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
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
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: www.latimes.com 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: http://voices.e-poets.net/conversation 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: http://conferenceofrevolutionaries.tumblr.com c/s
Over these past few weeks, I did a panel for the new PM Press (www.pmpress.org) book, “Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail: Stories of Crime, Love, and Rebellion,” edited by Andrea Gibbons and Gary Phillips. Held at the William Still Art Center in South L.A., authors in the book, including myself, talked about fiction and politics to a receptive audience on a nice clear L.A. day. My story in the collection, “Look Both Ways,” was an attempt to do a modern mystery story with political and social relevance. The whole book is filled with gems by authors like Sara Paretsky, John Imani, Gary Phillips, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Penny Mickelbury, and more. Definitely worth reading and sharing with others. I also did a second public unscripted conversation called “The Three Louies” with Luis R. Torres, Chicano journalist and former L.A. radio personality; Louie Perez, of the great East L.A. band Los Lobos; and myself. This included remembrances, anecdotes, insights, and more. This time we were at KPCC-FM’s Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, CA on January 5, 2012. This went very well and we’ve now received requests to do this in other venues. As Louie Torres says, “Carnegie Hall… here we come!” On January 17, I had the privilege to be in a public conversation with Father Greg Boyle, founder/director of Homeboy Industries and author of the book “Tattoos on the Heart.” He was most generous and kind (we’ve been friends and colleagues in this work with hard-core gang youth for years). We also had great questions and comments from audience members in the full house at the Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Public Library. This was sponsored by Aloud!—a wonderful program of readings, talks, conversations, and more. Go to www.lfla.org/aloud/upcoming.php for information. During this time, I also got word that my last book, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing” became a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award in their autobiography category. This memoir is the sequel to my best-selling “Always Running.” I’m going to the awards reading, dinner and ceremony in New York City, March 7 and 8. I’m honored to be thusly recognized, especially by those who read and critique books. [caption id="attachment_886" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Luis Rodriguez, grandson Ricardo, and Ricardo's mother Jennifer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 2012."][/caption] This past Saturday I was in Fort Lauderdale Airport on my way back home. My oldest grandson Ricardo—currently in his first year of college—came to visit me in Fort Lauderdale Friday evening with his mother and uncle. What a wonderful young man, whose dream is to become a top-notch graphic artist. He’ll make it—whatever he wants to do he can do. Prior to this I was in Miami/Coral Gables at the historic Biltmore Hotel as part of the Eight Annual “Gathering of Leaders,” sponsored by the New Profit Foundation. Here were leaders in politics, business, nonprofits, sciences, and the arts addressing social innovation and what this means for the rapidly changing—and crisis-ridden—realities we are all in. I did a dinner talk on February 8 that was well received, introduced by new friend and youth leadership dynamo Robert Lewis of Boston. I particularly liked hearing the journalist and TV writer David Simon (“The Wire,” “The Corner,” “Homicide,” and more). He hit hard—with strong personal authority, facts, and a big heart—the disastrous and unjust drug laws of the United States (and linking this to the terrible violence in places like Mexico). My respect goes out to this man who continues to fight for the peaceful, encompassing, and just country we need, not the country the bankers, corporations, much of the media and most politicians have forced on us. To end I’m reprinting here a poem by Matriz, who has come out of the In Their Own Words women’s writing workshops held weekly at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural (www.tiachucha.com). She also happens to be my wife Maria Trinidad Rodriguez (La Trini)—someone I love, admire, and respect.
Change Change is the child we all carry. We cuddle it, hold it, soothe it, but it is insistent. Its nature makes it persist, knowing it can do no other. Change wears the face of the unknown. Unrecognized, and feared because of it, we approach it timidly, it rushes at us, unapologetic, ready and roaring, an in-your-face presence needing attention. Change grows beyond our control, independent of our will, it minds itself as it springs from every core, being and becoming all at once. Strength and courage impels it forward and we need the same to do likewise. Change is the heart of anything alive. It makes us see the Earth as our Mother, helps us know the Sky as our Father. It reminds us that all the in-between is connected, vibrating and beating together, unable to stop transforming, making itself new. Change is throughout, cleansing all the wounds of time and humanity with the medicine of our time, of past legacies, of new promises. The colors of this new day necessary, not a cover for illusions or camouflage --these will not withstand a stripped-naked truth. Change requires that we respect, see again all that we have done, are doing, need to do. It means we need to let go of the old orders, march to the different drummer in us all, open up to the possibility that At Last has finally arrived with bells on, so let’s dance. Change will be the hardest and the easiest thing we will ever give in to. Change has always been with us but its never been here quite this hungry, so let’s not play at feeding the Need, let’s be bold and let go of old traps. Change will take all we got and give it back in new forms ready to change us and the world forever all over again. -- Matriz July 29,2011c/s
The Huffington Post/Latino Voices today posted a piece I did on the meaning of the 2012 Mayan prophecy. This was written to move ideas and imaginations. Here is the link. c/s
This past week the L.A. Daily News featured an article on Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore (www.tiachucha.com). It showed a nice photo of my wife Trini and I as cofounders of this much-loved cultural/literary space in the Northeast San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles—now in our tenth year: Also the Huffington Post on the same day featured a story on my new book, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing” with a video and a slideshow of their questions and my answers for their Los Angeles section. Here it is. And I was also interviewed on NBC-LA’s “Nonstop News L.A.” show with Colleen Williams on December 20 about my new book.
[caption id="attachment_870" align="alignleft" width="389" caption="Photograph of George Whitman taken by Gary Auerbach © 2010"][/caption] Back in the early 1990s, I ventured outside of the world I knew to end up in Paris, France, my first trip abroad other than to Mexico, Canada, or Central America. It was an amazing, eye-opening, and romantic time for me (my wife of about three years, Trini, accompanied me on this trip). In 1991, Curbstone Press of Connecticut published my second book of poetry, “The Concrete River,” and this opened up a world of words and books I didn’t know existed. During my time there, I befriended George Whitman, the owner and founder of the Shakespeare & Co. English-language bookstore on the Left Bank of Paris. I read there to a full house one afternoon. George and I talked frequently. At one point he asked me to submit a poem for an anthology he published to raise funds after the Sylvia Beach Library upstairs burned in a mysterious fire. Trini and I enjoyed ourselves immensely being among the other English speaking students, writers, and artists who congregated there. I had lunch with the late great African American poet Ted Joans. I found wonderful professors of Chicano literature and art at the University of Paris. I even hooked up with old friends and colleagues from East L.A.—Chicano artists, poets, rappers, and performance artists—who were on a tour of France at the time. This is what I wrote about my meeting with George Whitman in my latest memoir, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing” (2011 Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster):
At Shakespeare and Company bookstore, on the Left Bank across from Notre Dame Cathedral, the eccentric and beloved owner, George Whitman, invited Trini and me to stay in a room at the “Tumbleweed Hotel,” the second floor of the bookstore where many English-speaking writers and students were allowed to stay without paying. George only asked that in return I spend a couple of hours daily in an afternoon tea talking with young writers and travelers. I loved these interactions and this saved us hotel costs. We stayed about ten nights. The rooms and bookstore were filled to the ceiling with books. We had to climb over them on staircases and push them off tables, beds, dresser drawers. Many were valuable first editions. The pulp and cloth were meant for me. They brought back a time when I first held a book in my hand, a stammering boy of seven, in between languages and silences, finally discovering worlds that didn’t hurt or dismiss me. In a book, the writer doesn’t have the last word—the reader does.Sadly, my long-ago and far-away friend George Whitman passed on last Wednesday, December 14. He apparently had a stroke a few months earlier and died peacefully in his sleep. His daughter, Sylvia, is now the proprietor and will continue his legacy of books, ideas, and art at Shakespeare & Company in Paris. I pray George’s soul is at peace. He is a friend to writers everywhere. Que descanses en paz, amigo. c/s [Visit here for more of Gary Auerbach's photos]
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
[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."][/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"][/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
[caption id="attachment_851" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="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 email@example.com 215 Boalt Hall Uni of CA Berkeley, CA 93720-7200 and/or UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau 510.642.7464 email firstname.lastname@example.org 200 California Hall, MC # 1500 Uni of CA Berkeley, CA 94720-1500c/s