I lost a grandson to fentanyl--How will we stop fentanyl from taking more lives?
First published in the Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2022
My grandson Joshua died from fentanyl this past November. This beautiful and vibrant young man was 22 years old. He was part of my large, blended family — white, Black and Mexican — in northern Illinois. Joshua was technically not my blood grandson. He was the half-brother of my blood granddaughter Ana, daughter of my oldest son, Ramiro. Joshua had two other brothers, both amazing young men, one in the Army. Since they were babies, all three brothers called me “Grandpa Louie” like Ana did. The boys’ father was Ramiro’s best friend and a former Chicago gang youth whom I helped — although he did 90% of the work — leave behind the vice grips of street life and jails. I practically adopted him, and together we all worked hard to get out of worsening violence, drugs and crime. His sons with Ana’s mom, and son with another woman, are my grandkids, no matter what.
I loved Joshua. He deserved a better world. Yes, he was troubled, like many of the struggling young people in this part of Illinois who have been affected as jobs left and drugs rushed in. Our family protected Ana and her brothers as best we could from the inner-city world their fathers grew up in — my son Ramiro ended up in prison, including for a 13-and-a-half-year stretch. But drugs like crystal meth and fentanyl know no boundaries. Many well-raised and good people get snarled in their ever-expanding web. Ana, who's 28, is currently incarcerated for drug-related charges. Government data show that in 2021, nearly 108,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdose — more than 71,000 from synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl.
Chicago, not far from where Joshua lived, is my second home. I lived there for 15 years. My two youngest sons were born there. I have a daughter and two grandchildren still in the city, and Ana has two daughters (my great-grandchildren) who live in northern Illinois. There’s another granddaughter and four other great-grandchildren in the middle of the state. Now I’m in the San Fernando Valley, where I’ve been for 22 years. But the helplessness families often feel when they lose a loved one to drugs or violence is much the same, regardless of where you are.
No matter how many laws are enforced, how many prison sentences or police officers are deployed — often with military gear and equipment— drug and gun violence continue unabated. When Joshua died, we were remembering the gun murder a year before of the 15-year-old son of my daughter’s high school friend who we also helped when she was a teenager. Her son was killed by gang youth — and he was neither in a gang or in deep trouble. When I went to Illinois recently for Joshua’s funeral, we did Indigenous prayers and songs for the parents who lost sons within a year of each other (I have Indigenous roots from Mexico).
We must turn our sense of helplessness into healing and then action. Politicians like to spout “tough on crime” policies, which for the last 40 years have been given full rein. They’ve failed. Instead, let’s try caring and community strengthening. Let’s try faster and more comprehensive drug treatment, full mental health services and healing arts practices, which have shaped my community work in the Valley. I’ve advocated for these approaches when I worked with Chicano gang youth in Los Angeles during the 1970s and early 1980s; with Bloods and Crips as well as Chicago youth both in and out of gangs in the 1990s; with young people in Mexico, Central America, South America, England and Italy — and when I returned to the Los Angeles area in 2000.
In the largely working-class Latino and Black community of the northeast San Fernando Valley, my wife, Trini, and I helped create Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore, which also offers a program called Trauma to Transformation that sends artists, poets and theater workers to prisons, juvenile lockups and parolee housing. I know from experience that these mentoring and guidance programs help people. Unfortunately, our leaders have not shown the political will to provide proper funding and infrastructure to reach every community in need. I appeal, then, for all of us to work together so our children, regardless of race or income, can be given a chance to thrive, not just struggle to survive. No more helplessness. These are human-made problems that we have the creative capacity to solve. Bring the most impacted people to the fore of efforts to stop violence and destructive drug use — we can make the difference.
For all the Joshuas of the world, let us now become embracing and proactive. As South L.A. community leaders declared when brokering a historic gang peace treaty just before the 1992 L.A. uprising, give us the tools — the “hammers and the nails,” if you will — and we will rebuild our communities.
The world is churning. Madness everywhere. Mostly in the halls of power and greed. Look at Putin’s war against Ukraine. Trump’s treason and lies. Biden’s ineptness. But also, the insanity from among those you “wouldn’t” imagine: The massacres at Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas—and many in-between, before, and since. Look at the January 6th white nationalist insurrection. See how the US Supreme Court helped criminalize pregnant women by taking the power of choice from them. This on top of other setbacks to freedom and equity by policy makers at all levels. Look at what we do with the homeless—who are unhoused from forces out of their hands, now criminalized for being in the street. The war against Black, Brown, Asian, Queer, Disabled, Trans, and Gender Non-conforming people. The banning of books. Most of us can’t get the healthcare we need, including war veterans: There is money for war, but not to take care of those who fight in them?
As society detaches and fractures, so do individuals. Still, I know there are antidotes. There are still ways to go for wholeness and sanity. There’s also a churning of the milk of life. For Indigenous people it’s to follow the original instructions on how to overcome calamities. Even those caused by conquests, colonization, and unbridled capitalist development. The healing is in the mythic imaginations that have guided us since time immemorial. We still have the ancestral knowledge to live respectfully and meaningfully with nature, our own natures, the nature of relationships, and of the divine. On how to bring the sacred to the profane.
With all that’s happened, we must elevate the struggle to bring more truth, beauty, and decency to the world. Despite all my limitations and missteps, this is a charge I’ve taken seriously most of my life.
My campaign for California Governor
On July 15, California’s Secretary of State provided the final results of the June 7 California primary for governor. As you all know, I ran for governor among 26 candidates, the only one endorsed by the Green, Peace & Freedom, and Justice parties—an historical first. I garnered 124,672 votes, becoming 7th out of all candidates. This is significant in campaigns where big money rules. I hardly had any funds, but we were able to achieve much in the largest state in the union and the 5th largest economy in the world, one greater than that of the United Kingdom.
And I am not done yet.
I will continue to speak, write, and organize around the issues of my campaign—to end poverty, mass incarceration, deadly police practices, environmental disasters, inadequate healthcare and schools, historical and ongoing social injustices, as well as to end the contentious environment against organized labor. I will continue to fight for the full power and dignity of the poor and working class. As my campaign stated, I imagine a new California for shared well-being—and ways on how to build it.
I still take part and support the National Poor Peoples Campaign—A National Call for Moral Revival. Please go to their website, donate, and join: https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org
In addition, the Justice Party is now the Justice Movement. I’m on the Steering Board and on the Social Justice Committee. We need members, donations, and your ideas. Go to https://www.justiceparty.us to find out more. We are looking for major funding sources as well as leaders interested in building, locally and nationally. This is an opportunity to participate in a powerful movement for true and lasting justice in our economy, environment, and society.
I also recommend if anyone is interested in the Green or Peace & Freedom parties, please go to their websites: https://www.cagreens.org and https://www.peaceandfreedom.us. We must continue to build viable and credible alternatives to the corporate-run two-party system.
In addition, I suggest you go to Michael Meade’s Mosaic Voices website. I’ve worked with Michael for close to 30 years, including as a teacher at his Mosaic Men’s Conferences in the Mendocino Forests and other locations. He’s a gifted mythologist who touches upon the key issues of rage, sorrow, and loss through re-imagined rituals, storytelling, and teachings from around the world. You can buy his books and CDs, and join his workshops and webinars at https://www.mosaicvoices.org.
Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore is growing, and stronger than ever. My wife Trini, our brother-in-law Enrique Sanchez, and I created this vital space more than 20 years ago in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. We are now at a new site—we had long outgrown our old spot. The bookstore is thriving as are our workshops in art, music, theater, photography, dance, and more. This past year we had our biggest and best “Celebrating Words” Festival, one of the most renowned outdoor annual arts & literacy festivals in the Los Angeles area. Our other programming—from “Trauma to Transformation” (taking artists, poets, theater people into prisons, juvenile lockups, and parolee housing), “The Indigenous in Us” (Indigenous cosmology, Nahuatl, and curanderismo), “Young Warriors” (our youth empowerment program), “Social Justice Book Club,” “Tiahui Talks” podcast, author’s readings, dialogues, and more are also better than ever.
Tia Chucha Press, the publishing wing of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore, recently released three great books: “In The Courtyard of the Moon” by K’iche Mayan poet Humberto Ak’abal (translated by Miguel Rivera); Edward Tick’s powerful poetry collection of healing and war, “Coming Home in Vietnam”; and Claudia Castro Luna’s memorable poetry book of her roots in El Salvador during Civil War, her struggle as a U.S. immigrant, and later as poet laureate of Seattle and Washington state: “Cipota Under the Moon.” This fall we will release Gail Wronsky’s poetry with art by Gronk in a book called “The Stranger You Are” and re-release one TCP’s bestselling books, Leticia Hernandez-Linares’ “Mucha Muchacha.” All TCP books are available online at www.tiachucha.org/bookstore.
And we just opened our Deli with Guayaba Kitchen and the Social Warrior Chefs, providing healthy food options to the community. Go to our website to find out more—also donate what you can to help contribute to transformative arts & cultural programming: www.tiachucha.org
Barking Rooster Entertainment
I recently wrote a movie script about true events surrounding the kidnap and murder of an 18-year-old Chicano youth by a police officer in 1977 in my old barrio communities of the San Gabriel Valley. That youth was a friend of mine. It’s about time this story be told in this time of reckoning around unjust law enforcement since George Floyd’s murder. The script is part of several projects with my own production company, Barking Rooster Entertainment. My son Ramiro and my wife Trini are partners in this important endeavor. We have plans for other feature films, documentaries, books, and Internet content. For now, also buy our last Barking Rooster Book—Joe Loya’s powerful memoir “The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell,” available at www.tiachucha.org/bookstore.
Major Speaking and Other Events
In early July I led a four-hour workshop on “The Transformative Power of the Arts” for a national conference on community and restorative justice, held in Chicago, with around 1,600 participants. I also took part in gatherings for peace, wellness, and networking during my stay there. Unfortunately, for the first time since the pandemic started, I got COVID. I had to quarantine and cut short my other talks. I ended up staying five days longer in Chicago until I tested negative. Fortunately, I have a daughter, Andrea, and two grandchildren in Chicago who checked up on me. Ramiro and grandson Ricardo (Ramiro’s son) were also with me part of that time and assisted me as needed. I’m now well, although Ramiro later tested positive for COVID (he’s also now okay). We’ve been fully vaccinated and boostered, and this helped tremendously.
Also in July, Alta Magazine’s California Book Club made my 1993 memoir “Always Running” its book of the month. The magazine had several articles on my work, including an interview with me and a piece I wrote (https://www.altaonline.com/california-book-club/). Here’s link to the Zoom interview with guests Daniel Olivas and Ruben Martinez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9crmC2a7gw
This year I was also honored with a California Arts Council Legacy Fellowship as well as the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Los Angeles Times, given to me at the Times’ Festival of Books at USC.
And I’ll continue to work with Trini on our podcast, “The Hummingbird Cricket Hour.” Please check out our earlier podcasts at https://hchpodcast.libsyn.com.
I turned 68 this year. Tia Chucha’s held a special poetry reading and Open Mic to celebrate. In the past, I hated to commemorate my birthdays. But as I follow the crest of life, I know every year now is a gift.
I’m feeling healthier than I’ve felt in 20 years (despite the bout with COVID). I’m exercising most every day--with my three grown sons at home, we created an outdoor home gym. I’m also eating better. I know I’m facing the other side now, but I’m going to stay as active and alive as possible. I plan to be around for a long time, but I also know I’ll need to prepare spiritually, emotionally, and mentally for “the world behind the world.”
I want to say, as I always do, how grateful I am for my partner and wife Trini. We’ve been together 37 years (married 34 years). We’ve done great work together in Chicago and Los Angeles. Trini is also a powerful revolutionary leader, activist, thinker, healer, poet, and elder in her own right. We still have strong ties with our Dine (Navajo) family in Lukachukai, Arizona on the Navajo Nation (the Lee family, who spiritually adopted Trini, and consequently the whole family, in 1998). We have other Indigenous ceremonies, gatherings, and actions to attend to as well, including a Mexica naming ceremony in August for Andrea and my granddaughter Catalina, and a gathering in September of Warriors & Healers in Rapid City, South Dakota. Trini and I will also take part in a Youth Passageway's Retreat in Northern California full of ritual, rich dialogue, strong youth, and elders.
It's great to have my sons Ramiro, Ruben, and Luis (Chito) at home—they are great contributors to the household. And besides my daughter Andrea, I have five wonderful grandchildren: Ricardo, Anastasia, Amanda, Catalina, and Jack, living in Illinois, North Carolina, and Brooklyn, NY. On top of that, I now have six great-grandchildren, all in Illinois.
There are blessings everywhere.
However, we’re not immune to trouble. One of my granddaughters, age 28, who had been on crystal meth and other drugs for over six years, is now in an Illinois prison. In fact, she was in one of the prisons Ramiro was at when he did his 13-and-a-half-year stretch, and even stayed in the same cell house (it used to be an all-male facility, now it’s all female). I visited her in July with my grandson Ricardo (her brother). It was a wonderful visit. She looked good after being clean since last November. I love her dearly, and we are doing all we can to help. Her recovery is mostly up to her, but we will never give up. Recovery is not just a singular process, but a familial and community one.
The world may be in crisis. But we can get through this with our healing practices, our stories, our songs, our poems, our art, our community work, our aspirations, our actions for real social justice and systemic change. Not just to survive, but to thrive. A new world is trying to be born. I’ve been at this consciously since I was a troubled teen in the 1960s and early 1970s. The fire from that time has moved my passions and ideas ever since.
As Trini has sung from a song she learned from Indigenous elders in Mexico, “I am the weave and the weaver, the dream and the dreamer.”
I've announced my current run for governor of California on December 20. I've sent the media the poem below as my press release. I'm a former Los Angeles Poet Laureate. I also ran for governor in 2014’s primary elections, endorsed by the Green Party, the Justice Party, Mexican American Political Association, and others. I came in 6th out of 15 candidates, first among third-party and independent candidates, with some 67,000 votes on a shoe-string budget. This was when then-Governor Jerry Brown had amassed more than $20 million. Without election campaign reform, major elections have become a rich man’s playground.
We need new voices, more choices. This time I've made history by getting the endorsement of the state's Green and Peace & Freedom parties as well as the US Justice Party.
I’m a working writer, speaker, and poet, who once worked in Los Angeles-area mills and factories as well as in construction—I won’t accept corporate donations. This is going to be a grass-roots campaign. We plan to raise funds by asking at least a million Californians to give one dollar so we can finally have social, economic, and environmental justice.
Like in my last campaign, I'll address the economic disparities in the world’s 5th largest economy that also happens to have the highest poverty rate of any U.S. state. I will illuminate the huge gaps in a state with the country’s richest zip codes as well as the most unhoused residents; a state with the most climate friendly legislation, yet suffering from a multi-year drought, wildfires, and the most active fossil-fuel industries. I'll address the fact this is a state that purports to address the use of deadly force by militarized police against Blacks, Chicanos-Mexicans-Central Americans, and other poor Californians, yet continues to have an incarceration rate of 549 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), locking up a higher percentage of its people than almost any other developed country.
All these issues persist even with a relatively popular governor, Gavin Newsom. This is because the problems are systemic. On top of this, Governor Gavin Newsom has failed to fully address housing. The current administration has failed labor, particularly low wage and agricultural workers who were betrayed when Governor Newsom vetoed a bill that would have given farmworkers the right to vote for a union with a mail-in ballot. This governor has failed to intervene to keep rural community hospitals open, such as the 106-bed Watsonville Community Hospital, with 620 employees and 200 physicians. It’s inexcusable that 4,011,960 Californians—including 1,205,260 children— face hunger every day in a state with the largest “breadbasket” and a $77.5 billion budget surplus. Newsom talks about a rainy-day fund while 8,000,000 impoverished Californians are already drowning.
I will also support the candidacy of Crystal Sanchez, head of the Sacramento Union of the Homeless, for Lt. Governor. An impacted leader, Sanchez will stand forcefully for the poorest and most forgotten residents of California. This is not politics as usual. This will be politics of soul, of depth, of getting to the solutions, to paraphrase Henry Walden Thoreau, by getting to the roots, not just hacking at the branches.
For more information, to volunteer, and to donate, please go to www.luis4governor.org.
“Let’s Imagine a New California… Then Let’s Build It Together”:
Former Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez
Announces his 2022 Run for Governor with a Poem
California, a marvelous state with every terrain possible.
California, with climates and natural environments unrivaled in the world.
And yet with poisoned and degraded landscapes, eco-systems scarring our land.
With wildfires and drought made worse by global heating.
A destabilized climate threatening conditions for life.
California, a wonderfully diverse state,
with a rich blend of cultures and peoples,
with wisdoms and talents,
from the Indigenous and around the world.
California, a land of plenty with massive industries,
and still there is widespread poverty, hunger, homelessness.
There’s vast wealth and power, concentrated
in the hands of the few,
while many of us barely subsist.
Our governance, our body politic, too often fails us.
hijacked by corporate and political entities
organized against the rest of us.
There’s a winner-take-all electoral process
that underrepresents our voices,
our hopes, our dreams.
We’ve been betrayed by an economic system
that prioritizes profit not people,
rewards greed instead of meeting human need.
It’s Time for a Change. Time for a New California.
My name is Luis J. Rodriguez.
I’m running for Governor.
I’m running on a politics of soul, of depth,
with solutions commensurate to the problems.
I’m for a state that puts people and the environment first.
With justice and sustainability as our guiding principles.
For quality education, housing, and health care for all.
For the respect and dignity of every worker.
With economic security and prosperity for everyone.
And all this while protecting and restoring our beautiful,
recalibrating technology in accord with nature,
our own natures, and the Divine.
The best political campaigns are about more than just elections.
They can also be about how to build vital social movements.
All of this is what my campaign is about. Please join me.
Let’s Imagine a New California…Then Let’s Build It Together.
Voices of old rebel organizers mingled with a significant number of new ones in 2015 as anti-war activists across generations jammed into the main hall of New York Street Presbyterian Church, Washington D.C.—they were there to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the first national protest against the Vietnam War, organized in D.C. back then by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Event organizers invited me to speak about the 1970 Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War. My friend, the late Tom Hayden, made this possible because he felt anti-Vietnam War commemorations were largely devoid of the vital role Black and Brown people played in ending that war.
The peace movements among Blacks, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans is often missing in historical accounts of a war that involved the United States for eight years, claimed 58,220 lives—and another 1,353,000 Vietnamese lives—at a cost to taxpayers, in current dollars, of close to $1 trillion. Black and Brown military personnel were disproportionately killed or wounded—at the time, activists claimed 22 percent of the war’s casualties were of Mexican descent, although Mexicans in the US made up around 6 percent of the population.
During my speech, I pointed out that if it wasn’t for the Chicano Moratorium, the first major antiwar protest in a working-class community of color, the war may have taken longer to end. I also recounted my own ordeal during the riots that ensued after law enforcement attacked a largely law-abiding crowd at Laguna Park (now Ruben Salazar Park) in East Los Angeles.
On August 29, 1970, I came by bus to East L.A.’s Belvedere Park, where the march began, as a 16-year-old gang member and drug addict. I joined the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people for one thing—to party. What moved me, however, was something I had not witnessed before: the peaceful, unified crowd; the chants, the Brown Berets marching in cadence; the signs that exclaimed “Raza Si, Guerra No” (The People Yes, War No) and “Chicano Power.”
The catalyst for sheriff’s deputies, LAPD, and other officers to use teargas and batons, some armed with shotguns, was the burglary of cases of beer from a liquor store on the corner of Alma Avenue and Indiana Street. I know because my homies, among other “cholo” gang youth, ripped off the store. I decided to get more beer, but by then the store had closed. The vast majority of the protestors, consisting of workers, students, musicians, artists, and their families, had nothing to do with this.
The row of riot-ready officers—who I believe were waiting for any excuse to attack—moved quickly against the small number of people banging on the liquor store’s windows to open up. Law enforcement later claimed the “robbers” had run into the crowd, forcing them to close everything down. This wasn’t true. A deputy put a shotgun to my head, knowing I was a perpetrator, and told me to move or he’d “blow my brains out” (cuss words excluded). Most of the vatos did take off. I left, but then, enraged, decided to turn back and confront the police. It was a matter of “tired of being tired.”
Moratorium organizers locked arm-and-arm told people to not fight back and return to their homes. “Tomorrow is another day,” one said. I told him, “there were no more mañanas for me.”
I didn’t last long. A deputy bashed my head with a baton, knocking me to the ground. Officers held me down as they handcuffed me. Blood ran down my face. They threw me into the back seat of a deputy’s squad car. From there I could see deputies and police officers hitting people on their heads and bodies, many trying to get up from blankets on the grass, often with children. I saw officers pull people off their porches or from inside their homes along the residential area across from the park.
Teargas smoke, yelling and screams, everywhere.
Around 200 people were arrested that day. Most were released within hours. However, several of us cholos were held at the East Los Angeles substation away from the rest. The youngsters among us were placed on a bus to juvenile hall, but when we got there, I understood it was too crowded. We ended up on another bus to the L.A. County Jail. As we sat with chains on our ankles and arms, deputies sprayed us with Mace, while laughing, as our eyes and lungs burned.
From the County Jail, about five of the youth—ages 13 to 16—were taken to the Hall of Justice Jail downtown; we were placed into its infamous “Murderer’s Row.” Deputies claimed we’d be charged with murder since we “started” the riots that by then had engulfed major sections of Whittier Boulevard and other parts of East Los Angeles, killing a few people.
I was in a cell next to Charles Manson, who was going to trial at the time. The “row” had other murder suspects, all Black and Brown except for Manson. I decided to protect the 13-year-old; two bigger guys in the cell with us put a razor blade to my neck to get to this kid. But I had already been in the streets, homeless, and in various jails and juvenile hall. I stood up to them, showing no fear, which is what they were trying to elicit. They liked my gumption, the only thing that could possibly save you in these situations. They smiled, took the razor blade away, and then we played cards.
Yet, I wasn’t interested in cards. With borrowed paper and pencil, I began to write my first “poems.”
We stayed on the “row” for several days and nights. On a radio, I heard about the murder of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar, who was on Whittier Boulevard to cover the riots; a sheriff’s deputy fired a teargas canister into a populated bar where Salazar was allegedly having a beer—an improper use of equipment meant for outdoor public gatherings. Upon hearing this, a small disturbance ensued on the tier; someone burned a mattress and others rattled steel bars. Deputies sealed us in, forcing us to put wet cloth on our faces so we wouldn’t collapse from the smoke.
My parents during that time tried to find me, but I was “lost” in the system. For one thing, the facility was meant for people 18 years and older. And we were being held without charges beyond the 72 hours when one is supposed to be released in such cases. But laws be damned—this was “riot” time and we were gangsters. Also, deputies protected Manson—he was kept in a special padded cell when the rest of us were outside our cells on the tier. He’d be let out, spitting out racial epithets, when we were back in our cells, unable to reach him.
I realized that Manson’s life was worth more than mine; deputies made sure he was safe but if someone had cut my throat, who’d care?
Finally, in the middle of the night, deputies woke me up and removed me from the cell, onto a long corridor, and into a room where my parents were waiting, exhausted. No charges were filed. In talking with Rosalio Muñoz, the chairperson of the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War in 1970, who also attended the D.C. anti-Vietnam War anniversary event, we surmised what helped me was that Chicano activists filmed everything, showing only law enforcement officers beat and kill people, including Ruben Salazar. Essentially, they had nothing on me.
But the “damage” had been done. A seed of revolution had been planted. I was called to another destiny—to use my innate passions and gifts, mostly involving words and ideas, to become an indispensable link in the indispensable chain for truly liberating and rooted social justice. I still had one foot in gang life, but another one now in social struggle. I emerged eventually wiser and hungrier, enough to get me out of heroin, crime, and jails four years later. I also joined with a growing number of strategic-thinking and visionary Americans against war, against poverty, against environmental destruction, and against racial injustice—the foundation of a decent and inclusive society.
This is a trajectory I’ve been on ever since, although now tied to the national and global protests after the murder of George Floyd to end systemic racism and class subjugation. What a powerful time to remember and commemorate the first Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War fifty years ago!
Here’s an excerpt from a poem I gleaned from my scribbling in the Hall of Justice:
The calling came to me while I languished / in my room, while I whittled away my youth / in jail cells and damp barrio fields. // It brought me to life, out of captivity, / in a street-scarred and tattooed place / I called body.
Trump’s “law and order” has turned into a war against the American people. He’s been at war with the United States for some time. His claim to be against “immigrants” to save American jobs, like most of his claims, was just a ruse to galvanize white supremacists as his “civilian” army. But he also has a real “army” to call on.
These past days, the Department of Homeland Security, created following the terrorist acts of 9/11, mobilized militarized personnel to Portland, Oregon. These federal agents, including from U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, are supposed to “safeguard” American lives.
Now they teargas and abduct U.S. citizens—including a “wall of moms.”
According to the July 23, 2020 Los Angeles Times’ article “Border Patrol’s brute power spreads to cities,” the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has more than 60,000 agents, the federal government’s largest law enforcement agency. In 1953, the U.S. Justice Department extended the border area, which has been militarized and abusive of migrants for decades, to 100 miles into the interior as well as 100 miles beyond US maritime borders. The article states that around two-thirds of Americans—some 200 million people, including 9 of the country’s 10 largest cities—are within these bounds.
Social justice leaders and organizers were right in protesting the caging of Central American children and others along the border. They were right in protesting for years the pattern of police killings of Black people. They were right in demanding defunding of local police departments—now with combined budgets of more than $115 billion—while putting tax dollars into community-driven treatment, education, mental facilities, health care, crime prevention and intervention, and re-building poor urban and rural communities.
Now with an uptake in crime in cities like Chicago, New York City, Albuquerque, and others, Trump says we need police more than ever. We’ve been here before. This was Nixon’s rant after the 1960s rebellions, many sparked by police abuse. Also Reagan’s after drugs and guns permeated most urban core communities in the 1980s during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression at the time. And Clinton used “crime” to enact draconian mass incarceration policies following 1992’s Los Angeles Uprising around the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King.
Yes, we need to do more to address crime, gun violence, gang and drug warfare. But the most effective way is to address the root causes—poverty and an increasing divide between those who have and those who don’t. This is not a law enforcement problem. It’s a societal problem. It’s the problem of cities, states, and, yes, the federal government. “Law & Order” means we extend dealing with crime to attacking and jailing protestors. Trump by executive order has “criminalized” what is constitutionally protected rights—exaggerating the destruction of property to justify such a decree. He also uses actual crime to bring in more “law & order.”
We don’t need “Law & Order.” That’s the demand of a fatigued and dying capitalist social order. We need to re-imagine everything and renew what has worked before: compassionate and comprehensive systemic change. This is only “un-American” because it’s never fully been tried in this country. It’s American in that it flows from the minds of the indigenous peoples of the land and the progressive freedom-loving minds of Americans from Tom Paine to John Lewis.
When Trump began his presidential bid in 2016, he targeted Mexican migrants. Now his “guns” have been turned on the rest of us.
Dear Fellow Leaders, Thinkers, Artists, Poets, Organizers, Healers:
Greetings from the Luis and Trini Rodriguez household!
There is no word for “art” in most indigenous languages. Why? Because art is in everything, everywhere, the very nature of human beings and a living earth. In time of crisis, the next move is not order, but creativity. It’s time to be in the often-messy place where we contemplate what’s possible, about where the uncertainties and pains are taking us, and how we can activate the most abundant power within everyone: the imagination.
That’s my thought to share, but first I have to relate my recent personal ordeal leading me to revive all this. To begin I honor my beautiful family in our seclusion—my three sons Ramiro, Ruben, and Chito have been wonderful doing most of the shopping, yard work, and plumbing. Everyone lost work except one son. One of my son’s girlfriend, who also lives with us, was laid off as well. I lost around $30,000 worth of speaking gigs through the end of summer. I’ve applied for grants and other compensation. I’m in touch with my daughter Andrea in Chicago and grandchildren (and thinking constantly about my four great-grandchildren).
However, we’re going to be okay. Others have it worse.
And we have a stable, imaginative, and growing Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore community, now almost 20 years in existence. We have the most amazing staff of young people, board of directors, and hard-working interns and volunteers. Despite our active programming being canceled and the bookstore closed, we have established a lively virtual workshop space with Open Mics, Social Justice Book Club, Indigenous Cosmology Classes, and more, including such practices as Yoga. And our books are now promoted online for anyone to buy.
All accessible at www.tiachucha.org.
I’ve done my part, but it turned out about a month ago I began a fever roller coaster ride. Doctors said to just stay at home and report any deterioration. I am in the high-risk category—over 65, diabetic, and hypertensive. Finally, two weeks ago, they let me come in for Covid-19 testing and chest X-rays. The good news—I tested negative for Covid-19. But I did have pneumonia. Due to a possible surge in Covid-19 patients, I was sent home to be quarantined in my room—pneumonia is also contagious, and they treated me as if I had Covid-19. Then one night I had unsurmountable pain. I knew what this was—gallstones. I’ve had problems with these for years. Two of my sons drove me to the emergency. The hospital admitted me because it seemed a stone had blocked my bile duct and my liver had heightened levels of enzymes. I’ve also had liver problems for years due to heavy drug use in my youth and then 20 years of drinking beyond that. This year, June 30, I will have 27 years sober; this has helped me regenerate to a somewhat decent degree a worn-out liver.
The next day I had two surgeries, including gallbladder removal. After two days in the hospital, I returned home since they needed beds for a possible Covid-19 surge. I had a draining tube from my liver with instructions on how to take care of this. Trini has been a pillar for strength and healing throughout this time, and my sons helped without complaint. Despite pain and lack of energy, I’ve rebounded well. Yesterday, the surgeon removed the drain apparatus. I’m on the mend—pain is gone, and my energy levels are getting back to what they were.
I’m blessed beyond measure.
Now I’m doing Zoom conference talks, virtual AA-NA meetings, virtual classes, and live-streaming. Trini and I have continued with “The Hummingbird Cricket Hour” podcast—I recommend people listen to the close to two dozen podcasts we’ve done so far. Here’s link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/hummingbird-cricket-hour/id1381254966
I also recommend everyone get a copy of my new book, “From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys & Imaginings from a Native Xicanx Writer” (Seven Stories Press). I was on the verge of traveling around the country to promote it when the pandemic forced events to be cancelled. Still you can order at https://tia-chuchas.myshopify.com/
The book, my first of essays, addresses issues like racism; the power of poetry and the arts; how to find belonging in a time of uprootedness; the four key connections for healthy life and relationships; the spirit of learning and the spirit of teaching; my own odyssey in the development of Hip Hop; my over 40 years working in prisons, juvenile lockups, jails, and with street gangs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Mexico, Central America, South America, England, and Italy; and so much more.
I also helped put together a new anthology of prisoner writing for Tia Chucha Press (the renowned small press I started over 30 years ago in Chicago). It’s called “Make a Poem Cry: Creative Writing from California’s Lancaster Prison,” edited by Kenneth E. Hartman and yours truly. Mr. Hartman is a writer and activist, recently released from prison after serving 38 years. The selections in the book is from participants in my creative writing classes in two high-security yards. The book should be available by the end of April. You can order now at https://tia-chuchas.myshopify.com/
My plan, besides being as healthy as I can, is to continue the Hummingbird Cricket Hour with Trini and work on a YouTube channel. I aim to push the conversation in this country and the world about where we need to go as humanity, guided by ancestral knowledge and led by imagination and revolutionary ways of thinking, organizing, and living.
I see the Covid-19 Pandemic as a crisis that is demanding the old, unequal, exploitative, and oppressive societal structures and governance be removed AND new, encompassing, and embracing societal structures and governance be born. It’s time for an economy that is not based on placing most of our resources and labor for the profit of a few corporations and individuals, but for the wellbeing, health, and thriving of all.
It’s time for cooperation, not competition. For a borderless imagination, not one with fences, chains, and isolation. Not fear, but courage and new ideas. Even with somewhat global distancing and seclusion, we’ve seen the earth renewed, less smog, less crime, less stress, and new ways of living, working, and interacting. It’s not time to go back to “normal”—since “normal” wasn’t good when we last left it: homelessness everywhere, suicides and opioids addiction growing, low-wage work, with decent healthcare and education denied to millions. Instead let’s go forward to an economy that aligns resources to human needs, closing the so-called wealth gap, peace and safety throughout the planet, a clean and green earth, and providing quality healthcare, education, living pay and working conditions for all who need it.
We need to take our time getting our society revved up again, but on a new basis. People should not be pushed back to work and to the roads until all of us have everything in place—like widespread testing, possible cures, or ongoing safe practices. And the largest social safety net ever.
So, again, we must use this time to be imaginative and creative. That’s what the arts represents—the core essence of all human beings. And realize the best of our dreams, visions, and aspirations with practical, short and long term, organization and restructuring.
Let’s stay connected. Read, study, and also help transform the world from the trauma we are all undergoing.
Something old and archaic is trying to die; something new and vital is trying to be born.
Revolutionary blessings to everyone,
Luis Mixcoatl Itztlacuiloh Rodriguez
Class warfare is being played out in Congress and on media briefings with Trump. The Congress battled whether the stimulus bill should be used more to bail out corporations, lenders, and the wealthy--or more to support those who need this the most: the poor, whether working or otherwise. And Trump is going against medical and scientific advice to try and get the economy going again by Easter. He'd like to see the stock market rise up again and the unemployment numbers plummet because this makes him "look good" as he faces reelection. But we're in the middle of a world-wide pandemic! The choices appear to be either our health or someone else's wealth. Either our overall benefit or Trump's. This is the scarcity issues capitalism always pushes--we can't seem to keep an economy going and keep everyone safe. Who sets things up like that? Capitalism is the greatest wealth-producing system in history, but it's also the most unequal. This is endemic to the system. How come the health index is not more important than the Dow Index? We must challenge such a system. This crisis is revealing the holes in the body politic as well as the economy. It's unveiling the emptiness at the center of power and wealth. A society that can't take care of its people during crisis--or even when not in crisis--cannot continue to rule. The rulers--regardless of party--have become feeble (even as they go crazy hanging on to power). Who needs them? Time for new visions, new leaders, new ways of thinking. Time for a system whose aim is the well being of everyone, not how much wealth the few can accumulate at the expense of the rest of us. We must learn. Dream big. Then organize. Mark my words--this is not going to get better in their hands. But in our hands--give us the "hammer and nails" and we will rebuild this world. There's an economy worth fighting for!
While reading this, please listen to my poem "Civilization" with the music of Italy's famed Hip Hop artist Flycat from 1998: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVBIdlJzj7E
As we go forward, let's all remember a massive shift in our thinking, connecting, and being is asked of us during this crisis. I've heard from social justice activists who feel the pressures--how do we continue in these trying times? For one, imagine more. Society is having to rethink everything, including capitalism, profits, scarcity, and racism. But also on which way we go from here. Even equalitarian models have to be challenged. Social justice is not a stand-still thing. This crisis is forcing everything to shift. It's time to be creative. The way out of chaos is not order, but creativity and then align to an order that best meets the challenges. Presently we need to imagine more--and then find the means to realize a social system that places society's resources to human needs, which includes safeguarding our planet, the animals, and more. Even revolutionaries must have an abundance in their hearts, in their study, and in their activism. We shouldn't let the rulers off the hook, but we must also extend understanding, love, and healing for the world. Keep your heart/spirit strong, the rest will follow. Go from being stressed, then depressed, to being blessed. The spiritual must be accessed especially when the material is in upheaval. But remember, the material matters (both words have a source in "mother"). The material is our mother. We need to know how to carry abundance in a time-bound world. When we revolutionaries get depressed, stuck, it's time to draw from the inexhaustible in our minds, hearts, and in our relations (with nature, our own natures, with others, and the divine). The world must change. And any industrial and most post-industrial ways to go won't suffice. Think and act beyond all that to bring the change that's needed. Change yourself, change the world. My new book explores this even further. Go to www.tiachucha.org/bookstore to order the book. Ometeotl!
On March 16, a rainy Monday morning, my wife Trini sang me a beautiful song in Spanish she learned from elders in Mexico. As she played a rattle, her voice resonated softly over the kitchen table. I heard well these words embedded in the song, "We are the weave and the weaver, we are the dream and the dreamer." Trini returned the day before from a longer trip with teachings and healing ceremonies among Mexica, Mayan, and other indigenous teachers. She had to cut the trip short by half due to possible problems on the border. She made it safe and the family is well. I write this so we remain grateful and centered in these chaotic and trying times. There's an hysteria gripping the country and other parts of the world around the corona virus pandemic. And still COVID-19 is serious and should be treated as such. Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore has stopped all programming to the end of march. The April 4 fundraiser "Tia Chucha's Barrio Block Party" at the Vortex has been cancelled. I've lost thousands of dollars of speaking gigs through the end of April and my creative writing classes in Lancaster State Prison have been cancelled. But we are strong. Use this time to reflect, but also to practice gratitude. And to be safe and healthy as possible. Every crisis has a measure of death and birth in it--something has to die, like a society that does not adequately prepare us for the health issues arising from a quickening and expanding post-industrial world. But something also has to be born, like the idea that taking care of everyone is the best way to ensure each of us is taken care of. Remember those words: "We are the weave and the weaver, we are the dream and the dreamer." Ometeotl!