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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Why I’m the Vice-Presidential Candidate for the Justice Party

I’m 2012’s vice-presidential candidate for the Justice Party, running with presidential candidate Rocky Anderson. Why? Because we need justice in our economy, in our environment, and in our politics.

Today there is a growing gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people of the land, a largely closed and corporate-run democratic process, and few remedies to address climate change and fossil fuel dependence.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats have the long-range, comprehensive, and substantial solutions to any of these as the two parties are daily revealed to be two heads of the same beast.

I understand the dangers of having Governor Romney and Senator Paul Ryan possibly becoming our president and vice-president with the same outlook, policies, and war-mongering that got us into this mess in the first place—there is no way they can be removed from the hammer blow of responsibility for what Republicans in the White House and Congress have done to our country.

I support the historical place Barack Obama has as our first African American president and whatever good he has done against terror in the Middle East and for job growth. Most of those who voted for him reached out to the hope.

But as many others have said before—we should want more.

The Obama Administration’s continual bail-out of financial institutions that have mercilessly ripped off the American people, increased raids and deportations of hard-working immigrant families from Mexico and Central America, and the fact that 60 percent of the job growth has been in the low-paid, unorganized and unrepresented sectors of the service economy cannot be excused.

The eroding of our civil liberties, the waste of lives and monies in the drug wars, and the ongoing use of military operations to resolve the world’s problems, leading to more insecurity, cannot be excused.

President Obama is also a leader. It’s clear he can’t lead us out of economic and political collapse, except to prop up the same ideas and tired structures from the other side of this two-headed entity—which has also failed us.

I’m in this race with Rocky Anderson to inject new ideas, to inspire a new imagination for what’s possible, and to help with a true healing of the people and the land.

I’m in this to make sure the poor and pushed out are at the forefront of any policies and plans—finally… justice for all.

The first step is to allow the voices and alternatives to the two-party system a full airing, the same free and equal access to the media, and to be given a chance to speak out on these issues. You don’t have to agree entirely with Rocky or I, or any of the other far more interesting and knowledgeable candidates out there. But you can agree we all need to be heard.

I’m a first generation U.S. born son of Mexican migrants. My parents believed in the American Dream, which in poor neighborhoods we lived in like South Central L.A. and East L.A. was largely frozen. Although I was a troubled youth—on drugs, in gangs, and out of school—before I left my teens I dedicated myself to education, books, social justice as well as deep economic and political change. This provided me direction, meaning, and energy to move forward as a person and for my community.

I myself became a steelworker, construction worker, paper mill worker, and foundry smelter for many years until I decided in my mid-twenties to be trained as a journalist, and later as a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and memoirist. I’ve also stayed active in my community for some forty years for proper youth development, immigrant rights, better schools, neighborhood arts, and for a vibrant economy and a dynamic political reality.

That’s why I’m running as vice president of the United States for the Justice Party.

Can we win? All I know is that with the Democrats and Republicans we constantly lose. It’s time to vote for what you believe, for what you know to be true, for what you deserve.

It’s time to vote for true justice.


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Justice in Our Environment, Justice in Our Economy, Justice in Politics

As most people know by now, I am the vice-presidential candidate with the Justice Party, running next to Rocky Anderson for President. Here is a link to learn more: I'm honored to have been invited to be in on the national dialogue on issues of poverty, jobs, democracy, the environment, and the end of war. More on this later. For now here are some national media events I've taken part in so far. The Democracy Now! vice-presidential response from Friday, October 12: The Huffington Post Live debate from Friday, October 12:
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2012 Updates - In the Crucible of Change

[caption id="attachment_909" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Salvadoran gang members rapping about peace in the Izalco prison. Photo by Mauricio Lopez."]Salvadoran gang members rapping about peace in the Izalco prison. Photo by Mauricio Lopez.[/caption] It’s been a while since I wrote a blogpost. Other than the post on becoming vice-presidential candidate this month for the Justice Party, I haven’t had a chance to write since April. In that time, however, I’ve been active in social media (Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter) and have had a few things published in the Huffington Post, the Progressive magazine, and Fox News Latino. One of the reasons for my absence was that my webmaster had family emergencies—I wish him well and pray he and his family will be strong through any ordeal. I now have old friends helping me with this website from the large Tia Chucha Family (staff, board members, volunteers, and community members of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore—, including Michael Centeno, for which I’m most grateful.

Here are some highlights of the past few months that I’d like to share with everyone:

o As previously mentioned, I’m now Rocky Anderson’s running mate for the newly-formed but growing Justice Party. You can find out more at

o I was chosen as one of sixty “fascinating people” in Los Angeles in May by the L.A. Weekly:

o I co-produced the film “Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community,” written and directed by John F. Cantu. I also co-edited the book of the same name with Denise Sandoval, published by Tia Chucha Press (the publishing wing of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural).  Both have been released in May, with film screenings all over the city and other parts of the country; the book is available through any bookstore or other book outlet.

o I became part of the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador that from July 20 to July 27 sent an 11-member delegation to the country to assess the gang peace truce from March of the Mara Salvatrucha-13 and Barrio 18, the country’s largest street gangs—and advise and assist where possible. As a member of this delegation—which consisted of human rights leaders, a psychologist, a lawyer, and gang prevention/intervention experts from Los Angeles, New York City, the Washington D.C. area, the San Francisco Bay area, and London—we visited prisons, including for women, non-governmental agencies, schools, factories, and the government ministries of education, health, and public safety (including heads of the prison system).  We also met with gang leaders of the truce in prisons and in the streets. You can find out more on the piece I wrote for Fox News Latino:

o My youngest son, Luis, 18, graduated in June from the Social Justice & Humanitas Academy of the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies in Sylmar/San Fernando. He’s now been accepted to the University of California, Riverside. His brother, Ruben, 24, is finishing Mission Community College, with classes at College of the Canyons, and should be at a bigger institution himself by next spring.

o My oldest son, Ramiro, 37, successfully completed two years of parole since being released from prison in July of 2010. He’s still in Chicago and working with BUILD in their gang prevention/intervention programs. I’m proud of his efforts.

o My daughter Andrea, 35, is still director of a cooperative pre-school in the Eagle Rock/Silverlake area. We also just heard her boyfriend Sean Patrick Kenney has asked her hand in marriage—and she said yes. I’m happy for both of them.

o My youngest granddaughter Catalina, 16, was accepted this summer in the theater program of Summer School for the Arts of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. I also had visits with my other granddaughters Anastasia and Amanda in Illinois, and my oldest grandson, Ricardo, who turns 20 this year, is doing well in his first year of college.

o Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore is now the official “LibroTraficante” site for Los Angeles to celebrate banned books in light of the destruction of Raza Studies in Tucson AZ and the removal of around 50 books of literature, history, and more.

o My trips since April have included a couple of forays into San Francisco/Oakland, including two visits at San Quentin Prison (and HEAL the HOOD events with Poor Magazine); talks and readings in Lansing MI; Port Townsend and Seattle WA; Fresno CA; at the Power of Poetry Festival in the Hocking Hills of Ohio; Orange CA; Highland Park CA; Boyle Heights CA; Tia Chucha’s “Celebrating Words” literacy and performance festival in Sylmar CA; LeaLA (Read LA), Spanish-language book fair in downtown L.A.; Chicago;  the Aspen Literary Festival (where “The Three Louies” performed); Leimert Park, Inglewood CA; and more. Media talks have included the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting System, KPFA in Berkeley and KPFK in L.A., KTLA-TV; L.A. Daily News; KJLH’s Front Page talk show in L.A.; and various Salvadoran and international news outlets, among others

My work with the Network for Revolutionary Change—founded in Chicago last October—continues on a national and local level. It’s aim is to bring together the often scattered leaders and organizations in various fronts of struggle—be they in labor, veteran’s rights, immigrant rights, justice against police abuse, poverty, and more—toward independent political strategizing and organizing across the United States. I have an NRC event in San Francisco at the Red Poppy on August 20. To find out more go to

There is more to report, I’m sure, but I’ll leave you all with this. Stay tuned for further developments. Stay in peace and in justice.


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Luis Rodriguez joins Rocky Anderson's 2012 campaign as vice presidential running mate

ljrLuis Rodriguez, a leading Chicano writer, speaker, gang expert and interventionist, and activist for justice in urban peace, the arts, labor, and human rights, has joined Rocky Anderson's 2012 presidential campaign as Anderson’s vice presidential running mate. "The search for a highly competent, dignified, principled running mate has been arduous," Rocky stated. "Luis exceeds any expectations I had. He will inform, uplift, and motivate in this campaign, just as he does every day in his inspirational work." He is a co-founder of the Network for Revolutionary Change, trying to fill the gap of strategic and unified leadership among the poor, the pushed-out, the dismissed, and forgotten. He's also co-founder of the nonprofit Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore and its publishing wing, Tia Chucha Press, in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. He has fifteen published books in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children's literature, including the bestselling 1993 memoir Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and its 2011 sequel, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicano Tribune, The Progressive, Philadelphia Inquirer magazine, The Nation, L.A. Weekly, U.S. News & World Report, Fox News Latino, and the Huffington Post, among others. He has lived and worked in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Bernardino, and fifteen years in Chicago. He's now a resident of San Fernando, CA. For over thirty years Luis conducted workshops, readings, and talks in prisons, juvenile facilities, homeless shelters, migrant camps, universities, public and private schools, conferences, churches, Native American reservations, and men's conferences. Luis has received the Inner City Struggle of East L.A.’s “Spirit of Struggle”/Ruben Salazar Award; the “Local Hero of Community” Award from KCET-TV of L.A. and Union Bank of California; “Hero of Nonviolence” Award from Rev. Michael Beckwith and the Agape Christian Center in Culver City, CA; and an "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" Award, presented by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. According to Rocky Anderson, who practiced law (including civil rights and constitutional law), served as Mayor of Salt Lake City for eight years, and founded and served as Executive Director of High Road for Human Rights, “Unlike most candidates for high public office, Luis brings with him a wealth of knowledge and real-life experience, inspirational personal growth, and proven commitment to social, economic, and environmental justice. Such justice is an essential element of a nation committed to equal opportunity, peace, and genuine freedom for all.” Rodriguez stated, "I'm honored to be on this ticket with Rocky Anderson. It's important to find a politically independent means to voice the real issues of justice in this country. The Justice Party comes at a crucial time, when the truth about who holds power and wealth in this country is daily more evident and the failures of the two-party system become increasingly irreparable. This is a vision for a new America, new ideas, new forms of struggle--of true justice in our time and for generations to come." According to Rodriguez, "The Justice Party is part of a growing movement in the United States for true peace, justice, equity, and dignity. People are understanding more and more that to have a healthy and full development for each person we need to have the healthy and full development of all." "My aim in being part of this ticket with Rocky Anderson in the Justice Party is to help spread the conversation in this country about how we need to incorporate more voices, stories, ideas, and people into how we govern and take care of everyone. Two directions for true justice are to have meaningful, respectful and healthy relations with the environment, the earth, and its bountiful resources. And to have meaningful, respectful, and healthy relations with each other."
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Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich – Poet and Friend

Adrienne Rich was not just this country’s most vital and honored poet, she was a revolutionary thinker and activist—and friend to me, whom she helped when I was barely entering this writer’s life. Adrienne died on Tuesday, March 27 in Santa Cruz, where she has been living for many years. She was 82. Adrienne published a dozen books of poetry and several books of essays over more than a half century. She’s won major awards for her work, including a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. But she also railed against the “patriarchy” of such competitions, and felt that all nominees should share the prize and do best with this recognition for women. She did exactly that. She was openly political and openly lesbian, and her poetry soared with imagery, ideas, language, rhythm, and immense skill. She was a prime example of how strong politics and highly developed art can come together in a living and dynamic way. She also helped bring along a young writer named Luis Rodriguez in subtle but important ways that I will never forget and always honor. She quoted from my newly published memoir “Always Running” in her 1993 book of essays “What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics.” This was an attention that I appreciate very much, especially since it’s hard to make a mark in this massive and often-segmented literary world of ours. Her mention of me brought badly needed support. In the 1990s, she helped founder/director (and great poet) Michael Warr and the fledgling Guild Complex Literary Center in Chicago, which I also helped create and organize as a board member. I remember a meal we once had, Michael and me, with Adrienne at the Drake Hotel along Chicago’s lakeshore, how warm and bright Adrienne was, so giving and genuine. Then when I returned to Los Angeles after fifteen years in Chicago, she gave money to Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural & Bookstore, newly started by my wife Trini and I, among others. It is now a thriving nonprofit cultural space/bookstore, and Adrienne continued to give when she could—knowing how her health was failing her. This support helped us continue Tia Chucha Press, mostly bringing new powerful cross-cultural voices to poetry, including Terrance Hayes, A. Van Jordan, Linda Susan Jackson, Luivette Resto, Chiwan Choi, Richard Vargas, and more. On Friday night, March 30, Trini and I attended a poetry reading for Mujeres de Maiz (Women of Corn) at Self-Help Graphics Arts Studios in Boyle Heights. There were many voices, many stories, many styles from women across L.A.'s vast Eastside and as far away as Santa Ana and Oakland (and women from Tia Chucha's "In The Words Of Womyn" writing workshops and the Young Warriors youth empowerment project). I could see Adrienne Rich's hand in all this--to legitimize, humanize, and provide deep and broad spaces for women's truths and visions. Perhaps many of the readers or audience members were unaware of the brave and consistent work that Adrienne contributed over the decades. But her impact was still there. My best memory of Adrienne was her reading at Tia Chucha’ Café Cultural not long after we first opened. The place was packed. I had to pick her up from where she was staying at Marina Del Rey, quite a ride from the Northeast San Fernando Valley. We had a pleasant talk on the way. She graciously gave of her time, pulling in energy from who knows where, although I was aware she was not feeling well and needed a cane to get around. During her reading she never showed pain or hesitancy. Her reading was rich, and it brought tears to my eyes. What a great person, woman, poet Adrienne was, is, always will be. Que descanses en paz, mi maestra. c/s
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Trayvon Martin and the value of our youth

The murder of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford FL has ignited outrage and an important conversation in this country. People are now asking: When should deadly force be used? Why are young black men considered dangerous? Are “stand your ground” laws a license to kill? And will true justice finally see the day in the case of Trayvon Martin? Like President Obama, I felt the pain of envisioning Trayvon possibly being my own child. In my case, I have a 17-year-old who is a well-behaved intelligent young man in dark skin. Although of Mexican descent, I could envision somebody pre-judging him for being a danger. I’d hate that such a person might also have a gun and, based on such pre-judgments, harm my boy. Any father would. Yet Newt Gingrich attacked President Obama for having such thoughts—that is if this were a “white” kid Obama should also be outraged (as if Obama wouldn’t be). Even Gerardo Rivera was mocked for daring to declare that Trayvon’s death was due to his wearing a hoodie! The problem is black and brown youths are the general scapegoats of the greater society. You see this upfront or in subtexts in the news, on TV, and movies. The default “dangerous” persons in our society are dark-skinned teenagers, particularly in hoodies. Laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground,” which makes it legal to use deadly force in the face of possible danger, has created three times the number of people who have killed than otherwise would have. The reality is most states already allow one to defend oneself if under attack—but these laws take this further. It appears that the perception of danger may also give one an excuse to kill. And if the cultural “bad guy” is a young black male you can see where this is going. The fact is whites are more likely to be killed by other whites (blacks are more likely to be killed by blacks; Mexicans by Mexicans… and so on). The fact is the biggest thieves and destroyer of livelihoods are not in hoodies but often in suits and ties, behind desks, making decisions in the boardrooms of major banks or corporations that end up ripping off more people, getting rid of more jobs, than any perceived “gangsta” in the street. That’s not to say people don’t get mugged, jacked, or even killed by urban dark-skinned youths—but it’s a rare thing in relation to those who really control our jobs and homes. I’ve heard such fears about dark-skinned youths expressed in Neighborhood Watch meetings and other public gatherings. I went to one NW meeting where neighbors of a sober living home were trying to shut it down because of the “perceived” danger (the parolees were generally tattooed Mexican youth). One veteran police officer, however, pointed out that in the thirty years that home had been operating, they had never had a crime linked to any of the occupants. I recall once being on a panel to address a “gang injunction” (in which police powers are heightened in designated areas to stop young people believed to be in gangs from congregating, using cell phones or baseball bats during certain hours, and the imposition of strict curfews and putting such youths in gang data bases, among other acts). The mostly white members in the audience were more than happy to have such an injunction, directed at the predominantly Mexican and Central American members of this area. A few people said some silly things at this meeting. For example, one woman claimed the local park was worse than an allegedly gang-infiltrated Chicago park she once visited. I later got a reporter to visit that park, talk to people, hang out a bit—he found nothing dangerous or gang related during that visit. We have got to stop the media or official portrayal of what’s “bad” in our society point to our young people. We have got to stop laws that allow such unfounded fears to perhaps lead to deadly violence—as in the case of Trayvon Martin, where the perpetrator, George Zimmerman, has yet to be arrested although the killing occurred in late February. On Saturday, March 24, I had the privilege to take part in a retreat sponsored by Inside Out Writers, held at the Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, one of the largest juvenile lockups in the world. Hundreds of adjudicated young people—male and female—from L.A. county juvenile facilities were brought in to read poetry; a couple of them even sang and more than a few did raps. The words were powerful, heart-felt, full of beauty and full of truth. There were more than a few tears. I wish the whole country could have seen and heard these young people. The majority of them were brown and black, middle school-aged and teenagers. I wish the world could have witnessed their genius, their stream of amazing language, and to finally comprehend their complex humanity. How they are essentially no different than any other young people. Perceptions can be dangerous. Let’s make sure we can finally heal from these historically evolved perceptions, rifts and justifications—and that Trayvon Martin and his family will finally get the justice they deserve. c/s
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A stronger vision for our schools

Last Friday night I attended the first awards ceremony for the Social Justice Humanitas Academy, one of four teacher-run academies at the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies in an industrial section of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. This was the first year the high school opened, in a new multi-million dollar school building as a result of community activists and their representatives in the state’s legislature obtaining $650 million for new schools in some of the poorest sections of the Los Angeles Unified School District. My youngest son Luis is a senior at the Social Justice Humanitas Academy. He was one of several students honored that evening for having a high grade point average. I’m so proud of him. My son came at the right time to the Social Justice Humanitas Academy when it was still part of Sylmar High School. He was in his sophomore year and left the highly touted L.A. County High School for the Arts. For various reasons, he was not happy at LACSHA, although he did well in his studies. We talked to one of the Humanitas teachers, Mauricio Regalado, who recommended we bring Luis back to his home school—he emphasized that many good changes were beginning to happen. We met other great teachers, including Jose Navarro, who is now principal of the Social Justice Humanitas Academy. Trini and I, as Luis’ parents, became involved in struggling for Humanitas to be one of the four autonomous schools chosen by the community to be in the new building. We also took part late last year in the renaming of the school. It was officially called Valley Region #5 High School. Some locals called it Swap Meet High, since it was located right behind the largest biweekly swap meet in the Valley. After several meetings, community gatherings, and school sessions (and a vote by parents and students), Trini and I with other community leaders fought to have the school renamed “The Cesar Chavez Learning Academies.” Trini’s former high school teacher, Alex Reza, a teacher of many Valley leaders, was key to this fight. We’re very proud of what the community has obtained through long struggle. Recently, members of the mostly Mexican Little Village barrio of Chicago also fought for a new high school, including with an internationally covered 19-day hunger strike in May of 2001. This battle was also led by youth I helped mentor in Youth Struggling for Survival. That high school opened its doors in the fall of 2005 and now has four autonomous small schools—including one for Social Justice—under the shared structure of Little Village Lawndale High School. Although the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies in the Northeast San Fernando Valley section of L.A. was a result of ideas and actions by teachers, students, parents, and community leaders before we returned to live here—and those politicians aligned to our community needs, including school board member Nury Martinez—I was proud that Trini and I, as well as my son Luis, played an important role in its establishment. In addition, this past Monday Trini and I were present at the renaming of another new school in the Van Nuys barrio of the Valley. It was called Valley Regional #6 Elementary School until community members requested it be named the Andres and Maria Cardenas Elementary School. Andres and Maria Cardenas were Trini’s parents. They are known in the Northeast San Fernando Valley for having raised eleven children in one of the roughest neighborhoods in L.A., Pacoima—and yet none of the children got into gangs, drugs or jails. Many of Trini’s siblings are college graduates and include engineers, health care professionals, teachers, and in construction. Her youngest brother, Tony Cardenas, is an L.A. City Councilman, and a former state assemblyman, who is now running for U.S. Congress. It was another proud moment to see many of Trini’s large family—including nephews and nieces, and even a couple of grandnephews and grandnieces. Andres and Maria Cardenas had close to sixty grandchildren—and, again, all of them are doing well. One granddaughter, Angelica Loa Perez, is a singer, musicologist, and is co-founder of the nonprofit Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural. She spoke during the ceremony along with other family members. Also Trini’s brother Tony, when he was in the state legislature, was instrumental in obtaining the millions for the new L.A.-area schools. The nonprofit he helped create with other family members--the Andres & Maria Cardenas Family Foundation--has given more than a million dollars in scholarships to Northeast San Fernando Valley students over sixteen years. Tony did a talk to the well-attended gathering in front of the elementary school, saying that honoring his parents is to honor all hard-working value-driven immigrants to this land, in particular those from Mexico and Central America who make up the majority of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. I’m proud to be married into this marvelous family. All the family members present were allowed to pull the ropes to unveil the new school name, applauded by all, including students and teachers of the new school. Education to me is key to the development, continued growth, and meaningful future of Mexicans and Central Americans, all Americans really. That’s why we need to make sure all public schools are given the adequate funds, tools, teachers, and buildings to bring the best to our children. But this can’t be done removed from the vibrant history, contributions, names, voices, and stories of the people involved. This can't be done without an organized fight, new strategies, community leadership. That’s why the battle in Tucson, Arizona is key—there Chicano Studies has been outlawed and around 50 books banned from being taught in those classes. We must make sure we don’t lose Tucson schools to those who want to narrow our minds, close off access, and make second and third class citizens of our children. Naming the new schools in the Valley for leaders like Cesar Chavez, or for the unsung mothers and fathers who raised us against great odds, like Andres and Maria Cardenas, makes sense. And having a social justice vision—for greater knowledge, deeper roots, and more encompassing schooling in anticipation of a new world—is the way to go. Thanks to everyone who played a big role in making a reality the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies and the Andres & Maria Cardenas Elementary School. c/s
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Think bold and big—your actions will follow

I’ve had a great time these past few weeks. I’ll try to summarize, but let me just say how great my family, friends, supports, publishers, agents, and even acquaintances have been. Alignments are coming together in the world, but in my life they are very strong right now. First, my friend Mike Sonksen – Mike the Poet – came to the Associated Writing Program Conference in Chicago where we chatted for a while. He wrote a wonderful piece about his travels, which I include here. More on the AWP conference later, but first I must include a great piece by Reed Johnson of the Los Angeles Times that appeared on March 11 while I was in Chicago. I’m honored by this and send my gratitude: On February 22, I did a keynote talk in the “How Arts Works” Conference in Oakland, CA, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. We must fight for the arts in our schools, our neighborhoods, our homes… a society without arts is a society without the blooming creativity that is innate in all people and all communities—a creativity we need more than ever in this digital age. I’m thankful I was able to share the Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore story to a potent group of artists, organizers, and thinkers. Soon after, I took a plane to Alabama where I spent time speaking to students at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, as well as participants of the National Council of Teachers of English Assembly for Research annual conference being held there. You may recall that Tuscaloosa suffered a horrendous tornado in what is now known as the “2011 Super Outbreak,” the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded that hit the Southern, Midwest, and Northeast regions of the United States. Around 360 tornados struck 21 states last year—with 346 people killed, some 240 in Alabama alone. In Tuscaloosa the most destructive tornado was a mile wide and cut a swathe of some 70 miles. There are now empty blocks and blocks of land that once held homes. I saw strip malls that are still damaged and boarded up. Fortunately, the university was not damaged, but the devastation was all around, in particular through the poorest areas of the city. The following week—beginning February 29—I landed in Chicago to take part in the largest gathering of writers, professors of writing programs, and publishers in the country: The Associated Writing Programs annual conference. This year was their largest yet, some 10,000 participants. Tia Chucha Press for the first time cooperated with ScapeGoat Press (thanks Ben and Linda) to have a table. We also had an official Tia Chucha Press reading with TCP poets Diane Glancy, Michael Warr, Luivette Resto, and Jose Antonio Rodriguez. In addition, I was part of a panel on the Chicago Poetry scene—I was there during the 1980s and 1990s explosion of poetry performance that included the birth of Poetry Slams. The panelists were Kurt Heintz, Sharon Mesmer, Paul McComas, and our moderator, Tim Brown. This panel was recorded by Kurt and can be heard on: And I did a reading and had a great public conversation with Dagoberto Gilb at the Grand Ballroom at Chicago’s Hilton for AWP, moderated by John Phillip Santos for the Macondo Foundation. I thank Macondo Foundation for setting this up and taking care of my wonderful stay. Dago was great as always, and there was a powerful exchange with the audience. One of the highlights was an offsite reading at Jak’s Tap & Restaurant for the Guild Complex during that week. This was to honor three Tia Chucha Press poets who were there at the beginning—Michael Warr, Patricia Smith, and myself. Other Tia Chucha Press poets read as well—Mary Hawley, Richard Vargas, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, and our new TCP poet Melinda Palacio (her book, “How First Is A Story, Waiting” comes out in the fall). The place was packed, and many old friends (and family members, including my son Ramiro and his mother Camila) came to listen. Everyone did powerful readings. Despite the late hour when we finished, almost everyone stayed. I was also privileged to speak at a number of schools—the John Hancock High School, the Marguette School, the William Penn School, and Steinmetz High School. At the invitation of my friend Amanda Klonsky of Free Write, I also had an engaging talk with young men at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago. And I addressed a small group of gang intervention workers and their charges for BUILD at the San Lucas Church in Humboldt Park—where in the year 1999-2000 I helped found the Humboldt Park Teen Reach with BUILD, YMCA’s Street Violence Prevention Program, and Youth Struggling for Survival. I also did a quick but important reading with Michael Warr at Weeds, hosted for years and years by my friend Gregorio Gomez (this was one of my regular hangouts when I was active in the Chicago poetry scene). I did take two days to go to New York City, courtesy of Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster, for a reading and ceremony of the National Book Critics Circle Awards. My newest memoir, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addictions, Revolutions, and Healing” was a finalist. I was honored to be among this august group of thirty finalists in categories such as fiction, poetry, biography, autobiography, and more. I didn’t win, but I won just by the recognition, by being included. I want to thank all the NBCC nominees who fought for my book. And my congratulations go to all the winners. My visit also included a wonderful time with my granddaughters Amanda and Anastasia (who live in Sterling and Hanover, IL respectively) that included a nice car trip with Grandma Camila. I have nothing but love for my growing family. I must say how proud I am of my son Ramiro, who is going to college, working in gang prevention projects at Leif Ericson Elementary School in Chicago, and being a great human being. I also spoke at a Network for Revolutionary Change gathering at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum next to the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. Director Lisa Lee did a talk on the revolutionary legacy of Jane Addams and Chicago. Also speaking was Sheilah Garland-Olaniran who gave an important account of organized and unorganized labor struggles in the United States. Moderated by Alma Montes and Peter Vargas, the floor was opened up to the audience, which was around 70 people, including Native American activists, undocumented migrants, labor leaders, anti-war activists, artists, students, poets, and more. The message—we are revolutionaries, we are responsible and serious, and the time is now to think big, think bold, and carry out teachings and actions that encompass the highest conscious, connective, and revolutionary ideas. For more about the Network, please go to: c/s
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