In the Bardo

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We are all grieving at the passing of John Lewis. What a remarkable man, filled with integrity, purpose, courage, and grit. He spent a lifetime in the fight for justice and civil rights under the most challenging of circumstances. He never lost faith in his hopes for change and how to achieve it. “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful,” he said.

I am weepy at his passing. I am trying to wrap my mind (and heart) around why. Certainly, he was such a good man. A model of a determined activist who never lost his passion for a world of equity. I understand being sad at his passing, but being so emotional is a surprise to me.

I have been feeling like I have been living in the bardo for months now and John Lewis’ death has brought that bardo feeling more viscerally into my being. The long arc of justice is indeed very long, beyond my lifetime, perhaps beyond my grandchildren’s lifetimes. That’s what has hit home for me with his passing. The Civil War ended in 1865 and slavery was abolished with the Thirteenth Amendment which was ratified at the end of that very same year. Will the history books say that it took another 200 years after the Civil War to transform the institutions of society which were steeped in systemic racism? That it took another 200 years to dismantle and rebuild? Perhaps that is too optimistic of me. 200 years from the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment is only 45 years from now. We have a lot of work to do to meet that deadline. Yes, the arc is long.

And under this long arc of justice is the bardo, that place the Tibetans say is between death and rebirth. Under this long arc of justice, I’m trying to keep my eye on the long game. This very, very, very long game. Though I am in this for the long haul, what is hard, what is making me so emotional (and this is not said out of despair, but rather out of compassion), is the awareness of all the suffering, hardship, and injustice that will continue to exist until we get this right.

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“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it has been faced. History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we literally are criminals. James Baldwin

Yesterday I finally watched I am not your Negro (2016), directed by Raoul Peck, a devastatingly powerful documentary of the unfinished manuscript of James Baldwin’s Remember this House. This was to be a book about the lives and deaths of three of his friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr — all who were murdered within 5 years of each other. He told his literary agent he wanted them to “bang against and reveal one another as they did in life.” This is collaged with archival film footage from the 60s juxtaposed with present day video of police action and protest, Baldwin’s tv appearances, notes, and letters. Also included are passages from some of Baldwin’s essays and from his books, specifically The Devil Finds Work, about Hollywood and the racial politics in film. Some of the films he analyzes in that book are used as powerful images in this movie.

The voiceover of Baldwin’s words in this film are performed by Samuel A. Jackson. Though Jackson’s voice is more raspy and low-keyed than the footage of Baldwin speaking for himself, it works — his words hooked me; I was riveted, literally hanging on Baldwin’s every word. His sobering words, his unsparing words. The clarity and stark truth of his vision of America and race and the sting of his scorn. His words, powered and enriched by the visuals, even as some of them were typed on the screen, went directly to my heart.

What made this even more impactful for me was the realization that I have read James Baldwin before. I have read Fire Next Time, Giovanni’s Room, The Devil Finds Work, and many of his essays. There are underlinings and notes in the margins of those books — made by me. I watched the Dick Cavett show he was on (prominently featured in the film) at the time it was broadcast in 1969. But after watching this film, it was like I was hearing his words for the first time. Who was I then? Who did I think I was? I thought I got it. I thought I understood racism. Has it really taken 50 years for me to really get shaken to my core by Baldwin’s words? Shaken in the sense that I finally understand how I am a complicit part of the problem of systemic racism in this country. I thought I was outraged 50 years ago. I hadn’t realized how duplicitous I was/am.

I am facing that history now. Deeply. I carry that history. I live that history. I am that history. I reap the reward of that history while others suffer its consequences. Being in denial to the hugely devastating impact that history, and all the institutions created in its name, has on those who continue to bear and resist its repercussions, is what is criminal. Being accountable for this history and taking responsibility for the dismantling and rebuilding of these systems so that they inclusively reflect everyone’s full humanity is the daunting but necessary task that must be undertaken. Now.

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“The Star-Spangled Banner” in a Minor Key

Chase Holfelder, the creator of the video above, captions the video above with:

This past month has been heavy… but incomparable to the struggles that Black Americans have faced relentlessly for so many years. The movement has brought renewed light to a disease that has plagued our nation from the beginning. The perseverance and focus of those leading this change is remarkable, and their determination to shift the status quo will have lasting effects on our country, fellow Americans, and the world. Open your heart. Listen. Take action.

There is no other option.

Posted in activism, African-Americans, anti-racism, civil rights, equity, freedom, racism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July Fourth

Almost a decade before the Civil War, Frederick Douglass was asked to speak at Rochester, New York’s Fourth of July celebration, (held on the fifth) in 1852. What the citizens, the white citizens, of Rochester heard was not what they expected. It was not a speech of celebration and blessings. “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Douglass’ words are still hauntingly relevant and condemning today.

The video above is a presentation of excerpts from Douglass’ speech performed by Brian Jones (activist, actor, educator) on March 21, 2017 in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, where Frederick Douglass spoke twice.

The video posted at the bottom of this blog is a presentation of excerpts from this same speech by five young descendants of Frederick Douglass. The Coda, in their own words, is remarkable.

And sandwiched between these two videos is a much larger excerpt of this speech. As we sit with the lockdown on this July Fourth, let us look deeply within and grapple with the very real dismantling and rebuilding that needs to happen, both personally and systemically.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too, great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory…. 

…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? 

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.” 

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people! 

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” 

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery, the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just. 

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, an denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.” But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man! 

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men! 

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Amercans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him. 

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their mastcrs? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply. 

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed. 

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced. 

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival…. 

…Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. — Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other. 

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. ‘Ethiopia, shall, stretch. out her hand unto Ood.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it: 

God speed the year of jubilee 
The wide world o’er! 
When from their galling chains set free, 
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee, 
And wear the yoke of tyranny 
Like brutes no more. 
That year will come, and freedom’s reign, 
To man his plundered rights again 

God speed the day when human blood 
Shall cease to flow! 
In every clime be understood, 
The claims of human brotherhood, 
And each return for evil, good, 
Not blow for blow; 
That day will come all feuds to end, 
And change into a faithful friend 
Each foe. 

God speed the hour, the glorious hour, 
When none on earth 
Shall exercise a lordly power, 
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower; 
But to all manhood’s stature tower, 
By equal birth! 
That hour will come, to each, to all, 
And from his Prison-house, to thrall 
Go forth. 

Until that year, day, hour, arrive, 
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive, 
To break the rod, and rend the gyve, 
The spoiler of his prey deprive — 
So witness Heaven! 
And never from my chosen post, 
Whate’er the peril or the cost, 
Be driven. 

The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume II
Pre-Civil War Decade 1850-1860
Philip S. Foner
International Publishers Co., Inc., New York, 1950

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A Virtual Sign

I see him tracing the letters in the air,
His hands rotating his brush
As he paints this last virtual sign.
I have never seen his expertise so close up before.
I always focused on the letters he produced when I watched him paint—
Never on his hands and the brush itself.
I never noticed how all the skill
Is in the twirling and manipulation of the brush by the fingers—
His micro-maneuvering,
A crisp choreography.
I sit near his bed—
What is it he is writing?
An announcement?
Or a proclamation?
A signal?
Only muscle memory?
A moment later he stops breathing.

The forbidden trunk, green and black, metallic.
In the basement, in a corner, near where he painted.
I had touched it many times before, felt its coolness, its mystery.
I had run my hands over its sharp corners, fingered its latch.
Why had we been ordered,
By a man who never ordered anyone to do anything
To never open it?
Once I had lifted its lid, just a bit, just enough to see darkness inside.
Then quickly, guiltily,
Released my anxious curiosity, surprised by the weight of the lid
And the thump of its closing.

Forty years later I share with my own son the drawings done by a young man—
A boxing match with the audience silhouetted,
A Watusi warrior in headdress and mid-dance,
His house on Noble Street,
A Camel cigarette ad,
A bruised face peering out from between drawn curtains,
An hysterical man crouched in an abstract corner:
“Already the nuclear energy was out of control,”
Portraits of Asians,
Inks of water buffalo, shelters on stilts, Guady cemetery,
Colored drawing of the map of Green Island: “Or will rotation never come,”
A watercolor of an MP’s accoutrements: flashlight, baton, lit cigarette.
And his photos
Of a half-grinning man holding a decapitated head,
Indigenous women with bare breasts,
Burnt bodies in frozen poses emerging out of holes in the earth
Or washed ashore
Or in piles,
His brother in Germany with a cartoon bomb drawn at the top,
A sign asserting, “Kill the yellow-bellied bastards,”
Himself behind an anti-aircraft cannon,
Guarding prisoners of war,
His mother formally posed,
And Japanese money,
A document declaring he had crossed the equator,
A telegram from an art teacher in Ohio,

Sketches of my mother in labor with me.

–Jan Yourist (2010)

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Juneteenth—Freedom, Jubilee, Liberation Day

Juneteenth is a day to commemorate freedom from chattel slavery in this country, but also a reminder for white people to continue to grapple with their white privilege and work toward eliminating the racial oppression alive and well in the systems and institutions in this country.

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, backed by 1800 Union soldiers, announced in Galveston that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were free. At the end of the war he was given command over the District of Texas and his announcement was based on Lincoln’s Executive order, The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863. Granger’s Order No. 3 starts with:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

This announcement continued with an urging of former slaves to stay and work for wages from their former masters and warned the former slaves not to gather at military posts or show signs of “idleness.”

Of course, the Emancipation Proclamation referenced above, only freed slaves in states that had seceded from the Union in the Civil War. In other words, it did NOT free the slaves in the border states who were fighting on the side of the Union. In fact, one intention of the Emancipation Proclamation was to entice southern states to stop fighting and join the Union and therefore KEEP their slaves. No southern state took Lincoln up on this offer and it wasn’t actually until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (December 1865) that slavery was actually ended in the United States. According to the Emancipation Proclamation, as of June 1865 when Granger made his announcement, only slaves in the former Confederacy were freed.

This was incredibly wonderful news for some former slaves who were able to hear it in Galveston and left to find family members in other states or to move to the North in a migration called “The Scatter.” Others in the state, however, took a long time to hear they had been freed or once they heard, could not so easily act on or with that new freedom. 

Texas was one of the last outposts of slavery and the Confederacy. Union forces were repelled in one of the last fights of the Civil War in the Battle of Galveston, which actually ended two months after Lee had surrendered the previous April. As the South fell at the end of the war, many of the most hardcore slave holders from states like Louisiana and Mississippi and their slaves migrated to Texas. At the end of the war, 250,000 slaves were in Texas. Texas is a large state. News travels “slowly.”

Communication of Granger’s Order No. 3, was kept secret from many of the newly freed slaves by slaveholders in Texas who waited to share the news until after the harvest had been completed. The historian, Elizabeth Hayes Turner, describes the Galveston mayor at the time “forcing” the freed people back to work. Lynchings, beatings, and other forms of violence increased exponentially after the announcement in order to “control” the newly freed population. One report at the time described the multitude of bodies of freedmen hanging from the trees in Sabine County, Texas. It wasn’t actually until the arrival of the Freedman’s Bureau in Texas in September 1865, which supported and advocated for the rights of the newly freed, that Juneteenth was able to be embraced as a celebratory day, first commemorated a year later in 1866. When the Freedmen’s Bureau arrived, the chipping away at white supremacy began only to be reinstated with Black Codes and Jim Crow.

Celebrating Juneteenth was once considered a radical act of freedom. Many of the Juneteenth celebrations were resisted by local white authorities, so at first African Americans celebrated in rural areas far from cities. Eventually they were able to purchase land, Emancipation Park in Houston (1872) and Booker T Washington Park in Mexia (1898), where they were able to gather and celebrate Juneteenth. Celebrations diminished during Jim Crow because of the reinstitution of segregation and slave-like control throughout the state. Celebrations of Juneteenth, however, revived during the Civil Rights movement, specifically during the Poor People’s Campaign (1968) after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Juneteenth became the closure for the end of the Campaign and the practice of Juneteenth was brought back to peoples’ communities across the country. It has been more widely celebrated ever since.

On January I, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. According to Wikipedia, now it is officially recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 49 of the 50 states (not Hawaii). 

It is still not a federal holiday.

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If only my key were a bit more practiced

This will be hard to describe. Just a feeling. A fleeting sensation. Yesterday in the garden. A sense of my individual self erasing — no that’s not quite the right word… merging maybe (that’s better but still not quite right) into a larger sense of oneness. A glimpse of being part of the whole fabric. Just thinking about it brings a tingling on the back edge of my forearms. (For those who know Chinese medicine, it feels like my Small Intestine/ Heart meridians are vibrating.)

This happened to me once before. A long time ago. Maybe close to 40 years ago. I was listening to Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich and this similar feeling happened to me. I was so concentrated on listening to the repetitive, mesmerizing nature of the music that I lost my sense of individual self and felt myself diffuse into a kind of oneness. A universal oneness. I felt like a piece of an expansive (expanding?) whole– all of nature, all of life, all of all. I remember feeling wonderful, nearly euphoric, for maybe almost an entire minute. When I tried to reach that feeling again, by playing that record over and over again, it always slipped away from me. I know I was trying too hard and that was why I never found my way back inside the music again in quite the same way.

But yesterday. In the garden. Picking greens for dinner. An inkling of that feeling struck me again. A small whisper of it nearly washed over me. Through my mind’s eye, I felt that immersion in a totality, my edges disappearing for a nano-second. Just a nano-second.

My eyes watered a bit. Not sure why. It felt important, dynamic, absorbing, big. Dissolving, yet integrated. Even now, just sitting on the couch, I can sense that feeling at a close distance, just behind my blindness. Almost tangible. So close. The backs of my forearms, even the base of my tongue, tingling a little. If only my key were a bit more practiced.

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“A Riot is the Language of the Unheard”

Martin Luther King, Stanford University speech, 1967

…Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention…

– Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

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Memorial Day created by former slaves



Though Memorial Day was first formally declared in 1868 by General Logan, in charge of the GAR—an organization of Civil War vets, in order to decorate the graves of those who died in the Civil War, there are many cities and regions who claim to be the first to have celebrated this holiday before its formal adoption.

The historian David W. Blight in his Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory makes the case for Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. He says this celebration predates most of the other claimants, though it is unclear whether this celebration itself had any influence on General Logan in his official proclamation. However, the depth and sincerity of this ritual, Professor Blight continues, demonstrated a meaning to this day that more closely connects to what our Memorial Days have become.

As Professor Blight describes it in his book:

African Americans founded…

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Postcards from the Edge

Does it really make a difference to write these political postcards asking people to vote. I’m really not sure. I assume it has to have even the meagerest of influence, but am not so sure it’s anything significant.

However, I do know, it makes me feel better. There is something about writing out the message on the back of a postcard reminding a voter to vote that feels right, that assuages some of the anxiety I feel about the political process (or lack thereof) right now. I feel almost as if I am connecting on some energetic level with the person to whom I am writing. Their name rolls around in my brain. I wonder about them. Who they are. Where they stand on the political spectrum. How they are doing in isolation. I have been writing postcards to Michigan voters and know Michigan fairly well and so I picture the town they are from, wonder if they know the people I know who live near them, if they have gone to that coffee shop or that bookstore, if they have gotten gas at that gas station. I wonder if this postcard will encourage them to vote. The message is, afterall, hand-written. I sign my first name. I wonder what they will wonder about when they receive this card. I wonder how I would respond if I received one of these postcards. I think about the post office sorting these cards and the mail carriers who deliver the mail. And then I’m on to the next postcard.

Then there’s the activity with JB who places the stamps on the postcards. We talk about dinner, the garden. We drink mint tea from mint that voluntarily grows everywhere in our garden. We sit on the back porch and look up occasionally from our work to see the birds at the bird feeder. Gentle, engaged, cooperative activity- both the birds and us. It’s peaceful and purposeful.

So here’s to Brian and Shequita, Berg and Bathia, Timothy, Alana, Rachel, Joshua, Wafa, and Maria! Here’s to Ypsilanti, Dearborn, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Ann Arbor! Here’s a reminder that it is all of our responsibilities as citizens of this country to have our voices heard and counted. As the world around seems to exist in a parallel universe of untruths and half truths, as democracy itself seems to be fighting for its very life, these are my postcards from the edge.

NB: Postcards 2 WI/MI is a project of Indivisible Chicago Alliance

Posted in activism, democracy, politics, postcards, voting | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments