On Monday I went to an appointment, and as usual I parked my bike right next to the front door. Biking is a hack for getting around, especially in a city, and most especially when parking.
On a bike, the street becomes a continuous playing field, not just a choice between one lane or the other. In this way, it’s more like life, where we never have just one or two choices (though I regularly try to convince myself otherwise!). The options are limitless. Riding a bike is good practice for mastering the process of making decisions in a complex world.
In comparison, in a car I feel very limited and passive. “Falling asleep at the wheel” is a thing – but I never heard of “falling asleep at the handlebars”! There are all these rigid rules for driving, and if you break them you might hurt yourself and others and you might get in a lot of trouble with the police. People spend a tremendous amount of time and money in cars, learning some pretty disempowering lessons.
There’s a wonderful old song by Woody Guthrie that most folks know the beginning of: “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island.” Sounds familiar, I imagine. Do you know more verses? How about this one:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Live on the other side of the sign, and park your bike there if you want. Be safe, wear a helmet, follow the rules that make sense to follow, and see what opens up. Practice power by cycling!
On Wednesday I attended a screening of 5 Broken Cameras, a documentary about non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Or rather, I tried to. Instead, something very curious happened.
I arrived at the screening, on the OSU campus, to a small crowd. Event organizers informed us that a vigil was happening across campus in 30 minutes, to mourn and stand with the recent Chapel Hill, NC shooting victims. They said most people who were going to attend the screening were already heading to the vigil. We held a quick vote, and most of us also decided to go to the vigil.
What happened? I was surprised so many of us chose to go to the vigil. The two groups sponsoring the screening were OSU Divest and Jewish Voice for Peace Central Ohio. The 3 victims in NC were Muslims and the group calling for the vigil was the OSU Muslim Student Association (many people suspect the shooting was a hate crime). Thus, there was some link between the screening and the vigil, but the explanation was not fully clear to me.
Also, note that the vigil was outside and it was below freezing, whereas the screening was inside with comfortable chairs.
You follow me here? Where did this decision come from? Here’s my attempt at an answer:
1) Occupy — Yes, we in Columbus Ohio still enjoy the spirit and energy leftover from the Occupy movement. It caught on particularly strong here, and we had a series of vibrant meetings of hundreds of students at OSU, in addition to a mostly separate effort of one of the longest continuously standing occupations down at the Statehouse. During Occupy, student organizations were compelled to reach across traditional divisions to work together, and the intensity of that time also simply raised the bar on student organizing skills. I think these things still resonate today.
2) Social Media — Thousands of people were invited to attend the event #ChapelHillShooting Vigil on facebook, held just 24 hours after the shootings, and hundreds showed up! Indeed, the entire event was predicated on organizing through social media. The rules of organizing have broken, and can be thrown out the window: I heard no organizations claim credit for the event or invite attendees to come to their meetings, no sign up sheets were passed around, multiple speakers said they would share a link on “the page”, and the only specific action requests were to keep this story alive on social media.
Ironically, I didn’t actually get invited to the vigil on Facebook, but it sure seemed like everyone else did, so I’m probably just showing my age there! Does the world run on Facebook? No. Do student activist events? Sure seems like it!
3) Solidarity — Folks around here are oriented toward solidarity. I think this is because of Occupy and social media, and also because of specific people and organizations like the OSU International Socialist Organization and Ohio Fair Food (note both of those links are facebook pages!), which have put the time and energy in to cultivate this in our community for years.
On the note of solidarity: What is the role for white people in an effort like this? I think it’s to show up, and if appropriate ask if there’s something specific you can do to help. At this event the megaphone failed, so I dashed home and grabbed mine. I was pretty happy to supply that, and then stand in the back and be present and listen.
What an opportunity! Join my friend (or as she says, soul-colleague) Beth Raps for a “Winter Grounding Party” tomorrow morning at 11 ET.
Beth is a powerful person, and offers her life coaching gifts to the world. Sometimes this comes in the form of group meditations over the phone, and tomorrow is just such a time. At a time in the year when many of our spirits are feeling a bit thin, she is offering a donation-basis session. See more at:
I vote. People worked way way too hard to ensure that right, for me to not cast that ballot.
Admittedly, and with integrity, I often have a pretty blank ticket, choosing to vote for nobody. That’s old news though – there are two new stories for me this election season:
First is the new form of a Vote Bloc. The classic version of this is people who share a common opinion on an issue or set of issues will all vote the same way — for instance, if a group of people have a very strong opinion on gun control, that one thing might color their entire ballot. The new version of a Bloc is where people who share a common political platform can actually physically turn up at the polls together, making visible what was previously just an idea.
The other story is early voting. Wow — I was very surprised to find out that 1/3 of votes are cast early these days! Is this beneficial or detrimental? Extended early voting slightly increases two things: voting rates and campaign expenses. Increased voting rates? Sure, sounds just fine. Increased campaign expenses? Hmm, this could go either way — these early voters are probably going to miss a lot of the hype, which will help level the playing field, but at the same time it could just increase the inequalities of competing campaign budgets. Hard to tell, I’m sure a bunch of people are studying this, hard.
So put these two things together, and we have an Early Vote Bloc! At least here in Ohio where we have only one early voting station per county, the combination of these two dynamics means many early voters from different places will for the first time all be voting in the same physical location. What an opportunity! Hence, the Ohio Student Association has been hosting Voter Block Parties around the state. Smart.
Do I think voting is the most powerful thing we can do to create a just and sustainable world? No. But I’m gonna do it anyway, so I might as well vote with my friends!
There was to be a great skyscraper. Because this project was so massive, big enough to hold an entire city, the designers put in a tremendous amount of thought.
Since it was so large, there were concerns that the center of each floor would feel too dark and closed-off, so it was decided to use new semi-transparent materials. Light would come in from above, helping the space feel open and connected, but one could not see down, which would have certainly caused a dizzying effect.
Conveniently enough, and not surprisingly, it was also decided that more money would be spent per square foot the higher up you went. Being so massive, the skyscraper held all sorts of people and activities – at the bottom were the industrial and utility levels, followed by cleaning, lower services, higher services, lower clerical, et cetera, all the way to the elite rich at the very tip top.
And thus it was that people in different parts of the skyscraper came to understand things very differently. The lower you lived and worked, the more likely you were to suffer from crime, poverty, and disease. Nonetheless, people reported a similar level of happiness, regardless of where they found themselves, and so things just kept going.
A funny thing happened alongside this though. Over time, people at the very bottom seemed to understand how the skyscraper worked in a fundamental way, while people at the top felt lost and detached. You see, the workers and maids and delivery people were able to see for themselves what was going on above them, and often traveled to upper levels to carry out their work, while people at the top could only see sideways through their windows, down into the distant city and the countryside, and rarely found any reason compelling enough to venture down into the strange lower levels.
The people at the bottom began to resent the people at the top, and indeed the people at the top began to resent themselves, though in a much less deliberate sort of way, though they certainly didn’t admit it. There began to be whispers and rumblings of new ideas, and conflict, both from the bottom and the top.
And the rest, well the rest is up to us.
Editorial — I’ve had this metaphor in my mind for years but never crystallized it until a conversation the other night with a friend. The image of a skyscraper captures it just about perfectly.
The deadline is upon us — I applied, and so can you!
This 4 month political education and leadership development program is designed to support the vision, strategy, and organizing skills of white activists in becoming accountable, principled anti-racist organizers building multiracial movements for justice.
The Catalyst Project launched the Anne Braden Program in 2008 and since that time we’ve offered 4 rounds of this intensive organizer training program. More than 130 Braden alumni are engaged in anti-racist organizing and movement-building across North America. The next Anne Braden Program will be offered starting in February of 2015. Applications are now open through September 8, 2014. Apply today!
FYI for those of us spread far away from California — You do need to be in the Bay Area during the program, but you can come from many places! I talked through this with someone and felt sufficiently compelled, as someone who lives in Ohio, to apply. There seems to be some intention around supporting people coming from a variety of places and communities.
Driving up, through the outskirts of Youngstown down McGuffey Rd, it’s a thriving wreck. Multiple busted out cinder block churches, countless empty houses, 2 brand new Mercedes in a row, and one stretch of brand new asphalt road. What do you do with that? Build a prison. Poor Youngstown.
This Sunday, I visited Keith Lamar AKA Bomani Shakur, #317-117 at the Ohio State Penitentiary. I’ve been in holding cells twice, but never been inside a prison. A and K prepped me on what to expect and how to navigate it. Intimidating, nothing in my pockets except keys and ID, like a hospital, mostly empty visiting room, visitor badge pinned to my shirt…
<< We took a picture together, I’ll post it when I get it! >>
Bomani was great to talk to, the time went quick. We got to know each other, talked about Ferguson and Palestine along with fellow Lucasville Uprising scapegoat Abdullah Hasan who happened to have a visit at the same time, ran through Bomani’s latest updates on his appeals, and began to talk about what I might do to help save his life. After 3 hours and a cup of coffee, he was eager for the bathroom break before his brother’s visit.
As guards buzzed me through 5 separate doors toward the exit, Bomani was in shackles and chained to the floor, living under the nearly complete control of the Correctional Officers. But in a way, OSP is a pitiful construction. This is a cutting edge prison facility, with an expansive manicured lawn and overkill triplicate security, but to me it just looked like a new school with a flair for razor wire. The unremarkable entrance sign had Governor Kasich and Warden Forshey’s names posted on removable plates, just waiting for the next regime to re-endorse it with a fresh piece of plastic. This place was put up by people, and someday people will take it down.
This morning I stretched just like Bomani does every day, except probably 1/4 as long as he did, and outside the confines of Ohio’s Supermax prison.