Monday, November 17, 2008

Reportback From The Oakland No On 8 Protest.


Wow. I'm just recovering from co-organizing this rally. I have to give mega-props to fellow organizers Monifa Porter, Lawrence Ellis, Maya Scott-Chung, Carrie Leiser-Williams, Jen-Mei Wu and special props to Natalee Kehaulani, Molly McKay, Michelle Rodriguez, Aimee Suzara, Xiaojing Wang, Chelsey Oda, Ruth Villasenor, Sapana Doshi and Tracey Osbourne for all the support, behind the scenes work, and documenting (awesome pics Natalee! check here to peep the beauty!). So much love and respect also going out to those who delivered an uplifting, essential performance. And much love to everyone who showed up, and all who support this cause in any way!

This was really difficult to get together, with zero time for outreach (i still have so many flyers leftover!!) so we are thankful that it actually had a really good turnout!! There was a point in the organizing process where we came up against a huge obstacle. The name of that obstacle was unconscious racism. Without naming anyone, i will say that two queer white men (not listed above) who did a lot of work to procure the permits, and get some high profile politicians to sign on... also then proceeded to feel a sense of ownership over the process, and was expressing their unconscious racism by not wanting to "allow" people of color from Oakland communities to represent on the mainstage. Yes, we are taking about Oakland! They felt that they "couldn't be racist" because they invited Congresswoman Barbara Lee & Mayor Ron Dellums (who didn't show unfortunately). As a straight ally, i didn't feel like i could get all up in their face about how effed up their politics were. This really could have turned into a protest of the mostly poc organizers against a whitewahed rally in Oakland, with a separate stage of people more represenative of Oakland. But in the end, we actually came to a compromise. And it became a micrcosm for the work that has to be done to move forward into positive Change. So despite differences of vision and consciousness, and across lines of race, privilege and sexuality... we worked it out, and shared the stage and had a beautiful program.

There was so much that happened. The Two Spirit-Drummers created sacred space by opening and closing the event with the sacred ceremonial drum Two Eagles, which had been made by Two-Spirit/LGBT Native elders. We heard from LGBTQ families of various backgrounds. We heard from recently married couples. We heard a maybe 8 year old boy speak simple yet immensely powerful words about the humanity of his two moms. There was an emotional testimony from City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan. Aimee Suzara took the crowd by storm, debuting her poem "Dangerous" that was made for that moment in time (go to aimeesuzara.net to read it and see what else this amazing poet/educator/perfromer is up to!)). And there was much much more. I was proud to represent str8 black ally, and to evoke to power of the ally: Bio allies for Transfolks, Men and boy allies for girls and women, white allies for people of color (white allies that would intercept dialogue that would make people look at me and assume i voted yes on prop 8, etc). I also then presented a piece that was directed towards people of faith who interpret their sacred texts to disapprove of love between people of the same sex. I call it the Parable Of Empathy (forward liberally, but please ask permission before utilizing in a program or something):

.................................................

Parable Of Empathy

You, who love your God, Love your place of worship, love your community
Hear me.

Imagine that your religion, like all religions have been, is oppressed by a majority religion.

Imagine that this majority religion has a lot of power.

Imagine that the people of this majority religion very deeply believed that your ways were wrong, immoral, heathenlike. And though you love your ways and they are so right for you, it was wrong for them.

Imagine that they used their power to take away your places of worship that you so dearly love.

How would you feel?

How would you feel, knowing that instead of just loving their gods, they chose to take the time and energy to strike down how you love your God, strike down your place of worship, strike down your community?

How would you feel, knowing that the people of this powerful religion are people that you work with? Friends? Members of your family?

In your heart, you would know that not everyone in this powerful religion did this, but wouldn’t it be difficult to see the humanity of those who associate with people who assaulted your way of of living and loving?

Humanity
Is what we need to cultivate right now.
We all have a task up ahead.
And that is for everyone, on both sides
To figure out how to see the Humanness
In the other.


(c) rmw 2008
http://fem-men-ist.blogspot.com

...........................................................................

Yes yes y'all. The work towards affirming the humanity of all continues! And I have good feelings about these revolutionary baby steps we are making. Fight The H8! Liberate The Love!

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15 comments:

Daigan said...

My friend,

Thank you for your words, for taking the time to educate my fellow white gay men, and for working so hard as an ally. I had some friends who were there, and who gave great praise to the event.

Yes, we have a long way to go on so many fronts, but everyday I meet amazing folks, who inspire me into action and faith, and who hold me up when I get the legs knocked out from underneath me.

Thank you.

Daigan

richard said...

Daigan,

as always, thank you for your glowing, intimate and true words. I appreciate it all, and i am glad to hear that you got positive feedback about the rally from your folks. Blessings!!

~richard

therese noel said...

richard,
a co-organizer?! you've taken the concept of an ally to another level: not 'tolerance', posting a petition online, voting and calling it a day, but making a cause (this cause) yours, as much as it is anyone else's, because you know this proposition we speak of is wrong. your actions are a reminder to me that it is my place to step in, fully, whole-heartedly, & completely when i see ignorance in the world. where's the community at? i believe we need to relinquish the apathy of selfishness, caring only for a cause because it "affects us personally" (and the irony inherent in that statement). homophobia affects you personally. racism affects me personally. because i choose to not have an abortion, does reduce my adamence towards my belief in a woman's choice? perhaps we are more sensitive when we feel the shudder of the -ism. (but if we're not feeling it, what does that say about how we are living? are we living?) i've been shocked by the quantity of comments i've received around my personal desire to marry. my momentum behind this cause need not be fueled by that. even to those radical queer folks (or otherwise) who believe "marriage is not the answer", i still believe this issue is calling you. isn't this about civil rights? if you don't believe marriage is the answer, does mean allowing a constitutional ammendment taking away rights from one minority group is the answer? i don't think so.
thank you, again, comrade. xoxo

Diana Pei Wu said...

thanks, fflood! yea, i figured that was exactly what was going on, and not surprising. in addition, their early suggestion (later softened) to bring only US flags is completely the same insider DC mainstream white liberal organizing that has always marginalized us.

also, you all should know that Sean Sullivan, while he may be gay and a supporter of the No on Prop 8 stuff, is a pro-developer and pro-gentrification resident of West Oakland (or at least he claims it). He is like a new incarnation of Danny Wan who wanted to create a gay zone in the San Antonio / Eastlake neighborhood in 2003-2004, which we collectively fought, as people of color, as organizers who fight against gentrification every day, as queer folx. There were challenges in that organizing as well (STORMs don't listen very well, though they are still learning that first lesson and skill), but that's another story.

Anyway, having Sean up there really felt like a slap in the face to the rest of us queer folk who fight gentrification.

Diana Pei Wu said...

i wanted to make sure that my praises for the event and those who are my friends who organized are strongly strongly stated. You all did an amazing job and .. well, i know many of you, love you all very much. i loed your words - white folx being allies in fighting the racist scapegoating .. just saw the colbert report on hulu ..

jeff said...

I was really excited to see you present, Richard, and am not surprised that you helped to organize the whole thing.

It was definitely an afternoon of inspiration. I'm sorry to hear about the racism behind the scenes, though I'm not particularly surprised. I was pretty happy that most people focused on coalition building, and on love as a way to avoid divisiveness. Though I have different, and strong feelings regarding how people of faith play into marriage equality, I was excited to hear people of faith speaking up, and further encouraged by the fact that many people directly addressed the racism coming to the fore when anti-8 people bemoan the loss in terms of "how black people voted". It needs to continually be addressed, and I was pretty amazed at how well people did that, while keeping a spirit of hope and, dare I say it, unity.

Thanks for all of your hard work.

steadycat said...

Thanks for the blog. You've done a lot of work. *shakes hand* I also know what you mean about the unconscious racism. It has happened so often throughout my many years until it is just accepted as normal. Meanwhile, EXCELLENT you on working around this obstacle. Thats what we all must do to keep working towards justice that includes all.

richard said...

FriendTherese!
thanks for the beautifully woven, kind and powerful words. I am definitely in a space where my strongest political philosophy is around the power of the ally. a power all of us have. Obama could not have been elected if just black folks voted. So many oppressive institutions have toppled because of people with conscience and power rallied for humanity with those being dehumanized. It strikes a spiritual karmic chord with me too, i feel that as i work for the liberation of others, that my own liberation becomes nearer.

Thanks again T, and whoa, we got little time to hang out before the clock strikes 30! holla!! :) xoxo

Diana,
your sharp insight AND love is always appreciated :) i did also think the "US flags only" thing was not very inclusive... especially at a rally around inclusion and equality... but i kept my hetero mouth quiet and let others critique that :)

You know, i am not familiar with Sean's politics. "Our group" didn't book him, to be clear. I actually know Sean from a mutual friend, and we used to kick it in the Castro and party before he started running in Oakland! So i was happy to see him and gave him a big hug. But ah, what you are sharing is news to me!

and hey, you gotta send me a link to this episode of the Colbert Report!

And oh yes, thanks for the rousing chant idea, that was AWESOME! :) xoxo

Jeff!
wassup man! wow you caught the event huh? sweet!

what are some of your views around how people of faith are around marriage equality, and how did it differ from what was said?

Thanks for being a white man who isn't surprised at racism in these contexts. i appreciate that.

Hope you are doing well, blessings man!

steadycat,
what can i say. thank you. and yet another "not surprised" person around the racism issue. I wonder how long before... umm, "other perspectives" make themselves known on this thread!

And yes, we all have to work towards justice, and build coalitions. I think that this is the signpost, an imperative for a new era of Change...

[cycle back to post opening with Therese]

Mark D Worthen PsyD said...

Richard,

Wow. What an inspiring, heartfelt, and informative blog. I started weeping reading your post, including the powerful Parable you shared.

Why am I crying? I'm not completely sure. What comes up immediately is the love I feel coming through from you. And perhaps the knowledge that the actions you are taking bring great healing and hope to so many, including myself.

Love & Respect,

Mark

DAVE BONES said...

Nice one guys. Nuff respect from the UK

jeff said...

"what are some of your views around how people of faith are around marriage equality, and how did it differ from what was said?"
Not different from what was said the other day...my main gripe with people of faith regarding marriage equality is that it's not enough for those who support marriage equality to quietly support it--they have to shout down the extremists in their own religion, and I don't see that enough. I may be wrong here, but there aren't huge groups of secular people trying to keep marriage for straights only, so there is a larger responsibility on the shoulders of people of faith to stand up and shout.
"Thanks for being a white man who isn't surprised at racism in these contexts. i appreciate that."

Yeah! Where's my freakin' cookie! :) I do appreciate the appreciation, however.

whatsername said...

There was a point in the organizing process where we came up against a huge obstacle. The name of that obstacle was unconscious racism. Without naming anyone, i will say that two queer white men (not listed above) who did a lot of work to procure the permits, and get some high profile politicians to sign on... also then proceeded to feel a sense of ownership over the process, and was expressing their unconscious racism by not wanting to "allow" people of color from Oakland communities represent on the mainstage. Yes, we are taking about Oakland! They felt that they "couldn't be racist" because they invited Congresswoman Barbara Lee & Mayor Ron Dellums (who didn't show unfortunately). As a straight ally, i didn't feel like i could get all up in their face about how effed up their politics were.

That's just shocking.

I put up a pick on my photoblog of a sign I really hoped I wouldn't see (and didn't, at the time) something along the lines of "I voted in the first black President and all I got was this gay marriage ban". I just about lost my shit when I saw a picture of that. Seriously, I know I'm "just" a straight ally, but I'm an ally to PoC too and that guy would have gotten an earful for me.

I'm really, really, really grateful that you did not let those men have that last word and worked out a compromise. I would have been incredibly upset if the stage was white washed.

richard said...

Mark: What can i say. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for affirming that the work i am doing has potency, and the power to move people's hearts. Because that's what i wanna do. And thank you for posting me on your blog too :)

Dave Bones: Thanks mate! Nuff respect right back atcha!

Jeff: You raise a super important point. People who claim to not be homophobes but are in the churches where the minister is saying some anti-gay stuff need to step up!! that silence stuff ain't cute right now. This is one of the populations that people in my str8 black ally group wanna reach.

does Jeffy Weffy wanna cooky? awww... such a goooooood white ally yes you are... lol! for real tho, thanks man. I'm tryin to keep it real on this end too, been receiving a lot of beautiful heartfelt thanks from LGBTQ folks which feels good, and all the love and positive reinforcement is so appreciated, (thank you everyone!) but yes... at the same time i'm clear that this is work i should be doing anyway, don't let it get to yer head! i also know that people are just reflecting back the love i'm putting out there too, so that keeps things in perspective too. I know ya feel me...

whatsername: yeah, i kid you not, thats what went down behind the scenes. Luckily we persevered, and what you saw was what happened. If you saw any person of color on stage, that was cuz of my troupe. Crazy. And that sign you mentioned... i didn't see anything like that but i was mentally prepared for it.

Thanks for posting the Colbert Report / Dan Savage clip on yer blog! i kept hearing about it but couldn't find it. I learned after watching it that Savage was a BIG scapegoat-the-black-community-for- Prop-8-passing person... clearly he has seen the light since.

Thanks for the clip and commentary on Duanna Johnson too, gonna blog about her soon.

jeff said...

Richard--just discovered a site where lots of religious people are doing exactly the kind of speaking up and speaking out that I've been craving to hear: http://www.religiondispatches.org/

Just FYI.

Delux said...

Your comments about the racism in the interactions w/ the other white men there reminded me of this:

http://colours.mahost.org/articles/openletter.html

Nice work on the rally.