For My Mother
She bathes herself in hot water steeped in chamomile.
Flower buds float in the reservoir between
the roundness of her belly peaks out above the water
warm and healthy.
Her hair is thin, but soft
wrapped in bright colored cloth
she is tired.
Tired of long days and dirty kitchens
and the boss’s never ending requests
‘can you stay just a little longer?’
And she is tired.
Tired of holding back the desire to rip the fake smile
off of her face and walk out of these hell kitchens
with dignity and freedom and promises never to return.
And she is tired of spending half of the day standing up
feet so swollen she can barely make it to the bus stop
joint in hand
the green calms her racing mind and aching body
preparing her for the next shift at home
where her babies yearn for her
because daddy is not home
and never is.
She heats up large pots of water to bathe her children in
and wraps them in blankets and holds them tight against her chest
hoping they can feel her love
and thoughts of reassurance that everything will be ok.
She is tired.
She sits in bath water soaking her muscles and rubbing lotion
into the cracks of her fingers
trying to find the strength to start all over the next day
and the next
and the next.
She wraps her life dreams away in tiny boxes for her children
and hopes they will understand
that this world never meant for her to survive.
And her daily living offers glimpses into
revolutionary dreams deferred.
Hot pavement aroma fills the thick summer air
as children laugh and shriek.
Hose water sprayed into the black streets to
cool the ground and their burnt feet.
Oldies play out car windows
‘hot fun in the summertime…’
A little girl patiently waits on porch steps
for a father who rarely comes.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Father why don’t you hoop with me anymore?
Why you so skinny?
Why you bring that woman around when mama isn’t here?
A child’s inquiries become a child’s panic screams
father why you touch mama like that?
Why do you leave?
Why do you always leave?
Little girl screams become a young woman’s strength
no longer asking why you leave
but asking you to leave.
Don’t come around this house you didn’t build
you think the simple act of ejaculating into a woman is fatherhood?
You think spontaneous visits and sports games
makes up for years of pain, neglect and confusion?
The seasons have changed
and the hot pavement cracks with the growing pains of
a little girl becoming a woman.
Learning not to fear the unknown
Every woman should have her own stash
of that sticky icky magical green.
Roll it up, twist it up, let the smoke fill you up until you get lifted up.
Because you know its hard being a woman
in a world of constant
‘hey baby can I walk with you for a minute?’
‘whats your name? Can I get your number?’
Every woman should have her own baggy
of that chronic, herb, in the words of Rick James
Pack it up, burn it up, let the smoke fill you up until you get lifted up.
Because you know its hard being a woman in a world
of clocking in
Damn that’s all I made this month?
Every woman should have her own supply
of those purple trees
burn it up let the smoke fill you up until you get lifted up.
Because you know its hard being a woman in a world
where everyday is a battlefield with scars that run deep.
Scars that you swallow up and push deep inside you till you
want to scream.
Because its hard being a woman in these streets, running from the police
pushed to the point when all you want is to go home
and be like pass the piece.
This week has marked a shift in the seasons, and that always excites me. I have always welcomed change, because with it offers opportunities of new adventures and connections. I am use to shifting seasons (environmentally and emotionally). In this world you have to adapt to survive or be left to the wayside, and I prefer to get some livin’ in when I can despite the sometimes dire conditions. The days have grown shorter, and more recently quite cold and damp. I am not the biggest fan of feeling cold, but I welcome the corresponding shift in my behavior. The rain brings more time inside, with tea, some tree burning (fireplace and otherwise), bedroom company, and lots of Jazz!
I come from a family of jazz musicians, and have always loved the music since I was a child, but there is something about the rain and jazz that does it for me and fuels my fall/winter months creativity. When the weather is overcast I love to stay inside and play Coltrane, Monk, Davis, Coleman with good low lighting and coffee and pretend that I am in another time period, preferably the late 60’s/70’s, and I am no longer in Oakland, but in NYC or Brazil or Paris. When I was six I would do the same thing, but wear my great grandfather’s fedora’s and bowler hats, and pretend that I was a jazz musician in the Harlem Renaissance or Kansas City in the 1930’s. My grandfather was a well known jazz saxophonist back then and although I never met him I carry his soul deep in my heart. I was fascinated with the Jazz world around him in the 30s/40s in Kansas City, Kansas, where my father’s family is from, and I always wanted to be apart of it hence the dress up and time traveling fantasy. I have always been a daydreamer; it fuels my creativity and helps me cope with the unpleasant aspects of life. I am also an old soul with appreciation for art and time periods that have occurred before me, which Is why I love early Black American music, whether it be Blues, soul, bop, jazz, and the places where this art has been concentrated in movements, such as in NYC, Kansas City, the South, ect.,
The other night, which was a cold and rainy one, I was at a friends house sipping on whiskey in front of a fire. Quite a lovely evening. The music had stopped due to his dying lap top so he went to put on a record, and it was the 1970 album Red Clay by the late and great jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. I was immediately intoxicated by the opening title track; it’s rhythm, the opening drum beat with the funk of the bass lines, the bluesy soul of the trumpet, and those clean jazz keys. My head was reeling from the brilliance of the fusion; it’s jazz, but man is it funky. The solo’s are amazing. Herbie Hancock’s piano solo is SO soulful and funky; he really slows the rhythm down then picks it up right when the horns come back in leading in to Joe Henderson’s sax solo, which is no joke either. He lays it down over the keys and Hubbard comes in to build it back up with these almost wild horn solos over the grooving jazz beats that have you climaxing. Then they bring you back down with just the rhythm section of Ron Carter’s bass and Lenny White’s drums. Pure musical orgasm that leaves you wanting more. I could get drunk off of the rhythms from this song and the entire album. It really is a 1970’s jazz masterpiece. And for you hip hop heads out there A Tribe Called Quest samples Red Clay in the song Sucka Nigga off of their classic third album Midnight Marauders. Tribe often sampled dope jazz songs and musicians, and Red Clay bassist Ron Carter has been sampled on other tracks. Both Red Clay and Sucka Nigga are linked below. Please listen to both, especially Hubbard. The rhythm will warm you up on these cold days.
My dear friend, comrade, and brother from another mother Jamal sent this picture to me a little while ago, and I instantly fell in love with it, and its depiction of Black, queer, woman love. Jamal also has a very important blog that celebrates Black, queer, radical perspectives and art. It’s called …Or does it Explode and you can find it on my blog roll to the right. Please check it out!!!
When I look at this picture I see the excitement in these women’s faces. I think about what they are doing, and how they have met each other. What time of the year it is. I imagine that it is a fall day, where the sun is shining and the air is fresh but slightly chill allowing for long sleeves and hats. I imagine that the air is sweet and fresh and full of ends and new beginnings that makes you want to get into some adventures… and maybe a little lovemaking. I imagine that these black women have their own woman loving community that is queer and straight, and together they have the strength and courage to love fearlessly despite the regulations on love that this system places on us. I love the subtleness of the affection that allows me to queer this picture. The way their fingers are barely intertwined. I love the secret looks in their expressions; almost mischievous, which signifies to me that they all know what they are doing is risky and serious. I almost see fear in the woman to the rights eyes, and that reminds me that despite the love and fun that is conveyed in this picture love does not come easy under capital.
Who you love and how you love has never been a choice that is free for everyone. From the development of the heteronormative family for White people admidst the rape and breeding of slave women to today with the liberal gay marriage movement, which seeks to spread bourgeois values for gays too, the era of capitalism has ushered in a period of severe regulation of love and sexuality. The gay marriage movement and the resistance to Proposition 8 has brought marriage and love back into the discourse of civil rights. Personally, I think the gay marriage movement is problematic and not the direction we should be moving in for liberation. That said, do I support prop 8? HELL NO! I don’t think it is right to pass laws that limit peoples rights and take them away. But I think a real liberatory struggle should be moving away from assimilation and acceptance within an oppressive system. While affluent gay white men in the Castro enroll in Human Rights Campaign (HRC) visa cards, the New Jersey 4, four working class women of color, were locked up with sentences ranging from 3-11 years for defending themselves against homophobic, sexual assault. None of these women had a prior criminal record. Where was their campaign? Where was their parade? Where was their float admidst all the corporate sponsored floats during pride. These women served jail time for two years just for being gay, working-class and women of color. They charged them with a gang assault. SO because they are young (age range 19-24), women of color then they must be in a gang. It must not be possible for men on the street to attack a young woman when she refuses his sexual advances? I think not. All women know how vulnerable we are just walking down the street; we know how angry men get when we turn them down; and we all know how assault and violence is real. Just recently when a guy asked me for my number on the street and I said no his response was ‘then fuck you bitch.’ He said it so angrily that it frightened me. What happend to the NJ 4 is real, and a daily thing. Why didn’t the contemporary gay movement, whose roots are planted in the radicalism of the Gay Liberation Front and echo bygone slogans of “Out of the Bars into the Streets” and “Smash the Church, Smash the State”, take up the cause of the injustice these women were served at the hands of this unjust system? Because the mainstream movement has degenerated into liberal attempts to fight for equality in marriage and in the military; two patriarchal and homophobic areas.
I do want to emphasize that my critiques are on the mainstream, middle-class, white male gay movement. There are amazing radical, queers of color spaces holding it down with similar critiques. Ultimately I still feel like there is a necessity for a more holistic queer movement that really takes issues of class, race and sexuality seriously.
Queer love has been policed by this system for years now, because of how threatening it is to the heterosexual family, which Capital has always needed to force women to reproduce and exploit all their unpaid labor of taking care of the home, the children and their husband. But it is not only queer love that has been regulated. Race has also played a role in such policing from the time of slavery when slaves were not able to freely choose their own partners. Some did and they were able to come up with their own traditions and ceremonies, such as the jumping of the broom. But others, especially the women, were punished for engaging in relationships with partners of their choice. After slavery the rise of Jim Crow led to a system of apartheid in the south that separated the races. Until 1967, there were numerous race-based legal restrictions on marriage that outlawed interracial relationships. This was overturned in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia , where Mildred Loving (a black woman) and her husband Richard Perry Loving (a white man), fought against the ban in Virginia prohibiting a White person from being in a relationship with a non-White person. In 1959 they got married in the District of Columbia to avoid the ban. But were later charged with violating it once the police broke into their home in hopes of catching them in a sexual act. DISGUSTING. They pleaded guilty and got sentenced to a year in prison. A YEAR! Just for being in love. They got out of it by moving to the District of Columbia. Can you believe that? They had to completely uproot their life and move to another place to avoid serving prison time for being married. In 1963 the American Civil Liberties Union took up their case and in 1967 the US Supreme court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. There is a quote from Mildred Loving on the 40th anniversary of her case, which I found on wikipedia that is quite beautiful so I am going to re-post it here:
“Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
That’s what loving should be about, but not under this system, which has proven time and time again that it doesn’t care about the creativity and desire of its people. All that matters is the work and value they can extract from people and if that means limiting who they get to love if they get to love at all then so be it. This brings me back to this original photograph and the necessity for queer people, especially queer women of color, to invent a queer past that is full of amazing, talented queer Black women. I can’t know for sure if the Black women in this photograph were queer, but it gives me a sense of comfort to think that they are. When you live in a system that silences you, censors you, makes it nearly impossible for you to survive you find strength knowing that you are a part of a larger community going through the same thing. I know that queer Black women have always existed, but unlike straight White men, I am not surrounded by them in my everyday life. I have to search hard to seek them out, and sometimes I even have to invent them. This is why Black lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye’s film Watermelon Woman is so important to the queer woman of color community, because she is trying to stake out a history denied to us in order to give us inspiration and strength to keep on surviving. It is personally important to me, because I still aspire to become a filmmaker. There is a serious lacking of women filmmakers, and an even more serious lacking of Black women filmmakers, and to top it all off there is an even more serious lacking of queer Black women filmmakers. It took me awhile to love this film, because the acting is cheesy and there are a lot of racial stereotypes that were off putting for me. But then one day something just clicked and I got it. I began to relate to Dunye as a Queer Black woman searching for a history and a past. To understand as an oppressed person that you come from a history of others like you gives you strength in a way that you never thought it would, and that is why Watermelon Woman is special. And that is why this photograph is special, and touches my heart and gives me hope that one day we will all be able to love completely. ❤
Historically and into the present we as women have never had full autonomy over our bodies. The disgusting statistics that show that reported rape happens every minute in this country, and three women die every day due to domestic violence, further illustrates this point. The primitive accumulation of capital needed patriarchy and the oppression of women and our bodies in order to be successful. Silvia Federici’s book Caliban and The Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation is an excellent Marxist account of how the early capitalists took away all control and autonomy women had over their bodies by outlawing traditional medical practices and midwifery, and forced reproduction to make sure a labor force was continually being reproduced. This happened in England to English women, who needed to reproduce the proletariat, and to African women through the process of colonization and enslavement. Rape and violence against women, and forcing women into the home to do unpaid reproductive labor was a necessary prerequisite for the exploitative system of Capital to develop. As a working class, woman of color I come from a legacy of slavery and sterilization that is alive and well today with the sexualized violence we experience at the hands of the state, and men in our communities as well as the continual differential treatment we get from health clinics in our communities. Dorothy Roberts book Killing the Black Body provides a lot of good content and history of the reproductive rights movement looking at the history and experiences of Black women from the time of slavery to the present. She writes, “The brutal domination of slave women’s procreation laid the foundation for centuries of reproductive regulation that continues today”(23). Our bodies have always been a site of regulation and control by this system that has often been neglected, and ignored in our social movements. A recent trip to Planned Parenthood has reminded me of this legacy and the struggles we still need to wage for total freedom from capital, and the racist, sexist ways it continues to control our bodies.
Planned Parenthood has always brought up many troubled and contradictory feelings inside me. I haven’t had health insurance most of my life, and have been grateful for the free and low cost health services that Planned Parenthood provides. On the flip, as a working-class half-black woman I have been disgusted by the racist politics of Planned Parenthood stemming from the founder, Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist perspective on Black and Brown women, and the different services offered to Black and Brown women in working-class neighborhoods. When I arrived at the Oakland Planned Parenthood last week, which I must say was the most pleasant Planned Parenthood experience I have ever had and I have been to a few, I was struck by this old black and white photo that had been blown up as a huge poster on the wall. It looked like it was from the 1960’s and it depicted Black women (some old, some young) marching with signs demanding birth control from the county hospital. The signs read “don’t hush up birth control at the county hospital we want it”; “county board says no birth control at County Hospital”; “politicians say no birth control at County Hospital”. The photo warmed my heart to see Black women in the streets demanding control over their bodies and calling out the racist/sexist State (politicians and Hospital Board members) who refuse to give it to them. Once again, I was filled with contradictory feelings, because this photo also reminded me of how the violent exploitation of Black women’s bodies has been so integral in the development of capitalism in this country, and how that has been neglected by social movements and revolutionary struggles that seek to smash such structures and corresponding social relations.
Most historians and radicals understand that the US system of slavery was not solely a racist system, but a racist capitalist system, which was designed to exploit African slave labor for profit. Although slavery and the truths of this system aren’t talked about enough in our capitalist education there are still accounts of the violent horrors of slavery that do get discussed from time to time. What is less talked about and harder to find is the particular experience of the slave woman, who was vulnerable to rape by the slave master and bred like a mule. Harriet Jacob’s rare biography Incidents in the Life Of A Slave Girl offers a glimpse into the violent oppression of slave women. She claims “Slavery is terrible for men, but it is far more terrible for women.” She was harassed and raped by her slave master, although she does not go into too much detail of the experience. The regulation of slave women’s reproductive capacities were incredibly vital to the entire system of slavery, and the profit it extracted from the slaves. Roberts writes,
“Black procreation helped to sustain slavery, giving slave masters an economic incentive to govern Black women’s reproductive lives. Slave women’s childbearing replenished the enslaved labor force: Black women bore children who belonged to the slave owner from the movement of their conception. This feature of slavery made control of reproduction a central aspect of whites’ subjugation of African people in America. It marked Black women from the beginning as objects whose decisions about reproduction should be subject to social regulation rather than to their own will.” (23)
This control and regulation over our bodies did not go away with the abolition of slavery. The rise of racism and the eugenics movement in the beginning of the 20th century opened up new ways for the system to control and exploit our bodies. Now instead of forcing us to reproduce they implemented sterilization to limit our reproduction. Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger were advocates of such racist policies, which is why there is such differential treatment in Planned Parenthood’s today. In working-class neighborhoods, where there are a lot of women of color, more evasive and sterilizing birth control is offered in comparison to Planned Parenthood’s in more affluent or white neighborhoods. This reflects the racist legacy of Planned Parenthood, which viewed women of color as too ‘unfit’ for motherhood, and sought to limit their reproductive freedom instead of give them more options and control over their bodies in a patriarchal world that sought to limit that freedom. The struggle for Birth control was such a huge part of the mainstream middle-class contemporary feminist movement, and the largely white middle-class women, who were a part of the movement. This led to the development of the contemporary Black feminist movement. Roberts also touches upon these contemporary issues in her book. She writes,
“For privileged white women in America, birth control has been an emblem of reproductive liberty. Organizations, such as Planned Parenthood have long championed birth control as key to women’s liberation from compulsory motherhood and gender stereotypes. But the movement to expand women’s reproductive options was marked by racism from its very inception in the early part of this century. The spread of contraceptives to American women hinged partly on its appeal to eugenicists bent on curtailing the birthrates of the ‘unfit,’ including Negroes. For several decades, peaking in the 1970’s, government-sponsored family-planning programs not only encouraged Black women to use birth control, but also coerced them into being sterilized. While slave masters forced Black women to bear children for profit, more recent policies have sought to reduce Black women’s childbearing.”
Not that it was solely the racism within the feminist movement that gave birth to black feminism and womanism; black feminists have existed since slavery when slave women were leading rebellions and Sojourner Truth was traveling the country speaking for the abolition of slavery and describing the particular experiences of slave women. However, by the 1960’s women of color grew tired of their experiences being neglected from revolutionary struggles whether it be caused from the patriarchy within the racial struggles at the time, such as the Black power or Chicano movements, or the racism and lack of a class perspective within the women’s movement. Women of color were, and have always had to wage a two or three front war against the system, and within the movements they were a part of. Women of color begin to organize their own groups and collectives that engaged in theoretical and cultural production about their experiences as Black or third world women. The Combahee River Collective is often sited as an example of this work, and who are personally important to me because they were queer, Black, socialist women. A group that is less talked about is the Third World Women’s Alliance (1968-1980), which put out a groundbreaking pamphlet called the Black Women’s Manifesto, which also reflected an anti-capitalist, racist, sexist analysis that was missing from the Black power movement and the women’s movement. It consists of an introduction and 4 writings. What I love about these early women of color feminist groups is that they saw the importance of art and cultural production in the development of their ideas and theories. A lot of women were writers and saw writing as being very important to the empowerment of women of color, and the usage of creative writing, such as poetry and plays was integrated in their political work. In the first piece in Black Women’s Manifesto Eleanor Holmes Norton uses a poem by Black woman poet Gwendolyn Brooks in her analysis. You can find the entire pamphlet online here: http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/blkmanif/ I would encourage everyone to check it out!
What I think is so powerful about the Third World Women’s Alliance is that they begin with Black women theorizing about their experiences, but they sought to bring together all third world and oppressed women of color, as a way to show real solidarity with the sisters here and also the sisters abroad, who were fighting against imperialism. The Third World Women’s Alliance reflected Black women, Chicana women, Puerto Rican women, Indigenous women, and Asian American Women, who were all involved in different struggles, but came together to form the Third World Women’s Alliance out of a shared commitment to fight against sexism and the oppression of women, which was being neglected in their struggles.
What is unfortunate is that none of these vibrant third world women feminist organizations exist today as revolutionary groups; it is also unfortunate that the brilliance of these women’s collectives never joined forces with the other revolutionary movements that were happening, due to the sexism within them. I believe that if those forces joined together they would have been much stronger in their struggles against the system. Today the left isn’t nearly as strong or active as it was in that time period, but it’s growing as the objective conditions of this economic crisis worsen. Not much has changed since then. People of color, particularly Black people, are still getting murdered by the police; anti-immigrant laws and sentiment are being pushed in our communities while Obama continues to deport more and more immigrants than any other US president; the budget cuts and their attack on education, healthcare and social programs show that they are more than just budget cuts but an attack on working-class people; and women of color’s bodies are still vulnerable to state violence and control. I hope that as we move forward in our struggles that we can learn from the mistakes of history and build a more holistic, revolutionary movement that is dedicated to the liberation of us all.
I haven’t had any new posts in awhile and was planning to fix that this weekend, but that plan got put on hold when I joined a tradition that many women warriors have have experienced before me: getting arrested for political action.
Myself, many of my AS comrades and extended family, as well as the rest of the bay area left got trapped and held hostage by the police friday night, and then arrested in an unlawful mass arrest friday evening. The sentencing of two years that was given to the killer cop Mehserle was a slap in the face to people around the world, and clearly exposed the contradictions of a system that relies on such racist murders to protect the profit of the rich, enforce a system of private property that produces a racist, sexist division of labor, and to ultimately keep resistance to such a system in check and the people pacified. The illusion that the police are here to serve and protect the people is a fallacy, and the pathetic two year sentencing, which Mehserle only has to serve 7 months of until he is eligible for release, exposes this illusion. People of color are serving 10-20 year sentences just for drug use and dealing. When a cop intentionally kills an unarmed, hand-cuffed black man, whom he calls a ‘bitch ass nigger’ right before, and gets 2 years, which he will not serve all of, then there is something clearly wrong with this system, and what is wrong will not be made right by working within such a system.
Fighting for justice for Oscar Grant and justice for the working class at large will not be won through asking the police to be accountable and to stop killing our people. This would be like asking a slave master to be accountable to the slave, or the KKK (which would later become the police force) to be accountable to Black people. We live in a horribly oppressive, exploitative system that relies on a system of private property, where the minority capitalist class own everything, and the majority, the working-class, are forced to work for this class and pay them for everything, such as food, shelter, clothing, ect., This is an unequal, exploitative relationship. This unequal division of labor is also racist and sexist, where we see people of color and women being incorporated into this division of labor in gendered and racialized ways. It also means that this capitalist class understands that this system is unequal and oppressive; they understand that as they live in mansions accumulating more and more wealth off the backs of our labor while we struggle to make rent, pay the bills, and have our lives stolen from us through wage-labor that maybe we will start to get angry at such grotesque inequalities. They created these ‘special bodies of armed men’ (the pigs) to supposedly serve and protect ‘the people’, but what they are really doing is protecting the rich and its private property from the people, whose labor produces such wealth that they do not own. They function to preserve such divisions of labor and to keep the people in fear of rising up.
This true nature of the system was in full effect friday from the sentencing to the actions of the pigs when they trapped us on 6th ave. The rally was good for people, who just wanted to come out and express their feelings and bring their children and go home. However, very little truth of the racist nature of this capitalist system was discussed on the stage. Some of the organizers of the rally as well as the MC continued to talk about the ‘community’ without really giving this ‘community’ any outlet to express its anger and feel a sense of power that went beyond ‘riots’ and permitted rallies. The truth is we need more than chaotic rebellions, and feel-good rallies. We need to build a sustainable movement that’s reaching out to this community, the Black and Brown working-class, to build people power and shut this system down. That is the only way we can start to strike fear in the eyes of the ruling class by getting organized as a fighting class against it much in the same way they are incredibly organized against us. When we begin to start speaking these home truths to the people then we can start preparing for more sustainable, generalized, revolutionary struggle, and we will be organizationally ready for when the people do decide to rebel, which will happen more and more as the objective conditions get worse and worse.
The people wanted more friday night and rightfully so. A breakaway march took off down 14th towards Fruitvale bart the site where Mehserle murdered Oscar Grant almost two years ago. It was a very powerful experience. 100’s of people of all races, genders, and political backgrounds took over the streets demanding justice for Oscar Grant. The media will spin it in a negative way and only show the few incidences of property destruction that happened and make us look like a bunch of hoodlums, but that wasn’t the case. It was an example of people flexing their power as people. And it started off in a disciplined manner with a direction that was political: lets take back our streets and go into our neighborhoods, where the police terrorize us every day. It was different this time than the 8th because it wasn’t just chaotic property destruction downtown, and it wasn’t just a whole bunch of people sitting around at a rally talking about police accountability; it was a political action that brought people into the streets together to force the police and the city of Oakland to respond to our demands for justice. It started off feeling very empowering and militant. Things changed once we got to international and the march took a wrong turn off of International on to the small dark street, 6th ave. The march got cut in half by the police line and their forces massively outnumbered ours. They were able to immediately block off the perimeter of the streets and they refused to let us go even though we were peaceful and demanded to be freed. They held us hostage on 6th ave between E 17th and E 18th for almost two hours as we chanted to be let go. We were not doing anything illegal; it is not illegal to be on a public street. There was no dispersal warning. Finally they made an announcement that we were all under arrest and they allowed the media to leave, and we were all forced to stay, and when I say force I mean they had barrels of shotguns with large bean bag pellets pointed a foot away from my face preventing me and everyone else from even trying to escape. They arrested over 150 of us and charged us with refusal to disperse, which, like the Mehserle sentencing, is a bunch of bullshit, because in order to charge us with that they would have needed to give us a dispersal warning. We would have loved to leave; nobody wanted to be trapped on a little dark street at the mercy of the killer cops. It was a demoralizing experience and it was designed to be one. The pigs don’t like it when any pig serves jail time, even if it is only for 7 months. And they certainly don’t like it when the oppressed rise up to protest that, especially after almost two years of similar rebellions. They were sending a message to the city of Oakland and to our movement that we have no right to express our discontent with the case and the system and that was why they were able to illegally keep us hostage and then illegally arrest us.
Being in jail was no joke. The tank was disgusting and covered in germs; there was no ventilation and the jail air was hot and thick; there was no garbage so we were forced to be on the concrete ground with our own piss, garbage, and used menstrual pads; and their was baloney everywhere in the form of sandwiches and cops. I don’t see the need to glorify jail experiences, but I stand by the righteous uprisings of myself, my comrades and the people. Even though it was upsetting to be cornered and arrested in such a way it exposed that we cannot reform this system. They can murder people and get off, and they can lie and arrest us and charge us with lies and get away with it..until we file a class action suit against the City Of Oakland of course. And I think what is important for us to remember is that we must keep building off of these struggles so they become deeper and more militant, and more in touch with the oppressed working class. So far there has been chaotic rebellions, but without them Mehserle would never have quit and got arrested; without them the Chief of police in Oakland would never have quit; without them the other two cops never would have gotten fired. It is easy to feel demoralized when 100s of radicals get thrown in jail, but we must remember that gains have been made and they have been made not through pressure by politicians. They have been made through the hearts and determination by the people, who still go out into the streets and express their anger despite the fear of the violence of the Bourgeois state, which seeks to silence us and kill us if they have to.
Justice will be brought to the people by the people!
Letta Mbulu (pronounced “let-ah” “em-boo-loo”) is a South African jazz and soul singer, who was born and raised in Soweto, but left for the United States in 1965, because of apartheid. You can find an excellent little biography of her here: http://www.dougpayne.com/lmbio.htm
She is an incredible artist with a voice that embodies the fire and spirit of women for me. The picture above represents such confidence and power. The photo is also the cover of her 2nd album Free Soul. I love that she chose to use a younger photo of herself in African clothing, despite the issues she was having getting radio play and record sales in the US. I was reading the blog I linked above, and it said that radio stations refused to play music from her first album because they were afraid “that no one would understand the words (the Bossa Nova and the British were as multi-cultural as American radio was willing to get back then). As a result, hardly anyone ever heard the record and, worse, sales were slight.” I imagined that it was incredibly difficult in the 1960’s as an African Woman artist in the US to make a living off of your art. That is why I love that her response was not too to adapt to US culture, and change herself and her art, but to produce another album of African music that also represented her as a beautiful African woman. The title of the album, Free Soul, also reflects that spirit of the fiery independence and creativity of women. Letta never got the mainstream success or recognition that she deserved, but that is often the case in this country when you stay true to your art and message.
Letta Mbulu is also important to me because my friend, sister, and comrade in struggle, Ms. Julia Wallace, introduced her to me. She played me Letta’s song “What’s Wrong With Groovin”, and I instantly fell in love with Letta’s voice, and the chills it sent down my spine. When Julia played it for me she said the song represented the soundtrack of her life, and that made me think deeply about the song, because I think Julia’s life reflects the strength, determination, creativity, passion, and love of a revolutionary woman. She has dealt with serious challenges in her life, yet has this beautiful spirit about her, and dedication to the people and struggle that inspires me everyday. The song is amazing and represents this beautiful force that I think embodies my comrade sister so I am internally thankful for her sharing it with me.
When I listen to ‘What’s Wrong With Groovin’ I feel this power radiating from Letta’s voice and the content of her lyrics that represents a woman trying to get free despite the restraints placed on us in this world. Her voice is so raw as she belts out the lyrics in such a fierce and wild way, yet she is in control. It is so unique and beautiful, but also a force.
I relate to it a lot as a woman, who, let’s just say, has been labelled aggressive or intimidating at times. I definitely have those traits, and a large part of it is due to the conditions I was raised in. I was forced to grow up early in order to survive, and in many ways that hardened me. I had to toughen up to protect myself from conditions within my home, as well as the objective conditions in the world I lived in, which isn’t kind to poor women of color like myself. I have always felt like there was this force within me that could be used positively and creatively, but I haven’t always known how to do that effectively. Often I would unleash this force in wild ways that had bull in a china shop effects with my interpersonal relationships. That said, I have been reflecting a lot over that the last year and trying to learn and grow as a woman and love this force within me, and also know how to use it for growth, inspiration and liberation. Letta’s music, and this song in particular, represents this journey and growth within myself; a journey that I share with the countless fiery women in this world who dare to survive and struggle, and produce amazing art that sustains us all.