June 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
A couple weeks ago, I was here:
The pictures, they don’t do it justice really.
I spent a weekend camping in the Angeles National Forest at a skillshare put on by a collective of radical women and trans artist and organizers in L.A.
I have to be honest that I have been to a lot of skillshares put on by collectives of women and trans artists and activists, but this was different. It was better.
I want to say something about being holistic, about spirituality and connectedness, about making space for things that there is not space for. I want to write what Jess kept saying to me in the car as we drove down from San Francisco, and along the dirt paths as we walked past children’s spaces and tents with signs reading: “don’t have a place to sleep? sleep here!”, past the picnic tables of free food, the handmade altars and the groups of laughing, sweaty people tying bedsheets over geodesic domes: It doesn’t take so much, she said. It doesn’t have to be hard, to do these small things, to create space that is welcoming, that meets needs.
It helped that everything was free, that funds were raised to rent a campsite, tents were borrowed, food was dumpstered and donated, people volunteered to give workshops. It helped that the organizers and participants were mostly women of color, and queer – that intersectionality was a given, that indigenous knowledge was centered and reclaimed, not appropriated, that there were no last-minute meetings of guilty white folks trying to address why the space was so white.
I co-facilitated a workshop about mental and emotional healing in community (underneath that dome up there, with the bedsheets and the sky), something I have never given a workshop about before, and about which I have…well, not expertise so much as messy, aching longing. But preparing for the workshop, I didn’t feel worried or insecure – I felt safe and trusting. And open-hearted. And vulnerable in the amazing way that it is possible to feel vulnerable when you know that the people around you support you entirely. And I said exactly what I wanted to say, and everyone else shared beautiful strategies, and in the end we spontaneously made a zine together, with art and poetry and descriptions of ways to heal.
And I played my ukulele in front of everyone! And I sang! My first time publicly performing ever in my adult life, if you don’t count facilitation or political skits. It could be that it was my gateway to a new life of signing up for talent shows and open mics at collective gatherings? I just felt so happy and comfortable stumbling through “California Stars” while everybody earnestly cheered me on. I also fulfilled my dream of playing an instrument for a campfire singalong when I asked everyone to sing “Umbrella” by Rihanna while I played and they totally did! And it was awesome.
One night, I took a walk down the road with a dear new friend, ended up sitting on a rock together watching the sun set over these mountains, here:
As we watched the sky turn from blue to pink to orange, we talked about what we were grateful for – the beauty of the mist settling over the mountains, community and kindness, to have these glimpses of what is possible. I thought about how grateful I am that my life has evolved the way it has, so that I have these glimpses more and more often – often enough not to be satisfied with what I am offered by capitalism and the status quo, to see that there is so, so much more possibility. To have access to that possibility, to hope for and dream of even more.
After I got home, I read a post on Adrienne’s blog called wanted: the miraculous. I am thinking about how things feel more and more miraculous to me every day, and that is concurrent with another process I am in, one that has to do with dealing with some long-repressed trauma. And I am also thinking about how the more that I refuse to ignore suffering and violence in the world, the more things feel incredibly hard AND miraculous, both. Jess was saying: Lately it feels so impossible, to navigate the choices we are given in every moment, about resources and relationships and survival. The systems are so big, and when you really look at how they hurt us, corner us, give us so few options for sustainability and community – it starts to feel hopeless, sometimes.
But that is where the miraculous comes in, I think. Because, when you are aware of all that impossibility, everything that people are doing to make connections and take care of each other and build outside of that becomes miraculous. Adrienne writes:
there are lots of things that are horrific, there are stories to carry, there are things that are unfair, violent, disgusting, unjustifiable. there is all of that, some of it close to my heart and some of it far.
but every single place I see suffering see days, I see better people, survivors, brilliant communities. i see and hear the rush as people tell the story of their suffering, once they learn to tell it. I see resilience within all of this suffering and oppression and experienced scarcity, transforming people from addictive individuality to sustainable communalism.
That is what I have been feeling, those stories and connections and glimpses of survival and building something bigger, imagining something brand new.
I lent Sarah my copy of Parable of the Sower while I was away, and today she finished it and came over, filled with thoughts, to discuss. We sat on my warm porch and talked about resistance versus building something new, when to work “in the system” and when “the system” is so desperately flawed that the only real option is to create an entirely new system. And how also, it is impossible to opt out of these systems entirely, that working outside the system is still, in some ways, a fantasy. And about building movements anyway, that will help us to build those things that the systems won’t let us imagine yet.
She asked what I thought about the role of queers in that, and I had a momentary outburst about gay marriage (after bottling it up through many petitions at the UU church and encouragement by Maine gays to get involved in the marriage equality campaign) – that gay marriage, to me, is so sad a struggle to choose, so limited. That it is not the fight I choose as a queer person, to demand rights on the basis of a state-sanctioned romantic relationship, to imply that the state’s refusal to validate our relationships is a primary struggle for all queers. I want us to dream SO much bigger than that, all of us.
Adrienne also wrote about this principle of the Allied Media Conference:
The most effective strategies for us are the ones that work in situations of scarce resources and intersecting systems of oppression because those solutions tend to be the most holistic and sustainable.
I thought about that when discussing Octavia Butler with Sarah, what it means to build something new, to keep building and trusting and moving forward even when things are at their most dire. I thought about it at the skillshare, as amazing abundance was created out of what could have been scarcity. And I thought about it later, back up north in Berkeley, sitting with Mia and Stacey in their sunny kitchen with glitter hearts hanging on strings from the ceiling and butcher paper listing the meanings of “home” taped to the wall, hearing about their group of queer disabled and non-disabled people of color working to create collective access in the bay area. I thought about that principle, and how those moments – when so many forms of oppression and violent systems are working against building new ways, collectively, to survive and take care of each other – that those are the hardest and the most important moments to do that work. Because those are the moments when we are forced to dream new worlds, new strategies beyond what we are told is possible.
(on the last day of the skillshare, a rainbow ring appeared around the sun! we were briefly concerned it was the apocalypse (or the rapture?), but someone said it is a normal thing that happens and is called an aureole! (of course.) it was best captured on film with my hand blocking the sun.)
And. And finally: we bought land for Homefulness.
I don’t even know how to write my joy about this.
When I write these things about imagining and creating new paradigms when things are at their most challenging, I feel very aware that for me, “things” are far from their most challenging. Resource scarcity, direct vulnerability to state violence, poverty, incarceration – these are not the things I’m dealing with, personally, on the daily. They impact me but they don’t target me. And it has been important for me to participate in struggle in a way that acknowledges differences around privilege and power, but also acknowledges the interconnectedness of people, the way these systems do violence to all of us, tie all of our safety and liberation into a messy knot. Homefulness has been that for me.
Tiny, in her article that I linked to above, writes a little of how the solidarity board came into being, how we came to raise over $100,000 to buy land for this small, radical, visionary poor people’s organization with no paid staff, no grants, and no experience with “capital campaigns” – mostly through talking to people about reparations. I have struggled to write my own story of that process – meeting Tiny and POOR, collectively conceiving the solidarity board, visioning beyond the exploitative fundraising practices we had all been taught – but it feels so big and all-encompassing that it is almost indescribable. (A little piece of it, though, is here.) Every part of the years-long journey to this land has been challenging, surprising, healing. It has pushed me and all of us. It has cracked me open in so many ways. At every juncture we have checked ourselves, reassessed, made certain that we were not selling out our vision, that the process was part of our work, more than a means to an end.
Standing on the land for the first time, that is what I felt. Jess and I pulled up and stared in awe at the concrete parking lot (soon to be torn up to make room for gardens), the giant tree bending over the house, the blooming flower bushes and windblown reeds. A calico cat led us through the side gate into the shady back patio. Jess said, amazed: There is designated land on the earth for Homefulness.
It felt like witnessing the manifestation of that brand new-ness. The creation of abundance where there could have been scarcity, the holistic, sustainable solution born out of intersecting oppressions and lack of resources. Not witnessing it – being part of it. It felt miraculous.