Category Archives: Social Justice

Free Palestine: Resilience and Connection

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The words below were spoken at the Rhode Island Poor People’s campaign event: Linking Racism and Poverty on the state house lawn May 21, 2018.

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The way I see it, everyone and everything is connected.

That is why it comes as no surprise to me that Lemon trees, which can grow in nearly any soil used to grow on my grandmother’s family orchard in Yaffa Palestine. Nearly 70 years after the Nakba, or catastrophe- that forced my people to flee their land, Palestinian refugees and their descendants have spread their roots in nearly all corners of the globe and like the lemon tree, have remained resilient and persisted in their fight for freedom and their right to return. 

 

As a Palestinian, I was taught at an early age about colonization and state oppression not through the news or textbooks but through my families personal history.

My grandparents fled Yaffa, a thriving port city on the coastal strip of the miedditerrean during the Nakba during the spring of 1948. My maternal grandmother was 18 and remembers it well. I grew up hearing her vivid description of the events leading to our families departure. The leaflets dropped from planes warning inhabitants of the coming violence, the thunderous bombings sending families scampering to safety, the gruesome and bloody street scenes in the immediate aftermath, and of course the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of newly created Palestinian refugees.

My grandmother’s family was one of the lucky ones. Even though their homes and orchards were stolen, they were able to safely travel to Syria, but many families were not that fortunate. Thousands were made to endure the razing of their villages, their farmlands and their livelihoods. Survivors were forced into rickety refugee camps both within the newly created nation of Israel and in neighboring middle eastern countries. Decedents of this violence still fight on today in Gaza, steadfastly insisting on their humanity.

 My grandparents ended up settling in Kuwait, where they never let go of the stubborn hope of one day returning home to Palestine. 

Once we immigrated to the United States, I was influenced by my families connection to other people who experienced state sponsored oppression. For example, when I was only 9 years old,  she made me to watch the TV series inspired by Alex Haley’s Roots about the capture and enslavement of African’s  at a young age to emphasize the Black struggle. Also, my grandmother,  often pointed out stereotypical representations of native Americas to me on TV saying “of course they are fighting back, this is all their land.”

Like the fibrous roots that sprout and spread from the lemon tree, our histories, struggle, and  fight for freedom is connected and relies on each connective tissue for support. Across generations Palestinians continue to resist and imagine and we will not wait for permission to narrate our own stories in our own words, we resist by existing in full bloom.

We must continue to work for the freedom of all people. No matter how bleak, no matter how thorny, because another’s deferred justice becomes our deferred joy. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Free Palestine.

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The Climb

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da boys

I am home with the kids and revising all the time what that means to me.  I am not gonna lie; at first, I  had every intention of going back to teaching in September, when my youngest was six months old. After all, teaching and being a working person has  forever been part of my identity.  But… the economy had different plans and after several job applications and interviews took me nowhere, my partner and I revisited our family budget and realized that it more than works for me to stay home.

Budgeting aside, it’s been far from easy.  This baby was not a regular sleeper and there is still the older child to think about… its much different from just having the one kid…in many ways it would be easier to be work outside the home because at least I would get some mental space, some time with adults, even just an opportunity to complete a thought.  ( If this blog is any example, I’ve been drafting this and several other posts on and off for several months!)  But, as with everything, we’ve learned to adapt and adjust. With the support of my partner I take self-care and me-time very seriously. This support is not something I take for granted since I know and (and feel myself) how very strong the current of “status quo” is on mothers and women in general in terms of caretaking and valuing what we do.  As much as I understand and want to change gendered roles and the effects of patriarchy, that shit is so deeply woven even in the most “woke” of us that I often stumble.  So, no, I could not do this at all if my co-parent wasn’t the determined badass that he is.

With that said, once I get over the ever-present mom-guilt, I try to get writing time in at least one evening a week, go to excercise classes at the local YMCA a couple of times a week, and get together with other moms and in general, grown-ups as often as I can.  Winter time feels isolating enough as it is, but not getting out and about while taking care of young children felt extra isolating. Now that the baby turned one and with Spring around the corner, the care taking load feels much lighter and life, less overwhelming.  I encourage all moms new and seasoned to find their tribe.  We were never meant to go at this alone. That is why I decided to include this lovely comic by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.  This hit me right in the feels:  “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy … but it’s still allowed.”  

So while my “life’s meaning” might have been defined in one way when I was a 22-year-old new teacher, I am allowed to revise what that means to me know that I am 32-year old mother and always in the future.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing…and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you are doing…

Yes, yes, and yes!  Oh my goodness does this ring true in a million ways!  I needed this reminder that self-care, self-love and just being in the moment is a revolutionary act. After all, these kids will grow up in a blink and the work world will still be there waiting for me…

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Thanks for the reminder;)

Horizon

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Etymology of Hoizon is listed as: bound, limit, divide, separate and limit of view.

 

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I am trying to stay positive in the face of uncertainty,

stay clear headed and patient in the face of parenting responsibilities.

Creative in the face of harsh realities

 

And then there’s Meena.

There is no question that child was wrought out of pure love.

I am so grateful for him. For his presence.

 For his warm squishy body next to mine at night

for his big goofy giggles,

for his squels at Ali or cuddles with Chris.

 

Life is not this or that, not black or white.

 It’s energy, light, flow

and always, always movement.

 

I will long for a snapshot of this feeling, this love long after it might pass

Long after I get grey and achy

Long after he outgrows my lap and his chubby cheeks.

The bittersweet passage of time.

How hard I tug and pull to get to the next horizon only to look back and remember what I forgot.

 

How is it some of us can hold so much love, so much light, while others simply can not?

 

Water on Mars. Plastic in oceans.

Families huddled along borders, waiting.

Pushing and pulling against tides, against horizons

 

Can we evolve to something different? Something we have never experienced before?

How much can our container hold?  

 

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We Are Providence: Featured Essay!

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Learn more about Devon, the “Lonely” tagger and support his campaign: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

One of my essays has recently been featured in Frequency Providence’s first ever anthology, Missing Providence.

Order the Missing Providence Anthology Here! It’s chock full of local talent and great writing:

http://frequencywriters.org/2015/09/09/order-frequencys-anthology/

 

art and the post-industrial city

art and the post-industrial city

“She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island Where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee Just as her father came across the sea “

– The Eagles, “The Last Resort”

He lives downtown...

He lives downtown…

 

We Are Providence

Each section of the city of Providence holds magic for me. Mount Pleasant is home to some of the only old growth oaks in the city, Federal Hill’s original Narragansett name is Nocabulabet, which means place between the ancient waters, and Fox Point was a major international shipping center, with slave ships and all. While the sycamores, forgotten bridges, and the layers of history are fair game for any artist searching for inspiration, Providence has burrowed her way into my dislodged center, setting it right again. She has made me feel at home against all odds.

Growing up Palestinian in Rhode Island, my need for relevance and connection was fierce. While undoubtedly this is connected to Palestine’s longing for statehood and international recognition, its also because Rhode Island is not an easy place to immigrate to. Directions are impossible to deal with unless you happen to know “where the old Dunkin Donuts used to be.” Sometimes the same road has several different route numbers and locations are referred to by their “unofficial” name. No, South county is not an actual county. I never set foot in Palestine, but with my Teta’s grandmother stories I at least got to feel like I did. I know the fishermen and orange groves in Yaffa well enough to imagine the sights and sounds of our ancestral land. I remember her countless retellings of that ill fated spring in 1948, with it’s thunderous bombings and dismembered bodies vividly enough to feel as though I witnessed them myself. While my grandmother’s stories were already seeding my identity, my own experience with fleeing Kuwait as a six year old added to the entanglement of roots.

My mother and I fled Kuwait a few weeks after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. Despite the whirlwind of narrowly escaping plundering soldiers, intense dessert heat, and a custody battle that included a thumb-less kidnapper hired by my father’s family, (a story for another day), I was thrown into this new world without so much as a guidebook. In elementary school while my classmates ate peanut butter jelly sandwiches, I ate Zaet and Zaatar pita my mom packed. In second grade you could easily spot me in the school cafeteria. I was that girl with the frizzy braids and thick rimmed pink glasses, (before they were cool) patiently explaining in broken English that no, I wasn’t eating bird poop, just herbs mixed with olive oil. My mother, finally freed from stifling gender norms could raise me without fear. Since she was divorced, it was law that I would only be with her till age eleven, after which my father-a distant but not wholly unpleasant accountant, would have been my legal guardian. Had my mother remarried or was caught out on a date, she would be deemed an unfit mother, losing custody even sooner, perhaps even securing my fate as a math whiz instead of a writer.

       As the months grew into years, the novelty of Rhode Island faded. I hungered after stability in people and places. I envied my classmates for the simple routines that involved sport practices or family vacations. While they went along their seasonal routines, in my family there was still talk of moving away, of new schools, new relationships, and yet another world to get accustomed to. I ached for a predictable life. I still find myself in awe of people who have the notion that life will unfold in exactly the same way it had for generations. I knew the comfort was an illusion. I understood that friends had some flavor of childhood trauma or economic insecurity rippling beneath the placid surface of their day to day lives, but I envied the illusion. My experiences were too raw to be hidden. They had marked me with a discordant vibration; amplified by the cadence of my mispronounced name. I recognize this discordance is others, in fact, Providence is abuzz with it; all those layers of old world muck latticed through downtown’s polished center. You can see it in people and places like the half collapsed Moshassuck bridge; centuries old, dark in the shadow of newly constructed luxury condominiums. My insecurities mirrored by the city itself. I might not have fit in where I wanted to, but at least Providence understands.

I could never experience home in the same way my Teta did but I could lean on Providence for support. Like so many before me, I have been seduced by this haven for those “distressed for conscience” and I’ld like to think that it’t no mere coincidence. While researching the history of State Pier One’s role in immigration for a story idea, I came across some surprising information.

The Fabre Line, a fleet of steamships, supplied Providence with immigrants well into the twentieth century. Immigration quotas threatened to put the Fabre Line out of business, but they decided to redirect the routes and pick up immigrants and visitors from cities like Beirut, Alexandria and Yaffa. Yaffa! The same city my family was forced to flee in 1948. This steamship came from Providence and went to Yaffa as part of it’s journey, to pick up goods and people way back before my disoriented self ever stood on that Providence pier.

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      Could it be that after several years of defining myself as a misplaced and misunderstood outcast, that I actually been home in Providence after all? Do I have ancestors floating around having a good laugh; chuckling ‘oh silly girl! nothing is random.’ ? I remember downtown before the mall, before Water Place Park and well before those luxury towering condos. The tourism council will have you thinking that Providence always had a glowing face of fancy restaurants and Waterfire, but I knew her before the Botox injections. Before she tried to hide her puffy post-industrial eyes and walk in Boston’s high healed pumps. Maybe if we sit by the Providence River at dusk and look down toward the smoke stacks and consider the gentle lapping of its briny water we could hear the voices that came before us. If we hold still and listen closely we might even hear H. P. Lovecraft famously proclaim, I am Providence. To which we can now respond: “No Mr. Lovecraft. We are Providence”.

misty Providence River

misty Providence River

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

 

***PUT PROVIDENCE ON THE LITERARY MAP!!   Support Frequency, order the anthology, check out the featured workshops: http://frequencywriters.org

*** SUPPORT Devon and the pursuit of accessable art: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

 

WRITE OR BE WRITTEN

Winter Solstice Reflections: The fine mingling of letting go and holding on

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“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela

Mandela on Day After Release

Mandela on Day After Release

This quote was brought to my attention recently and I couldn’t help but recognize it as execeptionally fitting given not only Mandela’s passing, but also my heightened sense of personal growth as it relates to letting go of habits, thoughts, and feelings that no longer serve me.  In order to live the life I’ve been blessed with, I need to activily let go of what no longer serves me.  ( most noteably- habits Ild developed as a single mother- of a divorced person, of an economically challenged life, of constrained gender expectations…)

This past year has brought me many changes, a supportive partner and co-parent, a new home, a different job situation, opportunites for creative expression, and deeper relationship with the Earth. The future is very much unwritten, with endless possibilities- I dont want to cloud the possibilities with the heavy heart of a painful past… part of my growth has been the recognition that how I choose to move forward  is very much a choice. That recognition is the first of many difficult steps towards becoming the woman, mother, partner, teacher, and writer that I strive to be.

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Fittingly, the month of December is a time that  highlights the need to let go while honoring what brings us joy. It was clear to me that although I’ld already come a long way from the me from last year, it was clear I still needed had some personal work ahead of me.  For example, transitioning from single parenthood towards a trust filled, healthy partnership was a huge shiftt in the day to day routine ( oh so i dont have to work nonstop all day? Dinner is already cooked? like whoa.)

That was something I was able to immediatly feel relief from.  But, on a deeper level, I still had a lot of letting go to do.  I was still prone to jump into autopilot when it came to craming house work alongside childcare instead of simply asking for help, still asumed the worst during those times of exhaustion /heightened stress that my co-parent was not going to have my back or would react in an unhealthy way.  I found myself replaying scenes and dramas from long ago, times where I felt like I needed to downplay my exhaustion in order to shield my son from the less patient co-parent of that time. That was a  short, yet highly emotionally charged time where my protective instinct overpowered my desires of self care. These past traumas-as brief as they might have been, (and as logically picked over and sorted as a leftover thankgiving turkey carcass), still had power over me- still controled the way I shaped my reality.  

And that was the last thing I wanted, to live in a self imposed prison…

December 17:  Use this full moon to expand your sense of what could be. The time between this full moon and the Winter Solstice should be honored and quality time should be carved out to do what brings you joy. What needs expansion and more inspiration?

 What do you need to let go of?

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December 21: Winter Solstice-Do a ceremony around honoring yourself and your own truth. Your desires should be given top priority. Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you are still feeling the weight of what you have carried, changed, released, processed, started or created in these past months, release it somehow in a fire or other ceremonial way.

For more, check out power path-  http://www.thepowerpath.com/index.php/power-path-home/the-power-path/monthly-forecast/583-december-forecast-2013

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“The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”  ~Havelock Ellis

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Kindness poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.

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How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you every where like a shadow or a friend.

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Creating that balance…

Letting go...

Letting go…

How Uncivil! Ray Kelly Protests, Providence Student Union, and Why Liberal Politics Suck

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The following post was penned by my partner and fellow creative resistance specialist ( cause yeah, i can make terms up…) Christopher Rotondo:

Reflections on the Providence Student Union (PSU), Ray Kelly, and the Nature of Protest

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Recent organizing efforts and protests in Providence, most recently, the protest of New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly at Brown University, have not only received the ire of reactionary conservatives, but also established “progressive” voices. Certainly, the conservatives have a lot to lose in capitulating to the demands of groups like the Providence Student Union (PSU) or the organizers of the Kelly protest. Those with opposing ideas of how society ought to be must confront each other. The more dismal component of these debates and contests however, are those allegedly “progressive” voices, who, from the sidelines of any struggle, use their privileged access to the media to denounce the  methods or tactics of organizers. It’s important that this debate between these progressives (and so-called “civil rights leaders”) be settled in favor of an analysis that values justice over civility, promotes the liberation of oppressed people rather than defending the “rights” of oppressors.

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So much of the criticism, and in some cases, outright dismissal, of the Providence Student Union (PSU) is focused on their tactics. Caricatured as a “sideshow” and otherwise cheap political theater, the protests and actions of the group seem to be the only thing up for debate in the minds of conservatives and professed “progressives” alike. The Union’s demands to rescind the NECAP standardized test graduation requirement, along with the largely unarticulated contention their work raises – who should decide how and what Providence students learn – don’t seem worthy of consideration.  Perhaps the reason we – so conveniently, it seems, for the arguments of the pundits criticizing the PSU – don’t get anywhere with so-called “education reform” is because no one with formal decision-making power actually wants to change the direction we’re heading. More testing, evaluations designed to undermine teachers’ unions, and privatization of everything, from entire schools to busing. The conclusion one is bound to draw from the focus on superficial aspects of the situation – “how” the PSU goes about making its point- is that whomever is pandering this kind of analysis must have some stake in the status quo. No argument over the Union’s “tactics” is going to result in change, especially when the context in which the students struggle to find a voice is almost entirely ignored.

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Many critics of the PSU would have us believe that the group’s alleged “sideshow” tactics are unnecessary, some going so far as to say they’re just looking for publicity, not trying to address a social issue. Yet no one seems capable of articulating how these students might otherwise voice their position in regards to NECAP or any other policy of their schools for that matter. Without a proposed alternative, one is forced not only to question what stake these critics might have in keeping things the way they are, but also where the root of their angry response to the Unions “tactics” truly lies. I would argue this ugly root is actually shaped by bigotry based on age, race, and class.

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Coupled with a general fear of change (along with the power and paychecks involved) there is a deep undercurrent of hackneyed prejudice to the majority of the criticisms of the PSU. One could imagine, based on her crude comments, that Board of Education chair Mancuso doesn’t believe any 16 year old should have a say in her own education. I suppose she’d rather decide for students, in private meetings, what and how they will learn (and subsequently, how they’ll be valued as workers and adults). In Mancuso’s myopic, white-washed world, perhaps this is enough to try and wrap her mind around. But, because the PSU is based in Providence, because its members are mostly African-American, Latino, South East Asian, because many come from immigrant families, there is a lot more than the chair’s distaste for kids at stake. Though banal arguments about “tactics” obscure (intentionally in most cases), the fact that racism and class privilege are undeniably present in this situation, anyone savvy enough to understand the history and political-economy of public education in this country should not be duped.

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Context matters. It matters in any debate over the Union’s demands, and it matters in one-dimensional diatribes about “tactics.” The real questions we ought to be asking ourselves are: should the students of the PSU (and students in general) have a say in how and what they learn? Who and why might someone argue that they shouldn’t? Why would the PSU employ the “tactics” they have? What other options were and are available to them? These questions, unlike the ones being posed in the majority of commentary, might get us closer to the issues underlying the work of the PSU and the roots of the arguments against them.

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Based upon the response from policy-makers, school administrators, conservative and progressive commentators, it would seem that no one criticizing the PSU actually believes students (or perhaps these students) should have a voice in their own education. One of the fundamental beliefs that the PSU’s protests challenge is that administrators, far-removed policy hacks, and, increasingly, profit-seeking education corporations and their consultants, ought to decide how and what students learn.

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By organizing – a concept it appears few still understand – the students of the Union are part of a long, dynamic history of how change happens in this country. One of the most prominent examples, the gains of which many PSU critics implicitly or even explicitly in some cases, work to roll back, is the Civil Rights Movement. The foundation of that widespread movement for racial justice was organizing, not the idolatry of Martin Luther King – which many of the Union’s “progressive” critics stake their reputations upon. That foundation was laid by the localized, person-to-person work being done, largely uncelebrated, by Black women in the South. Organizing, against the Jim Crow of the mid-20th century American South, or the current Jim Crow system of mass incarceration, police terror, and yes, a deeply racist education system, means opening the moral, political, and physical space for the oppressed to challenge the system of white supremacy and class domination that day-to-day largely tramples on unhindered.

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The direction, militancy, and horizons of the Civil Rights Movement came from those without recognized political power, whose dreams of a different life, fueled by their daily experience of white supremacy, made them uncompromising in their struggle for justice and perhaps even revolution. These “common” visionaries, often pushed the limitations of their alleged leaders, driving the movement on to it’s next important strides towards a racially just society. Those who would seek to denounce the students of the PSU, and thus make crucial decisions for them, rather than with them, would do well to take lessons from history. Again, where do these detractor’s ideas about who should run the public education system derive from? From the brutal, white supremacist and capitalist status-quo. They aren’t doing themselves, or any of us for that matter, any favors by seeking to suppress the liberating energies of the Union’s student organizers. They are, as usual, simply lining their own, as well as the usual suspects, never-ending pockets. All in the name of “progressivism,” or even, “civil rights!”

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It should be no surprise that the same antagonists who have been moralizing the PSU’s tactics would apply their reactionary logic to the recent protest of New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly. In the alleged defense of free speech, self-proclaimed civil rights leaders (along with, thanks to the Providence Journal, conservative think-tanks) have admonished the student and community organizers who prevented Kelly from speaking at Brown University. That Kelly was heckled off the stage is being called an “uncivil” disruption of his right to speak and the audience’s right to hear him. These detractors claim that the protestor’s would have been better off engaging in “civil discourse,” held up as the backbone of any progressive change.

Two related points need to be made about Kelly’s “rights,” as well as this vague and much-touted concept, civil discourse. Firstly, since when did rights have nothing to do with power? What tradition of civil rights are these alleged spokespeople upholding? Kelly, wielding his control over the policies and practices of the entire New York City police department, has established a system of race-based oppression, intended to generate fear in the people of color of New York. This is the institutionalized, highly-resourced, and undemocratic (he was appointed, no?) power Kelly holds. In this position, he has had ample opportunity, not only to voice his opinion, but to actually put his ideas into practice!

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How does Kelly’s power, and subsequently, despite what many commentators would like us to believe, the breadth of his rights, compare to that of the organizers in the crowd? The organizers had no institutional backing whatsoever, except for those small, mainly volunteer-run institutions they had built for themselves. It should be easy enough to see through the straw man about Brown’s “liberal” professors and “culture.” The self-proclaimed “liberals” being touted as the scourge of conservatism on campus are the ones deriding the protestors! It’s certainly not a liberal conspiracy to toss out someone like Kelly. I imagine that if those “unruly” protestors and their ideas were really running things at Brown, we wouldn’t have seen Ray Kelly on campus at all, let alone for a huge honorarium and in a celebratory fashion.

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Moreover, these organizers and protestors were, in the majority, people of color – the targets of policies like Ray Kelly’s (which, by the way, have been the norm in Providence for years, the Providence PD simply does not have a nationally recognized, formal policy of racial profiling. They prefer to deny that profiling exists.) Whatever limited power these organizers have, Kelly’s policies are designed to undermine, using near-constant threat of harassment, violence, and incarceration. Though indignant commentators would surely gasp, it’s clear to these organizers (and to those willing to accept the actual history of this country) that Ray Kelly and his policies are buttressed by hundreds of years of colonization, chattel slavery, and systemic racism, while the protestors instead struggle to overcome these bulwarks of American society.

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Are we to believe that, given this glaring imbalance of power, Kelly and the protestors would have been on a level playing field had they simply engaged in civil discourse? Asked polite, but “tough” questions at the end of the man’s speech? Wrote patient and explanatory articles in the Brown Daily Herald? What incentive then would there be for Kelly’s policies of stop-and-frisk to be put to an end, either by Kelly himself (presumably after hearing the protestors impassioned, reasoned arguments) or by public opinion (which might, heaven-forbid, empower people in New York City to resist stop-and-frisk…oh wait, that’s already happening!). How easy it is to moralize in a vacuum! How simple-minded to presume, against undeniable evidence, that there is no imbalance of power mediating our rights. Again, like arguments against the tactics of the Providence Student Union, one must ask: is this innocent ignorance, or are those making these claims protecting something, intentionally obscuring reality, admonishing those who rupture the everyday through protest, to suit their own comforts, “rights,” and privileges?

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It’s a massive betrayal on the part of anyone claiming to uphold the banner of civil rights to decry protestors (mostly protestors of color!) fighting the representative of a racist police policy, without even a nod to the fact that racism or massive disparities of power and influence exist in our society. Not content to simply obfuscate the reality of race and class power, some have gone further, infantilizing people’s reaction over an “emotional issue” as a substitute for any real analysis of the situation. Surely New York’s stop-and-frisk policy and the long history of racialized terror from which it springs are worthy of more than a plaintive wail about how they must make people feel!

Perhaps this is related to the bastion of liberal problem-solving, civil discourse, which has been tossed about not only as the reason to disdain the protest of Kelly, but as an inviolable pillar of our “tolerant” society. The alleged leaders called upon to comment on the protest are, rather than championing the rights of those terrorized, locked up, and brutalized by Kelly’s policies, defending their favorite straw man: civil discourse. They would have us believe that impatient and crude activists are always assaulting this discourse and preventing real, painless change from occurring. Kelly’s speech sheds light on what this “discourse” ultimately amounts to. The argument goes that the protestors, rather than “silencing” the commissioner, should have politely heard him out, then posed their challenging, yet civil, questions during the established Q & A. The result would have been a genteel and unremarkable event. And those local policy-makers and police, who only want to fight crime more effectively, would have heard their racist views and practices reaffirmed by an exalted cop, maybe steeling them to push “proactive” policing further in Providence. The Brown undergads on the verge of tears for the display of free-speech bashing would not have had to be so traumatized!

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Yet, what were the protestors after? A statement. A statement against clearly racist policies. From the initial request to cancel the lecture (and spend the honorarium somewhere more appropriate), student organizers sought a disavowal of Kelly and the type of world he represents – a world that is anything but civil. If the protest made you uncomfortable, made you fret over rights, perhaps you might imagine (if you haven’t already experienced it like so many others) a stop-and-frisk. Or, consider not just an isolated incident, a one-off of humiliation, terror, and potentially life-changing consequences, but a generalized, daily routine of surveillance and random violence – the explicit goal of Kelly’s policies. One would hope that champions of civil rights would view the depravity of institutional racism as more discomforting than the heckling of a university’s honored guest. US racism was, after all, built within the genteel, civilized society of the plantation South. Not exactly a concept that we ought to be touting.

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Between the Providence Student Union’s confrontation over the future of the education system and the uncivil discourse of protesting Ray Kelly, it’s clear that comfortable, establishment liberals, like their forbears, simply will not choose sides, despite an increasingly clear war over the direction of our society. It’s moments like these that expose liberalism’s inadequacies of vision and analysis. How can you participate in the struggle for justice if you become squeamish over challenging the speech of the overseer of a racist police system? How can you envision a new society if your inviolable method of change is limited to civil discourse? Who has access to this realm of discourse? Apparently Ray Kelly was welcome, while the “rude” protestors were not. So those directly impoverished, violated, too often even murdered by the systems you and Kelly quietly debate are to sit on the sidelines, face more incarceration, deprivation, and injustice, until a civil solution is worked out by those worthy of the conference room?

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It’s long been time for those shielding themselves from the obvious conflict going on by hiding behind civility to declare a side. For the oppressed may not fit your description of civility. Those on the side of the oppressed might, reasonably, take your actions to mean that you have chosen your side – that of the existing system and its elites. Perhaps, despite the fact that it will not be a civil contest, folks have chosen to fight for a fundamental revolution in society, to fight for their rights to imagine, create, and live to achieve their full human potential. To defend the rights of a man like Kelly against the bold and uncivil action of those his policies oppress is to choose Kelly’s side of history, the losing side.

So, stop trying to build careers by placating those with power and influence, stop demanding civility and start demanding justice, and decide which side you plan to fight with. I for one, will follow the leadership of those bold organizers and protestors who heckled Ray Kelly offstage. I will follow them to victory over racism and capitalism, and I will gladly be uncivil doing it.

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Power of Memory: Avi’s “Something Upstairs” and Our Responsibility to Remember

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to relive it”  Santayna

Avi opens up his young adult historical fiction novel, Something Upstairs, with this fitting quote.

A geek for local literature,  I am glad I finally stumbled on this book ( while, umm… subbing 5th grade).

Providence is small but is layered with a complex, ever emerging history ( Native American resistance, African slave trade, several waves of immigrants)  So, it’s always exciting for me to read something set in Providence. I geek walking around being like “that’s the street so and so was chased down in chapter 10”  

You know that’s cool.  Dont front.

Back when I was teaching 9th grade, I created my own local history curriculum (cue Don LaFountaine voice):  which took my students on an epic and mysterious journey through the hidden history of Providence… There were thrills and chills! and secret slave transportation tunnels!!

Well, anyways, I could go and on about the importance of teaching history of marginalized people to their still struggling decedents …

Old Providence underground  tunnel-was it just used for trains…?hmmmm...

Old Providence underground tunnel-was it just used for trains…?hmmmm…

But, I think its also important because our memories and interpretation of history help shape our future.

Something Upstairs-give or take...

Something Upstairs-give or take…

The evil time traveling slave owner turned librarian says:   “After all, I am a historian, a guardian of memory, memories which I choose and shape. When I arrange things as I want them the newspaper story also changes.  You read the revised version.”     YES!!!

So, who ever controls the past also controls the present interpretation AND the future! This is why we all need to be historians-of our personal truths, our family history, our planet’s history– this is our collective responsibility.

go ahead, snatch that young adult lit from a 5h grader...

go ahead, snatch that young adult lit from a 5th grader…

“People, said Caleb scornfully, “abide by the memories they chose.”  Oh yes, Caleb was scornful because he didn’t trust that Kenny would choose the memory he needed to be set free… what memories would you choose?

What the Providence River looked like back in Caleb's day...

What the Providence River looked like back in Caleb’s day…

I believe it is our responsibility ( as teachers/parents/people in the world), to guide young people towards more balanced discourse on history and to encourage critical thinking. (Remember when that was an education goal more vital than standardized tests?)  This is vital for our viewing of   history in general, as well as remembering our own personal history (which is on my mind as a craft my memoir…)

ooo spooky house

ooo spooky house

While expressing ones side of a conflict ones reflection on childhood trauma or events…having power to choose and shape one’s own history, is vital.

oh yes, we still have the "plantations" in the our state name...

oh yes, we still have the “plantations” in the our state name…

At the closing of the novel, Kenny asks,  “do you really think he’s free yet?” “I mean, really free?”

Good question. What makes us “really” free?

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Works like “Something Upstairs” remind me how important it is to abide by memories we choose, and to choose memories consciously.

With imperilalism, the 1st step to claiming was naming- whether that was renaming streets in Palestine, or carving roads in Rhode Island, naming was usually the precursor to colonizing.

And now?

Its our right to take back our ability to name- our land, our experiences, our history.

Providence Journal's series on the RI slave trade

Providence Journal’s series on the RI slave trade

When will Caled truly become free? When we reclaim our right to remember.

The real Tillinghast's grave in Providence...

The real Tillinghast’s grave in Providence…

Why Teach?

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Recently I was asked the big question, ( one of many I guess), Why teach?

What came to mind at first was how growing up I was the eldest cousin in our extended family home and it felt natural for me to lead groups of children in various activities.   Also, young people inspire me, they teach me as much as I hope I teach them.  I like to think of it as a mutual exchange.

After thinking about it some more, I came up with a better and more relevant answer ( which of course happens after the job interview is over, right?)

I think teaching is one of very few avenues where someone could earn (because yes, teaching is profession)  the access to molding the minds of a generation.  Unfortunatly, standardized curriculums and testing is changing this (being forced to teach a scripted curriculm is so much fun, yeah?)  But, I digress.

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So why teach?  Because in our society, it’s how we can directly pass on – and potentially change- our culture, our values, our dreams for the future- it shouldnt be taken lightly- and Im very fortuate ( dispite the displacements, pink slips, schools closings, ect…) to have chosen teaching as part of my life’s path.

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Below are some awesome education related links:

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Rethinking schools:  An amazing social justice eduation resource for all teachers-  http://www.rethinkingschools.org/index.shtml

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Boston 826: A nonprofit organization decidicated to support students’ creative and expository writing

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-http://www.826boston.org

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Providence Student Union: A group of local students working towards educational justice-   http://www.providencestudentunion.org

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Do you teach? Create? Build? Dance?

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What do what you do? Know of other amazing ed orgs?  Leave me a note!

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