A Hunger for Justice

 

IMG_6479If anyone is still following this blog, I am back!  Soon after starting this blog in February 2015, I joined #Asians4BlackLives activist group and delved into a year of direct action focused on supporting Black liberation and leadership.  It was a very busy year and I hope to recap some of the highlights in upcoming blog posts, but first I want to write about this very crucial moment happening right now in the Bay Area.  It is almost exactly a year since my last post which was on the national day of action called #SayHerName that aimed to bring attention to the many Black women and transwomen who are victims of racist/sexist/transphobic violence, but are often made invisible in the media and in conversations on racist police brutality. Thursday, May 19 was this year’s day of action for #SayHerName and it was an intensely bittersweet day in San Francisco.  That morning in the Bayview (one the few remaining Black neighborhoods in San Francisco) a 27-year-old pregnant Black woman named Jessica Williams was shot and killed by the SFPD.  Reports say she may have stolen a car, but was driving away from the police officers when they shot her.  Just an hour or so before community members gathered outside SF City Hall at 5pm to address this loss, SF Chief of Police Greg Suhr was asked to resign.

This was a major win for the people because community activists had been working very hard, especially in the last few months, to #FireChiefSuhr.  #Justice4MarioWoods coalition, #Last3Percent, #Justice4AlexNieto and other local activists groups had been putting pressure on Mayor Ed Lee to fire Suhr, and after a culmination of some devastating community news (including the murder of unarmed Bayivew resident Mario Woods this past December, the non-indicment of the police officer who killed Alex Nieto in Bernal Heights, and the recent murder of a homeless immigrant Luis Gonogora in the Mission), five San Francisco activists (Ike Pinkston, Edwin Lindo, Maria Gutierrez, Sellassie Blackwell, and Ilyich “Equipto” Sato) joined together to take a stand against racist police brutality and went on a hunger strike on .  #Hunger4Justice strike began on April 21 and lasted 16 days, as these 5 activists who became known as the #Frisco5 sat outside the Mission police station day and night, refusing solid foods until Suhr was fired or resigned.IMG_6700

The community came together to support these five brave activists and on Tuesday May 3rd thousands of Bay Area people came out to march with the #Frisco5 to SF City Hall to demand that Mayor Ed Lee #FireChiefSuhr; but Lee was not there to talk with the people.  Even after all 5 activists were hospitalized, Mayor Lee said he would continue to support Suhr.  That week multiple groups continued to show up at City Hall and demand the changes they wanted to see, culminating in a shutdown of City Hall on Friday May 6th.  That day activists peacefully protested outside Mayor Lee’s office, singing songs of unity and freedom and demanding justice.  But on our way out of City Hall, a police officer attacked a high school boy and the crowd became riled up and decided to stay and hold space in the lobby of City Hall.  The night grew long, but the people remained strong and truly supported each other (I saw people literally feeding the people on the front line whose arms were linked with each other).  Finally around 9:30pm, the police became more aggressive, and with their full riot gear on, they began pushing the people out of the building, first slowly and then quickly and with full force.  Many people were injured, including myself, and about 15 people were arrested.

Soon after this intense night, the #Frisco5 decided to end their hunger strike, but of course not their fight against police brutality.  Now with many people inspired and mobilized by the #Frisco5’s sacrifices, the movement had grown to what became known as the “#Frisco500” and even city supervisors and other officials began to also put pressure on Mayor Lee to fire Suhr.  Protests outside City Hall continued, and finally last Thursday, after the killing of Jessica Williams in Bayview, Lee asked Suhr to step down.  It was an exciting moment demonstrating the power of the people, yet it unfortunately came at the loss of Williams and many other SF residents who were murdered by the police in SF.  The #Frisco5 and other activists stated that though this battle against Chief Suhr is won, the war is not over and they will not stop until there are real systematic and cultural changes.  Though there is still much more work to do to end the war on Black and Brown people, I am very inspired by the #Frisco5 who not only put their own lives on the line for justice, but also mobilized a local movement in this city, bringing together a wide spectrum of people together for this fight.  Seeing so many people come out in solidarity reminds me that San Francisco is not completely lost to the gentrification tech boom, that there are still folks who care about this community and are willing to fight for it.

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Black Women’s Lives Matter

IMG_4021May 21st was a National Day of Action for Black women and transwomen’s lives, with the hashtag #sayhername.  This action was called in response to the recently dropped charges of Dante Servin, the office who murdered 22 year old Rekia Boyd in 2012. Across the country people demonstrated and spoke out about the police brutality and harassment and sexual violence that happens to Black women, Black transwomen, and Black girls.  Malcolm X once said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”  Although Black women experience multiple oppressions based on their race and gender, the media focuses issues of racism primarily on Black males, painting Blackness as male, hetero and cisgendered.  This exclusion distorts the reality that there is a diverse range of experiences of Blackness and that many Black women, transwomen and girls are also experiencing state-sanctioned violence.  Leaders of the Black Lives Matter campaign urge supporters to take into account these different experiences and the intersectionality of identity and power.  This day of action on May 21st was to honor and remember the Black women and transwomen who have been harassed and murdered because of their race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.  In Oakland, people came to the streets to make Black women visible and heard.

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Unfortunately, Oakland mayor Libby Schaff’s new protest curfew and restrictions directed the police to immediately force protestors off the streets and onto the sidewalk.  Protesters complied and finished their demonstration on the sidewalk outside the police station.  Despite the policing of this event, it was a peaceful and moving protest honoring Black women’s lives.  In response to this unnecessary policing, protestors took the streets again on May 23rd, speaking out against these seemingly racially targeted protest restrictions.  47 people were detained and 5 people were arrested for exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom to assemble, for showing respect and love for Black women’s lives.

At the original protest on May 21st, a young Black girl wrote with chalk this question, “What did we do?”  I wanted to tell her, “Nothing.  You did absolutely nothing wrong.  You were simply born into a society that does not value you as a human being.”  In this country a black/queer/trans/woman can be arrested or murdered for doing absolutely nothing wrong, while police are allowed to kill these people with no consequences.  We must fight for the respect, love and justice of all people who are targeted by our racist and oppressive society, we must fight for this little girl and all the Black youth coming up in this country.

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In this together

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“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”   – Lilla Watson

Solidarity means showing up for one another, listening and learning from each other, and seeing how our struggles are ultimately intertwined.  This week I witnessed a beautiful example of solidarity and community at the “Asian Americans and the New Racial Justice Movement” discussion held at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  The panel included Jeff Adachi (SF Public Defender), Nadia Khastagir (Asians for Black Lives), Karissa Lewis (Black Lives Matters), Alex Tom (Chinese Progressive Association) and was facilitated by William Gee Wong.  They discussed why Asian Americans should care about Black lives and struggles and shared some of the cross-cultural solidarity work they are doing in the Bay Area.  They talked about how fighting for the racial equality of Black people is fighting for the racial equality of all people of color.  Our struggles are rooted in the same system of white supremacy, therefore all folks of color need to unite; but even more so, because US white supremacy was founded in anti-blackness and all other folks of color are thus measured against this inhumane notion of blackness, fighting against anti-blackness is killing the weed of racism at the root of the problem.  The panelists also shared about how to unite and mobilize the extremely diverse and broad category of Asian Americans, and how classism, ableism, sexism, and the model minority myth all serve to silence the most disenfranchised groups within the Aisan American community and divide our community further.  (Read more about the Balkanization of the Asian American community on Reappropriate)

Here are some more nuggets of truth that were shared at this event:

  • We are fighting a system, not individuals:  All the panelists emphasized the institutionalized system of racism/white supremacy as the main issue to focus our work on.  In response to the question of whether having more Black/people of color in positions of leadership in the justice system or education system will make a difference, Karissa said, “You can’t just change the players, you have to change the game.”
  • Learn your history:  Many of the panelists stressed the importance for all of us to keep learning about our own racial histories and legacies of activism and solidarity between groups.  Nadia mentioned we must remember and honor and be inspired by our past revolutionaries.
  • Activate your Political Imagination:  Alex and others brought up the importance of not only learning our history but imagining our future.  We must be hopeful and believe that a revolution is brewing and that we must activate our political imaginations to move forward and create the world we want to live in.
  • Resist the Model Minority: The panelists discussed how the Model Minority Myth needs to be debunked because it not only is used as a hegemonic device to make Black folks look bad, but also it lumps all Asians together in a way that hides the many levels of oppression that impact Asian Americans, especially those who are undocumented, refugees, Southeast Asian, and poor/working class.  Also it is important to acknowledge that these folks may actually identify more with Black people because they are experiencing more similar struggles than the more privileged Asian Americans.  (Alex recommended we read Ellen Wu’s book on this topic.)
  • A Leader-full Movement:  Many of the panelists explained how this new racial justice movement is different from the past movements it builds upon in that it does not depend on a single leader (like Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement), and thus dies or loses momentum when the leader dies.  This new racial justice movement is “leader-full” and dependent on everyone’s valuable contributions.  Karissa also brought up the idea of “low ego, high impact” that focuses more on achieving racial justice than “looking good.”
  • Solidarity:  The panelists mentioned many key factors in doing productive and powerful solidarity work.  Alex said we must get to know each other and our particular struggles, and begin to build trust and understanding.  We must show care and humility as we bravely hold hands and walk into the unknown together.
  • Finally, when I asked Karissa what kind of solidarity she has seen or wants to see from the Asian American community she said:
    • Trust Black leadership (i.e., don’t take over their movement for them).
    • Make sure Black people are central to the decision making in your activism/ally work.
    • “Steel sharpens steel,” as in we must all keep each other sharp in our understanding of racial justice.
    • We must be gentle and supportive of each other as we make mistakes in this process.

Not only did I learn so much at this event, but my heart was moved to see so many other API folks coming out for this event, showing solidarity for Black lives and racial justice for all.  It made me feel less isolated and alone in this struggle to know that my own people have my back and the backs of Black folks as well.  I also was personally moved by seeing a Black woman, Karissa Lewis, on the panel not only representing Black folks, but also showing her solidarity for the API community as well.  I was already invested in supporting Black Lives Matter, but I have to admit that seeing a Black person having Asian Americans’ backs helped solidify my trust in this coalition building/solidarity work.  True love/solidarity is brave and trusting and asks for nothing in return. This kind of love is beautiful and we should all strive for this in our love lives as well as in our solidarity work, and, the truth is, when the love/solidarity is returned to us, it simply strengthens the connection and reminds us that we really are in this together.

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Nadia Khastagir, Jeff Adachi, Karissa Lewis, Alex Tom

A Space for Love

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Recently I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop at the Empowering Women of Color Conference (EWOCC) at UC Berkeley.  The workshop was on love as liberation and was a truly loving and liberatory experience.  Firstly, I collaborated with my very talented and brilliant friend, Katina Papson-Rigby, in creating and leading this workshop.  We have so much mutual love and respect for each other that the birth of this workshop truly came from a loving place.  We are also two mixed race bi/queer women who have experienced similar struggles with identity, and I gain a lot of love and validation in my friendship and working partnership with her.

The second thing that made this workshop so powerful was that the women who attended came with so much love and openness and vulnerability.  The night  before the conference, my mind was doing its usual racing and overthinking, and I began to worry that no one would come to the workshop, or that participants might be turned off by two mixed-with-White women leading this workshop, or that we would simply flop and no one would understand this concept of “liberatory love” that our workshop was about.  These thoughts were not coming from a place of love and openness, but from a place of self hate and fear.  As I became aware of this fearful thinking, I tried to focus on love, on liberatory love.  As prepared as we were, we didn’t know what to expect the next day, so all I could do was trust that the theme of this workshop- liberation through love- would guide us through.   It certainly did.

The next day at the conference,  Katina and I were prepping for the workshop, quickly trying to set up the room and go over the agenda, when people began flowing into the room early.  My first thought was, “Oh, no.  I’m not ready,” again I went to a place of fear.  But then these women shared that they were coming in early because they wanted to get into our workshop before it was full.  As more and more women came into our tiny classroom,  it struck me that they all really wanted to be there.  Their eagerness made me feel validated and loved, not that they loved me specifically, but that what our workshop was offering was something women of color wanted and needed.  Because so many more participants came to this interactive workshop than we expected, we had to adapt our plan to accommodate a packed room, but it worked because of the love in that room. Along with all our hard work and planning, I think what was most powerful and successful about this workshop was the heart of it: love.  We made space for love and people filled it.

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(Photos of workshop participants’ responses to quotes/images on liberatory love.)

 

Love and Cornel West

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I had the honor of hearing Dr. Cornel West speak recently and was inspired by his wisdom and passion.  He consistently explains that his racial justice work is motivated by his love for black people.  Although he works towards the justice of all races, genders, classes, religions, and sexualities, he claims the specificity of his own identity and where the heart of his work lies.  His declaration of love for black people is what I would consider liberatory love.  He breaks down social justice work to a pure and relatable concept: love.  This is radically powerful; not only is he liberating himself by loving black people, but his love has the potential to liberate the black community (and ultimately our entire society).

Furthermore, how can anyone argue against love?  Love is not attacking, it requires no explanation, and is pure in it’s intentions.  When Dr. West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” he forces those who perpetuate injustice to be confronted by their own hate.  However, this quote is not attacking, but rather warmly offers justice and love as alternative choices to those trapped in the system of hate and oppression.  Why not choose love?  Why not choose justice?  Of course many are afraid to choose love and justice, but I think Dr. West’s approach to these topics is so very loving and inviting that it break down people’s fears.  Although he is an intellectual and can profess academic theory, he also knows how to make these concepts accessible to the masses when he speaks of love, justice, and integrity.  He also doesn’t demoralize or blame individuals for injustice, instead as he critiques politicians, celebrities, and those in power who perpetuate injustice, he is clear in saying he does not hate these people, he hates injustice.  His critical analysis of injustice is based in his love for justice and his love for his people.  I think this is a powerful and profound tactic.  His words and work inspire my own exploration of liberatory love; he models how I can be sharp and direct in my critique of injustice, but that rooting it in love is most effective.

Love is Liberation

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The radical thinker bell hooks says, “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” Today, on this capitalist and heterocentric holiday, Valentine’s day, I choose to love in a transformative way that challenges oppression and builds solidarity.  Love is a radical concept that I am dedicating this new blog site to.  As someone who is working towards social justice, I have felt beat down by the process many times.  I have come across people’s resistance, fear, anger, and hate in this work.  I also have been confronted by my own fear, self hate, and anger.  It came to a point where I started to feel hopeless and defeated.  I began to see only the oppression, exclusion, ignorance and violence in the world.

Then one day, I went to an art opening in Oakland on South Asian activists in the SF Bay Area, called Rebel Legacy, and I was transformed by the love and solidarity that emerged from the art and from the community that had come out to see it.  I was moved to see every kind of person of color possible as well as white folks, coming together to honor and celebrate South Asian activism, showing true solidarity.  It reminded me that many people do care about racial justice and that people are willing to come out to support a very underrepresented history of South Asian activism.  The artwork itself was also powerful.  One piece in particular stood out to me: a painting by Khushboo Gulati that depicted South Asians protesting in solidarity for Black Lives Matter.  This image was beautiful to see, and then to witness the returned solidarity of Black folks attending this South Asian art show was inspiring.  As I walked out of this show, I felt a weight beginning to lift off my chest, and I felt the expansiveness of my heart.  I felt love, in the most radical sense of the word.  I was being liberated by love.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “I have decided to stick to love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

As I begin to relieve myself of the burden of hate and to choose love, I am getting a taste of freedom.  I am starting with self love: trying to undo the internalized oppression I have absorbed as a multiracial queer woman of both Asian and White descent, and learning to unconditionally love and accept my whole self.  This is extremely challenging to do, but I notice that the more I cultivate self love, the more empowered I am to engage in social justice work.  I feel myself becoming a little less defensive, a little braver to speak up, and more open to listening to other view points.  As I move from this place of love, rather than from a place of fear, I feel more connected with others and ready to collaborate and organize across cultures.  I truly believe that politically conscious love has the power to dismantle oppression.  There is so much to be angry and sad about today, people are dying for unjust reasons all over this world, but we need radical love to make change.  As Maya Angelou said, “Hate.  It has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet.”  The media and history books try to hide the many examples of cross-cultural solidarity and radical love to keep us in a state of hopelessness.  But that is not the complete story; throughout history and today, people of all races, cultures, classes, genders, and religions have joined in solidarity to fight for justice.

I created this blog to highlight the abundant examples of love and solidarity in our world that can inspire our work towards social justice, equity, and freedom.  With this blog I also aim to critique injustice from a place of love and to cultivate and practice liberatory love in my own personal life.  I hope you join me on this exploration of love as liberation.

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