caught / uncaught

The Saturday after the election, I found myself at the East Bay Meditation Center for a daylong workshop about “Courage at the Crossroads: Faith Over Fear.” The teacher opened the day with reflections from the audience about what brought them to the space that morning. There was so much emotion in the room, we had to air it out in the open before settling into meditation. People spoke honestly, and from the heart. Much anger, frustration, sadness emerged. We were a mixed group: gender, age, race, class, ethnicity, ability. I could sense from the outset that this day was going to be both challenging and necessary for our individual — if not also our collective — healing.

I found myself sitting next to a young woman whose community in East Texas was missing her queer black radical voice. Part of me wanted to say hi to a fellow liberal Texan questioning whether she should be in the Bay Area or back home, but I ended up not saying anything: didn’t think my feelings could compare, having lived in a larger Texas city, having faced less discrimination growing up. On my other side sat an older black woman who spoke with palpable rage and frustration, whose presence emanated strength, and grace, and calm. I listened and I felt alongside her. I just wanted to sit in quiet that day.

After our sitting meditation and our walking meditation and our dharma talk, the day ended with small group discussions about how we might view current events as a positive thing: a hard challenge, and a necessary reframe. I was not courageous enough to opt out of the discussion and to stay in my own silence, so I found myself in a group with three other women of color, who were all farther along on the social justice goddess warrior path than I am. They were frustrated. They were hopeful. They were angry. They were tired. They were energized in their strength and groundedness and hurt, as they have been doing this for so long. When it was my turn to speak, I did so in vague abstractions, alluded to my baby feminism, and shared how these times were going to push me into facing the realities of finally putting my body on the frontlines.

The workshop was wonderful, and helped me to heal, and provided much needed context and compassion from which to move forward. I left the workshop more grounded than I had felt all week — but I also left feeling like shit.

I didn’t feel entitled to the same rage and heartbreak of other black and brown people of color that I was feeling because I was at the same time also feeling the guilt and complicity of the white people that they were railing against, who I too was frustrated with. This feeling of invisible frozenness within their in-between was so familiar to me as a yellow person, that I started spiraling, wondering if I was complicit in this self-silencing of myself, feeling tripped up in repressing my feelings and my words because I didn’t feel I could claim any of it for myself, as if there were someone checking claims tickets, but then again who…?

That’s when I realized I needed to stop,
that I needed to write, to at least reflect
this experience of the stuck in the in-between,
before I could move,

move beyond that
into action in solidarity with all marginalized people
into confronting my own privileges and prejudices
into dismantling any learned and internalized oppression
into embodying compassion for all beings
into making concrete the world we imagine wherein these structural oppressions and inequities have been replaced with just systems that operate from a place of full&complex humanity, dignity, and equality for all.

So. A poem.


 

caught / uncaught

For a time,
in the rawness of grief,
when mixed groups can trigger,
it is okay to gather your tribe
To be with your people
To confess your sins
to those who understand
the complexity of living
your skin

This poem
is for any Asian American out there
feeling stuck righ’ now

‘cuz I feel it.

I feel caught.

Caught between grief for an America we thought we knew
and wanting to fight for the country that our families chose

Caught between rage sadness & frustration
and guilt apathy & complicity

Caught between worry for our families’ lives
and shame at their racist homophobic lies

Caught between their vulnerability
and their willful political passivity

Caught between immigrant survival in flight
and never learning how to stay and fight

Caught between wanting to fire back, draw weapons, take sides
and avoiding conflict, peace-strivin’, love and compassion

Caught catching them silencing whitewashin you
and realizing you been invisible all along

Too ‘other’ to belong in white America
Too ‘model minority’ to be in solidarity with POC

Shouldn’t be surprised
this feeling as familiar
as second skin
as the complicity of
cringing at mom’s accent
as the guilt of
losing your mother tongue
as the confusion of
being too American
and not Asian enough
but never American enough
to be Asian in America

It is a good thing
I have learned
how to hold multiple truths
in the palm of my hands
as so much layered sand

It is a good thing
I have practice
holding contradictory emotions
in the chambers of my beating heart
knowing they will move

because emotions are built
to move

if you let them

and so are bodies built
to act

if we guide them

If we can catch ourselves from
turning hate into hate,
we become uncaught.

Take a breath
Step back
Look again
Codeswitch n
Flip it
and Reframe it

We aren’t caught…
but poised

in this middle

space

between

Asian   (and)  American

POC   (and)  majority

old generation honor  (and)  new generation justice

acting against oppression  (and) waking up from delusion

wanting to protect the most vulnerable  (and)  having some power and privilege to do so

between being baby activists in America  (and)  having gandhiji ai wei wei aung san suu kyi thich nhat hanh tiananmen square and the dalai lama in our heritage

 

We have always been uniquely poised

to bridge

different worlds

to bridge

loyalty and love

to bridge

the Asian and the American

within ourselves

both/and

.

 

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OMG Vote

I am emotionally exhausted from this election season. This is more of a rant than a well-heeled argument. I could reread and rewrite a few more times to strip it of my cynicism of your cynicism, to be more compassionate and to appeal to your “rationality”, but I don’t care to fight in your designated arena of battle right now. I’d rather play in the field of earnest emotion. I’m just going to use my blog to, ahem, blog. Actually, let’s just add a blog category of “rant” right this fucking minute. Mm, yes. Hey, don’t even read this. Just go fucking vote please.

I finally figured out what I hate so much about the one-liner that you get all the time when people aren’t going to vote: “My vote doesn’t matter anyway; I’m not in a swing state.”

Because you got me har har, it is hard to argue with the weirdness that is the electoral college. And my standard response was always: “Who the fuck cares, go vote for the downballot stuff that affect your local politics, which will affect your life way more on a day-to-day level.” Of course, that stuff’s not as sexy and not as fun and way more complicated to research, that it’s definitely a conversation killer. “It’s so haaaaaard, it takes so much tiiiiiime to get involved in local politics. Let’s just continue fighting and spewing hate on the national stage where I understand how to make hateful comments without concrete plans for making any real change.” (Local = e.g. A-Z propositions on the SF Ballot this time: Here are some handy resources for SF 2016 btw if you need last minute research before showing up at your local polling place.)

Another response which I believe in, but which doesn’t seem to work in changing people’s minds is: “If your vote didn’t matter so much, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep it away from you.” People fought hard for the right to vote, and you’re just wasting yours. But you don’t want a guilt trip today, so you’ll maintain that you’re still not in a swing state.

I have a hunch that we’d have a lot more swing states if we actually increased voter registration and voter turnout, but I have no research to back this up.

Cu_s95SWcAEXyIN.jpg

Instead, you’d rather keep the line of apathy you’re towing because then you can fight it with more apathy! If you don’t vote today, you’re fucking perpetuating this apathy in politics by legitimizing that people should only vote when their vote “counts”. As if showing up to speak your values isn’t important unless someone is able to hand you results on a silver platter for your one-time opinion. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry if you’ve never had to create a movement to get basic rights, to even be heard. Newsflash: there are millions of people and tons of movements who show up day after day, voicing their opinions, presenting visions of a better future, and demanding justice — they know it takes time and commitment and multifaceted approaches and fucking showing up again and again and again. Because showing up for something important means it’s important to you. Because if you don’t show up, people don’t have any reason to pay any attention to you.

(And no, voting is not the only cure-all you have in your toolkit; I know we will have continue to have so much fucking work to do after today. I spoke with one local businessperson and artist who said, “No I cannot register to vote because of reasons, but I am very involved for political change on the local level in other ways.” If everyone who used the electoral college as an excuse for not voting were instead and also on the ground in their local communities working for the change they believe in every single week, I would be absolutely thrilled.)

None of those arguments work. Which is fine; I’m going to keep using them. But this morning, I realized why I am so fucking mad about this electoral college excuse  — and it is a fucking excuse. You’ve found a way to be logical about your apathy that allows you to be high-minded about it: “I understand the system, so I’m going to play the system by not participating in the system.” This also is the undercurrent for people who are voting third party “I’m going to vote third party because my vote doesn’t matter anyway, and I want to advocate for a new system than the one we’re stuck in.” I get so furious on a gut level at these arguments but have up to now not been able to articulate why.

Now I can articulate why: You only fucking do this for systems you have no intention of actually challenging, the systems for which you have no strategic plan for dismantling. You never question or opt out of or cast “protest votes” in any of the other oppressive systems that we swim in, live in, breathe in, have to survive in — that, ahem, we do have strategic plans for dismantling. I don’t hear you divesting funds from banks which support the Dakota Access Pipeline. I don’t see you opting out of work to go protest for anything. I don’t see you “voting with your feet” to work for organizations that promote multiculturalism and inclusion. I don’t hear you upset about the systemic racism that plays out in police brutality and the prison pipeline and housing discrimination. I don’t see you supporting female and people of color in leadership positions, so that they can create and advocate for new systems other than the patriarchal one we’re stuck in.

Make no mistake, this election has been about policy and our values as a country on an uncomfortably visceral level. I know it might be safer to stay on the logical level of “it’ll be about the same no matter who the president is” but “lesser of two evils” is BULLSHIT. Trump has shown you his values. And Hillary has too. Now it’s time to show yours.

Your voice matters; showing up matters. Voting is one way of showing up. I expect you to keep showing up afterward, too. I believe in you. Maybe you’ve stopped believing in your agency to affect change in these kinds of systems, but I believe in the full power of you. This is probably the least sexy least cool argument of all: I earnestly believe in the power of your voice and in your ability to stand up for your values. Fuck, I expect you to do it even if no one is listening. Because that’s how change happens. That’s what it means to be a social justice warrior and an ally and a human being whose itty bitty life here on earth still fucking matters — we just keep showing up.

OMG just please go vote.

(If it’s not blazingly obvious by now, #imwithher.)

Downballot downballot downballot

I voted early today! Got my sticker. Made the line shorter for someone else on Tuesday.

This election cycle has been exhausting. But I do believe voting and engaging with the political process is important. Local and state policies have an outsized effect on your life — and is an area where voting for your values can shape how your city grows. For example, engaging with SF propositions D, H, L, and M has been a learning and reflective experience for me in whether I believe in more accountability at the cost of bigger government on the local level. It also helps to inform my decisions about candidates for local and state positions to see what they’re endorsing and fighting for at the prop level.

Below is a gathering of the resources I found most helpful and least partisan while researching downballot elections this year (for San Francisco specifically, but there are similar resources and groups across the nation).

catsvoting2
(photo by Harry Whittier Frees)

 

Ballot FYI

Ballot.fyi lays out the California propositions in plain English. For instance, it was the clearest explanation of Prop 61 about drug pricing that I found. It also has a good “how does a proposition work anyway?” for those considering strategically abstaining from certain prop votes.

P.S. Video on Prop 60; even just reading the video description is helpful. Ostensibly, Prop 60 is about condoms, but if passed it would put performers’/producers’ real names and addresses in jeopardy which can lead to doxxing.

SF Public Press

San Francisco Public Press has an election guide that breaks down the local city propositions by themes, explains what it would mean if it passed, how much it would cost, and who proposes and opposes it. Good journalism. Really appreciated. They also provide summaries for local races (supervisors, school boards, BART board) and tally up endorsements.

Hoodline

Hoodline provides an “interactive guide to all the other guides.” There are a ton of organizations who put out endorsements and voter guides, and Hoodline puts them all into one chart for you to see which are the truly contentious propositions/races. It’s interesting to see which groups you end up aligning with or disagreeing with as a guide to where to look for more detailed election guides — sometimes it is helpful to look at a group’s very opinionated endorsement 0f a thing in order to decide whether you agree or not.

(During one voter research party, we joked that if both League of Pissed Off Voters and SPUR — who have many conflicting interests — agreed on a prop, that was an easy vote to check off our list. Insert cry-laugh emoji.)

Questionnaires

[Edit: This is a partisan source, and I found out tonight that if you have cookies enabled in your browser, they will be able to get your phone number and will text you about voting and supporting the local candidates they endorse. That feels really gross to me, and part of me wants to unlink the source, but the questionnaires DID help me assess the candidates…so I will leave the link, but give you fair warning about the site.]

RFK Democratic Club sent questionnaires to all the candidates for the local boards (SFUSD Board of Education, CCSF Board of Trustees, BART Board of Directors), and these are the candidates’ answers. This is on a partisan site, but the questions were thoughtful and found reading the Q&A’s more useful than the shorter summaries of candidates.

Good luck in democracying your alphabet soup of propositions. <3