The function of capital is to reproduce itself and extract more and more profit. It is not about the survival and health of the people it uses and exploits to operate. It then tricks us to believe that it is actually good; the best system for individual opportunity and growth. Meanwhile as we all struggle against inflation, high rent and unemployment we are alienated from ourselves and each other so we have no sense of our collectivity. Alienation means the loss of self; we have no power or control over the system and the way it abuses and oppresses us. This loss of individual and collective power is vital for maintaining the order of the system, because the ruling class understands that if we develop a sense of love and trust for each other then maybe we might collectively decide to fight such a system and change it so the people might have power; and that work might be shared collectively for the survival of entire communities. How does this happen? It is when the oppressed take these ideas and translate them into a material force and usher our society into a new historical epoch; hopefully a socialist one. It is the role of revolutionaries in revolutionary organizations to quicken this process and help educate the oppressed of this historical task; make them conscious of a revolutionary people’s history they are robbed of by the bourgeois ideology that dominates public education.
But in order for revolutionaries to embody these alternative values and spread dreams of a healthy, loving, communal world we must do work on ourselves to overcome the alienation and internalized oppression that isolates us from each other and makes us do harm to each other. Self-care is revolutionary work. Alienation makes it so hard to learn to trust and love each other, because we are not taught those skills. We are taught to fear each other and look out for ourselves. This reality makes it so difficult to have healthy, loving relationships (friendships and lovers), that aren’t shrouded in fear and co-dependency. We are not taught to care for ourselves or each other. The one relationship model offered to us is the heterosexual family, whose real function is to support the capitalist division of labor through this domestic system of reproducing human labor through the oppression of women in the home. And if you are a queer woman of color you are definitely not taught how to love another woman. It’s not even an option in the heteronormative relationships we are pressured to accept. We must silence our desire in general, and if it is queer desire we must swallow them deep inside ourselves. As women, we are not given the tools to have loving relationships with other women. We are taught to devalue women the way patriarchy does; to unleash our anger on each other.
As I have been hurt and have hurt others I am trying to learn all these lessons about loving and accepting love in order to overcome the alienation as a healthy queer revolutionary woman. I think a lot of it has to do with trust, and overcoming the way I have hardened myself in order to protect myself from people breaking or abusing my trust. I think a large part of this has to do with the pains of my early childhood years, which are so crucial for your development into your adult years. I developed unhealthy behavior patterns as a response to the conditions I was raised in that were never really challenged by the people around me so I could re-learn better behavior. A large part of this has to do with the abuse and neglect of my father and having him break over and over again my trust, faith and love for him. This, combined with early heartbreak, made me swallow my pain like stones that I buried deep within me. This process hardened me and made it difficult for me to trust and love someone. I have realized this through my last two failed attempts at love and relationships. The most recent one being particularly devastating, because It was so clear that the barrier preventing the relationship from growing was my fear and lack of trust of her. My past feelings of rejection and suspicion of people made it difficult for me to ever open up and believe that she could have real love for me. Whenever there was a slight opportunity for me to assume the worst I did and I think in some ways we are both responsible for that, but I take a lot of responsibility due to my lack of trust. It is rather tragic to think about the ways we self sabotage our own happiness and abilities for love in a world that is not the most loving. But I am also hopeful in myself, and the loving radical community around me, to begin to the process of unearthing these stones within me and each other.
Beware of the oppressor that lurks within
turns on your sisters
makes you value only men.
Preys on your fear
tricking you to enjoy the power
of tearing me down.
How does it feel up there in those towers
while I lay here on the ground.
Do you expect me to grovel?
Happiness is tough and envy is a
hard pill to swallow.
So i wont.
Besides, I like it here on the ground with everyone else.
But damn this capitalist patriarchy
sisterhood don’t come easy
when we’re not really free.
When a country is in revolutionary motion there is often a vibrant artistic movement that reflects the political movement of the oppressed. You will find that many revolutionaries and oppressed people are also artists; and like the written history that is left behind of past struggles there is art that helps tell stories and shape that history like it shaped the struggle. Brazil is no different leaving us with a vibrant history of political art movements occurring simultaneously as the revolutionary struggles of the 1960’s. Being a fan of multiple art forms and mediums, Brazil is such a source of inspiration to me with their political film movement Cinema Novo and Tropicalismo, which embodies avante-guarde poetry, theatre and most importantly a fusion of African and Brazilian musical genres. Plus being half black and Portuguese I can’t help but have some interest in the fusion of African and Portuguese culture in Brazil.
The Tropicalismo movement was initially led by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa, but it grew to encompass many artists and performers, who all suffered political repression and torture due to the political nature of their art. Veloso and Gil were exiled, like many other revolutionaries and artists who openly opposed the coup in the 1960’s. I love Gil and Veloso’s music, but my favorite musician is Gal Costa, because she was so powerful as one of the few women in the movement. She really held her own as an artist and musician, and was not tokenized as the ‘hot female musician.’ She, of course, is incredibly sexy, but the fact that she owns her sexuality gives her this raw power that I am inspired and enamored by. When I watch videos of her performing I see her getting into her music and her performance and herself and that is so empowering. Yes she is wearing sexy dresses and red lipstick and the men I am sure love it, but you don’t get that sense that she is doing it to push records like the sexualization of female musicians that we see happening today. Her sexiness isn’t in the clothes she wears. Her sexiness resides in the energy that radiates off of her as as a strong, radical, woman artist, who is embracing herself, her sexuality and her art for herself. That is a powerful thing, and something that I gather strength from as a woman trying to build up my own sense of strength and autonomy over myself and my body in this patriarchal world that wants to take it all from me. She also has an incredible, powerful voice. I love her music. I love how she can sing very quietly in that bossa nova style. But also, in tropicalia fashion, she breaks from the traditional bossa nova style and experiments with her voice, and allows herself to let loose a little bit too. Below I have two videos that I think exhibit that range. One is in black and white and its just her playing a ballad on her guitar demonstrating her bossa nova roots; it is also better sound quality. The second one is a performance with Gilberto Gil and I think it demonstrates the tropicalismo musical stylings better and the way they experimented with time. The sound quality is bad, but I love the video, because it shows Gal really getting into her performance and feeling herself and the music. I love how free she seems on the stage. She’s doing whatever she wants, letting the rhythm completely take her over, even if it means leaning against Gil while he is playing the drums. I wish I could see a performance like that today! I have respect for them all as artists in form and content; the music was political and also artistically experimental and interesting. I love it.
They also had their own style. They seemed like such a cool crew of artists to hang with. I look at photos of them together, and I am inspired by the energy radiating from them from the expressions on their faces and their cool experimental style and art. What revolutionaries and artists have in common is a shared commitment to resisting dominant ideologies and structures in order to inspire people with alternative visions and styles. As artists and revolutionaries all we have and have control over is our abilities to articulate ideas and build relationships with each other. I think even artists, whose art isn’t overtly politically, have this in common with revolutionaries. Often true artists think differently about the world and express that through their art, whether it be painting, films, poetry, ect., much in the same way revolutionaries have a different vision of the type of world we should live in and put work into expressing that through struggle and political writing. Both artists and revolutionaries build relationships and connect with other people through the expression of their ideas in art and struggle. Not all revolutionaries are artists and not all artists are revolutionaries, but I think the most dynamic struggle and art comes from when these communities overlap. I imagine them hanging out together and collaborating with their art and having political discussion, then drinking and dancing and truly living their lives despite the dangers from the ruling class. I think of my own political and artistic relationships, and wonder if we will leave a mark in history the way these other artistic movements have during times of political uprising. I hope so. I love my revolution with fresh art and style.
The Rain Is A Handsome Animal
By E.E. Cummings
Whereupon I seize a train and suddenly i am in Paris toward night, in Mai.
Along the river trees are letting go scarcely and silently wisps, parcels
of incense, which drop floatingly through a vista of talking moving people;
timidly which caress hats and shoulders, wrists and dresses; which unspeakingly
alight upon the laughter of men and children, girls and soldiers.
In twilight these ridiculous and exquisite things descendingly move among
the people, gently and imperishably. People are not sorry to be alive.
People are not ashamed.People smile, moving gaily and irrevocably moving
through twilight to The Gingerbread Fair. I am alive, I go along too, I
slowly go up the vista among the hats and soldiers, among the smiles and
neckties, the kisses and old men, wrists and laughter. We all together irrevocably
are moving, are moving slowly and gaily moving. Intricately the
shoulders of us and our hats timidly are touched by a million absurd hinting
things; by wisps and by women and by laughter and by forever: while,
upon our minds, fasten beautifully and close the warm tentacles of evening.
I love this poem. I love the imagery, the details, the adventurous spirit of it all with the signature E.E. romance. I am such a romantic, but not in a cliche way and not just for others. I live romantically and I do so for myself, because it feels right and healthy for me. I was telling my roommate the other night that I enjoy the romantic atmosphere of my bedroom largely because it makes it enjoyable for me to just be in my solitude. Sure, it’s nice to have company, but it’s not necessary. I pay attention to the details. I enjoy filtered lighting though colorful curtains. And I love drinking tea in bed while writing out my thoughts by hand. I enjoy daydreaming and I always have, because it makes life more interesting and helps me gather inspiration to create and see the beauty of life. I love this poem, because it embodies those traveling, daydream qualities within myself. I often imagine jumping on a train and traveling to a different country and being surrounded by new people, smells and architecture. I visualize the details in the manner that E.E. does, and it fills me with excitement and urges to live! I repeat this line over and over again in my head:
“People are not sorry to be alive. People are not ashamed.”
I am not sorry nor ashamed. I am feeling more solid and whole everyday. I have a lot of love and warmth to give to the universe, and what has been weighing me down is how to exactly do that; what are my next steps? As I move deeper into my twenties I contemplate life and growth and what is interesting is that these feelings are so familiar. I have held these thoughts with me since I was a little girl. I was a romantic back then when I would write and walk around my little dead-end street making elaborate plans about what I intended to do with my life. And these weren’t little girl daydreams of castles and fairy tale marriages. These dreams were filled with art, love, travel and revolution. Dreams that had material consequences and effects that I am still sorting through today.
A lot of these aspirations were inspired by history and the conditions of the world, and my own navigation within it. From a young age I was conscious of the built in oppression and exploitation of this global system. And I was very conscious of the barriers that racism and sexism imposed upon me as a working-class, half-black girl. What is interesting is that I never deeply internalized these oppressions to the point where they defeated me. I gathered strength from it all. I carried a fierce attitude that embodied determination to prove them all wrong. And by them I mean the system; the racist kids of my youth who tried to make me feel inferior; and the sexism that made me fearful of men and my own body. I was committed to proving that I was too smart and too talented for anything the system , and the people who internalized it, had to offer me. I remember when I was about 6 or 7 driving with my mother while she was doing errands. I had this quiet moment with myself, where I seriously thought about how racism and sexism are designed to make me feel unequal to white people and boys. Then I thought about how much I loved black people, black history, black culture and my family. I thought about how much I loved the women in my family and how strong and beautiful they are despite all this prejudice. And I thought about how much I loved being a girl who transcended gender boundaries; a girl who appreciated ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ things. In that moment I realized how amazing it was to be both black and a woman and doing all these amazing things despite the prejudices of society and then I proclaimed loudly to my mother from the backseat ‘mom I love being a girl!’
I still hold that memory very close to my heart and I think the sentiment still shapes who I am today. I also see it reaffirmed in the writings of one of my favorite woman writers Zora Neal Hurston, who survived despite the racism of the system and the sexism within the literary world. There is a quote from one of my favorite essays by her that represents this spirit as well. The essay is titled “How it Feels to be Colored Me” and she writes,
“Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
I smile every time I read it. I love the boldness and confidence in which she speaks of herself and her people. This type of fierceness is often denied to us as women; we are conditioned to be passive and dependent upon men, who are allowed the space to be loud and confident. But it is these women, who I have always been drawn to and who shape me as a womyn. Women who are bold; who seek a life of adventure and romance and scenes like the one described in the above poem. Women like my best friend Kate, whose never ending desire for life experience has prompted her to move to foreign countries twice: the first time was in Cambodia at 19 and currently she is living in Guatemala. This poem actually comes from the book Another E.E. Cummings, and it is a collection of his avant-garde work. I gave this book to Kate right before she left for Guatemala at the end of last summer. As whole as I am feeling right now it has been difficult to be a part from her. However, she sent me good news today that she will be making her way back to the states this spring, which fills my heart with much happiness and desire for adventures. Not sure what those next steps will be yet, but I am confident that they will include her, foreign sunsets, afternoon writing, late night coffee, and lots and lots of growth.
I always loved and respected the Clash. I always loved the way they were inspired by other musical genres, and were not afraid to incorporate different sounds into their music and not be contained by rigid punk categories. Not that punk music is this rigid thing; punk has a dynamic history generating all different forms of it from different geographical places and time periods. That said, not all punks are gonna be busting a disco beat like in the jam “The Magnificent Seven” featured below, and this is why I love The Clash. They were so conscious and intentional in their music; they were listening to the different musical forms (disco, hip hop, and reggae) that were developing and becoming more popular in NYC in the late 1970s/ early 1980’s, and they allowed it to expand their own musical orbit to produce this interesting fusion of musical stylings with political consciousness. “The Magnificent Seven” comes from their classic fourth album called Sandinista, which was released as a triple album in 1980. As much as I do love the album and how creative it was in the way it blends punk rock, jazz, dub, disco, hip hop, gospel and politics into one super package (and mother earth knows how I love hybrids of all sorts especially when they are tinted with leftist politics), but this package didn’t need to be so super. Most artists, unless you are Nina Simone or Jimi Hendrix, don’t need to be putting out double or triple albums, because its usually never quality all the way through. But that’s a nit-picky point, and I won’t hate on The Clash fellas for it.
The album title references the revolutionary Nicaraguan guerrilla organization the Sandinistas, who lead singer Joe Strummer identified with until they started fucking up mid 1980s. I think we’ve all been there. But I think it is so dope these English punk rockers were putting out music during a time of international revolutionary struggle, and they were referencing it in their music, instead of ignoring it or putting out stuff that will sell and make profit. Obviously this is capitalism so I am not trying to make it seem like they weren’t trying to make money off of their music, but it was risky for them to put out such an eclectic political punk album and I have a lot of respect for that. Lyrically ‘The Magnificent Seven’ has some embryonic class consciousness and commentary about the consumer culture under capital that drives us deeper into wage slavery. The opening lines go:
“Ring! Ring! It’s 7:00 A.M.!
Move y’self to go again
Cold water in the face
Brings you back to this awful place
Knuckle merchants and you bankers, too
Must get up an’ learn those rules”
He is describing the pain and monotony of work. Getting up early, and being ripped from your warm bed before you are ready to then having to splash your face with cold water just to wake up. He references the merchants and bankers, aka the bourgeoisie, where you will learn their rules and their bourgeois values if you want to survive in this world. He talks about the consumerism that makes the system function as well:
“Working for a rise, better my station
Take my baby to sophistication
She’s seen the ads, she thinks it’s nice
Better work hard – I seen the price”
And to top it all off he references Marx and Engels within the piece as well. I would encourage folks to check out the lyrics, because I think they accurately describe the culture of living under capitalism; the riding of the bus to work and back; the clocking in and clocking out; the slow, dreadful way the minutes pass by as you anxiously wait to be set free to do what you want with your time. Besides the content of the lyrics being political and conscious it is also just a dope jam that should be put back in the rotation. I love my disco/hip hop/ punk with some revolutionary politics…it’s just too too perfect. Enjoy!
I’ve always carried Neil Young’s work so close to my heart. His voice is so tender sounding and full of emotion; his songs are so well crafted and full of stories. It is a beautiful blend of folk and rock n roll that has a lot of soul. It is also very human to me. Musicianship aside, he always makes me think of my mother, who represents a lot of important things about humanity for me. She loved Neil Young a lot as a girl. I remember this moment during my childhood when we were watching a performance by him on television and she began to cry. I asked her what was wrong and she explained to me the ways art, especially music, can take you back to a certain time period in your life. For her, Neil Young represented an aspect of her childhood and teen years growing up in the Children’s Home in the 1960’s and early 70’s. That memory is a complicated emotional mixture of pain, neglect, growth and happiness. But these are the complexities of emotion when you have lived through the pains of this life; it is a hard world out there full of struggle and alienation. The music we listen to can really capture those time periods and the often complicated mixture of emotions were experiencing. It really speaks to the power of the musical art-form, and how it can be the soundtrack of your life stories.
I have been listening to ‘Down by the river’, the song featured below, on repeat for a hour now and I am slowly falling in love with it. So funky. So soulful. So rock n roll. The bass line keeps it smooth, and his delicious guitar solo in the middle is excellent. Also, there is something very emotional about this song that makes me want to write my own stories and movies about being an artistic and complicated woman in love. I imagine this song playing in a scene, where we really feel the intensity of her emotion for this other person coming out. There will be very little dialogue; I want to use the music, lighting, shot angles and her acting to convey the emotion, and the story of her life experience unfolding from it. When it comes to making films I have always been interested in the form as well as the content of them; I think that is why I have always been drawn to directing and cinematography. I appreciate the way lighting, the film/camera used, and the shot selection can tell or enhance stories. There are very few original story lines so for me what I am drawn to about making movies is the creative ways we can convey these classic stories, such as love. That is the challenge for me, and it is an exciting one.
In this particular movie vision I imagine our main protagonist in this cool bar, where the decor and people’s dress is a combination of decades so you are not exactly sure what time period they are in. It is a low-lit interesting looking bar, where the walls are covered with gold and turquoise wallpaper and the chairs are velvet. She looks around the room anxiously right when the guitar solo starts to cut in. The camera cuts to an attractive man plucking the guitar along to the solo so it appears as if he is playing it; the song has become a part of the scene. When the camera cuts back to her face you can see and feel the electricity radiating off her body as she stares at him playing his music. I want it to convey a feeling that I have often felt dating musicians and seeing them perform on stage. It is is so sexy to see someone you are intimate with performing and doing something they really care about. I have always been attracted to people, who really try to develop themselves and do productive and creative things like play music, write, paint, plant gardens, ect. I remember dating musicians and being mesmerized whenever they would perform; it was like I would get so swept up focusing on them and their stage presence and the music they were making. Even if I didn’t like their bands I always enjoyed seeing them do something they loved. I want the intensity of those emotions to shine through throughout this scene as she watches him perform. I have many different scenarios playing out in my head and how I want the scene to conclude. It should have this slow dramatic build-up that works with the song making it a true collaboration between the music and the film. I am not sure if I want it to be a positive scene, where they are able to connect with each other, and the love works out. Or if it should depict her pain from being in love with this person, who isn’t available for her. I think I might go with the latter, because it’s more complex and maybe more honest. I guess we will see once I get around to writing that script. In the meantime light a candle and listen to Neil and do some writing…it’s good for your soul.