A Prayer for Black Futures and Collective Liberation

By Chris Crass (February 20, 2020)

While Elizabeth Warren was destroying Bloomberg from jump at the Democratic Debate, I was doing bedtime with River and August (but I watched what I missed right away and Warren was incredible).

We read Freedom Soup, a gift from their aunt Rahula S. Janowski, and it’s a beautiful picture book about a Haitian Grandmother telling her Granddaughter about Black people fighting back against the ruling class and leading the Haitian Revolution against slavery and colonialism. The Grandmother is preparing Freedom Soup, denied to enslaved people before, as their family and friends come together to celebrate.

“They won!” River said with excitement.

“It’s like the Civil War.” my little four year old August says.

“Yes, in the Civil War, thousands and thousands of Black people fought back against slavery and freed themselves, just like in Haiti. And the revolution in Haiti both scared racist people in power, and inspired people here who had been forced into slavery, to fight back – before and during the Civil War and they were a major part of ending the slave system here.” I shared.

River asked questions about the Civil War and August mentioned how families were divided on different sides of the Civil War – as they’re learning about it in his pre-kindergarten class.

“Malcolm X had his family separated when white supremacists burned down his house.” River said, and his eyes got big as he starts making historical connections. River did a Black History Month project on Malcolm X last year and is learning more about him this year.

“What else do you know about Malcolm X’s life?” I ask and River goes over a handful of moments in his life, while August and I listen.

“And Harriet Tubman fought back against slavery too.” River adds. He continues, “She freed herself and then freed lots of other people from slavery and helped them get to a country where slavery was illegal.”

“They covered themselves in hay”, August jumps in. Which leads to a conversation about the Underground Railroad and how people used hay to cover themselves up riding in wagons and other ways people hid, as well as the Black and white abolitionists who hid people in their wagons, boats, and houses.

River read a kids book about Harriet Tubman – a book I’d been asking him periodically if he’d like to read for a couple of years, and he had said no, but now he was the one who brought up Harriet Tubman, he was the one who wanted to learn more. August and I snuggled and read stories about Frozen.

Before they both went to bed, we talked about how important it is that it’s Black History Month, and that a Black man named Carter G. Woodson, who lived here, in Kentucky, two hours away from Louisville, in Berea, taught history and created Black History Month and that because people fought and organized for justice, we now have Black History Month in our schools. Racism doesn’t want us to know these histories, but people fought back, just like in our book Freedom Soup, that aunt Rahula gave you.

I prayed last night with gratitude for all who have fought back, who have brought leadership to and participated in the vast efforts to make Black History Month a reality and who continue to expand what is possible, expand what kids and adults are learning, and making Black History Month part of movements for Black Futures where there is racial justice and collective liberation. And movements to end the malnourishment of white people’s souls and historical knowledge by white supremacy, so that white people rise up against this death culture too, and can get inspiration from the Haitian Revolution, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman and Black and white abolitionists, inspiration to get free.

Chris Crass on collective liberation
Chris Crass on collective liberation

People Will Die As Long as We Teach Kids There are Always Losers and Winners

By Teka Lark (August 7, 2019)

Your worldview is shaped by your community, family, media, education system, and essentially all the people, things, and actions that you interact with and provides you with information.

Your view on the world starts from the minute you hit earth. Fairytales, TV, the Internet, video games, books, what your education system decides to teach you in school, and what they decide to leave out, it all shapes who you are.

In the United States, when you begin school, and maybe even before you start school, if your family has been in the US two or more generations, you are told that some people must lose.

That idea is drilled into your head. As adults people sneer, “This everyone gets a trophy nonsense, kids needs to understand that someone has to lose! ”

But what is losing? What are we preparing young children for when we tell them that some people must lose?

It seems like we’re saying some people must be homeless, some people must be poor, and some people must die— at least to me.

The United States encourages cruelty and violence, from dodgeball, to our media, to how we share about injustices.

Do we really need a video of someone being shot in the head, to know that you shouldn’t shoot people in the head? Apparently in the US you do, because that is part of the fun of being an “American,” being outraged, yet slightly entertained by the suffering of someone else who you are under the idea that you have more privilege than, at least for now….

In our media what do the troublemakers look like? Who are our villains in fiction?

Good triumphs over evil is the story every kid in the US has been told from birth. This theme even goes in our history books,In the United States the good people won the game.

A game that we all agreed to play, so no one needs to tell anyone sorry for hitting someone in the face with the figurative ball over and over and over again, because this was a game, and if you had tried harder and had better morals– you would have won –and any deviation from the game results in being taken out of the game by capture, fire, gunshots, or lynching.

The reason you can’t get federal gun policies passed in the United States, is because the point of guns in the United States is to protect “everyone” from Black (African) and Brown (Mexican/Indigenous) people. In the North they do it by making rent so high you can’t live next door, in the West they won’t allow you to work, and in the South –they have their guns.

Unless something is done to change the average person in the United States’ worldview–a culture that encourages punitive cruelty, racism, nationalism and sexism–we’re going to continue to have people dying in violent ways.


Cruelty Toward Children Is Part of US History and Culture

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (July 29, 2019)

I think the most insidious and cruel aspect US fundamentalist capitalism and Ayn Randian individualism is the hatred for children, prominently now those thousands of caged children in concentration camps on the border, and in pedophilia infested centers around the country; but also the ongoing lead in the water in Flint, in Oakland, in southern Louisiana, the lack of public child care for working parents, and in Syria and Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine, dead and lost generations of children, refugee children the US refuses to take in, cruelty and hatred of children baked into US socio-political-cultural history, into every institution, the kill the children first in raids on Native communities, the unimaginable horror of enslaved African children separated form parents, no childhood at all, children as property to be bought and sold and groomed for lives of labor.

The US is the only country in the world that has not ratified the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Poverty: The U.S. ranks 30th out of 34 rich countries in terms of child poverty. 21.2% of children in the United States live in poverty. The average for rich countries is 13.3%. Only Chile, Turkey, Mexico and Israel had higher child poverty rates.

The U.S. is the only high-income country not to grant paid maternity leave.

The U.S. is also the one country in the world that sentences offenders under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole, which the Convention opposes.

How do we in the US live with this horror that is the US? We should not be shocked how the USG is treating refugee children at the border, given that it doesn’t treat US citizen children much better.


The Responsibility of the Writer

By Octaviano Merecias (June 26, 2019)

The responsibility of the writer

Is to measure the rising poison into our soul by reminding us of
our numbness of distraction into the apathy of oblivion
as the dissolving heart of our neighbor lingers in our pupils

Is to face evil with a piece of pen and ink as mighty weapons
And biting the metal fences as their saliva screams…
For the freedom of God, queens, and saints facing administrative agony
because when peace is crucified and hope remains caged
only faith loiters into the roads of our past, present… and future.

Is to scribble angels of water and shelter with a stroke of feeling
Is to draw photographs of rising waters and cadavers
to imprint into our memory the legacy of banana republics
and colonial interventions for our gold comforts and fake peace

What is the responsibility of the writer then?
It is to remind us that it is your river, is my rio, is our Rio Grande too;
Is to remind us that his name was Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramirez
and Valeria was 23-months-old.


Direct Action Will Work Against ICE

By Teka Lark (June 24, 2019)

Direct action is a tool that should only be used when it needs to be used. Protesting with a permit is not direct action. Anytime you appeal to authority in a way that puts them in the position of reasonable, you’re not doing direct action.

What is direct action? When you resist with your body or with your wallet. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is an example of direct action.

The most effective direct actions understand that the system is corrupt and unreasonable, not parts of the system, the ENTIRE system and people resist accordingly. i.e. You can’t call the police on ICE.

I have been involved in three direct actions in my life, both involved law enforcement and children. I taught little kids in the fall, but in the summer I taught bigger children. When I went from teaching in the wealthiest schools in LA to some of the most economically oppressed, I realized I needed some kind of code to guide me, one of them was I don’t help the police and I don’t help LA Migra (now ICE), because I was not in education to make things worse.

One time I refused to let the police interrogate my student, even after the police got in my face and told me I was “a ‘stupid’ woman for dealing with ‘thugs’ and to not call them when I found that out who I was dealing with.” I told the police and my principal that they weren’t going to violate my student’s rights and they explained, “We can interview minors without a parent present.” And I said, “The laws of this stolen country don’t guide me and I do not consent to a searching of my classroom.”

I didn’t know whether that was within my rights or not, but I just knew they weren’t questioning my student alone while I was in charge. We already know what happens to teenage Black boys when the cops think they did something. To my surprise the police actually left, they left pissed, but they left, all because I said no, because they so rarely hear no, at least from a Black woman with a college degree, who was supposed to be vetted to be “one of the good ones.”

Another time was when I was teaching poetry at a community day school. The police came in my classroom for a student who was in the bathroom. They said, “Where is James?” And I said, “He didn’t come to school today? Is there a message you have for him?”

The third involved La Migra and a parent and I can’t discuss it.

I do not believe in the prison industrial complex and I will not cooperate or abet in putting someone in the hands of the police.

In my life I have always thought if I could just convince more people to stand up with me, we could really do so much to prevent injustice.

This brings us to current day. The #ICERaids are delayed, but they aren’t stopping, they never will. The point of #ICERaids is to terrorize people into shutting up, so they can be exploited. As Adam Serwer said in regards to Trump, “The cruelty is the point.”

What I really want you to do now is to understand your power. When you are on social media, when you watch the news, what they are trying to do is take away your courage, take away your power, to convince you that YOU CAN NOT make a difference. I know for a fact that is a lie.

If we all understood our power, we could stop injustice. When ICE comes for your neighbor (regardless of who is president), I don’t want you to go on FB Live and record them taking your neighbor away, then edit music into it, and share it with thoughtful words of how angry you are, what you need to do is to STOP them.

We all occupy different spaces in oppression, currently your job is this, if ICE comes for someone in your physical space you need to do whatever you can to stop them from taking away the person in their custody. Get creative, but we need to all mentally prepare ourselves that ICE doesn’t work, because we’re not going to let it work.

We all say:
If it was during Jim Crow, I would have…
If it was during Slavery, I would have…
If it was WW2, I would have been fighting the NAZis like Josephine Baker…

Here is your chance to put on your best lipstick and do something. They can’t arrest everyone, not if we all decide that no one is going anywhere.

Direct action, it will work, if we all agree that is what we’re doing.

So you agree, right?


The Past Is Never Truly Past: We are Still Imprisoning Indigenous People in Deadly Conditions

By Arun Gupta (June 23, 2019)

Take a good look at these faces. What do you see?


They are all indigenous peoples.

527 years after the conquest of the Americas began, we are still penning, brutalizing, kidnapping, and killing indigenous people.
Asylum-seekers are 100% legal, protected by U.S. law as the signatory to international agreements such as the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians in 1949 and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Yet 12,000 children of indigenous descent are in concentration camps in which the government is arguing before judges this week that denying children — children! — access to soap, dental hygiene, blankets, and even sleep are not needed to ensure the safe and sanitary conditions they are required by law to provide.

Deprivation of sleep is one of the cruelest forms of torture, yet children are being forced to sleep on cold cement floors under fluorescent lights on 24/7 with a thin aluminum blanket as their only bedding.
We have essentially recreated the 19th reservations for Native Americans that existed somewhere between concentration camps and death camps.

The conditions in these modern concentration camps are designed through malice and indifference to be hothouses of disease. Just today, officials from Central America who toured the concentration camps were warned they should wear surgical masks because of the prevalence of respiratory diseases.

The past is never truly past.

We need to stop this. It’s not going to happen through memes. It won’t happen through social media or online petitions.


We need to start organizing Caravans of Hope and flood the border cities with thousands of people to record, to witness, to vigil, to protest, to blockade, to force such an outcry that these camps are all shut down and that we give these people, our indigenous brothers and sisters, the compassion, care. and respect they deserve and that is long, long overdue.

Stay tuned for updates on what’s next.


What Could Happen if Trump Tries to Deport Children and Families

By Mark Naison (June 22, 2019)

Do not assume that Donald Trump’s planned deportation raids will produce the results he intends- unless his goal is the bring the nation to the edge of Civil War.

In places where public sentiment is strongly against such policies, I.C.E. Agents may face such massive civil disobedience that they will need US military escorts to carry out their mission, since local police will not cooperate and governors will not send the national guard in support

There are two examples from US History which anticipate such a scenario

The first took place after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. In response, Abolitionists not only hid escaped slaves from government agents and private detectives trying to capture them, they organized large groups of people to surround houses where fugitives had been cornered and dared agents to shoot their way in. As a result, in places where anti slavery sentiment was strong, such as Boston. it became impossible to enforce the new law. This virtual nullification of the Fugitive Slave Law was one of the major reasons behind the rise of secessionist sentiment in the South.

The second took place during the early years of the Great Depression in large sections of the Bronx. As thousands of families were being thrown into the street for non payment of rent, radicals began employing a novel tactic. Every time a family was thrown into the street, they would organize groups of outraged neighbors to put the furniture back. Since it cost money to carry out an eviction, if you did this often enough, it was actually cheaper to keep families in apartments than keep calling in marshals to throw them out. When outraged landlords decided to get the police to accompany marshals, they sometimes faced thousands of people deployed on streets and rooftops to resist the police. So effective we’re these tactics that by 1932, it became almost impossible to carry out evictions in Bronx neighborhood such as Bronx Park East and Crotona Park East that we’re radical strongholds.

It may seem that enforcing a law is a relatively straightforward thing. But enforcing a law that is widely viewed as unfair and unjust can produce such massive resistance as to render it unenforceable.


We Need a March on the Concentration Camps

By Arun Gupta (June 19, 2019)

We need a massive march on the border, tens of thousands who will peacefully, nonviolently disrupt the machinery of ethnic cleansing, to give aid to migrants, to witness and record the concentration camps, the killings, the torture, the ethnic cleansing.

The Left is good at mobilizing in large-scale protest: the anti-globalization movement, the anti-Iraq War protests, immigrant rights, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock. All these mass mobilizations took place in the last couple of decades. All these movements helped shift the national debate.

The Left has the power to shift the national discourse. To make it clear we are not just going to let this happen in our name, we will use our bodies and brains and hearts to stop this and force everyone in this country to pick a side: either you’re with humanity or you’re with fascism.

If Trump wins again, full-blown fascism is a distinct possibility. This is about what path humanity takes. This is a moment where we need to stand up and stop what is happening. Whatever price we pay is nothing compared to that these migrants are already suffering.

There are far more of us than there are of them.


It’s Not Enough to Hold Another World in Our Hearts–We Have to Make It Now

By Lara Messersmith-Glavin (February 7, 2019)

Unless you are deliberately teaching your kids about race and gender and class and ability, unless you are actively countering the narratives they receive from every direction in this culture, then what you are really telling them is that racism, misogyny, heterosexism, class shaming, body shaming, and ableism are ok.

Straight parents—it isn’t enough that you are “cool” with gay people. You need to read books together that have queer characters and talk about all the forms families and loves can take. White parents—it isn’t enough to have a “black friend;” you have to sit with your white children and have hard conversations about privilege and white supremacy, in ways your kids can understand. Cis parents—it isn’t enough for you to be “ok with” my kid using gender neutral pronouns. You have to teach your kids that gender is a spectrum and a construct, that he and she aren’t the only options; when signs or toys say “boys” or “girls,” you need to call it out for the nonsense it is.

My kid comes home crying many days and hates school because they are constantly gender bullied for their hair or their color choices or their toys—by their friends. It’s not like a crew of mean kids rolls around and pulls this shit—it’s their best friends, and it’s daily, and I know for a fact that the parents of those children think they’re raising kids who get the concept of diversity. But they don’t. We need to try harder.

I can’t raise my kid alone. Every day, I release them into this gorgeous, shitty world, and I’m counting on you to do your part to make it better and safer, so all our kids have a chance to be seen and loved and heard and to feel like they have full access to their humanity without carving off all the beautiful parts that don’t fit in the tiny boxes our culture allows. It’s not enough for us to hold another world in our hearts—we’re here now. We have to make it here, now.


Superhero Comics Train Kids in Authoritarian Politics

By Teka Lark (October 16, 2018)

Black Panther was created by Stan Lee. He appropriated the Black Power (Lowndes County Freedom Fighting Organization) movement and drenched it in his US capitalist bullshit. Stan Lee’s politics are crap. He is a Democrat, but he is the neoliberal authoritarian brand of progressive, which is right wing anywhere but here.

He also pushes exceptionalism, you are different, but if you are magical, then it is OK.

Not all of us different people have magic.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. You believe or think what ever you want, and representation is important.

Whoever you are, you want your kid to be a superhero? Go for it! You want to build that kind of lack of imagination in your child? Go for it.

And stop acting confused when boys are violent, even the “good” people in the US are violent. Dress your kid up like any violent superhero that you want, because sometimes you have to kill people, because they are bad. Who is bad? The people who the winners say are bad. Winners never lie. Native Americans sold their land and Africans, hey! we volunteered to come here.

I don’t like superhero comics. I don’t like “this is the bad guy and this is the good guy” comics. I don’t like games where someone MUST lose. I don’t like binaries, this Black and White nonsense. I don’t like it.

We want an anti bullying playground, but the US has a bullying culture. Where someone has to be on the bottom, because if someone else isn’t hurt or sad then how do we know we are winning, right?

The US also has a not so shockingly lack of vision.

This is not about everyone getting a participation trophy, this is about what kind of culture are we fostering, and from where I am sitting we are fostering a rather cruel and petty US and we are training out kids to admire tiny petty authoritarian dictators.

So what do I think about kids dressing up as Black Panther: is it appropriation? do you have to be a certain race? The answer to that is that you are asking the wrong question.


The Club of Patriarchy Begins Early

By Alexander Reid Ross (October 1, 2018)

Rebecca Solnit’s courageous piece is empowering and exciting. What turning over the rock from under which Kavanaugh crawled did was expose the horrible abuse pretty much all women are subjected to in the US from a very young age. It’s societal and systemic oppression in which specific, discrete acts of sexual misconduct and assault play an important, though not necessarily central, role.

Sexual assaults become mechanisms of policing women’s bodies and independence, and the threat of sexual assault is always a force beneath the surface of everyday life.

Yet men are inculcated into the club of patriarchy at a young age and begin to practice mistreating women with the help and support of elders. One is free to make revealing comments about women in private (a la Trump’s “locker room talk”) but to not participate in such behavior is to bring attention to your own vulnerabilities.

We are taught, as men, to be insensitive and unintelligent while priding ourselves on our smarts by putting down women who are disallowed from presenting the truths of the moment. Growing up, I think I knew some young men who attempted to negotiate between being devalued as a person and treating women (and non-straight white males in general) with respect. I don’t know if I ever knew any men who fully repudiated patriarchy and misogyny, though.

However, reducing everything to “bad things we did when we were in high school (and younger)” isn’t enough. We need to continue to recognize how we fail women, as men, in our daily lives, and work to make things better. One of these is recognizing, with the outpouring of revisited trauma, that we need to attune ourselves to how liminal this stuff is and be prepared to talk about things like “triggers” without smirking with contempt for people who suffer.