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.

#wearenotafraid #weareorlando

My mother’s family is from Ireland, and as a result, island blood pumps through my veins. When you’re from an island, you think the world is a tiny place, and so you make it so, approaching every social gathering with a gregariousness that assumes we have been friends and family forever. Irish, Puerto Rican, Cubans, perhaps partly genetic and partly political, evolving from our need to travel across the ocean to be able to find something to eat, something to dream, we can’t see imaginary boundaries and divisions between people. My love goes out to Orlando, my love goes out to the Puerto Rican community.

Last night, June 15, 2016 in Jersey City, as the night came upon our demonstration, people held their candles in the crowd, protecting the flame from the breeze with their palms and lighting their neighbor’s candle when it extinguished. Sometimes the flame would flicker and you would see only a charred wick, until the flame grew bright again.  The metaphor is cliche and obvious, but it’s there. It’s a testament to those who fought on the front lines in the LGBT movement for the last 50 years that the response and outpouring of love was so immediate and so diverse. Faced with an unconceivable attack and unthinkable deaths, we have grown stronger, and the message has become clearer: Love is love is love is love.

 

Honoring Anita.

On September 11, 2001 I was teaching a fifth grade class at Thirteenth Avenue School in Newark, New Jersey. Mrs. Thompson, the teacher from across the hall, stuck her head into my classroom and said, “The twin towers have been hit by a plane.”  My first thought was, “I can’t believe this is happening when George Bush is the President.”

My disbelief and anxiety grew over the next few weeks with each American flag that popped up, with each jingoistic commercial created to instill a sense of entitlement and superiority while gutting our democracy.  The camera, below the podium angled upward at a seemingly human Giuliani, the patron saint of capitalism, “Go Shopping!” he declared, this is how you can help your country! With each compliant and alarmist headline, peace activists became criminals, those who questioned the government and the nature of the attacks were unpatriotic. The politics of 9-11 hid behind the heroism of the first-responders (George Bush called them rescuers) to justify a policy that would destroy an entire region and hundreds of thousands of lives while making Halliburton an ungodly profit. Communists were no longer the elusive phantom that justified illegal torture at home and abroad, now we could declare never-ending war on burqas and turbans without differentiating between Iraq and Afghanistan, between Shiite or Sunni. And the Patriot Act.

My second thought that day, which still makes my stomach lurch and my throat tighten even today, 14 years later, was along the lines of  “This is what it’s like in Baghdad all the time.”1 This is what it’s like in many parts of the world every day who don’t have the resources to lose cell service for only a couple of hours during an emergency, who don’t have fire departments and rescue squads and blood donors flooding the phones to help, who don’t have crucial things that we take for granted like running water or readily available medicine.

That thought made me hopeful in a way I can’t explain. I believed the good people of America would see this as a new opportunity for peace. That we would consider ourselves not as a nation but as part of the whole human family and  reassess our convenient distance from bombing and death, our desensitization and video gamification of war. I could not understand or accept that American lives were more valuable than any other country.

The mainstream press did a pretty great job during that time toting the party line, of not questioning authority or doing any real investigating into what led up to the attacks. 9-11 became a random act where Al-Qaeda just hated our way of life. Giuliani under scrutiny for his defense of police brutality, and George Bush, a Yale graduate who could not negotiate object and subject pronouns but who was able to steal the presidency of the most powerful nation in the world, were absolved from their sins and fitted for shiny new halos.

But, most people are good and righteous and the truth does matter. Despite a co-ordinated campaign on behalf of the press and government to rile everyone up into a red, white and blue frenzy, before and as the U.S. sent so many young men and women to perish and be destroyed physically and emotionally in Iraq (which again, had nothing to do with 9-11), there was a monumental movement against the impending invasion. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets for peace and against an invasion, many of which carried signs that read, “I drink cabernet and I vote!” Because of France’s distinguished and correct position against the war, they almost lost their cultural right to french fries in this country.

Irregardless, the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a study published in National Geographic 2 years ago, 500,000 or half a million Iraqis are dead.4 This number only includes the deaths between 2003 and 2011 and not the frequent bombings before the 2003 invasion. In a report published by Physicians for Social Responsibility, between 72,500 and 116,000 civilians have been estimated to be casualties of the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011.5 On October 3rd, a hospital in Afghanistan was bombed, and nobody changed their FaceBook profile picture or even sent prayers. On November 14th, the day before the attacks in Paris, 40 people lost their lives in Beirut.  I didn’t even know. And still I am asking why do American lives, or French lives matter so much more? I want someone to explain to me, the difference between a family who has the unfortunate circumstance of living in a country that the United States has decided to bomb, the terror that they feel and the terror that overcame Paris on November 13, 2015. What makes one life more valuable? What makes one attack more terrifying?

On Friday November 20th, at 9:30 in the morning, I read about hostages being taken in Mali. FaceBook was quiet. There were no fancy lights on any buildings. I read about the only American who was killed, Anita Ashok Datar of Takoma Park, Md. I didn’t put it together she might be the same Anita Datar from Flanders, New Jersey. Anita and I were friends in elementary school. Children, probably now divorced alcoholics in debt with terrible stretch marks and bad teeth called us names, teasing us. I was Lacey Klutz. Anita was “I need a guitar.” “That’s really clever,” I said one day. “It’s like a whole sentence and it totally rhymes.” Anita did not like that at all. Even then she was sensitive and sophisticated.  “It’s not even mean!” I protested. But I still imagined her shredding in the secrecy of her bedroom, below the watchful gaze of Cabbage patch dolls and Strawberry Shortcake.

I grieve for her family, but I take courage and inspiration from her brother, Sanjeev who told the Washington Post: “And while we are angry and saddened that she has been killed, we know that she would want to promote education and healthcare to prevent violence and poverty at home and abroad, not intolerance.”

Anita lived her life helping others, she was recognized as a leader in her field, and worked to eliminate HIV/AIDS throughout developing countries, primarily sub-Saharan Africa. In a statement issued by Palladium, Anita’s employer, Ambassador Debbi Birx, is quoted as saying, “we were so fortunate to have such an extraordinary woman dedicated to ending HIV/AIDS and standing up for human rights. She inspires all of us to do better…we admired Anita’s compassion and sensitivity and true commitment to the cause.” As people from a privileged country, whose lives are somehow more precious when taken by an act of terror, we have a choice to either accept supreme status, or, forego a global caste system and use our temporary darkness to shed light on a brighter future. We can take the time to really analyze our own chauvinism which blinds us to the true nature of these attacks and work towards real peace. We can all do better. We have to.

 

 

  1. Iraq Was Being Bombed During 12 Years of Sanctions, Anup Shah, April 5, 2002
  2. Another Gaza Hospital Hit, NBC News, July 2014
  3. Hospital Bombing in Afghanistan
  4. Iraq War Death Survey, National Geographic 2013
  5. Body Count, Physicians for Social Responsibility
  6. Washington Post, Anita Datar

Occupy the City: If you believe in a god, make him show up.

On August 8, 2015, approximately 8000 people marched through their neighborhoods in Newark to demand an end to violence. From all 5 wards, people convened at Broad and Market, demonstrating their unity as a city. Here, Mayor Baraka speaks addresses the causes that propel young men into a life of violence and what we can do about it. Click the link below to hear Mayor Baraka.

Mayor Baraka, Occupy the City

Tyranny vs. Liberty. You Tell Me. The United States Makes Nice With Cuba.

“Only tyranny fears the full expression of liberty.”  ― José Martí

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This is my first chance to sit and read all the news since Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday.

Since my first trip to Cuba in 1999, I’ve worked to develop an analysis and understanding of the island that was not a static glorification of the revolution but a meaningful interpretation of Cuba’s legacy and what that means for all working people and people of color.

Over the years, attending conferences, debates, panel discussions, etc on Cuba-US relations, was to be a part of a very narrow and polarized dialogue. The politics around Cuba are extremely divisive, one reason why the US imposed embargo was able to survive for so long. (Even the word choice of blockade or embargo is enough to set off a never ending debate).

 

In 2011, when Jennifer Hernandez and I created UnBlock the Rock, it was largely, for me, a way to organize people who held widely different beliefs and would otherwise not work together towards a common goal. Jennifer and I hold extremely different views about Cuba, but we respect each other immensely and I consider her one of my closest friends. Again, for me, it was also a way to use our democratic right (duty?) to organize but in a way that wasn’t so not cool and depressing like many of the isolated movements I participated in.

The slogan of UBTR, “It’s our time”, reflected our belief that it was our time, us, people who weren’t 75 years or older, to determine what our world should look like and how we should interact with each other.

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I’ve only read the US fact sheet “Charting a New Course in Cuba”. Sadly, the travel ban isn’t lifted, I’m not sure if the travel ban was codified into law under the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 and must be overturned by Congress or if Obama has the power to lift it entirely.

I’m not necessarily excited about the United States bringing our brand of democracy anywhere, where some get a little and most get none; our democracy which has had, somehow, the words “rectal” and “forced” attached to it lately; our democracy that can proudly boast more and more people sleeping in train stations while luxury rentals are erected symbolically right next to City Hall in Jersey City seemingly overnight at a frequency that rivals only the frequency with which our democracy shuts down schools and builds prisons for profit…no, none of that democracy being imported or force fed anally into Cuba does not excite me. The highlight of all this for me is Obama openly telling the Republicans to go fuck themselves, because, really, fuck them.

UBTR won. We brought Cuban heavy metal to the states. But our responsibility and right to determine what our world should look like and how we should interact with each other is urgent. And possible. Restored relations with Cuba and world wide demonstrations against police murdering black people and Ras Baraka mayoring in Newark and Pope Francis doing his thing are great conditions to be working under.

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The most crucial thing, as I see it, is lifting the travel ban. Americans have no idea who Cuba is. Cuba has no idea who we are. It’s important we meet each other. It’s our time.

-December 20, 2014

We Are the Mayor: The Election of Ras Baraka

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I want to say I’ve worked on 3 campaigns for Ras; one when he was a 24 year old returning graduate from Howard University and ran against incumbent Sharpe James just because. Because no one else ran against Sharpe James. Two other campaigns when he ran as Councilman-At-Large for the City of Newark. I’ve worked on three campaigns, but I worked 5 election days for Ras, as he has always won, but for some reason or another, there was a run-off and he had to run again.

Working Election Day for an independent campaign is an eternal vacuum of time and space punctuated by a brown paper bag with a sad white bread cold cut sandwich and a can of warm coke. You arrive at a polling place at some ungodly hour in a ridiculously large t-shirt to zealously attack the unfortunate souls who go to vote on their way to work with your literature a designated amount of feet away from the door. Because of course, they left for work half an hour early to vote even though they weren’t sure who they were voting for until you jumped at them armed with a smile, a slogan and a sticker.

After a flurry of 2 or 3 early morning voters, you are left to commune with the facade of a school, the mailman and a tree should there be one. If you get too close to the entrance, someone will come and yell at you to go farther away. Until, around 5 pm, there is another flurry of voters, when the opposing, well-funded candidate’s people show up, in their well-fitting t-shirts, outnumbering you with their arms and hands and door tags, but they cannot outnumber your voice, they cannot shout you down, even though in your boredom you have smoked a pack of cigarettes, your only accomplice for the day, your only witness to the slow passage of time. You can shout louder, because even though you’ve spent the day alone, you are imbued with the power of the people. 8 pm arrives, and you are hopeful and hoarse.

The last campaign I worked on in 2000, I had an idea that I wanted to document the campaign, but I couldn’t stop working on it. I didn’t know then the difference between observing and participating, how you cannot do both. You cannot pick up a phone to call potential voters in one hand and a camera and a notebook in another. But I couldn’t not work on the campaign. I grew up in many ways campaigning for Ras, and in campaigning for Ras, campaigning for the people of Newark, and in campaigning for the people of Newark, campaigning for all of us. Campaigning for me.

I was a 20 year old Rutger’s student the first time I went to Newark and met the Barakas. In my subjective memory, as student organizers from Rutgers, my friends and I were immediately committed to waking up early every Saturday to go door to door and campaign in Newark. it was an easy sell. We liked going to Newark. We liked organizing. We were proud to be a part of this movement.

Six years later, I would move to Newark. I lived on Clinton and Fabian in the South Ward, only a few blocks up the street from the Barakas. The bus stop for the 34 which took me to work at Thirteenth Avenue School was right on the corner. As I waited for the bus in the morning, young men would stand, obviously, shuffling from one foot to the next with their hands stuffed in their pockets on the corner across the street. As cars, nice cars, I suppose from Montclair and other fancy places? Summit? pulled over to talk with the young men, old boys really, they ran over to where I was standing, past me to the doorway of the laundromat where, on the ledge above the door, they grabbed little packets and ran back to the cars, idling across Clinton Ave. We became friendly. “I totally thought you guys made your own hours!” I said, with a sense of wonder.

It was during this time that I would work on two more campaigns for Ras, campaigns born out of that Brick City pulse, campaigns born out of generations of theory and practice.

There is a very fine line between participating and observing, and once you master that line, that is where you find true art. It is the practice of going into real life, head first, emotionally, spiritually, physically, politically and culturally, openly, willing to be completely exposed and vulnerable and then knowing when to pull back for a moment and process everything that has happened. And then recording that experience. That is Picasso’s “Guernica”, that is Ginsberg’s “Howl”, that is the “When I’m the Mayor, We’re the Mayor” campaign for Ras Baraka.

The mastery of this fine line is what makes Amiri, Amina and Ras such great poets, such authentic revolutionaries. Consistently immersed in Newark, specifically, and the lives of black people more generally, and the lives of working people even more generally, they know exactly when to pull back and record the experience either as a poem, or a collection of poems, or a people’s campaign (which is poetry in action if you think about it). (Or the scientific application of love.)

I left Newark after living in three different apartments over a period of three years. I didn’t intend to leave Newark, Newark kind of kicked me out. It was for the best. I continued to teach in Newark, until 2009, after our amazing principal left and was replaced with some knucklehead dummy that the Newark Board of Ed, a visionless collective adorned in cheap suits, put there to carry out “No Child Left Behind” a nationwide educational policy imposed on public schools under a president who had every educational opportunity afforded to him but still could not negotiate proper, basic subject verb agreements.

I had not been back really. Newark was like an ex-lover it would be awkward to see, we would look down at our feet and make small talk not knowing really how to begin or what to say.

When I got to the South Ward HQ at around 1 pm on May 13th with another friend I had cut my activism teeth with, Barbara Horne, it wasn’t long before we ended up on the Baraka bus, splayed with, “When I become Mayor, We Become Mayor”. Gone were the days of the lonely poll worker.

Barb and I got on the bus with some dedicated supporters and drove around, and like renegades of injustice, blasting music and dancing at the polling places. In the streets. At the gas station. Where ever we showed up, volunteers for Baraka danced with us, sometimes even the volunteers from the Jeffries campaign would join in.

I wasn’t surprised at all to see the overwhelming, not support, but collaboration with Ras, his team and the people of Newark. Not only am I personally elated, not just for Ras and Amina, and Bird and Aziz and Juba and Mark and everybody who has been working with Ras to transform Newark for the last 20 years, but I am ecstactic that Chris Christie will have to contend with someone who is smarter and more compassionate, and who has ties with the people that Christie has been stomping all over for the last 5 years. Christie may have been able to buy Corey Booker, but Ras Baraka, and indeed the city of Newark, is not for sale.

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That night after Ras gave his acceptance speech at the Robert Treat Hotel, Ras, followed by throngs of people, left the hotel and took to the streets marching toward City Hall. Around 10 pm? 11 pm? Everyone congregated at City Hall, some people assembled on the stairs of City Hall, some people assembled in front. It was that historic moment where the people of Newark stood, at once observing and participating, witnessing their own victory, seeing themselves as governing and governed, recognizing the relation between the two, and became the Mayor of Newark.

More photos on The Election of Ras Baraka here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjY2JpV5