The Heart of Occupy America

[caption id="attachment_836" align="alignleft" width="432" caption="Riot police take control of the streets as they surround New York's Liberty Square Occupy Wall Street encampment on Nov. 15, 2011. Still from video footage shot by Rebecca Davis and Julia Xanthos, and posted to the NYDailyNews YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/nydailynews"]Riot police take control of the streets as they surround New York's Liberty Square Occupy Wall Street encampment on Nov. 15, 2011. Still from video footage shot by Rebecca Davis and Julia Xanthos, and posted to the NYDailyNews YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/nydailynews[/caption] In the early hours of Tuesday, November 15, New York City police officers attacked and removed Occupy Wall Street Protestors from Liberty Plaza in the city’s financial district, leading to many arrests and the removal of tents, property, and other items. This is Ground Zero for the Occupy Movement sweeping across the United States and other parts of the world. Police have also attacked in Oakland, Denver, and other cities. At the University of California, Berkeley, where students and other Occupy protestors converged against higher ed fee hikes, police beat down people on the steps of the quad that some forty years ago helped sparked the “Free Speech” movement. In the evening of November 14, I took part in an Artists March to Occupy L.A., organized by my friend Susan Tanner and others, going from California Plaza to the steps of City Hall. I spoke about the necessity and vitality of the arts in any movement, and the struggle to bring creativity and imagination to this and other aspects of life. I then read a poem about the power of words in transforming lives. [caption id="attachment_839" align="alignright" width="290" caption="NYPD riot squad surrounds Liberty Square on Nov. 15, 2011. Still from video footage shot by Rebecca Davis and Julia Xanthos."]NYPD riot squad surrounds Liberty Square on Nov. 15, 2011. Still from video footage shot by Rebecca Davis and Julia Xanthos.[/caption] Other friends of mine were there, including Ruben Guevara—known also as Funkahuatl, the Chicano performance art and music icon. Ruben also hosted the rally and sang. John Densmore of the Doors, one of the most big-hearted and generous people anywhere, came with a drum and a strong spirit. Since early October, I’ve been to Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza, to Occupy Oakland the day before their general strike, and briefly went through Occupy Berkeley, Occupy Madison, and even witnessed the Occupy East L.A. College (one of my few schools I actually attended). The movement is growing, but it’s also trying to find its shape. As one activist said, it needs room to breathe. But I also think revolutionaries need to be there with clarity and a deeper scientific basis for understanding capitalism and the vision, strategies, and principles needed to move everything towards a capitalist-free world. We need to be in this for the immediate demands and to address the very real hammering of our livelihoods and homes in the economy—but also for the future of this country, for the long-haul resolution to make this the abundant, cooperative, democratic, and earth-aligned world we are dying to have. I see this also as a massive conversation that more people need to be invited to, including the many estranged members of the 99 percent who have yet to significantly take part like Mexicans and other migrants, other Native peoples of this land, and the growing army of foreclosed and unemployed of this country, particularly among the urban and rural poor and forgotten. [caption id="attachment_842" align="alignleft" width="432" caption="NYPD officers destroy tents and seize property at Occupy Wall Street encampment on Nov. 15, 2011. Still from video footage shot by Rebecca Davis and Julia Xanthos."]NYPD officers destroy tents and seize property at Occupy Wall Street encampment on Nov. 15, 2011. Still from video footage shot by Rebecca Davis and Julia Xanthos.[/caption] Since mid-September, I’ve been holding part of that conversation in places like Salinas, CA, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, East L.A., San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, and three cities in Wisconsin (De Pere, Madison, and Milwaukee). I’ve had from twenty to 500 people show up to my talks in colleges, universities, libraries, bookstores, juvenile halls, community center, and other venues. Members of all communities took part—including inner city blacks and Latinos—to poor whites and the increasing number of so-called middle class people that are having the economic rug pulled from under them. Many students unable to work are entering colleges and universities, but at great debt and often with no guarantee of a job. The economy is busting at the seams. And the beginnings of a political sense of what to do can be seen everywhere I go. Again, this process needs real leaders, real vision, real teachings, and real organization (and I don’t mean those who want to contain, push in other directions, to “agendize” the movement). Part of this effort during my talks involved the formation of a network of grassroots practical and visionary leaders for the revolutionary transformation of our society. You can find out more at http://conferenceofrevolutionaries.tumblr.com/ This historic moment often appears shabby, hard to get a hold of, in many ways all over the place. At Occupy L.A. there are real homeless, the mentally ill, complaints of molestation, and drug use. But there were also larger instances of people bringing services—of treatment, healing, workshops, skilled personnel, and moving collectively to quell any violence. There are developing means to address any fraying that is common in any movement for deep and lasting change. This is America. It’s complicated, diverse, feisty, and even sad at times. But the undertow pull is for a new way of thinking, of relating, of another economy, and of organizing. Let’s keep drawing on that—and our own immense capacities to pull things together—in the direction of the most equitable and free America we all deserve. c/s [ "The Other 99" independent media group is offering live video coverage of events around the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York's Liberty Square; you can watch here - www.ustream.tv/TheOther99 ]
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The Dream That Has Yet To Be

“The increasing unrest in the land and intensifying protests in the streets are a necessary lament for a collective dream that has been lost. Not simply the loss of the ‘American Dream’ of a consumer society and endless economic growth; but, the loss of the real dream, the dream behind the dream, the dream of an America that has not been yet.” This statement is from my friend and storyteller/mythologist Michael Meade about the current Occupy movement across the country. This was part of a Huffington Post piece that Michael did on October 29 called “Looking for the Dream of America.” picOn Monday morning, I was at Occupy Oakland to do an interview with KPFA-FM’s Davy D’s Hard Knock Radio. Standing in front of the tents by city hall at a plaza renamed Oscar Grant Plaza (for the unarmed young man killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transportation police officer nearly two years ago), we discussed the growing occupations of public and private spaces to counter the deepening gap between the wealthy and powerful from the rest of us—who seem to be losing more political power as well as economic means. These two things are linked, and people are rising up in a way we have not seen in forty years to say enough is enough: We need real democracy, real political power and independence, and a real means to live. We need the dream that ties us all together, not just a few. As many of you know, I’ve been going around the country promoting my new book “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.” I’ve had 60 to 800 people come to may talks/readings in bookstores, universities, colleges, high schools, juvenile halls, community gatherings, and more since late September in cities like Salinas, CA; Chicago; New York City; New Jersey; San Diego; Los Angeles; Pasadena; Long Beach; Grand Rapids, MI; San Francisco; and Oakland. Tomorrow I go to Seattle to read at the Northwest African American Museum for Elliott Bay Bookstore at 8 pm. Next week I’m in the Wisconsin cities of De Pere/Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee. On November 12 I’m doing the “Three Louies” presentation with Louie Perez of the East L.A. band Los Lobos and Louie Torres, award-winning journalist and radio personality at the Vincent Price Art Museum, East L.A. College, at 2 pm. And on November 20, I’m doing an encore reading at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural (www.tiachucha.com) for the new book from 5 to 7 pm. In my travels I’ve been to Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza, Occupy L.A. at City Hall, and now Occupy Oakland (with a swing through Occupy Berkeley).  Last Saturday, Trini and I were at Occupy L.A. listening to speakers, sitting in on teach-ins, talking to participants, and taking in the vibes and voices. My talks/readings are coinciding with an exciting time that is challenging the basic premises of this collapsing economy, the frayed political system, and as Micheal Meade says, of what our dream really is in this country. I hope to talk about all this during my presentations. A similar thing happened when my first memoir, “Always Running,” came out eighteen years ago. It was a year after the Los Angeles Rebellion awoke the country and the world to the disparities of urban wealth and poverty, and the rise of street gangs under these new conditions. As people move, as they organize, as they protest, we must also teach, talk, move imaginations and ideas, not just for what is, but for what can be. c/s
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Justice for Scott Olsen

Scott Olsen was an Iraqi War veteran at Occupy Oakland to protest with thousands of people around the country, and many parts of the world, the control of one percent of the most wealthiest and most powerful people against the rest of us. Unfortunately, last Wednesday morning Scott was hit in the head by a police teargas projectile, sustaining a skull fracture and other injuries, forcing him into a coma and the hospital. [caption id="attachment_825" align="alignleft" width="454" caption="Scott Olsen, a former U.S. Marine and veteran of two tours in the Iraq war, is carred away by fellow Occupy Oakland protesters after being shot in the head by a police projectile on the night of October 25, 2011. (Credit: REUTERS/Jay Finneburgh/www.indybay.org) "]Scott Olsen, a former U.S. Marine and veteran of two tours in the Iraq war, is carred away by fellow Occupy Oakland protesters after being shot in the head by a police projectile on the night of October 25, 2011. (Credit: REUTERS/Jay Finneburgh/www.indybay.org) [/caption] Beginning the night before, some 500 police officers attacked a peaceful crowd of 170, leading to the most violent attack against Occupy participants in the country. Soon after at the original Occupy Wall Street protest in Liberty Plaza in New York City, people chanted: “New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York.” The last news I saw was that Scott had awakened in the hospital’s intensive ward. Yet this brazen police act against those opposed to the rule of corporate and financial interests must not go unanswered. These attacks are indicative of what officials are now planning to stop the growing momentum of the Occupy Wall Street movement as it enters its third month. To honor Scott Olsen and other veterans of war who’ve decided to join the nonviolent movement for peace, equity, jobs, homes, and real democracy, I’m presenting here this statement by Bruce Parry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who served in the infantry from 1969 to 1971. He’s been active in the veterans’ movement and the movements for peace and justice since the 1970s. He is a leading member of a recently formed network of revolutionary leaders. For more information, see our website at: www.conferenceofrevolutionaries.tumblr.com
"We are the 99 percent: I believe that this slogan of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Chicago and all the other 'Occupies' represents the fundamental demand of the movement: for democracy. The needs and concerns of the vast majority should outweigh the interests of the tiny minority. I learned in Vietnam that if you are fighting the entire population and believe in democracy, you are on the wrong side. I have devoted the rest of my life to fighting for real democracy, of the kind expressed at Occupy Chicago. I believe that the reason that demands of the movement have not been jelled down to the normal list of progressive demands is that the real demand is to be heard. Then, we will be able to work out how to get health care for all, the homeless off the streets, jobs for everyone, housing, clothing and food for the poor. The concept of democracy runs very deep in the American psyche. Everything the US does is couched in terms of taking democracy to the people. They even refer to capitalism as democracy, rather than what it is. That is because they know that we are a deeply democratic people, in everything but fact. Polls show that the majority of the American people want health care for all, want to feed, clothe and house the homeless, want jobs, want secure lives for them and their families. The reason we do not have those things is that the interests of the 1% are outweighing the interests of the 99% in this country. That is the demand of the 'Occupies.' That is a demand that shows clearly why they have the broad and growing support and the sustainability that characterizes this unique movement. I am fighting for democracy! We are the 99%!"
c/s
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Piri Thomas—R.I.P.

My mentor, friend, and man of the positive flow, el mero mero, Piri Thomas, died this past Monday, October 17, in El Cerrito, CA. I can’t conceive myself as a writer today without having read “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas in the 1960s. His books as well as books by Malcolm X, Julius Lester, Eldridge Cleaver, Claude Brown, James Baldwin, Rodolfo Anaya, Richard Sanchez, Michael Gold, and such opened up the world of literature when I was a troubled teenager—gang member, heroin addict, in and out of jails. These books were mostly from the African American or Jewish urban experience, but also from the few Chicanos and Puerto Ricans of that time. Piri Thomas was one of my favorites. Born in Harlem, New York City, of Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, he was the first major Latino writer and a pioneer in spoken word performance. I finally met Piri around the time my second poetry book, “The Concrete River,” was published by Curbstone Press in 1991. We read together at the old Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley. There was mutual respect, and at one point I had tears in my eyes. Here was the father of my poetry, my pain in verse, my stories, and eventually the model for my memoir, “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” I read with him a few more times in the Bay Area, and once with other great poets in Madison, Wisconsin. Let me share my poem called “Mean Streets” that appeared in “The Concrete River,” dedicated to Piri. Your mean streets visited my mean streets one hollow summer day in the ‘60s and together we played ball, cracking sounds on the asphalt echoing from Los to Harlem And every time I shot dope into a vein, you felt the euphoria in your prose and I saw me in you and I heard you yell and it was my voice tearing open the night sky. Oh, so many times I crumpled the pages of your life to my face, and cried: Savior, Savior, hold my hand! And your seven long times was a long night for me, but I knew you, compadre, you, steady companion down the alleyways, barrio brother, father, partner… teacher. I heard your screams and entered through the gateway of your nightmare into the gateway of my dreams. I send love and condolences to his wife and fellow writer, Suzie Dod Thomas, as well as his children and grandchildren. I understand the family requests no flower or gifts. Written sentiments can be sent to Cheverote@aol.com. Tax deductible donations, payable to Social Justice earmarked for the Piri Thomas Fund, may be made in his name and sent to: Piri Thomas Memorial Fund, c/o Social Justice/Global Options, PO Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. I will miss you dearly, Piri. Your legacy is the thousands of poets who now dance with flow, social justice, stories, and never giving up on one’s voice. Your legacy includes my meager works, my children in pulp and cloth. My stumbling words toward redemption, restoration, and inner peace. Que descanses en paz, compay. c/s
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Between the Big Dream and Program

[caption id="attachment_813" align="alignleft" width="336" caption=""Occupy Together" - Poster by Raina Dayne"]Occupy Together - Poster by Raina Dayne[/caption] There were at least a thousand people at Liberty Park on the corner of Broadway and Liberty in New York City, now known as the Occupy Wall Street protests. There were drums, songs, voices, hand-held signs, lots of police, but mostly the energy of people with a big dream. Yes, the big dream of a world latent with possibilities, of true justice, food for everyone, homes, creative flowering, and more. It was a dream of a cooperative, abundant, sustainable, and free world. I was there on the evening of Tuesday, October 4, to join in with thousands of others around the country pushing against capitalism, the corporations, the financiers, and the politicians who have helped rob, push out, and drive millions into poverty and despair. When I got near the park, there was a stage where city workers made speeches calling on New York City to meet its obligations of collective bargaining, jobs, and workers’ benefits. Afterwards, hundreds of those in attendance—including myself—marched around city hall and then to Liberty Park (the official name is Zuccotti Park, but people have been calling it Liberty from the original name of the park) to join the mostly young, many homeless and unemployed, dog-tired refugees of the economy’s continual collapse. Food filled a table—I grabbed an apple and nobody asked for money (I donated anyway). In one corner an orator spoke without microphone or megaphone. The audience repeated back what he said in phrases so others could hear. Tarps, blankets, pillows, and more filled the park’s center (on September 20 tents were forbidden by the NY police department, leading to several arrests). Donations included a pile of blankets and pillows. The night was getting nippy as the autumn cold fell on all of us. I took photos, talked to participants, signed petitions, met new friends. Throngs of police followed the earlier march, but there was no trouble, although a couple of days before, police arrested 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge in one of the largest mass arrests. And the day after I left, video of officers hitting protestors with batons made the Internet. Yet other municipal employees have joined the occupation and some police realize they aren’t just dealing with isolated groups of disconnected youths. I overheard one African American police officer say, “this [protest] is good—exactly what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have done.” I arrived to New York City on Monday to speak at Gregorio Luperon High School in Washington Heights to Dominican and other Latino students at one of the most progressive and socially minded schools in the country. Around 200 students were there to hear me speak and answer questions. My thanks to Juan Villar, Luperon’s principal and one of its founders, for being a fantastic host—I could tell the students respected and admired Juan. The next day, I traveled to Kean University in New Jersey to address more than 500 students, faculty, administrators, teachers in the National Writing Center, and community. What a great audience I had—they were engaged and their questions were right on. At one point I was asked about the importance of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have been going on for three weeks and have now spread around the country. I said we needed to support the Big Dream. This wasn’t about money. It was about the abundance in proper relationships, in a regenerative earth, in the new technology. In our imaginations and capacities. The Big Dream is important since this often gets lost in the various agendas, programs, points, and pieces of the pie that many organizations, trade unions, and individuals bring to the table. Nothing wrong with collective bargaining rights, of course, or better schools or stopping foreclosures—we need all this. We need to fight for the immediate demands as well as the practical applications of real democracy. Still any and all of these demands must be enveloped by the Big Dream: No hunger, no homeless, no poverty, no exploitation, and no oppression. I talked to young people who re-iterated they weren’t there for piecemeal demands or practical agendas. The whole enchilada reeks, they insisted. The capitalism system has to go. A new world is possible. “Why do we need to change a system that no longer works,” a young woman named Patty told me. I also talked to trade unionists, teachers, city workers, and others who took vitally important programmatic issues to the protestors. The financial meltdown was impacting them on a basic survival level. They wanted relief and the power to live as decently as they could. I could see how we need the nexus between these two things—the practical demands and a powerful vision of a just, equal, and free reality for all. That’s why I was at Wall Street—to add my feet, my voice, my ideas to this amazing development. Interestingly, the protests were exploding as I took part in the inaugural meeting of the National Conference of Revolutionary Leaders, held in the Humboldt Park community of Chicago on October 1. Around fifty people participated, including leaders in labor, youth empowerment, immigrant rights, prisoner rights, education—from the Puerto Rican, Mexican, African American, and Filipino communities as well as white working class. This was a first step in advancing an ongoing and mature body of practical leaders also linked by big ideas, big dreams, and big plans to bring working class political unity and independence during these particularly trying times. This gathering could not have happened at a better time. The Wall Street protests and the network are interlinked. While the people at Liberty Park spoke against hierarchies and of a horizontal way of running things, I also recognize that we need to have a vertical aspect dependent on and conditioned by this horizontal. The proper balance/energy of two opposite forces is what makes movement. At the Chicago conference, we established a national organizing committee, a steering committee, and agreed on four basic objectives (for more, go to the website). We also set up outreach, communications, education, structure, and fundraising committees. And we made plans for regional meetings and conferences. This network is an important way to inculcate and expand vision, direction, strategies, education, and technical assistance to every battle against capitalism’s now decaying system of profits, private property, and power. Today when I returned to Los Angeles, I met with members of my community who took part on Saturday of Occupy Wall Street protests next to L.A.’s City Hall. The sentiment at this meeting was that the protest organizers still did not know how to incorporate people of color, the indigenous communities, women, the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community, and those of the “99 percent” who work for minimum wage or below, who have two or three jobs to survive, or the truly unemployed. An indigenous-type talking circle took place on Saturday at L.A.’s protest when some participants felt their voices couldn’t get heard otherwise (a bandana was used as a talking stick by anyone who wanted to express themselves). I understand—there is more work to be done, which is always the case in any national mobilization. More voices, more ideas, more ways to organize and promote, need to be invited. This is all tied to how we continually put together practical needs, diverse communities and organizational forms, with the Big Dream. * I was also fortunate to launch in Chicago my new memoir, the sequel to “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” The book is entitled “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing” (Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster). It’s now available through amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores, among other sources. In the L.A. area, you can get this book at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore (www.tiachucha.com) and other bookstores. My reading with African American poet, publisher and activist Haki Madhubuti on September 28 at Barbara’s Bookstore near the University of Illinois, Chicago, was standing room only. Professor Madhubuti is one of my mentors and models—it was a privilege to share the podium with him. I also spoke at colleges, a university law clinic, with gang intervention groups, community organizations, public schools, and at house meetings in Chicago. I did a few media interviews, including a brief spot on WGN-TV (here’s the link). And as people can imagine, I spent a lot of time with my oldest son Ramiro, who was released from prison last summer after serving a total of fifteen years for various convictions since the age of 17. He’s doing well, helping turn young people away from gangs and prison into activism and a wholesome life. And I visited one day with my 16-year-old granddaughter Amanda May. What a wonderful young lady she’s turned out to be. My upcoming travels will take me throughout Los Angeles as well as San Diego, Long Beach, Pasadena, Seattle, the Bay Area, Northern California, Michigan, and Wisconsin through mid-November. I’ll do more events, readings, and book signings after the start of 2012. Please go to my events page on my website for updated venues of where I’ll be reading, talking, or signing books. I’ll be pushing my new book, but also the aims of this new network of leaders, the spirit and lessons from the Occupy Wall Street protests, and others to come, as I move across this vast land. c/s
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Troy Davis - Death is not Justice

[caption id="attachment_808" align="alignleft" width="299" caption="Troy Davis artwork courtesy of Amnesty International"]Troy Davis artwork courtesy of Amnesty International[/caption] The execution of Troy Davis this past week was a crime against humanity. Enough evidence existed to show that Davis was innocent of a crime committed more than twenty years ago. But the state of Georgia killed him anyway. Here is a statement I found on the Internet from Mr. Davis before his death: "I want to thank all of you for your efforts and dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness, in the past year I have experienced such emotion, joy, sadness and never ending faith. It is because of all of you that I am alive today, as I look at my sister Martina I am marveled by the love she has for me and of course I worry about her and her health, but as she tells me she is the eldest and she will not back down from this fight to save my life and prove to the world that I am innocent of this terrible crime. As I look at my mail from across the globe, from places I have never ever dreamed I would know about and people speaking languages and expressing cultures and religions I could only hope to one day see first hand. I am humbled by the emotion that fills my heart with overwhelming, overflowing Joy. I can't even explain the insurgence of emotion I feel when I try to express the strength I draw from you all, it compounds my faith and it shows me yet again that this is not a case about the death penalty, this is not a case about Troy Davis, this is a case about Justice and the Human Spirit to see Justice prevail." We must stop the killings in our name. No more death penalty. No more life without the possibility of parole (the other "death penalty"). Everyone deserves a fighting chance to live, to redeem themselves, to give back to our communities and society. Death is a "final" solution. We can’t kill crime by killing the criminals, especially in a criminal justice system that has too many innocents convicted of crimes. Last week I also had the pleasure of speaking in Salinas, an area in the migrant farm country of the central coast of California that has been known to have more gang murders per capita than other areas of the state. What a strong community! I had two community talks, one at Hartnell Community College, and one at Sherwood Hall. The first one had around 300 students, community members, parents, teachers, and more. I spoke and moderated a panel that included the mayor of Salinas, the police chief, teachers, and community leaders. Everyone united around the need to bring real peace, resources, and a new vibrant community spirit to Salinas. The event at Sherwood Hall ended with around 500 people. The Poetic Justice Project, a theater group of formerly incarcerated actors and artists, opened up to rousing applause. I also showed a trailer for a new film that Tia Chucha’s is raising money for on the theme of how the arts transforms communities for the Create/Cultivate fund of the L.A. County Arts Commission (please go to www.tiachucha.com to see the video and donate to this great project). Middle and high school students from some of Salinas’s poorest schools attended. I had one talk with high school students, which was filmed by two TV crews. I must say, the coming together of people from the Rotary Club, to Boys & Girls clubs, to local schools, to recovery and parolee groups, was wonderful. The Salinas mayor, Dennis Donahue, was gracious and actively involved. I also have to thank the great work of Colleen Bailey, executive director of the National Steinbeck Center, who made all this possible. And I thank my friend Miguel Lopez who made sure the high school students were able to attend and speak with me. Their voices, ideas, and concerns were right on. As Colleen Bailey wrote me, "the gang problem is not a hopeless problem. Transformation is possible." I’m presently in Chicago preparing to speak in a number of schools, community gatherings, at the BUILD gang intervention program, at the large juvenile detention center, at Northwestern University Law School, and at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Barbara’s Bookstore on Wednesday, September 28 for the Guild Complex. This will be a joint reading and talk with my friend and mentor, Haki Madhubuti, founder of Third World Press and one of this country’s leading African American poets and social justice leaders. I will also be promoting my new book, out now, the sequel to my bestselling memoir, "Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A." The new memoir is entitled "It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing" (Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster). It’s available at bookstores anywhere, Amazon.com, and, of course, at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. The memoir is also available as an e-book and will eventually be produced as a companion audio book with "Always Running" by Dreamscape Audio Books. You can check out my events page on my website for talks, readings, and book signings I’ll be doing for the new book throughout the country. c/s
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How the Arts Transform Communities

Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore received a Create/Cultivate grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission to do a film and book project with the theme of how the arts transform communities. It will focus on twenty years of arts development in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, where Tia Chucha's has been located for the past ten years. This film and book will also have national significance since we need arts training as well as cultural spaces, independent bookstores, theaters, and public art projects more than ever in this country, particularly in poor and neglected areas. The book editors are Denise Sandoval, a writer and professor at California State University, Northridge, and Luis Rodriguez, a writer and cofounder of Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural. The film is being made by film maker John Cantu. The project is being coordinated by musician/performance artist Ruben "Funkahuatl" Guevara. We need to raise funds to double this grant and to get this film and book created and published by mid-2012. Please consider donating by going to www.tiachucha.com and hitting the donation button on the top right of the home page. Donors who give over certain amounts will be listed as investors in the book and film. Please enjoy the following trailer so you can grasp the amazing ideas and work we are trying to promote and cultivate.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/B5uKTbH5IV0

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Men’s Tears

Even though I’ve acted out the tough guy—in gangs, in boxing, in labor as a steelworker, carpenter, foundry worker, in construction—I am a sensitive person. I carry a lot of feminine energy—in my writing, creativity, learning interests, and community work. I also have a strong masculine energy, in particular the attention I pay to details, getting things done, in moving projects. Together these energies, if properly aligned, make for a visionary and productive person. However, growing up, as a small tyke, I didn’t understand any of this. I recall once playing with dolls with a girl my age who lived a few doors from our house. When I was found out, I never heard the end of it. The implication was that I was gay. That came up more than a few times. Without thinking, I tried to compensate against this by being a bully, a fighter, and never again acting out my active imaginative mind with others. Later in juvenile hall, in jail, or the streets, I would attack any male who looked at me the “wrong” way. Once I punched a dude at an after-hours club thinking he had given me such a look—I recall him skimming along the dance floor from the force of the punch. While I know I am not gay, I suffered for a brief time the stigma… for being sensitive and artistically inclined. Now, as a mature thinker, healer, and revolutionary, I understand all this. I’m now free to be the poet, fiction writer, performer, and imaginative person I was meant to be. I don’t hold back, but I know far too many males who do. Even to show tears, the particularly important man tears, is a “no-no” in our culture. That makes for some highly explosive, dangerous, and raging men who can’t get to the deep source of their rage since it is often linked to a deep grief. Everyone has feminine and masculine energies in all aspects of their lives. Sometimes the feminine is stronger, other times it’s the masculine. The feminine may be stronger in the areas of the mental, artistic, or work… or other fields of interest. Maybe it’s the masculine. In sexuality, when a man has more feminine (which has many manifestations, not just so-called effeminate ones) he is most likely Gay. Again, my feminine sides sprouted in other areas of my life, not in my sexuality. That’s just the way the propensities and qualities I possessed took shape. This doesn’t make me any better or worse than others. In Mexika indigenous circles, we say “Ometeotl” to represent the Creator spirit. But it’s not really a diety of some sort. It actually means “Two Energy” or “Two Spirit” or “Female/Male” vibrations. It’s to honor the supreme generating principle of the universe, what we call feminine and masculine energies. “Two Spirit” is a term some Native Americans use to designate a Gay person. It’s in recognition that this is a natural part of all of us. That every community, every family, in all times, have had people with different degrees or levels of feminine or masculine energies that in sexual matters can take the form of Gay or Lesbian. It’s natural, part of all humanity, and vital to all life. I write about this now because this issue came up strong during the annual men’s conference at the Woodland Camp in Mendocino, CA, part of the majestic redwood forest. My two youngest sons, Ruben, 23, and Luis, 17, took part. At one point, I talked about my struggles as a child with being put down for having a sensitive nature—and the way I responded by raging and fighting. I felt this issue was an honest thing to speak about, finally, so my sons know that whatever sensitivities they may have—again in whatever areas of their life—they should understand this is what makes them who they are. The ongoing political and rising physical attacks against Gay people in the U.S. and other parts of the world are not natural—they are criminal and obscene. Anti-Gay sentiments, laws, and such are man-made, a social construct, used to scapegoat and detach us from our own human impulses. It’s time we recognized all these attacks for what they are. I’ve been taking part as a teacher and poet in the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation’s men’s conferences, youth events, mentoring workshops, male-female summits, and more for seventeen years. Created by mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade, Mosaic helps gather the broken pieces of community so they can become authentic and whole. My oldest son Ramiro, my wife Trini, and daughter Andrea have also participated in one or more of these kinds of events over the past seventeen years. Mosaic’s events—including “voices of youth, voices of community,” “the poetics of peace,” and their “walking with” projects with incarcerated youth—have become one of the most important ways I’ve learned to recover, to heal, mostly from addictions (drugs and alcohol) as well as from deep-seated rage. You can find out more about their books, CDs, DVDs, their workshops, their conferences, and more at www.mosaicvoices.org. I thank all the man, young and old, of all ethnicities, sexualities, social classes, and professions for helping hold some amazing stories, even if traumatic, and for allowing me space to read poems and teach aspects of a poetic life (and what it means to be a man today). I particularly have to thank Ruben and Luis, who witnessed their dad’s mad moments, poetic moments, lost moments, and even tearful moments for a whole week. Knowing our true natures, and knowing how this plays out in our manhood, is key for the respectful, meaningful, and loving relationships we need with women and other lovers, family, and friends. These become important as men and women learn to find their actual callings, passions, and ultimately their real paths in life. Any change in our social compact, social relationships, in any new economy, against the exploitative and abusive, should be charged with such a vision. c/s
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Ceremony and a New World

Members of my family (my wife Trini, two brother-in-laws, a sister-in-law, and two nephews) last weekend traveled to the Navajo Reservation, to Lukachukai next to the Chuska Mountains to be precise. We were there for four days. We setup a 22-foot Teepee that took us most of one Saturday to do—with the strength of my teenaged nephews to help us old men. Food was also being prepared and other aspects of ceremony. Our teachers/elders, Anthony Lee and his wife Delores, and Floyd Begay, patiently helped us through the Teepee building process, and later that night for an all-night prayer meeting with medicine songs, prayers, and good words. We also had a male sweat bath the next day with Navajos from the local community. I prayed for my friends and family who are ill, in pain, in transition, who’ve passed on or just had babies. I also prayed for the health and protection of my family, including my wife Trini, my daughter Andrea, my sons Ruben and Luis, and my four wonderful grandchildren. And I gave thanks for blessings like my son Ramiro being released from prison last year after a total of fifteen years and three prison terms. Presently he’s doing well with work, community organizing, and housing in a transitional parolee program. We also came to give thanks for the blessings we received from Anthony and Delores when five of us from the L.A. went to Peru for ceremonies in 2006. One of those who went—my best friend at the time, Tony Hernandez, has since passed on, so we also sent prayers to our dear friend. Anthony and Delores more than ten years ago adopted Trini as a daughter, and thereby adopted the whole family. Trini has since emerged as a woman healer in the San Fernando Sweat Lodge Circle, where Trini and I, and two others, serve as water pourers and guides.  We’ve had battered women, youth in recovery, gang members, former drug addicts and alcoholics, ex-prisoners, and regular folk take part in sweat ceremonies there—including from organizations like Homeboy Industries, Homies Unidos, Youth Mentoring Connection, Shade Tree Mentoring, Street Poets, Young Warriors, Dharma Punks, and more. Anthony also blessed Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore when it first opened its doors in late 2001 (and when were then a café/bookstore). Driving back and forth in a rented minivan, the seven of us from the Northeast San Fernando Valley also visited the Grand Canyon and a nice lake on the rez called Lake Tsaile. We made it home safely, and for this I give thanks. We also arrived as riots stormed through parts of London and other English cities. And the stock market fell to the lowest levels since the crash of 2008. We were in peace and prayer, but as always we had to enter the madness and stress of the real world. However, it’s evident to me that the riots and the stock markets—linked by many threads—were largely human-made due to the insidious nature of capitalism and the continual drive for the enrichment of a few at the expense of the working class, the poor, those who are most vulnerable and powerless. These crises are neither “mystical” nor inevitable. They are within our power to control, but we have to work with new ideas, new relationships, and begin to see the real source of our economic and political paralysis—the very system of capitalist relations based on profit. [caption id="attachment_791" align="alignleft" width="389" caption="Riot police in Tottenham, London, August 7, 2011. Photo Vault9 newswire."]Riot police in Tottenham, London, August 7, 2011. Photo Vault9 newswire.[/caption] Take the riots in London in the mostly Afro-Caribbean communities. I was in London last summer and spoke in several of these communities, including in one youth prison in southern England with a disproportionate number of black youth were incarcerated. Street gangs were impacting the crime and violence levels at the time. But people also had very little as far as resources, youth centers, adequate schools, or jobs. In places like industrial Manchester, where I also spoke, deindustrialization (which is the main basis for social unrest and gangs in the United States today due to robotics and outsourcing of work to cheaper labor markets) has taken a massive toll. I knew things were going to explode in England—I just didn’t know how or when. I understand that much of the unrest was directed against local businesses, neighbors, and each other. I saw one video of a black Londoner demanding the clothes off the back of a white neighbor. Not only were police targeted by rioting youths but neighbor’s cars and homes. I don’t condone this violence or criminality, but let’s put this in perspective. The massive transfer of wealth in the past years from urban centers, from the poorest working class communities as well as former union jobs to non-union cheap labor jobs, and the great rip offs in mortgages and home prices, has to be factored in. In the U.S. like in England (and much of Europe), financial institutions have robbed us (mostly legally and officially) over and over again with schemes and scams that ended up destroying the home equities, retiree funds, and bank accounts of millions. Yet none of those responsible has seen the inside of a jail cell, except for some extreme cases like B. Madoff. Police killing unarmed people—in Fullerton, CA the recent police killing of a suspected mentally ill white man led to protests and demands for the ouster of the police chief—has risen again. These incidents generally serve as a catalyst for rage that has been shimmering for years beneath the rubble of economic distress. [caption id="attachment_794" align="alignright" width="432" caption="Tottenham youth confront the Riot Squad, August 7, 2011. Photo Vault9 newswire."]Tottenham youth confront the Riot Squad, August 7, 2011. Photo Vault9 newswire.[/caption] Criminality and violence are only symptoms of such distress—as is the growing number of people who are killing their kids and family members (and often themselves) as more income is being pushed out of their lives. Again, nobody can condone these actions, but let’s get to the root of the problems, and not just keep hacking at the branches. Besides, when I was in London last year, I also saw conscious and peaceful efforts being organized. While the media focuses on the most deadly and criminal aspects of any unrest, there are also people walking the streets, holding meetings, strategizing, and planning for the long haul. Many of them will eventually help stop the violence. Remember this also happened after the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising and other urban unrests over the past decades. From every fire also rise the Phoenixes of reason, new tactics, new organizational forms. This is also my hope for England. The British government’s response, however, undermines any real solutions. Already the conservative government is calling for more repression and the use of anti-gang policies that have been used in U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York (such as gang injunctions, draconian drug laws, gang enhancements, deportations, and more). Unfortunately, I’ve studied the outcomes of such policies and in general they’ve only served to create a massive prison industry as well as squeeze poor communities of its vital members. These policies have also spread violent U.S. street gangs across the nation and countries like Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Cambodia, Armenia, and other places. Again, repression in any form only addresses the symptoms, not the root causes or motive forces behind the unrest. We’ve had answers. I even gave the Home Office in London (the equivalent of Homeland Security in the U.S.) copies of a Community-Based Gang Intervention Model that includes wrap-around services, treatment, jobs, training, and community empowerment. More than forty gang intervention workers, peace advocates, researchers, and others helped create this model over a two-year period. The City of Los Angeles even adopted it in early 2008. And I’ve taken this model to cities throughout the U.S. but also to Mexico, London, Central America, and Argentina. We’ve got answers. The poor and working class in London have answers. We can’t keep going to the capitalists, their political cronies in government, or the same-old tired repressive machinery (prisons are perfect to consolidate and strengthen gangs—look at what happened in California over the past forty years). It’s time to dream big… and act big. It’s time for answers larger than all of us, yet within the grasp of each of us. If I learned anything from the ceremonies and teachings in the Navajo rez and other indigenous communities, it’s that we have to now aim and organize for the healthy, whole, and full development of everyone to guarantee the well being of anyone. c/s [Visit www.vault9.net/newswire for more photos of the London riots]
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R.I.P.: Gilbert “Magu” Lujan and George Ramos

Two important leaders in the Chicano community passed away this past weekend: George Ramos, a Pulitzer-prize winning writer and editor, including for the Los Angeles Times, and renowned artist and movement pioneer Gilbert “Magu” Lujan. George was a guide to many young Chicano journalists, including yours truly. In 1980—I can’t believe it’s now more than 30 years later—I began my journalism career working for the Eastside Sun weekly newspapers in Boyle Heights/East L.A., then as a participant of the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at the University of California, Berkeley. That fall I became a daily newspaper reporter at the San Bernardino Sun, which I did for two years. In those early years, I also did pieces for California Public Radio and KPFK-FM as well as freelance articles for the LA Weekly, The Nation, The Catholic Reporter, and others. George was helping mentor many of us through the mostly white newsrooms of the country. Others who assisted me at the time included Felix Guttierrez, Frank Del Olmo, Frank Sotomayor, Luis R. Torres, and Steve Montiel. I owe them all a debt of gratitude. George passed on this past Saturday. He was 63. Gilbert “Magu” Lujan was a pioneer and guiding light for Chicano artists since the 1960s. His pieces have graced museums, subway stations, and community corners. He was part of “Los Four” Chicano artist collective. I recall visiting his Pomona studios, “Magulandia,” around the time I returned to the L.A. area from Chicago in early 2000s. He was respectful of my work and I was aware and inspired by his work. After my wife Trini and I helped create Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, “Magu” was one of the artists we featured in our art gallery. In fact, his name was mentioned (we already knew he had cancer) this past Sunday during one of Tia Chucha’s art auction fundraisers in Highland Park—many Chicano artists were featured and we talked about how important “Magu” was for everyone in the movement and the arts Gilbert, who was 70, joined the ancestors on Sunday. Que en paz descansen. c/s
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