Action Creates Hope

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The other day a high school classmate reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I had any advice for getting involved in local political organizing. He admitted that he had talked himself out of getting involved in any himself because he feared feeling disheartened if a particular action didn’t succeed.

I could relate. For much of my mid-20s and early 30s, I felt similarly, worried that if the small actions I took part in didn’t lead to overthrowing the entire oppressive system there was no point. I was hiding from my own brokenhearted burnout from activism and idealism during the Bush years and I wrongly believed that keeping activism at arms’ length would help. This is a position Rebecca Solnit describes as “naive cynicism” in her new book, Call Them by Their True Names. It was only after reading Solnit’s Hope in the Dark in the summer of 2016 that I started to let go of my naive cynicism, just before the very same book became the unofficial handbook of the resistance.

Then “the election” happened and I threw myself into activism and organizing at a pace I hadn’t maintained since my late teens and early twenties, repeating Solnit’s phrase “hope is action” to myself. Over the past two years, I have found particular hope in focusing on hyper local issues where the efforts and attention of me and my neighbors can make a real, tangible difference in the lives of people most affected by this administration’s policies. For me personally, that has meant focusing on supporting immigrant families and activists, and working to elect or reelect progressive, local politicians that will fight for a more expansive, inclusive New York city and state.    Continue reading

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This being the story of Kicking Giant and repurposed 90s nostalgia

At the Captured Tracks fifth year anniversary show, way back in 2013, I felt like I had stepped into a page of my middle school yearbook. I was surrounded by twenty-something concert goers in black, spaghetti strap dresses with large floral prints, acid washed “mom” and “dad” jeans, and platform soled Doc Martens. “Where do they even find these clothes?” I asked my equally baffled thirty-something friends.

Four years on and Nineties nostalgia is still in full bloom. Champion has a line of color saturated sweatshirts in Urban Outfitters. Overalls are everywhere. Dark florals are still in. So is dark lipstick. I’ve been caught up in it as well, eagerly paying top-dollar to see reunion tours by bands like Ride and Slowdive, bands I would have never had a chance to see “back in the day.” I’ve celebrated reunions by bands I loved, both obvious, like Sleater-Kinney, and obscure, like the Casual Dots (who were more early 2000s, but featured Nineties luminaries like Toby Vail and Kathi Wilcox of Bikini Kill).

I started to wonder if I’d never be as cool again as I was “back then,” even if “back then” I was hardly cool and wince a little when I think about it. I spent the latter half of the Nineties mail ordering records from Kill Rock Stars and K Records in distant, exotic feeling Olympia, Washington. With the records came zines and with zines came a world of other young women like me, both distant and accessible through a letter and a stamp and maybe some concealed cash for their latest photocopied issue.

One of those zines was Chickfactor. It was always printed on high quality paper in a monochrome color—maybe pale blue or muted burgundy—instead of black and white. I read it sitting on a purple vinyl beanbag chair in my bedroom in Maine feeling hopelessly removed from the cool backyard shows and parties in Olympia and London that the editor, Gail O’Hara, chronicled.

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A blue and white cheerleader skirt had pride of place in my wardrobe from 1998 to 2001.

It’s easy to romanticize those days: staring out over the hay fields that surround my parents’ house, pecking out my teen angst on a manual typewriter (while now I stare out over the trees of Sunset Park in Brooklyn and type on my thirty-something angst on my MacBook), assembling the most Riot Grrrl outfits I could find from local thrift stores, dying my hair with goopy Manic Panic, belting out very obvious political songs and hoping my band would be the next Sleater-Kinney or, at least, Cub.

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When Politics Goes Low, Get Local

Canvassing for Carlos

Canvassing in a nor’easter on campaign launch day.

Two weeks ago I worked my way through a crowd gathered on the sidewalk spilling out of Tacos Matamoros, and slipped into the packed taqueria. Music was blaring, margaritas were being served and sipped, and everyone’s attention was glued to the TVs. Usually playing international soccer matches, they were now tuned to New York 1. I looked around, and waved at a table full of friends here, a group of friends over there, some nervously optimistic, some confidently eating tacos, others wringing their hands and wiping back tears.

Forty percent of the votes in and he’s got an 8 percent lead.

Fifty percent in, the lead still holds. 70, 88, finally 90 percent and someone yells, “The New York Times called it!” A minute later, New York 1 does as well, 95% reporting and Carlos Menchaca at 48% of the votes wins the Democratic Primary for New York City Council in District 38.

Chants and cheers and sobs erupt.

“Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!”

“Si se puede!”

“Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!”

Carlos was hoisted into a chair, nearly hitting the low ceiling of the restaurant and then, standing on a table, proceeded to thank every group, campaign staff member and volunteer, and community member who had helped. As I hugged my neighbors and jubilant tears streaked down my cheeks I was filled with a sense of gratification and relief. This sense of elation and a political victory have felt long out of reach since long before the 2016 elections.

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Discrimination by Design: Tech Business, Bias, and the Trolls

“The world of coding appreciates your vagina.”

My coworkers and I looked at it and other comments piling up under a video of iJustine, a perky, blonde haired, doe-eyed YouTube presenter, explaining how she coded her own bracelet which was 3D printed by our company.

It was 2014 and the 3D printing startup we worked for had teamed up with Google to work on their Made with Code initiative, which aimed to get young girls involved in technology and understand the basics of programming. Under the tagline “the things you love are made with code,” featured coding projects that included fashion designs, emojis, video games, and our 3D printed friendship bracelets were all packaged up in a pastel-hued, rah-rah girlpower website.

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The comments kept coming, “Proof that being a hot girl can make you rich, and allow you to talk about shit you have no clue about. Yet there’s this big push for feminism, claiming gender inequality in the West is a thing. LOL.”

“You don’t need ‘empowering’ at a young age, Let them be free and dont expose kids to externals ideas or some kind of gender agenda [sic].”

“I sure as shit hope this gets more girls into coding. So i can laugh at their extreme disappointment when they realize it’s nothing like they thought it would be thanks to retards like ijustine.”

Based on their screen names and avatars, all were written by adult men. L., our design education lead shook her head, “This video is for children. We’re going to delete these, right?”

No, our white male CEO insisted, we needed to leave the comments open to encourage dialogue and resist the urge to shut down free expression. Instead of deleting the offensive comments, or closing comments on the video all together, L. was instructed to politely respond to each one. We had just spent significant time and company resources to support a project that encourages girls to code and we were more concerned with protecting the “free speech” of YouTube trolls then ensuring the intended audience for the project, pre-teen and teenaged girls, felt safe watching it.

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Stick together against hate

 

activist stickers by aurora lady

“Blue lives matter” read the bubble letters scrawled on a light post in my neighborhood, taunting me on my morning commute.

“Are you f*ing kidding me? In this neighborhood?” I said out loud. To me, this was hate speech. I dug around my bag, trying to find something, anything to cover it up. From my bag’s front pocket I dug out a Grady’s cold brew sticker. Good enough. I peeled the back off and slapped it over the hateful eyesore. Done. “Coffee not assholes,” I mumbled and caught the train.

My neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the United States and is largely Latinx and Chinese immigrants. There is a mural in Spanish, painted on a wall just up the block, outlining your rights if you are stopped by the police.

But I got to thinking: what if I had at the ready, a durable sticker with eye catching design that helped spread a message that reflected my values: pro-immigrant, pro-LGBTQ rights, feminist, and pro-social and racial justice. Since the US election in November there has been a documented rise in hate speech and incidents, especially those targeting people perceived as Muslim or immigrants.

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In New York anti-Muslim graffiti was found at the Fort Hamilton Subway stop, there was a widely documented incident of a woman being physically harassed and threatened for wearing a headscarf near 23rd street in Manhattan, and hateful phrases were written in Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights. These incidents set off protests, a wave of bystander intervention training, and ongoing neighborhood organizing, all of which is crucial. We must stand up and use our voices in every way we can to oppose hateful speech and actions.

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Right now have to take matters into our own hands to counter hateful graffiti or messages and create a positive, inclusive environment. Stickers are easy to carry, fun to share, and simple and quick to put up. And who better to help create catchy, activist messages than my friend, feminist illustrator, and girl pop visionary extraordinaire Aurora Lady?

To capture the messages we want to help spread we came up with a few phrases: “NYC loves Immigrants,” “LA loves immigrants,” “LGBTQ rights are human rights,” and “Act against hate.” Simple and effective.

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Great designers have a way of taking your idea and creating a product that is far better than you imagined from it. I was thrilled when I saw the stickers Aurora designed. I had them printed by the pros at StickerMule on weatherproof, matte vinyl that will look as good on your laptop (mine already has an NYC loves immigrants sticker on it) as it will out in the world.

I hope you will join me and help me get the these messages out into the world. You can purchase the stickers from my brand new Etsy shop. Even better, all proceeds after production costs and shipping will be donated to Trans Lifeline, the Arab American Association of New York, and Atlas DIY (a group in my neighborhood working to support immigrant youth). Join the movement to #sticktogetheragainsthate!

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Intersectional Feminism or Bust: A guide to being a Nasty Woman in Trump’s America

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Driving back to New York from DC after the women’s march I wore my “Capitalist patriarchy is ruining the world and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” shirt. I was exhausted, exhilarated, and wondering what comes next, like so many others who attended. I personally found it, overall, to be an uplifting display of intersectional feminist organizing from the march committee themselves. It was clear that some of the groups around me, young people of color of many genders chanting “Black Lives Matter,” a group of Arab women wearing pussyhats headscarves carrying a sign that read “Teachers Against Trump,” and a band of radical queers, felt fully the march was for them.

Other marchers I’ve talked to have felt like the march was catering to suburban white women who felt accomplished and left a mess for women of color to clean up. There are many realities and interpretations of the march, but what we’ve seen from the new administration post-march demonstrates that, as we knew, the march was just the beginning. We need to stay critical, keep acting, and keep practicing intersectional feminism more than ever.  (If you are interested, I contributed to a great round up of march experiences for Weird Sister if you want to hear different perspectives.) 

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But where to next? I started writing this blog post in the late summer of 2016 at a coworkers request that I help her “be more feminist.” At the time I started to compile this list I was naive enough to believe that feminism was a unstoppable cultural force that was reshaping everything from our electoral politics, to the workplace, to popular culture, to reproductive rights, to yes, how we dress with cool t-shirts. None of that masked the deep misogyny, combined with racism and homophobia that runs throughout American culture, but I honestly thought that intersectional feminism as a practice was gaining mainstream traction throughout the country.

Now that misogyny, and all forms of hatred, have been given free reign from the highest office of the country, practicing an expansive, inclusive, intersectional feminism is not only necessary, but imperative. To continue to have a tangible impact, feminism must not be just an identity, but an active practice. It’s a philosophy that guides action.

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Bystander intervention and de-escalation zine: stick together against hate!

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“So do you really choose to wear this thing? I mean does the Quran dictate that you must?” His insistent voice made its way through my headphones. I reluctantly I looked up from the book I was diligently reading on my late morning commute. A middle aged, white man, standing unsteadily, leaned close over two seated, young women wearing headscarves. The power dynamics were hard to ignore. I hit pause on my iPhone and took off my headphones. He kept on talking to the women, who looked at each other nervously, and kept trying to politely brush him off, saying, “It’s okay, we like it, it’s part of our  culture.”

Sitting up straighter I looked steadily across the train car at the two women and said, “Do you want to have a conversation with this man?” They looked at me and shrugged, “No, it’s okay, we’re fine.” I smiled and nodded and said, “Okay, just wanted to make sure.” He kept talking to them, gesturing wildly.

I turned to him, “Excuse me sir, not everyone wants to talk to strangers on the subway. I like to be alone on my ride, which is why I am wearing headphones. I think these women would just like to continue their conversation with each other.”

He looked at me, as if he was surprised I noticed. I kept my gaze towards him steady. He moved away down the car and exited the at the next station.

After he left the women turned to me and said, “Thank you so much.”

I smiled, “Not a problem, I’m sorry that he was bothering you.”

When they got off at Jay Street Metrotech they waved and smiled and I waved back.

Ever since that day I’ve been so glad that I spoke up.

The above is an example of bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation that I engaged in last year. Since the election I have been horrified at the uptick of racist, homophobic, misogynist, and transphobic harassments and incidents that have transpired the around the country and right here in New York City. It’s angering and it’s maddening, but we have a power to stop these incidents when we see them by standing up and speaking out. Specifically, we can task ourselves with learning techniques and strategies to intervene safely while staying calm and centered as best we can.

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I recently attended two trainings on bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation hosted by NYC Bluestockings books and the Arab American Association of New York. They were led social worker Rachel Levy, who has undertaken a huge task post-election to train people on how to go from being bystanders to “upstanders” – people equipped to stand up when they witness hate, violence, or bigotry, and use verbal techniques to de-escalate a situation. I got the idea for this zine before I attended the training, but my experience with these trainings reinforced why practicing these techniques is so vital to standing up against hate and creating the kind of inclusive, peaceful communities we want to live in.

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