Don’t vote your conscience, vote your vagina.

A couple of days ago, I tweeted “So, according to @wikileaks, @realDonaldTrump has no emails with evidence that he’s a psychotic #sexualpredator #fascist fucktard? Weird!” The next morning, there were responses from the Trump camp saying, “Trump doesn’t use email.” and “You don’t know how wikileaks works.” I immediately blocked those people and deleted the tweet. These Trump supporters did not protest, “He’s not a sexual predator!” or “He’s not a fascist fucktard!” They responded, “Trump doesn’t use email.” I cringed thinking these people knew my name.

So, here is my letter imploring those who feel “I must vote my conscience,” or “I cannot vote for either Hillary or Trump, they are both the same.” to not do that. Stop doing that.

I, like many of you, dreamed of a Sander’s presidency, that big menschy saba in the White House, saving the planet and providing a platform of this country we could all get behind and even participate in. Saving the planet, improving public education, enforcing and protecting civil rights…I am not a big Hillary supporter, I do not feel an impending sense of glee or empowerment having her be the first woman president, but I offer to you, voters, why I am voting for her on November 8th and why you should too.

Consider, under 8 years of President Barack Obama,  our first African American president and, as far as presidents go, pretty liberal and progressive, the alarming and terrifying rate at which unarmed black men, (or those who are lawfully carrying a weapon) and women who are murdered by police officers without fear of reprimand. And each time an officer unlawfully shoots and kills a black man or woman on the street and walks away, the message is clear: “These actions are tolerated, these actions are ok.”

Consider again, under the same progressive administration, the rise of rape, domestic abuse and murder of women, world wide, by their partners or someone they knew and, again, the lack of consequence for the actions of these perpetrators. Brock Turner raped a woman and was found guilty but released after only three months so he could get back to the very important business of swimming in a pool. Aaron Persky then let the world know, women are not valuable. Their bodies are yours for the taking.

Brock Turner is still a rapist. I hope he remembers every waking moment of his life.

Consider again, under the same administration, which has been decidedly pro-gun control (see HERE for details), that according to  www.gunviolencearchive.org.  12,506 people have died due to gun violence in this country since January 2016.

There are forces at work here that are outside the control of the federal government. This is indeed the rise of the uber-right in our country: armed, immoral and dangerous. It is a culture, a belief system, which cannot be illegalized, it must be met with head to head combat, meaning, our victory is achieved in a battle against these ideas.

Trump may not win this election (fingers crossed!) but this political faction will find somebody more charming, more articulate, more polished to represent their agenda in 2020 if we don’t do our civic duty and organize for the next 4 years to build a viable 3rd party candidate.

Our only option on Tuesday is to elect an administration under which we can continue to organize, to speak out, to peacefully assemble and to creatively and effectively create new institutions with a vision towards a better world where the earth is not on fire and that the conditions that are festering that have allowed this human piece of garbage to become a savior to disenfranchised people no longer exist. A world where everyone is entitled to work that offers integrity, to schools that are not parasitic shell corporations for greedy immoral businesses…to a world free of never-ending war.

We cannot expect a magic wand to be waved under any administration where everything just becomes better. We must work for it. Many of you who say, “Oh I can’t vote for either party” or “I’m going to vote Jill Stein”, should really assess their understanding of the role the president plays, of what they are able to change and control. Under 8 years of Obama, things on the ground are daunting. Can you imagine, oh voters of conscience, what lives will be destroyed and lost under a Trump presidency? Under a man who has yet to say anything factual, or coherent, but yet still manages to promote the message that people of color, immigrants, and women are indeed second class citizens or even third class citizens and that if you stand against him, a violent response is appropriate, if not encouraged. On a side note, what is really magical about the Trump campaign is his support from working class people who are suffering economically when he doesn’t even pay his workers. Weird!

Under a Trump administration, what would you say? Would you be saying, I am so proud of that stand I took on November 8th! Look where we are now! At least I am at peace with my conscience!

To say that Clinton and Trump are the same is lazy political analysis at best.

In my opinion, you’re not entitled to your vote. In my house, my mother instilled in us to act not solely for the betterment of one, but for the good of all. Meaning we were always aware of how our actions impacted other people. When you vote your “conscience”, you’re voting against my personal safety. Especially when you don’t even actively organize on around any issues. People who post things on FaceBook and live an otherwise privileged and comfortable life without participating in political organizing or community organizing (no, signing online petitions don’t count) I’m letting you know now, your vote is not your personal choice, it’s a collective strategy. For the betterment of all.

I say Vote Your Vagina, not to necessarily say you are voting for a woman, but to celebrate the decline of the old patriarchal order and to usher in the new. We saw our collective power by getting a candidate like Bernie Sanders as far as we did. That was the first step. We didn’t lose, we began. But by Vote your Vagina, I mean vote the part of you that loves the planet, those things that have always been associated with the feminine, like kindness and butterflies and the moon. Vote with the part of you that loves love and your mother. Vote with the sharing collective part of you, not the fearful hoarder who is only protecting moldy garbage nobody wants. Don’t vote your conscience on Tuesday. Vote your vagina.

Call for Submissions: UnApologetic

www.unapologeticwomen.com

October 11, 2016:

A little over a year ago, I met my relatives in the hotel restaurant for the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. I said hello to my aunt and uncle, and walked off to peruse the perfectly cubed potatos, the gorgeously golden brown french toast wedges, the cascades of strawberries and blueberries over mountains of melons and pineapple, and appetizing, but not spectacular, scrambled eggs being gently warmed by a bunson burner…when I noticed, across the dining room, a woman in a black shirt and smart vest expertly executing made-to-order omelettes, cracking not one, not two, but three eggs that filled the small iron cast pan perfectly, over the individually assigned ingredients. Cheese shavings of all varieties, peppers, green and red, shards of onions, like glass, simmered alongside mushrooms and spinach leaves, with occasional crumbles of feta cheese.

I walked toward her slowly, pausing. I too wanted a made-to-order omelette, but with only one egg, not three. Yet, I felt this was an absurd request; sure you could ask for more, but who was I to ask for less? I imagined approaching her, as gently as possible, “Excuse me, sorry but, could I have…” and throwing her whole carefully choreographed system into disarray and chaos.

I turned and walked back to the standard issue scrambled eggs before turning around and heading back toward the omelette station. I did this about 3 times, weighing the possibilities, debating back and forth, battling between what I wanted and what I deserved, which I, myself, ultimately decided, was less than even the less I wanted. I’m sure the determining factor was that I didn’t want the scrambled eggs, which were clearly neglected in light of this amazing omelette station, to get thrown away. I alone was responsible for food getting wasted.

I returned to the table and my aunt asked me what I was doing; she had witnessed me walking back and forth. I explained it to her, making a joke about “The Sorrowful Irish Woman” complex. Not sorrowful as in full of sorrow, but full of sorry. “It’s the Irish Trinity,” I explained, “Excuse me! Thank you! Sorry!” Always accompanied by nervous giggling. And oh, how we laughed and laughed, poking fun of ourselves, descendents of struggling Irish immigrants, victims of some of the most brutal and heartless colonization in the history of the world. Hilarious how this double consciousness became a character trait, born in fear and subjugation, passed down through the generations. Culturally conditioned to take care of everyone else before ourselves and to apologize for asking for basic necessities. Ha ha!

The Irish, like much of our homeland, cannot claim “Sorry” as our own. “Sorry” plagues all women. It is our collective unconscious agreement that we are second class citizens, that we don’t have the right to occupy the space it takes for us to walk down the street or stand up straight.  That if we’re wrong or not immediately right, we need to explain and beg for another chance. It’s polite to say “Excuse me” when pushing past someone, but we apologize, always, every moment, for asking for just enough or too little.

In college I met amazing people who opened my eyes to a whole world of ideas and theories and history regarding race, class, and gender. I felt empowered and vindicated when my best friend played “Feels Blind” by Bikini Kill for me for the first time. Unable to cope with or contemplate my own liberation, I adopted the attitude that my particular oppression wasn’t that big of a deal anyway and shouldn’t my time, energy and resources be focused on people who are even more oppressed?

In July of 2016, I celebrated my 43rd birthday with all my shit and baggage and emotional issues from my 20’s intact. I guess you could say I have vintage trauma, my intimacy issues are from the 70’s even. If I hold on to them for a few more years, maybe they will double in value! At 43, I’m  still seeing the delicious omelet that’s for me, exactly the way I want it, that I would really enjoy so much, and I’m walking back to get the now dried out, room temperature scrambled eggs that are just no good anymore.

I was inspired, not so much by last summer’s breakfast buffet, but by the harrowing news that greets me each morning that women of all ages and backgrounds are still victims of rape and abuse at an alarming, incomprehensible, inexcusable rate. Compounding this very real and terrifying fact, that we are in danger all the time, all over the world, is that even movements for racial equality, which whom all women should be fighting alongside with full force, sees the cause of women’s equality as a footnote or point of reference and not a neccessary ally for the liberation of all people. For example, Aaron Persky’s dismissal of Brock Turner brutal rape did not register a discussion of strategy to eliminate rape and rape culture where there is plenty of room for men to speak out about this to other men, but a plethora of articles compairing and lamenting the unfair sentences for rapists along lines of class and race. Are you fucking kidding me? The discussion shouldn’t have been “he only got this much time for raping that woman when this guy got like 10 years,” it should have been, “Oh my god, look at all these women getting raped all the time!”

And then Donald Trump. Running for president. Today is October 11th, 2016. I am sure by November 8th, we will hear even more deplorable and misogynist “locker room banter”. Again, while I almost expect this backwards thinking by his supporters who can only understand their own liberation through the oppression of everyone else, it’s the “progressive” circles that worry me. Those who insist that a Trump presidency is the same as a Clinton presidency really perceive gender inequality as, I suppose, not that big of a deal. That our rights to our bodies will be much better off under Clinton than a Trump presidency isn’t a major, if not determining, factor for them in this upcoming election.

These things are related. Our constant apologizing for nothing, the colonization of our bodies, the direct and incessant messages bombarding us to be smaller, to take up less space in our own skin, our worth in the market place still at $0.65 to a dollar, we are 13/20 of a man. We are still the rib.

I am tired of apologizing, I’m done with being sorry. Let’s not be sorry anymore together.

This is an invitation to be part of UnApologetic, a series of testimony and portraits toward liberation, to eliminate “sorry” from women’s venacular. Share your story of what you refuse to apologize for any more, of what you unapologize for, and help put “sorry” where it belongs: in deliberate conversation where you are seriously trying to make amends for hurting someone else. When you liberate yourself, you open the door for others, you can be the voice that empowers another woman or girl or lady to stop apologizing and together we can start a movement.   

What is UnApologetic?

UnApologetic is an open and public photography project accompanying testimony for women’s liberation. Women write their own testimony to be shared publicly, online and elsewhere, explaining what they are no longer sorry for, and collaborate with the photographer, Tracey Noelle Luz, to create a portrait  that reflects who they are as a woman who refuses to apologize for who they are or what they have been through.

The Process: Women  sign a release form* and submit their testimony to unapologetic.women@gmail.com, and collaborate with the photographer on a portrait to accompany their testimony.

How can you participate?

1. Email unapologetic.women@gmail.com and let us know you are interested in participating. All portaits and testimonies will be shared online, through social media, and through other venues for people to read, so if you’re not comfortable sharing your story publicly, this option is not for you. Otherwise, we will send you a release form, and you can send us your testimony of what you no longer or refuse to apologize for. Based on your testimony, we’ll create a portrait that best represents you as your unapologetic self.  

2. At this time, I can only take your portrait if you are in the metro New York area. If you want to share your story, but it’s too far for us to connect at this moment, please take your camera phone, point it at yourself, and declare, “I’m not sorry for……” Tag us on social media with these hashtags: #unapologetic, #unapologetic_women, #unapologeticwomen, #weunapologetic. Post on our FB page, share with us on Twitter or FaceBook.

3. If you’re not comfortable with sharing your story and being photographed, you can still read about other women’s stories and be inspired by their voices! Stories will be updated on a regular basis so check the web page often once we get up and running!

4. Love yourself and be yourself completely and totally all the time. Apologize for nothing.

*Portraits and testimony will be used shared publicly on unapologeticwomen.com as well as in print and in gallery settings. Before participation, you must sign a release.  

Social Media:

FaceBook: UnApologeticWomen

Instagram: @unapologetic_women

Twitter: @weunapologetic

 

Camiesha Cassanova, A Wilder Fire

I met Camiesha in an Uber pool in Manhattan. I got into the car and was immediately struck by her beauty. I told her so. “Are you a model?” I asked. She said, “No, but I want to be.” We exchanged numbers and two months later she agreed to meet me in Rockaway on the last perfect summer day in September. We met at Playland, and talked for maybe 15 minutes before walking to the beach. And we just started shooting. Cameisha knew exactly what to do, how to look, how to move, she’s so natural in front of the camera so that the shoot itself is like poetry. It just flows and the images are reflective of her love of modeling and my bliss behind the camera.

 

Growing up in Jamaica, Camiesha started modeling in competition and runway shows at 7 years old. Six years later, she came to New York City to attend school but was sent to meet some family, she is one of 15 siblings, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Throughout high school, she could not quell her dream of modeling. Camiesha discovered that she had a grandmother living in New York, and she knew that to launch a modeling career, she needed to be there.  “I always had the burning desire to live in NYC and to follow that dream,” she explained. “However, it was not a ‘safe’ profession, as people in my family would say.” After her 18th birthday, she left for New York without telling anyone where she was going.

“I read a lot of magazines and self help books as I had no mentors, or anyone who believed in a dream only I felt and only I could see. Meditation became a big part in my life after all the failures I’ve endured during my journey. Journaling is an escape for me; it spills my mind out on papers that I can read over to relearn myself.” – Camiesha Cassanova

 

 

I love Rockaway Beach and was elated when Camiesha agreed to meet me there. I was also elated when the weather decided to cooperate, since the forecast had predicted showers. There’s a joy when you’re collaborating with someone to make something beautiful, but it’s even more exciting when that person is a complete stranger. We saw a motorcycle, and we were like, Oh it would be so great if  we could ask the owner if we could use his motorcycle in a couple of pics. And then that guy appeared. Cameisha would invite who ever she could into the photos. When we were by the swings, she summoned over these two little girls, “Can I push you on the swings?” “Don’t scratch me!” said one of the little girls. Bratty Irish! In front of Saint Rose of Lima, where my mom was baptized, she reached out to take photos with a nervous chihauhau. Princess was not accommodating. So we had this great playing going on, but as soon as the distraction was over, Camiesha popped right back into to glamour mode.

 

“When I first came to the USA, I was home sick, culture-shocked, and scared. I missed my little island, my comfort zone. That is where I felt I can do anything,” said Camiesha. “Coming here made me feel so small. I realize now at the age of 22 that fear and doubt is what prevented from being that fierce 7 year old that I once was. Now I’m evolving into something more, a wilder fire, to finally become the model I always was, and wanted to be.”

Follow Camiesha on Instagram @theresamoraltothestory.

All Rights Reserved, Tracey Noelle Luz
Camiesha Cassanova, Rockaway Beach, September 18, 2016

 

 

 

 

Karina Rykman, Bass and Beyond

I met Karina in 2011 when she accompanied Alex Skolnick on bass for an “UnBlock the Rock” fundraiser in Jersey City. She wasn’t even 21 yet, we had to ask for permission from the bar to let her in. Five years later, she’s touring with Marco Benevento, filling in for usual bassist Dave Dreiwitz when he’s on tour with Ween.
Rykman started playing guitar at 13, adding the bass soon after. In 8th grade, she joined her first band, “False Arrest” started by her friend Bobby just weeks after she got her first electric guitar. “I told him I only knew how to play power chords – he said that was all I needed to know.”
A skilled bass player for Shitkill until 2015, and the current guitar player for  Youth Posse, Karina learned by playing with accomplished musicians or playing along to records. Her early influences include Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, but as she grew up, her tastes in music expanded greatly. “I listened to tons of punk and metal and funk and hip hop, and then got really deep into Phish and the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead in early high school. Now I’m sort of an amalgam of everything – I love the Talking Heads and I love Funkadelic, but I also pledge allegiance to the Beastie Boys and Slayer and so far beyond.”
I caught up with Rykman in her NYC apartment, in early September. An unexpected yet perfect mix of rock and roll prodigy and toy buddha, Karina exudes joy and humility. Her rhythm is zen, and her future is bright, illuminating the path to musical bliss.

Rockaway Beach, Hurricane Hermine

Maybe it’s because my mother was born there or that it has such a huge Irish history, but I feel at home at Rockaway Beach. To me it’s the perfect mix of a rooted, working class community and surfers. Of old world class and grit with just enough places to get a good cup of coffee or a tasty beer. I love Rockaway. You have to pay to get on the beaches in Jersey, it acts as segregation against folks who don’t have a lot of income. But in Rockaway everyone is welcome.

I planned on going to the beach on September 5th. I knew even though it was shut down because of Hurricane Hermine, there would be surfers. The park patrol kept threatening everyone with $250 tickets but by early evening, they were outnumbered 20 to one and the waters were overrun with surfers. I brought my bikini and my camera just in case. Here’s my walk from 65th street up to 98th.

 

 

Own Your Shit, an Open Letter to Brock Turner

Brock Turner, after he raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.
Brock Turner, after he raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

Dear Brock Turner,

Truthfully, every time I think of you and your shitty family, it is not easy for me to channel my inner Martin Luther King. And maybe that’s the paradox, your disgusting existence makes me try to be the best example of humanity I can strive for. If I am speaking as Tracey right now, I don’t think you or your entire gene pool has a place on this planet, except maybe in a petri dish to be studied by science. I don’t have love for you as one of “God’s children”, quite opposite, I would consider it an act of God if your house was smote or if you all died in a car accident. So this is not some pollyanna love and compassion type letter, this is me trying to figure out a way to contribute to the end of rape culture constructively, since women all over the world unequivocally saying, “I do not want to be raped” is, for whatever reason, not effective.

I am writing to you with the conviction that you know, deep down, what you did was unforgivable, inexcusable, atrocious, and that you were given a light sentence because of your race and class privilege. You cannot live with this knowledge. People cannot live with secret untruths, they come back to you, they will fester, and manifest and haunt you like a cancer or karma. The truth is there, except in your case, the whole world knows you raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, that you did not get a just jail sentence, and you will carry that with you until your grave.

I think this is an opportunity, not only for you to redeem yourself, but to contribute to the betterment of mankind as a whole. I am calling on you to publicly and fully take responsibility for your actions. In the most public way you must apologize to that woman you raped behind a dumpster while she was unconscious and you must acknowledge that you did not get a fair jail sentence and you should have been sentenced the full amount possible. I am calling on you to turn this tragedy into something else. Find an expert on rape and talk with them extensively. See how you can contribute, by going to fraternities, speaking at universities, educating your peers on women’s rights to be able to go to a party without being raped while they are unconscious and behind a dumpster and the issues of consent (the woman must be conscious). How can you fundraise for rape clinics? How can you influence change on college campuses to make them safer for women? We, women have been doing this all along, but clearly, there is still much work to be done.

Here’s the thing:

For women to exist peacefully and with human dignity on this planet while we are here, we cannot extricate ourselves from men. For one, 99.9% of us love men. Romantically, socially, in a familial way. We exist on this planet with you. Our liberation is bound to men understanding their actions and correcting them. We have done our part. We have opened clinics, begged for funding, made the most social impact with the little resources we have, we have marched, we have lobbied, we have declared and stood up, we have demanded justice. We are not the problem. The laws that are stacked against us are not our responsibility. The sexual and physical behavior of men is not our responsibility.

Someone is not a man because they stick their twisted little dick inside a vulnerable, unconscious woman behind a dumpster. A true man is responsible for their actions and owns their shit. Man up.

Tracey Noelle Luz

September 3, 2016

 

Own Your Shit, An Open Letter to Johnny Depp

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Photo taken from Hollywood Scanner video, Amber Heard after fight with Johnny Depp, on cover of People Magazine, June 1, 2016.

Dear Johnny Depp,

Unfortunately, we live in a world where celebrities can abuse women and for the most part, it has no lasting impact on their career. You could make another movie in a couple of years and everyone will have forgotten or forgiven the fact that you beat up your much younger wife throughout your 15 month marriage.

However, women will continue to be beaten and violently attacked by their partners, women who don’t have financial resources or the fortune of beauty and youth, women who are completely isolated and without means of leaving abusive men who are emboldened by your actions. Men who align themselves with you and whose violent, misogynistic behaviors are explicitly reinforced by you and the lack of consequences you suffer because you are famous.

Every time a famous man is accused of physically beating up or raping a woman and the matter is settled out of court or the perpetrator does not face legal recourse, the rest of us are told, “This was not really a big deal.” Which translates into, “The safety and well being of women is not really that important.” People love you so much they didn’t even want to believe you were beating up your wife despite evidence to the contrary.

For women to exist peacefully and with human dignity on this planet while we are here, we cannot extricate ourselves from men. For one, 99.9% of us love men. Romantically, socially, in a familial way. We exist on this planet with you. Our liberation is bound to men understanding their actions and correcting them. We have done our part. We have opened clinics, begged for funding, made the most social impact with the little resources we have, we have marched, we have lobbied, we have declared and stood up, we have demanded justice. We are not the problem. The laws that are stacked against us are not our responsibility. The sexual and physical behavior of men is not our responsibility.

You have a tremendous opportunity here to correct your actions and to make a huge difference. Imagine, the ripples of change that would occur if you stood up, condemning domestic violence, condemning your own actions, what would that mean in the eyes of so many men who grew up watching you wide-eyed in the movie theater? As tragic and terrible as your actions are, this is an opportunity for you to stand up, own your shit, and let people know what you did was wrong, you regret it, you are seeking help, you are selling your island and donating the proceeds to organizations that help women suffering from domestic violence and you encourage others to do the same. You are setting up clinics for men to get the help they need. You are setting up funds for organizations to figure out ways to eradicate violence against women all over the planet forever.

It’s time, Johnny Depp. Own your shit and be a man. Put an end to the cycle of physical abuse.

-Tracey Noelle Luz

August 20, 2016