Sunday, August 29, 2010

Please Come Back Dr. King

It's the day after my birthday party. Last night I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful and amazing people that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. That so many tremendous humans came together to celebrate my birthday was a sweet joy and a blessing. This morning I had to fight my own internal tapes that tell me that I don't deserve to be loved by so many beautiful people, but this morning those tapes don't win. Love wins. Thank you my family, my community, my people for loving me so gently and so beautifully last night.

I have been crying for the last five minutes. And not just crying but acting like I have been beaten for doing something wrong. You know the kind of crying where you can't catch your breath. You know what I am talking about.

But they are actually happy tears. Let me tell you a story.

This morning, a person that is family to me as if he were blood kin, posted on his Facebook wall, an excerpt from Dr. King's speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop." If you haven't heard this speech, and so many people have not heard it, you should listen to it now. This was the speech that Dr. King gave the night before he was assassinated. These were the final words he spoke in public:

Well I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. I don't mind. Like anybody I would like to live a long life. Longevity has it's place. But I'm not concerned with that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I am happy tonight. I am not worried about anything. I am not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Maybe I am a big old softy...but listening to that speech in the doctor's own words maybe me choke up like an old black lady at a funeral.

Hey glory.

Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Yesterday Glen Beck and Douchnozzle Extreme Sarah Palin held a the Lincoln Memorial....talking about taking back the Civil Rights Movement.


So glad I got that out of my system.

I am actually angry. I am so angry I could spit random toiletries. The anger is directed solely at one target: myself. I am angry that I have succumbed to hatred. On the anniversary of Dr. King's most famous speech. I have betrayed his memory and legacy by bowing down to the emotion of the enemy. I have let hatred overcome my spirit, and I have reveled in it.

I am ashamed of myself. Dr. King deserves better. I deserve better.

I wish that I could love my enemy as I love myself. I wish that I could live the spirit of Dr. King.

Let me be clear. Dr. King was a human. He was a womanizer and was not faithful to the commitments he made to Mrs. Coretta Scott King. He was gay accepting but only to a point. He kept his mentor and friend and architect of the 1963 March on Washington Bayard Rustin on the sidelines and out of the limelight because of his sexual orientation. But not despite all that, but because of all that...because he was human and because being human he still inspired us to be more than we are and gave us the space to imagine ourselves as better than this world would have us be, I love Dr. Martin Luther King.

I remember.

In high school, I had an amazing history teacher by the name of Frederick Burton. In my senior year, his three year old daughter recited, from memory, Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech as part of a Black History Month celebration in Minneapolis. Mr. Burton blessed my entire school by having his daughter's rendition of the speech broadcast over the school's intercom system. In my mind and in my spirit I can still hear her little and powerful voice say, "Free at at last...thank God Almighty...we are free at last."

I believed every word that little girl said.

The power and legacy of Dr. King is that he continues to inspire us 42 years after he was assassinated by the United States government. Now, more than at anytime when Dr. King was alive, we know the truth about him as a man. We know about his weaknesses and his foibles, and we, or at least I, love him even more for his humanity. And though Glen Beck and Sarah Palin tried to co-opt his dream yesterday...though they straight up lied about the coincidence of organizing a rally on that day while including Dr. King's fucked up, self-hating, stupid and ugly niece in the line up for the one can take Dr. King from us. No one can take his dream from us.

Dr. King DID get to the mountaintop...and he DID see the promised land...and though that land may still be far off...and though many of us may not live to see our arrival...the arc of the universe does bend towards justice...and we will get there...we shall overcome...some day....very...very soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Who We Date: Queer Men of Color and Race

A blessing that I have found as a writer and particularly through my blogging is that more often than I ever imagined, folks that read my writing come to me with questions wondering if I've ever written on the topic or wondering if I would share my thoughts on a subject.

With total and complete humility, I am really and truly honored when that happens. And sometimes, I don't have much to offer but I always try to share my thoughts honestly, including owning when I just don't know.

But now and again someone asks a question that I have not only thought about but also lived in a really personal way. Recently, a long time acquaintance of mine from Minnesota sent me a really honest and searching email. In some real ways he and I have had parallel journeys. We are both mixed race queer kids from Minneapolis. In fact, we both grew up in the same neighborhood. We are about the same age, and, in fact, though I didn't know him growing up, we have many friends in common. I met this gentleman almost as soon as I started going out to 18+ night at the bars in Minneapolis.

Unsurprisingly, in the mid-90s, he and I were two of a very very very small handful of queer men of color in the bars at the time.

When he wrote to me, he was asking if I had ever had the experience of having a black gay man ask me if I have ever dated a black man. Or, even more directly, accused me of being only into "hot white boys." He also asked if I have had the experience upon meeting someone in person or online and politely declining their interest if I have been accused, immediately, of my declination being about the color of the person asking, specifically, black skin. He also talked about the frustration of being in those moments and feeling that based on the place the conversation had gone that he was unable to answer honestly. For him, the honest answer is that he hasn't dated a black man. In my case the answer is yes.

But the distance between his no and my yes is not all that great.

Like my friend, I grew up in what is still the third whitest state in the country. In the last 15 years, Minneapolis as a city has diversified in leaps and bounds. The city that is now is not the city, demographically, that it was in 1995. There were no queer Latin nights at the bar. The black queer community was deep underground and it organized itself through a series of house parties. The queer Latino community also eschewed the gay bars for house parties and straight Latin clubs. Indeed, we knew who each other were at the salsa bars but it was a community in the closet--a really big closet. The Asian/Pacific Islander queer community at the time would throw late night BBQs in order to get together, and they would, from time to time, go out en masse and dance all together in the same corner of the bars. The gay bars were dominated by white gay men who felt absolutely no restraint in saying clearly and to your face, "I don't date black men." And, frankly, it didn't matter how light skinned a black man was...if the skin wasn't pearly white, then you weren't on the menu. There were the exceptions, most often white men that fetishized men of color, but, overwhelmingly, the message was quite clear: Black ain't beautiful in the queer community in Minneapolis.

Add to that the conundrum of the mixed race family. I have no idea the details of my friend's family, but I was raised by my white Mother and her family. And, although my Mom is now married to her fourth husband of color, I was deeply aware of how my own family struggled with race, and I knew some of our family history around race. In particular, I knew that my Mother's relationships with men of color had caused deep divisions in the family.

Throw on top of that all of the media messages we get about what constitutes beauty...and you have a trifecta of factors, particularly in a city with almost no visible queer community of color or examples of brown and black men loving each other openly, which has lead to many a person of color in Minneapolis that, indeed, is only into "hot white boys."

Further, my friend went on to discuss the fact that sometimes people are just attracted to a certain type of person, look, etc. And that there are folks that won't date someone because of their skin color, but he had a hard time wrapping his head around why folks would go into the world and start from a place of assuming that if they are turned down for a date/hook up by another man of color that the reason must be about race.

I really have no problem understanding that.

I have heard too many times and been told to my face or via chat on a hook up site that, "I am cute but I don't do XYZ," that I am suspicious, particularly with white men, when it comes to that. I don't assume the rejection is based on race unless they admit that it is, but when they do, I about lose my mind.

And, when a man of color asks me or accuses me of not being interested because he is black, I general have a very compassionate reaction and understand where that question originates. It originates in the very real racism, and in the case of queer men of color, internalized racism that exists overtly in the queer community. Unless said person that I've rejected is being a straight up biznatch, I generally am really clear about why it is that I am not interested...usually its because the man has a butter face, but, instead of saying that, I simply outline, nicely, that this or that isn't working for me. And, if necessary, I can always pull out my slut book and list off the 100 or so black men that I have quite happily dated and or rode like a mechanical bull at a country bar in Texas. Ahem.

That's Brandon now...Brandon in 1995 wouldn't have dated a black man to save his life. And that shit was all about me.

I grew up with a Step-Dad that beat my ass so badly that I still take anti-PTSD medication to this day. I grew up in a family where I received, never ever consciously, indirect messages that black was somehow bad--as I knew that my family had been angry with my Mother for dating black a child's black men must be a bad thing. Being mixed race and one of the "smart kids," I had been given shit by other black kids in my neighborhood and all throughout school, so by the time I left for college, except for the black kids in my magnet program in high school, I didn't want anything to do with the community--and I had never experienced the very real and beautiful educated and loving black community that exists nor did I understand the roots of the anger of those beautiful black men that ridiculed me in school....I had been the target of anger from black men that were justifiably pissed off at white folks but since they couldn't attack them, I was the next best thing. And then coming out when and where I did and being told clearly that black wasn't beautiful was the final nail in my self-hating coffin. I then ran off to a school with exactly 9 U.S. born students of color about half of which were black. So, you know, not a lot of unlearning negative messages about blackness and beauty coming from that quarter (though there were a lot of white fake hippy children playing djembe and taking African dance...GOD HELP ME!)

I didn't think about any of that nor did I engage with any of that when looking at the men that I was dating, I just told myself that I just wasn't attracted to black men and that, you know, people are attracted to different people, so what's the big deal.

The big deal was all that shit beneath the surface that was the real reason why I wasn't attracted to black men...and it had nothing to do with black men, everything to do with me, but...and this is the part that is about not engaging with the truth behind why I wouldn't date black men...and by turning a number of black men down...I was replicating the exact cycle of hurt that was dividing black and brown men from each other and made me unable to find my own people beautiful.

I was lucky. I transferred from my first college to the University of Minnesota, and Minneapolis had started undergoing a radical demographic shift and queer people of color were asserting themselves into the community. Folks were also pushing back against the racism found there. I started doing national work with other queer people of color and was given the opportunity to work in close community with loving people that knew EXACTLY the reason why it is so hard for brown men to love each other, and, through their gentle love, I was able to start seeing that my lack of attraction wasn't really just a "preference," but a result of a series of personal historical and community history events that decided for me what constituted beauty and attractiveness. I worked at a queer youth organization that was mostly queer youth of color organizing with other queer youth of color. And we all struggled around these issues together.

Finally, I made a decision that I was only going to date men of color and for almost four years that is exactly what I did. I had the blessing and the privilege to look into my own past, see my wounds, and work to heal them with other people that had experienced the same thing.

And because of that, to this day, when I am confronted by anger from men of color that immediately believe that I am not interested in them because of race...I understand. For me, now, it isn't true. And I am able to share clearly why it is that I am not interested in a particular person with the complete and secure knowledge that it isn't about race. (And I am fairly certain that the parade of nations that has made it way through my bed including some lesser known island nations in Micronesia is a certain indicator that the days of only white men in my bedroom are long gone). But I understand the anger. I appreciate the anger. And I hope that the reasons for the anger will one day no longer be there.

But that is going to take more intentional work on the part of brown and black men to examine the decisions we make, understand the decision we make, heal from any wounds that we have taken, and then look again at who we love and who we fuck. And, if at that point you still have a preference for this or that type of person that includes a particular shade of skin, you at least know that it is actually a preference and not a choice that was made for you by history, racism, and a standard of beauty that most often doesn't include men with skin like ours.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brown Gay Man + Old White Woman= Love

Today's blog is a first for My Feet Only Walk Forward. It is a guest blog written by Susan Maricle.

I received a very warm and touching email from Susan Maricle in response to my blog "I Love Old White Women." I don't know if I have ever actually met Susan face to face, but she and I were both active participants on an electronic discussion group in Minneapolis called the Minneapolis Issues List. This electronic forum is quite literally the "it" place for local politics. Every single elected official from the city of Minneapolis or representing the city of Minneapolis in city, county, state, or federal office is either an active member of the list or has a staff person that is assigned to review and participate on the list on a daily basis. I became aware of this wonderful community member through that list, and we reconnected through the magic of Facebook.

Susan contacted me and asked me if I would be willing to post a guest blog that she wrote in response to/inspired by my homage to old white women. I was very happy to oblige. You can find more of Susan's writings at

It takes a talented writer to establish a connection between two disparate people. Like a 32-year-old multiracial gay blogger and a 94-year-old white woman who died over 10 years ago.

But that’s exactly what Brandon Lacy Campos did with this post. Since then I’ve been thinking of my grandmother, Mary Pontell.

"Basically, I think around age 80, old white ladies magically transform in black women. It's true. They start to say shit that they would never have said thirty years before."

Grandma was black long before age 80. She and my Grandpa John lived in southwest Detroit, in a working-class neighborhood that bordered the Ford plant in Dearborn. Their neighbors were white eastern European immigrants and black families who had moved up from the south. The ladies called Grandma “Mayry.” The children called her “Miz Tate.”

Grandma was a blend of propriety and earthiness. Earthy enough to tell the neighbor ladies about some type of female operation she’d had -- I never knew exactly what -- and proper enough to be horrified when she discovered one of the “ladies” was a tranvestite.

It wasn’t the first such encounter for Grandma, a short, buxom restaurant waitress and a snazzy dresser. She liked the night life. One evening at the Electric Cafe she wore a dress with a pink velvet jeweled bodice. In the ladies’ room she ran into a woman known around the neighborhood as Dirty Gertie. Gertie admired the dress, with both hands. Grandma pushed the woman away. But I sensed on some level she was pleased.

"Whether you are talking about my Grandma or Betty White, elder white women seem to transcend race, class, and sexuality. They metamorphose into these semi-crotchety hilarious beings that even when they aren't trying to be funny, end up cracking me up."

In the 1980s I visited Grandma so I could record some of her stories on audiocassette. She was living in suburban Lincoln Park, in her eighties, widowed, and hard of hearing. One night I searched for a TV program I could tolerate at an excessive decibel level, settling on The Tonight Show. Grandma watched Johnny interview the guest, an African American woman. She asked me, “Is that Donna Summer?”

An eightysome-year-old woman recognizing a past-her-prime disco singer. The idea amazes me still today. Grandma was that type of person. This type of person.

"They have this confidence and conviction about them that says, basically, I don't give a fuck."

Grandma entered a nursing home for a brief period late in the 1990s, having congestive heart failure and dementia. Some days she knew me, some days she didn’t. Perhaps the dementia made her forget she considered herself a timid person. She stood up to women who tried to bully her into vacating their favorite table. She barked “WHO IS IT!?” at a man who entered her room one evening, the Byzantine Catholic priest who came to pray with her. The day she was discharged, with home hospice plans put in place, all of the staff came to say goodbye. Among the well-wishers, an African American personal care attendant.

Set up comfortably at home, Grandma was at peace, her mind clear, her spirit ready. She slipped away within two weeks.

It was hard to be sad. There were too many stories that made me smile. Including the latest, “And that colored guy kissed me twice!”

I still have Grandma’s stories on audiocassette, but I haven’t thought about them for a long time. Then I read Brandon’s blog. Thank you, love.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Love Old White Women

It's true...I totally love old white women. Specifically, I love several old white women that have been working it for years and continue to work. To be more specific, I am talking about Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnette, Carol Channing, and that best of the best of elder white funny ladies....Miss Betty White.

First let me take a moment to congratulate Miss Betty White on her Emmy win on Saturday for her guest appearance on Saturday Night Live. If you missed the episode that she hosted, you have done yourself wrong. This woman had me laughing so hard, I thought one of my nuts was going to shoot out of my crotch and rocket into orbit. My favorite was her skit with Molly Shannon as Sally O'Malley. Between Betty, Tina Fey, and Molly I was just about put in the ground from an overdose of hilarity.

But, really, I love old white women.

Whether you are talking about my Grandma or Betty White, elder white women seem to transcend race, class, and sexuality. They metamorphose into these semi-crotchety hilarious beings that even when they aren't trying to be funny, end up cracking me up. They have this confidence and conviction about them that says, basically, I don't give a fuck. Some of them, like Vicki Lawrence, will straight up come out an tell you that she doesn't give a fuck. Refined ladies like the now late Dixie Carter would have batted immaculately curled eyelashes and said, "I don't give a fuck...bless your heart."

Basically, I think around age 80, old white ladies magically transform in black women. It's true. They start to say shit that they would never have said thirty years before. They start to tell the damn truth and don't care how it sits with you, and their funniness quotient goes up about 75%. Those are all admirable qualities of black women. black know better than to mess with an old ass white lady with one foot in the grave. She will take you out and smile while doing so. "The secrets in the sauce."

TOWANDA! I am just saying.

So today, in honor of Betty White's Emmy win...I raise a toast to all the old white ladies in the world. This season of Glee will feature at least one episode as Carol Burnette as Sue Sylvester's Mom...Carol Channing is still out in the world, well....Palm Springs which is not really reality, cracking people up, and I think Phyllis Diller is one of the undead. So, thank you old white ladies for making us laugh, making us cry, and making us take ourselves a little less seriously. And to you Betty, thank YOU for being a friend.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Liner of the Week Award: Server at My Moon in Williamsburg

Now and again, someone says something so racist and so off the cuff/out of the blue, that you can do nothing more than laugh. In fact, when the person is a clueless European waitress, it makes it even more hilarious.

Yesterday, I went to a send-off brunch for my dear friend Natasha. Tasha is one of those amazing and beautiful people that can't help but do good work in the world. She is off on August 31st, my birthday incidentally, to the Solomon Islands where she is working with the American Bar Association to draft anti-sex trafficking laws for the island nation.

To begin with, My Moon is beautiful. It is an old warehouse that has been turned into a restaurant/bar. It's easy to find it, as it is just a couple blocks from the L train. The atmosphere was nice, but the hamburger I had was probably the worst burger ever. The meat was juicy but flavorless, the bun toasted just enough to be dry without being crisp, and if that wasn't bad enough, there was the server.

I enjoy eating jalapenos on my hamburger. So when it came to be my turn to order, I said:

"Do you have jalapenos? Could I get some jalapenos on my burger?"

The server looks at me for a second and then she says, "We must have jalapenos, there are three Mexicans working in the back."

Half of our table looked up in disbelief. Allison looked at me and said, "Did she just say..."

And I just nodded and said, "Yup."

And that, my dearest readers, is the One Liner of the Week.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Queer Allies to Muslims Ramadan Fast

I woke up this morning at 5:20am. The sky was just lightening, and David stumbled past me as I was squinting over a sesame seed bagel, trying to quietly apply butter to it, while Mimzy the Dog shook her head and tried to will me to drop the entire bagel situation on the floor.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Today is the first day of Ramadan a time of fasting, celebration, good works, and renewal in the Muslim community. It is a time to reflect on your life, let go of worldly obsessions, intensify your relationship with God, and build community. During this time, Muslims around the world gather before sunrise and after sunset for communal meals (Sahur and Iftar) and celebration. And, from sunrise to sunset, the Muslim community fasts: Muslims neither eat nor drink, unless physical or health needs dictate otherwise.

I am not a Muslim nor is my family, but this year I am participating in the Ramadan fast as an act of solidarity with the Muslim community. And I am asking all queer folks that are able to also join me in this act of support and unity with our queer Muslim family and the Muslim community as a whole.

I wrote an open letter two days ago to Mike DiSanto, an openly gay candidate for New York State Senate, who chose to use Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment to further his political career (specifically his statement was against Cordoba House mosque which will be near Ground Zero). His actions were shameful and reflect extremely poorly on the queer community. In an effort to demonstrate to the broader Muslim community and specifically to our queer Muslim brothers and sisters, that not all members of the queer community are Islamophobes, I chose to commit myself to this fast for the month of Ramadan and to ask others to join me as well.

I am not as tough as some of my beloved Muslim family of choice, so I will be drinking water and juice during the day. Since announcing this call via Facebook, a number of folks have also signed up to participate and/or announced their spiritual support of our solidarity work even though, for health reasons, they themselves cannot participate. If you are interested, please consider signing up for our Facebook group.

This solidarity action is an act of love, and it is also an act of bridge building. The queer community often slams people of faith due to the many atrocities committed in the name of God. Yet, many of us are people of faith and understand that actions taken in the name of God and religion are actions of misguided and hateful human beings and not the fault of faith itself.

No major religion on the planet can claim a wholly peaceful history. Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, and other faiths all have had evil and terrible works done in their name and often times in direct contradiction to the core of the teachings of the particular faiths. Murder in the name of Christ, jihad in the name of Allah, apartheid and oppression of Palestinians in the name of the Jewish faith, partition in India, Hindu fundamentalists, all of these are historical actions by human beings using faith as an excuse to exercise power. None of these actions are because of the faith itself. And we all know of tremendous people and acts of justice done because of an understanding and deep commitment to the love and peace at the core of each of these religions. We venerate heroes like Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Susan B. Anthony, and so many others that were all people of faith.

And, frankly, we found out first hand what happens when the queer community discounts or ignores people of faith: Proposition 8. We lost that electoral fight because the enemies of the queer community knew that they needed to reach out and build bridges with folks that would normally not be their allies. The religious conservative right made intentional connections to African-American and Latino communities. For 20 years they reached out, provided support, created dialogue, and brought them into their way of thinking. And even though we all understand that the religious right could actually care less about people of color and our struggles for liberation, they understand exactly how to build with a community around an issue and find common ground in order to do so.

This fast in solidarity with the Muslim community, for me, is to recognize my commonality with Muslims as a person of faith. It is to create intentional connections and support of a community that is under siege. It is to demonstrate through action that queer people and queer people of faith support the Cordoba House project and see it for what it is: an act of generosity, vision, and community building originating in the Muslim community but benefiting the entire Lower Manhattan area and the people that live therein. And, this solidarity fast is an act of being an ally without asking for anything in return. My hope is that over the long term by showing my respect and honor for the Muslim community and Islam that, in time, I will participate in a shift in attitude that will create more and stronger support for my queer Muslim family. It is also my belief that by creating intentional bridges between the queer community and the Muslim community, we will create better, stronger, and long lasting mutually supportive relationships that will also demonstrate our love for our queer Muslim family. I will use an older but goody…none of us are free until all of us are free.

Asalaam aleikum!

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Open Letter to NY State Senate Candidate Mike DiSanto

I wrote this open letter today to Mike DiSanto a "Democrat" challenging Republican State Senator Marty Golden in Senate District 22 in Brooklyn. This letter was written in response to a statement that Mr. DiSanto published against the building of the Cordoba House mosque near the site of 9-11. Mike DiSanto is openly gay, and until today I was supporting him. I can not in good conscience continue to do so, and it is my hope that the people of District 22 will follow my lead and say no to religious intolerance and anti-Muslim sentiment. The real disservice to the families and victims of 9-11 is continuing the vicious cycle of intolerant rhetoric and judgment that makes us blind to the work of healing.

Dear Mr. DiSanto:

I read your statement today concerning the Cordoba House mosque, and, frankly, I am not only appalled but also rather disgusted.

Using intolerance as a tool to further your own political career is extremely disheartening. It is a tactic used most often by the Right, but I see that it is alive and well here in New York on the "Left." as well. You are a discredit to fair minded and justice focused citizens, and your campaign has done a great disservice to the Muslim community in the area of Brooklyn that you seek to represent as well as to all those working to build cross community bridges.

And, on the eve of Ramadan, one of the holiest times in the Muslim year, your choice to participate in fear mongering and anti-Muslim sentiments is not only disgusting it is reprehensible. It is this sort of blatant intolerance masked as compassion that continues to create real, hurtful, and deep divides not only along along religious lines but along racial lines and, as you know as an openly gay man, along lines of sexual orientation and gender diversity. Your "not in my backyard" attitude is the same that was used during redlining which kept black families from moving into white neighborhoods and the ghetto mentality that kept Jews segregated and made gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities band together for their own protection in geographic isolation.

For the record, I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian, and I support the right of the Cordoba House to be built near Ground Zero not only as an act of religious freedom but also in the spirit in which it is being built: to demonstrate that just as not all Christians are the hateful gay-hating life destroying conservatives the likes of Fred Phelps and his ilk nor are all Muslims jihadis out to take down the United States. The best and most powerful honor that the Muslim community can do to those lost to hateful betrayers of true Islam is to create a space that demonstrates the peace, beauty, and love that is the core of Islam just as it is at the core of Christianity and Judaism. The Cordoba House facility, according to its website, will create a community space open to all New Yorkers and will provide critical access to facilities that are otherwise not present in Lower Manhattan.

As a private citizen, you are entitled to your own opinion. As a candidate for public service, you have shown an overwhelming lack of understanding of the power of words and the role of a community leader. I expect my public servants to rise above the immediate emotions of a situation and look at concerns through a sophisticated lens that respects those that feel aggrieved but protects those that are innocent from mob mentality. The Cordoba House has a right to exist in the location where it will exist.

The LGBT community saw this week proof positive that no matter the feeling of the majority, it is the minority, when their fundamental rights are being challenged, that must be upheld and protected. It is a shame that you can not see the parallels between Proposition 8 and the "majority" of Californians that voted against gay marriage and the mass religious intolerance that says that this mosque should not be built.

If I could stop payment on my donation to your campaign, I would. Seeing that I can not, and considering that I would not willingly make a gift to the campaign of a Republican, I will be making a donation to Cordoba House for the construction of their new mosque and cultural center.


W. Brandon Lacy Campos

14th Amendment Repeal Movement is Racist

In the last few months, the Republican Party, particularly Republicans from states that border Mexico, have started calling for a repeal of the 14th amendment to the constitution. In addition to the 14th amendment being the equal protection and due process clause, it is also the amendment that establishes birthright citizenship in the United States.

The attack by the Right on the Constitutional Amendment that was passed specifically to create a legal framework to protect against the disenfranchisement and return to chattel slavery of African Americans is the most insidiously racist piece of rhetoric from the GOP that I have heard in a very long time.

And these are not some crackpot legislators from rural districts in the Arizona hinterlands. The call for repeal of the 14th Amendment has come from none other than U.S. Senator, and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell and several of his GOP Senatorial (and racist) colleagues. What was once only insane racist rantings by the likes of former U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo and Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce--Boss Hog's doppleganger-- (author of SB1070--Arizona's insane anti-immigration law) has now become the cause celebre of the GOP leadership.

What the what?

Over the last week, I have heard a number of NPR stories and seen several interviews on CNN where these white privileged men are screaming bloody murder about the hijacking of the Constitution by "illegal immigrants." First of all, fuck you. Second of all, no human being is illegal, third of all the only reason that most white folks that immigrated to this country have citizenship, particularly after the massive immigration from the late 19th through the early 20th century is BECAUSE of birthright citizenship and the 14th amendment.

And let's be clear, this attack is an attack on the legitimacy of all people of color. It is well thought out, even if poorly executed. For example, there was already a ridiculous furor over whether or not Obama was a citizen. To this day, despite the fact that Obama's Mother was a U.S. citizen, and despite the fact that the State of Hawai'i has verified Obama's birth on U.S. territory, there are still those that claim that he is not nor ever has been a U.S. citizen. Can you even imagine the legal nightmare in which we would be embroiled if birthright citizenship was not constitutionally guaranteed? It would have made Bush v. Gore look like an episode of the People's Court.

Let me bring this out into the light of day, all of this crazy crap from the Tea Party, to Arizona's immigration law, to the movement to repeal the 14th Amendment is a last desperate push by the White Right to try and stave off the inevitable: not only are people of color soon to be the majority in the United States, the historical inevitability is that with each passing generation, we move closer to a time when people of color will be the majority of those running this country. After 400 years of U.S. and colonial history, where the wealth of this country was created by people of color yet controlled by white folks, and after a century of progressively more political gains by people of color, some folks have seen the writing on the wall and freaked out when they discovered the writing was black (and brown and red and yellow). Sharpies don't come in white ink Mitch McConnell.

Without a drastic shift in the understanding and application of the Constitution, the underpinnings of the social structures that have for so long and have done so well at maintaining white hegemony in this country, are being slowly eroded by the unsustainability of this nations' economic practice and the historical inevitability of a shift in demographics that has and will continue to reshape the landscape of this country.

Don't mistake me, in the end, unless there is a radical shift in our economic policy, it will still be corporations that truly rule in the United States. They will just be ruled by black and brown faces. But even maintaining economic control, which is not subject to democratic principles and thus allows the massive wealth stolen by white folks in white hands, the fear that accompanies a shift in the faces that control the systems of democratic power in this country have some right wing nut jobs fearing that one day, some day, some how people of color in this country are going to find them out and take back what was never ever theirs in the first place.

PS Though I never thought I would ever appreciate Lou Dobbs, I did today. Lou Dobbs, that foe of immigrants, has come out strongly against the GOP move to repeal the 14th amendment.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hey Target! An Apology is Not an Amends!

Yestereve, I was having dinner with my dear friend Shelly Horn at Spice in Chelsea, when I checked my Facebook page via my phone. An ally/comrade/acquaintance of mine in Minneapolis had posted a link to a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in which Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel offers an apology for the corporate donation to Minnesota Forward and pledges to establish a review committee for any future political contributions to ensure that the money does not go to candidates that are going to piss off the Target employees and shoppers in the future (paraphrasing is all mine). This friend of mine from back home had posted this article on my wall saying, "In your face Brandon Lacy Campos, boycotts are effective."

Now. I am going to say this for the last damn time. Never in ANY of my writing on this subject have I ever said that boycotts are ineffective, and least of all in my blog Why Not To Boycott Target. I have, indeed, reference successful boycotts in order to illustrate WHY they were successful and HOW they were organized. Disorganized boycotts with no concrete organization or political goals, such as the call for a Target Boycott, hurt workers without doing anything to engage them or empower them to be a part of the solution. The grape boycott was exactly the opposite, it included the farm workers who helped strategize the boycott. They had an understanding that immediate personal economic loss would lead to higher wages and better working conditions.

I have been very clear to keep my analysis to this particular circumstance and suggest strategies that would get us to where we need to go and build stronger coalitions along the way. And, for the last time, I have offered unconditional support to any individual that chooses to not shop at Target because of the MN Forward donation. That is the last I will say on that subject.

But, what disturbs me most about the statement, "In your face Brandon Lacy Campos, boycotts are effective,:" is not that there seems to be some "gotcha game" being played between people that are allies, nor is it that instead of seeing the suggestions for action as disagreement about strategies and a political dialogue but instead as an opportunity to silence or deride folks in the same community, it is the fact that anyone could read that piece of crap apology in the Star Tribune and think to themselves, "WE WON!"

Nowhere in the article did Target agree to withdraw their donation. Target did not agree to lead by example and remove itself from future political contributions, thereby recognizing that the Citizens United ruling was foolish and bad for democracy, nor did the company even give lip service to justice by offering an offsetting donation to an LGBT rights organization. All that was offered was a lukewarm "I'm sorry," that sounded more like an apology that some employees and some people in the community were angered by the donation instead of a sincere regret at the damage done to the community of workers at Target and the community at large. The difference between an apology and an amends is this: An apology is meant to make the apologizer feel better, an amends is meant to fix the damage done and put things right with the aggrieved.

This was an apology and not an amends, and, therefore, I reject it.

I was debating whether or not to write about the apology today, but no sooner did I have that thought, that a friend of mine from college posted a note on my wall saying that he thought he heard that Target apologized. It helped me realize that Steinhafel was playing a smart media game. It is easy for anyone that hasn't actually read the newspaper article to assume that along with the apology came a remedy. And the way that the grapevine works, that apology, without analysis, will, indeed, take some of the pressure off of Target.

Thankfully our community is full to the brim of smart folks that saw it, read it, and then kept right on planning actions against Target.

I maintain that boycotting Target is the wrong approach to this situation. I will be checking in today with a friend of mine that met with the LGBT employee group at Target a couple of days ago, and I am anxious to hear how that went.

And let me be clear, I do support direct actions at Target Stores, and in that vein, if you are in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, there will be a peaceful demonstration tomorrow at the Southdale Mall Target Store at 7000 York Avenue from 11am-1pm.

Let's keep the pressure up, but let's also keep eye ours on justice and not just us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why the Prop 8 Decision Really Matters...

Let me begin by saying that the decision by United States District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker in California was a rousing victory. For same-sex marriage advocates, the victory is that the fundamental right to marry has been acknowledged to include same-sex couples. I am very happy for them, but that is the very last reason that I am excited about this ruling. Indeed, and this can be addressed in another blog--and has been addressed widely and coherently by the Beyond Marriage Coalition--the same-sex marriage movement (please note I said the movement and not the goal) is, in many ways, harmful to the overall fight for queer liberation, supports and injects assimilationist values in the queer movement, and has diverted an overwhelming amount of resources into a narrow issue that, while relevant to all same-sex couples, is not a priority for many queer folks particularly many queer people of color, gender queer, polyamorous and non-monogamous queers, people living with HIV/AIDS and so many other segments of the movement and community.

The true victory of the ruling in Prop 8 is what was contained in the judgment and the facts found by the court. These particular findings, particularly if upheld by the 9th Circuit Court, which is where this fight moves next, have the potential to radically and permanently alter the social landscape of the United States in much the same way that Brown v Board of Education and Loving v Virginia did for people of color.

I am not a lawyer, but, as I mentioned recently, reading rulings gives me a woody.

To begin with, Judge Walker establishes the basis for judgment. The plaintiffs assert that Prop 8 denies them both Due Process, which is protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and equal protection under the law, which is also included in the 14th amendment. On page 109, Judge Vauhn makes his first judgment that is critical: he applies the requirement of strict scrutiny.

In the legal system, when making a challenge to a law, there are different levels of examination that a judge can choose to apply to the case. The most stringent of those is strict scrutiny which demands that the government must show a fundamental and compelling argument for why it is enacting laws that restrict a fundamental right. If the Judge had decided that the government must only show rational basis when denying a group of citizens a fundamental right, he would basically be saying, "Come up with a logical argument, you don't really have to have any interest besides your argument, and if the argument sounds good, well,'s good enough for me too." When strict scrutiny is applied the judge is saying, "Not only better this argument be good and rational, you have to prove to me how the state itself would be harmed by allowing this right to be practiced...and when I say better give me dollars and cents, floods, famines, plagues, and the spontaneous cloning of Sarah Palin every time a gay gets married..." Amen.

By establishing the requirement of strict scrutiny, Judge Walker sets a precedent for examination of the case that the 9th Circuit is unlikely to overturn, which means that the appeal will also be held to a higher standard and the burden of proof lies with the defendants and not the plaintiffs. This is key.

Then Judge Walker does something that makes me want to lay a wet sloppy one on him. On page 113 of the ruling, he states:
The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage.That time has passed.

Translation: "Get it no longer own women, and women are no longer required to be barefoot and pregnant at home."

But wait, it gets even better when Judge Walker establishes in his ruling the direct connection between heterosexism and sexism! Now, progressive folks have been screaming for years that the root of homophobia and heterosexism is straight up is part of the judicial record. Why is this important you ask? There is a huge body of case law, and it is clearly established in all 50 states and the federal government that discrimination based on sex is illegal and can not be justified in any way under the Constitution. Judge Walker states, "Sexual orientation discrimination is thus a phenomenon distinct from, but related to, sex discrimination."

And then Judge Walker offers up a coup de grace when he writes:
Proposition 8 targets gays and lesbians in a manner specific to their sexual orientation and, because of their
relationship to one another, Proposition 8 targets them specifically due to sex. Having considered the evidence, the
relationship between sex and sexual orientation and the fact that Proposition 8 eliminates a right only a gay man or a lesbian would exercise, the court determines that plaintiffs’ equal protection claim is based on sexual orientation, but this claim is equivalent to a claim of discrimination based on sex.

This is critical. The judge has now created a ruling that requires that lower courts, when receiving cases challenging based on sexual orientation MUST also recognize them as sex discrimination. While the jurisprudence around sexual orientation is limited in many polities, the body of judicial rulings around sex discrimination are not. The judge has just opened a huge door and expanded the ways in which queer folks should be protected not only based on sexual orientation but on sex.

Next Judge Walker does something that makes me want to go from making out with him to being his number one butt boy...he states that:
The trial record shows that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review to apply to legislative classifications based on sexual orientation. All classifications based on sexual orientation appear suspect, as the evidence shows that California would rarely, if ever, have a reason to categorize individuals based on their sexual orientation. Here, however, strict scrutiny is unnecessary. Proposition 8 fails to survive even rational basis review.

This statement is extremely critical in two respects. The first is that this statement says flat out that any and all future legislation that attempts to legislate based on restricting the rights of queer folks MUST adhere to the standard of strict scrutiny, thereby excising the possibility of rational basis review, and then he smacks the Prop 8 advocates in the face by saying that even if he hadn't chosen to apply strict scrutiny to his ruling that the law was so laughable and so ass backwards that it would not have stood up even against the lowest standard of judicial review. WORK! WORK! WORK!

The judge also tosses out the argument that just because an idea, practice, or legal tradition has an "ancient lineage," meaning that "things have always been this way," is irrelevant to a discussion of a fundamental right, and, in fact, has no place in a legal discussion.

And finally, and I believe this is, in my non-lawyer opinion, the most significant of all:

That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, as “fundamental rights may
not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, 319.

The good judge says that if a right has been deemed fundamental then no body politic, whether it be a state legislation, a city council, a county legislature, a referendum of the voters or the U.S. Congress can vote to alienate those rights.

To summarize, the good judge ruled that strict scrutiny must be applied to questions of sexual orientation; discrimination based on sexual orientation is equivalent to sex discrimination; old prejudices and attitudes, no matter how long they have been held, are not legitimate reasons to deny a group of people their fundamental rights; and moral tyranny by a legislature or the voting public can not be tolerated, and, in fact the public does not have the right to take a way a groups fundamental human rights through an electoral process.

The ruling was 138 pages long, and there was a tremendous amount of thought, examination, and introspection that went into it. The judge backed up his fact finding and rulings with both judicial precedence and peer reviewed research. He systematically ripped apart the arguments of the defendants, and in one ruling wiped out the age old attacks on queers by the Right that says we are not good enough to marry, raise families, or have sex. He uses conservative jurisprudence to bolster his ruling even quoting Bowers v Hardwick, a case that went the wrong way for queer folks, to establish the reasoning behind why Prop 8 is wrong. These are the true reasons why the ruling on Prop 8 is a victory for the queer community. And through a smart, strategic, and nuanced reading of this ruling, the queer movement has a new collection of tools in the fight for our liberation. Marriage was the vehicle....but it isn't and should never be the focal point or the end point. Liberation is the end point, and we need to continue to define what that looks like and create a strategic way for ALL of us to get there without sacrificing or setting aside our history of sexual liberation, gender expression, kink, joy and all around queerness.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The End of Dissent or When the FB Target Boycotters Went Neo-Con

Over the last few days, I believe I have offered proactive solutions that would help build a stronger justice movement through organizing around the Target (and Best Buy) donations to Minnesota Forward. While many folks have expressed appreciation and support of the points I have offered in the three blogs that I have posted about the Target Boycott and the Citizens United ruling there are many that have disagreed. Overwhelmingly, people that hold that a boycott is the right strategy have disagreed respectfully and expressed their reasons why they believe that it is a good response. A large few, but still the minority, have had various levels of virulent response from dismissal to outright hostility and shaming tactics. That all comes with the territory.

Over the last few days I have, and other folks have, posted some of my blogs on the Facebook page "Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics." In fact, I wasn't aware of the group until my partner, after posting my initial blog "Why Not to Boycott Target," to the group brought the group to my attention. Since then, I have posted my last three essays to the group, and I have engaged in respectful yet dissenting conversation with several of the members of the group, including the gentleman that founded the group.

Today, I went back to the site and saw that there was a conversation going on around the political donation by Target and its connection to the Citizens United v FEC decision, which I wrote about yesterday. I thought it would be appropriate to post a link to yesterday's essay in the context of the conversation taking place. It was then that I discovered that my right to post links to the site had been revoked by the site administrator.

At first I thought, or hoped, that it was a glitch with the system. So I tried posting the link, instead of within an existing conversation thread, as its own stand alone link. I was, once again, told that I was not allowed to take that action.

For the first time in this dialogue around strategy I shifted from disappointed to very angry.

Restricting or eliminating dissent, quieting opposition, and removing the ability of individuals to participate in community dialogues are tools of the Right and not the Left. Or, better to say, those are tools of the far right fascists and the far left Stalinist/Maoist communists. In community dialogues, where there are feelings and offerings of multiple strategies, as long as the dialogue stays respectful, the community can only come out stronger on the other side of the work to hear, synthesize, and craft a measured and intelligent response or proactive engagement with a justice issue. Utilizing ones personal power to silence someone with whom you disagree for the simple fact that you disagree with that person is shameful.

When I served as the chair of the National Lavender Green Caucus of the Green Party of the United States, there was a member of the caucus that, on a regular basis, posted ridiculous, harmful, and rabid emails to our list serve concerning his belief, and the pseudo-science behind it, that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. As an HIV positive person I was deeply offended. His postings, which also included personal attacks on positive people that held the belief that HIV does, indeed, cause AIDS callws us deluded at best and stupid at worst. Yet, after reprimanding this individual for the tone of his emails and the ad hominem attacks, I took no further action on his ability to participate in dialogues as long as decorum was maintained. Though I HATED the things he was saying, and though I felt viscerally that they were wrong and hurtful, and though I had the power to remove him from the dialogue altogether, I didn't. That is the measure of how committed one is to building community and not directing it. It takes more courage to listen to ideas with which you don't agree then to remove those ideas from the conversation.

In the end, I understand that there are those that feel so strongly about the Steinhafel donation to Minnesota Forward that they are unable or unwilling to consider the collateral damage, strategic damage, and human damage of a boycott. If those same people are unable or unwilling to see this as a PRIME organizing opportunity to build, sustain, and strengthen cross community and multi-issue organizing, then perhaps posting anything to a group occupied by those folks is a fruitless enterprise.

We demand as a community the right to exercise the First Amendment, and, yet, too often we don't apply that right to those around us. Sad sad day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Citizens United and the Target Boycott

In 2006, I was named by the Minneapolis Star and Tribune as one of the top policy wonks to watch under 30. For most people, the idea of analyzing public policy and attempting to apply newly passed legislation to the operation of daily life sounds about as fun as giving oneself a circumcision with a dull, rusty plastic spork. I was born with an odd ball gene that sends internally produced opiates directly to my favorite pleasure centers whenever a Supreme Court ruling comes down.

I am pretty sure that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a previous job, I served as the Associate Director and Democratizing Elections Fellow at the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution. In my late 20s, when many of my queer contemporaries were planning their next mimosa brunch, I was working with a cadre of like-minded lefties trying to figure out how to make the American democracy into an actual democracy. Three years ago, with leadership from Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap from Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) and former Green Party presidential nominee and DUHC staffer David Cobb, Liberty Tree was already engaged with trying to figure out how to fight back against a string of Supreme Court rulings over the last hundred years that established the idea of "corporate personhood." Before January 2010, there were actual limits on the abilities of corporations and unions to participate in the electoral process. Indeed, the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 had established some of the more stringent restrictions on campaign finance and corporate spending in elections in several decades.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 split decision, gutted almost a century of legislation and judicial precedence by removing any and all barriers to the participation of corporations in the electoral process, establishing definitively that a corporation (and unions), which are basically no more and no less than a conglomeration of special interests with a particular economic goal in mind, has, indeed, all the rights (and sometimes more) than living, breathing, voting individuals.

When that decision came down, wonk heads like me had multiple heart palpitations and started chewing Roll-Aids as if they were Flintstone vitamins, and many of my friends began discreet inquiries into the immigration requirements for Canada. For most people, they understood vaguely that something not so fun had happened, but Joe the Plumber and the everyday person, gripped in the deadly claws of this ridiculous Great Recession, were too worried about how to pay their bills to puzzle through an 183 page ruling that, in the end, used a lot of paper to say, "Demcoracy....SCREW YOU!"

But, when Target CEO Greg Steinhafel choose to direct $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, which then gave the cash to rabidly anti-queer GOP candidate for governor of Minnesota Tom Emmer, the reality of the Citizens United decision came crashing home.

While the community should be angry at Target and should address their concerns and utilize strategies to hit Steinhafel where it hurts, we should all recognize that this is but the first salvo in a new cultural and corporate war that, unless an amendment to the Constitution is passed, or unless the balance of the Supreme Court shifts to the left, we are looking at a long, slow war of attrition in which not only the people but democracy itself will be the losers. Though the ruling was nigh on 200 pages long, the short of it is that the Supreme Court removed any restrictions on the amount of money that corporations can provide to political action committees during elections. PACs, then, can use that money to support the candidate of his or her choice. As Target's CEO said in a very lame (pardon the ableism here) statement, "As you know, Target has a history of supporting organizations and candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives, such as job creation and economic growth." Let me translate, that statement says, "While we happily extract the maximum effectiveness, creativity, and commitment from our queer employees, we could really give a shit about you as long as we can maximize our profits. Love you. Mean it."

While I encourage direct action that will result in a change in the way that Target makes decisions around political contributions, I warn you all that this is simply the first such strike by a major corporation during a significant election year. God help us come the 2012 presidential election. It is time that we all get behind organizations such as Move To Amend and demand from any of our political candidates that are asking for our support in upcoming elections to sign onto a Constitutional amendment that will revoke corporate personhood and once again limit the ability of corporate collectives from dominating and marginalizing our democracy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Working Class and Working Class Queers v Target Boycotters

When I published my blog "Why Not To Boycott Target," I had no idea the response that it would receive. I have been blogging since 2005, and in a single day more people read that blog entry than any other entry in the last five years.

And, as usual, not everyone agreed with it. I think one of the most beautiful aspects of my blog is that they often generate strong feelings and visceral discussions, and when it does, I know that I have done my work well.

This time however, I have found myself highly disappointed by our LGBT community (again). I posted my blog on the "Boycott Target" page on Facebook, and, understandably, the reactions were all negative. I expected that. What I didn't expect was the blindness and the willingness to disregard and screw over the working class people at Target. Indeed, one gentleman insisted that by not shopping at Target and shopping at their competitors, the movement isn't hurting the economy just supporting other sectors of it. My number one gripe about all the economic talk in this country is that people talk in markets and sectors instead of talking about the real working class people that are impacted by economic decisions. Indeed, the fact that Congress allowed unemployment benefits to expire for almost two months because Republicans wanted to play politics with peoples lives, is the ultimate example of how the privileged choose to engage with the economy.

And, to be clear, this isn't by accident.

In most of the rest of the world, the real divisions that exist in societies are based in class as opposed to race. The progressive dialogue, while including discussions of racism, is focused, and rightly so, on class stratification. In the U.S., the dialogue has focused on race, and largely because for most of our history race was a key factor (and still is) in economic stratification. But it is even more insidious than that...there was and continues to be cultural wars perpetuated by those in power (without regard to political label) that started during slavery, initially, to keep poor whites and slaves from understanding their joint economic reality. Both poor whites and slaves had similar existences for much of our early history, and there was an intentional dialogue as skin colored based slavery was developed that created a cultural gulf between blacks and poor whites. This was to keep them from combining their strength and working for real progressive change (If you want a great discussion about this, read What's the Matter with Kansas). As the U.S. has matured and its systems of oppression have developed, the one tried and true way to keep communities divided against themselves is to create a barrier between the working class/working poor and the middle and upper class sections of their own communities.

The call for a boycott of Target exemplifies this inner community class struggle perfectly. Many queers of means are willing to throw working class queers under the bus and then back up on top of them to make sure that they don't get back up. To me the logic is simple, if Gregg Steinhafel, Target CEO, is the one that is the source of the problem and the one with the power to make it right, why are we not using tactics that would Target him and instead targeting our working class brothers and sisters? How callous has our community become that we are unwilling to add in a class analysis in our decision making?

For me the answer is simple, the knee jerk reactions of a broad segment of our community is directly related to the fact that our movement (and the progressive moment in general) mobilizes but rarely organizes. The Civil Rights Movement understood that marches, boycotts, strikes, and other forms of civil disobedience were TACTICS that helped get the movement to a specific end point. Each civil disobedience or economic disobedience was never seen as an end in and of itself. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a strategic action with a specific end goal in mind and the action was predicated on the outcome. They understood, for example that a letter writing campaign to the local paper wouldn't result in desegregation of the bus system. They had to base their actions on a target that would result in their demands being met. Our movement has forgotten how to do that. When Martin Luther King marched on Washington, which was planned and executed by queer civil rights hero and labor organizer Bayard Rustin, the march wasn't his end goal. The end goal was the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, it was signed into law. Today, we march for marching's sake, and we boycott without any strategy around how to turn these isolated actions into change. And our community has so bought in to the corporate oligarchy that runs this country that we slap corporate logos on our pride events, and we fail to understand that corporations, no matter how benign, have no interest besides making money, while we expect that they have our best interest at heart.

Wake up people.

How powerful would it be to actually organize WITH the Target store workers? What would it look like to build intentional connections with the wage workers to craft a response that will get us to our end goal AND leave us stronger as a community? We need to strategize not only how to win but also how to come out of the win more organized and with stronger alliances. THAT is what creates sustainable long term change.

Thankfully, there are amazing people such as Kenyon Farrow of Queers for Economic Justice, Mervyn Marcano of the Center for Media Justice, Kim Ford of AALUSC, and so many other leaders of our justice movements that get the connections. If only the rest of the community could put its indignation on hold long enough to have a real conversation about social change and how to get to justice without sacrificing anyone along the way.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry Winner: Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

In April, My Feet Only Walk Forward announced the first annual Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry. I started this award to honor my Grandfather Alfred Charles Carey. Grandpa Carey was a tremendous human being. He was a working class mixed race man of Irish and Ojibwe descent. His Mother, Suzanna, was born on La Courte Oreilles Reservation in Wisconsin, and my grandfather worked his whole life as a roofer. He was a scion of one of the original families of Duluth, MN, and he was the gentlest soul I have ever met. I love and honor my grandfather. He was, in many respects, the ideal male figure in my life, and I miss him dearly.

When I announced the award I wrote:

Alfred C. Carey was a hard working man from Northern Minnesota. He worked in construction, specifically roofing, while raising a family of 8, including three children not biologically his own. He represented a series of beautiful and sometimes hard contradictions in race, class, and history. He also, without a vocabulary around race and sexuality, accepted all of his children and grandchildren for who they were without judgment. This award is named in the honor of my grandfather.

Since then, I shared with my family that I had announced this award and my amazing grandmother, Dorithy Carey, gave her blessing to it.

It is with much pride that I announce that the winner of the first Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry is Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay.

Saymoukda called Mooks by her friends is a Lao American writer, essayist, playwright, and spoken word poet who has toured and performed extensively nationally and internationally. Playwright and co-founder of The Unit Collective - as well as reigning female member of Imperial DJ Science Crew.

And, on a personal note, I know Mooks from the amazing spoken word community in Minneapolis. For years her poetry has spoken to me, and I am very happy that she is the first Carey Prize winner.

The winning poem, "When Everything Was Everything," is powerful, raw, fierce, and embodies the Carey Prize. Congratulations to Mooks and thank you for submitting your work.

You can read more of Mooks' work at her blog Refugenius.
I would also like to give a special shout out honorable mention to Christy NaMaee Eriksen. Her poem, "You Bring Out the Korean Adoptee In Me," was a VERY VERY VERY VERY close contender for the prize. If I were a rich man, I would provide her a $150 stipend as well.

Tomorrow, I will publish Ms. Eriksen's poem, and here is the winning poem of the first annual Carey Prize (please note the authors retain all rights to these poems and they are reproduced here with their permission).


1. Food stamps in my pockets. Two dollars worth of Now n Laters. Green saliva, couldn't swallow quick enough. Standing nervous. Red light on Dale Street. Crossed the bridge over Hwy 94. Trekking back to St. Albans. Candy wrappers clenched tight. Waved good-bye to Tiger Jack.
2. Every Friday Bhet opens the screen door and announces, "Pahw mah la, pahw mah la!!" All afternoon we've waited. In my father's tan Izuzu truck we drove to Hudson. Mom buys lottery tickets for her, bags of Funyuns and a giant slurpie for us. Bhet likes the blue ones -- they stain his tongue so good, makes a point to show me every time. On the way home, mom spends imaginary millions in out-loud daydreams. Blue-lipped smiling, Bhet tells me we are like kings in Dad's gold chariot. I agreed.
3. Bowl cuts. Red-handle scissors.
4. Holding my Korean blanket, rolled under my arms. Dad carried trash bags, everything we owned, slung over his shoulders. Tiny feet tired from walking, twelve blocks to our new home. Stopping every other he asks, "Ee la, nyang die yoo baw?" Every time, looking up, forcing smile, "Doiy, ee pahw."
5. 692 North St., St. Paul. 250 Oxford Str. North, St. Paul. 308 North St. Albans, St. Paul. 3634 15th Ave. South, Mpls. 1090 York Ave., St. Paul. 130 Bates Ave., St. Paul
6. "Mah nee, ee Thoun," Bhet says. I follow him to his first grade classroom, passing cubbies, water color family portraits, and a picture of Jesus the Christ. He lifts up the lid of his school desk, no. 2 pencils with bite marks, color crayons, and two small boxes of Sunmaid raisins. He hands me one and smiles, showing teeth.
7. I interrupted my class when I walked in, returned from an ESL session. Mr. Smith made everyone read out loud, stopping when they want to. No one ever reads more than three sentences from The Cay. They giggled and snickered on my turn. That day, I read two chapters without stopping to breathe. The snickering, ridiculing, and ESL sessions stopped after that.
8. The art of haggling with the Hmong grandmothers at the Farmers Market is not for the meek minded.
9. I killed my father's lawn one summer with my blue plastic pool. Fresh out the bag Disney underwear and bare chested, grass blades speckled my feet and ankles, I watched as the grinning crocodile begins to swim, hidden sometimes by the sun's reflection, until water spills tiny waterfalls over the brim.
10. Hand-me-down jeans, ripped, and dirtied at the knee. Working in cucumber fields. Picking only the ones as big as my 5 year old hands.
11. Grocery store. Pharmacy. Welfare office. Parent-teacher conferences. All are unmaneuverable without your double tongue, looking up to your right, up to your left, at adult mouths moving and adult ears, waiting, listening to everything lost in an 8 year old’s interpretation.
12. Carrying a roll of toilet paper in a wrinkled over-used plastic bag, I jumped into my father’s Izuzu. Seldom visible at 3 A.M., the moon can’t hear Father singing. During the hour drive to a Christmas wreath-making factory, suspended between awake and weary. Mother cups my face with her sap-dried hands, dirt under her nails, plants kisses before unrolling 6, 8, 10 sheets to blow the dust out of her nose. Her hand rakes my hair and neck leaving dried flakes of sap, the smell of pine, the residual optimism she still has.
13. I went to Head Start preschool. Bhet went to Saint Mark's Catholic school.
14. Be the first to line up in front of the food truck before its back door slide up, thundering over the murmurings. Everyone wonders if they’ll get a bag of frozen chicken this time. Or angel food cake, two days passed the expiration date. I exchange all of my cheeses for boxes of rice with anyone who doesn’t look like me.
15. Mrs. Jaquelin traded cassette tapes with mom every week. Roy Ayers, Sade, and Dolly Parton for Thai singers I only knew by face.

When Everything Was Everything *Notes*
2. Pahw mah la, pahw mah la!! (Dad is here! Dad is here!)
4. Ee la, nyang die yoo baw? (Babygirl, are you okay to walk?); Doiy, ee pahw. (Yes sir, Daddy.)
6. Mah nee, ee Thoun. (Come here, Thoun.)

Thank you again, and congratulations.