Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Real Lesson Around Prop 8

Dear brothers and sisters of the GLBTQ community, allies and families and all interested in justice,

If any of you are drawn to the statistics of African Americans voting for Prop 8, I'm asking you for a little of your time. I'm feeling a lot of discomfort at an all-too-easy pat and catchy analysis of Prop 8 presently thrown around by pundits and by people being interviewed, (beware of the reporter with leading questions because they love this one) about the irony in Black people voting yes on Prop 8. Agreed, it's a neat little package. But it is too pat, and too off the mark. It is a racialized package. Not useful.

Check out DisGrasian "Blaming the Black Voter." The statistics about Black voters are useless for determining why Prop 8 passed. The Black vote did not carry Prop 8. The statistics on racial ethnic demographics are only useful to underscore the work that needs to be done in each and every one of our own communities.

The demographic which voted in Prop 8, is a religious/belief system/upbringing demographic. That's how it breaks down. It goes across every cultural and racial lines and is in every family and friendship circle. We must look at it that way. It points to the work which must be done in ALL our communities across racial and cultural lines. All of us are from families who grew up with frightful moral, religious attitudes regarding same sex marriage, and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender ways of life. All of us belong to communities where a lot of work must be done. It's a situation where "the opposition" is very likely to be someone in our own family, church, at work, our friend. It's personal.

In other words, this is the time to educate, network, bridge and mobilize. It's about the work to make people understand this is a justice issue, a human rights issue beyond one's belief systems, upbringing and church doctrine. It's not a struggle where we can target the segregated South, for example. To lean too heavily on the irony of the statistics of the African American vote does not get at the work which has to be done -- especially the scope of the work, the intimate personal nature of the work for each and every racial, ethnic demographic. One would wish it could be as easy as targeting an ethnic group, or a region. Nope. We have to talk to Uncle Joe and mom and Pastor Smith and our best friend. Using the statistics game is not a useful strategy. This time, math and statistics will divide us.

I have to say at this point that I have learned from my Lesbian sisters who are people of color that there is so much work which must be done in both their communities, so many conversations which must happen. The double oppression they experience is real and I can't help feeling that the "how wrong it is that the African American community in CA don't understand the irony" must be feeling really uncomfortable for every Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Bi and straight person of color for many layered reasons. I know I feel uncomfortable. That's why I must say something because I would hope with the hard work ahead of us (I am concerned about the abuse of the initiative process to bring down hard won successes in Oregon, for example), that we get on point and not get off track. Racializing is off track. It is a (subconscious) strategy to distract us from the uncomfortable work of having to have that talk with favorite Aunt Em and around the water fountain with our own colleagues, with our best friend and the pastor. Eyes on the prize and let's get prepared for reporters with leading questions. Said with love, Misa

Friday, November 7, 2008

Out of Step

I dropped off my rent money for the Q Center. There are 25 of us who pledged to pay $23 month to keep the Q Center open and I forgot. I feel so ashamed. But now it's fixed in my brain and every new year, I will send in my check for $276 and if I don't I hope my friend Carol Horne will thump me on the head again.

The Q Center is very important for us. It is part of the justice network of this town which grows stronger. A lot of work comes out of the Center. Gay Pride, an event which draws hundreds to Alton Baker every August is one. And this year, more than any other group, Basic Rights of Oregon, a coalition which formed to bring Domestic Partnership into law last January and bring about reform for equal protection within all State institutions for veterans and GLBTQ community played a major role in electing people and defeating bad measures. Some of the BRO people went down to California to help defeat Prop 8, an initiative which overturns the law which recognizes same sex marriages. BRO people came down I-5 to Eugene to help canvass and work for our mayoral race to re-elect incumbent Kitty Piercy who calls herself with pride "mayor of all Eugene" and means it. That race was very close, too close. It took a couple of days to become official. Were it not for BRO I think there would be no victory party locally.

So, today, as I dropped off my rent money, I am reminded that California may have been part of the great celebration which placed Barack Obama into presidency, but was very out of step when it came to equal protection under the law for all Californians. The initiative process turned ugly. There are forces who abuse and misuse the initiative process to roll back hard won civil rights legislation. The GLBTQ community and their allies, however, is a well organized, highly skilled political machine and they will not be stopped. I have learned the mobilizing power is in the alliances and that the alliances cross state lines.

I've been reading DisgrAsian and Angry Asian Man blog sites so I know that in my community the younger generations of Asians in California were working on their parents to change old attitudes and get them to vote NO. So many of our communities, communities of color, have so far to go. On the one hand, we are victimized by racism and exploited for our labor. On the other, fear and ignorance prevent us from recognizing the justice struggle wherever it may be. Until the late 60's, for example, we Asians were unable to inter-marry. We could not choose our mate. It was against the law. But our community cannot come together to make the connection that it is just as wrong that gay and lesbian partners cannot legally choose their mate. I am saddened that the huge turnout for Barack Obama partially led to the defeat of Prop. 8. That must be addressed by each one of us now that it is known. It was not just the Black vote that elected Obama; and it was not just the Black vote that passed Prop. 8. Read the numbers on DisgrAsian's blogsite on my favorite blogs and it's "mathed" out for us. Every community had a hand in the victory of President Elect Obama and the defeat regarding Prop 8 and we all have work to do.

So I join all my Asian brothers and sisters in doing the necessary work right at home with our families and communities.

I still remember back in the 80's when women of color and White Lesbian sisters had that hard conversation about racism. It was inspired by a visit by Audre Lourde who wrote about the double oppression felt by a woman of color -- with her lesbian white sisters, and within the community, in her case, the Black community. It was a tough conversation, everyone speaking the angry truth they've never spoken before. Lot of tears. Later that spring the film, "Gods Must be Crazy" from South Africa came, a big hit in the US. It was a deliberate ploy by the South African government to break the world boycott of South African goods -- a very successful boycott. We formed a boycott line in front of Eugene's only indie film theater, the Bijou, and saw many, many friends and neighbors cross the lines to buy a ticket and enjoy the show, the noble Bushmen who worship the coca cola bottle which dropped from the sky, the crazy revolutionaries who couldn't steer their jeep straight. I don't get the attraction but then I've never watched it. That's the thing about boycotts for me. Once I start, it's hard to break the habit. The Bijou held the film over, something out of the ordinary for them. The rains started. Rain, rain, rain. Needless to say our line became very small, and then one day, our lesbian sisters came with hoods and umbrellas and stayed. They stayed with us night after night as long as the film showed in Eugene. Something happened for those of us who stood on that line and it happened for life. Ok. Our Lesbian sisters took a stand on racism but what about our homophobia?

I remember some of the things I held on to, divisive semantics -- culture and race is different from sexual preference. Racism is different from homophobia. I don't know when I let it go. It's one of those step by step things. A big part of it, my students and our beloved daughter Josina freed me from it. One cannot teach long in a middle school without seeing that line drawn clearly between right and wrong. Homophobia sure as heck felt as ugly and violent and threatening and all pervasive as racism. Homophobia certainly cut off promise and success. One could not deny that suicide among gay youth or youth harassed for being gay was high. And the bonds between people who were Gay and Lesbian sure felt like culture. And isn't family part of culture? The bravest, wisest woman warrior in our family is Jo our daughter who is Lesbian undefinable, incorruptible and says it as it is.

The change came inperceptibly, touching the "mother bear" part and my "sister and family" parts of my heart and hooked up to the "think smarter" part of my brain. And I guess I just finally became integrated. I finally became whole. One day, I noticed that I had let go of useless things. My former protective attitude toward a sorry piece of cheese called "protected class status" no longer held any significance for me. It felt awkward and clumsy and worthless. How long can we afford to be brainwashed that some classes are protected and other oppressed groups are not. That status needs to be broadened until it becomes meaningless in the bright light of truth: we are all human beings and born with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of our own happiness -- which includes marriage and parenthood, and to be safe and free to grow up and learn and work without fear.

As part of DisOrient Asian American Film Festival, we discovered there was a renaissance of film made by independant filmmakers of our community -- and much to my excitement there was a huge number made by Gay and Lesbian filmmakers about being Gay or Lesbian. We sent out the call for entries. Just at that time an Oregon judge put an injunction on the Domestic Partnership law. We were feeling so low, and I wrote to the filmmakers to ask them once again to send the film and how important it was in light of the recent injunction to educate the public even more. Films can touch hearts. We were overwhelmed with their response!! Not only did the filmmakers say yes, but they said yes because they wanted to be part of our struggle. We reached out to Basic Rights of Oregon to see if we could make the films part of a larger program. Basic rights not only said yes, they rented a hall, got goodies together, provided a forum and became a sponsor. It was a great happening, probably the first time Gay, Lesbian and straight people of color could come together for a real conversation which builds relationships.

Our film festival director said, "You know, Misa, we may not be able to have a GLBTQ program every year, " and I nodded. But inside I was determined that our festival needs to take a leadership role in this. This summer, where I teach for a month young middle and high school Asian Pacific youth, and where the festival director teaches film, the one film which captured the Yuri Kochiyama Award for Courage was "My Life in Brown and Pink" when high school freshman Jazmin came out as a Lesbian to her family and filmed it, fifteen minutes of truth and love. Clearly, there will be a GLBTQ program in DisOrient this year, and I'm sure Jazmin will be a great curator of the program! The artists always have led the way in our community.

California's misstep will not be wasted. It has to be national to make sense anyway. Barack Obama's campaign showed it's not those in control of the media and the party machinery who will determine the outcome of an election. With work, we can be ready for the next campaign. Together, we can correct the injustice of CA's Prop 8 and go one more, ordinary people wherever we live and wherever we work. We just keep talking about it, keep pushing , keep building networks, and making families of one another. What a happy life, following the lead of brave youth and artists to lift up justice. I give a shout out to George Takei (and his partner), and to Maceo and tell him, time to come home to Oregon now. We're proud of you.

Sweet Victory

I am replacing my post about Election Night with an email I sent to my friend Bahati Ansari who lives in Arizona now but for years did so much good work in Eugene for racial justice, healing and for enpowering youth. Bahati wrote me her thoughts about the election of President Elect Barack Obama this morning. Wow. I love saying that. President Barack Obama. I wrote her back and decided to replace my original post election blog with this because Bahati and I did a lot together, were sisters, still are. Check out her blog on blogspot.

I wrote that for me when I saw Jesse Jackson's tears fall, that moment encapsulated the whole Presidential ictory for me, what it meant. At (our first ever) election night party, we were all rivited on the tv screen filled with Americans -- the whole jubilant mix -- all the young people, joined with all the African American voters, grandmas, kids, and their good prayers, people of all backgrounds celebrating, weeping, laughing and screaming at the same time -- everyone celebrating their rejection of the McClain Palin strategy or racializing the election, rejected the slave legacy of fear and division -- and having voted their own pocketbooks, personal history, their own commitments they raised up an exceptional leader, a Black man with an African name, born in Africa, raised in Pacific Asia, educated in Hawaii and Chicago, graduated from lessons learned in the halls of Harvard and the streets and community centers and Black churches of Chicago. "WE DID IT!!" they shouted, and we in the living room in front of the tv shouted. Our loud yells must have rocked our neighborhood. "We did it!!" And in doing so America elected the most intelligent, most broadly prepared American leader in history who has shown himself to be cool under all pressure, forgiving with goal firmly in mind, well grounded, and a man who is a good father and husband; a man of his words; a man of decisive well thought action. Who could have believed Americans of all kinds could do this? No pundits could. But we always hoped that we could, didn't we Bahati. That's what our generation hoped. "Si se puede!" And we took that justice attitude to our work whatever it might be, raised our kids by it day after day.

When I saw Jackson's tears fall, (and I am not alone because when the screen filled with his worn and beautiful face, we all responded to make that a sacred moment for this particular man who carried our vision of America to the mountain top), I knew he was a man who witnessed so much and it must have all come back, the sacrifice it took to be there at that moment -- from young men like Emmett Till and his brave mother who took the criticisms to display what race hatred did to her beautiful son to Dr. King, Malcolm X and all the martyrs for justice and freedom. Their blood was spilled for the soul of American, not just for their own people, although that would have been big enough. The Reverend Jackson must have thought of all the struggles of his people which included your struggle, Bahati. And he must have thought of his own on behalf of all of us. All that struggle and sacrifice I hope Barack Obama carries every day in his heart because it will be what gives him the strength to be a remarkable president in a nation who has become an Empire by compromising all its truest ideals for the siren's call. Today we are glutted and face Nero's demise unless we make that change.

I don't know how you felt but I felt the solid door slam shut between us and our President, shut with a bang as he was escorted into the inner sanctum Wednesday morning after Election Night. But I will pray for him that the road he walked through his campaign is so solid it cannot just disappear when he enters into the Presidency. And even if it does, I will still pray for him and Michelle Obama and their two daughters. I started praying for him and the Obama family two years ago when people couldn't mention his bid for the presidency without talking about their fears for his life. I would "hon sen" it away and say loudly "don't say that! Don't even think it! Our words are stronger than you know. When you feel that just push it away and PRAY for him." I'm sure people would think, "geeeez. calm down. what's the matter with you?" I know this because they would answer, " all I'm saying is . ." and say it again, and I'd say it louder, "Stop! Just pray for him when you think that," waving away their words as if they were flies around my head. It would be comical if it weren't so serious.

I prayed at the sacred spring this August. The campaign was very ugly by then. I just prayed for Obama and his family hard. I also prayed for our country that we could see what was the truth. That the veils would drop from everyone's eyes and that everyone could see the truth. That everyone's hearts would be touched so they can feel the truth. That our country could have a good leader who would join us to take care of the earth. That our country would have a leader who cared about the elderly and the children like the Winnemem leaders and all the traditionals do.

So when McCain said "that One" I sucked in air and knew that everyone must have seen McCain unmasked, and that it would be abundantly clear that for him, this was an election about RACE and America had the chance to get their mallet and WHACK down Jim Crowe's ugly head peeking out of the hole with their vote right in front of the world. BAM! (I wrote another blog about whack a mole and Mom's historic vote). I couldn't wait for that mail-in ballot because I had my mallet and was ready! Give me that ballot now! If McCain Palin wanted to make this a black white thing, if they wanted to take us back to the old dayz, fine. I thought, "well my prayers are answered, and I guess we'll find out what America is about." I called it "the big bachi." In another blog I wrote that if this country voted for McCain, there would be a signficant blow to this sytem at the core of the empire and well, that's the way she goes.

I thought about my prayers being answered again when the stock market and banks tanked. I didn't pray for disaster but this brought such clarity to the Presidential campaign in every home across America. Could Americans really afford to hang on to the slave legacy of division and fear this time. I know what McCain Palin represented by their "good America" language. It was SEGREGATED America which grew fat on the backs of slave labor. It was us against them. It was rich and poor. Have and have nots. It was a system which depended many live on the brink, and work hard for very little to give a few unimaginable wealth. So now that every American's security was at stake where we could really feel it, now that some have even even lost their homes, pension, jobs, now that disaster shadowed every doorway, whose hand will we grasp to lift us out? What lay in the American heart? Fear the slave master must have felt? Fear that those duped to hold up a slave system felt? Or the determination to take care of one's family and home. Talk about basic.

So today, I am thankful for every Black person whose every day struggle with the evil legacy, for every immigrant who labored hard under horrific conditions and were reviled for their differences which should have been embraced, (like my own family) for every parent and teacher who taught the youth not to fear and hate, for every soldier for justice, every martyr for freedom, and those who struggle for justice even today. I am thankful for all the young people who raised up this exceptional leader with their techno=movement of hope unfettered by Washington politics and pundits, and I am thankful to Jesse Jackson because he is still the Presidential candidate who carried our vision of America to Washington and paved the way for a centrist African American presidential candidate who showed the world -- we need only see the crowd's jubilation from shore to shore -- America was MORE than ready for this historic presidency -- stupid pundits. From the looks of the crowds all over America and the world, we were bursting for the chance. I am thankful to see America for this small moment and know what I saw was a national choice to let go of what McCain Palin stood for, grab on to the firm hand of Barack Obama and LIFT OURSELVES UP "from the mud of ignorance" (to allude to Maya Angelou's poem "Good Morning." written for Clinton's inaugaral but meant for all of us beyond that day).

So now I'm still watching the tv and all the pundits and politicians are saying Obama is being smart and going for the center. The center is white, mostly-- and Indians especially those not on the federally recognized list (what a concept) for sure are not in the center. Brown immigrants are not in the center. Jesse Jackson's and many of our vision for our country is not in the center. But I'll settle for an Obama presidency for the next eight years and just enjoy that America's face to the world is intelligent, dignified, well grounded, ethical and African and the FIRST LADY AND CHILDREN in that big ol' White House, will be an African woman and children growing up into strong, smart women themselves, right before the world's eyes. I'M SO PROUD!!

A news reporter so young she must have been Maki's age when Jesse ran asked Jesse Jackson "do you think Obama won because he didn't make race an issue?" I grumbled under my breath. I could catch what she meant and I know it came from zero research, just quoting some stupid quick remark by a pundit. I remember Jackson's campaign. I lived through it. It was about hope, about change, about all Americans. It was not that different from Obama. Its difference probably was you really knew Jesse got it from the gate, our stories. It was not Jesse Jackson who made race an issue in the Presidential campaign. All he had to do was walk into the room and all the pundits and politicians could see was race. His message, though, was so powerful, the media could not help but report it. In spite of the power of his vision, our generation could not deliver Jesse to the White House. There was no youth movement and technology so accessible to the grassroots. There was still work to be done, step by step by step. To have followed Jesse and lived under the Bush regime, to watch elections be stolen, politicians bilking the American people with No Shame because they believed they were the law . . . well, it hasn't been easy. And it was so long ago, the Jackson campaign which brought together Americans with such hope. Keep hope alive, he had said. It wasn't easy. It wasn't easy to even keep the memory alive, apparently, with such a question coming from this young reporter.

Jesse's answer, as always, was perfect. He shook his head and said it's two different things. You needed the people who came before and who brought the walls down to make the path for the others to walk. As always, Jesse Jackson painted with one stroke. The generations who met that huge wall with the kind of courage which brought it tumbling down, formed that first rocky path for the generations who stumbled along that path with every breath of their hard life, getting up over and over again, wearing the stones smooth enough so that this precious new generation could walk on it as it was their right and become what is their due. Anyway, Jesse's tears brought it together for me, that night, and with his tears in mind, I keep the hope that President Obama will continue to find that path smoothed over by such sacrifice and struggle through the confusion "at the top" and keep walking it with all his great gifts of intelligence, dignity, cool headedness carrying with him many people who loved him and took care of him and infuenced him along the way. I hope his ears keep tuned to the stories which inspired his campaign, centrist they will not be, and be inspired and enboldened to such greatness that all of us will be left breathless by his Presidency as we were the night of America's sweet, sweet victory.
"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

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. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.