The Bay Area: Poetry, Song, and Deep Talk

Eddie Palmieri streamed through the piano keys as he played his most well known hits at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco. It was Sunday, December 4, and Eddie’s last gig at Yoshi’s after several nights of sets. It was also around his birthday—on December 15 he’ll be 74. I listened, danced, and enjoyed a musician I once saw around 35 years ago at the Hollywood Palladium with his famous Salsa orchestra, playing the same songs—and sounding just as good. I mean “Azucar,” “Muneca,” “Vamonos Pal Monte,” and more. With me were the poet Genny Lim and my longtime friend, Bay Area publicist Juliana Mojica. In the 1970s I was a huge Salsa music fan—the Fania All Stars, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Eddie and his brother Charlie, among others. Besides enjoying Salsa concerts in L.A., I saw some of these same musicians at the famous Village Gate in Manhattan. So listening to Eddie at Yoshi’s evoked some great memories. I returned to the Bay Area in late November to speak at the Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland, which had standing room only. The event also featured Hip Hop performers, poets, and Native ceremonial drummers. Many of my fans/supporters came by and we had a great time. Earlier I spent a couple of hours with lifers at San Quentin Prison in a writing project. I came courtesy of Brenda Rhoades of Sugar Beet Productions, who’s working on a film of prisoners who were given life sentences as juveniles. Some of the men had already done fifteen years or more. I must say their writings were excellent and compelling. I hope to continue to work with these men in the future. I also spent about three days in Marin County at the annual board meeting of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, founded by storyteller and drummer Michael Meade. Mosaic publishes books and CDs as well as organizes events, talks, conferences, and workshops on mythology, ritual, rites of passage, soul work, and much more across the U.S. and other countries. I’ve been working with Mosaic for eighteen years, including at their yearly men’s conference in Mendocino. It was great to see my many friends in this work at the meeting. On Monday, December 5 I spent most of the day at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall, organized by another long-time supporter, Amy Cheney of the Write to Read program. I spoke to three groups of youth, including a young women’s circle that proved to be emotionally powerful. That evening I did a presentation at the City College of San Francisco, Mission campus, which held another full house, including young people from the Youth Adelante program of East Palo Alto, CA. A rich discussion followed with deep talk, poetry, tears, and revolutionary ideas. On Tuesday, I spoke at the Arise High School, an Oakland Charter school in the Fruitvale neighborhood, to more than 200 students—again the attention and questions were amazing. And later that day, I was at 826 Valencia, a writing center in the Mission District of San Francisco, founded by writer Dave Eggers and catering to children and youth ages six to eighteen. I read from my children’s book, “America Is Her Name” and fielded some tough questions from the children. Also from their Spanish-speaking mothers. Overall my time in the Bay Area for several days over the past two months was overwhelmingly positive: I ended up selling more than 150 books and had packed houses at all my public events. I was interviewed on various radio programs and had print media coverage as well. Thanks to Juliana Mojica, George Galvis, Amy Cheney, Brenda Rhoades, Vickie Vertiz, and many others who helped make these events possible. c/s
Read more

Police Raid Occupy L.A.

[caption id="attachment_855" align="aligncenter" width="579" caption="Luis Rodriguez (right) pictured at the Occupy L.A. encampment some hours before it is raided by the LAPD. Standing next to Luis is friend, Frank Curtis."]Luis Rodriguez (right) pictured at the Occupy L.A. encampment some hours before it is raided by the LAPD. Standing to Luis' right is friend, Frank Curtis.[/caption] Last night my daughter Andrea and I – along with her boyfriend Sean – stood among the Occupy L.A. protestors on the south steps of City Hall. We were taking part in the General Assembly that was preparing for a police raid later that evening. It was dark already. The raid was expected around 10 pm. I had heard that police had amassed at Dodger Stadium. Helicopters hovered above our heads. My long-time friend Frank Curtis had just bought gallons of water for the protestors—water and food were scarce by then. At one time since October 1, during its height, I heard from 700 to 1,000 tents were set up around City Hall, making L.A. the largest Occupy Movement encampment in the country. By last night there were only a couple hundred tents. A few people were encamped on top of trees. Around 500 people were at the General Assembly or hanging around. At least three times when I was there someone tried to get violent. People surrounded any disrupters, embracing them at times, and gently but swiftly removing them from the area. No persons were hurt. As this would happen, people chanted: “We Are A Peaceful Movement.” Occupy L.A. was only a few blocks from the world’s largest jail—the Twin Towers County Jail. It was only a few blocks from the largest homeless enclave in the country. I’ve been in that jail and I’ve been among these homeless. For me the worldwide Occupy Movement was one of the most meaningful shining lights of defiance against a society that would create jails and homeless in the midst of the greatest rise in wealth in history. As the Occupy people made clear from the beginning—the widening gulf between the one percent of the richest people and the rest of us, the 99 percent, is criminal and obscene. Andrea, Sean, and I left just before the police closed off streets, encircled the City Hall Park, and began to remove people. Andrea had to get back to her daughter. I would have stayed—I’ve been in hundreds of protests and demonstrations over the years, Maced and pepper-sprayed, even jailed for my actions. But tonight I was going to have to get my daughter, Sean, and myself home (Sean, a decent, hardworking recovering alcoholic and ex-convict, can’t get arrested). [caption id="attachment_859" align="alignright" width="432" caption="LAPD officers surrounding the Occupy L.A. encampment, Nov. 30, 2011. Photo Reuters/McNew"]LAPD officers surrounding the Occupy L.A. encampment, Nov. 30, 2011. Photo Reuters/McNew[/caption] That night I watched some of the raid on TV. In the end the police had 1,400 officers, many in riot gear and with weapons. Some 200 people were arrested when everybody was moved out by 5:30 a.m. Many protestors ended up at La Placita Church in front of Olvera Street—the church opened its doors to the Occupy L.A. people. To the credit of the protestors, peace was maintained. The police were prepared for the worse, but in the end they did not utilize terrible violence to remove people. The movement continues. It must now take new shapes, new outlets, new kinds of protests. As my good friend the poet Jenuine says, it must also be fluid. It’s clear we cannot live under this system of deep inequality and scarcity any longer. The economic inequities are forcing millions of Americans to come together, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or even political party. If you’re among the poorest of the 99 percent, these things don’t matter as much. What ties us together is the dream of saving our homes, our jobs, our freedoms, our basic needs and our voice. This must now also involve powerfully new and encompassing vision, organization, strategies, plans, and knowledge. If we don’t learn, we don’t grow. And how we learn must be expanded—there are many ways to get the essential teachings in all these actions so that we get closer and closer to real political, economic, and cultural independence from capitalism, its governance, and all the poverty, pain, and deaths this has caused in the U.S. and around the globe. The big dream of a new world has to remain constant, even as the movement takes on many shapes. The point is we can’t stop until the battle’s won. c/s
Read more

Violence Against Non Violence

[caption id="attachment_851" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Occupy Wall Street poster by Adbusters. www.adbusters.org"]Occupy Wall Street poster by Adbusters. www.adbusters.org[/caption] Some onlookers applauded the demonstrators from open windows. Others yelled, "Get a job!" "I don't understand their logic," said Adam Lieberman, as he struggled to navigate police barricades on his way to work at JPMorgan Chase. "When you go into business, you go into business to make as much money as you can. And that's what banks do. They're trying to make a profit." Gene Williams, a bond trader, joked that he was "one of the bad guys" but said he empathized with the demonstrators: "The fact of the matter is, there is a schism between the rich and the poor, and it's getting wider." The above statements were in an article I found on the Internet. They point out to the heart of the matter of what’s transpiring in the United States—is this a country where people can make as much money as they can (the same idea a criminal enterprise has) or is this a country that ensures people’s freedoms, livelihoods, schooling, health, and homes are secure and sacred? We as a people need to decide: Are profits sacred or our lives? Two different ways of seeing the world, of thinking, of being, are clashing at Occupy America and the other anti-capitalist demonstrations, protests, and marches on the rise everywhere. The recent violent acts by police to remove the Occupy Wall Street people out of Liberty Plaza came at the heels of similar violence in Oakland, Denver, Portland, and other cities. Even in L.A. the other day, where clashes between police and protesters were not happening in the past two months, several people were arrested trying to gather in front of a Bank of America building. It’s now known that the FBI and Homeland Security were involved in these coordinated attacks. The police may be made up of working class people, of family members, even our relatives, but as an institution they are there to defend the power of private property over the rest of us. In the end they will use violence against the nonviolence of the people—they did this against movements led by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez. The Occupy Movement must expand, stay strong, and push forward—the “legal” thievery of the banks and corporations must not go without challenge.  Since the October 2008 stock market crash, the richest people have become richer—more than anytime in human history. They have amassed and are hoarding trillions of dollars, keeping this from the economy, and continuing to pay their executives outrageous salaries, including one who recently received $40 million in one shot—$40 million for one person only because they are part of the 1 percent. I’m with the thousands of community leaders, revolutionary thinkers, and activists in all fronts of struggle and organizations in condemning the recent police actions against Occupy movement people anywhere. In particular, Occupy Wall Street must continue to exist and grow. For more on what I’m doing, please go to: http://conferenceofrevolutionaries.tumblr.com/ ALSO my friend David Diaz recently wrote this about his two daughters:
Sonja and Zerena were in the middle of the conflict at Berkeley. Sonja, in front of Boalt Hall, walking to her bldg was harassed, then handcuffed, then cited for resisting arrest. She is totally pissed, and esp at the Dean for not supporting Latina/o studies, of course the only two harassed by UC and Alameda Co Police. This was after a demonstration, she was by herself, and when challenged by campus police she stuck to her guns and demanded the name and ID number of the officer. Those that know her, know she is an alpha Latina who does not back down. She has been interviewed on TV, 1/3 of the law students attended a meeting to bash the dean, and now has legal representation. Zerena was hit w/ a baton, fortunately not mega during one of the actions on campus. No damage.... but she is really turning a political corner and engaging in direct action. Of course, I’m totally proud of both of them. Seeing Latinas in action offers promise for the future. If you want to make a difference you can call or contact: Dean Christopher Edley: 510. 642.6483 email    edley@law.berkeley.edu 215 Boalt Hall Uni of CA Berkeley, CA 93720-7200 and/or UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau 510.642.7464 email    chancellor@berkeley.edu 200 California Hall, MC # 1500 Uni of CA Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
c/s
Read more

The Heart of Occupy America

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

The Dream That Has Yet To Be

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

Justice for Scott Olsen

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

Piri Thomas—R.I.P.

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

Between the Big Dream and Program

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

Troy Davis - Death is not Justice

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

How the Arts Transform Communities

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

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

Read more