,” which starts with such tenderness, contrasting with the worry and fear that comes later. Well, which is always there.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. It's been heartening to me to see so many of my friends and family speaking up and speaking out lately, who might not have before. I hope it is a sign of good things yet to come.
Thank you, and take care.