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Building the World House: One Person at a Time…

Journal Entry, 1/19/09: Move Something

January 19, 2009

I have a few statements to make:

1. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a journal entry. The last two weeks have be ridiculously crazy, in a decent way.

2. I start classes tomorrow. Okay.

3. We will have a new president tomorrow. Wow! I can’t lie, I empathize with some conservatives because I remember how I felt in 2000 (even though the election was shady…) and 2004. But I don’t sympathize with the outgoing administration or its policies over the last eight years. Free market fundamentalism and preemptive militarism have not worked. It’s like I texted to a few people while watching the news, I will have to actually decompress because we’re going to learn how much of their policies were actually extreme, not moderate as President Bush has tried to make them seem in the last couple of weeks.

4. It was nice to actually participate in some MLK festivities. I would have felt so guilty not doing anything volunteer work here in Kent because I couldn’t find anything. Getting less sleep and taking an extra trip back to Mansfield was the least I could do. Sometimes writing a piece on the day doesn’t quench my thirst for change…but I appreciate the feedback that I’ve gotten so far…

5. For some reason Erykah’s newest album sounds so much better right now. Really most of my music is sounding better considering the times…

I really want to take the time to think about acting in the world in times of social change…or really not acting in the world. I think Wendy made a good point regarding how people respond to what they perceive to be drastic change; many respond with enthusiasm, hope, and action, many react with cynicism, maybe disgust (Fox News!), and the fear of the unknown, and most people probably fall in between the two, experience a number of those feelings in a contradictory way. Then I would also agree that these times of economic insecurity may exponentially magnetize those feelings. Many people have it very rough. Even if I’m not materially well off, I was lucky to even have a running automobile that I could use to even drive down to Mansfield to help. I was fortunate enough to be able to have a day off to participate. I, as well as many of us, are very lucky and I am very grateful.

However, as many know, I wouldn’t allow my gratefulness lapse into complacency and neglect the responsibility I share to use whatever abilities that I possessed to make the world around me better than before I arrived. Because if no one had ever had that motivation then I highly doubt we as a human race would have progressed in this manner. Contrary to republican, old school liberal, and conservative belief, progress doesn’t always come out of self interest. It’s probably a combination of self and communal interest. I refuse to believe human beings are perfect, but I am also hostile to the naturalized concept that human beings are that selfish (maybe you are? Please don’t try to speak for everyone…). I agree, most human beings probably fall somewhere between the two in that sliding scale.

So, where was I? Where was I going with this? I wanted to talk about the potential, or the reality, of people being paralyzed by cynicism. I think the point is very valid. Hopelessness may breed cynicism. Do I think that is always the case though? I’m not sure I could definitively say yes or no. I may argue, that sometimes, it’s the very hopelessness, or as Dr. King discussed in his last book, one’s realization that they have nothing to lose that causes that person to act, or react. These times are very complex though. I don’t want anyone to read that and think that I assume that people should act no matter what their circumstances…that’s just an observation/question I wanted to put out there…

My friends Aaron Beveridge, Darrick Jackson, Hank Osborne, and I have had extensive conversations about apathy and cynicism since at the latest 2003. That’s a tough issue to crack. I even devoted my question to Howard Zinn to that issue in 2006. I don’t think its possible to totally eliminate cynicism and apathy (just like any –ism, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc.). My friend Sarah Wilson, though, said something to me about inaction that was very profound. She said she didn’t worry about it because it gave her, and others, more opportunities to act. Good lord I could feel the sparks in the light bulb above my head after hearing that. It’s so true, cynicism may actually precipitate more conversations about participating. To twist Newton, inaction can cause an equal, yet opposite reaction in the form of positive action.

I have an example to illustrate this. Sara Vera and I attended the first SDS national conference since 1969 (I think) in August 2005. During the first plenary, a representative from each chapter was encouraged to get up and report on the state of their organization and efforts. Just about every single representative started their report with a statement regarding the apathy within their communities and college campuses. Then, they would go on to account all of their actions over the past year ranging from demonstrations to disrupting Bill Clinton to dramatizing various issues by provoking arrests of their members. Sara and I just sat there in astonishment. It seemed that in the seas of apathy lay islands of action…

The point I’m trying to make in this haphazard journal entry is that, sometimes it doesn’t matter what other people aren’t doing. Granted, I know there has been times where Darrick and I, Aaron and I, or Aaron, Hank, and I, or Jess and I, have gotten discouraged at the lack of action on the part of people, especially when we wanted to collaborate with people to create avenues that accentuate people’s strengths…of course, most of my efforts (because I can only speak for myself) have been imperfect and there are many things I’ve looked back on and thought of things that I could/would do better. However, I also knew that I couldn’t ever complain because when I looked in the mirror every morning I knew I was only responsible for what I did and how I acted. Aaron and I liked to say that a movement could be as little as two people. Today Hank Osborne dropped off a book with a short note that read, “we are a movement of one.” I always tell people that movements are born out of small numbers, marginalization, a stubbornness and refusal to conform to the thinking and mores of surrounding people, and a person’s willingness to seize that opportunity, to be that person who breaks that communal assumption that Malcolm Gladwell discussed in The Tipping Point (for which Jen reminded me of today during our conversation) that someone else will tend to a problem. I can’t complain if I see something going on in society and wait for the next person to speak up. If I don’t act, I better shut up. But I know if I’m quiet, my silence won’t protect me.

What I’m saying, before I go to sleep, is that we should do whatever we can to act. We shouldn’t worry about what people aren’t doing. I won’t force anyone to walk through a door if they aren’t ready and I will leave it open for them. But, as Dr. Buckley used to tell me all the time, you gotta act because that is what renews your purpose as a student, citizen, parent, government official, educator, etc. It doesn’t matter if the act seems small or if it is large. It doesn’t matter if it’s by yourself, with one other person, or among a few hundred thousand. And if you can’t do something, urge others to act. Motivation is vital. Like Talib Kweli said, “Revolution require participation but sometimes people be hesitating…” Like Reflection Eternal, move something…

I apologize for the stream of consciousness and my lack of word economy…

And I plan on starting a new blog and being more serious about it…we’ll see how much I can juggle in the next 5-6 months…

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Filed under: Journaling...

December 29-30, 2008: Women and the World House

December 29-30, 2008

I need to take my allergy medicine before its too late.

Anyways.

I’ve been reading a collection of conversations between Myles Horton (highlander folk school) and Paulo Friere about education and organizing. The book is called We Make the Road While Walking. It’s pretty decent. Their initial conversation in the introduction led me to think about the types of medium that could engender the best way of creating knowledge and presenting information. They talked their book and had someone transcribe it. This sounds very ordinary. But it was very deliberate on their part as Friere conveyed that the written academic style can be constraining for him. I feel that.

They also really go into detail about the potentials of education that bends towards questioning the status quo and social justice. Horton and Friere also have an interesting conversation regarding the idea of ‘neutrality.’ For both of them, as I’ve argued in the context of American political discourse/culture, the notion of neutrality (especially in education) does more to buttress the prevailing order than it does not. For them, neutrality equals conformity, and as C. West would probably say, adjustment to exploitation and domination, adjustment to oppression. This isn’t a new idea either. It just made me think.

I also went though the latest issue of the Good Magazine. I encourage everyone to pick one up. It’s their “State of the Planet” issue. The editors, writers, interviewees, etc. cover a variety of subjects including education, economics, health all on a global scale. I need to look up the UN website because there seems to be a lot of big conferences planned, especially one where all of the members are going to try to address the Kyoto treaty. I wonder what the US will do? There was also a graph that caught my attention. It was about global consumption. Really, it was about who consumed the most and on what. I assumed the United States would rank first, but Sweden and England did. But I noticed something else, the disparity in spending of the North (hemisphere) and the South. Now, again, this is not new. Sociologist Howard Winant discusses this disparity between the two hemispheres in his newest book, The Politics of Race, but that graphic really brought that observation into bold relief. The only nation that ranked among the likes of the US and other northern countries was Australia. Something else that I noticed was what consumers within nations were spending their money on. The number one product (or group of products—there was home products, recreation, alcohol and tobacco, clothing, and electronics) spent in the North was on recreation. I assume that includes vacation? It’s kind of ironic considering many people tend to go towards the Southern hemisphere for their vacations (I’m not hating, just observing). But guess what the peoples of the South spend the most money on? Necessities. Damn. I was totally overcome by feelings of thankfulness (to be where I’m at), but also like, damn, people will go take vacations down there and yet they spend the most on what they need, not what they want like we do. That just doesn’t sit right with me.

Something else that did not sit right with, and it never has, was the persisting existence of systems of enslavement across the globe. I’m glad GOOD highlighted it. The exploitation of labor is ridiculous everywhere. And who is more likely to have their labor and bodies exploited? Women, especially young women. Domestic servants, agricultural workers, sweatshops, sexual workers, etc, etc. What’s beef? That’s oppression. I remember being attacked by people on the News Journal message boards (I suspect a couple of them to be white supremacists) for talking about this. Only in Mansfield.

Another issue covered by those who put together this great issue was that of global literacy. Women are more likely to be illiterate than men. That does not sound too far out, right? Of course that affects the life chances of women, boys, girls, and communities. I’m not sure about the author’s implied assertion that its up to the mothers to teach the daughters and sons to be literate though. That should be up to all of us.

This reminds me of a bell hooks observation that most people who suffer from poverty in the world are women…and children. I think that was towards the end of her book on class (Class Matters).

But this all explains my status message. We can act locally or as long as our ideas and words can reach (or be transmitted via the internet and mobile phones). But we have to not just think locally, regionally, or nationally; we have to think globally. We all know the world is getting smaller by the day, by the invention. We all also know, reminiscent of Dr. King’s final analysis, we are all interconnected. Even though we are all different and we all disagree; we are connected to one another somehow someway, whether its through the internet, globalization, or imagination…the world house…I think I may go back that speech on global exploitation and a piece that I wrote about King’s ideas regarding the ‘world house’ and start there. Of course I’ll take a dash of TCB with that…

Filed under: Journaling...

Writing Journal: December 22-23, 2008

I was too tired to write last night…

I spent most of the day reading Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power after getting back from Columbus and running a lot of errands (finally finishing off three grad. applications…).

Elaine Brown was one of the last “chairmen” of the Black Panther Party. I think I wrote a little about her in my last entry.

…as far as the book is concerned…it’s really intense as she details (to the best of her ability) all of her experiences and relationships within the Party. Kathleen Cleaver’s assessment of the book is adequate. Brown really does not seek to capture all of the complexities of the innerworkings of the party. There seems to be times where there are gaps in her narrative, especially concerning the fragmentation of the party. She does not go into detail about her problems with Bobby Seale besides mentioning his endorsement of Cleaver’s sexist and patriarchal idea of “pussy power.” This idea, first uttered by Cleaver and subsequently advocated by Seale (explicitly), held that women should use their bodies as ‘instruments’ for the revolution. Panther women, according to Cleaver and Seale, should not engage in any sexual activity with any Panther man (and non-Panther) that has not internalized the Platform nor live out their principles. She also seems to have bought into Newton’s later megalomania with her argument of Seale as Newton’s “puppet.” There are also more “silences” in her text concerning Kathleen Cleaver. Kathleen only comes up in a later chapter where Brown describes her as the battered, loyal, and intelligent, wife of Eldridge Cleaver. I wonder how their relationship played out for Kathleen to write such a scathing review? There is also the expulsion of Bobby Seale (Brown does really paint him as pathetic in the Party, which is totally the opposite of how he described himself speeches and writings later, of course…). In Autobiography as Activism, the author discusses (escapes my name right now) how his punishment and expulsion may have also included forced sodomy by another Panther (ordered by Newton).

Her narrative structure may have also hindered the way she depicted the Party. She did not seem like she was out to vindicate the Party as much as tell her life story of struggling to cope with the constant pain, isolation, and confusion due to her past. Similar to Malcolm X’s autobiography, her narrative included a streak of racial redemption as she was raised by her mother to emphasize and love her “whiteness” and deemphasize and project her hatred of her own blackness (as she was of mixed heritage) onto other dark skinned black women (not black men though…). However, after being ‘enlightened’ by Jay Kennedy (a civil rights organizer [as Brown depicts him as] and a brief romantic companion) about the plight of black Americans and the significance of the burgeoning black revolution during the 1960s, she became “black.” That’s when she decided to become politically active in the Los Angeles black community (the black student movement) and eventually with the Black Panther Party. We also learn more about the LA chapter as opposed to the Oakland chapter. From this standpoint, the reader comes to learn about the intra-racial politics (between US and the BPP) as well as the intra-organizational tensions between the LA and Oakland chapters, especially among the LA Panther women and their antipathy towards the Oakland Panther men (esp. Seale). This point is important as most discussions of the Panthers in sweeping narratives always begin with Newton and Seale.

She also captures Newton’s evolving paranoia after his release and subsequent drug use…

What was I looking for in the book…I was looking for more examples of her use of the Panther’s militarized heterosexuality besides her infamous beginning to the book. I think I found more examples but I will have to go back through the book as I was growing tired. Need a comb with more teeth…

The overwhelming aspect of the book (as a person interested in social movements, democracy, activism, etc.), as well as the Panthers militarized heterosexuality, was the Panthers’ growing authoritarianism. Part of me thought, “their party started rather democratic and then evolved into the caricature of themselves as many conservatives and detractors claimed.” Then, the other side of me also realizes that while I think the panthers sowed the seeds for this political evolution through their vanguardism and by happenstance with the “Free Huey” campaign that worked to create the politics and cult of personality that was Huey Newton, having to deal with intra-communal issues with ‘rival’ black power groups, the Hoover’s FBI and the omnipresent law enforcement seeking to destroy them, as well as the threat of internal dissension (sometimes developing due to ideological or tactical disputes and other times drummed up by the authorities) also led Newton and the central committee to centralize the power within the Party. There are so many other questions that one could ask that led to this, which includes their militarization (not militancy as those terms are actually different. Anyone can be militant, but to militarize is actively create some sort of military unit or force). But I won’t ask them tonight…I’m too tired….

I will say this. For anyone seeking to create any democratic leftist organization, try to stay away from any sort of vanguardism and seek to transcend ideas of exceptionalism, which, in the second case, could be very difficult especially if the message is coming from one or a small group of people. Whatever radical, revolutionary, reformist, democratic message, in the most optimum and ideal cases, needs to be created, developed, honed, critiqued, and reflected upon through a variety of individuals and groups. The message, and whatever organization is created out of it, has to be owned and maintained by a majority, not a simple one, to deter people from the ‘ownership’ disputes that organizations like the Panthers (as well as the SDS) endured. That would be a struggle to say the least! Also, the message/ideology has to be actually owned by the people, the rank and file, not just in myth disseminated from the top to the bottom (Think 1960s Maoism).

Tomorrow…on to Toni Cade and Hip Hop…

Filed under: Journaling...

Writing Journal: December 19

Don’t worry….I plan to start everything tomorrow.

Jess and I were flying around all over the place today. I had to go up to Kent to grab more books, or as Dr. Phelps calls them, tools. Since Jess is in a Women’s Studies program, she has a few of the books that I’ll need for my historiography for the third (or maybe second?) chapter of my thesis. Right now I’m leaning towards just focusing on Toni Cade Bambara (and maybe expanding outward) and her published anthology, The Black Woman. I am also considering former Panther, Kathleen Cleaver and Angela Davis. I may shift Cleaver and Elaine Brown into my chapter on Panther nationalism. That means I’ll end up incorporating Dr. Steigmann-Gall’s advice and incorporating as many women as I possibly can throughout my analysis (I’m not sure how I can with the chapter on Dr. King, however).

My plans for tomorrow:

We have to go grab some more essentials from the grocery store. I need my OJ! (not the simpson variety…) We also need food to last us till Monday.

As far as the thesis is concerned, I’ll still work on some historiography. I really need to learn the history of the modern feminist movement (2nd wave) real quick! I have Sisterhood is Powerful, The Feminist Memoir Project, Common Differences: Conflicts in Black and White Feminist Perspectives, Separate Roads to Feminism, Joy James’ Shadowboxing, a bunch of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberly Springer, etc. I’ve already looked at some Paula Giddings, a couple of articles in Eddie Glaudes, Is it Nation Time?, etc, etc. I should get through a little bit.

For the book: I’ll start at the beginning. I hesitate to provide a lot of details about what I’ll write about. It’ll be about standing up (See a article that I wrote and posted on my blog near the 4th of July to get a sense of the pulse I’ll be looking for). I also grabbed a bunch of books from my apartment on hip hop, race, democracy, etc., etc. The reading list for this area could be my recent article, some Howard Zinn, Cornel West’s Democracy Matters, and Giroux’s Impure Acts…

I will split my workload tomorrow to see how that works. I focus on my thesis Sunday and the book project on Monday…then I’ll assess which way works the best: concentrating on one project a day or splitting my time between both. I’ll know for sure come Monday night…

And I did begin drafting some notes on my hip hop chapter…Don Imus, Jason Whitlock, democratic and authoritarian tendencies, materialism, drawing from the dominant culture, mysoginy, women, Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Jay-Z, Nas…

Filed under: Journaling...

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