Q & A

I was recently asked questions from one of my many connections in schools. Here are my answers -- it's about a new way of seeing work with gangs, incarcerated youth, and the loss of meaning in our time.

What do you believe is/are the main cause/s of youth violence?

There are historical, social and personal traumas in the lives of our youth. Also our culture is becoming devoid of meaning. Presently everything is in crisis -- including politics, the economy, and even spiritual matters.  The disconnections are deep. Many youth feel numb, but others lash out (both are aspects of enragement). Parenting is losing its potency as well as schooling, mentoring and elders.  We have to renew ways to see and respond to young people – with respect, meaning, and teachings, to reconnect in deep and powerful ways. Youth violence by the way is less than adult violence. How do young people learn their violence? Mostly from adults. The same government that wants to control assault weapons has drones killing civilians (and directed at us). There wouldn’t be assault weapons in our streets if not for government and business complicity somewhere along the line.The hypocrisies are increasing as the wellbeing of most people decline.

Do you feel there is a correlation between class and youth violence? What about race and youth violence?

Poverty is one of the biggest factors of trauma and neglect that also begets violence. Poverty itself is violence against people who have little or no power, against the working classes and the disenfranchised. Poverty numbs and enrages. Many youth may not know this intellectually but they feel the class differences. They know some people are rich and powerful, and they are not. They know most of this is due to injustice– social resources are not distributed equitably, and not because the rich and powerful are more valuable or more deserving. Of course well-off youth are also neglected, fed material things, and many times dispirited. This is why many go crazy in their gated community -- while the poor waste their lives in real prisons. Race is the historical means to control and disunite the working class in the U.S. and now most of the world. The violence of poverty strikes people of color particularly hard, linked to race or migration status. Racism is also violence.

When talking with incarcerated juveniles, what is the main message you aim to give them?

My main aim is to provide both the social and personal aspects of their liberation – even behind actual bars, but also in the metaphoric prisons of living this society. These liberations are linked to imagination, creativity, the arts. When young people find their own authority –their own passions, capacities, dreams, and story – they can begin to challenge with all their faculties the chains that have bound them to an archaic capitalist economic social order not of their making. Everything should be questioned, challenged, and/or renewed by every new generation. Being properly independent and authoritative means they are also properly interdependent and connected. Both are necessary. The “prisons” of their lives also include addictions, compulsions, rages, fears,and violence. They are wrapped up in the web of “the crazy life.” They need to start learning to own their own life – and not turn it over to others, to gangs, to drugs, to destructive impulses. I do much of this by telling my story.

In your experience, are most convicted juveniles willing to give up violence and be rehabilitated/helped? Are there resources available for them?

The vast majority of young prisoners can and will change their lives, but there are little or no resources or rehabilitation for this in most institutions. This is no accident. There are vested economic interests to keep youth lost, angry, criminal, and caged. When properly guided, mentored, taught, and trained (including to deal with their most destructive webs) they can become the next generation of peace warriors. This is the work I’ve done and witnessed for forty years. Late teens and early to mid-twenties is a major threshold time in anyone’s life – doors appear to open and possibilities open up. In particular the brain finally finds its shape by the late 20s. This is called attunement, a time to “tune” the harp of a person’s body. All society, all institutions, all therapies, and programs should be geared to this attunement process. While anyone can change anytime in their lives (indeed changes occur constantly even if imperceptibly), the “threshold times” (there are five major ones in a person's life) are key.

What kind of conditions do juveniles have to face inside the juvenile facilities and adult facilities?

Mostly I see institutional abuse, isolation being one ofthem. Another being placing blame on the perpetrators (when they are also victims). And the rest of us not taking responsibility for how a young person ended up in such places in the first place – ended up with a gun in their hand, with drugs in their system, and fodder for any kind of war, including in gangs. Most of this is environmental, interacting negatively with the biological (the complex interaction of nature and nurture are constant in all development). Beyond that I’ve seen or known of actual physical, sexual, mental, and spiritual abuse in such institutions. Youth are vulnerable and we make them more vulnerable, more accessible to other perpetrators and abuse. Punishment to remove the perfectly legitimate responses to an abusing, violent, narrow-ended world does not work. It becomes abuse on top of abuse.

Knowing you are against the sentencing of juveniles toLife Without Parole, could you explain your thoughts on the subject and most important reasons for being so?

No life should be wasted, pushed out or forgotten. LWOP is another death sentence – only the slow and grating one. Those with LWOP are removed from contribution, from full love, from family, from children, from the beauties of the world. This is another kind of death. Healing needs to be the key aspect of institutionalizing anyone, not pushing them into deeper folds of inhumanity. LWOP should be declared unconstitutional – a cruel and unusual punishment.

What alternatives are there to juveniles and LWOP? What do you believe works best?

The vast majority of troubled youth can be removed for a short time – perhaps three years for most major crimes and no longer than seven years for the worse. This is of course assuming real resources/rehabilitation are brought to bear. Youth don’t need arbitrary long sentences, but “enough” time to gather themselves, get attuned, get reconnected, and set on a path of their passions. Use these experiences as real initiations that in turn lead to fuller lives and a restoring of their place in family, community, work, art,and life.

How did your experience through the juvenile justice system effect you long term? To who and/or what do you credit your life turnaround?

I was detained since age 13 for fighting, disturbing the peace, and stealing. I ended up in various jails in the greater East L.A. area– the East L.A. sheriff’s substation, the Monterey Park jail, the San Gabriel jail, the Norwalk sheriff’s substation, and others. At 15, I was held for stabbing someone but released when the person stabbed (he lived) refused to identify me. At 16 I was placed in the adult section of murderer’s row in the old Hall of Justice Jail in downtown L.A. I had a cell next to Charles Manson. They were threatening to charge five of us “cholo” gang members for the murders of three people during a major riot. Even though I was lost there for five days and nights, they eventually let me go without charges. I was in juvenile hall twice for arrests, but never adjudicated, although once at 17 for attempted murder when four people were shot (again, the victims refused to identify me). These experiences only taught me to be a better criminal and addict, more violent and “untouchable” (how fear turns into stone). Then at age18, I got jumped by police and sent to the county jail, facing a minimum of six years in the state pen for fighting with police officers. This time I faced a crossroads. I was hooked on heroin, 25 of my friends had been killed by then,and I had no family or homies visiting. The only person who showed up was a youth counselor/activist who became my guide and mentor. Prior to this, however, I had begun to paint murals, go back for schooling, and become active in social change. This mentor got people to write letters on my behalf and show up in court. This was largely unheard of. A judge then gave me a break – perhaps the biggest of my life. He refused to try me for the felonies (although police clamored for this) and gave me time served in the county jail for “drunk and disorderly” and “resisting arrest.” During my time in jail, I began my first heroin withdrawals and refused to get more active in the higher echelons of barrio gang life. I left those bars committed to social justice – and I’ve never done any more time for criminal acts. I have, however, gone to prisons throughout California, the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America, and Europe, for more than thirty years– my way of giving back by doing writing workshops, readings, and talks. I’ve been active in prison reform, gang peace, and prevention/intervention as well. Unfortunately, my oldest son got involved in gangs and ended up doing 15 years in state prisons, a way of how the madness called me back by claiming one of my own.

If you were to rework the juvenile justice system, what would be the first thing you would do?

The choices are not brutal punishment OR country clubs. People should see the juvenile justice system as an initiatory experience that can turn their life around – this should be difficult and require hard work. But the premise is: Every trouble and every lost road can be a doorway to more knowledge, more soul, and onto a hero’s journey. Use mythology, stories, song, dance, writing, theater, music, even digital arts, to draw from the inexhaustible and abundant reservoir of the imagination we all carry. To teach young people the direction and innate nature of their actions, decisions, and indecisions. Punishment is not even in the equation. Such institutions should be restorative and transformative. Change is one absolute aspect of human nature, yet we act as if things stand still. Being angry and hungry are natural to all of us. We just need to give it eyes, direction, and meaning so that the real angers and real hungers (not just of the body, but of the mind and spirit) can be taken to their completion. I call this process “Hearts & Hands,” not “scared straight” but “cared straight.” Using caring and proper emotional connection (the heart) from community along with skills, teachings, and "holding the ground" (the hands) to re-imagine and recreate even stronger community.

c/s

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Truce or Consequences – a year of gang peace in El Salvador

For two decades El Salvador has been one of the most violent countries in the world, due to intense warfare between its two biggest street gangs—Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and 18th Street (Barrio 18).

The leading cause was the mass deportation of gang youth beginning in 1992 from the streets of Los Angeles, many of whom did not speak Spanish and had little or no families in the country. Since then the official response has been repression—more police and prisons. They’ve included anti-gang policies known as Mano Dura (Firm Hand) and Super Mano Dura. With billions of dollars invested into these policies, including from the United States, the gangs became larger, better organized, and more violent—recruiting from the thousands of homeless, abandoned and war-ravaged youth and children throughout the country.

However, something phenomenal emerged a year ago on March 9 when members from among MS-13 and Barrio 18 forged a peace in one of the country’s largest prisons, spreading to other prisons and the streets. Facilitated by Catholic Monsignor Fabio Colindres as well as former congressman and former guerilla Raul Mijango, gang leaders agreed to end recruitment near schools and to turn in rifles and other weapons to the Organization of American States (OAS) representatives. Most recently they’ve enacted “peace zones” where gangs would not commit crimes or violence.

In a year’s time the peace decreased violence in El Salvador from 40 to 60 percent; by December homicides went from 14 per day until five per day, according to the Center for Democracy in the Americas. The gang leaders did what no repressive plan could do—bring a badly needed respite to a country that has been in some kind of war, including a 12-year civil war, for more than thirty years.

Yet the U.S. government’s Treasury Department in the fall declared MS-13 to be an international criminal enterprise, subject to the seizure of property and assets. And on January 23, 2013, the State Department issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens that placed El Salvador on the same level of security concerns as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Honduras, and Mexico. These actions indicate a dangerous disconnect between what is possible for public safety and our government’s response.

This past July, I took part in an 11-member delegation from the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES) to assess the situation on the ground, and advise and assist where possible. The delegation included human rights advocates, a psychologist, researchers, and leaders in U.S. gang prevention and intervention programs from New York City, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Washington D.C. area, and London—Chicano, white, African American, Puerto Rican, and Salvadoran.

We talked to government officials in the departments of health, education, and public safety including heads of the country’s prison system. We visited factories that hired gang members as well as schools, nongovernmental agencies, indigenous communities, and six prisons and a juvenile lockup.

Tattooed-faced men and women greeted us from behind razor wire as we were able to see firsthand the miserable conditions they lived under, including in facilities housing women and their children, also locked up in worn cellblocks, often without running water or electricity, in overcrowded cells and lacking decent food and medical attention. They told us that they were not “lost causes” or “without hope.” Many had children of their own—they didn’t want them enmeshed in the same level of violence they grew up with and in many cases participated in.

In September of 2012, TAGSPPES issued a report of our trip that concluded “all stakeholders must take part in a broader peace building process.” In other words, the gang peace must not just benefit gang members, but the whole of society, including establishing the necessary structural changes for real jobs, education, trauma treatment, housing, and humane prison conditions. Due to our efforts, clean potable water is being directed to many prisons. And books are being brought in to start libraries in these institutions with the support of people like musician and activist John Densmore, formerly of the Doors.

The peace building process will entail the backing of the international community as well as businesses, law enforcement, and the general population. Many in the present Salvadoran government agree, including Minister of Security David Munguia Payes and President Mauricio Funes, both of whom have challenged the official U.S. position.

For peace to last, it’s evident this will also require the backing of the U.S. government.

The United States does a major disservice by placing its resources and energies at odds with the immense possibilities brought to the table by gang leaders themselves, who are tired of the violence and now want to contribute positively to the development of their lives and their country.

It’s been proven that the single best path towards peace is when gang leaders turn their lives around, when they commit to raising families, when they dedicate themselves to working and educating themselves; and when they become the leading agents for making peace viable for all. Here’s an idea that now needs traction, something I have seen in my forty years of doing gang peace work in the United States and other countries: Sometimes from the most violent can come the most peaceful.

Give gang leaders a chance to make their own peace.

c/s

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Hugo Chavez and a New World

I’ve been to Venezuela three times in the past ten years – to attend the World Social Forum with the theme of “A New World is Possible,” as an official reader in the Caracas Poetry Festival, and as invited guest and presenter to their amazing book fair that looked at the possibilities of revolution in the United States. Each time I could see a country in the throes of new beginnings, striving for justice for those abandoned by present social and economic conditions.

During those trips I visited outlying areas, met with indigenous people as well as young people including activists, poets, artists, and workers. I went to marketplaces and entered free computer centers and medical facilities in the poorest areas. I also spent time in the slums of Caracas (similar to Brazilian favelas only in Venezuela they are called ranchitos), which had no lighting until their president Hugo Chavez made sure they had access to electricity.

Once I got to meet Chavez briefly, just before he gave a more than two-hour talk at the main sports stadium that held up to 100,000 people. This was hard for me. I’ve been trained in the fast-paced, ADD-inducing, TV flipping realities of modern times. I have a hard time listening to most people for more than five minutes before my mind wanders and my feet get antsy. But I didn’t lose interest. Hugo Chavez spoke mostly extemporaneously, citing the Bible, Karl Marx, poets, and others. He knew facts and history. He was funny, serious, angry, and gracious. He even sang. At the time the U.S. had George W. Bush as president, whom satirists and other political commentators poked fun at due to Bush’s poor command of English, of facts or of history.

And I couldn't imagine Bush singing.

Bush a few times characterized Chavez as a monster, blaming him for turmoil and discord in South America, although most of this was due to U.S. foreign policy decisions and third world capitalist realities. The majority of reporting and comments on Chavez in U.S. media were unflattering and downright slanderous. I always knew U.S. media, except for a few remarkable instances, misrepresented Latin America. Being there in Venezuela, on the ground floor – as I have done over the past thirty years in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Argentina – provided a fresh and more nuanced sense of what was really happening.

Yes, Venezuela is still poor (although Chavez in sixteen years cut the poverty rate by half). Slums continue to reach high up into the mountains surrounding the capital. There were also major political splits, although most of this fell into social class backgrounds – for the most part the rich (a small minority) hated Chavez; the poor and working class loved him.

Venezuela is also violent. For years, Caracas was known as one of the three most violent cities in the world. And Chavez had many issues, many holes in his doctrine as well as personality. I can be as critical about persons, parties and policies as anyone. But I also support unconditionally the Venezuelan people and their revolution – even with the back-and-forth, up-and-down nature of social change.

What the Venezuelan people have accomplished is a beacon for this continent – and the world. Venezuela represents hope and possibilities during this period of global electronics-based capitalism, when financial decisions in the office suites of banks and corporations of the U.S. impact more what Latin American countries do than their own elected presidents or legislators.

Chavez stood up against U.S. Empire. He stood up against those who would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and working classes. He took over oil production and placed much of this income into bettering the country, but also in helping others. Chavez spearheaded a new Bolivarian Revolution, re-igniting the revolutionary spark that Simon Bolivar first lit to get rid of Spanish rule in the Andes region of South America.

Poetry, song, dance, political teachings, and more exploded in Caracas and elsewhere. Having free medical care and computer access – something not available in the richest and most powerful country in the world – is revolution in itself. I walked into one of those clinics, talked to the doctors and medical assistants, and watched as they brought the best medical practices to anyone who walked in the door. People needing help didn’t have to show their finances, their status, or even their passports. Rich or poor, Venezuelan or foreign, with no regard to religion, gender, sexual preference, or race – all were able to get this kind of attention.

Venezuela is a country of contradictions, like most countries of the world. But unlike many others it is moving in an equitable and embracing social economic and political direction. Hugo Chavez didn’t make this happen by himself, but he held the leadership.

Chavez died last week in Cuba from cancer. He was 58, born the same year I was born. I feel connected to his dream and his actions, his striving for more knowledge as well as his practice. Anyone who places a gulf between the two is missing the vital connection of how ideas become a material force. A vision, a plan, and getting things done – that’s Hugo Chavez’s legacy.

I send condolences to the Venezuelan people – who treated me as a brother, fellow poet and revolutionary – for the loss of their president: Hugo Chavez Frias.

c/s

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David Hernandez -- R.I.P.

Puerto Rican poet, band leader, and pioneer of the country's cutting edge in poetry performance, David Hernandez passed away on Monday, February 25, 2013 in the city he loved, Chicago, due to a heart attack. He was 66.

I met David thirty years ago exactly, 1983, during a fundraiser for mayoral candidate Harold Washington, who went on to become the city's most beloved mayor. I then moved to Chicago in 1985 and worked with David in various configurations of the poetry and art scene in that vibrant city until I left in 2000.

David Hernandez and Street Sounds were the performers to bring to any occasion. Combining David's humor, poignancy, and rhythms with words, the group took poetry to new heights. According to the Chicago Tribune, David once performed to a million people in Chicago's Grant Park and was commissioned to write a poem for the city's 150th anniversary. He worked with troubled youth in lockups and prisons, with the homeless, with the most forgotten and pushed aside. He carried the soul of his Puerto Rican heritage through words and music. At the same time he reached out and embraced all peoples, all colors, all of Chicago's amazing cultures, languages, and voices.

He was my friend and a poetry partner, helping me also create Tia Chucha Press in 1989 and in establishing the Guild Complex Literary Center. Along with books by Michael Warr, Patricia Smith, and Rohan Preston, David's 1991 poetry collection "Rooftop Piper" helped launched this press to national status. At one point he was declared the city's "unofficial poet laureate."

David also knew about drink, drugs, and the street life--in this respect we related, even as we got clean, worked hard to help others, and tried to tear away from the most debilitating prisons of the mind and spirit.

David was one of the sweetest person I ever knew; he always embraced me, treating me like a brother. The last time I saw David, Tia Chucha Press was doing a reading at Jak's Tavern and Restaurant near Greektown as an offsite reading for the American Writing Programs Conference in February of 2012 -- celebrating 23 years of existence. Also on the bill were veteran TCP poets Mary Hawley, Warr and Smith, among others, and new ones such as Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, and Melinda Palacio. I recalled his big smile, as if he was enjoying not only colleagues but his children continuing to break through all boundaries as we revolutionize the world with words, ideas, and song.

David's legacy can be found in all that we do.

His spirit is now in Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore, which I helped bring to the Northeast San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles in 2001 with a strong influence from Chicago's cultural cafes, theaters, art galleries, and studios.

Hermano, compay, te doy abrazotes fuertes -- que en paz descances.

c/s

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Join Luis J. Rodriguez in celebrating the art of making dreams a reality

Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore is a dream of community empowerment. It is the intersection of grassroots community building — drawing on the talents, visions, capacities, and imaginations of the culturally rich Northeast San Fernando Valley — within the framework of a nonprofit institution. This effort requires both feminine and masculine energies. Both expansive freedoms and restrictive necessities. Dreaming and working. Chicano/Central American/Mexican at its core, but open to everyone of any background or community. Tia Chucha’s is also a story of struggle and triumph against great odds. Trini and I, along with countless others,  have withstood many challenges to keep this dream alive. We have moved to three different spaces in twelve years. The first move was because of a drastic rent increase that forced us to put our expensive coffee shop equipment, books, CDs and other supplies into storage, only to have our valuable inventory burglarized and damaged. Our second move was necessary to find a more community-friendly location for our endeavor. We have also had to endure opposition from various local political entities, and the debilitating absence of a comprehensive policy of support for community-based arts in every neighborhood. The weight of these many challenges have been difficult to carry. In fact, when we were pushed out of our first space I found myself contemplating having to close down Tia Chucha’s. Saddened, I showed up at a Tia Chucha’s Open Mic. The spirit of the poets, spoken word artists, singers, and guitarists lifted my spirits. At one point that evening a young girl, about nine years old, got on stage to speak. She just wanted to share her day in school. I was mesmerized by her clear words, comforted that she felt safe and open at this gathering of community of all ages, glad that there was a place where her voice and story could be heard. This convinced me that we had to keep going. Yes, safeguarding Tia Chucha’s has been difficult, but we have not wasted time focusing on fighting anyone who pushed us away, or on setbacks, or on crying—even though there has been tears. Instead, we put our all into continuing to create a full-fledged arts cultural space, based on the cosmologies of our indigenous peoples, but also celebrating the power of visual arts, music, dance, theater, digital media, writing, healing arts, puppetry, photography, and books and more books.  As a result, many would agree we have established one of the best community gathering and learning centers in the whole Los Angeles basin. Now we celebrate twelve years with dignity and respect. But also with much love for our patrons, participants and partners. With much love for our wonderful staff and board of directors. With much love for our growing volunteer base and our generous and talented facilitators. And with endless appreciation of the many funders and donors that have helped keep us alive and relevant. We can’t do this without you. In honor of this struggle for a dream anchored in the love of community, we invite you to celebrate with us on February 23rd from 1 to 6 pm. I will be at Tia Chucha’s to sign books, along with Salvadoran children’s book author  René Colato Laínez who will do the same. The day will be full of wonderful things to see, do and enjoy.Please join me in celebrating twelve years of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the Northwest San Fernando Valley, and the many more years to come. Luis J. Rodriguez, cofounder and president of the Board, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural.
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Time for a New Politics, a New Party

This is a statement by Luis J. Rodriguez during a national CONFAB on February 16, 2013 for the U.S. Justice Party. Luis was the Justice Party vice-presidential candidate along with Rocky Anderson for president during the last presidential elections. He is author of many books, including the bestselling “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” and its sequel “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.” He is co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore and the independent cross-cultural publishing imprint, Tia Chucha Press. In addition he was a co-convener in 2011 of the Network for Revolutionary Change.

In my work as a writer, community activist and urban peace advocate, I travel around the country and speak to thousands of Americans. Recently my trips have taken me to economically strapped communities in Michigan, Illinois, New York, Maryland, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, and California. Let me tell you all these people, many without jobs or in low-paying work with no benefits, need a Justice Party.

I’ve spoken to youth, men and women, mostly of color and all poor, in juvenile lockups and correctional centers—in the past two weeks in California alone I visited Soledad and San Quentin prisons, the San Bruno County Jail, and the Alameda County Juvenile Hall… they need a Justice Party.

I read today that unmanned Drones have been bought by U.S. police forces under this current administration to be used against us—already those given the badge to supposedly “protect us” have shot and killed many innocent people in our urban centers. And they want police officers in all our schools?

As a former steelworker and organizer for AFSCME, it’s also outrageous to see corporations and banks steal the homes and livelihoods of union workers – they need a Justice Party.

To migrants from all over the world, but in particular those from the native lands of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, forced to leave the countries they love just to survive – they need a Justice Party.

To the neglected people in our Native American reservations, in our migrant camps, housing projects, trailer parks, and homeless enclaves, where for decades I’ve done workshops, readings, and talks – they all need a Justice Party.

Presently the interests and aspirations of the working class, of the poor, of the pushed out and neglected, are incompatible with the capitalist motive aim of profits over lives… and incompatible with a two-party system that has strangled the democratic process and brought war to our doorsteps.

This country, more than ever, needs a Justice Party, beholden to no one but the majority of the American people who cannot accept any longer the deterioration of our environment, our healthcare, our schools, and our economy.

These people are hungry for a new politics and a new America. They need a vision of what true justice looks like, feels like – one that can last. It’s time for new thinking and new ways to unite the most diverse cultures, to cross over our varied beliefs and even ideologies, pulling these streams into one energy, one ocean, in cooperation for the benefit of everyone, everywhere.

The technology is on our side, the digital revolution that has preceded the social upheavals and discontent in our midst. For the first time our governance can align with the best clean advancements and the immense capacities of the people.

It’s time for a new party based on a truly broad movement for meaningful and livable work, for peace and the healthy wellbeing of children, teens, adults and seniors. It’s time for the Justice Party.

I, therefore, challenge all of us – can we find the character, the courage, the big ideas needed to create such a party? Can we set aside the unprincipled differences and drama that has dogged so many burgeoning third parties? Can we find the people and whatever funds are necessary to get the Justice Party on the ballot in every state of the union?

To reach out, to awaken, to incorporate more activists, thinkers and leaders into a different kind of politics – this is our challenge. I, for one, am willing to assist this course of action – to see if we can finally break the slavery of the two-party system and begin a new road toward the emancipation of the American voter.

I’d like to end with a story – of a young Guatemalan who had legal U.S. resident status and who graduated from high school in the Los Angeles area. Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez, age 22, became the first U.S. combat death in the last Iraq War. His citizenship was bestowed after his sacrifice.

Can we have a country worthy of people like Jose Gutierrez – who loved this nation and gave his all to the war makers, yet there are many like him returning home to little or nothing?

Please join with me in what is no doubt a historical and practical necessity. Join with me in making justice a reality for all.

c/s

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A Good Way to Start the New Year

AndreaThis past Thursday, January 3, 2013 two important family events occurred.

First my daughter Andrea, who’s now 35 years old, married Sean Patrick Kenney in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m so happy for her and Sean. Andrea’s 16-year-old daughter Catalina was there as well as Sean’s 8-year-old son Trevor. We plan to have family and friends do a reception in L.A. later this month. I send many blessings and much love to my only daughter Andrea, who I love immensely, and to Sean, a great person and partner for Andrea.

May their union be unbreakable and soul sustaining.

Also that day my brother-in-law Tony Cardenas, my wife Trini’s brother, was officially sworn in as U.S. Congressman for the 29th District – the first Chicano/Latino from the San Fernando Valley to be in the House of Representatives. Trini and I were at his new offices across from Congress in Washington D.C. watching the proceedings on TV (Tony could only have a couple of people inside the chambers during the opening of the new Congress, which included his 14-year-old daughter Alina).

Many new congresspersons were sworn in that day. Like Tony, they had receptions in their new offices. However, Tony’s reception was particularly large and brown. Many family and friends from the San Fernando Valley were there—brothers, a sister, cousins, and his sons, daughters, and many nephews. Also at the reception were members from Tony’s old staff from his former L.A. city council offices, other friends and supporters, and such notables as California State Senator Alex Padilla, California State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegro, L.A. School member Nury Martinez, L.A. City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, and others.

That evening a wonderful dinner was held at the James Madison Room of the James Madison Building in Washington D.C. It was quite moving when Tony arrived with his wife Norma. Many applauses – this is a big deal. When Tony spoke there were many tears. I’ve known Tony for as long as Trini and I have been a couple – close to thirty years. He’s grown up a lot in that time. I remember him then as a quiet, unassuming and bright young man. Now he is a true leader, sturdy and strong, with many accomplishments (he was the first Latino from the San Fernando Valley in California’s State Assembly and an L.A. City Councilperson for many years).1

Needless to say this is a moment to be proud of—and I wish Tony well as he tries to negotiate some justice and change and to realize some badly needed hopes in the hell pit of dealings and delays, squabbling and surprises that make up the U.S. Congress.

And I don’t exaggerate when I say that. There’s hell fires there, but I believe Tony can do this—and with grace and dignity (which I’m also aware is hard to find in some of these circles).

Congratulations to my daughter Andrea and Sean as they embark on a new life together.

And congratulations to Tony as he tries to do what few have done in Congress – not just survive but stay energized and inspired to make a defining difference.

c/s
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James Lilly – May He Rest In Peace

Today my friend James Lilly died from a self-inflicted bullet wound. He was a former Chicago gang member, paralyzed when he was 15 years old from a rival gang bullet. Still, he emerged over the years as a champion wheelchair racer who also spoke to kids in schools about not joining gangs. We spoke at events together and took part in conferences and circles on ending gang violence. He sought me as a mentor, and in the end we became friends. You can find out more about his championship run at http://pushin-forward.net/ I have much love for this brother, who emerged as a hero in my eyes. Like many traumatized young men, he also had much to wrestle with. I send love, prayers, and good thoughts to James, his oldest son Jimmy, his wife Nora, and their children. I also send prayers and much respect to Izumi Tanaka, who made the film on James’ life and stayed close to him and his family. For now, I am deeply saddened. Que en paz descanse. c/s
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2012

http://www.youtube.com/embed/4cWyjGXK9l4?list=UU-iJa60bRBOEak3eF5eO62Q&hl=en_US

For a more of my thoughts on the subject read a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post, "What 2012 Means"
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The Election This Time

I was fortunate this year to be a candidate for vice-president under the fledgling Justice Party. Justice Party presidential candidate Rocky Anderson appeared in a number of media outlets, including Democracy Now!, Huffington Post Live, Al Jazeera, and Russia Today, among others. A third party debate at Chicago’s Hilton Hotel in late-October, moderated by Larry King, was seen online by more than a million people—Rocky did a great job articulating the issues. I also traveled on my own to help get the Justice Party’s message known. I did this while promoting my new book (“It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing”), bringing awareness to the Salvadoran gang peace that I’ve been involved with as a member of the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES), and promoting Tia Chucha’s book and film that I co-produced this year (“Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community”). Since July, I spoke throughout the Los Angeles area as well as Port Townsend/Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington DC area, Albuquerque, Boulder/Denver, upstate New York, Chicago, Seattle (again), and Phoenix—not to mention spending seven days in El Salvador. I tried to piggyback media events to add my voice to the public debate. The Justice Party had no money for major ads or for a tour. There was no corporate funding. Despite this we were on the ballot in around fifteen states and as official write-ins in another twenty states. Although our numbers on Election Day were little more than 36,000, third parties totals that day—including the much bigger Libertarians and the Green Party—broke the two million mark. There is a growing vacuum among those disenchanted with the two party system, the DuoCracy that Rocky speaks about, in which regardless of diverse interests pertaining to the economy, class, race, or gender we’re supposed to be represented by only two political parties, two heads of the same beast, both owned and run by massive corporate interests. America deserves better. This so-called democracy is mostly closed to the majority of Americans, in particular the working class and its poor. I’m outraged that more than $2 billion was spent in the presidential campaign—mostly greased by Super Pacs made up of big money that is neither seen nor accounted for. Yes, President Obama won. He won the majority of the “battleground” states. His electoral college numbers were 332 to Romney’s 206. Young voters, women, African Americans, Latinos, and progressive whites carried the day. Still there were 94 million eligible voters who did not turn in a ballot. And even though the President took the popular vote, it was largely evenly split (50.6 percent of the voters went for Obama; 47.8 percent for Romney). This country is severely divided. I’ve read and heard many arguments about why Romney lost and why the Democrats held on to the presidency and maintained their lead in the Senate… as well as harangues and even vitriol from right-wing pundits, analysts, and lay people. Some of the nuttier rants from right-wingers included statements like “America Died” and “Evil won.” Anne Coulter cried. Ted Nugent blew a casket. Karl Rove had nothing but excuses. One social media voice called Obama the “N” word and stated the president should be assassinated (she claimed she was not racist or threatening, only “stating her opinion”—when will people like her be real). I read also that residents in more than thirty states have filed “secession” papers (in Texas, as of this writing, some 80,000 people filed a petition to secede). The crazies in the Republican proved what we always knew—they are too out of it to be part of any decent public discourse. For them, it’s not about what’s right and what’s wrong—or even about reality. It’s about “I’m right… and the rest of you are the devil’s spawn.” The Republicans are a complete joke, and it’s their fault. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow expressed, they are simply wrong on the issues. Wrong on same sex marriage. Wrong on women’s choice in abortion. Wrong on immigration rights (Romney cut his own throat when he said the U.S. should make life so miserable for immigrants that they would “self deport”). Wrong about climate change. Wrong on not taxing the rich more than the rest of us. Wrong on cutting back the social net. Wrong on full health coverage for all people. They’re wrong about capitalism and the power of greed and money to do society any good. And as for right-wing Christians, they are wholly wrong on their most fundamental belief—which is that God is on their side. Really? Why even acts of God helped Obama win (Super Storm Sandy was one of Rove’s excuses when he said it stopped Romney’s momentum). Now how about the Democrats? Many progressives in the black, brown, Asian, and white communities went all out for Obama—even when voter suppression was used against poor and working class communities (in one of the more outrageous examples, an Ohio ballot box was removed after it was discovered that people who voted for Obama ended up inadvertently voting for Romney). But I contend these weren’t votes for the Democrats. They were votes against Romney, against the powerful and rich, against lies, against the racists (there were many subtle and not-so subtle racist statements and expressions against Obama, including more than one effigy of Obama lynched on people’s yards). While it’s true the Democrats had better electoral strategies to get out the votes, better way to track numbers and voting patterns, remember: both parties had more money than ever before. Republicans didn’t do too shabby. The point is regardless of what Republicans did to manipulate their way throughout this campaign, people aren’t buying. They knew the current crisis was a direct result of one of the largest corporate thefts of homes, finances, stocks, and loans in history—which Republicans are directly responsible for and the Democrats pretty much went along. And despite Obama’s win, most people understand—the Democrats cannot pull us out of the crisis. The system, however, only gives us two choices. We can’t be precise, cogent, or able to vote our true interests—they are being hijacked at all levels. If one party doesn’t have the right personality, funds, or the numbers, there’s always the other one... Right. America deserves better. The Democrats have failed on the economy (of the new jobs that supposedly dropped the unemployment rate during the campaign, more than 60 percent were low-paid and unorganized non-permanent positions); the national health plan is a convoluted mess with insurance companies’ hands all over it; more people were deported under President Obama than any previous president; and people’s homes are still on the line, the modification plans enacted by the administration just not able to assist the vast majority of needy homeowners. Poverty is worse and wars continue. It’s great that the electorate pushed back and a few states got same-sex marriage and even marijuana reform. Change is real and powerful. And I’m all for it. But America deserves more. The point is—we can’t stop now. We must want more and we must organize for more. We need to push forward the permanent and true interests of the poor and working class—the only social class that will free up the economy, politics, and our culture. This means not letting President Obama off the hook: Pressure, pressure and more pressure. He shouldn’t be allowed to acquiesce anymore to the big banks, big corporations, big capital interests. I also contend we must break up the big parties. People don’t need to secede from the union (although I welcome this for any state that can get a majority to agree). The Republicans can’t contain their motley crew of Tea Party extremists, right-wing Christians, moderates, libertarians, and even Gay members under one umbrella—too many interests that don’t see eye to eye. And the Democrats are made up of even more varied groups, people, colors, and flavors. Great… that’s America. But isn’t America also about many voices, many concerns, many needs. What if we had more clearly defined political parties vying for the vast American electorate, truly engaging them, pushing the majority to actually care enough to vote? What a concept? Isn’t this what the United States pushes to emerging democratic states around the world—more parties, more voices, each party given equal time? You betcha. Yet, we still think the two party system is God-given and insoluble. There are so-called third world countries known for greater corruption and control, yet with five or six political parties in their national assemblies. I, for one, plan to continue building a movement to free up the democratic process. I will do this with the Justice Party if possible. We have a long way to go, but the Justice Party is on the map and I believe it has room to build and to impact. The Green Party did well in 2012—time to build, not just for elections, but also as a movement. More voices, more imaginations, more ways to go. Yet at the same time to struggle in a rational and common sense manner (based on deeper understandings and knowledge) for the unity-in-diversity needed to keep our country equitable, expansive, and just. America deserves this and more. c/s
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